Simone de Beauvoir had it right when she said that society produces in woman effects so profound that they appear to spring from her original nature. In other words, many women believe that they are naturally crap at pool.
We have had no trouble smashing through the glass ceiling in our loud, shoulder-padded suits, we've climbed Everest and joined the lads in space, but the pool hall remains elusively beyond our feminine grasp. So steeped is it in cigar smoke and pork pie hats, hard liquor and rolled up shirt sleeves that we feel girly and inadequate as soon as we walk in. It's a man's world and we let the men call the shots, allowing them to bombard us with unsolicited advice as we cower over our pool cues.
The worst thing is that even a relatively experienced female player never completely gets over the feeling that she is an intruder and a charlatan. Pool is a game of nerves where the slightest notion of unworthiness can knock you right off your game. Women players have a psychological battle to fight just to stay in the game. By contrast, a man who has never been in a pool hall and has perhaps only seen Paul Newman playing pool in The Hustler, already has the head stuff well in hand. He believes that he can play pool because playing pool is what men do. When he picks up a pool cue for the first time he does it with the ease and confidence of a pro. You just don't see men in pool halls giggling and apologising and asking for advice on how to hold the stick.
There is some shit to sort out here. Let's get it straight: There is nothing about a woman's center of gravity or her eyesight or her manual dexterity that prevents her from knocking balls into holes. Pool is for girls.
So, we admit it. There is nothing between us and poolsharkdom. But, how exactly do we go about conquering the pool hall? The simple steps in this pamphlet offer a quick and easy guide that will help you get over the worst. First you will learn to dress right, then you'll learn to act 'as if,' naturally deterring your male opponent from interfering with your game and, finally, you'll learn a few "affirmative action" tricks that will help to undo the years of oppression and put-downs that have so damaged your pool-playing ability.
Let's not mince words. To play pool, you have to get into a pool-playing stance. This involves a kind of lunge, which in turn means leaning over and sticking your arse out. If you cannot do this in the outfit that you are wearing, you will not feel like a proper pool player and you will not play like a proper pool player.
As a respectable modern woman, your brain is already crammed with body-image baggage from reading women's magazines and watching tv. When you are taking your shot you need to be focusing on your shot, not on what your bum looks like or whether your hairy armpits are showing. If you are wearing a short skirt that shows your undies when you lean over, or if you wear a pencil skirt that sticks your legs together, or if you wear the type of trousers where you already feel that your bum looks enormous, you'll be forced into an awkward upright stance, which will be quickly followed by a loss of self-respect and a feeling of general inadequacy. And you will miss the ball.
Rule number 1: wear an outfit that allows you to lean over, stick your bum out, and spread your legs without a feeling of sweaty self-loathing.
[A note on shoes. The official rules of the Billiards Congress of America actually mention shoes. They say in no uncertain terms, that 'foot attire must be normal in regard to size shape and manner in which it is worn.' Normal? Does that mean that our shoes should accord with the current fashions? Are platforms outlawed or OK? What is a deviant shoe? Are there moral implications? The questions are many, the answers are few. And yet, without even consulting the rules, it's not hard to determine that shoes have an impact on pool stance. Platforms make you uniformly taller, whereas high-heels raise you up at an angle. Needless to say, this is an area where women have more flexibility than men. Do your worst. Find the shoe height and angle that works for your game, and wear them with gay abandon, but be prepared to defend your shoe selection if interrogated. For this, a current knowledge of semiotics, a survey of Foucault's major works, and a close reading of Volume 3 of Capital should suffice.]
Girls are nice. If someone offers us advice we think that it's a lovely part of sharing and communism. We don't want to dominate everyone and use them as our sex slave.We don't have nasty Freudian repressed power-hungry complexes that find their expression in fun recreational activities.
However, if we are going to survive in the big-fish-eats-small-fish world of the pool hall, this kind of pushover mentality has to stop. How many times have you seen a perfectly strong and able-bodied girl reduced to a quivering dumping ground for male paternalistic impulses in the pool hall? If a female shows any hint of hesitation in taking her shot, a male will appear out of nowhere to advise her. He will think for her, calling out which ball she should aim for, not giving her a chance to announce her own perfectly logical and skillful intentions. Prompted by a display of doubt on the part of the female, he will indulge in an elaborate ritual of locating the spot on the ball that she should aim for, without asking whether she is capable of finding the spot herself.
