Pool Shark For A Day

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Summers in Ocean City, NJ were wonderful in my youth.

Ocean City is a "dry town" - no alcohol is sold within its borders. You could buy beer or alcohol in Somers Point, across the bridge and bring it into town and drink it at home. No alcholic beverages were allowed on the beaches. money.jpg


It was, and still is, a very family oriented town. Growing up there, during my summers, I didn't know any different. To me, it was normal that the town didn't allow alcohol. Also, my parents didn't drink at all - so it was never an issue.

My 3 favorite activities were:

1. Going to the boardwalk
2. Skateboarding
3. Playing Basketball at 34th Street

I spent many days playing pool over those years. We had a pool table in our basement in my Philadelphia home. My brother Kevin and I would play "pool tournaments" nearly every night, it became our competitive drive to see who could humiliate the other sibling. We would do trick shots, jumping the shot (the illegal way by popping the stick under the ball) and learning how "english" worked with the bumpers.

Little did I know that all this would come in handy one day when I decided to become a pool shark for a day.

Playing in Ocean City, or any small town, you start to learn who the "players" are of any game.

Take Hoboken, for example. I played in the dart league for 8 years and I could walk into any dart bar and who the "real shooters" were. If you play pool in Hoboken, you learn who the regulars are - those pool junkies who are playing down at, say, McMahons Brownstone every night. Or go to Hobson's - you play pool there long enough you will get to know the regulars and who the good ones are and the bad ones are.

I learned during my early summers who the players were in Ocean City. Most were suburb kids like me, with parents who did well enough to afford a summer house. The other kids were locals, who didn't like the "shoobies" from the city coming down each summer. They especially didn't like the ones who were good at pool.

I used to get challenged a lot, and it wasn't for very high stakes. Usually it was a few bucks...like a $5 game. I won more than I lost, and I was always good for what I bet. There was, and usually is, a honorable code of betting - you don't bet what you don't have amongst pool players...or you would get beat up.

One day I on the Ocean City boardwalk, it was a typical hot July afternoon. I love that kind of weather, the kind where there is a warm summer breeze that drifts along the boardwalk. You can smell the wood and tar combined with the sea-salt air. Occasionally that smell of popcorn or pizza or cotton candy would drift my way; to this day my memories will snap back to Ocean City when I smell those things.

I was walking down the boardwalk in 1989 with Brad, and we were just doing our normal thing that we did every July night - looking to entertain ourselves on the boardwalk. We decided to play some pool at "Simms", a pool tables that we normally didn't frequent - but did play the arcade games there a bit.

This is an important note. When you play pool in Hoboken, a lot of players are territorial. You play where you feel comfortable playing, you learn the tricks of the table. Maybe a table leans to the left a bit. Maybe you know that the side pockets have a tricky edge. You play certain shots a certain way - because you know the wall is close to the pool table, and will block certain shots. My favorite reason - is you know the bartenders and owners of your territory. Also you may have some friendly faces who can back you up in trouble.

This will become important later.

Brad and I were just playing our game, and I was approached by Jake. Jake was a local kid, with a surfers build, a poor complexion and shaggy blonde hair. He was the kind of guy that simply said "shady". You know the type. They are the kids that can score pot. They are the kids that were getting laid since they were 13. They are the kids that were smoking their Marlboro Reds, telling you about that great Ozzy concert they were at.

Jake wasn't a friend, but I knew who he was. I played in the pool halls long enough that Jake wasn't as good as me, but thought he was. He saw me playing and walked over, shirtless, with a smoke dangling from his lips and his squinty eyes watching our game.

"Yo man,", he said - he never knew my name, just knew who I was, "you playin for money?"

"Nah, he and I are just playing for fun.", I replied.

"Let's play doubles. $5 a man. You two versus me and a partner.", he said.

"OK.", I replied.

Brad just as good as me at pool, so we figured that we would just play a game or two. We figured wrong.

Jake strolls over with a friend of his, a guy a little bit older, with dark hair and a meditterian complexion. If Jake screamed "shady", this guy screamed "bad news". I didn't like the situation from the start. But it was in Ocean City - albeit at a pool hall I wasn't familiar with - but what's going to happen? No one drank down here. Crime was a joke - maybe a bicycle gets stolen. What's to worry about?

Heh.

So the game began normally enough. And we kick their ass.

"Double or nothin?", says Jake.

"Ok.", I said.

Game Two for $20 ($10 each if they lose, free for us if we win) - we won.

Once again, we play double or nothin.

Game Three for $40.

