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Added: 8 October 2002
[Commentary] [Pool and Billiards]

The Bad Stick

Can a pool cue be evil? In a word, yes.

Initially it would seem to fly in the face of reason that a pool cue could have inexplicable magical or evil qualities. A pool cue could be bad, a lucid person of our century might say, but not evil. It might be warped or cracked, in other words, or suffer from inferior construction or materials. It might have a shabby tip. But to suggest that a brand new, rather expensive, physically impeccable pool cue might be possessed by some insidious malignant force or have some foul will of its own would be to invite scorn and ridicule from rational quarters.

Be that as it may, as inconvenient as they may be the facts are incontrovertible. Scientific research has recently yielded conclusive evidence that has forced our team of stubbornly rational thinkers to reevaluate the very basis of the physical laws that govern our universe.

The pool cue in question was purchased from a well-known and reputable dealer of all things billiards, located in the heart of New York City on lower Broadway. It was purchased in November 2001 for a price of some $130, a perfectly straight and enormously handsome two-piece affair made of the very finest Canadian wood of some sort or another. I myself purchased it as a gift for my wife and co-conspirator Abby, not, as some have cynically suggested, in response to her beating me with my own cue the very previous night, but out of pure generosity of spirit and on the general principle that the serious player ought to have her own cue.

The first signs that things were amiss came from the initial subject herself in the course of the first few nights out with the evil stick. Ms. Abby professed to feel a distinct discomfort wielding the cue somehow, and was evidently what we in the pool business call "off her game" while using it. Naturally at first we chalked it up to the normal process of becoming psychologically and physically accustomed to the new implement. However, after allowing a scientifically credible number of games to elapse in unsatisfactory fashion over a scientifically credible number of evenings, the Newcastle Nobbler refused outright to use the stick at all, preferring to leave it safely at home where it could do no further harm. And in truth her game picked up rather noticeably.

The next phase of our research occurred during a visit by none other than the stubbornly rational scholar-pilot poet-salesman Meat Gizmo, while Abby was out of town one weekend. I related to him personally the foregoing details and my suspicion that the stick in question was cursed, and was scoffed at for my troubles. Nonsense, said Gizmo. Sticks aren't cursed, said Gizmo. It's all in the mind, said Gizmo.

Why don't you have a go with it, I suggested, not because, as has been cynically suggested elsewhere, I wanted to put my adversary at a disadvantage, but because I realized there was no better way to test a seemingly irrational theory than by leaving it in the hands of a disbelieving skeptic. Thus after a ceremonial amount of drinking and smoking, off we went to the local pool hall, wearing lab coats and carrying clipboards, he with Abby's stick, I with mine.

Over the course of the evening, a distinct change in the tone of the Giz became noticeable. The clipboard notes tell the tale quite clearly:

11:35: Gizmo still clucking condescendingly about my theory.

12:45: Up four games to none. Gizmo's faith in rational reality shaken; still clinging to tattered vestiges of old world view.

1:30: Up seven games. Gizmo has stated and I quote: "There is definitely something weird about this stick."

1:45: Gizmo, down nine games, misses easy shot, casts stick aside, picks up house cue.

3:52: Last dozen games or so more or less equal, as near as anyone can remember.

Suffice it to say that the night's events produced in me the profoundest conviction that the stick was evil and that it was no good having it around. As a result I found myself in the somewhat awkward position the next day, in a delicate email message to my out-of-town wife and co-conspirator, explaining that the stick, which as previously noted I had bought for her as a present, had been given away in a moment of magnificent drunkenness. Let the record also show that she expressed no evident regret at the news.

Gizmo, for his part, had been torn between greed and fear. On the one hand, he was being offered what was nominally a fine quality pool cue, practically brand new, for free. On the other hand, the bastard stick had been forged in the fires of Mount Doom in the darkest depths of Mordor. I advised him that the most hilarious thing to do would be to refuse to accept the thing, since he himself had acknowledged its inherently evil nature, but in the end greed won out. He took the stick. Excerpts from Gizmo's reports from the field, fuzzy, disoriented, yet telling, are reproduced here:

"So on Monday night I removed the 11 ball charm on the case, put it in a safe place, and headed out to the Watering Hole. It was 9:15 pm. By ten-o'clock that evening I had already taken down a worthy opponent in three games, 3-0, playing with confidence, with seemingly no problems, quirks or bio-mechanical issues. The stick seemed normal, felt good in-hand... My opponent left early, the bar was empty. I went home feeling that perhaps I was on the verge of a new chapter in this stick's checkered life.

"Tuesday: Did not get a lot of sleep Monday night, long day at work. Undaunted and determined, I dragged myself down to the Hole. It was late, 10 pm. The place was crowded for a Tuesday night. A couple of names on the chalkboard, I had to wait...

"My opponent was a younger guy I did not recognize. I had kept an eye on his previous game, and decided to just play him straight up and by the numbers. He seemed to be good. Off the break I had open table. Then it just started happening all over again. I had to open with a soft, flat angle shot. Should have been no problem, but it was a miss. He missed. And again, I had an easy shot. No joy. The stick felt strange in hand, like it was a warped house stick [emphasis added]. He did a three-ball run. Considering it could possibly be my only game for the night -- the board was crowded -- I made the decision to grab a house stick. The next shot was a tough one; bang, and made one more. My opponent then responded with three good, tough shots. Then, next turn, I picked up the stick again. In short: Lost. Did not play the rest of the night..."

After several more such independent experimentations, subject Gizmo returned the stick in disgust. Abby still refuses to touch it and it has been placed in quarantine near a little-used filing cabinet.

The third and thus far final stage of research occurred during a subsequent visit by the Giz when Abby was not out of town. The three of us proceeded down to the laboratory (Master Billiards in Sunnyside, New York) to conduct further tests. This time I had grabbed the subject pool cue myself, since neither of the two of them would consent to physical contact with it. Neither would they touch my usual cue, sensing instinctively that after all a man's cue is a man's cue. So it was two house cues against the devil stick.

At this point the story becomes slightly more complicated owing to the nature of evil itself. It turns out quite frankly that I was unbeatable that night and won an unseemly number of victories using the haunted implement. However, the soul of the stick cannot be exonerated on this basis alone. Why not? Because, as Father Merrin said in The Exorcist, "the devil mixes truth with lies." The stick obviously sometimes permits shots to roll straight and true, while achieving its unnatural gratifications in other more insidious ways. So while on the one hand victories were undeniably attained using the deathstick, on the other hand strange seeds of dissent and sorrow were being sown and an ugly harvest was soon reaped. My once loving wife and formerly steadfast friend became united over the course of the evening in an anti-me hatefest that tainted the night out with the unmistakable stench of hell beast. Suggestions were made that an evil stick could only be wielded effectively by an evil master. One could practically hear the monstrous cue's chilling laughter ringing in the shadows of the pool hall, louder and louder as I became more isolated and bereft of loving kindness with each passing "victory." When it isn't soiling shots that devilish device is poisoning relationships. It is quite simply a bringer of pain.

Now, you may be tempted already to dismiss these admittedly controversial claims as superstitious hogwash. We ourselves came to our conclusions only with the utmost reluctance. We would all be well advised to consider deeply that there is much that remains undiscovered in the world of science. We make no claim that these forces are supernatural, only that they are beyond our current understanding and do not fit within the comfortable framework of today's physics. For all intents and purposes therefore, these forces can be called mysterious in their origin and deleterious in their effects. In layman's terms: that bastard demon stick is evil. If you find yourself in possession of one of its brethren I must advise you in the strongest possible terms to cover it with salt and return it to the ancient burial ground from which it doubtlessly came.