Hey! There you are! Today’s story is a continuation of yesterday’s, wherein I find myself pressured to play pool, which was a continuation of the story the day before where Mary makes a friend.
Because what says “trip to Florida” more than security hassles and bar friends?
Peter Frampton’s doppelganger has fallen on hard times.
It doesn’t seem to have affected his ability to slam a beer, however; and Mary and our new friend Ken watch bemusedly as the scrawny man holds up a proprietary finger.
“I’ll take another, Arlene, and how about a –“ He turns to me. “You want a drink? I’ll buy you a drink.”
“Gin and tonic,” I say. “Extra limes, please.”
“AWWWWW!” Mary moans. I turn around to see a woman in a college sweatshirt lose her turn on the wheel.
“You’re taking that Wheel of Fortune thing kinda seriously over there,” I call out.
“I am a simple woman. I have simple pleasures,” she says.
There is the sound of quarters being slammed, the sound of balls dropping.
Mr. Frampton sets the rack on the table.
“Hey,” I say. “Would you mind if I rack ‘em and you break? It’s been years since I’ve played, and I don’t want to start this game with a lousy break.”
“You’ll do fine,” he says, reaching down for the balls.
“I’m serious,” I say. “I was never much of a breaker, and it’s been so long.”
He shakes his head. “Nope,” he says. “I like to rack ‘em.”
I take a deep breath.
Arlene brings our drinks. “Thank you,” I say.
I notice that Peter doesn’t tip.
I select a stick, roll it around at the unoccupied end of the table. I find a straight one on the third attempt and chalk it.
I turn around. Mary has turned at the same time. She raises one eyebrow. I curl my lip at her. She goes back to Ken and the Wheel of Fortune.
“OK,” I say. I bend over the table, concentrate on the bright yellow ball at the head of the triangle – only to feel Mr. Frampton creep up behind me.
I whirl on him. “So now you want to break?”
He gives me an oily smile. “No, no,” he says.
“Then get away from me,” I say, smiling. I bend over the table again, pull the cue back –
In the history of breaks, they will speak of this one. Rarely does one witness such slop, such disregard for the beauty and grace that is the game of billiards.
The edges of the racked triangle roll anemically just inches from their original positions.
The core remains unmoved.
Not a single ball goes in.
I turn, humiliated. “I haven’t played in years,” I apologize.
“Can’t win ‘em all,” offers Ken.
“Or even some,” Mary winks.
“Why you little…” I threaten.
“Why I oughta…” Mary returns.
Mr. Frampton has been waiting for me. “Go ahead,” I say.
“I wanted you to watch,” he says.
And that’s when it happened.
Ball after ball after ball, I watch as the man who had begged me to play pool, who promised a friendly game, ran the table.
Following the “break” – and there’s no other way to remember it than with quotation marks – I didn’t play again.
“Eight ball,” he says – is that a smug tone? – “corner pocket”.
And it was over.
He reaches for a hug. “Good game.”
I push away. “What was the point of that? Seriously. I’m having a good time with my friend, I tell you ‘no, I don’t want to play’ how many times, you beg me to play, tell me it’ll be a friendly game, and then you run the table? What is that?”
“Do you want to play again?”
I am incredulous. “What?!”
I turn to Mary, who is now standing next to me. “Dude,” she says. “Not cool.”
He grins. “Let’s play again. No showboating. A nice friendly game.”
“Forget it,” I say. “We’re done here.”
Mary puts a hand on my back, guides me to the bar. “You heard her, buddy. Nothing personal, but time to take a hike.”
“Well can I at least –“
Mary and I say it together: “NO.”
“This guy bothering you ladies?” Ken, Korean War Vet, drinker of Windsor Cokes, rises. He looks happy. He looks like he’s thinking of cracking his knuckles.
“Not anymore he ain’t,” Mary says. She turns to him. “You was just about to leave, wudden ya?”
Peter Frampton’s double returns to his end of the bar.
And a gin and tonic, extra limes, appears.
“From Lance,” Arlene says. Lance, AKA Peter Frampton, raises his beer at me.
“Lance,” I say, “thank you, but don’t buy me any drinks, okay?”
Lance, however, doesn’t take direction well, and in the next hour, five G&Ts line up in front of me.
Mary signals Arlene over, slips her a ten. “Arlene, honey, if he’s gonna keep buying her drinks she’s not going to drink, can you make ‘em Windsor Cokes?”
“Sure can,” she says.
Mary leans over, wraps an arm around me. She hasn’t had a drink in five years, but the arm around my shoulder remembers those days fondly. “Who really won that game, huh? Free drinks for Ken!” Mary chuckles, squeezes me tighter.
“Ya still got it, Pearl. Ya still got it.”