I sometimes have a hard time relating to those who have never played bumper pool.
While most people don’t come right out and say it, there is a look in their eye that questions the very notion of another type of pool game. In this look they are giving themselves away. They are declaring, bright as a Colorado morning in the mountains, that a cue ball is required for them to take their shots. And that is okay. I respect those who have never experienced the joy of putting in all five balls into their opponents pocket, one after the other. I get that not everyone has shot through the forest of bumpers in the middle or banked perfectly to block a shot. I believe that there is something to be said for only having played a single type of pool. However, I have a hard time relating to those folks.
Bumper pool is the kind of game that is only played at camps, over at odd friends’ houses (exclusively in half-finished or unfinished basements), or in the back corners of bars without the funds to buy a proper pool table. It is a tool of last resort or of idiosyncrasy. On the other hand, regular pool tables can be found anywhere. They are the subject of entire businesses (both the pool hall and the pool table store). They are a reason to go out or to stay in. Traditional pool is a game of finesse. You can look cool playing it, whereas it is impossible to look truly cool at a bumper pool table. Even as much as I would like to claim that my streak of 14 consecutive wins at summer camp made me cool, I know that it made me untouchable in a different way.
But it is those things that make it so hard to relate to those without a strong bumper pool background. When they have never seen a ball spin around in the pocket, they may never be able to fully express their point of view to me. For it is that combination of the unique and ridiculous, the familiar and foreign, that propels me to be able to say anything and know that it is okay. It is the ability to be one degree off of normal and feel comfortable in being there that has let me feel satisfied with my geekdom. I know that there is nothing someone can criticize about the way I create or play or work because I have played bumper pool. I know that looking silly and standing out is most of the fun. I know that seeking out the one table that everyone else avoids is going to be more fulfilling. And the people that follow me there, will experience the same kind of enjoyment from the knowledge that we didn’t want to share the same kind of experience as everyone else. We wanted to play a different kind of game. And that is where our unique comfort comes from.
It is in finding a set of rules that make more sense and a series of obstacles that resonate. It is about working to narrow down the number of possible angles until there is only one answer and then pushing forward with that. The comfort is in not settling for playing the way that others do or even in accepting the competitive space that others have accepted. When I speak to those who have never held this unique comfort within themselves or who have not tried on a similarly awkward activity, it is as if the speech ricochets off of them. As if my words were hitting a cue ball and then finding their mark on the proper target, trying to guide it into the right spot. But for those who know this comfort, my words are hitting the target straight on. We have connected and transfered our energy toward the same goal of finding a solution. And given the option, I would much rather speak directly with someone who knows this comfort than shoot in the general direction of someone who does not.