Cappy, Cappy, You've Ruined my Life!
by Carl M. Pearson,
Conrad Caparros is gone. "Cappy" to me. Cappy is responsible for my downfall into a life of frustration, 2 a.m. flashbacks, nervous twitches, blue pockets, and fragile male ego episodes. In some arenas of play I dominate like a Jordan, an Ali, or an Archer. In other groups I fade into the woodwork and am described by the pundits with sad shakes of the head predicting "no competition, no big deal, he'll choke."
Cappy, Cappy, what have you done to me? You have ruined my life!
Cappy would come to my house when I was in single digits (age, not IQ) and take me with him for his regular haircut ritual. Today they would refer to it as styling. Cappy was born in Puerto Rico to a family that prized education and family ties above everything. We would travel to a turn-of-the-century old neighborhood in Chicago where we would both get haircuts from one of his island countrymen. I never understood a word they said, but they obviously enjoyed their happy, animated discussions. I could always tell when they were telling a dirty joke by the change in the tone of their voices and laughter. Even then I knew of the existence of dirty jokes, but not their content. This may have been my first clue that I was doomed to a life in pool halls, errrr, billiard parlours.
Part of their weekly humor was triggered by my blond hair falling amidst the coal black hair of the regular patrons. I can only now imagine the various jokes that were traded. Were these the original blond jokes?
We would lunch at various family owned restaurants where they always greeted him by name. Greek, Puerto Rican, Cuban, and other cuisine I cannot identify. We would talk for hours. Cappy was always well dressed, and included some extra dapper touch such as expensive cigars, cufflinks, jacket, and highly shined shoes. He was always a class act.
He came to the US for his education, using a brother-helps-next-brother method of college. He became a fortune 500 accountant. His brothers became engineers and business owners. Sure they had their problems, but Puerto Ricans in the States were not sought-after commodities, even well educated ones. His brother, Gus, and he would hustle a bit of pool and billiards to live. They calculated that they needed $2.80 a day to get by. Not $3.00, but $2.80. Them damn accountants. Gus would hold the bets because he could run faster, just in case. Cappy had a super-smooth stroke and fingers flexible enough to turn most jack-ups into a normal shot.
Back then women were non-existent in the Halls of Ivory, but many men would still dress well for casual play and would break out their best duds for tournament play. Good etiquette, floor tap approvals (many players today do not know that this is a compliment,) and quiet competition was the norm. He generally wore a tie.
My interest in the game grew slowly until my Dad purchased a table for about $10 and my brother and I proceeded to crash balls around this plywood hell with cardboard tipped cues. Cappy had to see it as soon as he heard the unmistakable clicks. My Dad plays well, but Cappy loved the game.
Cappy found a cue that we had failed to destroy, prepped it as best he could and took his turn. I cannot imagine worse circumstances for any accomplished player, but he shot, shot and shot. Position, position, position. Draw, follow, draw. Combo, carom, combo. I am sure he agonized over his table inflicted errors, but to me, he was a witch to be burned at the stake. How could any mortal man perform such miracles without having sold his soul?
He could stand it no longer. He retired in his perceived defeat, and I spent hours just trying to stop the damn thing, much less back it up.
After a later haircut journey we detoured to an old-time billiard parlour and he showed me a table with no pockets. I thought they had just made a mistake when they made the table and hadn't caught the error yet. The big six-legged house stood next to a smaller six-legged house that did have those forgotten holes properly installed. With a quality house cue Cappy proceeded to demonstrate draw-spins, cramps, masse's, tricks and extreme english effects. My recollection of the 3-cushion table was a blur but included a 7 point run remembered accurately only because it is the sum of my birth month and birth day.
Cappy had attained Official Sorcerer Status with a green tipped wand.
Basically, he scared the hell out of me. Or more accurately, he probably scared the hell INTO me. I proceeded to play a lot in college and a few years afterwards winning some nice little events and tournaments. Then marriage, babies, and bills. I hung it (mostly) up for 15 years. Now with more time on my hands, I have been swinging at the ball a bit.
Cappy was not a world class champion. He played in and (hopefully) won some feeder tournaments, mostly in 3-cushion. The Hall-of-Fame will not look for mementos from Cappy any more than they will ever look to find mementos about me. He was a good player who had his nights of victory and lots of early-outs. But he was always a class act.
Cappy would have gritted his teeth at today's players wearing only T-Shirts and dirty jeans, much less their crude T-shirt slogans. This is on the men.
The actions of some women in pool halls today would surely offend his senses. In his time, the mere presence of a woman in a pool hall could demean her character unless she was properly attired and accompanied by a minimum of two brothers and an uncle, and acted like a Lady.
Alcohol was generally not served in Billiard Halls, but a regular's silver flask of medicine was seldom questioned. The tables were fine furniture items and well maintained, although the floors seemed to suffer from chronic fatigue and unknown goo. Smoke de jour was ever-present. Cigar, pipe, and cigarette smoke, no burning-rope smells were ever detected.
After his recent death I became aware of this photograph showing Cappy at the start of the 1936-37 Chicago Sectional 3-cushion championships. I don't know his prior victories or even the outcome of this event. He is the 4th from the left -- Dapper as ever -- the only man wearing cufflinks. I'll give 5 to 3 that his shoes were the shiniest of the field and that his shirt was properly pressed.
Cappy ruined my life by introducing me to a game that has taken thousands of hours of my life. I dare not estimate the financial impact in the presence of any female carrying any remote relationship to me.
Cappy, look at me now! I can draw, follow, jump, spin, cramp, stun, skid, combo, carom, and choke. Look what you did to me. I am not a singles champion and will probably never invest the time to become one. Mostly because of questionable outcome now that you ask, among other reasons. I may be doomed at the tables to be simply part of the billiard food chain with carnivores above as well as prey below.
Pool is one of just a few activities that affect me this way. "When I am doing any of these activities, I think of nothing else, just the task at hand." No life problems, no job problems, and no (major) money problems. My list includes boating, flying, sex and pool. Boating takes good weather; I can't afford to fly that often; and I don't recall the last time I had 20 hours of sex (good or bad) in two days. Now pool on the other hand can be performed well for such durations without requiring a Doctor's assistance. No, No, that does not mean I have given up the others. Whew, that was close.
Under the watchful eye of my aunt and parents, I bid Cappy a final farewell at the other Parlor mankind ultimately attends. I thanked him for being a favorite uncle and hands-down the classiest. I whisper bragged to him about some billiard victories, and failed to include mentioning any major dog shots. He probably knows about them by now anyway and is laughing (with his barber) in Spanish about the big dumb blond Swede being an "Idiota."
I am sure no one saw my tiny little gift to Cappy. I wonder if he needed that perfect piece of chalk and the new leather tip I slipped in with him? I don't want him to have to use one with the cardboard tip. I heard that there are some pretty tough players where he has gone. He won't beat them or even scare them, but 5 to 3 he'll be the one with the most class.
Goodbye, Cappy, I love you. I wonder whose life I'm good enough to
ruin? Wait for me, Cappy, I'll join you someday. I'll want the break
if you make me wear cufflinks.