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  #11  
Old 02-21-2019, 12:04 PM
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Default The Lag #10

July 1, 2018

The Lag #10
How’s the Water?

I’ve been in the shipping/receiving/transportation/warehousing industry for the better part of 30 years. To say I hate it, would be a huge understatement! Yet, due to poor choices and planning when I was a youngster, day in and day out, I serve my self-inflicted sentence. The things in my life which I truly enjoy, for which I have an undying passion are worked in to time which should be spent sleeping and cause me to suffer greatly as I cling to the few moments I can find each week to indulge in them. I am referring, of course, to the game of pool, and also to writing.
Lately I have started to look at things differently. Instead of placing the blame for my exhaustion and lack of motivation on my passion for pool, I would rather believe it is the boring, dead end, non gratifying, barely-pays-the-bills “real job” which deserves the credit for making me miserable! On Tuesday and Thursday nights, after clocking out from my “real job,” I run pool tournaments at Runway Billiards in west Mobile, Alabama. These tournaments have been known to last well past midnight at times depending upon the number of participants. So on many occasions after my 45-50 minute drive home I can crawl into bed at 2:00 am (or even later) for a quick nap before rising at 5:30 am to go to work. Many have asked, “How do you do that?” or “Why do you do that?” They don’t understand. Their thought processes conclude that I should not treat myself so badly and let someone else run those tournaments so I can get some rest.
My thought process is just the opposite. You see, I love what I do with the pool tournaments I run! Sitting there running the bracket, watching the matches, then writing about it in such a way to interest those who were not in attendance makes me happy. So I believe the need to get up early in the morning to go to a job I hate just so I can pay my bills and keep a roof over my head is what is causing the problem. Why should I even consider quitting what I love to be more rested for something I hate? I need to be looking to quit what I hate, to do what I love! There is one thing staring me in the face whenever I pick up this train of thought. That is FEAR. I have been punching the card my entire working life. When I am on the clock, it is guaranteed money. For me to venture out and try to make ends meet doing what I love to do is a huge risk. I have a family. There are others who rely on me to keep the lights on, water running, gas in the cars and the small luxury of cable television on top of maintaining the actual house. So a big, giant, “WHAT IF…” takes over every time I think about diving in head first. “What if I can’t pay the bills? What if I lose the house? What if, what if, what if…” Then I hang my head in defeat, punch my time card, and watch every tick of the clock in misery!
These days the effect it is having on me, my emotional and mental state, is becoming more and more severe. I know that most average, every day people hate their jobs. It has simply come to be accepted as “the way things are” and we just “do what we gotta do” to “keep on keepin’ on!” So am I being selfish in my inability to accept things for the way they are? Am I acting like an entitled brat because I want to do what makes me happy and quit what is making me crazy? Sometimes, that’s how I feel. I think our society has been trained to think along those lines in order to keep us down. It just is not right for me, or anyone, to feel guilty about wanting to be happy!
Earlier I mentioned some poor choices and planning when I was a young man. I certainly believe there are and should be consequences for bad decisions. If there were not, well, give America a few years and these youngsters of today will be in charge and show us what life with no consequences is like! But that is another topic. I do not believe I should be paying a penance for the rest of my life over the choices I made. I mean, I did not kill anyone. I never committed any serious crimes. I just had trouble prioritizing.
So today, thirty-some-odd years later, why should I just accept the fact that I come home wanting to eat a bullet more days than I do not? Why should that be considered a weakness on my part? Why am I just “lazy” or “unmotivated” for wanting to be happy with what I do? Believe it or not, I am not the only one who feels this way. These are very common thoughts by very common folks. I want to face these thoughts, these fears, and defy them! I want to do what I love, what makes me happy, what I have been told I do fairly well, for a living. I receive messages and comments nearly every day regarding things I have written. People compliment me when they meet me in person for the first time and tell me how much they enjoy reading what I write. I have been told I do a pretty good job running tournaments as well. These things are easy because I have a passion for them. I am able to put my heart into doing them because I care and want to do a good job. I want to run good tournaments and write interesting articles! Am I ready to dive in head first? Am I willing to go all or nothing? Well, I am not willing to lose my house and put my family on the street, so maybe I will dangle my feet over the edge and test the water. I have imagination and creativity, but I lack in other skills. Self-marketing being one. I want to do this, I am just not sure how to go about getting started. I have never been the person to brag on myself. I really do not like the attention. I suppose, though, in this endeavor I will have to learn to promote myself at least a little bit.
Welcome to the mind of an eccentric writer!
This is The Lag… Hit ‘em good, my friends!
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Old 02-21-2019, 12:06 PM
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Default The Lag #11

