Alfonso was born in Cuba, came to the States when he was 10, as part of the 1980 Mariel boat lift. His father was one of Castro’s political prisoners who benefitted from Castro attempting to slip “undesirables” in with legitimate émigrés. Alfonso said his father refused our government subsidies and, with no prospect for work in Florida, moved to California where he worked three jobs and in five years saved enough to buy his first house.
Alfonso just bought his own first house in San Francisco where the prices are sky high. He can afford it, though, because his father inspired him to get a good education and he found a high paying job in the computer industry.
Alfonso has no accent, but he didn’t speak English when he arrived. He picked it up quick.
“Yah, the other kids used to call me a wetback, but after a while it didn’t mean anything,” Alfonso told me after he signed up and we were waiting to play. He sipped his rum and diet Coke and added, “Because, you see, I realized I was smarter than them, so it didn’t matter what they called me.”
Chun Kit is from Hong Kong and has a strong accent. He does not believe he has any trace of an accent at all. Because no American can pronounce his name properly, Chun Kit called himself Tom for years. More recently, following the trend of using initials, he began signing up as CK. He can be seen between games at a back table with his laptop listing items in his warehouse for sale on Ebay.
One day I missed a shot the onlookers thought was difficult, but it almost went in. I said, “Horse shoes and hand grenades.”
C K said, “Horse shoe? Hand grenade?” He rarely uses an “s” on the end of a word. That is because, as he once explained, there is no equivalent method of pluralizing in Chinese. “You have ten car. Or five dog. None of this craziness ess.”
I realized the idiomatic expression I had just used was something with which CK was not familiar. I turned to John P who was watching our game and asked if he could come up with another way to express how close the shot was. John P said, “It’s like the difference between Nagasaki and Hiroshima.”
Joel changes hair color as frequently as he changes clothes. That’s because he is a hairdresser with his own shop and can ask one of his chairs to do a do for him. Last week it was black with green tint. Last night it was pure white. Joel has captained several pool league teams.
Sergio is straight from Jalisco Mexico where his father grows agave and makes Tequila. Sergio signs up on the board as Serch. While working down the street as a waiter, he recently graduated from State with a degree in accounting. Sergio gets antsy when drunk. One day he was jumping around outside and, since he knew I was a writer, he said, “Teach me how to write. I want to learn to write.”
I told him nobody can teach anyone to write. I said, “You have to do it on your own. Here’s an idea. Put a pencil and paper next to your bed and when you wake up in the morning write down your dream.”
Sergio said that was a great idea and I heard nothing more for about six months. Then he comes up and tells me, “I been doing whatchew said. I has been writing down my dreams and I got 50 pages of dreams to show you.”
This sounded truly amazing. I was impressed and wanted to see what he had written and told him so.
He said regretfully, “Only trouble is they has to be translated. They’re all in es-Spanish.”
Jerry’s last name starts with a Z, so he signs up as Jerz. This is familiar shorthand to the regulars, a complex incomprehensibility to newcomers who are simply unable to pronounce let alone read it.
Jerz was born in the Philippines and speaks fluent Spanish, Tagalag and English. He can recite several of Shakespeare’s soliloquies and teaches special needs children in San Jose. Jerz must commute nearly an hour each way to play in the Tavern League where he is captain of one team and mother hen to four more. Jerz can be described as rotund. He is gay, dresses in drag for the Pride Parade and Halloween when cross dressing is common for all three sexes. As Sam L once remarked, “He’s a transvestite, but he’s our transvestite.” Jerz never shows up at the club in feminine apparel although he is given to wearing brightly colored shirts and pants and hanging large medallions made of gold or coral in art deco designs on thick beaded chains around his neck.
When Jerz first showed up at the Watt he demonstrated his skill and, after a match, took players aside. Turns out he was a talent scout recruiting for the league and a goodly number of previously ronan players took the opportunity and joined.
One of those was Marco. His first three names, and he has four, are Marcus Aurelius Antoninus which should identify his Italian ancestry if he ever wrote them out on the chalk board. But because brevity is the soul of writing your name on the board, he always signs up as Marco.
Marco loves riddles. He poses these whenever he can and avidly seeks new ones. It is hard to get the better of him. Here is an example: Three brothers had to race for their patrimony, their father specifying the last horse around the course will be the winner. They rode so slowly it took nearly all day to get to the first grove of trees. But shortly after they were out of sight, the three came galloping back as fast as they could toward the finish line. Why did they start out slow and end up fast?
Marco immediately answered, “They switched horses.”
John H asked, “A man walks up to a bartender and says something. The bartender pulls out a pistol and points it at the man’s head. The man says thank you and leaves. What just happened?”
Marco was able to work out the man had the hiccoughs. “He said, ‘May I, hic, may I have, hic, may I have a drink, hic, of water, hic.’”
John H signs up that way to differentiate himself from John P. John H shoots with a snooker cue which, like a pistol, has a nine millimeter tip instead of the typical 12 or 13 mm end found on most bar cues.
There are two players named Curtis. They do not sign up differently. As a result you sometimes hear, “Which Curtis? The black one or the white one?”
There are at least five guys named Michael who shoot at the Watt.
Two of them sign up as Michael. One is tall, slender and black. He always appears in full competition bicycle riding gear and stores his bike next to the spiral staircase. His bill cap is abnormally small; his numbered shirt has half length sleeves that are a different color than the shirt itself; his knee length pants fit so tight he looks as if he just left the Tour de France. The other Michael is slightly shorter, dresses in long sleeve shirt and jeans, is white with a full beard.
Mike and Mike look nothing alike. To my knowledge, they have never been in the Watt at precisely the same time so there has never been a conflict over naming rights.
Another Mike writes M on the board and actually claims that’s his name: M. Everyone ignores this; no one calls him that. No one calls out just M. It sounds like you’re humming. Everyone calls out Mike when it’s M’s turn on the table.
Many of the players bring their own sticks although some, like me, insist on using the bar cues. Why? I don’t want to own a stick because I will just lose it. It’s not so much that someone will covet and steal it, but I will walk away from it and go home and never see it again. Unless I leave it at the Watt. Downstairs below the circular staircase in a cubby hole of the basement is a place specifically designated for pool players to leave their cues until next time they are needed. Rick was sure he lost his cue at some other bar, but could not remember which until, two years later, he went downstairs at the Watt and there it was.
Stay tuned for Part Four
Author: H.W. Moss
Editor: Shaylyn Troop