The women working at the pool halls in the entertainment district are often very tough players, as I have learned through innumerable defeats. Since I am quite competitive myself, I’ve had to come up with a few spe-cial tricks to give me an advantage. To help other unfortunates who may one day find themselves going up against these felt felines, I will share them here.
2. Once play begins, ply the damsels with plenty of alcohol while you stick to water. Though experience has shown that booze can inspire wild and unexpected four or five ball runs, it also induces happier, more care-free behavior as you remain sharp and focused.
As noted last month, the Sports Academy Pool Hall has become my fav-orite evening outing. I especially enjoy the girls there who with their pool skills and enthusiasm are wonderful to play with. If available, I like to gather up three of them to make competing teams for Eight Ball. I choose one to be on my side (Team America!) while the other duo represents the home country. The contests are both competitive and lively, especially af-ter I spring for a couple rounds of tequilas. Surveying the table after the break, working out the next shot with a cute Thai leaning against me, is my version of nirvana.
They say nothing good lasts forever and in the case of Sports Academy, my winter of contentment has come to an unexpected end due to the new boss. First of all, one of the tables has now been set aside as a Challenge Table. It’s the same concept as King of the Hill with the numero uno hav-ing to fend off any and all comers. The winner stays in; the loser retreats to the bar after shelling out twenty baht ($.66).
There has also been a change in the specials being offered. Where before there was free pool from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m., now it costs two hundred baht ($7), though you can play an hour longer and enjoy cheaper beer. I sus-pect this was done to discourage the late afternoon Japanese players, who rarely drank anything other than water and promptly cleared out when the clock struck six — as if they feared turning into pumpkins six hours ear-ly. Hard to make much money from customers like that.
These two “improvements” have made it more difficult for me to get a table when I arrive around 6:30 after finishing dinner in a nearby shop-ping mall. The Challenge Table is not available for extended play without special permission, and the others may all be in use by players wanting to get their full two hundred baht worth of enjoyment and subsequently not clearing out until seven.
Still, these are inconveniences that a fuddy duddy like myself can even-tually adapt to given enough time (maybe two years). But what has truly saddened me is that one of the girls, Newt, has quit, apparently unhappy with the new manager’s style. This is a real loss. In the past few months her pool playing had become superb. It had gotten to the point where she was a threat to run the table at any time, or come tantalizingly close. Al-ways on the opposing team, I knew I would have to bring my ‘A’ game to have any kind of chance against her. Rarely did I emerge victorious. She would mercilessly mop up on me and my partner for the evening while making it look so easy, taunting me with a little dance after making yet another game-winning shot. At the same time, she was always helpful to any of the new girls who happened to be playing, giving them advice on where to leave the cue ball and how to hit banks. Although I would chafe at the punishment she happily dished out, I developed a real respect and affection for her — something I am only now beginning to realize.
I suppose I will continue to visit Sports Academy (assuming I can get a table), but the allure is greatly diminished. Being repeatedly thrashed by Newt forced me to improve my own play; I came to love the challenge. Finding a replacement — a pretty Thai girl who can play a spirited, tough game of Eight Ball — will be a daunting task.
Newt, I already miss you…
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My New Year’s Eve
Thanks to my new iPod, I’ve now attained the semblance of a social life by becoming a regular at the Sports Academy Pool Hall down on Suk-humvit Road. Whereas in the past I had limited my visits because of its often blaring hip hop, my special Christmas present to myself (a brand new iPod Shuffle) lets me now block out crude black singers — shouting about their huge penises and the women they are going to abuse — with good old Mick Jagger. Defiantly submerged in the driving fury of Gimme Shelter, I sometimes have to resist the urge to raise my middle finger up at the speakers.
Sports Academy opens at four in the afternoon and pool is free the first two hours. To be sure of getting a table, it’s a good idea to show up ten to fifteen minutes early to beat the half dozen or so Japanese who establish their own little private enclave while talking amongst themselves in their staccato language. Not a very gregarious people. When 6:00 p.m. arrives, signaling the end of the free pool, they soon scatter to avoid paying even a few baht. I like to make my appearance soon after this exodus, which gives me my choice of tables and female playing partners.
For New Year’s Eve, I delayed my usual arrival a few hours in order to be around to usher in 2014 with the staff, who became increasingly tipsy as the evening wore on. I contributed to the revelry by punctually buy-ing my two lady pool partners (Newt and Fone) drinks every half hour. This allowed me to play my special prank on Fone. It’s called “watered down tequila” and works like this: after her drink has arrived, when her attention is temporarily diverted, I pour the alcohol out and refill it with water. The three of us then exchange the obligatory “good luck” before taking a gulp of our refreshments. Fone reclines her head, tosses back the water, then grimaces in anticipation of the booze’s sharp assault. After a couple seconds, the tightness on her face is replaced with puzzled look. One can almost hear her asking herself if the problem is weak tequila or her level of inebriation. Newt and I, who are almost biting through our lips trying not to laugh, then confess to the crime. Or rather I confess, and quickly refresh Fone’s shot glass with the real stuff.