August 15, 2018

It’s Break Time

Well, it’s been several weeks since my last installment of, “The Lag.” This one is doubtful to be a real attention grabber. This one is more for me than anyone else, though I’m happy to share with those who may be interested.
If I were to be super creative, I might be able to come up with a metaphor about how life is like a game of poker, or maybe even pool. How we must play the hands we are dealt, or how we must make do with the way the balls stopped after the break, if I were very creative. But, I’m just not feeling it. I just do not seem to have that burning desire, that drive inside of me to write some thought provoking, insightful essay about pool and my life. You see, I am suffering from burn out. Not to be misunderstood, I still love the game very much! I am just going through a spell during which my attention is being drawn away from the game I love and directed toward some harsh realities. I have tried to play but have found that the solace, the peace I once found in playing just is not there right now. The pressures of life are bearing down harder than I can bear down when I’m behind a few balls in a game of One Pocket. My focus is gone and I am very easily distracted.
This is not the first time this has happened to me. In time, it will pass. As much as I would love to be able to focus only on pool and writing, the reality is most of the world does not care about our passion. Life goes on and with it, the responsibilities, obligations, and hardships of living. A lot seems unfair but that does not matter. Fate is not about being fair. Some of our fate is determined by our own decisions and some, I believe, is just dumb luck. Eventually, when I am once again comfortable I will be able to put some focus into playing. Until then it would be pointless and wasteful for me to even try. I am not giving up. Oh no, not a chance! As I have often stated in the past, this game is a part of who I am. Even if I wanted to, I could not shun it from my life. It would always be there in some form or fashion. Besides, I still have my tournaments (which I love doing, by the way!) at Runway which will still keep the fire smoldering within me!

In the meantime, hit ‘em good, my friends! This is The Lag…
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Old 02-21-2019, 12:08 PM
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Default The Lag #12

October 4, 2018

#12: Get Out of Your Head!

It has been awhile. It’s amazing how certain people or situations, or situations caused by certain people, can bring us down! Of course, this blog is about pool in some sort of way so I suppose I should relate this to pool somehow.
For several months I had a “situation” brewing which just seemed to slowly drain the life out of me. As the stress of this situation built, I gradually began to lose interest in the things I love and enjoy the most. My attitude toward life in general soured a bit. I didn’t want to ride my Harley. I didn’t want to play pool, and I certainly didn’t want to write about it. All things I once loved doing I no longer had the desire or the motivation to continue doing. I still felt a passion for all those things, but my motivation was suffering. I continued to play, but as my “situation” became more and more difficult to deal with, my frustration and anger from it spilled over into my table demeanor and my game suffered as well. Finally, I decided to take a break from playing as it was doing nothing for me but adding to my already overwhelming frustration. And as far as continuing with this blog? Well, it was supposed to be therapeutic for me and hopefully others who cared to read it. In my state of mind how could I possibly keep it positive even if I found enough motivation to get up and write anything? So the blog stopped.

As time went on, my “situation” continued to grow. I got more frustrated. I got angrier. I was at my wit’s end! I was hating life and fighting battles in my mind every day. Everything and everyone in my life was feeling the effects of this dark cloud which had parked itself right over top of me! I knew I had to do something I just wasn’t sure how to go about doing it. But if I didn’t do something quick things were only going to get worse, a lot worse! Then, it happened! I was getting ready to go somewhere and try to have a good time when it all came to a head and exploded. I did not get to fulfill my plans for that evening because the “situation” had instantly become top priority. In a matter of a couple hours that dark cloud had swirled into a tornado, touched down, and then blew away! I was tired, no, exhausted! Not from being down and unmotivated, but from the battle I had just fought and won! Once rested, I began to feel a little more motivated. The desire to do the things I love started to return. Creative thought processes were becoming more prevalent, and I wanted to play again!

My first time back to the table after rectifying my “situation” was still not pretty. I’ll admit, I struggled a little with some negative thoughts about not playing anymore and even questioned why, if I play this bad, I owned a cue! Only for a moment, though. I remembered my own words of advice to others who have stepped away from the table for awhile, “You can’t jump right back in expecting to play just as good as your best day!” My whole attitude had changed! I was able to take the defeat and learn from it just like the days when I was coming up. I didn’t let it pin me down. That was the difference made by having a clear head versus just a few weeks prior when life was my enemy.
It has been a couple weeks now. I am still not back to 100% but I’m getting better every day. My game is coming back fueled by an extremely strong desire to win (too bad my bankroll isn’t making such a comeback!)! I know I will never be among that group in the upper echelon of players. That’s not being negative, that’s being realistic. Even so, that does not mean I won’t try to be as competitive as I can be and possibly take one or two of them down when I have one of those days that I catch that extra gear!

Thank you to all who take the time to read and comment! I appreciate the followers and friends. Until next time: hit ‘em good, folks! This is The Lag…
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Old 02-21-2019, 12:10 PM
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December 13, 2018

#13: Catching Another Wave

Soon after The Color of Money (TCOM) hit the big screen in 1986 pool halls and bars across the country saw a huge increase in the popularity of the centuries old game. This has been referred to by some as “The Color of Money Wave.” Folks like me who were a part of that wave, had never even heard of The Hustler or had any idea that The Color of Money was a sort of sequel to the 1961 Paul Newman film. We were simply intrigued and mystified by the action and seemingly realistic situations portrayed by Tom Cruise and the much older Newman. We envisioned ourselves in the same environment and fantasized about pulling off the same schemes and hustles. Little did we know at the time, but this movie was bringing to the forefront an underground culture which had been in existence for a long, long time!

