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Mamas, please let your babies grow up to love pool


We had a really great story planned to go into this space this week, but it didn’t pan out. We’ll try to get it next week. In the meantime, you’re stuck with me, and I’m a pool player.

When I was a kid – maybe eight or nine years old – my dad brought home a pool table, probably from Sears. It was a truly remarkable shoddy piece of furniture, but I didn’t know that at the time. I thought it was glorious.

I also noticed my popularity soaring among my friends. Everyone wanted to play, and I was king of the hill as soon as school let out.

My mom, who originally was pretty put out with dad about the whole thing, came around when it became clear it was a whole lot easier to keep an eye on me when I was home playing pool with my friends rather than galivanting out and about God-knows-where until time for dinner.

At age 14 or so, I remember playing pool with Gilbert Guzman one afternoon when Mom came in the room crying and hugged us both and told us she loved us. She had just learned the Vietnam War was ending, and she’d been worried about us getting drafted.

At some point, I made myself a promise that by the time I was 30, I’d always live in a house with a pool table in it. I was living in Raton when I turned 30, and my promise was left unfulfilled for a few months until I was transferred by Boone Newspapers from Raton to Stephenville, Texas.

Upon arrival, I began looking for a big enough place to accommodate an eight-foot pool table. I found a house on Paddock Street and signed the lease, then drove to Fort Worth in a borrowed truck to make my purchase, from Sears.

That was five houses, four pool tables and four jobs ago. The table I have now is a Kyther Original made right here in Las Cruces by Kerry Rhodes. The wood is bubinga, and the diamonds are made of mother of pearl. Up until the pandemic, friends frequently came over to play. I still play daily and wait for the day when I can open the door again to friends.

I was never a bad player, but I got much better between 1995 and 1997, when I was bartending at My Brother’s Place full time, and I got to meet some of the best players in the region (and a whole lot of the worst, too).

Charlie Snedacker taught me a fundamental lesson: The table is only eight feet long. You really don’t have to shoot so hard.

Lawrence Vaughan taught me this: When a ball is in the jaws of a pocket, don’t aim at the ball. Aim at one of the points of the pocket (depending on which way you want the ball to roll after contact). The ball will go in, and you eliminate the risk of a follow-in scratch.

More lessons for you will come another day. For now, I’m out of space.

Jess Williams, pool