Sunday, January 24, 2010

Rack ‘Em Up Daddy!

It's January. It's cold. It's wet. And it's very uninspiring outside right now.

The girls are successful in the school year so far. And my work continues on today as it did the day before, and the day before that.

The weekend is the rest time. The rest of the week is dedicated to throwing ourselves into the commitments and obligations we hold to the outside world.

In the non-summer months, we like to turn our attention to the pool table downstairs in the family room.

My lovely wife Darlene can no longer lean over the table to make her shots. This is very sad to both of us, as we had a ball in earlier years playing marathon tournaments trying desperately to defend our own personal household honors and humiliate the other.

True love at its finest.

But this year, at the ages of ten and eight – my daughters Alannah and Ashley-Rae are now finally old enough to learn the games of pocket billiards with their old man, supervised of course.

So most evenings, after work and after school, after home work is done, and baths are taken, and after dinner is consumed and cleaned up after, the three of us head downstairs to play pool.

They ask from the moment I walk in the door - "Daddy, can we play pool now?"

"Is the home work done?"


"Have you had your bath?"


"Sounds like you better get busy then, eh?"

And off they march to meet those obligations, just usually in time for dinner to appear magically on the table.

Then, finally, in the early evening, I will mix myself a nice drink, and haul my freshly scrubbed and slightly better educated little girls down to the family room where we go through the ritual of removing the pool table cover – a formality that I have introduced the maneuvers that look like a military honor guard folding the flag.

With little girls on each side of the table, they grab the corners of one end, and fold it to the middle of the table, then do the same from the other end of the table. Then work the folds until a small square of the heavy faux pas leather pool table cover lays squarely in the center. I inspect the square for defects (which I never find) and remove the cover.

At that point, each of us removes our pool cues from the rack on the wall. And ceremoniously chalk our cues while politely discussing the night's event:

"I want to play cut-throat" - a game where each player has five balls assigned to them, and each player tries to sink the other players balls – the last player to have a ball or more on the table wins.

"I call the balls one through five"

"No way! You were those yesterday!"

"Let's draw numbers" ,I will always suggest.

We have a little plastic bottle full of numbered peas - one through sixteen – with no fifteen – I don't know why – so the sixteen is to us the fifteen ball.

We draw one pea at a time each – concealing our peas – until each has five and the bottle is empty. And each of us goes off to hide our peas in a corner so the others can't see – but so we can refer to them as we lose track of which ones we are.

As this is happening, I have racked the balls – one through fifteen – into a triangle on the table.

Then all hell breaks loose.

"I want to break!" – says one.

"No way, I'm breaking" says the other.

"Let's lag for break", I will always suggest.

So we each take a turn to lag the cue ball down one end of the table – off the rail on the other end – and roll back up the table – the one who's ball comes closest to the near rail without touching it wins.

I usually win the lag.

"No fair Daddy, you always win!" will say one of the two.

"Okay – you came second closest – you break", I usually reply.

The little girl who was second stands at the end of the table – and in quite good form I must say – she lines the stick up behind the cue ball – like a text book example of a pool player taking a shot.


The cue ball slowly drifts down the center of the table and lightly bumps the triangle shaped arrangement of balls – and a couple drift away from the clump remaining.

My first shot is into that clump to really break the balls up.

Now the game gets interesting. Because my little girls use various tricks to figure out which balls are mine. And while their skills at breaking balls up in the break are subject to the constraints of the tiny frames of eight and nine year old girls, they can both line a shot up and sink the ball they are aiming at.

And – truth be told – quite often they knock me out of the game first.

There are the odd occasions where I simply run them off the table in my first or second turn at the table – but usually I do my best to keep them in the game as long as I can – fairly to each one.

And when one gets knocked out – it is treated as to mean that I like the other more.

Sad long faces as they go to sit on the stool to watch the remainder of the game.

But quite often, they succeed at knocking me off first.

Every night they get better. And every night they learn more patience. Each of them is starting to see the angle needed for each shot – off the ball or off the rail to hit the ball.

And each of them is starting now to actually think their way around the table – one shot ahead – so then can try to have that second shot.

So they are actually learning stuff – they just don't know it.

And I am not going to tell them.

The other night – I quizzed them at the supper table – what the color of each billiards ball in our eight ball set was. And they both knew them cold.

And when Ashley-Rae was doing her math homework – describing shapes – she started to write down that one of the shapes was impossible because a pool ball couldn't bounce off the rail that way.

I let her go ahead and write it.

I wondered what Ashley-Rae's teacher thought – as she read my daughters explanation that a trapezoid shape couldn't be true because the ball wouldn't roll that way.

The next day, I pulled Ashley-Rae's notebook out of her school bag, and I found her homework with the teachers markings on it. At the end of the question about trapezoids, the teacher had written "You have to put spin on it Ashley!".

Very cool.

I remember my Dad telling me about being a boy and getting in trouble from his mom when he came home with blue cue chalk on his clothes, and how disreputable it was to be known as pool player in those days.


Because my little girls are learning a lot.

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