My father owned a coffee service and vending company which lead him to having connections all over town with businesses of all shapes and sizes. In a variety of ways that I will get to later this helped shape my interpersonal skills, negotiation savvy, respect for small businesses and sense of direction. Each summer I would ride along with my father as it saved them on childcare when I was younger and was free labor when I was older. One of his longest running contracts was with a pool hall in mid-town.
I remember walking in with my father one weekday around lunch and the place was very sparsely populated. He walked to the bar in the back and I paused to inspect a table with the billiard balls left out neatly formed in the rack. There was nobody around and my upbringing would normally have left me to walk on by keeping to myself. Although it wasn’t expressly said I grew up in the environment, “children should be seen and not heard”. Drawing attention to myself was never optimal. This moment was different, and I picked up the queue ball and gave it a flick across the felt. As you would expect it bounced off the side ricocheting around till it eventually came to reset. I loved how the ball rolled so smoothly and the trajectory could be predicted by the angle at which it struck the side.
In perfect kid logic I thought that if one gave me joy then all of them would give me a lot more joy. So I lifted the rack, placed my hands across the collection and shoved as hard as I could. My imperfect plan meant many of them rolled only a few inches while some went flying to the far side of the table and one, the orange #5, bounced off the table striking the hardwood floor below with a loud thud. It proceeded to roll and I franticly ran to collect it in the hopes I could hide my mess. I felt my father’s eyes on me from across the bar along with what at the moment seemed like everyone in the establishment.
Not sure if I should run, cower or continue to reset the balls I ended up freezing in place as my father walked over with a stern look on his face. He took the ball out of my hand without saying a word, hastily put all of them back in the rack, waved to the barkeep then placed his hand on my shoulder and firmly led me out the front door. My father was not against corporal punishment but he was savvy enough to know that a public place was not the best spot for such a response. Instead he waited till we were in the van and rolling away to give me a verbal assault not even remotely equivalent to my transgression.
Sitting here typing this I realize how irrational it sounds but that experience made me very weary of pool tables and billiards in general for a long time. I knew that had the place setting been different I would have been nothing short of assaulted for embarrassing my father. It was such a simple mistake for a kid to make and was met with an unequal punishment driven hard into my psyche. Throughout my youth I had the occasional opportunity to play pool and always found an excuse to do something else that is until I was in college visiting my then girlfriend.
She attended Central Missouri State University which has since been renamed as the University of Central Missouri. I attended a different college 2 hours away and visited her every chance I had. We were your typical poor students and found cheap ways to entertain ourselves. In the student commons there was a small rec area complete with 4 bowling lanes, a tiny arcade, a jukebox and a handful of pool tables. Eventually she wore me down and I agreed to play a game of 8 ball with her. As expected, I was terrible and was understandably teased. I never explained why I resisted but agreed to keep playing and over the year gradually improved. We got into the habit of playing on Friday nights when I drove down listening to music on the jukebox and eating nachos. I don’t remember why exactly but the first song we played was always Voodoo by Godsmack.
Time went on and we eventually became newlyweds, had kids and tried to make a life of it. In the spring of 2007 we had begun arguing more than is healthy and she had made a new friend at work who invited her out to party pretty consistently. I stayed home with the kids in an effort to support my wife’s happiness and hopefully mitigated some of the arguments. I’ll go into the details at another time but I came to learn that she was being unfaithful to me. I was heartbroken and approached her about it. She was apologetic while also not feeling sorry, she tried to justify her actions. I was in love, or so I thought, and was thinking of the kids so I told her I wanted to make it work. She agreed at first and we tried to move on.
One day her friend showed up at my door and proceeded to explain to me that not only had she not stopped but there were now multiple guys. She explained to me how one evening the two of them went out to a local pool hall and met up with a pair of off duty firefighters. After some extensive flirting she and one of them excused themselves and went to the parking lot. Upon returning she admitted what she did to her friend and demanded she not tell me. Feeling that the need for me to know was greater than protecting the betrayal of her “friend” she came to give me the bad news. As would be expected I was heartbroken and this lead to a lot of pain for all involved.
That pool hall is still there to this day, not far from where I live now and while it has no power over me anymore the site of it used to unsettle me to my core. I am old enough (and hopefully wise enough) to disassociate the pain I felt from the game and location but there is always a tiny bit of anguish in the back of my mind when I find myself chalking up my pool que.