Saturday, December 29, 2012

Spider's, as in Pool Hall

True enough you spent many of your youthful hours in pool halls, one in particular, called with some affection Spider's on the south side of Santa Monica Boulevard, midway between Fairfax and La Brea.  Look at the care you have taken to locate Spider's in geography.  Doing so helps you find the essence of the place, dark, cave-like, the occasional sounds of the balls clicking or caroming from the railings of the long tables.

The atmosphere is almost church-like, sepulchral.  This is initiation into a realer culture of masculinity and bonding than you were able to find in your own culture's rites, however pleasing and meaningful they were.  Your birth culture presented you with abstractions such as truth, honesty, integrity, all valued, all prized, nevertheless abstractions in comparison to what you learned in those hours spent at Spider's and places like it, watching, listening, observing.

You had serious problems in your early encounters with geometry, which seemed beyond your grasp, describing you to yourself as somehow lacking.  Your parents and sister were supportive to the point of saying, "Don't worry.  You'll get it."  But you did worry, and for the longest time, you did not "get" geometry.

How nice at this remove to say that the geometry involved in call-shot or eight-ball or three-cushion billiards provided the instant epiphany to help you avoid a series of D's and F's on your record.  That "niceness" would be the equivalent of the comedic ending in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century English literature.  The fact of being able to use geometry some twenty-five years later to design books is a hindsight bonus; it would have had no useful meaning for you when you spent time in Spider's.

While you were there, eating beef-and-cheese sandwiches on French rolls,watching other players speculatively, serious enough in your desire to discover, then exploit your own style of addressing the pool table, the snooker table, and the billiard table, you returned often alone to practice, soaking up in addition the sense of male bonding, male ritual, and the things that imparted a sense of comfort to you that you could not verbalize.

On one such occasion, a person of more or less your age brought a guest with him, a girl, transforming that male ritual cave into what was a real epiphany.  You immediately fell in love with the girl, whom you recognized from your own high school.

When you brought her to Spider's, the seeming ritual nature of the pool hall took exponential leaps within your awareness.  "You don't hold the cue like that,"  she told you.  "It's not like someone's going to take it away from you."  Amazement was now occupying the unused room in your heart.  When you are in a pool hall now, you think of her and the things you learned from her. She was the one who brought up the subject you feared to raise.  "If you want,"  she said, "I'll go steady with you."  You had not had what you considered conventional dates, which meant movies, the Hollywood Bowl, and musical comedy at The Greek Theater.  As though she had immediate access to your thoughts, she said, "We'll go steady until we decide not to.  If we don't decide not to, I guess we're in for the long haul."

There are things of value you learn from individuals you consider to have value.  You prize these learned things and the individuals from whom you learned them.  There are things of value you learn from individuals whose impressions on you were negative.  In such cases, the things learned have transcendental value, being worth knowing and keeping regardless of their source.

Lois, from Spider's, from Fairfax High School, from places you were happy to discover within yourself, was of the valuable kind.

One of the principals at Spider's was a man named Dave, who unruly hair that never seemed to look the same,  kept asking you what you were reading beyond the text books "they give you guys at those so-called schools."  Dave was the first of a long line of individuals you came to admire because of the value they put on reading.  In another year or so, you would learn that the name for such individuals, man or woman, was auto-didact.  They tended to be long-winded, argumentative, disdainful of anything that smacked of academia.

In later years, some of them were openly scornful.  "A college kid, eh?  Let's see how much you know?"  They'd taught themselves and in so doing taught themselves as well that there was no end to the available learning.  There was, in fact, a distinct virtue in trying to follow the trail, where ever the trail took them.

"Heidegger," Dave said.  "Do you know him?"

You said, "Who?"

"Kant?"  Dave said.


"Jesus," Dave said.

"Is that another question?"

"Never mind the smart ass,"  Dave said.  And he gave you the address of an establishment that changed you life in ways you'd never have thought possible, certainly not in the ways Spider's had changed your life.

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