It has been estimated that the TCOM wave crested in the mid-nineties and since then the popularity of pool as more than just something to do while pounding down beers and throwing back shots has been gradually but steadily declining. For years there has been talk throughout the pool community that we need another TCOM to breathe some life back into the game. In 2002 Pool Hall Junkies was released. All of us TCOM surfers waited with breath baited and fingers crossed for another influx of new suckers and wannabe pool hustlers to start filling our pool rooms again. It did not happen. They did not come. In fact, Pool Hall Junkies did not do very well in the theatres and quickly became a subculture flick sought after by the select few deeply involved in the culture.

Now, most of us who jumped on that TCOM wave back in the 80’s, are past the half century mark in age. The memories we have of being introduced to pool, seeing some of the old hustlers who were doing what they had been doing for many years prior, sitting in the pool halls and listening to real-life stories of what really happened “back in the day” (stories that would put TCOM to shame!), are becoming blurred and fuzzy. Most of those old guys we sat and listened to are gone and with them a whole world of knowledge and intrigue has been lost. Now, as we sit in the pool halls we realize we are the old guys to whom the few youngsters look to for wisdom, guidance, and knowledge. Yet, there is something missing. Our hustling “career” lasted only a few years. With the dawn of technology, cell phones with cameras, social networks and the internet, going on the road and hustling pool across the country has all but been murdered! Everyone knows everyone and if you are lucky enough to sneak in under the radar, you’ll do it only once! For the most part the only thing happening at the pool halls is league play. Beer and liquor discounts for league players are dangled out to entice them to spend more money. The big tables have nearly become obsolete and those who are actually serious about playing pool are scoffed at and ridiculed for “taking up space” in the pool rooms! It seems as though the passion is gone and the up-and-comers are fewer and farther between. Those of us who remain true and loyal to the game cling to each other in fright as we watch our beloved culture as we knew it fade away.

Fast-forward to December of 2018. The Mosconi Cup, an annual pool competition pitting the United States against Europe, is underway. Along with the decline of American pool, the performance of this country’s champions in this competition for the last 8 years has been anything but stellar to say the least! Over time, the fans have somewhat lost interest and it became difficult to watch just for the sheer embarrassment felt for our revered players (not embarrassment OF them, but FOR them, empathy). In fact, when it started this year I was almost dreading it because of how it made me feel last year. Regardless, the MC was going to happen and as if to rub salt in our still fresh wounds, it was to be in London. Oh joy…
I’ll admit, I did not watch any the first day. Being busy at work was my excuse for not turning on the live stream. I saw an early post pop up, “SVB loses to Shaw, double hill.” That did not help. I wanted to believe Shane is the better player but why does this always happen at the MC? I shook my head and went back to work.
More posts pop up, “Young Styer is playing like a seasoned pro! Woodward in dead punch!”

What?

Billy Thorpe knocking ‘em dead too! That was it! I had to turn it on! For the next three days, I stayed glued, as much as possible, to the tiny 5 inch screen of my Samsung standing next to the computer on my desk at work! After Shane’s unfortunate loss to Jayson Shaw, Tyler Styer came out and dominated! It seemed like he was responsible for lighting the spark under the team! The American boys came together and marched forward as if they were on a mission! The European players seemed almost dumbfounded. This was supposed to be easy! The European fans that vastly outnumbered the Americans were not what we are accustomed to hearing. But it did not faze our boys! In fact, they thrived off of it! Then, when Sky Woodward wins the hill-hill game against Shaw and then mocks Shaw’s victory antics, it was like a war cry bringing in all the fans from across the country!
Finally, the United States is not a laughingstock. Finally, all the negativity is shoved aside and pool fans from coast to coast are watching on the edge of their seats with clenched fists, gritting their teeth, rooting for Corey, rooting for Tyler on the final day as they start to stumble. We did not give up, though! We just needed one more match! I’m talking to my phone, as I’m sure other are as well! Then there it is! A 1-9 combination by Shane Vanboening to win the final match! America had done it! The team had done it! The Mosconi Cup was coming back to the United States!

As I watched the post game interviews and saw Skyler “cuss” on live television (which was hilarious!), I started thinking more and more about it. Over the past 2 days I had been truly excited. I felt the exhilaration. I could feel the support the fans were giving the team. Is this what we have needed in America? Could this be the kick in the pants American pool needs to rebound? The way I felt when the Cup was over is the same way I felt while watching The Color of Money for the first time. Surely, if I felt this way, many others did as well and hopefully it will indeed be the catalyst for better days ahead!

Although I was slow to watch this year, I’m certainly glad I did! Everyone on that team deserves a hero’s welcome when they return! Johan Ruysink and Jeremy Jones did an amazing job as coaches and our boys all played very well! Styer had a magnificent rookie appearance while Woodward earned an impressive MVP! Way to go Team USA! You have definitely reignited my passion for the game!

