Now I'm going to tell the pool story. Let me just warn you that it has absolutely no national or international political significance. It is not a fable. It is not an allegory for these chaotic times. It is not quite factual and it's not quite fiction. It exists in that blurry memory story place. It's not even an amusing anecdote about an overeducated urban hipster. It is a story I choose to tell for my own amusement.
It happened on a Tuesday night. Yes, things can happen on a Tuesday. In Los Angeles, things can happen any day of the week. That's why I like Los Angeles. Actually, I really like Los Angeles because there are 300 days of sunshine a year.
On this particular Tuesday, my friend Mina told me that her friend, Neil, was playing in a band at the Temple Bar, so off I whisked to Santa Monica. I picked up Miss Solstice, who was unmotivated to go out but never turned down a free ride---very wise that one, and together, we valet parked and were in the door with beer and a band playing.
Or something like a band. The lead singing girl was giving a lap dance to her amp onstage as her tight black tank top ran up her front. Occasionally, she reached down and shoved it back down into her low riding pants. The rest of the band seemed to ignore her but play in tune.
Mina showed up with her scuba instructor, Tall Jeff. I liked Tall Jeff right away. He was just so tall and way into the study of DNA. His easy going manner was a bit like the dude in Big Lewbowski. However, unlike some dudes whose brains had been fried by the sun, Tall Jeff had a fully functional brain capable of insight and wit. He even admired the lead singing girl for having the guts to get up there and do her thing.
The band ended with a bang-bang-booooom, and the lead singing girl squealed at us to get on her mailing list. We all got to meet Neil the guitar player. Neil liked Neil Finn. I liked Neil Finn. We attempted a conversation where neither one of us could hear the other:
-I didn't get to see Neil Finn's show last time he was in town. -Oh where was that? -I forget. I didn't go. He was with his brother, Tim. -Yeah. (something I didn't hear) -Their new album just came out. Everybody's Here. -Yeah. I love One All. -(something he didn't hear).
Moving on. Yes, I have not forgotten that this is a story about pool.
Hearing that there might be a dance floor after the next and last band, we all decided to stick around. The next and last band was called The Postman (yes, after the Kevin Costner movie---no, they were not the plural, Postmen).
The lead singer of The Postman was cute and male complete with preppy Gap-ad stubble. Unfortunately, before the end of the first song, I figured out that he knew he was cute. That totally turned me off in a really big way. Why does everyone in LA have to let everyone know that they know how fabulous they look? Can't we all just be? Life is not a red carpet, it's a cabaret.
When Miss Solstice pointed out that the drummer was even cuter, I agreed with her and got into the backbeat. As the band started playing their Dave Matthews-esque song, Tall Jeff sighed at our girlieness.
Tragically, there was no dance floor after The Postman. There were only blinding floodlights as the band packed of their instruments. But it was Tuesday night. We didn't want the fun to end, so we glided over to the bar across the street.
The bar across the street had two pool tables, two dartboards, and some old school video games. It was not just a sports bar, it was a generation X sports bar. The distinct scent of cooking grease filled the air although the grill had probably been shut down for hours. According to the wall menu, you could add fries or onion rings for an extra $1.50.
While we figured out our beer drinking lives, I felt the eyes of a dozen suits on me. It was not just a generation X sports bar. It was a white collar generation X sports bar.
Mina challenged Tall Jeff to a friendly game of Galactico, and we all settled around a high table. Miss Solstice, Neil, and I marveled at the names written in chalk on the bricks of the wall. How strange to try to immortalize yourself with chalk which can be so easily wiped away. Many of the table level bricks had been wiped several times, so they now looked white. Names on bricks higher up had a better chance at survival. Stella, you're name is still up there.
Over at the pool tables, two drunk white collar guys were mixing it up as only white collar guys could---loudly.
‘Fuck you, you fucking fuck fuck fuck.'
‘Fuck this, fuck that, fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.'
