My Lucky Day
By Andrew A. Monstis
This story begins at the end of my summer vacation a couple of years back. I was driving through the countryside, taking the long way home and enjoying the trip, after playing in a pool tournament in Las Vegas.
I had been driving all day and was getting bleary-eyed, thirsty, and hungry. I didn’t even know where I was, and when I passed a sign that said, “LAST GAS FOR 80 MILES,” I figured it was a good idea to stop.
Another couple of miles and the reason for the sign became somewhat apparent. This little place in the middle of nowhere boasted a population of ninety-two. There was one gas station, one store, one small motel and a restaurant/lounge. Outside of a few trees and bushes and the road there were no other visible buildings or landmarks.
But it looked good to me, so I checked into the motel, then headed across the dusty road to the restaurant. The building looked like something out of the old west. The wood siding was falling off and the paint was sun blistered. I got a sense that this town must always have been a traveler’s watering hole; a spot between two points.
The smell of good home-cooked food told me I was in the right place at the right time. It smelled great and tasted even better, and the Ma and Pa owners chatted with me about the people they’d fed over the years. I relaxed and leaned back into the worn old booth, thinking about what it must be like to live in a place like this.
After awhile, I got the bug to play some pool, since there was a coin-op over in the corner of the lounge area, and I was in no hurry to go anywhere fast. Some older local guy was knocking balls around by himself. He looked pretty much like part of the building, but he played pretty good, actually, and I hadn’t played any pool since Vegas nearly two weeks earlier. So I ambled over and asked him if he wanted to play.
“Sure,” he said.
“You want to play for anything?” I asked (as a courtesy, and besides, you never know when someone will say yes).
He nodded, “Okay.”
“Eight-ball for ten?”
“Sure.” That I would find some easy action in such a small place was a pleasant surprise and made the long evening ahead look a whole lot more interesting. We flipped a coin and I lost the toss. The local player broke, making a ball on the break. The table looked easy and I figured he could run out, which he did.
“Nice out,” I said, and paid him ten dollars.
“Thanks,” he replied, and stuck the bill in his overall pocket as I racked up again and stood by. He broke and sank two solids. He won’t get out, I told myself. I sized up the stripes and planned my run. He ran out. I paid him and plugged in another quarter. Again he dropped a ball on the break, but this time the table was messy, and I patiently waited for my turn.
Well, this fellow kicked, massèd, banked and jumped to break out and make every ball on that table. He made it seem effortless. “Just a fluke,” I thought. So I threw a quarter in the slot, slapped the balls in the rack and stood back again. I must have put a inch of chalk on the tip of my cue just standing there waiting. He broke, he ran out, I paid. I racked, he broke, he ran out, I paid. He wasn’t making any of his shots look even remotely difficult. Just pocketing them, one after the other. His pace wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, just going from shot to shot knocking balls around. He broke, he ran out, I paid again. He had not missed pocketing one single ball. But, knowing that no one could keep this up forever, I waited for my chance to play and get my money and his. I racked. He ran out. After eight table runs I’m thinking, “Just how many racks can this guy run?” I didn’t want to admit it consciously, but by then I had stopped waiting for my turn. I had to see how many racks he could run.
I knew I was losing money, but this guy was amazing! The bills kept leaving my pocket and going into his, and the whole time he was just quietly making shot after shot. After another seven racks without having shot once, I finally had to call it quits.
I glanced around the lounge. The bartender and a few locals were exchanging the day’s events up at the bar, and one family was over in the restaurant eating dinner, but no one was paying any attention to what was going on over here at the pool table! How could they not know? It was like a “Twilight Zone” episode! The man across the table from me had just run fifteen consecutive racks of the best pool I had ever seen and everyone around was just living another day.
I was so dumbfounded I didn’t know what to do or say to this guy, so I jokingly said, “Ever played pool before?”
With a completely straight face he looked up and said, “Well, I used to play a lot … not so much anymore.”
“Not so much anymore,” I repeated.
Not so much anymore! What must he have played like then! I stuck my hand out across the table and said, “I’m Andrew. What’s your name?”