This is The Lag… Hit 'em good, my friends!
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Old 02-21-2019, 12:13 PM
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January 29, 2019

The Lag #14
The Action Room

I have been sitting at my desk the past few days perusing Facebook for videos of the festivities at The 2019 Derby City Classic. As I watch these videos I am filled with excitement and longing. How I wish I was there!

The top players in the world are competing in several different disciplines of pool. Whichever discipline is your favorite, this event gives you the opportunity to see it played, up close and personal at the very best it can be played! Banks, One Pocket, 9-Ball, 10-Ball, and 14:1 are all being represented and performed by the best players of our era and others who are not afraid jump into the mix with them to find out where they stand.
Then there is the Action Room. It is a whole different world in the Action Room! Yes, you can still find some of the top players in the Action Room as well. This is where the heart of pool can be found! The life blood sustaining the game flows through this room. Outside of this room, on the big stage of the tournament, everyone is putting on a show. Players, hustlers, gamblers, and stake horses are all on their best behavior. Winning a specific discipline of this tournament is great for the notoriety of a player and gives that some player some recognition for the effort put into mastering the game. But in the Action Room is where the real pool is played. This is where the true essence of a player comes out. This is not a controlled environment. To play in the Action Room, a player must have true grit, a killer instinct, and an absolute desire to win!

I have never been to the “Derby.” The closest to it I have been was the Southern Classic in Tunica back in 2012 or so, whenever the first one was… That was the one I attended. From what I understand it was sort of a miniature DCC based on the same format. I can remember hanging out in the Action Room just watching. No, I didn’t play because my bankroll would not have lasted but a few minutes! But I stood on the outskirts, watched and listened. The fast talking hustlers, the big money men who sat quietly just waiting for someone to step in a trap, the players looking for someone to put them in the box, it was mesmerizing! How can anyone not love that? I could have stayed in there for hours and not hit a ball!

Amazingly, that’s the side of pool that is endangered. The “seedy underbelly,” if you will, is where it all started and what it really is all about. Instead of trying to hide this side of pool and brush it under the rug, we need to embrace it! The watered down versions of these games we have today are mere exploitations of the game in name only. Whether the Action Room is at the DCC or in the corner of your local pool hall, the real, true aura of the game can be found in the Action Room! Sure, sitting in the tournament room watching Alex Pagulayan play One Pocket is a beautiful thing and I love that as well! But behind the walls of the Action Room is where the real games are played! Anyone who thinks they like to play pool, owns a cue, or pays weekly league fees, needs to see real pool being played to appreciate what it really is! It will put into perspective one’s view of the game. Real pool is not for everyone. It takes a special kind of person to love and appreciate pool for what it really is. To me pool is beauty; pool is an art form; every aspect of the game, not just certain parts. I love this game just as much (maybe even more) today as I did when I was first bitten by the bug nearly 30 years ago.

This is The Lag. Hit ‘em good, my friends!
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Old 02-21-2019, 12:16 PM
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February 11, 2019

The Lag #15
The Brew ‘N’ Cue

1032 McCallie Avenue, Chattanooga, Tennessee: look it up on Google Maps. There is a nice, big modern building which houses a women’s clinic and gyncology offices. It features a well kept parking lot and pristine grounds to welcome patients and make them feel safe in what was once a not so good part of town.

Let’s go back in time to 1989. The big, beautiful medical center is nowhere to be seen. Instead, a run-down, single story building is on the lot. Probably built in the 1950’s or early 60’s, this building had surely seen better days. Originally, it appeared to have been small strip mall type of structure containing maybe 4 or 5 suites and an underground basement. In 1989, though, it was home to the place which will always occupy a special place in my heart, the place where it all started, and the place where I first learned that “pool” was more than just a game to pass the time while drinking beer. This was the place where I learned that pool was a culture, a way of life, and a religion complete with its own “gods” who controlled everything on the tables. I learned there was also a set of unwritten rules which could only be learned by those who were willing to allow themselves to be indoctrinated into the culture. This was The Brew ‘N’ Cue!

The Brew ‘N’ Cue was a shrine to a dying era! Walking through the doors was like stepping into a time capsule. The decorum, the layout, the people, all gave it an aura which can only be found in the movies these days. On the other side of the front door was the bar area. A space approximately 25 feet wide and maybe 40 feet long with the bar running along the whole left side of the room. The rest of the space was filled with seating where patrons could sit, relax, and enjoy their beverages while watching the single television above the bar. Right in the middle of the right side wall, was a wide doorway which led to about 5 stairs going down into the pool room. Walking down the steps you were greeted by four 9-foot Gold Crowns with about an acre of real estate between them! To the left, against the wall was a pro-shop of sorts. In this pro shop sat Howard Barrett. Ball rental, minor cue repair, pool stories, and tongue lashings could all be obtained through old Howard, if he wasn’t asleep in his chair.

