stuff that has recently made me happy
all things bright and beautiful
Nature: The Seashore Yet Again
I really, really like the ocean. So, it was nice to make a short trek up the coast to visit family. Here we have a picture of a typical day by the ocean in my home port.
I returned for more oceanside exploration on a sunnier day. Below on the left is a deep cave that is normally underwater. Since it was low tide, you could enter and poke around — but I decided not to do so. Knowing my luck, I’d go in and the tide would immediately come in… You can see that the cave extends pretty far. On the right, we have an example of the rocky seashore up here. If you look closely, you can spot the natural arch worn by the waves into the soft rock.
Here is a picture of two very large pieces of driftwood and the blossoms of the Yellow Bush Lupine, a wildflower native to this area.
Food: Chinese Banquets
It was my aunt’s 80th birthday so, naturally, we celebrated it by eating vast quantities of quality food. Here are some examples of Chinese fruits de mer.
There was more food, but I was too occupied with eating it to take more pics…
Nature: Heat Waves
I know a lot of people were pissed off that it’s been Hell On Earth the last few days, but I’ve really liked it and all I have to say is, “Welcome to my world.”
now on parole for good behavior
or something like that…
Today I shall talk about league.
Although I shall talk for a long time, this is not a rant.
This is not a rant because I am not angry.
I know! Surprising, isn’t it?!
So, I quit league last week.
Throughout the last few years, I’ve played in a minimum of two and a maximum of four leagues every week. That’s a lot of pool, which is good, since one generally needs a lot of play (and competitive play) to maintain and achieve excellence. The league I quit last week was the last league I was playing in. I haven’t been league-free for a long, long time, but I have to say, I’ve been enjoying it. But, I digress. Let’s look at what made me play this particular league in the first place and what made me quit it many years later.
I remember very vividly why I joined the APA.
That year, I had taken a big plunge (for me, your average D-player) and played in the BCA National 8-Ball Championships. Coincidentally, that happened to be the year with the highest number of entrants to date. I think there was close to 700 in the women’s Open Singles division alone. I went into this tournament somewhat confident. I was a fairly decent big-table nine-ball player, so I thought eight-ball on a small table shouldn’t be too difficult.
Of course I was wrong.
I lost my first match and spent something like fourteen hours the next day battling it out on the losers side. I realized very quickly that eight-ball on a small table and nine-ball on a big table were both monsters, but of different breeds. Somehow, I managed to survive to the round of matches before the round that would determine what players made it to the “big board”, the tournament board of the final sixty-four players. Before I had wanted to win the whole tournament, but now I was settling for just making it to the final sixty-four.
In this match, I was playing a very good player from the Northwest. We went hill-hill and I lost in the last game when I had to jack up to shoot the eight-ball, which would then have to carom off my opponent’s cluster of solid balls into a pocket. It was a gutsy, complex shot that I would never have seen before, but my fourteen hour session of eight-ball had taught me A LOT. While I had hit the shot as perfectly as possible, the eight-ball did not make it into the pocket, settling instead on the edge. Bummer. I also did not get a rail. Bummer to infinity-plus-one! My opponent ran out and I was left tied for 129th place (or somewhere thereabouts).
When I got back home, I had already had much time to think about reality: I sucked at barbox eight-ball. Also, I wanted to get better at this game which I now afforded the respect it deserved. To do this, I joined a league.
To be specific, I joined an APA league.
My league operator started me out as a Skill Level (SL) 4, which was one level up from most new women players. He figured that I played good big-table nine-ball which would translate to better-than-average eight-ball — for women, anyways.
Within two weeks, my performance had been so bad (even with the handicaps) that I dropped to SL3. This was a surprise to my league operator. “What the hell? I thought putting you in as a 4 was putting you in too low and now you’re a 3?!”
“Yeah… I don’t think I know how to play eight-ball. It’s kind of hard.”
“But your nine-ball game isn’t bad…”
“I’m beginning to think they aren’t very much alike even though they’re both pool games.”
“Are you sandbagging? Is someone telling you to sandbag?!”
“No… I think… I… just suck.”
Over the next few years, league served its purpose for me and I got better at barbox eight-ball. I also began to understand that league players and league culture itself was a phenomenon. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was, but I felt that I actually didn’t belong — as a person — in league. For one thing, I had never run into so much condescension, cheating, sharking, sexism, and general douchebaggery. Prior to league, my pool experience had been practice in pool halls and the occasional women’s tournament. In both cases, players and spectators were generally well-behaved, and even if they didn’t behave, it wasn’t nearly on par with the weekly load of rotting manure I dealt with in league.