Game Four for $80.

Game Five for $160.


At this point, in game five we beat these suckers five games in a row. The friendly spirit of the first few games are very much gone by game three. They are extremely pissed and Jake says: "Hey, last game $100 each, a $200 game!". Now Jake and his pal were bigger than us, and what are we gonna say? No? They rack the next game.

A crowd of other pool players are watching this, and some are friends with Jake and his buddy. They cheer our missed shots and heckle us. Bad vibes are all around, but Brad and I keep beating these guys. Brad goes on a tear and runs like 6 balls. Misses the 8 ball shot, but leaves it against the pocket. The other team runs a few in, but don't have a very good shot, so they do a "defensive shot" - a shot that basically will leave me a terrible 8 ball shot in the hopes that I scratch it or leave them a better shot.

They gently kiss the cue against one of their balls, leaving me a terrible table.

Sadly, I don't have a good photo to put up of this shot. One day I'll make a digital picture of it. If you are a pool player, with a decent imagination, here is the shot:

1. My 8 ball is near a corner pocket.
2. They played a defensive shot, putting the cue ball in between their three balls, effectively blocking any straight shot, and cutting off most bumper shots.
3. I had one shot, and it involved high right english to kick the cue ball off the bumper in front of it - to kick right, and then kiss my 8 ball and not follow it into the pocket (if I had done low right english instead).
4. The projected ball path would thread (go between) two of their balls, kiss the 8 ball on its right side, hitting the bottom bumper, while the 8 rolls along the bottom bumper into the corner pocket.

I told Brad the shot and while discussing Jake is crowing to us:

"Remember! You have to hit the 8 ball or its a SCRATCH SHOT and YOU LOSE!"

The crowd was eating it up and Jake and the other guy are psyched they got out of their $200 hole. Consider that Jake is like 17 years old or so - the other guy was maybe 19. Brad and I were 17, this would be a decent clip of money to us win. Plus we just beat these guys 5 times in a row, they were kept hoping on the "double or nothing" rule to stop the hemorrhaging.

The crowd is muttering and chuckling, watching me line the shot.

I put some chalk on my hands and rub it on the stick a bit, making the worn wood a bit smoother under my skin. I get the green chalk for the stick, and carefully chalk up the end. I'm taking my time, eating this up. I didn't feel very nervous, I really didn't have anything to lose. Plus to wipe that smile off Jake's face would be choice.

I angle the shot and it was...fucking golden. The shot was exactly planned as my mind's eye - I nailed the fucking thing like I was money. Brad is high-fiving me, and my attitude is the same today as it is when ever I hit a clutch shot - I always have the same cool, calm and collected look on my face which says "No problem".

Money, baby.

The mood of the room went from laughing at us - to "holy fucking shit did you see that shot" - which i'm not sure if that is a "mood", but you get the idea. I just hit a clutch 3-pointer with time expiring off the clock. I just hit the grand slam home run at the bottom of the ninth with two out and on a full count. No reasonable person should have hit this shot, except for pool sharks.

For one night I was The Color of Money.

Sing it Clapton style:

It's in the way that you use it,
It comes and it goes.
It's in the way that you use it,
Boy don't you know.

And if you lie you will lose it,
Feelings will show.
So don't you ever abuse it,
Don't let it go.

Yea, that great feeling lasted for about, oh, 15 seconds until I saw Jake's and his pal talking in the corner.

Remember that whole Ocean City family town thing I was building up in the beginning of this story? No crimes happen? Yea, we were going to get our asses kicked right about now. Brad and I were two skinny suburban kids who just ran two locals for $100 each. Now, they were quietly talking and giving us dirty looks.

I turn to Brad and say, "We got to get out of here. Lets just go."

A moment ago I was "The Color of Money". Now I am "The Coward of Money".

I'm in enemy territory. Its me, the gawky tall goof and Brad with his secret ninja moves against about 10 locals. Um, no. That isn't worth $100 to me. Brad and I agree to make a hasty exit.

"Hey guys - don't worry about it.", I said, "Lets call it even."

Tuck tail between legs, exit stage left.

We head down to Sweet Jug, where Brad worked this summer, scooping ice cream. We figure that possibly we could get Brian, the owner, to help us "collect". Sadly, he wasn't there. We drown our sorrows in a ice cream sundae and recap the days events.

After that day I learned a good lesson in life:

If you play for "double or nothing" - always get your money first and THEN agree to the new game.

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This page contains a single entry by Furey published on March 29, 2005 9:30 AM.

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