A few years back, my life was in a state that could best be described as ‘high and dry’.
As I started regaining myself, I met a man who was drunk and kind and whose smile had this ridiculous mix of boyishness and let-me-show-you-what-can-happen. We waved hello and goodbye at parties, we played cards at crowded tables heavy with cigarette smoke and laughing drawls. It did not occur to me to date him until one night he said to me, “The next time I see you I’ll be taking you home with me.”
There was a lot of whiskey involved. When I told him of this later –the third or fourth time we slept together, maybe– he sheeted crimson and I shook my head, holding my amusement in check. A smile leaked past my lips but what I really wanted to do was laugh so hard that it shook one of us out of that bed.
We dated for a good while. He had a fair amount of change in his bank account, but we did simple things: We went shooting, we made runs into Georgia for scratch-offs and forties and just for the simple satisfaction of riding some back roads, listening to some good music.
There came a day when he turned to me and said, “Babedoll,
(yes he said babedoll in a way that no fancy movie cowboy will ever, ever be able to nail)
“you like to shoot pool?”
Well do I ever, sir: I owned a pool cue when I was just about chest-high to a table and I wish my dad would have taken me and my sister to a pool hall and hustled the shit out of the patrons with two little toothless ruthless billiard-rounding towheads. Alas, he did not, and we had to satisfy our competitive natures sharking the neighborhood boys who hadn’t got the memo yet (it was forthcoming; this was the late seventies in rural middle America) that Sisters Are Fucking Doing It For Themselves.
“I do indeed enjoy a game or two on the now and again.”
People, I had been such a billiards dork between the ages of seven and twelve that I watched televised matches whenever one was aired.
I found myself being escorted into the local pool hall, which –despite its existence smack dab in the middle of the main street in town– I hadn’t known was there. It was, ah….stealthy and low-key on the outside, but inside was the magic of wide industrial windows facing an alley at the back and high, high tin ceilings. This place had always been a gathering spot and never wanted to be anything else; you could tell.
So we lined up healthy stacks of quarters and played and played; I was the only woman in the place and I was treated well, with respect and deference. At one point we noticed the group of men that had been occupying the other tables were loosely gathered around a television in one corner of the room. We made our way toward them; the televison was older, with rabbit ears and flip dials. It rested on a metal teevee tray, but nobody seemed to be worried that it would tip its perch and explode upon impact with the concrete floor. A flat metal stool that stood nearby held a cup and an ashtray.
The fellas were watching ‘Jeopardy’, flipping quarters into the cup between questions. Trebek would read the answer, and the first person to roll out the correct question won the pot. They were playing with two cups, so that each time a quarter-heavy one was pulled, an empty was put back onto the stool. The game had a rhythm, a frankness, a confidence that was exciting. The cowboy and I hung back at the edge of the group, taking in the scene. Thing about him, well…he was a gambler. He was so good that he likely could have made a living at it.
As we watched, I shot out questions under my breath, knowing ninety percent of them and beating everyone in the room. I was wearing the cowboy’s leather coat, the cuffs of it skimming down around my knuckles. I tapped the tips of my fingers against them when I issued a correct question; I can still feel them rat-tat-tatting, the index and ring fingers of each hand, but mostly my overexcited right. The cowboy began to move his eyes from the television to me and back again, quietly running the numbers in his head.
A week later we went back; in his jacket were two pocketfuls of quarters and Jeopardy started at six on the money. We steered to our previous position; my job was to roll out responses and his job was to pull the cup. Over and over, glory hallelujah, he pulled that cup as I calmly navigated the rounds. My voice was clear and measured where the week before it had been tucked into my chest. I’d had most all the questions. I just hadn’t been speaking them loudly enough to be a competitor.
At the end of the episode, I was given a civil nod from the other players and we found an old Folger’s can to hold what our pockets wouldn’t. We sat later at the kitchen table, rolling and counting. When we were done, he pushed the winnings toward me.
“My God, woman, that was one of the best things I’ve ever witnessed. That was one fuck of a lotta fun.” I bit my lip, because my mouth was threatening to melt off with all the smiling, all the smiling.
I feel something happening. Don’t ask me to go into details, because hell if I know that bit.
It occurs to me, though, that I’ve known a fair share of what I’ve needed to all along, and I have been speaking it low and to myself, getting a feel for the rhythm of the game. I’m pretty sure that I’m about to start speaking up and out, pulling quarters and having a fine time.
I feel real, real good about that business.