This morning I and a neighbor will once more attend what has become a weekly Wednesday morning ritual. We will shoot pool. We started this a couple months ago. Pool has always held a particular fascination for me because it engages both sides of my brain simultaneously.
There's the math and science side. That of geometry, its angles, and physics with its velocities and momentums. Then there's the artistic side with all the beautifully colored balls racing across a luscious field of green. And, of course, there's that part of the male psyche that just feels empowered when holding a big stick or phallus in its hands. That may be the real draw of the billiards table, baseball diamond, golf course, duck hunting or soldiering.
So besides the art and science of pool, there's the mysterious psychology of it. I remember how taken aback I was the first time I crushed an opponent. The trash talk and humiliating of my rival was so un-me. Where was that coming from?
I decided I'd unearthed a deeper, prehuman lizard part of the brain, lying dormant my first 21 years. It was ugly. It was scary. Fortunately, I'd witnessed this in my own humiliations on the pool table when being thrashed by an opponent. As a result, I managed to rebury, deeply, those evolutionary reptilian urges.
Pool is a skill I was taught by the army. And it, along with the GI bill, were two of the more pleasant manifestations from that long three year experience. But this morning, as I and a neighbor venture out for a few games of billiards, my immediate neighbor of over 27 years will be having a very different experience. That's because "Ned" will be having a kidney removed.
Ned is a very interesting fellow who took on a quasi-father image for me when losing my own shortly after moving in next door to him. Ned had flown in B-29's during the war and the tales he can tell could fill a book. And in all of his hours in one of those enormous flying tin cans, he cheated death more than a time or two.
There were the crash landings on some speck of land in the middle of the western Pacific. And that most chilling tale of anti-aircraft fire that scored a direct hit upon the wing of his bomber. But rather than exploding, it passed through only to explode somewhere above them. I always listen in awe, remembering the last time I did the dishes and cut my finger on a steak knife.
Ned stayed on after WWII, flying in B-52's, irresistably drawn to their Russian temptors like a moth flirting with a flame. In the early 70's Ned retired. So for as long as I've known him, he's been leading the vida loca.
Ned's a very likeable sort. Save for one thing--his politics. And I confess on the occasion or two when our conversation slipped into that abysmal subject, I've wanted to kill him.
See, Ned's a die-hard republican. The compassionate conservative type. You know, a guy who hates paying school taxes. Why should he? He doesn't have any kids going to school. That type of good citizen. Inevitably, whenever I've hinted at anything that resembles compassion for those less fortunate, he resorts to the line that sends me ballistic.
"Why should you care? You're not starving!" Immediately, that part of my lizard brain that first surfaced over a pool table and that I'd reburied so deeply resurfaces.
We were face to face the first time he used that on me. And being at least 20 years his junior, I'm sure I coulda taken him down. But I was determined not to be the fate god had saved him from him from so many times decades ago over the Pacific in a flying tin can. Always I managed to wrest my reptilian beast into submission. To re-rebury it again--and again.
So this morning as I venture out for my art appreciation, math and physics lessons, and exemplify good mental health by containing the beast in my brain should I demonstrate superiority on the green fields of the pool table this day, Ned will be on a different mission. And hopefully, once again, he'll be back soon to do what he's done so many times before--beat the odds and cheat the Fates. To return to the 'hood and do what he does so well: tickle the reptile brain buried deep inside me.