When my parents made me, I got the shape of my father’s face. I got his dark hair and unfortunate eyebrows. I got both his sweet tooth and his love of vegetables. I got his talent for eight-ball, too.
I was reluctant to learn the game at first because I wasn’t so keen on spending even more time in pool halls than I already did. My sister and I were still old enough to appreciate Barbie dolls and unicorn stickers, but Dad had weekend custody of us, so we hung out a lot at House of Lords and other places like it.
This was all before smoking was banned indoors. I breathed in a lot of secondhand smoke. House of Lords smelled like cigars and Old Spice. We took quarters for Pac-Man and pinball, but the games were sometimes out of order. The ladies’ room had pink-flowered wallpaper and it was the only thing I could relate to in the whole place.
But playing pool became a trendy thing for a teenager growing up in the ’90s. I certainly wasn’t a cool kid in school, but this was a way I could earn some street cred among my peers. So I let Dad teach me about the ghost ball and English and all that. The kids hung out at Leisure Time in Levittown, not far from House of Lords.
A couple of times I ran into my father when I was out with my friends. He was always so scruffy and disheveled that he kind of looked homeless. I didn’t realize until much later how often he’d been on the brink of actually being homeless.
Leagues — tournaments — hustling. Those were all things my dad did, and in doing so spent a lot of money that he didn’t have. Not that I was ever a hustler. Dad had a gambling addiction, and I didn’t want to find out if I’d been born with that, too. I started to associate playing pool with losing money and getting into trouble. Those fears led me to step away from playing regularly, and to feel uncomfortable in Vegas and Atlantic City, and to avoid most games of chance (except for the occasional Lotto scratch-off and charity raffle).
That’s why I never thought I’d own my own cue stick, but now, 20 years later, I’ve got one.
Dad died in 2015. It was the week before Christmas. We cleaned out his hoarded-out house. We got rid of stacks of Playboy magazines and pizza boxes. I kept his green plaid flannel shirt and his big-screen TV. We donated his work van, an old, dark-red Ford Econoline with a couple of deep dents in the body. We got rid of his cue stick.
Last year, I started writing a screenplay based largely on our relationship. It’s a dysfunctional father-daughter story set in a seedy spot resembling House of Lords, with characters resembling my father’s friends. The names have been changed to protect the assholes.
For the sake of authenticity in the screenplay, I went a couple of months ago to observe a girlfriend’s pool league. One thing led to another and now we play together on an eight-ball team called “Awesome Racks.” Cheeky, right?
Screenplay’s done. And lately, when I play, my dad is right there with me for every break, every bank shot, every cut. I feel him looking over my shoulder as I line up my shots. I’m okay, not great. It’s been a while since I played regularly. I still think Dad would be proud.
I do like my pool cue. It’s brand-new, with turquoise diamond-shaped accents. But I really wish I’d kept my father’s cue stick.
Christine Sampson is a reporter at The Star, covering schools and education.