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My man James

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  • My man James

    James sets up shop on the first nine-foot table inside the door. He’s there five days each week, from right after opening time. On Mondays he cuts his grass, so in the winter when the grass doesn’t grow he appears six times a week. Never on Sunday. He brings a healthy lunch, mostly fruit, and he always has his bible and his phone. Whether he gets a player or not, he’s never without something to do. I don’t like James’ table. The rails are dead and you have to really hammer your long-rail banks. He knows his table, and if you want to play one-pocket with him you have to do it right there. He doesn’t seem to care whether you play or not. He can practice until the daily special is over at four o’clock.

    At various times over the years he has had some fairly regular opponents, but they always seem to move on after a while. I used to play him quite often, but I quit when he threw down his stick on the table for the third time. I have never known him to do that with anyone else, but he did it to me three times. Bobby Darnell played him almost daily for several months, but now he and James play only on Thursdays. Bobby says that’s all he can stand. A little guy named Brewster was a pretty steady opponent for some time, but I haven’t seen him for several years. I recall he had a nephew who was a rapper, and the kid bought Brewster a Hummer. True story, according to James.

    To call James a slow player is to say that Lake Pontchartrain is a puddle. To say fat meat is not greasy. He has only one speed. James and Bobby once played a game that went on for two and a half hours, and I have played some one-hour games on his table. I played with him on Tuesday of this week, and we played four games in a bit less than three hours – pretty close to average for us. At times he appears to be hypnotized by the balls and stands motionless for fifteen seconds at a time. Some of the daytime regulars at the joint don’t wait cheerfully, but they will play with him now and again anyway. Maybe you could say he is imperturbable. Or dogged. He might be unflappable or even inert.

    I like to play James. I am just about totally silent when I play, and he can do it that way, too. Some of his matches get pretty raucous and out-of-tune singing can happen, depending on who is there, but except for the occasional ‘Unbelievable!’, he plays me without comment. I find him a tough opponent. I’m tempted to call him a counter-puncher, because he never attacks, but that’s not it exactly. He’s a very skillful opportunist who doesn’t seem to care if I get all the balls on my side of the table. He knocks them away in bunches and leaves me stuck to the foot rail. I break up a troublesome cluster and send Jojo to the top of the table, but it’s a wasted effort and I’m back against the foot rail. All the action is on my side of the table – shouldn’t that indicate that I’m winning? Well, sometimes I’m not.

    When you play James you don’t need to look for him. He’s always there, a half-step behind you, but he’s not hiding – he’s lurking and waiting for you to make an error. He doesn’t run balls, but he can get one or two, here and there, now and then, and you suddenly realize that he has five or six and you can’t recall how he got them. But he did, and you are up against the wall, trying to save a game you thought you were controlling.

    I’m a YouTube fan of the animal videos from Africa, among other things. You can see the lions eating a gnu, or maybe it’s a leopard or a dozen hyenas, and in the background there is a jackal patrolling the perimeter, watching for a chance to slip in and grab a gizzard or something. He is small and timid and the others don’t seem to pay him any attention, and you might notice that the jackal never kills anything, but he gets to eat anyway. We mustn’t despise him for that. He has a plan and makes it work.

    James is a tough out, and that’s a very nice thing to say about a man.
    If it ain't funny, it ain't much.
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