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No Joy in Poolville
Another Stroker Smith Story
by Ace Toscano
Stroker had won the Friday night tournament at Boonies, but he was feeling less than jubilant as he made his way home on Highway One. Never had an eighty dollar win left him feeling so down. But, it wasn't about the money, he told himself as his old Rav 4 roared on, it was about playing well; and he hadn't played well at all. He'd dogged too many shots - two straight-in shots on the eight in the last game alone. It was a miracle that he had won, a cosmic joke.
The gloom persisted through Saturday and Sunday leading Stroker to suspect there was more behind these feelings than his clumsy victory at Boonies. He thought back to Thursday night. His second place finish at Chalkie's had left him equally dejected. Thanks to a series of breaks, he had beaten Leapin' Larry and Fast Eddie, two players he normally wouldn't have a chance against and only a miss on an easy cross-side bank of the nine against Deek Nettles had kept him out of the hot seat.
"So, you think that's it, a missed easy cross-side bank on Thursday night has caused you to feel depressed for the next five days."
"It's depressing - I used to be so good at banks."
His weekly court-ordered visits to the shrink had been part of the plea agreement his lawyer, Anthony J. Rotundo, had negotiated following assault charges that had nearly put him in the pokey. Stroker still couldn't believe the big deal they made over his whacking some nit in the head with his cue. "He accused me of cheating," he had said to the judge at his arraignment. But that didn't seem to matter. Anyway, he was enjoying the time he spent with Dr. Colleen Mathers. She was a good kid, and plenty smart.
"So, you came in first in one tournament and second in another, two events which might make a person feel somewhat pleased with himself, but, for you, this has all been overshadowed by a missed bank…"
"A missed easy bank," he corrects. "It was dead in the side."
"… a missed easy bank, and this has left you feeling depressed."
"That's about it."
"And there's nothing else?"
Until a few days ago, the S-train had been chugging along unimpeded. Stroker's dream of recapturing his boyhood form, after a 40 year lay-off, had still seemed achievable. Sure, he had just turned 60, but he was still improving, still moving forward with his game, chug chugguh-chug chugguh-chug. Then, he missed that shot against Deek and he had had what he interpreted as a major revelation. He had been kidding himself. He would never again be a player. He would never be more than a freakin' bum. His comeback was over, fizzled, kaput. He was at the end of the line.
"So, the missed, easy, dead-in-the-side bank triggered for you a revelation that you…"
"That I am done. There isn't going to be a comeback. I'm never going to be able to play any good and all the time I've been working on my game, trying to get back in stroke, all that time, I've only been fooling myself. I'm a chump - nothing more. I'm gonna have to live with it."
"And, to be a chump…"
"Is to be nothing, nobody, a pimple on the ass of the world."
She let that hang there for a good long while. Either she was considering the gargantuan proportions of what he had just said, or she wanted him to. You never knew with this broad.
"Of the pool world," she finally added.
"To be a chump in the poolroom is to be nothing, nobody, a pimple on the ass of the pool world."
"I'm not following," said Stroker.
"I think you do."
"I said I don't, Colleen. I wouldn't say I don't if I did."
She smiled. Something he had said must have struck her as amusing.
"Well, let me put it this way: some people believe that the person we think we are is nothing more than the sum of the roles we play. Do you follow that?"
"No. What's that - Scientology?"
She laughed. He liked to make her laugh. "Take me, for example…"
"I'm a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother…"
"And a shrink."
"And a therapist. My behavior in each of these roles is very different. When I am with my parents or with my husband, I am a very different person than when I am here with you."
"I should hope so."
She smiled. "And the same is true for you. You are not just Stroker, pool player. You are more than that."
"Not really. I mean, I know what you're getting at and, if you want to look at yourself that way, go ahead, but me, I'm Stroker Smith, every minute of every day - Stroker Smith."
"And you're never Stroker Smith the son."
"Not any more. My mother and father are dead."
"And the part of you that was their son?"
"Died with them… I hope."
"Forgetaboutit, Colleen. I don't wanna go there. I'm sixty years old, for Christ's sake, too old to be crying about that crap."
"But, you're father not only beat you, you said he brought to your home an atmosphere of fear."
"Yeah, but you know what? It dawned on me one day that I coulda run away from all that and I never did."
"When you were five or six years old? I don't think running away was an option."
"Hey, I knew a lot of guys who ran away - to Florida, California, NYC - guys who had it a lot better than I did. They ran away just for the hell of it. But I never thought of it. I can't understand that."
"Perhaps, you didn't run away because you were afraid of what your father might do when he caught you. That would be understandable."
"Nope, I don't think so. I just never thought of it. Anyway, it's too late now, so let's forget about it." She wouldn't, he knew, but he could hope.
"What about your role as a father? Didn't you tell me you have a daughter?"
"Let's not go there."
"I haven't seen her in over twenty years."
"She was kidnapped by aliens."
"Check with the aliens."
"You're being uncooperative, today, for some reason."
"Is that going into the report?"
"That's up to you."
"Look, Colleen, I didn't whack that guy in the head because my old man beat me or my mother never hugged me or because I haven't seen my kid in twenty years - I whacked him because he dissed me. He accused me of cheatin'. He's lucky I didn't friggin' kill him. You can't let people get away with shit like that."
"He dissed you."
"Yeah, he did."
"So, you had no choice."
"It was a matter of honor."
"Damn straight… Is that going in the report?"
"If I think it's important."
"It could be… Tell me, Stroker, are you a chump and a nobody to your wife?"
"Don't be ridiculous! My wife doesn't care anything about pool, except that it keeps me out late and makes me breathe in second-hand smoke."
"So, in the role of husband…"
"Listen, Colleen, what the hell does it matter?"
"Your relationship with your wife…"
"I mean, I'm 60 years old. I'm not going to be around very much longer, and nothing we say here is going to change that."
"Nowadays, it's not uncommon for people to live to ninety and beyond. You could…"
"Not this people."
"Why do you say that?"
"It's not in the genes, kid, not in the genes. I've had two operations on my colon and the doctor says I'm lookin' at another one. I've got sugar diabetes. And, now, all of a sudden my doctor says I've got high blood pressure to boot. I'm falling apart, girl."
"What's this about another operation?"
"Oh, I had a colonoscopy a few weeks back and that's what the doctor said."
"And you never mentioned it."
"My wife and I talked about it. She went with me."
"I mean, you never mentioned it during our sessions."
"Dying's not something I like talkin' about."
She sighed. "It's precisely those things you don't like talking about that we should be working on."
"You're a good kid, Colleen, but you just don't get it - your best years are coming, mine are gone. That's just the way it is. Now… know what I think we should be working on?"
"Yes, I'd love to know what you think we should be working on."
"Long straight-in shots… and maybe my banks."
"Well, I doubt that I can help you with that."
"Just my luck."
Copyright © 2004- by Ace Toscano. All rights reserved.