I continued to play league precisely because the league players and the venues were so full of irritants. I knew that I was easily distracted and easily angered and playing league was the best way to burn that out of me. If I got distracted or irritated during a league match, I would lose. Not only would I lose, chances were, I would lose to someone who was only too glad to tell me girls can’t play pool or that I was a s—ty player. If I could win under these extreme conditions, then the possible sharking I might encounter in my future professional pool career (I dreamed about this goal daily) would seem like nothing.
I am a strong proponent of trial by fire. Stay in the fire until you are fireproof.
This is when I decided to join multiple leagues. If I was going to be fireproof, I wasn’t going to do it by sitting next to a candle or even toasting myself by a fireplace. I was going to do it by walking into a nuclear meltdown. I would play in these leagues and suffer all the redonkulousness until I could play — and win — through it all. If I couldn’t survive league pool, then I certainly wouldn’t be able to survive professional pool.
Let us fast forward a few eons to Last Week At League.
The place we were playing at is a place I seriously hate playing pool in. It’s a dark, dark bar (lots of ugly people perhaps?) with a bar concrete floor and the doors are always open. The tables are bright red, dirty, and in various states of unevenness and disrepair. There are only two temperatures for this bar: Hot As Hell and Cold As Hell. There is no in-between Warm/Temperate/Mediterranean Like Hell option. Tonight, it was Cold As Hell. I hate the cold.
The team we were playing had some of the better shooters in the league. My history with this team has not been a pleasant one but it has gotten better over the past year or two. Tonight, they had a new lady member whom I shall call Funyun. Funyun looked familiar but I couldn’t remember where I had seen her before.
The night started off slowly and badly for my team as the other team handed our players donuts for the first two matches. Next up was my better half who would have to spot the other team’s best player one game in a race to five.
The other team’s top player — let’s name him Doritos — was a very, very good player. Although my better half rocketed out to a 4-0 lead, that lead was soon whittled down to nothing and both players were hill-hill at 4-3. It was then that Funyun broke out into full-on cheerleader mode and I finally remembered where I had known her from. I hadn’t seen her in a few years, but she still had the same habit of loudly screeching her support for her team while denigrating the opposing player. She yelled to Doritos that the match was his, he only needed one game, and my better half wasn’t all that good of a player anyways. Fun one indeed.
Doritos broke well and Funyun jumped up and down cheering, prompting her team to do the same — until they realized Doritos hadn’t made a ball on the break. In the ensuing silence punctuated only now and then with someone’s terrible choices at the jukebox, my better half ran out and away with the win.
I was up next and I knew the match would be tough. I had a long day at work, a long commute to this match, and worst of all, I was cold. When I’m cold, I start off very slow in my matches. I already knew who I was going to play — it would be Doritos’ brother. Let’s name him Fritos. Fritos had been demoted a Skill Level to 4 since the last time we played. Last time, he had been an SL5 and I had spotted him one game in a race to five. It had gone hill-hill and I had lost. This time, I would be spotting him two games in a race to five which would be even more dangerous.
Very quickly, Fritos won two games with the benefit of some spectacularly lucky rolls and left me at zero. He was now comfortably sitting on the hill and Funyun never failed to remind him, me, and anyone who gave a damn that the match was effectively over. After I racked for the third game, I went to my team and said matter-of-factly, “If I lose this match, I’m quitting league.” There was a thought materializing slowly in my mind. It was not yet clear, but I felt I would know what it was by the end of the match.
Fritos broke and the eight rolled towards the side pocket where it settled on the lip. No amount of verbal abuse by Funyun & Co. could induce that lump of phenolic resin to drop in and give Fritos the match win. It didn’t matter, though, since all the balls he needed to shoot were laid out favorably and the eight was going to be an easy shot no matter where he ended up on the table. He began to run out and, as improbable as it seemed to be, I waited for him to miss. Fritos finally got out of line and he whacked wildly at his last ball and scratched.
I looked at the layout of my stripes and realized very quickly that I was completely f—ed.
In Fritos’ last hail-mary whack shot, the cue ball had crashed into a few of my balls and conveniently rearranged them in horrendous spots. In particular, two of my balls were clustered on the rail juuust above where the eight-ball hung precariously in the side pocket. There was no way to break them out with any of my remaining balls and there was no way to play safe. Furthermore, Fritos’ last ball also was hanging in a pocket. Any miss on my part would ensure his victory. Fritos’ team high-fived him.
