It was 9:00 a.m., I had just made it in time to my team’s first nine-ball match, I hadn’t slept in over 24 hours, and I had dogged a set hill-hill for a thousand.
But, the show must go on.
This was the first year I played team nine-ball. The format was three-person teams, races to 9, best 2 of 3 sets, single-elimination. Teams were allowed one Advanced, Master, or Grandmaster player. If you had one of the three, your team would have to spot an all-Open player team 1, 2, and 3 games, respectively. I was the one Advanced player on my team but in my current condition, there was no telling how bad I could play. The cool thing, though, were my teammates — they had both known me a long time and had played with me on teams before. This meant they knew exactly how to handle the murderous munchkin mess they now had for their top player.
You ever think you have a pretty good idea about how something works? You’re familiar with some of the component parts and you can talk about how they operate with some level of expertise and authority. You get the general theory of things. Then one component changes and everything you know goes to shit.
We thought we were pretty good nine-ball players. My two teammates played on bar tables fairly regularly while I played on big tables most of the time. We liked each other, drank together, sometimes talked mad sh#t together (Blame It [On the Alcohol], hahaha), and figured this tournament was going to be a fun time. We would be playing a game we knew well with people we liked. The only thing was, we had never played this format — races to 9, best 2 of 3 sets — before. But, really, that was just a minor detail.
We drew a team of extremely pleasant ladies and dumped the first set in what seemed like fifteen seconds.
In the short break between sets, we looked at each other in shock. We rapidly discussed the WTF#ckery that had just smacked us upside the head. 1). We had kind of forgotten how ridiculously fast nine-ball on the small table was, having played eight-ball for the last three days. 3). A race to 9, between two teams of three players? Lightning fast. 3). The bar table was truly, madly, deeply the equalizer we always said it was, but never really understood it to be — if you missed, your opponent was out. 4). We had to win the next two sets to even stay in the competition. 5). I was dogging it all over the place.
My teammates had to carry my sleepwalking ass, but we scrambled to win the next set and even managed to squeak out the third set to win.
Afterwards, I asked my teammate how many matches did we have to win today before coming back tomorrow.
“All of them.”
“It’s supposed to finish today.”
“No. NO. That’s f#cking insane! How is that supposed to work? When would the finals be?!”
She shrugged. “I don’t know, but at the pace it’s going so far, the finals will be at four in the morning.”
The mere mention of time made me tired. “Holy sh#t. Hooooly sh#t.”
“By the way, our eight-ball team match is at nine in the morning tomorrow.”
“Just kill me now.”
“Can’t. Need you to play.”
Our next match came up quickly and just as quickly, we dumped the first set again. This was due, in no small part, to my dogging eight- and nine-balls. To their credit, my teammates gave me no crap whatsoever for this seriously sub-sub-sub-par performance. They knew what I knew. 1). I was really, really tired. 2). I had dogged an expensive set and that could very well have given me a case of the yips.
I felt like shit. I always played hard, but when I played on a team, the losses hurt more because of shared responsibility. I did not want to let others down. I could let myself down, and I did all the time and didn’t give a shit — but my friends and teammates deserved better than that. What I did outside of team play was affecting the whole team and I felt no small measure of guilt for that, but I did not know how to break out of the funk. I was just so fucking tired.
I was slated to play the first game of the second set. I took a deep breath, stretched, and pulled myself together. I promised myself I would focus on each shot. I would not rush. I would take the time to consider percentages. I would not fall asleep. I was going to make this fucking shit work.
I broke, ran to an easy nine-ball, and hung it.
That was one of the worst feelings in the world, even more so than losing my own money. I could feel the disappointment from my teammates. I knew if I continued this way, we would all lose heart and we would all lose. I stepped back from the table. My opponent swept by me, plunked the hanging nine-ball, and as she shook my hand, she said with a smirk, “Hey, thanks for doing all the work.”
Welcome to another episode of Masterpiece Theatre: Why The FUCK Did You Say That.
I remained standing by the table, unsure of what just happened. Could someone really be that rude? I turned to my teammates and they were sitting there, wide-eyed. One of our friends who had come to cheer us on said, “I heard that. Oh my God, I heard that.” Everyone watched me with concern, and for good reason. My reputation, as many of you know, is not undeserved.
