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Once A Weasel
by Ace Toscano
Gordon Wilcox was well known in area pool rooms, mostly as a loud-mouthed bullshitter, but, to be honest, he didn't play half-bad for a decrepit old fart. Half-bad meaning he couldn't beat the good players, but he could torture the lousy ones. His game of choice was one-pocket, a game that didn't appeal to me at all, which accounts for the fact that we didn't usually play with or against each other. We did play some nine-ball one day, just for the hell of it, meaning we weren't gambling, and I reeled off six or seven wins in a row before he quit on me, but that was the only time we ever matched up head to head.
Gettin' back to the bullshitting - it was mostly a sharking technique. When you're playing somebody for money, you have a right to expect them to sit quiet and still when it's your turn at the table. If they move around, or talk, or tap their stick on the floor, or hum or whistle, they are trying to distract you and upset your concentration. That's sharking. Bobby March, a friend of mine, recently deceased, had blown up one day because Gordie wouldn't shut up during their game. He swore never to play Gordie again, and he hadn't.
I found this out, one day, after I heard Gordie badmouthing Bobby March down at Dave's Pool Room in New Port Richey. "Jeez," I had said at the time, defending my friend, "But, Bobby always speaks so highly of you." "Yeah?" he responded. "Yeah," I said, "he says you're a fuckin' loud-mouthed weasel." That put him in his place pretty good, I guess. Anyway, he never said another foul word about Bobby when I was around.
Later, when I reported the incident to Bobby, he explained to me about what had happened between him and Gordie and the oath he had sworn, adding that they hadn't even spoken to each other in four years.
So, seeing as me and Bobby had been good friends, my natural inclination was to not have anything to do with Gordie Wilcox. But, though people probably wouldn't suspect this of me, I'm generally a polite kind of guy, so, when Gordie would interrupt my practice sessions and try to enlighten me with his knowledge of the game, as he did now and then, I would fight off the impulse to tell him to go fuck himself, even though it made me feel like I was betraying my old pal Bobby, and pretend to be interested in whatever shit he happened to be slinging on that particular day. Suffice it to say, though we weren't friends, our contacts had evolved to the point of being almost friendly.
Once, he was talking about transferring music from a CD onto his computer and vice versa. This was something I was interested in since I had recently come across an old cassette of songs, some doo-wop some country, my friends and I had recorded back in the 80's and I had been searching online for services that might convert the cassettes to disks or computer files because I wanted to post them online as a kind of tribute to two of those friends who had passed away. I didn't bother Gordie with any of that, though I did accept his offer to transfer the music onto a CD for me.
Next day, I brought the tape to the pool room and gave it to him. I thought it important to caution him that the first doo-wop song was a medley. Unfortunately, the concept of medley must have been foreign to him because when he presented the CD to me a couple days later, he informed me that he had had a bitch of a time splitting those songs up. Thinking about it now, I imagine he had had a real bitch of a time considering that when we transitioned from Trickle-Trickle to Blue Moon our bass had ended the first song with the interrupted line "Tell me how long will it..." Then, instead of finishing with the expected lyric "last," he transitioned, without missing a beat, right into the bass introduction to Blue Moon - "Bom Buh-Buh Bom…" Even, now, after all that's gone down, when I think of Gordie trying to split those songs up, I can't help laughing.
"You didn't have to split them up," I told him. "They were supposed to run together."
"I wish I would've known that," he replied. "I must've spent two hours trying to separate them."
"Sorry," I conceded, "I thought I told you it was a medley. Maybe, you didn't hear me." And, there, I let the discussion die.
Even though he had screwed the job up, I gained enough confidence from talking to his dumb ass that I was able to cut the CD myself a couple days later. All I had needed was a cable that ran from the headphone port on my stereo to the mike port on my PC.
Anyway, that experience had led me to a greater understanding of old Gordie Wilcox, an understanding that would keep on expanding. Next, realizing that we shared an interest in music, he decided to cut me a CD of his favorite songs by his favorite artist David Allan Coe. "Real funny," is how he described them.
"I got them free on the internet," he bragged. "Wait till you hear them."
