mundane moments in a mundane life
I had been standing in front of the tournament board a long time. It was damn early. I rested my eyes by not looking at anything in particular under the pretense of looking for something in particular. This allowed me to not have to talk to people.
“Buenos días, señorita.”
I glanced over, and then rubbed my eyes with the heels of my hands. “Oh. Hey. ’Sup.”
“I hear you in action last night.”
“You win?” I loved how his accent drew the word win out into ween. The word was so sweet it deserved to stay on the ear a half-second longer.
“No. No bueno.”
He contemplated this a moment as I let my gaze rove over the tournament board, seeing everything from last night and nothing of what actually mattered for today.
I would have had a standard witty Teflon remark for anyone else, but he was a road warrior from days of yore, the kind who survived stickups, beatings, and falling asleep at the wheel, someone the new generation—my generation—had begun to forget. I’d heard crazy stories about him from other players. I never asked about them. We’d run into each other at events and talk about the game. We would only talk about the game itself—no people, gossip, stories, or history. He spoke to me with a preternatural calmness I would have found funny knowing his reputation if I had been an observer of our conversations and not a participant.
I looked at the dirty pool room carpet and kicked at some fossilized chewing gum. He waited. “ ’Cause I’m a goddam moron, that’s why.” I looked at the ceiling and cracked my neck. I turned and looked him fiercely in the eye. “I used the wrong shaft. Can you fucking believe it? I can’t fucking believe it, but I have to, because I’m the one that lost the goddam money. Good LORD!”
Buddha-like as ever, he had no reaction to my outburst. Not even a blink. He unslung his cue case from his shoulder and opened it. It was a big case, the kind I’d always joked could hold a rocket launcher. Inside, he had two, maybe three butts, but there were many shafts. He motioned me to look closer.
Each shaft was marked at its flat face in different colors. Screwed together into a cue, you could not see these marks on the shafts. But you would see them when you took them out of the case. Assuming you looked, of course.
“When I play with wrong shaft, I lose thousands. Many thousands.” He used his thumb to wipe off the base of one shaft tattooed with a pattern of blue lines. “The one time, maybe one thousand for each shaft here,” he said, with a reminiscent twinge.
I had not lost nearly that much.
Abruptly, he closed his case and clicked the lock shut. He turned to look at the tournament chart. Eyes running over the brackets, he said calmly to the large sheet of paper, “You never do it again.” He did not say this with encouragement, or understanding. He nodded at me and drifted back toward the tables, the hanging smoke from infinite nights curling aside as he passed.