Some are Natural Born Athletes

Me? Not So Much

Some are natural born athletes

When they passed around the athletic genes, I must have been out to lunch … or shopping … or perhaps napping. Yes, some are natural born athletes. Me? Not so much.

One of my brothers was a great swimmer. Another a beautiful dancer. Me? I’m a klutz. My sport of choice? Jacks. Park my butt on the ground and I could beat most anybody at the basic game or its variations – double bounces, pigs in the pen, over the fence. Yep. I was a jack’s genius.

But, put me on a tennis court, and I cannot serve to save my life. Put me in a swimming pool; if a raft or floaties aren’t involved, it’s more sink than swim.

Pool Party or Pool Hall?

Name a sport, a real sport, and I don’t excel. With one exception. Pool. I play a pretty decent game of pool. Not a great game, but a decent game.

I’m not particularly competitive, but the sight and sound of a pool ball plopping into the side pocket is deeply satisfying. Likewise, sinking a long shot is a moment of blazing glory. And that annoyed look on a guy’s face when I best him? Ah, a thing of special beauty and glee.

Pool Heroes Two

Growing up, my pool-playing inspirations were my father and one of my brother’s girlfriends.

When my father was in sixth grade, he skipped school for five months. Mornings, he went to the Bronx Zoo. Afternoons he hung out at a neighborhood pool hall.

After the truant officer came to the house, his father gave him a beating and sent him – more than a little bruised – back to school. Fortunately for my father, he was brilliant and had a photographic memory. He was able to catch up on the entire five months’ worth of work in one night!

For that astonishing academic achievement, my father was written up in some now defunct NYC newspaper. For his pool hall wanton ways, he retained a life-long affection and killer eye for the game.

My second inspiration was my brother’s girlfriend. Samantha, aka Sam. Six-foot-tall Sam had wild bushy red hair and an equally wild, but gentle laugh. She believed in fairies, played championship-level Scrabble, always carried a bagful of books and a sketchpad, and loved my brother with all her heart. Most impressive of all to me – she financed her way through college by hustling guys at pool who could not believe this “girl” could beat them. To me, Sam was the ultimate women’s libber.

The Hustler I’m Not

In high school, college, and through the dating years, I played pool whenever I could. I was no pro, but I loved to play. I had a little natural talent and somehow generally bested the other casual players I hung out with.

The future Handsome Hubby courted me at a pool hall over burgers and fries, and to this day, our best “dates” are at the local billiards parlor.

We’ve always talked about getting a pool table for our home, but kids, clutter, and dogs always crowded out that dream.

Gourmet cook that I’m not, I’ve repeatedly (and generously) offered to do away with the dining room table and the serving of big holiday meals in favor of a pool table, but the family always rejected that idea!

Jump-start to Today

Just last week, for my 65th birthday, HH took me away for a romantic sunny Southwest getaway. Escaping from perpetually foggy Berkeley, CA, he rented a house with a swimming pool AND a pool table. The morning of my birthday, I was told to be dressed and ready for the festivities to begin at 10 a.m.

Sure enough at 10 a.m. sharp, the doorbell rang. A shorts-clad computer geek-ish looking middle-aged guy, Carl by name, stood at the door. Huh? HH greeted him warmly.

Carl shook my hand, wished me a happy birthday, opened a large, long bag he was carrying and handed me a pool stick, a very fancy cue stick. HH had arranged a private pool lesson for me!

This was a dream come true. Like I said, I never was a very skilled pool player, never knew how to make clever shots, just the easy ones. I’ve always fantasized of playing well, learning trick shots like making one ball jump over another. In my dreams, I’ve hung out with legendary pool player Minnesota Fats, whose life was played (sort of) by Jackie Gleason in the movie The Hustler with Paul Newman. (I’ve also dreamed about Paul Newman, but pool playing wasn’t involved!)

Carl suggested we start with a friendly game of Eight-ball, so he could size up my skills. Clearly, I made a pretty quick and poor showing, because I hadn’t hit but three shots, when Carl paused the game and said, “OK, I think I’ve got a good sense of where you’re at.”

Who Knew?

Then, the lesson began. He corrected EVERYTHING about the way I played. Here are  a few examples:

  • My stance was off. Who knew?
  • The way I held the cue stick was wrong. Who knew?
  • My knowledge of game rules was outdated. Who knew?
  • I couldn’t hit the ball in a straight line. This I knew.

AND most depressing of all, I played without any sense of strategy! I was playing checkers when the game at hand was chess.

Oh, the humiliation!

Carl was kind, but at one point, I said something so dumb that he started laughing and could not stop. He could not stop for what seemed like 10 minutes. Carl laughed so hard that I worried about his ability to take in air. He laughed so long I was tempted to add 10 minutes to the length of the lesson!

My back ached. (This I blamed on old age.) My eyes blurred. My brain was ready to explode. The lesson was supposed to last two hours, but after 90 minutes, I said/screamed “Minnesota Fats.” I was exhausted – exhausted, but happy AND a slightly better pool player.

To my surprise and delight, HH had actually arranged two lessons. So, the next day we met with Carl again. At the end of it all, I could hit the ball with “english,” rely less on the bumpers/rails to make shots, and do a mini massé, which is probably as close to a trick shot as I’ll ever get in this lifetime. Don’t ask me to explain it. I’m just grateful I managed do it two times in a row.

Some are Natural Born Athletes. Still Not Me

Still I’m no hustler-in-disguise. No threat to Minnesota Fats, but I know, up in that Great Pool Hall in the Sky, my father is flicking a cigar ash with contented pride.

Kudos and thank you to Handsome Hubby for a birthday surprise well-planned and well-executed.

And to all my fellow middle-aged muddlers, it just goes to show you, you might not be able to teach an old dog new tricks, but you can teach a just-signed-up-for-Medicare 65-year-old aspiring pool shark a few new hustles!

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4 replies
  1. Mary Rees
    Mary Rees says:

    Happy (Belated) Birthday, Karen! What a sweet husband you have! I hope you get your way some day and replace that dining room table with a pool table.

    Reply
    • Karen
      Karen says:

      Thank you for the birthday … AND pool table … wishes. AND I quite agree about HH! All the best, Karen.

      Reply

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