He followed me out to the car, when I left the pool room, and waited for me to pop the disk into the CD player. Well, it turned out his favorite songs by David Allan Coe were laced with nasty, hateful, racist slurs. Number one on the disk was a little number entitled "Nigger Fucker." Immediately appalled, I had to wonder what I had said to the old fart to make him think I would actually be interested in that kind of crap.
"Wait'll you hear the next one," he said as though he expected me to sit there and play the entire disk through. Instead, I clicked forward from song to song as fast as I could listening to just enough to verify that each song represented the same sick genre.
I probably should have come right out and said I don't appreciate that kind of crap and thereby ended once and for all my connection with Gordie Wilcox, but I didn't. I just left, claiming I was in a rush to get somewhere, anywhere. When I got home, I destroyed the disk with a hammer and threw it in the garbage, feeling as though just possessing it was a criminal act.
After that, I was careful to keep my conversations with the grand wizard of the pool room strictly about pool. I didn't want to hear his take on politics or the economy or anything. And, things pretty much proceeded on an even keel.
Then, one day, I was practicing on one of the back tables at Gatti's up in Spring Hill when Gordie sets a tray of balls down on the table next to me. "There goes any chance of me having a quiet session," I thought to myself. I was more than right, way more.
He started off as usual, making a couple critical comments about my stroke. Knowing the full range of his knowledge, I steered the conversation to one of his favorite topics - making angle shots along the rail. He endorsed two methods. One was the half-ball hit. His brother, Earl, had taught him this method many years ago. He relied on half-ball hits to make a variety of shots including spot shots. As far as I could see, the technique was only good for shots of a particular angle and therefore of limited value in the overall scheme of things. The other method he employed had been shown to him many years before by Bubba Ayers, another person I had never heard of. This method involved the reflections of the table lights on the balls. I tried this method, aiming the leading edge of the reflection on the cue ball at the trailing edge of the reflection on the object ball, several times with mixed results. Like the half-ball hit - it worked fine if the balls were at the proper angle but; if the angle was wider or narrower, it didn't. Rather than depend on either of these methods, I preferred to aim the cue ball at the point opposite the target line, but I'm getting way too technical here. Suffice it to say, I'm not high on aiming tricks that only work sometimes.
For whatever reason, on this particular day, Gordie felt compelled to take a very active role in my practice session - setting up shots, telling me where to aim, telling me what kind of english to use, blah blah blah. I was being polite; he was his usual bullshitting self - all was right in the world. Then, like that, all hell broke loose. Well, it wasn't instantaneous. It took a while to develop, like one of those late afternoon thunder storms we get down here during the summer.
The cue ball was about center table and I was cutting a ball left down the long rail into the corner pocket. As I shot, without giving it too much thought, I applied a little right english to the cue ball.
Gordie had been looking over my shoulder as I shot. "You gave that inside english," he observed.
"Outside," I said, correcting him.
"Noooo, inside," he repeated.
Now, I had read enough pool books to know the difference between inside and outside english or, as they were otherwise referred to, reverse and natural. At first, seeing as he was supposed to be an authority on pool, I figured he had been mistaken about where I had struck the cue ball.
"I hit it with right english - that's outside."
"No no no," he said, setting up the balls as I had had them. He then took his stance at the table and aimed his cue tip at the right half of the cue ball. "If I hit the ball like that, that's inside english."
"Nope," I repeated. "That's outside."
Well, we went back and forth like that for a few minutes, me calmly reiterating my position, him getting increasingly agitated over what he viewed as my innate stubbornness and stupidity.
"See here, listen to me, I've been playin' pool my whole life. If I hit the cue ball on the left, that's outside english. On the right, that's inside." He scooted around the table to where the object ball was and traced its intended path to the corner with his hand. "The ball goes inside the rail, inside the pocket - that's why they call it inside english."
His explanation made no sense to me at all. "No." I was steadfast. "That's outside."
He was walking around in circles now, talking to no one, talking to everyone, calling me every foul name in the book. Finally, he said, "I'll bet you my hundred to your fifty that that's inside english." I turned to look at him. He had worked himself up into a purple rage. Veins were popping out of his head. His mouth was twisted into a vicious sneer. He reminded me of my old man. That wasn't a good thing.
