Friday, August 18, 2006


Eric lines one up
Eric lines one up.

A recent post over at Where the Hell Was I? got me to thinking about my own experiences with the Sport of Kings.

No, not horse racing. The other Sport of Kings...billiards.

Most people in the United States use the term “billiards” rarely, except in reference to the heavy, flat, felt-surfaced table upon which Billiards-Related Games are played. And that is fair, because billiards proper is unusual in these parts. Most of the time, people here play pool, or a variation of it: eight-ball, Fuck Your Buddy Screw Your Neighbor, et alia. Give most people here a table with no pockets, and they will shit a peach pit trying to figure out what the hell to do with those pee-waddly three balls.

I am a middling pool player. No, really. I’m aware that pool players are masters of the art of concealing their true skill level, but since I don’t play for a living - or even to pick up the odd double-sawbuck - I have no need to overplay the fact that I really ain’t all that good. Or hide it, for that matter. I play a few times a year, mainly at Houston-area sales meetings where my heart really isn’t in the game.

Back when I was in college, my eating club (our local alternative to the forbidden Greek-letter fraternities) was blessed with two billiard tables: one for pocket billiards - pool - and the other for straight billiards. These were massive, ancient tables, seemingly carven from the trunks of trees in a manner reminiscent of Odysseus’s mythical bed. The pool table had leather mesh pouches for each pocket, something I had never seen before in the cheap rec-room equipment and quarter-a-game bar tables with which I had been familiar. Over the course of months, I developed a reasonable amount of skill at both pool and three-cushion billiards - yet not enough skill such that I could be accused of being a Billiards-Sodden Wastrel.

Many years later, on a marathon Asia-Europe trip, I spent time visiting with a colleague in northern Belgium. Much of that time was spent drinking powerful Duvel beer and playing three-cushion billiards - yes, three-cushion is a bar game amongst the Flemings - under the baleful influence of heavy jet lag and waffles.

These days, I play on those rare occasions when I find myself near a Billiard Table. It’s not often enough to keep my game sharp, but I can hold my own, as I found out when I journeyed to the Straight White Billiard Parlor and Indian Kitchen some weeks back. For the occasion, I dug out my very own pool cue from the bowels of the Basement d’Elisson, a cue I had won as a safety award some twenty-odd years ago at the Great Corporate Salt Mine. It had never been taken out of the box in all that time...still a virgin cue...but, by Gawd, I put it to good use at Chez Eric. Yes, I got thrashed a few times...but I was able to win games off of both Erica and Eric, his ownself.

I don’t know if it was the Scotch, the cameraderie, the Indian food, or the Pocket Billiards...but I felt like a king that weekend, playing the Sport of Kings.

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