Pool Sharks

by G.T.

     Saturday night, I made it to work and clocked in at 9:09. I was late, but only by nine minutes, so it was actually an improvement given my usual tardiness. Actually it was a vast improvement. I walked around the store, looking for a manager, because I had no idea what I’d be doing that night. My supervisor and I had finished all of our work for the weekend on Friday night. What was on the agenda, I didn’t know. I found a daytime supervisor, and he told me that my supervisor had called off for the night. He grabbed his walkie talkie and called the manager. The manager said that I should go home. I clocked out at 9:16. Seven minute shift. What a long day on the job.

     I got into my car and called a friend of mine who is involved with unions and union organizing, particularly the Warehouse Workers for Justice. Last August, I joined him and a band of activists at a rally at a food distributor that was illegally firing workers. It was an intense experience for me. Especially because I was working at a Wal-Mart at that time, a corporation that denies unionization for it’s employees. So I’m a supporter of WWJ, which is striving for higher wages, more stable employment, and better working conditions overall for warehouse workers. WWJ was holding a fundraising event at a bar and grill in Bolingbrook, on Saturday night. Since the night was mine for whatever I so chose to do, I drove to the bar.

     The bar had a sign above the windows that read “Bono’s”, but inside, everyone was calling it “Bulldog’s”. Whatever the hell the place is called, it’s just “the bar” as far as I’m concerned. A small place, they had a single pool table tucked away in the corner. Of course that caught my attention. I’ve been playing pool since age four, perhaps earlier if I was tall enough. I can’t quite remember. Essentially, I’ve been shooting billiards for a long time. At some point of the night, I knew I’d be at that table.

     I don’t play pool enough these days, which disappoints me. The table I was practically raised on was my Grandfather’s slate pool table. Everyday after school, I’d walk to my Grandparents’ house, head to the basement, and shoot pool for the whole afternoon and into the evening, often under the watchful eye of my Grandpa. My fraternity had a pool table, so during my time in college, I opted for several hours of playing 9 Ball alone, instead of honing my drafting skills. Now, I play a game wherever I go that has a table. Not often enough for my tastes.

     A dollar per game. My friend and a couple of his friends wanted to play a doubles game. Fine with me, however, there were two women who were running the table that night. Both were very good, and winning games left and right. If one happened to lose, the other would play the winner, beat them, and it was back to their domination of the table, and since the competitor would pay the dollar for the next game, these two women were playing, and winning, free games. They were running the table by their rules, and refused to allow my friends a doubles game, even if it was against the two of them. Somebody had to challenge them and oust them from their control of the table. A friend of my friend, of whom I had just met that night, encouraged me to play them and attempt to win the table. Whenever I’m about to play a game of pool, I always find myself nervous, because: A. I play occasionally these days, and B. I really don’t like to lose. If one of my short stories is rejected by a magazine, I brush it off, revise, and try again. But I better not fucking lose a game of 8 Ball. Enough said. My friend’s friend got change for a dollar, handed me the quarters, and I placed them in the slot, racked up, chalked my cue, and the game began. It was 8 Ball, no slop shots.

     I played the elder of the two women. She was tipsy by the time I challenged her, but it didn’t effect her skill. Even if she was dancing and slurring her words. She was missing shots, looking at me and saying, “I don’t know what I’m doing.” She did this about four times, dancing to the music while she attempted, rather poorly, to hustle this game. It annoys me when people are so obvious when trying to hustle. In fact, it insults me. She wouldn’t win this game, whether it was by my doing or just a stroke of bad luck. I kept quiet, disregarded her presence, and focused on my shots. At the end of the game, I missed a critical shot at a corner pocket. I was one step behind, having the 15 Ball left, and my opponent called the pocket that she intended for the 8 Ball. She called the corner pocket that was opposite my last miss, but the 8 Ball banked, and crept toward the side pocket. However slowly it crept, it dropped in, and the game was mine.

     One opponent down, one more opponent’s ass to kick. Sure, it was a shot of bad luck on that first woman’s part, so I took the win as more of a relief than a victory accredited to my skill. I still felt rusty, but a bit more confident. The second woman placed her quarters in and racked up. Same rules. No slop shots. This woman didn’t play the oblivious card like the last one, but instead tried to flatter me and compliment my skill. She didn’t purposely miss shots. She immediately tried getting every shot that she thought she could. During my turn, she asked if I would be so kind as to break up a cluster of solids and stripes that were huddled up along one of the banks. That was all hers if she wanted them spread out so badly. She eventually broke the cluster up, allowing me a couple advantageous shots, gaining me a lead over her. The game was close; I think she had two stripes left when I was onto the 8 Ball. I sunk the 8 Ball in on a far shot that spanned the length of the table, and the game was mine. So my friend, his friends, and I were finally able to play an easy going game of doubles 8 Ball. The game went great, and no bullshit or mediocre attempts at hustling were made against one another. We drank and enjoyed ourselves. My partner and I won, and eventually one of the two women got to play at the table again. I played her, and won that game, too. No matter how long it’s been, I’ve still got it.

     If you would like to learn more about Warehouse Workers for Justice, visit their website at www.warehouseworker.org.