My old man had a vicious temper, too. I remember one Friday, back when I was a little kid, when he threw a plate of pasta against the wall, kicked my mother and locked her in the cellar, then beat the living shit out of me, all because Ma had cooked him linguine instead of shells.
Suddenly, I was feeling sorry for Gordie's kids, if he had any.
"Okay," I said, "I'll take that fucking bet."
Immediately, Gordie started running up and down the length of the pool room, in search of someone who would support his perverted idea of what inside english was. At one point, he ran down to the far end of the pool room and mumbled two or three words to Neil Mueller, Gatti's resident instructor, who was playing nine ball with one of his protégés, Bill Dawson. He came running back saying, "Neil agrees with me."
"You weren't there long enough to explain the question to him."
"No, but he made a shot with english and I asked him what kind of english it was and he said, 'Inside english.'"
"Yeah, sure. Let's just wait till tomorrow. I'll bring in a couple books and show it to you in black and white. If you're right, I'll give you the fifty. If I'm right, you can give me the hundred."
As it turned out, putting off settling our bet was a big mistake for multiple reasons. In my defense, I can only say that, having already run into one so-called pool expert who didn't know the difference between inside and outside english, I wasn't about to bet my fifty bucks that some anonymous Joe was crystal clear on the subject.
"C'mon," he pleaded, "let's get someone to settle this."
"No, thanks," I said. "These guys are social players. I'm not betting on what they know or what they don't know - I'm betting you. I'll bring my books tomorrow."
As I learned later, Neil Mueller actually knew all about inside and outside english. He could have settled the bet then and there, if I had only given him a chance. My bad.
Anyway, Gordie and I didn't talk much after that last exchange and I left the pool room without a word. When I got home, I headed straight for my bookshelf. It didn't take long to find two explanations of inside and outside english, both, of course, supporting my side of the bet.
In the glossary of Phil Capelle's Play Your Best Pool, he defined "outside english" as applying side spin on the opposite side of the cue ball than the object ball is traveling. Conversely, "inside english" was described as applying side spin on the same side of the cue ball as the direction of the cut shot. In Essential Pool, Arthur "Babe" Cranfield and Laurence S. Moy concur with Capelle's definition one hundred per cent, with a few illustrations.
Irrefutable proof, supplied by universally accepted authorities on pool. I was feeling good about my chances of winning the bet when I pulled up to Gatti's the next afternoon. When I saw Gordie getting out of his car, I couldn't help thinking I was leading a charmed life. I pointed at him as he slammed his door and mouthed the words, "Stay right there." No sense bringing this business into the pool room when we could settle it outside, I figured.
I grabbed my irrefutable proof and headed toward Gordie. "I got it right here," I said, flipping the Capelle book open to the marked page.
"Wait, wait, wait," Gordie said. "Let's make sure we're clear on what we're betting on."
"I'm clear," I said. "You said that if you cut a ball to the left with right hand english that that's inside english…"
"No, no, no," he interrupted, "that's outside english. I've known that my whole life."
"What the fuck you talkin' about? You didn't know it yesterday when you were foaming at the mouth, cursin' and callin' me a stupid motherfucker."
"Yes, I've always known that. We were just confused. You and me, we were betting on the same thing."
"Oh," I said, getting to the crux of the matter, "I see what's going on. You found out you were wrong and, now, you're trying to back out of our bet. You don't want to pay me my fuckin' hundred dollars."
"I don't owe you a hundred dollars. We were bettin' on the same thing." He was pleading with me to swallow his bullshit story. You know, maybe, if he had just come out and admitted he had been wrong, maybe I would have told him to forget about the hundred dollars. God knows, a lousy hundred dollars doesn't mean that much to me. But, the lying… I couldn't put up with that.
"Yeah, sure. Well, you listen to this, asshole, you can welch on our little bet if you want, but every time I see you from now on I'm gonna remind you that you owe me a hundred dollars, and every time your name comes up, I don't care where the fuck it is, I'm gonna tell people what a weasel you are and how you fuckin' robbed me."