I walked around the table several times trying to find a way to break out those two balls. It was almost impossible, if only because of the danger of making the eight-ball in the side pocket at the same time. There was no good offensive option so I turned to defense. Again, there seemed to be no good defensive shot: Fritos’ ball was too easy to make and even if I safed him, the cluster still could not be broken out. Fritos’ team was getting more and more excited as I looked over the layout more and more. Funyun in particular began telling Fritos, “You got it, man, you got it!”
I put down the cue ball in a specific spot with all the finality of an executioner’s axe. I had placed the cue ball at an extreme angle to the two-ball cluster and only an inch away from the dangerously hanging eight-ball. Funyun told her team, “It’s over for sure, now.”
A member of her team, very interestingly, had been quiet but now he said, “I don’t think it’s over.”
“I think she just got mad.”
As some of you know, anger is detrimental to most people’s games, mine included. However, I play differently according to my level of anger. After I reach a certain point of being angry, I can become very focused and my play will get better. And I was very angry at this point. I was not angry at Funyun, who was merely annoying in the way small, rat-sized yappy dogs are annoying — I was angry that there was no way out of the trap the table and Fritos had put me in. Because of this, I took the one shot that no one thought I would take and certainly no one would ever suggest as an option.
I lined up for an extremely off-angle combination shot on the two balls in the cluster. I shot the cue ball like a pokey little stop shot. The cue ball stopped a half-inch from the eight-ball and the ten-ball rolled all the way up the table into the pocket. It was a digustingly ugly and low-percentage combination shot — and it went. With no more clusters, I ran out.
I broke and ran the next rack.
I broke and almost ran the rack after that, but still managed to win.
I broke and didn’t make a ball. Fritos ran down to his last ball and missed. The layout that was left to me was very tricky, but doable. I just had to be very, very careful with cue ball position. One by one, I wove the cue ball with delicate control and made the balls. Finally I had two balls and the eight-ball left. I just wanted to shoot a cut into an upper corner pocket and come back downtable for a shot in the side, and then the eight. I hit the cue ball at perfect speed and it cut in the ball nicely. The cue ball bounced wide off the rail and inexplicably seemed to head for the side pocket. As it slowed unnaturally down, I could definitely see that it was going to the side pocket. I could only hope that it would stop before then. Fritos immediately jumped up, pushed me aside, and began yelling at the cue ball to scratch. Funyun and her entire crew joined him and as Fritos put his hand in the side pocket to catch the cue ball, the shouts rose to a deafening crescendo.
Fritos made his last two balls and won the match. He looked like he might cry with joy. I wasn’t angry although I had lost. I had played well, with much toughness, and it was an unfortunate roll that cost me the match. That thought I had earlier in my head was becoming more and more concrete.
I shook Fritos’ hand and asked, “Why did you do that?”
“Push me out of the way and yell for the cue ball to scratch. That’s rude. I wouldn’t do that to you.”
“Well, you know, I didn’t want you to win.”
“Yeah, man. I mean, I was on the hill the whole time and you were beginning to shoot all good and I didn’t want you to win, you know?”
I appreciated his honesty, and now that my match was over, I crossed my name off the team list and quit.
The thought finally came to me and a light bulb went off in my head: I was not a good league player. It had not always been like this, but I had recently begun to notice certain things.
League, fundamentally, was a social activity. Most people who came to play league played pool for fun. A portion of those people were interested in improving their games. An even smaller portion of those people were competitive the way I was competitive. A fraction of that even smaller portion of people wanted to play on par with the greatest players on the world stage — as I did.
I had outgrown league.
I hadn’t outgrown the physical aspect of league — I was FAR from being the best player in the league. I had outgrown the mental aspect of league. That is, I wanted to be more than just a league player. League afforded me a competitive outlet every week but it was not a competitive outlet I wanted to be in. I did it because I had nothing else. I wanted to chase bigger and better things. Because I could not afford to chase the bigger and more competitive tournaments, I settled for league. In the past, league served me just fine when I was a s—ty player but now my heart wasn’t in league anymore. I didn’t want league to be the highlight of my life the way it was for so many of these players. I was not a social player and never would be.
As my better half and I walked out of the bar, we passed a group of people smoking outside the door. “Oh look,” said one of the smokers mockingly. “There goes that girl. The one that’s SOOOO SERIOUS about pool. Ooooh.” I turned to look at the speak, a skinny, skulking fellow dressed in ill-fitting flannel crowned with hair that looked like a dingy dandelion.
“Pool,” I said, “is life.” I looked him up and down. “The rest of it, like you, is just f—ing details.”
Indeed, I was serious about pool.
