|is a wonderful thing|
Flashback to my last pool-related post about current events. It’s the one where I got KTFO’d of a tournament and then scooted on over to a tiny, two-table action room where Oscar Dominguez and Santos Sambajon, Jr. were scheduled to play some high-dollar sets.
Let’s rewind to before the match even started, to when I just walked in.
My first thought on walking into this pool room was absolute delight. What a great setup, I thought to myself. Just so perfect. I was excited to be able to watch high-dollar, high-level pool thiscloseup. F#ck yes. I paused in the doorway to see where I could sit, and that is when the guy shooting around on the non-marquee table addressed me.
“You play like SH#T today, huh?”
“I saw you play SO BAD, so sh#tty! Against [my first loss], and then AGAIN! Against [my second loss]. You were so terrible!” He laughed heartily, his belly shaking like a bowl full of jelly. He continued to make fun of me.
I smiled, if a bit tiredly, and my government-issue retort was ready as I waited for him to stop laughing so I could deploy it.
I’ve learned to expect this kind of behavior from lots of people. When you’re as opinionated, realistic, and F#CK-YOU-I-DON’T-GIVE-A-SH#T-WHAT-YOU-THINK-I-SHOULD-BE-OR-HOW-I-SHOULD-PLAY as I am, you learn quickly that the price of owning yourself, as it were, comes in varied (and sometimes rude) forms. One of those forms is knowing there are people who — with every wheezing sigh of their dusty, moth-eaten raisin hearts — want you to fail. And that when you fail, they will revel in your failure the way a pig rolls in sh#t.
You learn to deal with it.
It’s the price of business.
As I waited for this guy to stop guffawing so I could respond, an idle question moseyed about in my head. I wondered why this guy, in particular, would relish my failure so, so much. I did not know him particularly well (although that is never a prerequisite to dislike me) and he was, I believe, considered an excellent player.
There is a code of honor amongst those who are true competitors. Those who truly compete have an understanding regarding certain behavior as it pertains to competition itself. Competition is competition — and nothing else.
For example, there are people I dislike with the burning of a million overclocked fondue fountains. People who I believe deserve nothing less than being stabbed in the eyes with metal skewers dipped in rancid, boiling hot Velveeta. (Velveeta?! Yes. I hate them that much. And it must be rancid. And boiling hot.) That is because I, as a person, hate them as people. Many of you know what I mean. Those of you who don’t understand this, you may return to your caves of wisdom amongst the Nepalese clouds and pray for the rest of us (or just me).
Have I had to play these people in pool?
And this is the important part: when we are in a match, they are no longer the person who needs to die screaming in a fondue pot of inferior cheese product — they are a competitor. As such, I accord them, during the match (note I said during), the utmost in respect. This means calling fouls on myself. This means giving them a good rack. This means not making mean or butt-hurt remarks, regardless of what they may say to me. This means playing pool like the royal and distinguished sport it is meant to be. This is because my respect and love for the game transcends any personal lack of respect and death-by-inferior-cheese-product hatred I have for my opponent.
I can respect almost anyone (never make the claim of “everyone” because you never know) for being a competitor. This means that after the match — win or lose — I may not say anything or even shake your hand, but I will never, ever make fun of you for losing. As a competitor, I understand the f#cking amount of grit it takes to compete and I understand, even more deeply, the pain of losing. I know that pain so very well and no one, not even fondue-worthy-f#cktards, deserve to be skewered for it. To me, that’s like making fun of someone losing a loved one — and you’re doing it at the funeral.
That’s not to say people don’t make fun of each other, and nastily in bad spirit, for losing. I’ve seen it. You’ve probably seen it. My experience is this kind of behavior is more commonly found amongst the lower levels of pool, from people who do not care to reach a higher level of play or understanding in the game. At the elite levels, I have never seen it happen.
And that is why I wondered why this guy — who I knew had a fair reputation as a good player and was well-known by so many — would make fun of me with such gusto for losing? And why would he do it in front of a big crowd, like a comedian looking for laughs and agreement? He was ten times better than me as a player. Why would he relish this opportunity to try and humiliate and/or anger me so much?
And the Pool Gods, who never answer my prayers for rolls or a better game, answered my question: He makes fun of you for having what he lacks.
The understanding crashed down like a house of cards.
I knew this guy to be a good player. But, I also knew more. He never got better. He didn’t gamble unless it was a lock. He liked to jump on other peoples’ tables uninvited to hit balls so he wouldn’t have to pay time. He had a reputation as a big talker, a coward, and a nit.
What he was doing to me right now was something he, himself, could never tolerate. That is, he could never, as I did, go play in a tournament risking the possibility of complete failure. I had no problems playing like sh#t in a match for the pool room rail and the entire internet to see. I could lose like that, take the crap that would inevitably be fired my way, shrug, and move on. This guy was afraid of looking foolish. He had grown comfortable and complacent and was unwilling to put himself on the line to improve. He did not take risks and because of that, he would never have the commensurate reward.
To win without risk is to triumph without glory.
This guy, for all that he played ten times better than me, would never be able to do a hundredth of the things I had already done for this game. Underneath his attempt to humiliate me lay the same issue at the heart of any bully: he was afraid. And I was not.
This guy laughed as if telling the world I played like sh#t was the greatest punchline of the greatest joke ever told, but the joke was not me. I saw everything he was and everything he would never be. He paused to catch his breath, and I hit a gentle return.
“You have no idea how talented I am. If you think I can play like sh#t just against [my first loss] and [my second loss], you’re completely mistaken. I’m so talented I can play like sh#t against anyone — not just champions.”
This drew some laughs from the crowd. But, of course it did. It’s funny because it’s true. What I didn’t add was I could do all that — and not give a flying f#ck.
Later on, a spectator apologized for the guy’s rudeness. He said he actually wasn’t all that well-liked, just tolerated.
“It’s all right,” I said, with the closest thing I had to compassion. “His life is his punishment.”
My mug and fuzzy keychain raffle is still going on…
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