Walking deeper into the dark, smoky room you would find a row of Valley bar boxes. 1 quarter would get you 10 balls. There was no “bar-banging” 8-ball played on these tables! No sir! 9-ball rotation was the game for these tables and they were reserved for action only! A free Howard Barrett tongue lashing was included for the poor soul who shoved a quarter into one of these tables with no intention of gambling! That’s right, it only took one time for me to learn my place was in the very back where the tables had all 15 balls and the price was two quarters! “Action only on these tables! Idiots and bangers in the back! Y’all stay off these tables!” Of course, there were a few expletives intertwined amongst the words of his main message. He made it very clear, to me anyway, that there were certain people, certain players who, whether I liked it or not, were more important to the establishment than me and my friends were, no matter how much beer we drank or seasoned fries we ate! Yes, in the back behind yet another wall with two wide openings was “the banger area.” If you didn’t have your own cue, if you had no intention of gambling for more than $1 per game, and if you couldn’t make two balls in a row (on purpose), this is where you played.

I can’t be sure now how many evenings I spent back in the banger area peering through the doorway from our exile into the action area listening and watching wide-eyed as the hustlers and gamblers barked at each other, matched up, and argued over everything; which table to play on, how much to bet, what the spot should be, or if someone had moved the penny the wrong way. Occasionally one of those guys would make their way back to the land of the idiots and prey on the guy who had just purchased his new cue from Service Merchandise and thought he was a pool player. OK, that was me… That was when pool school really started!

On weekend nights The Brew ‘N’ Cue would get crowded. Just a few blocks from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, it was actually a popular hangout for students. In the basement was a large room with a stage where live bands would perform and for a small door fee, patrons could go downstairs and party to their hearts’ content. I believe that is called, “getting lit” nowadays. Yeah, we knew how to “get lit” back in the 80s, too. We just didn’t do it around the pool tables! Upstairs in the pool room the lights were turned down, the music was never too loud, and pool was being played. In the pool room, pool came first! The Brew ‘N’ Cue was a pool hall, after all, and Howard made sure it was run like one!

Of my group of friends it seemed I was the only one to have been bitten by the bug. Before long, I was going to the Brew ‘N’ Cue by myself. After being hustled a few times I finally realized there was a whole lot more to playing pool than I realized! I wanted to learn how to do it right! I sat on the sidelines and watched intently. I stayed out of the way and learned to respect the players who played this game. I would ask Howard questions. Much to my surprise, he was happy to get up and show me some things, if no one else was around. I was no longer banished to the back room. I was allowed to play in the action area, although if there was big action I had to make sure my small action was not in the way. We were usually a couple tables away from the high rollers. They grew to like me not because I was such a great guy, but because everything I won always went back into action. The money went up the food chain!

The Brew ‘N’ Cue was the epitome of what a pool hall should be! Looking back, one of the great things was they made room for everyone, but everyone knew where they were supposed to be. Pool players have never been able to keep pool halls open. Pool halls have always had to depend on others for the revenue. The Brew ‘N’ Cue allowed the “idiots” and the “bangers” to come in, spend money, and support the room, but they did not allow them to run the show. Not all of the bangers understood why they had to play in the back. Not all of the bangers understood why they had to walk around the outside of the room instead of right through the middle of the pool tables, but they did understand that they had to do it! And you know what? They did it, and continued to spend money, and came back to do it again on another night! Another crazy thing that happened was occasionally one of those “bangers,” one of those “idiots” would fall in love with the game and become indoctrinated into the culture!

I don’t really know how long the Brew ‘N’ Cue stayed on McCallie Avenue. In 1989 my son was born. Needless to say, my pool playing was cut back a good bit, though not as much as my son’s mother would have liked. Living on the other side of the county from Chattanooga, my play was limited to the game rooms which were closer by, and the occasional trip to Chattanooga. I was attracted to another pool room with an old fashioned appeal and started playing there more often at the time not realizing what I was missing at the Brew ‘N’ Cue. Then one day I just happened to notice, the building was gone and with it an era of pool in Chattanooga was gone as well.

There were other places to play in the city. The premiere pool room was Chattanooga Billiard Club in their nostalgic location on Cherry Street downtown. Shooters, turned to Parkway Billiards and stayed open after hours. CBC east opened in 1992 offering a more upscale billiard experience away from the college crowd. Hot shots, Diamond Billiard Club, EJ’s, Side Pockets, Double Hill Billiards, Breakers, many places came and went while some have managed to go the distance and are still there today. Ask any pool player from Chattanooga who is at least 50 years old about The Brew ‘N’ Cue. They all will tell you the same thing. That was the spot! That was Chattanooga’s Mecca for pool action! I think all of us really miss that place! I know I sure do! I wish there were more places like that these days but I’m afraid the days of the old-school pool halls are gone forever.

