Friday, February 29, 2008
My favorite Twilight Zone episode is all about a game of pool.
In fact, that’s the title of the episode—“A Game of a Pool”—and it tells the story of a small time hustler who literally plays the game of his life against the ghost of the legendary Fats Brown.
The episode achieves so much with just the bare essentials: two fabulous actors in the form Jack Klugman and Jonathan Winters, a great script, and a pool table.
No CGI effects, no explosions, no screeching critters bursting out of people’s guts and spraying ketchup in all directions. No space ships. Just quality.
I’ve been thinking more about that episode recently because I played pool the other night for the first time in nearly a year.
Pool is like a lot of things in my life: I tell myself this is fun, I should do this more often and then…I don’t.
On its own, pool is such a great game. It has been associated with all sorts of vile behavior, thanks, in part, to the movies--The Hustler, The Color of Money; I love those flicks--where the pool hall was depicted as the anteroom to the Ninth Circle of Hell.
And, certainly, the game can attract lowlifes. I’ve had friends tell me of unpleasant encounters in various establishments that started with a game of pool. But you strip all that away, and you still have a fun game.
Last week I got a chance to play when I joined a bunch of people from this group I joined a few years ago to celebrate one of the member’s birthdays.
I wanted to see of people I hadn’t seen in a while and, as always with this group, I get to meet some nice people for the first time. I’m unhappy over losing my job, but hiding at home in front of the TV isn’t going to help.
I forced myself to get out of the house—in spite of the snow—and take the train over to the Village to this basement saloon, which was stocked with pool tables, ping-pong tables, knock hockey, Scrabble boards, and probably a ton of other stuff I didn’t see.
The place is cool, but it's bit of a dump. The men's lavatory looked like the engine room of the Titanic just after the iceberg hit. I spotted the corpse of a water bug the size of a Shetland pony under one of the ping-pong tables. Still, it's got character.
I didn’t see anybody from my group. I walked the length of this huge place, but I didn’t catch sight of one familiar face. Did I get the date wrong? Was I in the right bar? Maybe I was in the wrong city.
I started getting antsy and I went into my retreat mode where I tell myself I should bail, go home and fire up the DVD player.
But I resisted. I forced myself to sit at the bar, order a beer, and just wait. It was just 7 pm for God’s sake. This was a party, not a track meet. People will show.
And they did. I saw one guy I knew and then a few more and then our hostess showed up and we all hit the ping pong and pool tables and started playing.
A small group of elderly African-American ladies made their way through the ever-expanding crowd. They looked a little out of place until I realized they were band, the Gospel Queens of Brooklyn. They took what passed for a stage in this place and put on terrific show.
I don’t believe I’ve ever heard gospel music in a pool hall, so it was quite a treat. I could sin and be saved at the same time.
I was so happy I fought the urge to stay home and resisted the desire to run out the door because everything wasn’t falling into place in the first two seconds.
It was all so nice, all so pleasant. I held myself to just the one beer because I didn’t want to get blasted because that would just make me more depressed.
After about three or four hours, I was getting ready to go home and I was really pleased.
Rack 'Em Up!
And then I met the jerk.
The jerk, who was not part of our group, was playing at the neighboring table. He was a loud-mouth with an atrocious vest playing with equally boisterous friend. But who cares? I was going home anyway.
And then I felt something tapping at my leg. I looked and saw the jerk was going to make a shot. And—oh, my goodness—I had the nerve to be in his way and he was poking me with the pool cue.
All night long people were accommodating each other. Total strangers would stop dead in their tracks when they saw me making a shot and I would thank them for their courtesy.
But this hemorrhoid couldn’t do that. He had to give me the poke.
I stepped out his and he made his shot. But I was pissed, muttering to myself “I’d like to shove that thing up your ass.” I would have gladly gotten out of his way without being poked by like a pack mule.
Maybe I should have switched into Elephant Man mode and shrieked, “I am not an animal! I am a human being!!!” That would have fucked with his head big time.
But I didn’t. I didn't kick him in the groin, or hammer the pool cue up his rectum, or express my displeasure in any way. I just put up with his crap.
I backed down, I suppose, and I wasn’t happy about that. But I didn’t like the alternatives. Starting some kind of incident could have lead to my getting hurt—or God forbid—killed.
You don’t know how crazy people are, you don’t know if they’re carrying weapons, and, as my boxing class has taught me, you have no idea how much fighting proficiency someone has until you start fighting.
And what if I had “won” whatever encounter we might have had? I would have ruined everyone’s evening, especially the young woman’s birthday party we were there to enjoy.
The thought of a 50-year-old man getting into a brawl is rather pathetic, too. My father was always hanging out the window of his car and screaming curses at people well into his seventies. I'm amazed he never got shot.
However, I know this clown wouldn’t have tried anything like that if I were six-two and weighed 250 pounds. But that’s a statement of the obvious when dealing with pricks like these.
It seems I’m always the one being sensible, the one who keeps his temper, the one who backs down. I’m tired of it, but I don’t want to be some fire-breathing knuckle-dragger.
In this world you can get into a fight every time you walk down the street if that’s what you want to do. There will always be someone as stupid as you to accept the challenge.
Hell, Ralph Kramden got into all sorts of trouble in a pool hall when he crossed paths with the infamous Harvey. Remember Harrrvvveeyy?
I’ve always had a problem with anger, but these last few days have been bad, as I have not been contacted by any potential employers, and I can’t seem to get my personal work done.
I had this habit of replaying ugly incidents from the past to rev up my rage. I have total recall for the bad times in my life and amnesia for the good memories. We need to reverse that arrangement.
The priest at Trinity Church recently talked about how we’re often governed by what people think of us, when the reality is everything we do is between us and God.
No one saw this clown being so disrespectful to me. I wasn’t injured in any way whatsoever, so fine. Whatever happened was between me and God and when you see a dick like this guy, you keep walking. God didn't quite put it that way, but you know what I mean.
What I’m more concerned about is some of the people I’ve associated with in the past, alleged “friends” who made a point of screwing me over.
You have to end poisonous relationships with people in your life and not walk around lugging ten tons of toxic anger toward some twit with a pool cue whom you'll never see again.
Leave him in the Twilight Zone.