I Remember Eight Ball

A couple years after I was born, my parents decided to add onto the farmhouse. Strangely, it was not because they were looking for more bedrooms (there were 2 1/2 to be split between five children and my parents (someday I’ll explain the "half" bedroom)) and not because they wanted another bathroom (did I mention of the five children, four were girls and there was another girl on the way?). It was because they needed room for STUFF.

The room is probably 15×20, maybe a tad bigger, and it was built with a concrete slab floor. My parents, who were – frugal – decided against any kind of typical flooring so the concrete was simply painted pink. They put dark wood paneling on the walls and hung wagon-wheel light "chandeliers" in the room. They are still there, if you doubt me, but now the floor was painted grey sometime in the last decade. Into this room, what we all grew up referring to as the Play Room, went the record player stereo as big as a buffet, the sewing machine, a liquor bar and table set made entirely out of wooden barrels, and a pool table.

I never really appreciated the fact that we had our very own regulation sized pool table growing up. When classmates were invited over, they were often torn between riding horses or playing pool. Often the pool table won out as it was something they only saw in the town’s bar, and only adults were allowed to use the table and its equipment.

My dad taught me how to play, and by taught I mean he showed me which end of the cue stick was up, the difference between the cue ball, stripes and solids; and understanding the term "kitchen" as it referred to billiards, which may explain why I don’t bother with the more common concept of kitchen when used in relationship to cooking and baking. I knew enough about pool to make me dangerous.

After I dropped out of my sophomore year at college (academic probation sounds a bit harsh), I soon found the job teaching ballroom dance lessons in Lincoln. Within a few months, I was transferred to Wichita to teach at a studio there. I was an obvious choice, being single and whose parents felt I was throwing my life away, to take over an open position.

My employer bunked me up with a fellow instructor who lived in a studio apartment. I can’t even remember where I must have slept or if there had been a kitchen or bathroom, I can only remember vividly the couple who lived next door in a studio of the exact same size but had been converted it into a gleaming white and brass-accented disco parlor. It was my introduction to a gay men life-style in the ohmygodwhoknewyoucoulddosomuchwithslipcoversandpaint kind of way. I actually bought my very first car from them: a Dodge Duster with a slant six for $600. By-the-by, that car is rusting into a pile of bolts in a field on my parents’ farm as we speak.

Since we worked an odd shift at the dance studio (1:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.), we would all go out after work and practice dancing something other than the waltz or foxtrot. However, since I wasn’t as an experienced dancer as the others, I would end up at a side table watching the others obnoxiously take up the entire space of the club’s dance floor to perform a flashy west-coast swing or cha-cha. I didn’t want to appear too pathetic in my solitude, so I would often meander into the secluded areas of the club that housed the pool tables. I would find one that wasn’t being used and plug 50 cents into the slots and play a game.

I liked having something to concentrate on without having to make attempts to socialize. It was a type of zen for me even though music from the 80s was pounding and the rainbow lights were strobing, but a girl playing pool by herself apparently draws attention, especially if she’s not too bad with a stick. A guy would walk over from a neighboring table and put a couple quarters on the pool table’s rail, a signal that he wanted to play a match. Their leering, cocky smiles were always wiped off their faces once I broke (a term referred to the act of "breaking" up the racked balls by shooting the cue ball into the entire set with the intent of scattering the balls evenly across the table’s surface).

Playing pool was my go to form of escape. After Wichita, I was transferred to Omaha to supervise, and then back to Lincoln to do the same at the very studio I got my start. In Lincoln, I tired of the nightclubs and eventually would find myself at Big John’s Billiards. It was during one of these times when I was playing pool with a girlfriend, that a couple young college guys came over and offered to play partners (guy-girl vs. guy-girl). It was from that meeting that my partner, Paul, eventually became my boyfriend. He was a champion billiard player through university, and he took my raw talent and buffed off the hard edges and made me into not just a "good" player; but "excellent".

He even bought me my first cue stick. You know, the kind that screws together with the nylon wrapped handle and maple shaft, and my very own cue case, personalized. He taught me that setting my drink or cigarette on the table’s edge or smacking my cue stick on the table in frustration was poor form and frankly, quite douchey. He taught me masse’, banking, playing safe, and how to run the table, all billiards terms that make me feel quite smart when I use them.

I was Paul’s pool protege. If it hadn’t been him, I wouldn’t have taken gold in the Cornhusker State Games (Women’s Billiards) (second bracket, but let’s not talk about that…). I would not have played on the city’s pool leagues. I would not have had personalized plates on my Dodge Neon that said "BLLRDS". I would not have understood how insulting the seemingly innocuous observation, "You’re pretty good…for a girl" would be because the thing is, I’m pretty good, girl or no. And I would not have met my husband. Oh, yes. I can thank my ex-boyfriend, Paul, for that as well.

My pool case is in the basement among the spiders and dust and dead japanese beetles. While I played in a league where we live now, it was run by a moron who didn’t know his backside from a bumper, and I refused to play again after the first year. Then I had Doodicus, and my bar-days were over. Very, very rarely now, if my husband and I find ourselves out on the town and there’s a table, we’ll play a game. I still can run the table.