Gentlemen, please. A little creativity. In that movie, Good Night, And Good Luck, when Edward R. Murrow takes on McCarthy, he doesn't say:
‘Fuck you, you Junior Senator, and fuck your fucking fear mongering witch hunt. Fuck your allegations. Fuck your grandstanding. Fuck you.'
No, Murrow doesn't say that. He speaks calmly in complete sentences to make his points. He even uses Shakespeare.
Before anyone could play the Michael Jackson part in the ‘Beat It' video, the two fucking guys cooled down and patted each other on the back. They also freed up the pool table closest to us.
Mina snatched it up and challenged Tall Jeff to a game of pool.
‘Ten bucks a game.' Mina said hopefully. She was on-fire. She was rallying us all to fundom. She was determined to play. Eager for good entertainment, we at the table quickly produced quarters.
They played eight ball, solids and stripes. It was Bar Pool 101. The first game was short since Mina scratched the eight.
‘Double or nothing.' She said, and more quarters were produced.
I watched them play the second game and tried to remember the last time I had played pool. I use to play pool every week with some guys from work. By playing every week, I had gone from sucking to being decent.
My Dad and my brother are the true pool players in the family. They play nine ball and turn it into high art. They've got the English and can spin the cue ball a thousand different ways. They bank shots and make it look easy.
I think the last time I played pool was in New Zealand when I got my ass handed to me. However, I think it was some strange magnetic field in New Zealand that made me play so badly. Like boxing, pool is one of those things that just faded away. Once upon a time, I boxed. Once upon a time, I played pool.
I watched Mina and Tall Jeff play. They were okay players. Mina was making shots that I would make. She was missing shots I would miss. Mina won the second game, and I put my quarters on the table.
Mina was surprised. I don't think she had been that surprised all evening, but she was game for another game. As I racked the balls, I tried to remember how the heck to play pool. I rolled the cue stick on the table to make sure it wasn't warped. Mina broke and sank a stripe.
I attempted a shot and missed. Think Jen, relax, chalk up, don't overpower the cue ball, simple shots, simple movements, and for christsake relax. Why exactly had I wanted to play pool again?
I sank a ball or two. Mina even sank one of my balls by mistake. The bartender came around and announced last game.
Mina was down to the eight ball, and I had three balls left on the table. She missed the eight as the bartender announced five minutes.
I looked at the table. I could play for safety if I had time, but I didn't have time. I had to sink some balls.
You know how in those movies, where the young Warrior in the climatic battle hears the voice of his mentor? In Star Wars, dead Obi Wan says ‘use the force, Luke' during the Death Star battle.
Suddenly, Dad and the Bro were standing across the pool table from me.
Dad: Don't you see it, Jen? It's so easy. You could clear the table.
Bro: Don't forget to chalk up between shots.
Then, they disappeared into the mist.
I looked at the table. I could do it. I shot the first ball and sank it. As I followed the cue ball down the table, I chalked up the cue stick. The cue ball stopped right where it needed to. I sank the second ball. I chalked. I sank the third ball. Chalk.
I heard a ‘whoah' from Tall Jeff and Mina as I lined up the eight. Simple stroke and the eight dropped into the corner pocket.
‘You beat me!' Mina exclaimed.
‘Good game, and I don't play for money.' I said, and we hugged. Yes, when chicks play pool, they hug.
‘You are the shit!' Mina said.
‘It could have gone either way.' I said. Yes, I was being gracious, but deep down, I knew, I was the shit. I come from a family of highly competitive games players, but I strive to be gracious especially after I kick ass. Please excuse me for a moment, so I can go off into the next the room and shout, ‘I won! I won! I won!' at the top of my lungs.
However, this isn't a story about pool playing DNA. I hadn't beaten Mina. I had beaten the part of me that says ‘don't step up, you won't win'. I had beaten my own defeatism. Maybe I oughta step up onto the stage more. Maybe I oughta play pool more.