Anyone want to play some pool?
I'm not actually joking. My doctor says I need a hobby (that's kinda funny, if you think about it), and also that I need to be on my feet and move around more, so I thought I'd take up pool. Pocket billiards, that is.
Trouble is, I have no friends. Well, I do, but not at the pool hall. So if you're local to me and you'd like to shoot some pool for an hour sometime, let me know. I'll even pay for the table (it's $8 an hour and as you know, I am nothing if not a big spender.) I don't mind talking about photography.
Ice cube: I don't know...sometimes I see the world as tragic, sometimes as amusing. This week, amusing.
For instance, this is kinda funny. I thought I'd make a folksy little reference—maybe in the preamble of a blog post—about the day that the last of the ice and snow disappeared here in Wisconsin. But there's this place where I shove the snow off the deck all winter where it heaps up. It's partly under the deck's overhang, and it's north-facing so it gets no sun, and there was a ridgeline of ice there that just didn't want to melt. Day after day after day, late March, early April—still there. Upshot, last week on Tuesday evening after two days of rain I glanced over there and it looked like the ice was finally gone. But I figured I'd better be sure (get the facts straight!), so I looked more closely, and there, hiding in the grass, is this tiny little piece of crusty antediluvian ice, no bigger than maybe two ice cubes, still hangin' on. Had to laugh.
So it finally melts on Wednesday—completely—finally!—the last of the ice and snow—and then this morning, what happens? Snow on the deck. Not much, but still. Winter's hanging on like a bulldog.
Control of the time domain: I finally figured out why I don't care so much for video. The thought came to me when I went to the Milwaukee Art Museum with Ken and Chris last week. There was a big three-screen video presentation, and of course you walk in "in the middle" at "installations" like that, and I was thinking I'd just much rather be talking to Ken and Chris than standing in the dark watching some dude writhe on the carpet in slow motion. The problem with video is that it takes control of the time axis with a viselike grip...you have to go at the speed it dictates. Can't speed up, can't slow down, can't skim or skip, can't pause to reflect. Reading, you can do all those things. (Admit it, you're skimming now. I'm not offended.) The baseline requirement for video for me is that it has to at least give me more to think about than I can think about in the time it's taking up. Otherwise, I'm bored.
That's entertainment!: So then, given my general dislike of the moving-picture medium, this is kinda funny: all this past week, I've been watching...YouTube videos of 9-ball matches. The videos show everything, and I mean everything, even the pauses when the players step away from the table. And they can last for two hours or more.
...And I find them completely engrossing. Like this epic seesaw match between the late George "Ginky" San Souci (he died last year at age 39 of unknown causes) and Mike Dechaine. (For the three of you who will actually start watching this, the match doesn't start until the 7:45 mark.)
Pool as a public sport is about as under the radar as it gets—even badminton and trampolining are in the Olympics—so the videos are highly variable in production quality, and the voiceover commentary can be anything from insightful to hilariously awful. But to me, they're as fascinating to watch as golf. (I love watching golf on TV. Yes, I know most people don't.)
Rule reform: I tried watching basketball, during March Madness. Really gave it the old college try: followed the action, looked at the brackets even though I didn't make my own, read up on some of the schools and players. Now there's a boring sport. I suppose it's because I was never any good at basketball and have bad memories of it from when I played. But I also just think there are structural problems with that game. The endings are almost always draggy and anticlimactic, while the teams trade fouls and laboriously manage the clock. I'd love to see the ending of the game rethought so that it could more often be exciting and athletic. They should experiment and see what would work better. For instance, I'd start by making any foul inside the last two minutes result in two automatic points for the opposing team, with play continuing unchecked. That would get rid of the awful routine of the trailing team fouling and the opposing team going to the line multiple times in the closing seconds, which has got to be the biggest buzzkill in all of sports. The strategy is complex in basketball and the athleticism truly amazing—it must be a great game to play if you're decent or better at it—but when occasionally you do get an actual good ending to a game, it's the exception that proves the rule.
Bro: My more talented younger brother Scott was my main opponent in games of sport and skill when I was a kid. My height advantage in driveway basketball (he's five years younger) gave him a wicked outside jumpshot that served him well in high school, although tennis was really his game (and he was even better at table tennis, a.k.a. ping pong). He was more coordinated than I was, and had a more positive attitude and more competitive fire.
I played pool with Scott endlessly when we were kids, after our long, gruelling campaign to wheedle my parents into buying us a pool table was finally successful and before I went off to college. I don't recall how many years that would have been. Four or five, maybe.
But, curiously, like most people, we were only ever playing half the game. The front half of the game is pocketing the object ball, but the back half, "playing for position," i.e., putting the cue ball in position for the next shot, is arguably more important. In fact you have to think at least two or three balls ahead, and good 9-ball players are usually thinking through the whole table before they hit one shot. I find it fascinating to watch, because the professionals think it through so quickly. They can make shots faster than I can think one or two balls ahead. I feel mighty proud on those rare occasions when I can see three shots ahead before a player pockets a ball. I'm still struggling to "see the table." I know I'll get it if I keep trying, but I'm not there yet. Keeps me engaged.
Anyway, if you want a game, beware: I suck. Unless you count thirty-five years ago, I just took up the game on Wednesday, the day the ice melted, 2013.
(Thanks to Scott—not for this post, but for all those games we played as kids)
"Open Mike" is a series of off-topic posts that appear only, but not always, on Sundays.
Original contents copyright 2013 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Ruby: "You have absolutely read my mind and put your finger on why I hate videos. I've never been able to articulate it, but now I am quoting that paragraph to people."