This is The Lag… Hit ‘em good, my friends!
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Old 02-21-2019, 12:18 PM
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Default The Lag #16

February 19, 2019

An Honest Humbling for a Hungry Hustler

It was 1993. I had been through my first divorce a little more than a year earlier. After spending several months getting my head back together I was back in the pool room. Picking up a cue after taking some time off turned out to be one of the best things I could have ever done, as far as playing pool is concerned. I had developed many bad habits with stance, posture, stroke, pretty much everything to do with how I played. But when I came back I had to relearn how to play and all of those bad habits were gone! Granted, I still didn’t really know how to make a ball, but at least now I had stronger fundamental base on which to build.

The new, East location of the Chattanooga Billiard Club had just been built. It was like nothing Chattanooga had ever seen! The mystical, dark, dank pool room was becoming a thing of the past and “CBC” was the pool room of the future. It was bright, clean, carpeted, and spacious with 24 tables including a Snooker table and a Billiard table, four 9-footers and the rest 8-footers. Two large, raised seating areas offered plenty of room for spectators and diners to sit in comfy chairs to sweat matches or watch the big screen televisions while they enjoyed a meal from the full restaurant menu and drinks from the fully stocked bar. Darkly stained wood and decorative brass bars embellished the interior giving it that final touch of “upscale” distinguishing CBC as a billiard parlor instead of a pool hall. With a club membership, drastic savings on table rental and pro shop items could be had by any who were willing to pay the menial fee for the annual membership. This was my new hang out!

Working 2nd shift at the Little Debbie factory since 1987, I had become somewhat of a night owl. I would rush straight to CBC after work and close the place down nearly every night. The night crowd consisted mostly of people my age who worked in the service industry or other local factory workers. There were a few guys who played better than the rest of us, but still not what I would consider good players.

I don’t remember how I happened to go into CBC early the first time but what I do remember is the daytime clientele was a little different! These guys could play! Most of them were older, retired or worked from home, or just had money and didn’t really have to be anywhere if they didn’t want to. All of them would play for a little cash. It didn’t matter what table. They played 8-ball, 9-ball, Snooker, Golf on the Snooker table, even some 3 Cushion Billiards, and One Pocket! I, like most everyone, had started out playing 8-ball not knowing any other games existed. Then I learned about 9-ball. What a game, that 9-ball! Flog at everything, chunking for the cheese! Now, that was fun! So naturally, 9-ball was what I wanted to play when I decided I was going to show these old fogies what youngster could do! I could roll the 9 from anywhere, and I did! Sometimes, it would even go in, sometimes… What I didn’t count on was, these old guys just went ahead and ran out. What? Where was the fun in that? Well, I imagine having a wad of cash placed in their hands after it was over was all the fun they needed! What was that saying Fast Eddie coined in The Color of Money? “Money won is twice as sweet as money earned.” On the flip side of that coin, money lost is twice as sour as money spent. I came to realize pretty quickly where I stood in the pecking order. Once I got that figured out, I was ready to be a student of the game and these old guys were going to be my instructors whether they knew it or not!

I started frequenting CBC during the daytime hours more often. Since they opened at 11:00 am, I had about 3 hours to play before I had to rush to work. The old guys were there every day and were more than happy to “gamble” with me for the short time I had available. Some days I would get so involved with playing that I would come down with horrible afflictions and not be able to make it to work. That happened way too often! In fact, my boss finally required a doctor’s note every time I was “sick” and unable to work. Fortunately, in those days medical insurance was actually worthwhile and a trip to the doctor for a cold, flu symptoms, or other minor ailments was relatively cheap. Yes, it was actually affordable before the Affordable Care Act! Anyway, so I found the most inexpensive and effective condition was viral Pink Eye. I found that out by actually getting it for real and missing two weeks of work while it ran its course. If I wanted a few days off work all I had to do was drive to the doctor’s office, dab a little soap in my eye and wait for the conjunctivitis diagnosis. BOOM! 3 days off work, minimum! I could play pool to my heart’s content! To this day I often wonder how I was able to keep my job at the plant for just shy of 25 years!

Every one of those daytime players had an impact on me and my pool game in some way or another. There was one guy in particular who actually referring to him as a “guy” seems somewhat disrespectful. He was, Mr. Allen. A military veteran from World War 2, Mr. Allen was confined to a wheelchair and appeared to be approximately 300 years old. He always wore a smoking jacket, an Ivy hat, and chewed on a half-smoked stogie as big around as the butt of a cue! Although smoking was allowed in CBC, I never saw Mr. Allen smoke his cigar. He just held it with his teeth and when he spoke, well, I think we’ve all heard or can imagine someone speaking with a large cigar in his mouth! Mr. Allen played One Pocket. He would roll around the table in his wheelchair bumping balls to the rail driving his opponents insane as they tried to shoot balls at their own pocket. I had seen the game before but never had any real interest in it. It seemed stupid and downright boring to me. If there are 6 pockets on the table why only use two of them? Yeah, crazy, what a dumb game, One Pocket! 9-ball was the game, baby! Roll them all, test the rails, one will fall!

