Tuesday, July 13, 2004


As I had predicted, Ray would not go another day without a rematch on the felt. His call came precisely at 5PM, as though he were making clean numbers on superstition. He gamely invited me for dinner at 6, with more contest at 7. I shot the cuffs, dabbed a bit of English Leather behind the ears, and wrapped the corpus in a rich burgundy vest. I was sport incarnate.

The good man put out an honest spread of spiced lamb burgers, plank fries and imported cream ale. I must remark again upon the genuine hospitality of Mr. Smuckles, no matter what the portent of the evening. We made easy and wide conversation which did not in the least allude to the upcoming match. Soon, though, we retired to the parlor where his Moroccan battleground stood on all fours. After a lovely post-prandial fume and some calvados it was time to chalk and summon old Euclid.

The first indicator that it was to be a night like no other was just after I allowed him to beat my lag and take the break. He chalked, eyed the rack from four sides for tightness, and then, to my greatly contained surprise, set up for a behind-the-back break. I do not know if I have ever witnessed such a spectacle, but I kept mum for posterity.

Although he had doubtless practiced such a break many times in my absence, it did not seem to have done him much good. The cue bounced embarrassingly from his grasp and he lost footing, falling and striking his cheek on the corner of the table. Despite my admonitions he was content to let it bleed, and so we played. It was my shot, as the cue ball had rolled into a pocket shortly after his tumble.

From there I am sad to report that it only fell away from him, though I did my best to throw a shot here and there. Like a runner who curiously refuses the baton, he contorted his way through the game in a manner which might only be called desperate. Desperate and expensive.

After a few more rounds in the same grain I counted a $2300 sum and bid him adieu, citing a pressing social engagement. He insisted I stay for a cigarette and ticked off a number of his own engagements which would keep us from playing again for several weeks.

I think I am going to buy a new hat.