“My name is Lucky,” he said, with a slight accent I couldn’t quite place.
I couldn’t believe that was his real name, but all he would say when I questioned it was, “Lucky is what all the people around here call me.”
I didn’t recognize Lucky as anyone I’d read about in magazines or seen at any pro events or on ESPN. He looked to be in his early 60’s, had longish hair and a peppery beard, stood about six-foot and probably weighed around 225. He wore glasses and was well-spoken. His cotton T- shirt, worn overalls and old but well-oiled boots were topped by a cap that said, “Where’s the Beef?”
I offered to buy Lucky a beer, and as we sat down at a nearby table to drink, I just had to ask him what he was doing here. Lucky pushed his cap back on his head, stuck his legs out, crossed one boot over the other, and got comfortable.
“I own a small cattle ranch down the road apiece,” he said. “I mostly work it and come into town to shoot balls when I can get away.”
He’d play alone or with whomever happened to be passing through, like myself. He’d lived in this one-horse town for thirty-five years.
“How’d you get so good?” I asked him.
“Well,” Lucky answered, “I guess it’s because I used to play a lot before that.” Then Lucky got to telling me his story.
When he was younger, he said, he traveled around playing a lot of players like Jimmy Caras, Willie Mosconi, Irving Crane, New York Blackie, Hal Mix, Cowboy Jimmy Moore, Steve Mizerack, Fly Boy Spears, Dan Louie, Pat Schumacher, Barry (the Brawler) Emerson, Stan Tourangeau, Detroit John and when they were young, aspiring pool players, Rifleman Buddy Hall, Jim Rempe and Mike Sigel. The list was endless. He said he beat those guys up regulary, and most of them wouldn’t gamble much with him anymore.
“When I first came through here,” Lucky said through a sip of beer, “I got to playing some guy named Wimpy. I guess he was just traveling around, too.”
Well, it turns out he and Wimpy played pool twelve to fourteen hours a day every day for two weeks. Wimpy would send off for money every couple of days. He had backers all over the country who would wire him money.
“I ended up with over $148,000 by the time Wimpy decided to call it a quits and leave,” Very good money then, Lucky said, “But by then I’d gotten to like the people here. They’d come around now and then and watch a few games, and pretty much just treated me nice.”
So he just stayed after that. The money he won bought him the ranch and some cattle. I was naturally somewhat doubtful of the magnitude of Lucky’s win, even of the whole story, but after remembering that I had just witnessed a 15-rack runout, I decided I believed him.
Well, by then I felt like playing pool. I can’t say “again,” since I hadn’t stroked one ball all night, but I had to see more of Lucky’s game. He was as captivating as an Indiana Jones movie.
“I’d like to play some more,” I said, “but I’ll have to write a check.”
“We can play for nothing,” replied Lucky. “I just enjoy playing. Remember, you were the one who asked me to play for money.”
“Okay,” I agreed, “but I get the first rack.”
I broke and ran five racks in a row. I was impressing myself; splitting the cup on every shot. I must have been inspired by Lucky. The fact that there was no pressure may have helped, as now we were playing just for the game.
So much for inspiration. On the next break I didn’t make a ball and Lucky picked up and ran that rack and ten more.
“Geez! Don’t you ever miss?” I asked.
“Some nights, no,” replied Lucky matter-of-factly. “But about ten percent of the time I do miss a couple of balls.”
Now remember, at this point he had not missed a ball for almost three hours.
“How is that possible?” I asked, “Can you tell me how you do it?”
“Well, sure,” said Lucky. “I don’t usually get asked that. Most times people just lose their money and leave. So I’ll show you a couple of things. You must understand that this is powerful knowledge and promise to use it honestly.”
“Now the real key on these long runs is in the break, in all the games … here, I’ll show you. No matter what game you play you must have timing, speed, cue-ball control and know where to hit the rack. I can make the nine ball on a nine-ball rack every time.”
I had to say I didn’t believe that could be done. Lucky proceeded to show me five times in a row.
I couldn’t help but exclaim, “But that’s impossible!”
He said, “Son, nothing’s impossible.”