In my simple, little mind I was an up-and –coming player with high aspirations of “going pro.” I had watched both The Hustler and The Color of Money several times and knew how to handle myself in the pool room. What attracted me to this game of One Pocket was not the intrigue of an intellectual game pitting the wits of each player against each other in a strategical battle of chess moves on the pool table. No, it was the fact that Mr. Allen had seemingly no stroke, couldn’t reach the cue ball if it was in the middle of the table, and appeared to miss everything at which he shot! Mr. Allen drove a brand-new, bright, red Cadillac Coupe de Ville with a white top. That car was always spotless, immaculate! I had heard he lived up on one of the nearby mountains, either Lookout Mountain or Signal Mountain, which was also an indication of being well-to-do. Yep, that was my incentive to learn One Pocket. How hard could it be, anyway? Mr. Allen was going to be my meal ticket. He was going to make all this time off from work pay off. I was going to beat him out of his fortune, a little at a time every day until I could afford the finer things in life! So I asked him to teach me the game starting out at $5 per game. Of course, it was a hustle. It was perfect! I was going to pretend I didn’t know anything, let him drop his guard, and then beat him out of his cash! By the end of that first day I had barely enough cash to get to work until payday. Eat? Luckily, the Little Debbies were free in the break room. They weren’t much for sustenance but they kept my stomach from growling! Boy, oh boy! What a hustler I was!

After that initial session with Mr. Allen, I was hooked! Needless to say, he put a humbling on me and made me realize I wasn’t quite as smart as I thought I was. I learned that One Pocket took more brains than brawn, and even though I might have been the better shooter, Mr. Allen could move circles around me! That became my daily ritual. I would meet Mr. Allen at CBC when they opened and play until I had to go to work, unless I called in sick. I’d like to think I was a quick learner, but in reality I don’t think I was. Mr. Allen would laugh and laugh at me as I would repeatedly get so frustrated I would start slamming balls around! Day in and day out we would play. For weeks, then months and I never finished a session ahead of Mr. Allen! I was learning though, and I put that knowledge to work at night, after work. The guys who came in at night would play and lose to me, just as I was losing to Mr. Allen. The more I played the game, the more I fell in love with it! No longer did I think One Pocket was a dumb, boring game. I was beginning to understand how complex and intricate it could be. I was learning how to out maneuver my opponents instead of relying on brute force and firepower to beat them. I was still a tiny, little guppy in a big pond, but I was growing. How much I would grow was up to me and destiny.

As time went by, I did finally start to beat poor, old Mr. Allen. I was no longer gunning for his fortune, though. I had grown to appreciate what he had taught me and respect him not only as a player, but as a person. He had to know my intentions when I came after him to play. He could have broken me, but he didn’t. Instead he just played for a measly 5 bucks a game, doing what he loved and helping a young, cocky dude learn the beautiful game of One Pocket along with a little much needed humility.

I don’t know what happened to Mr. Allen. I would assume that by now he has been gone for quite some time. I saw less and less of him as I dove deeper into this fascinating world of pool until finally, I had all but forgotten him. Again, life continued for me and I drifted away from the game. I can’t remember ever thinking of Mr. Allen again until just a few days ago when someone asked me how long I had been playing One Pocket. All of a sudden, a tsunami of memories flooded my mind and I have thought about almost nothing else! Maybe I’m getting a little sentimental in my old age, I don’t know. But I wish I could tell Mr. Allen how much I appreciate him and what he did for me. Back then, I really had no idea how great of an impact he was having on me. Now I understand. I never became the great player I once thought I could be, but thanks to Mr. Allen I developed a love and passion for the game of pool that would compete with anyone! That’s what Mr. Allen did for me and for that, I will be forever grateful! Now, I hope that somewhere along the way I have or I will spark that same passion in someone else and pass along the legacy of Mr. Allen.

This is The Lag…
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Old 03-14-2019, 04:46 PM
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Default The Lag #17

The Lag #17
Pride, Passion, and the Pool Gods

Have you ever felt so discouraged with your game that you have vowed to quit and never play again? And then the next day or a few days later there you are, back in the pool room, looking for action or signing up for a tournament! How many cues have you broken in a fit of rage over a game lost, a miscue, or just plain bad playing?
Living down here on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi I can’t tell you how many times I have contemplated throwing my cue case with all of its contents over the side of the Ocean Springs Bridge into Biloxi’s Back Bay, or the I-10 bridge over the Pascagoula River, or maybe even into Lake Ponchartrain on my way back from New Orleans. Despite pounding the bejesus out of my steering wheel and screaming at myself for miles during the drive home, I have never actually followed through with my empty threats of chucking my equipment into any of the thousands of creeks, rivers, lakes or bayous which cover more area than dry land in this part of the country. I have, however, snapped a cue shaft in anger over the way I was playing. You better believe that shaft learned its lesson and never played bad for me again! How stupid! Snapping an OB Pro Plus shaft in half is like shredding two $100 bills into confetti and tossing the wad into the air to watch it rain. I have witnessed thousands of dollars worth of cues turned into splinters during fits of rage, so I suppose I’m the lucky one with my little $200 shaft!

