ASHRIEK rocked our household. It came from the 12-year-old, who had just watched his father sink the eight ball in the corner pocket and win a "friendly" game of pool.
Trouble. Trouble. Trouble. We got terrible, terrible trouble.
Those lines, of course, are from "The Music Man," the musical in which a traveling salesman convinces members of an Iowa town that their kids are on the road to ruin because they are spending time playing pool.
As a writer, I once promised myself that when addressing the subject of pool, I would refrain from stealing lines from the "The Music Man." Ha!
That is one of the many precepts that have gone out the window now that a pool table has taken up residence in our house.
Here's another: As a father, I promised myself I would not compete against my children but would encourage their success. Ha! The pool table has only been in the house a few days -- not long enough to put up the rack for the pool cues -- and already family members are vying for the title of champ.
The night before my triumph, the 12-year-old had clobbered me. After his late-night victory -- which was long past his proper bedtime -- the kid went upstairs and warned his mother I might be angry. Ha!
I wasn't angry, I was determined to get revenge. While the kid was in bed, I was down in our basement pool room, reading "How to Play Pool Right." Late into the night, well past my normal bedtime, I practiced my grip, cradling the butt end of the pool cue rather than squeezing it. I practiced my stance, keeping my feet comfortably apart and my head over the cue stick. And I practiced hitting the cue ball.
As I practiced, I made two vows. Vow No. 1: Get some new eyeglasses; reading the angles that the balls were supposed to go was pretty difficult with my old specs. Vow No. 2: Learn the rules of this game.
The next day I found a copy of "Billiards: The Official Rules and Records Book," published by the Billiard Congress of America. It was in a box of paraphernalia that came along when the pool table moved from the sun room of the home of the John W. Payne family to our basement.
Besides the rule book, the Paynes also passed along some pool-room wisdom. They gave us a poster listing their house rules, which called for punishing swearing, name-calling and other forms of abusive conduct with mandatory push-ups, sit-ups and jogs around the neighborhood. The rules had been road-tested by their two sons, now away at college. I immediately posted the rules in our basement. Pool tables may change locations, but the behavior around them tends to remain the same.
Now that my clan has joined the ranks of pool-playing households, I am beginning to hear tales from other families in the same situation.
For instance, a neighbor, Barbara Alfriend, told me that a few years back, when she and her husband, Hunter, picked up a second-hand pool table for their five kids, there was a slight problem. The table wouldn't fit through their basement doorway.
"For one year I had a pool table in my dining room," Barbara told me. Instead of the clatter of dishes, the sound coming out of
their family dining room, she said, was the call of "Rack 'em up."
Susan Flinn told me that when she and her husband, William, put a second-hand pool table in the basement of their Roland Park home for the enjoyment of their three sons, the ceiling suffered. It seems that when a big shot was missed, an angry player would sometimes shake his fist at the heavens, and jam the end of his cue into the ceiling tile.
Before our pool table arrived, I was convinced it was not going to fit through our basement door. However, a crew of professional pool-table movers got it through. In a feat of engineering that to my mind rivals the reconstruction of Humpty Dumpty, the movers took the pool table apart and put it back together again.
As for the ceiling tiles, we don't have any in our pool room. But we do have lots of competition. In an attempt to keep the upper hand on my kids and their pool-playing buddies, I am busy memorizing the diamond system. This refers to the series of diamond-shaped marks that appears on the sides, or rails, of the pool table. The instruction books tell me that if I hit these marks at the correct angle, the ball will roll into a distant pocket.
Mastering the nuances of pool takes a lot of time. But somehow I am managing to find it. Since the pool table has arrived, all my home-repair tools -- and for that matter all thoughts of real work -- have been pushed aside.
I have decided to devote my free time to instructing our youth. As in "Rack 'em up, Sonny Boy, your old man is going to teach you a lesson."
Pub Date: 10/18/97