December 21, 2017

Pool Etiquette

I recently made the comment to someone at a “pool league party” that I wished this particular large league would incorporate some pool etiquette into their system. It seems to be so prevalent amongst players in the league to have no idea of what any kind of etiquette is or that any actually exists. To them, it is a social event at which they can drink and cut up with friends and just have a good time. Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with that but, from this pool of league players is where we get new players into the actual pool culture, pool in the “real world,” as I call it. That is why I try to educate those with whom I come into contact while playing in the league. It can be real rude awakening for some when they try to cross over from league play to something more realistic. A little education might help to soften the blow on them and also spare some pool players the headache and high blood pressure of dealing with the uneducated.

So, let’s talk about etiquette. Believe it or not, in this rough and tumble, mentally brutal, dog eat dog game we love, there are some unwritten rules. Rules that are learned over time by those of us who have chosen to join the culture. Probably somewhere along the way in our journey through the pool world, each of us has come across someone or a group of people from whom we received some pretty stiff lessons! I can remember one such lesson, and to be honest, it may have actually been my first!

In a previous entry I shared the story of how I started playing pool. I mentioned the dark, dank pool room upon which we stumbled and how, after that first night there, I returned as often as could! Not too awfully long after that first night I was there again with one of my buddies playing a great new game we had discovered, called 9-ball! Now, at this time most bar table games cost 2 quarters. That was also true at this place with the exception of 4 tables in a row, in the area where most of the “big action” took place. These tables had only 10 balls in them and each game cost 1 quarter! Yes! Four tables solely dedicated to 9-ball! Oh, by the way, at that time we had no idea of the terms, “action,” or “action area” and what they meant.

So, there we were, me and my buddy playing 2-dollar 9-ball in the “action area!” Keep in mind this was maybe 2 weeks after that first night I was bitten by the pool bug. We chose one of the end tables closest to the wall because there was a booth next to it where we could sit while the other was shooting, eat our food (which by the way was really, really good at this place!), and set our beer bottles and cigarettes. Little did we know that by choosing that table it was the only smart thing we would do that night! Now, 28+ years later, it is obvious to me that area was cordoned off the way it was for action. Back then, neither of us had a clue! All we knew was, “Hey! These tables only cost a quarter!” So that’s where we planted ourselves for our night of “big action” playing 2-dollar 9-ball against each other!

It wasn’t long, an hour or so, before the “players” came in. I remember an older guy, kind of short, white hair, I can’t remember his name though “George” is ringing a bell. Anyway, George seemed to always be the loudest, meanest, roughest, and toughest of the bunch! He was always barking at everyone about “playing some for fifty!” Well, he came in and was barking at another guy. Whenever this started I was intrigued! So much so that I couldn’t play, I had to watch and listen intently! My buddy would get aggravated at me because it would be my shot and I would just sit there, watching and listening! But I didn’t care. I was in school and class was in session! I was paying attention like I had never done in actual school! It was the bug. It had me!

Anyway, after several minutes of barking, they agreed to play. I can’t remember if they were playing even or if George was getting a spot. I don’t think I understood the whole, “spot” thing at that time, but looking back, George really didn’t play very well so he was probably getting spotted. They chose the table right next to ours! Of the four tables, there was probably a favorite and I’m guessing that was it. Otherwise, why would they choose to play next to a couple of bangers? They flipped the coin and started playing. My buddy and I also continued our match right next to them; us playing for 2 bucks a game, them playing for 50 bucks a game! It was my first experience playing that close to someone playing for money. Before then, I had never really thought about what could happen. It had never occurred to me that there was etiquette to it or a sort of right of way. I had no idea that my $2 game, as much as it meant to me, was absolutely meaningless to them! More than meaningless, it was an annoyance! I guess we were lucky that they had not kicked us out of the action area when they got there. Maybe they should have but had they done so, the lesson we were about to learn would not have been learned, at least not that night.

I remember I was down on a shot. I don’t remember which ball I was shooting, but I certainly remember which ball George was shooting! I don’t know who got to their shot first, me, or George. I never saw him. Before I shot my shot, I felt the butt of his cue poke me right in the hip! I immediately stood up and turned. My eyes met the eyes of George, whose face was blood red! He reached up and grabbed the cigarette out of his mouth, and proceeded to let out a string of cursing like I had never heard, at a volume level that could make the bravest man cower! I was barely 21, a stoner with long, golden hair and at the time weighing in around a buck-twenty, and looked like I just left the set of MTV (back when they actually played music videos)! He was a hardened gambler who had more than likely done some time in the penitentiary and though a bit short was not small in stature! In other words, he scared the shit out of me! Though his opponent and the sweaters who had gathered got him to back off of me, it was made abundantly clear that we should not be playing in that area. It was fine for us as long as there was no “real” action. But if real action came in, our $2 game had to be relocated. The funny thing is, it made perfect sense to me while pissing off my buddy. He insisted that we should not have to move! We were paying customers! He didn’t get it. I was starting to understand the culture. Sure, we were paying customers, but George and his group were part of the culture! We could go to the back, out of the way, keep doing what we were doing, and still be paying customers.

Being a paying customer is what meant the most to my buddy, though, and that’s probably why he rarely came back. Me, I wanted to be more than just a paying customer. I wanted to be a part of the culture! I wanted to be in that world! I wasn’t mad at George. He taught me something and I respected that. I learned who had the right-of-way. I learned action supersedes non action.

I learned to respect the culture. After all, the culture had been around longer than the game rooms and bars which were simply exploiting the game for their own gain. I learned my place. I learned people like me and my buddy played a role in their culture, even if we didn’t understand. I learned we were the ones supporting their culture. I learned they didn’t care if we were there as long as we stayed out of the way. As long as we knew our place, they had no problem with us. They knew they needed us and they accommodated us, but the game was most important! It’s more than a game. It’s a way of life to many. We were merely newbies exploring the game and culture. All George and his group wanted from us was respect. Not necessarily for themselves, but for what they were doing. At the time I had no idea what all that respect entailed but George and his group was actually willing to educate and help us, and I was eager to learn!

I had no idea I had stumbled into a little corner of pool Heaven! I was never really aware of that fact until a few years later, but the things I learned in that old, dilapidated building will stay with me forever!

This is the lag…

Hit ‘em good, my friends!

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Sponsored by Jacoby Custom Cues

Author: Kelvin Greenleaf

Editor: Shaylyn Troop