What is it that causes these feelings, these actions by us pool players? Are we just that irrational that we will literally throw away hundreds or thousands of dollars over a mistake we have made? I mean, I have never seen a cue that makes bad decisions, bad games, lose more money than it has, or intentionally starts hitting balls badly out of the blue. And why do we threaten ourselves with quitting? Pool is a game for which a tremendous amount of skill is required to play well, but there is still a variable of luck involved, even at the highest levels. When we work hard to perfect our craft and then the pool gods come along and dash our hopes and dreams by letting a “banger” get the best of us in a tournament we tend to feel a bit hopeless, like we have just been wasting our time. Why strive to be the best we can be if we’re still just going to get beat by dumb luck? And let’s face it, some people are just more lucky than others!

So we still have not answered the question. Why do we do this? Why does this happen? I don’t think the question can be answered definitively, only speculatively, maybe. All I can do is speak for myself and assume that I am among the norm when it comes to the psyche of pool players. I think I can sum it up in one word: passion!
Those of you in the pool world who know me know that I am very passionate about pool in general but specifically the game of One Pocket. At 51 years of age I have been playing pool for the better part of 30 years and One Pocket for about 25 of those. Though I have never and will never be among the upper echelon of players, I believe I share the same amount of passion for the game as those guys. Just because it doesn’t translate into skill doesn’t mean it’s not there. I absolutely love the game and have dedicated nearly a lifetime of “spare time” to playing and mastering it. So, when something happens which undermines all of the hard work I have put into my game it is frustrating. For example: my opponent lays down a pretty good break. I have to study the table for a few moments to figure out what my answering shot is going to be. Finally, I find it and execute it perfectly. A few innings later, and I’m out of his break and have control of the table. I have one final move to make before I’m ready to start pocketing balls. I leave him buried in the stack with no way out. His only options are taking an intentional foul which would leave me in the stack, or he could jack up over a ball and attempt a long rail bank which would be catastrophic for him after the inevitable miss. How many of you can finish the scenario from here? He goes for the long rail bank, hits it so badly the object ball crashes into the stack breaking it wide open, and caroms into his pocket. Seven shots later the game is over after his “8 and out” from nowhere! Sure, it can be argued that his luck will not last, the rolls will even out in the end, and any other clichés of which anyone can think, all of which may be true. But the fact remains, it happened and the damage is done. I’m not speaking about damage to a bankroll or moving up on the scoreboard. I’m talking about damage to the mental game. I worked hard, I played the better game, and I stayed in control and lost to dumb luck. That will take a toll on anyone’s mind. Suddenly, instead of shooting with confidence and executing perfect moves, every shot is second guessed with a giant, “WHAT IF.” The elbow tightens up, the wrist starts flopping, the stroke gets jerky, all because in my mind my perfect game was not good enough.
Now it is no longer dumb luck. Now I am just playing bad. My opponent is not “getting all the rolls” as I am claiming because I can’t admit to playing this badly. I’m allowing him to “freestroke” on me. Mad and frustrated, I can’t accept the blame so I have to lash out. My opponent is just lucky, the pool gods hate me, the table is playing terrible, my tip is messed up, the excuses pour out doing nothing but making me even angrier because I know the truth! The truth is I played bad! I allowed one moment of misfortune to get to me so badly that I completely self destructed!
How many times have you watched a player self destruct? We sit in the crowd of sweaters watching a big money match or a tournament match between two key players and this happens to one of them. We can sit there, recognize what is going on and criticize it from our chairs, yet still fail to act accordingly when it happens to us. I believe it is all about passion.
Being a pool player is a state of mind. I don’t believe it has anything to do with skill. Anyone who has the passion to play the game, whether they play it well or not, is a pool player. With that passion comes a certain amount of pride. What? You think pool players have no pride? Every pool player is proud! Some can just hide their pride better than others which can be a good thing for gambling, but you better believe every pool player has pride in what he or she has accomplished! When something happens to hurt that pride we can be irrational. I think that pertains to everyone. The anger we display, the irrational behavior, it all stems from our pride being damaged and making our passion seem like a waste of time and energy. When the anger subsides and the irrationality is finished, that same pride and passion takes over once again driving us to fix whatever it was that went wrong. Weaknesses in our mental game can prove to be much more detrimental than any bad physical habits we may have with our stance, stroke, or bridge. No matter how much we practice, how many lessons we pay for, if we don’t develop our mental game our improvement is limited. We have to learn to bounce back and recover from these occurrences. The pool gods are always going to be there wreaking havoc whenever and upon whomever they choose. It’s up to us to develop our own defense against them and learn how to learn from the lessons they give us.
So the next time you see a pool player throwing his cue like a javelin, smacking it on the table like a whip, slamming down the rack and shaking his head in disgust, don’t write him off as a crybaby too quickly! He might just be a super passionate player being served a lesson from our beloved pool gods!

Hit ‘em good, my friends! This is the lag…
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