If the man succeeds in attaining complete dominance he will even attempt a 'lean-in.' The female fumbles with the cue and looks seductively clueless. The man takes over her her body, leaning over her and guiding the shot, while the female trembles appreciatively. Now, from a flirtatious and sexual standpoint, this is not a bad strategy, but the damage to one's pool prestige can be irreparable. Once a male has been permitted to give unsolicited advice he will not stop. Any pretence you have of being a serious and worthy pool player is over. If it has gotten as far as the lean-in and you end up marrying him, you are going to be one of those mousy valium-addicted wives and your life is shit.
The only way to prevent this kind of downward spiral is to act as if you know how to play pool. This acting 'as if' is what inexperienced male players do every day. In your mind you must act as if you are Paul Newman, or Minnesota Fats, or Willie Mosconi. In your dealings with the game, you must exude personal pride and a 'can do' attitude that naturally deters would-be advisers. Giggling is out of the question. Pausing, except with a knowing and determined air, is prohibited. Apologies of any sort are punishable by death.
Rule 2: Show no weakness or doubt. Do not hesitate. Accept no advice. Let nobody near you when you are shooting, however much you fancy them. Never apologize and never, ever, turn your back on the table.
[A note on talking: One of the ways we girls cope with our feelings of inadequacy is to gossip with our mates between shots. When our turn comes around we are patronisingly summoned back to the table where we reinforce our feelings of worthlessness by having to admit that we've forgotten which colour ball our side is shooting for. This will not do. An important part of acting 'as if' is to stay focused and aloof between shots. The odd bit of chit-chat of the "How about those Mets?" variety is acceptable and even normal, but full length anecdotes must be avoided at all costs. Never turn your back on the table -- stick around and watch your opponent's shot with a wily and knowing expression. Chalk your cue carefully and slowly. Wrinkle your brow as if you are planning three shots ahead. It may all seem a bit intense and humorless but it's the only way forward for our people.]
Say you are taking a shot and you accidentally nudge the cue ball. Your male opponent laughs condescendingly and encourages you to move the ball back into position and try your shot again. This insidious practice, this bending of rules in the favor of female players, these lasses' rules are to be steadfastly avoided by the wily female player.
It is even worth going completely over the top in matters of honour. For example, there is nothing in the official rules that says you must call every kiss and carom that your ball makes on its way to the hole. Yet, handing over the table to your opponent on such grounds will place you way out of reach of would-be critics and slanderers. No respectable pool player wants to be a charity case and no girl should allow even a suggestion of lasses' rules to soil her reputation.
Rule 3: Get hold of a copy of the official rules of pool, stick to them like glue. Indulge in unnecessary displays of honour and sportsmanship.
Once you 've got your public image in hand, you should not hesitate to take any opportunity for cheap advantage that suggests itself. And we're not short of a few suggestions to start you off:
This one's only for if your opponent has his own fancy two-piece cue. He'll generally put it down to break with one of the house cues, or to go to the toilet or the bar. All you do is loosen it up a bit to make his cue a bit wobbly. Works like a charm.
Balls aren't quite where you want them? What if his ball was closer to the cushion rather than right over the hole? This one takes some judgment and is better when your opponent is a bit drunk but, done skillfully, it can be as subtle and graceful as an arsenic-tainted meringue.
Ah, the born-again. This is one of the most satisfying moves in the game. It has to be done on a crowded table near the start of the game. Your opponent pots a ball and you scoop it into your sleeve and plop it back onto the table somewhere out of his peripheral vision. Sounds clumsy and impossible but it is astoundingly successful. Of course, it works only on tables that give you the balls back (not the coin-operated kind).
This old favourite requires only that your opponent puts his cue down for a moment. With a deft brush of the thumb, you wipe of the chalk and polish the end, leaving it nice and slippery. Advanced users recommend applying a bit of grease from whatever nasty bar food you happen to be eating.
Rule 4: The revolution will not be televised. Therefore, whatever you can do behind your opponent's back to improve your chances of winning will ultimately increase your esteem as a player and may even accelerate the development of actual skills. You owe it to your oppressed sisters to cheat with abandon whenever possible.
That's it girls. We are on our way to Wembley, or the Crucible Theatre, or wherever it is they play the big tournaments. If we can, in the simple steps outlined in this pamphlet, overcome our rubbishy feelings of inadequacy, pool mastery is within our reach. If we learn the rules and acquire some actual pool-playing skills*, our victory is certain. Onward sisters, to the pool halls!
"Let her swim, climb mountain peaks, pilot an airplane, battle against the elements, take risks, and she will not feel before the world that timidity which I have referred to."
-- Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex
*(For this, Willie Mosconi's book, Pocket Billiards is highly recommended as a starting point.)