Friday, October 26, 2007


I walk into the billiard hall, glancing about for my good friend, Trace. He's a brilliant pool player, and he's invited me to stop by tonight to watch everyone play.

Trace and I go a long ways' back. We have a romantic past that has grown to a deep, affectionate friendship. We know each other, sometimes too well. I know what he's thinking when I look at him, and when he walks up to me with that overstudied air of casualness, I know he's glad to see me. I feel that I stand out like a daisy in a factory parking lot, so it eases my anxiety a little.

We sit down and chat for a minute. Trace had warned me of the cigarette smoke and wow, is he right. Everyone but Trace and I are virtually chainsmokers, slamming a beer between each cigarette and only giving up both when it's their turn at the pool table. The smoke is almost overpowering, and my eyes start to water.

We are waved over by the rest of Trace's friends, who make room for me to sit and watch. Throughout the entire room there is nothing but pool tables and players. There are at least 10 pool tables lined up, with players shooting back-to-back with each other. It's a place for fun, it's a place to get serious about pool, it's a place for amateurs and pool sharks.

Trace is at home here.

Trace's friend Vicki is a tough-talking, wise-cracking woman from up north. She wears glasses and her hair is pulled back tightly into a ponytail and I am guessing it's to keep her hair out of the way when she shoots. She sits to my left, and Trace is to my right. Vicki and I discuss a variety of unimportant things, and decide that we're going to like each other. She fills me in on the rest of the group between swigs of beer, drags on her cigarette, and easy banter with the others around us.

Everyone has a 'level' that shows their expertise. Trace is pretty high, and he has told me privately that he keeps it as low as possible so that he's never under much pressure to perform. Most of the players range lower than he is, anyway.

Hank is a very friendly, flirtatious businessman. He's a decent guy, and quite bright. He's older than the rest of the group, and he sees pool as a mathematical challenge that he hasn't mastered yet. As the night goes on, he drinks more and more until he confesses to me that he's wasted. Still, he shoots a good game of pool and beats his opponent.

Two heavyset women sit on the other side of Trace. One of them has very badly-streaked blond hair. She makes it obvious that she's interested in Trace, desperately doing what she can to keep his attention. She is squeezed tightly into jeans and a shirt that is at least two sizes too small, which displays her boobs with as much alacrity as an Ace bandage.

Blondie won't make eye contact with me, apparently fearing that I'm a dreaded rival. She tries to strike up a conversation with Trace about his favorite band and even suggestively mouths lyrics to a couple of the songs as they blare throughout the pool hall.

I don't care. Trace doesn't belong to me, and he is on his own here. Trace remains uninterested but polite, as he always is with most women. Trace lets very few people get to know him. He is an island unto himself.

There are a couple others there, but I don't get a chance to say more than hello to them.

My eyes water the whole time. I wonder what I could possibly look like, and then Trace gets up to play and Hank sits down next to me. "You have VERY beautiful eyes," says Hank. I thank him for the compliment. Hank says "So, what's up with you and Trace?"

I don't know how to explain us, so I say "We've been friends for many years. At one time, we were more than friends."

"Ah! So you're back together again? The make-up sex has to be great," says Hank.

"It's not like that," I assure Hank, but I can see that he wants it to be like that, so I let it go.

"You know," says Hank, "Trace is a great favorite with the ladies. They're all attracted to his dark, mysterious nature and his love of music. I'm not saying he goes home with any of them, but they'd sure like him to!"

I know. I know Trace, and I tell Hank that Trace has always been like that. He has this magnetism that even he isn't fully aware of. Sometimes it's been to his detriment. But Trace is a good guy and a romantic at heart. He's very picky, and doesn't do one-night stands.

As we talk, Trace is playing against his opponent. I watch him, and knowing him as well as I do, I see he's completely disconnected from the game, from the pool hall, from everything. Hank says "Trace keeps losing! This isn't a good night for him."

I joke about bringing him bad luck, but I know better. I even say to Hank "Look at the way he stands there - Trace isn't into this at all tonight." Hank doesn't pay attention.

Trace loses for good, everyone congratulates his opponent, they shake hands, and the evening is over.

As Trace walks me out to the car, we talk about little stuff and I thank him for inviting me along.

"You saw that I threw that match on purpose, didn't you?" asks Trace. I nod, and then ask "Why?"

"I wasn't into it," Trace says dismissively. "And besides, I wanted her to win."

Again, I ask why.

"Because it will let her go up to a higher level, and it'll make it easier for me to beat her the next time," says Trace. "And remember, I never want to score out too high."


Lee Ann said...

The way you told that, I felt like I was right there with you.
Sounds like a good evening, except for the cigarette smoke!

The Lazy Iguana said...

I do not like the smoke very much. I am way more into the beer. Ah yes, beer.

When are you going to be back in the Miami area?

PS - I might buy an O'Day 22 sailboat. I have a wild hair up my ass to buy a sailboat.

Saur♥Kraut said...

Lazy, Maybe in the next month or so I could schedule something? I have a great client there that I need to pop by and see, anyway! Sailboats are awesome, aren't they? If the motor doesn't work, you can always sail somewhere (and vice versa). And they're so peaceful.

Lee Ann, thank you so much. I try to take people along my journeys occasionally. If I can't reach out and drag you in, then I'm no writer at all.

BarbaraFromCalifornia said...

There does seem to be a culture associated with certain kinds of activities, as you describe.

I know whenever we go to Las Vegas, more often than not, the casinos are filled with billows of smoke.

As an ex-smoker here, I really do notice it.

Paul said...

I used to be a pool shark. It didn't take long, though, to find out that I really wasn't.

Nice write up.

Gledwood said...

Hi that was rather involved and intriguing...
... and just to think, when I clicked on your picture I was originally convinced you'd turn out to be German!


Saur♥Kraut said...

Gledwood, I know, funny, huh? I originally was eating a great hotdog with sauerkraut, and as I gnoshed, I was trying all types of names in Blogger with no success. Even sauerkraut was taken... but saurkraut wasn't. And so (even though I'm NOT germanic but scandinavian) I am named after fermented cabbage.

Paul, some people just love it! I can watch it, but somehow the thrill escapes me. :D

Barbara, isn't that the truth? There truly are certain 'types' that do certain sports. Well, for the most part. Trace is a great exception to that rule. I am SO allergic to cig smoke!!! YEEK!

Ba Doozer said... it. I've noticed a lot about people in pool halls, and otherwise. There are actually not that many people who are really GOOD at it....just mediocre. It wouldn't take much to beat some of them, its just that I can't practice without getting stinky from the smoke so I don't

Emma Sometimes said...

Pool halls are the best for people watching. Fun to sit back and soak it all in. (sans the smoke...wa and or have strict laws against indoor and outdoor smoking)

Your friend Trace sounds like the all around good guy...what is it with the musician types? hehe.

Ed Abbey said...

I used to be in a pool league comprised mainly of engineers. There was never any smoke and although there was some alcohol, it was never enough to get drunk. They were some good times.

Jamie Dawn said...

Trace sounds like a smoooth operator. He does what he does, no fuss, no glory.
It sounds like he's comfy in his own skin.

Please Wait To Be eated!! :-)

Three Score and Ten or more said...

I never was much of a straight pool player. I spent a lot of my study halls in high school (coots remember study halls) playing snooker in a local pool hall. I wasn't much of a snooker player either.

mckay said...

thanks for the mini vacation to a smoky pool hall filled with lots to see and hear. i liked it.

trace sounds like a class act. no wonder you two are soul buddies.