“Excuse me,” I said, very deliberately, to no one and everyone in particular. “I’ll be right back.”
I walked away from the tables and faced the wall for a few moments. I cracked my knuckles. I cracked my neck. I inhaled deeply, exhaled slowly, and wondered why someone would say such a thing. It was bad enough for someone to lose, why add insult to injury? Perhaps this was a form of intimidation, meant to demoralize us further so they could coast to an easy win.
I walked back. I rummaged around the spectator tables. I needed something to eat and something to drink. Half of a chicken wrap sandwich and a can of RedBull were immediately surrendered to my dead-eyed self. I ate a little, drank a little, and then sat very, very still. The other team contined to play with great confidence. My teammates were doing their best to hold on. If we did not stop the hemorrhage of games, we would only be in this tournament for another twenty minutes or so.
I was up again. It was our rack. As I racked the balls, I felt my body temperature rise to extremely high levels. By the time I was done racking, it had returned to normal and I was very, very calm. I looked over at my teammate and said dreamily, “Burn them alive.”
I stopped missing. I had been fired up into a ridiculous gear and all I wanted to do was bitchslap this goddamn cocky-ass team to doomsday. I found my stroke. I found pocket speed. I found position play. I was aware of nothing but the shots I had to make. I was on full-tilt autopilot.
I finally hooked myself and scratched off the kick. My opponent had only four balls left and the first one was just two inches in front of the pocket. She held the cue ball and looked for a long, long time at the table. I went back outside the barrier to my team and stalked back and forth impatiently. She placed the cue ball just so and looked at it a little longer. I growled with annoyance. She rattled the ball and I almost hurdled the barrier in my eagerness to shoot. As I looked at her face and the face of her teammates I knew they were confused.
What was happening? Not less than half an hour ago, they all but destroyed us in the first set. They had the momentum to win and had somehow lost it, and we had found it. We tore through the last set and eliminated them.
It’s just so fucking lovely.
Before we proceed any further, let me let you in on a not-secret secret: I’m an anomaly. Logic and reason and countless champions dictate that anyone who gets pissed off to high heaven will usually play worse. Not so with me. If I’m irritated, I might falter here and there, that’s to be expected. But, if you goad me into a very, very special level of rage…
…you will bring out my absolute best game. I will play like I never knew I could, and I thank you for it.
Alternatively, you can be politely, indifferently silent and watch me implode with frustration as I hold myself to an impossibly high standard of play. Seriously. You can help me help you win. All you have to do is shut the f#ck up.
We rolled on. Match after match, we kept to our nerve-wracking formula: lose the first set, win the next two. My fatigue was potentially a huge liability for us. My teammates and our supporters had to keep me from falling asleep. I closed my eyes for twenty seconds once and had an entire complicated dream in that brief span. After that, I had people talk to me to keep me awake. I had never had RedBull by itself before that second match, but, after seeing its positive effects (despite its extremely negative taste), there was a can ready for every match.
The pool gods must have been on my side because whenever I felt my energy flag and neither food nor caffeine could bring me back, somebody would have to say something snarky to me or my teammates and then my internal rage engine would fire back to full throttle.
The day was long. My teammate was right, if they wanted to play the finals, it would have to be at four in the morning or later. We dragged ourselves through game after game by the power of caffeine or rage until we were finally informed the finals would be played at a later time. I almost wept with joy, but we all know I don’t know what true joy is — just the satisfaction of revenge.
In the very last match of the evening, the music piped through the room inexplicably became a playlist of extremely sad and slow songs (“Never miiiind, I’ll find someone like yoooouuuu…”, oh shut UP Adele). We ALL fell asleep. Us, opponents, spectators, referees, pool gods, etc. That was the longest, dreariest match, ever. After forty-odd hours of wakefulness by willpower, I was beginning to fade although one particularly annoying spectator kept me burning until the end of this match with his remarks. My teammate fired in some crazy-ass combination at a little after two in the morning to end it all and truthfully, we were more happy we were done for the day than that we had won.
Just before my head hit the pillow, I remembered I had to be up at 8:00 at the latest for our first eight-ball team match.
I’m pretty sure I fell asleep mid-cuss.
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