Charles Lanteigne: "Too bad I'm not in the neighborhood, I love pool! My father and I play on a fairly regular basis, maybe twice a month. For us it's 8-ball. We play 'first one to win 10 games,' and we do this usually twice. Since we are a close match in skill (or lack thereof), runs often end 10-8, 10-9, so that means we play maybe 32–38 games during those three/four hour afternoons. I don't know that it's any good in terms of cardiovascular activity, but it's better than sitting at the computer all day. (I'm typically sore in one shoulder the next day!)"
John Camp: "The thing about really good art still photography is that it's really, really good.
"The thing about art video is that it usually seems really, really poor. That's because we're so used to highly professional and extremely expensive movies and television, and highly professional and extremely expensive documentaries, that make 'art videos' simply look crude. Because they are.
"My late wife was on the board of directors of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and one continuing argument they had there was modern chamber music vs. classical chamber music. The players always pushed for more modern stuff, the number-crunchers for more classical stuff, and the reason was simple—when they played a modern program, ticket sales tanked, and even a lot of the season ticket holders don't show up.
"But the reason isn't what a lot of people think it is—that people are unsophisticated about modern music. The real reason is that when you're listening to serious classical chamber music, you almost by definition are listening to a masterpiece that has survived for centuries. Most modern music is nothing like a masterpiece (and if you think about it, you'll know why—masterpieces are rare at any time, but do accumulate over the centuries.)
"I think that's also the case with photography, but video in particular. With video, our standards are so high that we don't want to see handmade stuff by a guy who got his camera three weeks ago, and is shooting pictures of himself or his friends.
"A few years ago, I was on the couch watching some movie (I no longer remember what) and there was a sequence where some people were hanging out at an L.A. food truck. As I watched, I realized that if I could have taken a half-dozen still photos of the sequence, they would have been some of the best 'street' photos I'd have taken in my life. Because the cinematography was brilliant. Color, composition, lighting, it was all there....
"A guy rolling around on the floor ain't gonna make it."
Mike replies: I think there's another explanation in addition to the accumulated-masterpiece theory. It's that the most talented people in those eras were composing classical music. Despite the existence of a few talented composers in that field now (I find Steve Reich consistently interesting, for example), it's undeniable that most people with a talent for music these days direct their attentions and energies elsewhere. There's not a lot of call for new classical compositions, not a lot of audience for it, and not a lot of money to be made doing it. So it doesn't attact the driven, ambitious, talented people. So the work isn't typically especially compelling or popular. QED.
P.S. Like you, I'm not infrequently amazed at the talent of cinematographers.
mark: "Efren ('The Magician') Reyes looks like he carries a bit of a paunch. You might want to think about a hobby that involves some exercise. Or at least an activity whose most famous participant has a nickname other than 'Fats.'
JohnMFlores: "Great to see a photo of Efren 'Bata' Reyes. He's a national hero where I come from. As a kid he used to rack the balls at the local pool hall by day and then practice whenever he could. He'd sleep on the tables at night, or so I heard. I was playing pool in Manila with cousins when another legend, Francisco Bustamante, walks in and starts playing at the next table. Next thing we know, Bata's there, and under the klieg lights of greatness my game when from passable to piss-poor.
"I totally understand the watching pool on YouTube. Months ago I spent hours watching snooker maestro Ronnie O'Sullivan. Here's one where he alternates between shooting righty and lefty. Smashing!"
carlweese: "My grandfather, John Francis (Jack) Duggan, was born in Ireland, came with his parents to Canada, then sneaked into the U.S. on a bicycle at the age of 14. At 28, he was a vice president of Gimbel Brothers, the department store giant in New York. One reason was that he could join the New York Athletic club (the other executives could not in that era, because they were Jews) and make the business connections denied to the others. He also became the billiards champion of the club. I have a bunch of sterling silver hip flasks that were the awards for yearly championships (this was during prohibition of course, which makes it more delicious). My father told me that shooting pool with his father-in- law was the most frustrating thing in the world. Jack would let you break, you might sink a ball or two, then he'd clear seven or eight tables in a row. Talk about planning the whole table at once from the result of the break....
"He died when I was only five, and no longer lived in a place that could house a pool table, so I never learned the game from him."
Sean: "The pool hall above local arcade held a much bigger draw to me than school ever did. I could not hold a pen right, but the things I could do with a cue. I never liked snooker that much. My wag officer (truant officer) promised me that if I stayed in school every day for six weeks, he'd take me for a game of snooker. It was a big ask, but I managed it, he was true to his word. The table was too big to me; I didn't play well. We went back to our cat and mouse relationship soon after."
JTW: "The snow/ice has (almost) gone from under your deck? We (Western Canada) are having the worst spring (or lack of) in recent memory. There is still snow everywhere, and in a month that last year posted highs in the double digits (celsius, of course) this year we've hardly broken 0° (32°F to you).
"I don't watch basketball either. Never have. I have reached the conclusion that the sports biggest problem is the size of the court. When the game was first 'invented,' in a YMCA in Canada, the players would have been, what, 5' 8" on average? Six feet would have been big. Now, it's played by guys who can go down the court in three strides, so the whole nature of the game is different."
Mike replies: If I get another life, I am going to make a billion dollars by starting an alternative basketball league called "The Six-Foot League." No players over 6', no play above the rim allowed, and games will be best three-out-of-five eight-minute "sets." (Because really, if it's a blowout, who needs to see more than 24 minutes? If it's close, you get to see the full 40 minutes.) Fouls will renew for each set so the best players won't have to sit out at the end of games, and of course my pet ideas to make the final minutes more exciting will all be implemented....
The first step would be to hire 12 or 15 guys to play a bunch of games with different rules, so we could research what works best. Maybe I should write a letter to Mark Cuban. Yeah, that would be a good use of my time. :-D