pool

Played pool right after work at Thalassa, a downtown Berkeley bar, with my friend Shelby Monday night.

I’ve done this a couple of times recently. There’s a very mixed age group of patrons at this pool hall. There are older men, most of whom have the tweedy air of Cal professors, alongside younger 20-somethings – mainly guys, but some women. The older men seem to take their time with their shots and have a smooth, almost loving stroke. While the younger players seem more to relish the power and violence of the cue’s kinetic energy released in a burst.

Shelby is an accomplished pool player, with her own two-piece cue. She kisses balls gently into the pockets while she herself is loud and boisterous. A wonderful contrast. I myself am a below-adequate amateur. I, for instance, can’t imagine what it takes to learn the angles when hitting balls off the rails. It must involve muscle memory, like shooting free throws in basketball. Once you do it enough, it isn’t about calculating, it’s about intuiting and doing.

When I was a kid, we used to frequent a pool hall on Kissena Boulevard in Flushing. It was on the top floor of a row of storefronts. There were lots of Asian kids there, since Flushing was evolving even then into a predominantly Asian neighborhood. I knew nothing of the intricacies of the game – like most things from my childhood, I did what seemed to work and picked up what I could as I went along.

My favorite aspect of the game? The oddities. Like using the bridge. That seemed like such a strangely acceptable crutch to me, as though a baseball player might be allowed to wield two bats if the occasion called for it. Pool seemed exotic because of these rules and much less straightforward then the sports I played every day, like basketball or baseball.

I’ve come to realize that one way to become a better pool player is to crouch low and see the table from the perspective of the balls. Very few games are like that. In most cases, it doesn’t matter at all whether you see things at ball level. You just do, react.

Maybe that’s why I’ve come to embrace pool again after all these years. It’s no longer a frenetic game of youth but rather the studied art of multiple perspectives.

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