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Billiards: “A lot of people think international relations is like a game of chess, where people sit quietly thinking out their strategy. It’s more like a game of billiards, with a bunch of balls clustered together. — Madeleine Albright, former secretary of state.

You’ve heard of one-armed paper hangers and one-armed bandits, but how about a one-armed pool player?

Paul, with his pencil-thin mustache, cabby cap and aquiline nose, managed a large pool room on Main Street in Aberdeen.

If you were looking for a money game, he could make the contact. If you simply wanted to play some pool, he’d accommodate you himself, with the loser paying the hourly tab.

Aberdeen was always a good town for pool or snooker, and college kids so inclined knew where the best tables – and beer – were located.

A recent item in the Aberdeen newspaper told of the Aberdeen Cue Club, newly relocated, and how it recruits members at $25 a month for unlimited play. Even more unusual are the rules imposed on players: No smoking. No drugs. No swearing. Civility is expected.

Times have changed since my cousin Kirby and I frequented Tommy’s Pool Hall in Kennebec. No smoking? Hardly. The air was heavy with tobacco smoke, and the men playing pitch or pinochle, while civil, did not always adhere to language your mother preferred.

In these matters, Tommy’s was similar to other pool halls of the day, such as the one on Main Street in Chamberlain, which was strictly off limits to me. This explains why my dad’s face showed such surprise in seeing me standing out front of the establishment one afternoon after school. At least it wasn’t during school, I recall observing.

I always thought it was unfair to describe a talented pool player as one who obviously enjoyed a misspent youth. Most of the good players in college went on to successful careers, such as the Watertown student who won $100 in a single game in 1968 at the

Depot. He was confident and cool, and might have been able to beat the one-armed marvel, Paul.

Paul always defeated me on those occasions when I stopped in. His game was a wonder to watch. When the cue ball was close to the rail, it was easy for Paul to make the shot; when the ball rested in the middle of the table, he used his cabbie cap as a bridge for his cue. Upon stroking the shot, he deftly lifted the cap with the end of his cue stick, all in one motion.

His smoking and colorful language never bothered me.  It was a different time.

Nevertheless, I wish every success to the Aberdeen Cue Club.

June 20, 2018