I later found out that on the day of our argument after I had left, Gordie had cornered Neil Mueller and grilled him for more than a half hour on the subject of inside and outside english. Sometime during that session it must have dawned on him that he was wrong.
As for me, following his refusal to pay up, I pretty much stuck to my word. Sometimes I'd yell "Where's my hundred?" as soon as I pushed through the double doors of the pool room. Sometimes I'd let him skate five or ten minutes before I started chanting from my favorite table in the back - "Where's my hundred? Where's my hundred? Where's my hundred?"
And, I blogged about it, detailing the whole gory mess. Then, I emailed a link to Brady O'Hearn who hung out down at Dave's. Predictably, within days, the whole west coast of Florida knew about the squabble between Gordie and me. When I ran into Johnny Isaacs, the best pool player in Pasco County, in Dave's one Saturday afternoon, he laughed and told me he had read my story about Gordie. I told him the latest developments in our ongoing battle, plus anything I might have left out of my blog post, reiterating that I might have forgotten about the whole thing if he hadn't gotten so ugly.
"Yeah, Gordie has a problem with words," Isaac observed. "I could see him having his signals crossed about inside and outside english." Then, he went on to tell me how Gordie had bought an 8-Track player on eBay which the seller had described as "vintage." "Gordie thought vintage meant the same as brand new in the box. When it came all beat up and not working, he blew a gasket. He cried so much the guy, finally, let him return it."
Prior to our dispute, Gordie only came to Gatti's once in a while. Now, all of a sudden, he started coming every day. Damage control. Within a week, his argument that we had been betting on the same thing evolved to the point where he was claiming that he had taken my side of the bet and I his. No one was buying it. One day, after I had been particularly vicious with my taunting, he laid in wait for me outside the pool room and approached me when I headed out to my car.
"What we gonna do, Stroker?"
I eyed him, carefully, making sure he wasn't carrying some kind of weapon. "Well, you could pay me the hundred you owe me."
"I don't owe you," he said. "You owe me."
"What's the fuckin' sense of this?" I asked. "It's only you and me out here. I know you're a liar and you know you're a liar."
"You're trying to ruin my good name."
"You're kiddin' me aren't you? You don't have a good name. Wherever I go, I hear about other people you fucked out of money. You're a fuckin' weasel."
"The people in there don't like you," he said. "You called them a bunch of dumb yokels. They don't want you here. They're on my side."
"Yeah," I said, as I got in my car, "that's why they're all speaking up for you. You're a piece of shit, Gordie."
Driving home, I replayed our conversation zeroing in on the part about "dumb yokels." I knew I had never said anything like that. Admittedly, I wasn't the most gregarious guy in the world, but I tried to be friendly to the regulars at Gatti's. The only thing I could remember saying was that they were "social players." I guess, in Gordiese that translated to "dumb yokels."
As I cruised onward, I recalled Johnny Isaac's observation that Gordie had a problem with words. That was starting to look like an understatement. Medley, vintage, and social were not ten dollar words. They were words your average 5th grader should have known and understood. But, Gordie didn't. Then it dawned on me - Gordie couldn't read. I played with the idea a moment and decided that, while he might not be completely illiterate, he probably wasn't reading much beyond a third grade level, if that.
It occurred to me that as much as he loved pool, and as much as he talked about how to play the game, I had never once heard him quote a book or an author. It was always, "My brother Earl showed me," or "Bubba Ayers told me." Damn, there it was!
Suddenly, I knew more about Gordie Wilcox than I wanted to. I knew why the concept of medley was foreign to him. I knew why he hadn't been interested in seeing the books I had brought to the pool room to settle our bet. I knew why he didn't know the difference between inside and outside english. I almost pitied the old weasel. But, I didn't.
He hasn't been around for a month, now. He's probably hoping the whole thing blows over. I've heard that's his usual M.O. When he does come back, I'll probably cut him some slack, at least at first. Unless, of course, he starts running his mouth.
Copyright © 2004- by Ace Toscano. All rights reserved.