He showed me exactly where to hit it; the speed of the shot, the stroke and aim, and, unbelievably … I did it five times in a row! I had thought he was just lucky, but when I did it, too, it occurred to me maybe this was a trick table with magnets and electronic devices. I actually got down and crawled around under the table. I couldn’t find anything. No wires, no gadgets. Nothing that was remotely fixed. Just a regular pool table.
Lucky chuckled at my antics and shook his head. “I can do it on any table.”
He showed me a nine-ball break where he makes nothing but leaves the one ball safe every time.
”An old hustling move,” he shrugged.
“What about break shots on other games?” I asked.
He showed me a straight pool break where he makes a called ball out of the middle of the rack. He made it right into the corner pocket several times in a row. And he uses the same break for one-pocket. He just switches the break side as his pocket side changes. He showed me exactly where and how to hit it.
“I can easily run several racks of one-pocket with this and a couple of other moves,” Lucky said.
He offered to show me … one after another after another … six in a row. I had seen many of the top players in the world play, and not one of them played like that! Lucky showed me another one-pocket break where two balls go in the same pocket. He called them and they went in as smooth as peach fuzz.
Nothing he did was flashy, yet everything was more dazzling because of it. Lucky had MASTERED the game of pool. Only a Tibetan monk could appreciate the enlightenment I was experiencing. I was truly reverent.
What was going on? Was it believable? It was incredible! I thought I must be dreaming. I had had only two beers the whole night! I could not believe what I was experiencing. I just watched and tried to absorb for over six hours that night. I even got a pen and paper from the bartender and started to take notes; there was so much to write down. All the knowledge he had was more than all the players I know, pros included. The fundamentals, aiming techniques, geometry, physics, systems, shot repertoire, mental concentration. Name it; he talked about it. I thought I knew about pool but he showed me things beyond the realm of possibilities.
I knew if I absorbed only twenty-five percent of what he shared with me I’d win every tournament I entered from here on out.
Lucky made over nine hundred balls that night, without one miss. I sure did rack a lot. Good thing it was only twenty-five cents. I gladly paid for every rack. When he finally decided to hang it up, I offered to buy him one last beer, but he declined and took coffee instead. He put up the crooked old house cue in the rack on the wall and sat down at my table, tilting back in his chair and cradling the hot coffee between his weathered hands. Lucky didn’t seem tired; instead was happy to sit and talk more about pool and share some more stories.
As I listened to Lucky reminisce, my consciousness was changing. I started dreaming … really dreaming. What about going on the road…with me! Lucky and Andrew, traveling around the country! No, the continent! No, the world! I could see us becoming millionaires in months! No, weeks! The riches! Playing for more money than I could even imagine! The headlining feature in every pool and sports magazine around the globe. The fame! I could manage him.
“Lucky, how about traveling with me, playing pool?” I blurted out.
Lucky drained his coffee cup, smiled at my eagerness, and said, “I have no desire to. I’d be bored with the lifestyle, the politics, the hustling and playing tournaments. I have fun playing pool right here.”
“But Lucky,” I persisted, “if you did travel around playing pool, you know we’d make a lot of money, right?”
“I did that when I was younger. Now I wouldn’t want to leave the ranch. Besides, who would take care of my cows and chickens?”
My dream visions faded, and I came back to reality as Lucky pushed back his chair and stood to go.
“You’re from the Northwest, you say?” he asked me.
He wondered if I knew any of the people he knew from up there, like the legendary Pirates and John’s Gang Pool Teams, Lebow the cue maker and a few other business associates. He asked me to say “hi” to them.
“Andrew, please remember not to tell anyone where I live. I’ve had enough of people playing me for money and leaving broke.”
“I’ll agree to that if you’ll let me come back sometime and play, er, watch you play,” I countered.
He shook my hand and said, “Anytime, son.”
Then Lucky dug into his overall pocket and pulled out a roll of money. He licked his thumb and peeled off three fifty-dollar bills. He pressed them into my hand, saying, “When you tell your friends back home about your vacation, tell them that you beat some guy out of a whole bunch of money — that you got lucky.”
With that he winked at me and out the door he went.