this post sponsored by QNNY
I have spent this year floating down the lazy river of life under the hazy golden rays of a never-ending summer during the day and the warm glow of a Netflix subscription at night. I could have lived this existence forever. The dream was not to last.
I found myself in a famous pool room equipped with commercial-capacity air-conditioning units operating at a residential level. I had come to participate in a high entry fee two-player winner-take-all tournament. This match had been proposed, postponed, postponed, postponed, wheedled, discussed, questioned, offended, declared it would take its toys to play elsewhere, flounced out in a huff, and ultimately cancelled earlier in the year. But, a lot of good wine, a little boredom, and my inherent asshole personality mixed with the internet resulted in the match’s resurrection, although at half the price of the original.
This match, for me, had transcended beyond money. My opponent was, I believe, quite well-known locally. I had significant interaction with her once regarding possible action before the discussion of this match came about and while I would not categorize it as Unpleasant, I will say it was some Laughable Bullshit. In between that episode of laughable bullshit and now, she had, I had heard, considerably improved her game. I, as outlined above, had decided to take my game in the exact opposite direction: I let it drop as much as it pleased because life was good. This match would answer the question: did she improve enough and did I deteriorate enough so that we were even?
The general consensus prior to the match was, no, we were not even.
I am a reasonable human being with realistic expectations. My friends, when asked for their opinions, had none: I had been gone too long for them to make an accurate prediction. They were all politely neutral and I love them for it. There were a few that did, unintentionally, express their apprehension in a very interesting way. Invariably, all their concerns boiled down into the following paraphrased warning:
“She’s a huge pothead.”
My opponent really, really, REALLY enjoyed marijuana. Not a big deal. Lots of people smoke.
“She plays better when she smokes.”
“No, you don’t get it—she plays A LOT better when she smokes.”
There was no way to pinpoint how much better she would be if she smoked during our match. Dankess was simply not a measurable quantity. Those who had seen or experienced my opponent playing while she was high, however, were genuinely concerned it would be a massively significant equalizer. I had not yet experienced what it was like to play a marathon match with someone who was perpetually high. It was not something on my bucket list of life, but it would be, nevertheless, an interesting experience.
She was high as fuck when we flipped for the break.
I built a significant lead and then lost it. I caught up, built another significant lead, and very nearly lost it again. Every now and then she would leave rather ostentatiously with a Ziploc bag full of weed. I won in the end. The score was 18-13. Five games seems like a decent gap, but each of those games hinged on one shot or one roll, which is a rarity when C-players are playing since we generally have so many innings.
I was annoyed with her for smoking pot to deal with pressure in this match and you fucking bet I made that known. It may be a bit of pre-emptive bias due to all the warnings, but there was no doubt she played better lit up. I saw her use of pot to deal with pressure as cheating. I left that match with no respect for her at all.
I am going to make a blanket statement here, so feel free to correct me if I’m wrong: All major professional sports in the United States have drug testing and should any athlete test positive for a banned substance (marijuana being one of them), they will be fined and/or reprimanded. Having had a background in competitive athletic sports before my fateful run-in with the game of billiards, that zero-tolerance policy is what I am familiar with.
Billiards, however much we love it and admire it, is not a major professional sport, and does not do drug testing. This may simply be because billiards is not a physical sport. That is, while good physical condition may help you play better, being physically fit is not a requirement for the game. This is why we would laugh at pool players being tested for steroids, but steroids in, say, baseball is an extremely serious matter. This, I feel, is one of the factors that differentiates billiards as a game rather than a sport.
As a game, billiards requires extreme mental focus and it is not a secret that many players will do anything to achieve the best mental state. In my opponent’s case, she needed to get down with the dankness in order to make the pressure of the match bearable. This is not unusual. There are professional players who use drugs both legal and illegal to maintain or improve performance. If I keep the brush as broad as possible, the vast majority of us take something to help us mentally or physically. Nicotine. Caffeine. Painkillers. Antidepressants. New Age vitamins. All of the above.
I am not annoyed anymore that my opponent had to smoke a joint before she could pick up a cue. Ultimately, I cannot stop her from smoking and it seems smoking has defined her at least as much as her perpetual Adidas shirt and pants. Yeah, y’all know which one I’m talking about. There’s only the one outfit. What I will do, however, is gauge how she plays when she’s flying high up in the sky as her top speed and THAT speed will forever be what I negotiate from should we ever play again. She and marijuana are a package deal and I accept that they are.
During dinner after the match, my friends asked me how I dealt with the pressure of the match. The match had taken a little more than five hours and I remembered maybe six or seven shots. There was one shot, I told them, I remembered well. It was a six-ball, frozen to the rail, and I had to shoot it more than seven feet up the rail. It was not an easy shot. It was not a shot I liked. It was a risky shot since it was late in the set and she was rapidly catching up. If I missed, it could cost me the whole match. But, it was the shot to win.
I didn’t want to shoot it because I was afraid.
I shot it because I was afraid.
I remember the puff of chalk after my cue struck the cue ball. I remembered the lint on the rail. I remember the peeling skin from my chapped fingertips catching in the fine threads of the cloth as I moved to watch. I remembered the six-ball floating, gliding up the rail, like it was on oiled tracks, and marveling that while it was moving it could not have been more than a millimeter from the rail and that if it touched the rail at all, the shot would fail. Up, up the rail it went, smooth like a ball bearing on glass—and then it rattled in the pocket, and did not drop. She ran out.
I said to my friends, “It was worth losing all the money to know I could hit a ball like that.”
I am so square I am a cube. My only vices are alcohol (which does not improve my game) and high-fat foods (more studies must be done and more bacon eaten before declaration can be made about whether nor not they improve my game). I chase the feeling I had when I shot that six-ball and missed—the feeling of wonder, of defeating a fear, of being so in the moment of the game that money and pride have no meaning. The beauty of it is that I can find that feeling any time I want, in practice or competition, because it does not require a catalyst other than my own enjoyment of the game.