There are a few friends I’ve had a regular pool game with for the past twenty years. We play every seventh Wednesday or Thursday unless it’s the third Monday, which sometimes alternates with the second Tuesday. Some people think it’s random.

We all play with about the same level of skill. None. While calling the seven ball in the corner pocket, if the twelve goes into the side pocket and the seven stays put, we consider it a great shot. Back slaps and high fives.

We have worked hard not to include anyone who has actual skills as it would force us to reckon with reality and the whole point is to avoid that.

Pool is a great and underrated sport. No exercise is required while warming up and beer replaces Gatorade as the preferred sport drink. Sink a ball, drink a beer, don’t sink a ball, drink a beer. Like I said, great sport.

We used to have a little wager on the game and the losers would pay, but we just play for the fun of it now. No one ever lost much, but no one ever won much, so there wasn’t much point.

Occasionally we will make a great, even a planned shot. The etiquette in this situation is not to smile, act as if it was a given that you would make such an awesome shot and quickly move to the next shot, which, more than likely, you will not make.

We used to get angry when we missed a shot, cursing in the age-old pool hall tradition of salty language, but we realized our entire conversations were becoming the curses of missed shots, so we let that go too.

Over the twenty years we’ve all gotten married to wonderful women, who prefer to stay away from the pool hall. Our skills and winning percentages, having no witness, are fudged a bit in the late night recounting of our exploits.

My favorite movie of all time is “The Music Man.” It came out when I was a kid and I went seven times. When a pool hall moves into town Professor Harold Hill whips the townspeople into a frenzy: “There’s trouble, right here in River City, and that starts with T and that rhymes with P and that stands for pool!” The option for the local youth offered by Hill was a boy’s band. Band never interested me, but trouble did, so I went for pool.

If I had opted for band and been as bad a musician as I am a pool player, people would have suffered. But it is only my own ego that suffers on nights of pool and the only trouble it causes is trying to figure out what everyone owes at the end of the night.

Pool halls used to be synonymous with danger. Gangs and miscreants hang out at pool halls. I have to admit I like the sound of that, but things have changed and our favored establishment, Twains in Decatur, is as likely to have the Women’s Book Club playing as the Hell’s Angels and the most danger is if someone has a bad throw at the dartboard.

But I cling to my notions and pool is my vice. Like a cue ball dropping into the pocket on another missed shot, I ignore the obvious implication and chalk my cue with a certain quickness and aloofness that says to all within sight that I am someone to reckon with.

Rack ‘em up, boys!

Photos by Louie Favorite. At the top the eight ball is still on the table and will probably remain so. Bottom, some of the irregulars including the author, Bob Futterman and Tom England. J.D. Scott, Gary Auton and Louie are off  drinking somewhere.

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Billy Howard

Billy Howard

Billy Howard is a commercial and documentary photographer with an emphasis on education and global health.