Such mischief is especially appropriate on an evening like this, which al-most demands heavy drinking. Trying to be a good sport, I did my best to match the girls’ frenetic pace with glasses of red wine, though the effects on me were far less dramatic. I am a reserved person and when playing pool remain serious regardless of how many cue balls I’m seeing through my blurred vision. It made for an interesting contrast. At one point, I was grimly focused on a touchy little cut into a side pocket (which seemed to waver) beyond which my two opponents were dancing. It was about this time we began having trouble recalling whose turn it was. A half hour be-yond that, we no longer cared. Reclining on a cushioned seat with Fone draped over me, I was perfectly content to let Newt have as many tries as she liked. When she (eventually) pulled off the winning shot, she raised her hand to her lips and taunted me with a kiss-off gesture. I retaliated by buying her another beer.
Finally, the anointed hour was at hand! The large screen, which usually is featuring some stupid football match, was tuned to a Thai channel that provided the dramatic countdown. Most people were already whooping and hollering, so when the count reached zero there was only a token in-crease in the volume level. Many stepped out onto the terrace to take in the fireworks. I remained inside to do a special toast with my two grin-ning companions as we shared our wishes for the new year. Newt wants a boyfriend; Fone stronger tequilas. For me, I hope I can continue learning how to have fun.
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I goin’ to kick your ass!
At Sports Academy Pool Hall
Rat (Chalking up her cue): You not say much today, kun-Montre**. You have girlfriends problems?
[** “Montre” is the way my Thai friends address me, which is the closest their language allows them to pronounce my name without twitching.]
Me: No. President Obama want Americans to not be angry about Zim-merman, so I am quiet.
Rat (Preparing to break): Zimmer-man? What is Zimmer-man?
Me: Hispanic man. In America he shoot black man (mimic a gun firing in conjunction with Rat’s energetic break). Kill him. But not get trouble.
Me: Family from Mexico; come work in America. Some Americans not like.
Rat (Smartly banking the one ball while still looking puzzled): What you mean?
Me: Same-same Cambodians come to Thailand.
Rat: Ah, kao jai. (Thai for “I understand”. The Thais, like many Ameri-cans and perhaps most people in the world, look down their noses at their neighbors.)
Newt: Why Americans angry?
Me: If Hispanic man shoot black man, or white man shoot black man, not good.
Newt: If black man shoot black man, Americans angry?
Me: Ahh, mai ben rai. (Thai for “not a problem”. Might as well try to be honest.)
Newt: Are you angry?
Me: Yes! I miss easy Eight Ball shot last game. Very stupid.
Rat: Let’s have another tequila round! Make you feel better about Eight Ball and the Zimmer-man.
And so life manages to go on for me here in Thailand’s capital despite the verdict, though CNN seems determined to keep the controversy sim-mering. Living overseas, it’s harder to grasp (much less explain), the way cross-racial violence and justice continues to be a flash point in the U.S. and the manner in which it detracts from more serious concerns. While many Americans are outraged over the shooting of an unarmed black by a Hispanic, each year over thirty thousand of their countrymen (Hispanic, black, white) are in fact killed by guns. Yet nobody gets upset, aside from the occasional schoolchildren massacre, and even then the resulting out-rage is fleeting. Far easier to let CNN define what one should be angry about.
So proclaims Rat, one of the Thai girls who works at Sports Academy, a pool hall down on Sukhumvit. That attitude, combined with long black hair, shapely legs and a face that causes double-takes, makes her not only entertaining to play Eight Ball with, but easy on the eyes as well. When I first began playing with her, those looks intimidated me; I’m far more comfortable with women who have a kind of girl-next-door appearance. But as I’ve gotten to know her, I no longer feel like a high school dweeb trying to hang around the homecoming queen. In fact, I would not mind mingling with her outside of work, except for the fact that her American boyfriend, who makes irregular visits to Bangkok, is a gun enthusiast.
A second girl, Newt (far left), has also become one of my regular pool opponents. Like Rat (sitting next to me), she has the long hair and well-proportioned figure, but the pretty face lacks the hardness that so many girls in the entertainment (and pool hall) business acquire. There’s also a certain kindness in the way she suggests what ball for me to shoot at next, even if it is to her detriment. Perhaps she simply feels sorry for me. On the nights where she wears her ruby high heels, I sometimes feel like I’m playing against Dorothy of The Wizard of Oz fame.
But we are not in Kansas anymore. Both of the hostesses are seasoned, no-nonsense pool players. This comes from taking on the farang cust-omers night after night. They are especially adept at pocketing long shots on the nine foot billiard tables, a feat I approach with trepidation. (When I ponderously line up one of these, the girls begin chalking up their cues.)
My favorite contest is when I team up with a fellow American expat named Alex, who worked with me at the same company back in Seattle long ago. Once each week we square off against the Duo Damsels, glee-fully vowing to show them who’s boss. Idle boasting. After but twenty minutes we are hopelessly behind, the girls are sticking their tongues out at us, and Rat is crowing about the damage she is inflicting upon our glutei maximi. To try and salvage what little dignity remains, we start buying them Rum & Cokes, reasoning that our chances will improve if our opponents become a little tipsy…
Sometimes this tactic works: one or two of them begins to feel no pain. But there have been occasions — and this is kind of scary — where the more the girls drink, the better they play. I on the other hand, having had but a single shot of tequila, am leaning against the table to steady myself. The cue ball is blurred.
Despite the inevitable outcomes, I enjoy the outings and always tip Newt and Rat one hundred baht each ($3) at the end of each mauling. Being soundly thrashed by better-playing women is not something that threat-ens my masculinity. Quite the contrary; the challenge only serves to mo-tivate me for next week’s clash. One of these days Alex and I will show those haughty girls what a pair of doddering middle-aged men can do.