This weed-headed man’s comment made my thought clear: I was not a social player and I would no longer apologize for it. Yes, I wanted to win and to that end, I would practice, bear down, not talk to you, not drink beer, and not give you my phone number because all I wanted to do was KICK YOUR F—ING ASS. At pool. I would kick more if you deserved it.
Interestingly enough, all night, there had been snide comments made about my seriousness towards pool. I now understood something that had been bothering me for at least a year, maybe two years. In the recent past, much ado had been made, all of it negative, about my “seriousness”. It puzzled me because, well, what’s wrong with being serious about pool? Lots of guys are serious about pool and lots of girls are serious about pool. What’s wrong with it? Also very interesting was the fact that in recent months, I had noticed an increase in things like sharking, cheating, and allegations of worsening sportsmanship on my part.
The sportsmanship thing puzzled me the most.
Say what you like, but trust me, I am F—ING LIGHT YEARS better in the sportsmanship department now than I was when I first joined the league. I now periodically shake hands (still won’t shake hands with douchebags or assholes). If I don’t have anything nice to say, I’ll wait until YOU say something not nice, and then I’ll say my not nice bit. I keep my tantrums in better check — the lack of holes in walls will attest to this. In general, I try to show up, say nothing, play my match, and leave.
So, why all the harping on my sportsmanship now as opposed to before when I actually was much, MUCH more of an asshole?
You may find my theory interesting.
The biggest difference between now and before is, of course, the fact that I play better. Much better. In the past, although there was mild harping on my sportsmanship, a lot of it was amusement. Needling me about not winning was fun because I couldn’t do anything about it — I was a crappy player. It’s like teasing tiger cubs when they’re very small: they have fangs and claws but both are very tiny and wouldn’t cause much damage. It’s fun to poke them and even when they latch on to your finger and are trying to maul you to death, you find it endearing, not terrifying.
When the tiger grows up, it’s another story.
As I played more, I got better and my rage wasn’t “cute” anymore because now, I really, really wanted to beat you bad — and it was possible that I could do it. Given the opportunity, I could do a lot of damage. If you played me now, you could no longer act like you didn’t care — unless you wanted to lose. If you made a mistake, I would try like hell to punish you for it. People began to realize that I wasn’t playing pool to meet guys or even to show them that I could play pool. I played pool for myself and I wanted to win every single match I played. I made pool less fun for social players, or at least the ones that didn’t want to get beat by a girl. The better I played, the more people pointed out, with great negativity, my “seriousness” in pool.
To me, seriousness in pool playing was a compliment. It meant I was dedicated, thorough, and determined. To league players, seriousness was an insult. It meant that I wasn’t interested in friendship, flirting, or drinking. Taking the game seriously was poor sportsmanship in their eyes because the focus of league night for me wasn’t the people, it was the game.
And they are right.
And this is why I have outgrown league.
A lot of people, especially higher-level players, are always surprised that I have stayed in league as long as I have. I have done the nothing-everything deal with many things in my life. Pool is one of those things. When I began playing pool, I immersed myself completely in it. I learned about the equipment, the history, the players, the games, etc. In that vein, league pool was part of pool as well, and I made myself play it. I have since learned that it is all right to dislike certain aspects of a larger whole, the same way it is all right to dislike certain people out of the whole of humanity.
It sounds simple here, but it took me a very long time to understand this.
When Fritos and his team shoved me out of the way to watch that cue ball fall into the side pocket, the proverbial life flashed before my eyes. In this case, it was my league pool life. I thought of the long years I had put into league. I thought of the thousands upon thousands of hours and thousands upon thousands of miles I took to bus to play my matches. I thought of the countless times these players had frustrated me and how I had bore it all in the name of becoming a tougher, better player. I thought of how no good deed goes unpunished and how this holds so true in league pool, of all things. I thought of how I tried to fit in and say the right things only to watch myself fit in less and less as time passed.
Once upon a time, I watched a professional player play a tournament match. He struggled a bit, but he was fighting to play well even as he fell behind in the match. At one point, he chose a shot that someone in the crowd did not agree with. That person in the crowd began to heckle him. I watched as the player looked at the heckler for a long minute. The player then said to no one in particular, “This isn’t fun. I don’t want to be here anymore.” He unscrewed his cue, forfeited (even though he was deep in the money rounds), and went home. I did not understand why he did that then, but I understand now.
That is how I felt about league. I, too, realized that sometimes, pool isn’t fun anymore. And when it isn’t, you don’t HAVE to play. No one makes you play but you. It might be better not to compete at all than compete in conditions that will ultimately lead you to hate the game and make you forget why you played in the first place.
So, I quit league last week.
What are your thoughts on league play?
Leave your comments below or email me.