After winning a tournament in a pool parlor, I was approached by one of the competitors who asked me if I would like to join his APA 8-ball team. Now, at this point I had never heard of a bar room league. I only played in tournaments, and I usually didn't hang around long after they were over. I just wanted the money, and of course the competition. My bar room days were pretty much behind me. I had become a sober, civilized player.
To make a much too long story not quite short enough, after he explained the APA rules and competition, I accepted. My girlfriend Pat also joined the same team because she thought it might improve her game, and the captain needed to balance the team's handicap. Our team went on to win two straight divisional titles, to a large degree because Pat was a four handicapper who could beat the fives. But that isn't the real story.
I am no stranger to bars. I have fallen down in the best of them. I have been threatened by 300 pound, tattooed, human-like accidents wearing leather pants, festooned with motorcycle chains, fashionably accented with dainty, gold earrings under black, army helmets. I don't remember ever having a personal confrontation with... ahhh... one, but being in the same room qualified as a threat to me.
After over-indulging, I have been known to miss-target some of the widest urinals in the state by over a foot, while reading stuff on the wall that would make Howard Stern grimace. I always thought the little deodorant pads at the bottom of the urinal would be more effective spread on the floor. I never did figure out how I could pocket an entire rack of balls without a miss, and lose focus on a urinal. Different parts of the brain, maybe.
Of course, I don't recall ever being in a bar that didn't have a pool table, unless it was just long enough to discover it didn't. And I usually shot and drank all night without it costing me more than a few quarters. Sometimes I could savor an entire evening of pool and beverage, and stagger out with a lot more money than when I entered. Now that's entertainment! So, accepting a spot on a bar room pool team seemed like the thing to do.
Our team was sponsored by a fairly decent pool hall. Most of the bars we played in were also relatively clean, and the patrons friendly and receptive, but not all. A few of the bars were decorated by the same people who built catacombs in Mexico. In some, the patrons were outnumbered by the bouncers, who usually ganged up on the bartender in a dispute. On a bar room team, one can expect to get sharked, even in clean bars where people expect to pay for their drinks. But in a couple of the bars where we had to compete, sharking took on a new meaning.
I don't mind when my opponent stands at the end of the table and stares at me while I am shooting. I don't even mind when they talk. But when they stand beside me crushing pool balls in their bare hands, I get nervous. I don't like it when they spin their brass knuckles on the table near the targeted pocket. And yelling "Foul" while I'm chalking up makes me anxious.
One particular match we played stands out in my mind. I knew we were in trouble as soon as we we entered the bar. After my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I saw naked girls on a stage near the pool table. Our opponents were practicing on the only table in the place. I could tell they were a team, because they were all wearing matching blue jeans, t-shirts with colorful pictures that illustrated various forms of death, and baseball caps turned backwards. But I couldn't hear them very well. In fact, I couldn't hear anything except the music that the dancers were rhythmically bumping to. I turned to Pat and asked her if she was OK in there. "I'm fine", she assured.
Well, the match started on time, and our team found seats at various tables the size of dinner plates. We were scattered among a wide variety of droolers with fixed pupils. But, we were there to play pool, and we were a finely tuned, well prepared team. Pat and I found a table, and seated ourselves facing the pool table, with the dancers to our backs. I concentrated on the games, but every now and then my head would start turning slowly away from the pool table. One eye would be locked on Pat, while the other tried to follow the direction my head was turning. It hurt. I must have looked like Linda Blair in slow motion. I honestly don't know why this was happening, because I have played pool many times in topless bars, and I was seldom distracted by the dancers. But with Pat beside me, it seemed I wanted to see what she didn't seem to mind me seeing as long as I didn't look. I started sweating. A lot.
When my match came up, I shook every thought out of my head except the game. We lagged for the break, and started the contest. At first everything was OK. I was well focused on the task at hand, and seemingly in control of the match. And then, as I bent over for a critical shot, one of my eyes fell to the stage. The other eye drifted between Pat and the object ball. A dancer was wrapped around a brass pole. Her sweat lubricated a sensuous, slow slide to the floor, whereupon she laid on her back and started moving parts of her body that shouldn't be exposed to anything with a breath. I looked at Pat, and she smiled. It was a cruel smile. It said, "I don't mind." I shook it off and focused on the object ball. It was too late. My weak eye gave up the fight. As I stroked, the dancer made one last magnificent bump. Pat spun around as the cue ball left the table. She saw what she didn't mind my seeing, but this time I was looking. I saw the cue ball leave the table, the dancer flip me the bird, and Pat turning into serial mom, all in one chilling instant.
As it turns out, the dancer was a substitute on our opponent's team. She had a two handicap, but they found a way to make her a seven, and she never picked up a stick. Mind you, I can deal with being sharked, even by threats from Godzilla. But topless sharking? Somebody's gotta draw the line.
I would not hesitate encouraging participation on a bar league team. The game of pool, structured by well defined rules and managed by responsible league operators, has changed the atmosphere in many bars. One can find many teams made of an equal number of men and women, and I have as yet to see a lady shown anything but respect. I guess it is true what is said about a lady: "A lady is one, before whom, men become gentlemen."
The gals are bringing pool into the light of day. We owe them a debt of gratitude. However, I do think some of the games should be played in male strip joints where the lady shooters will have to.... suffer?
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