Tuesday, August 06, 2013

The Enterprise - 47

I plunged into meaningless pursuits, idle amusements, intemperance. Accompanied by Sean most nights. Pool games, foosball games. Whisky, whisky, whisky. There was a video game, a golf game. Golden Tee. You swung the club by spinning the top of a sphere whose crown protruded from the console. If you jabbed at it, fast, you could get a good drive going, four hundred yards or so, over the pixel trees and water hazard. You’d be rewarded with a crease of torn flesh at the base of your palm. And the chance to putt for eagle.

What were we doing?

There was a place we went on the Upper East, frequented by our friend Ron. Nice guy. Ingenuous. Devastating foosball player. He could pass the ball from his midfielders to his forwards, dribble back and forth between adjacent players—even wing to wing, flipping the center up as the ball whizzed by. He could tip, nudge, cajole the ball into control. It seemed to be magnetically attracted to the little stub at the bottom of each man that counted for feet. His signature shot was a deception: he’d jerk the player back and forth, wind him up like he was about to slam it, really slam it this time; he’d watch you with a gaping smile as you made your goalie wide by thrusting him back and forth maniacally. Then he’d tip the ball ever so lightly so it rolled inoffensively toward the goal. It seemed not to have enough momentum to get there. But it did, and you were so nervous and worried and tense with your goalie that you’d let it slip by and hit the bottom of the goalmouth with a derisive, ambivalent clunk. Nothing was more humiliating.

Sometimes Ron and I would team up and play against a portly, middle-aged Indian man named Raj. Sometimes he’d play by himself, sometimes he’d team up with whoever else was around. It didn’t matter. Raj was the best foosball player I’ve ever seen. He’d work the ball up to his center forward and wait there with it, making the tiny statue tremble as though in anticipation, savoring the moment. He’d take a few fake swipes on either side of the ball—or sometimes he wouldn’t. He maintained a light, vaguely taunting banter the whole time. I’d be moving the goalie back and forth as fast as possible to create a blurry barrier, giving myself, I thought, a small statistical chance of stopping the ball. When it came all you knew was the sound it made at the back of the metal goal, an angry crack like a gunshot. He never missed. When the game was over he’d walk away with his Stoli Vanilla and Coke as I wiped my sweaty palms off on my jeans.

We usually wound up at the Irish place on Third. It had a long bar on the left and two pool tables in the back, in a space ringed with Guinness mirrors and elevated flatscreens perpetually showing ESPN. It was the place to be if you were a guy who wasn’t getting laid. The ceiling was covered in a giant tangle of white Christmas lights, enmeshed in some sort of twine. A starrier sky. It did impart a bit of cheer.

I played great for a few weeks. As though my heartbreak had unlocked something new and great within me, something magnificent, and that new, great thing was very specific: it was the ability to lean over a felted table, to aim a stick at a ball, to knock it into another ball so that the second ball would fall into the pocket of my choosing. And to do it many times again. To do it drunk.

What a pleasure it was to destroy other men. To see them approach confidently, maybe even arrogantly. Eager to impress their dates, or girlfriends, or each other. We’d all introduce ourselves and shake hands at the outset. Trying hard to be polite. But I muttered to myself as I went to rack ‘em up. Douchebags.

Sometimes I’d feel guilty, if they were nice enough. For wanting to destroy them. Usually they were nice enough.

Some were nice enough, some were cunts. Telling me how to rack. I know how to rack. Trying to play that head game. I know you.

A guy came in one night with his cue stick from home. Never, ever bring in your cue stick from home. Not the one your girlfriend got you for your birthday, not the one your mom got you. Not the one got passed down from your grandpa. Not that one or any other one, not ever. Don’t bring in your cue from home. Not unless you’re the Black Widow or Minnesota Fats.

He took the navy-blue case out of its protective, zippered nylon bag and laid it on the table. Unbuckled one, two, three little silver buckles. There it lay in two pieces, cradled in velour. He lifted them out, screwed them together, and held the polished, filigreed object aloft a moment, ostensibly to verify that it was true but really to make us look at it in the fake starshine. He lost.

Some were nice enough. A tall, swarthy guy with a moustache, maybe from Egypt or Iran. I was on a run, then I missed and sat back down. Reached up to the shelf along the wall. The feeling of the little glass in my hand, ice chips swimming in the amber fluid. I took a good, cold sip, letting the rubber end of the stick bounce a little on the floor. The guy’s partner missed, then Sean missed, then it was me again. I lined up a long shot. Made it.

The guy got up and approached me with a look of concern.

“That was my ball,” he declared.

“Your ball?” I shouted. “No. That was mine.”

I made another shot and strode around the table, workmanlike, looking for the next problem to solve. What the fuck was wrong with this fucking guy?

“No, no, no, no,” the man protested. “That was my ball.”

“No way it was your ball.” I leaned across the table to line up another one. Just then Sean walked up and whispered in my ear.

“That was his ball.”


“That was his ball,” repeated Sean. “It wasn’t our ball.”

I took my shot and missed. Rattled. Angry. Confused.

“What are we? Stripes?”

“We’re solids. Solids, solids, solids.”

“I hit his ball?”

“I think you did, dude.”

I made some words and gestures of apology and invited the man back to the table. He stood now, chalking his cue, peering at the remains of my disordered efforts. Everything was different now. Everything but the feeling of the little glass in my hand.