Thursday, January 11, 2018
Sometimes you just play pool
I have problems that nobody else has.
Well, maybe not nobody. I haven't met everybody.
Let's say problems that I assume are unique to writers doing the kind of writing I do.
For instance, I can have a hard time figuring out whether I'm working or not. Whether something should be written about or just enjoyed. Private or public? My wife, at odd moments, will say, "I don't want to see that in the paper." Invariably at something I would never dream of putting in the paper.
And sometimes I have that thought myself.
Last week, when I went to meet a reader at Chris's Billiards, it was because he had read a reference of mine to "second tier treasures," to spots like the old Division Street Russian Baths, that feel as if they could slip away at any moment. Chris's was another one, he said. Would you like to see it? Sure, I said. I'll let you in on a secret: I tend to go where I'm invited, because I don't get that many invitations to go places. Not to places I want to go, anyway.
Plus I'd be meeting a person. I like meeting people, in the main, unless I don't.
To be honest, the idea that it might be a column, or a blog post, or something, did not occur to me until he started to explain how to play 9-ball. I had never played 9-ball before, always 8-ball. However he explained the rules of 9-ball—I can't tell you what that was, because I didn't write it down or tape it—made me wish I had a record of it. A week later, I remember only the wish, and the narrow triangle of nine balls set within the rack.
We had just met. I'm not so far gone I'd walk into a billiard hall with a tape recorder in my hand. I could have whipped out my notebook and written down some of what he said, after the fact. But I was trying to absorb the rules. My notebook stayed in my pocket.
We shot pool, we talked about our kids and our jobs, about the city and growing up and life in general. I can't reconstitute that conversation either.
I wrote one sentence down: "This is really the last one left." Big pool halls in Chicago, I assume. I did take a few photographs.
When I got home, I realized that Chris's is featured in Amy Bizzarri's "111 Places in Chicago That you Must Not Miss." A book I just wrote about last month, when I went to get a cup of coffee in Englewood. I was kinda glad I didn't know, that I hadn't gone to check another place off the list.
Leaving, after 90 minutes of pool, I had been conflicted. On one hand, I had lost an opportunity: This interesting pool hall, featured in "The Color of Money," with Paul Newman and Tom Cruise. A vast, cavernous space, with pool tables and snooker tables and dark recesses.
And on the other, I had deliberately given work the cold shoulder. I was ... I realized with an inner smile ... doing something normal. I'm allowed to do that. You can't work all the time and shouldn't try. Sometimes you just have to relax, and shoot some pool. Even noble Homer dozed.