Chapter 28 1966 - Pool

Henry considered his disability as he tried to engage I’s interest in playing a little baseball. Wearing a glove on his left hand wasn’t a problem, but throwing with his right was nearly impossible. And while Henry had developed ambidextrous abilities, switching the two fared no better. Henry considered revisiting his mechanical hand invention, which had been neglected since he first demonstrated it to Sam, but he realized that technology still hadn’t advanced to meet his vision. It simply wasn’t practical.

Football and basketball weren’t any better choices. But what Henry recalled from his time spent in the Stomping Grounds was that he could play pool. Holding the cue was still a bit tricky, but balanced with his other hand, he was able to master it. He had spent many an evening playing for quarters, and he took home his share of pocketfuls of them.

I, at twelve, had not been able to play the game, banned by age from the Stomping Grounds, but Henry thought he might find an interest in it. He bought a table to place in the spare bedroom of their house, and began to show I how the game was played. I took to it as naturally as his father.

Before long, I had mastered the game. The mathematics and physics of the game were well within his understanding, and the precise action necessary to line up and sink several balls simultaneously was an accomplishment of his that had previously been limited to the professional players. Before long, I exceeded Henry’s ability, and was beginning to find the lack of challenge to be an issue.

Henry mentioned I’s ability to Buddy. Buddy felt that pool could possibly be an outlet for Adrian’s (he still couldn’t come to call him “Spike”) anger issues that had surfaced in the past year. Adrian had spent more time in the principal’s office than in the classroom, always picking fights on some of the younger kids in the school.

One afternoon, Buddy brought Adrian over to the Mall home and young Angela was in tow. Buddy had suggested trying to mend fences with I, their falling out three years earlier had been a source of embarrassment to the two fathers.

“Adrian, I has a new pool table,” Buddy told him, revealing his master plan. “He’s supposed to be pretty good. Why don’t you ask him for some pointers?”

Adrian grimaced at his father calling him “Adrian” and complained, “Dad, it’s ‘Spike.’ I don’t go by Adrian anymore. Nobody calls me that except you and mom.”

“OK, ‘Spike’”, he emphasized the importance of the name. “Just give pool a try, and see what you can learn. You might have some fun at the same time.”

I actually welcomed Spike to the poolroom. As far as he felt, Spike’s absence was self-imposed. He had no problem with Spike or any of his “former” friends. They just didn’t want to spend any time with him. Teaching Spike to play pool could give their prior friendship a boot.

The years had softened Spike as well, and he seemed receptive to trying this out. I showed him how to rack the balls, explained the placement in a specific order, and demonstrated proper cue handling and preparation.

Spike finally had had enough of the lecture, “Let’s get on with it and play!”

I took the cue ball, placed it on the table a squared up his shot. A clean break, and two balls were knocked in the pocket. He moved the scoring beads indicating the points he had just won, but rather than continue, turned to cue over to Spike.

“Give it a try,” he said. “Try to knock that seven ball into the corner pocket.”

Spike had watched I line up the initial shot and tried to follow his technique. Balancing the cue between the fingers on his left hand, he aimed for the white cue ball. With the thrust, he struck the ball off center and it careened to the right, missing its target altogether.

“Shit!” he cried.

“I’ll give you another try,” I said and relocated the cue ball to the original position.

Spike’s attempt this time was a little better, but sent the cue ball sailing into the pocket.

“Goddammit!” he cried. I was a bit surprised. He did not hear that kind of language around his parents.

Taking the cue, I said. “Watch what I do.” He carefully lined up the shot, slowly moving the cue back and forth to ensure he would strike the ball at its precise center. The seven ball slid into the pocket.

“See? Easy as pie. Go for the thirteen,” indicating with the cue its position. “You should be able to send that right into the side pocket.”

Spike took his time, lining up the shot as he’d seen I do. He checked the angle several times. He stood up and reviewed the whole table, just to see if there were any other shots that would actually be easier. None could compare to the straightforward method required to sink it.

He bent over, handling the cue expertly; it slid naturally through his fingers. He backed it up to send the ball forward and struck it just below center and with such force that the ball became airborne, striking the window and shattering the glass.

“Oh, Ffff,” but suppressed it before the evil word got passed his lips. Henry and Buddy rushed in when they heard the glass breaking, spied the guilty Spike and couldn’t help but laugh when they saw the predicament the boys had gotten into.

“Maybe pool isn’t your game after all,” advised Buddy.

Spike laid down the cue, shaking his head in disbelief at the mess he’d made. But for a brief instant, his father’s calm reaction and levity of the scenario were enough to suppress any anger he might have felt.