To say that I’ve neglected my pool game of late would be akin to saying that I think Beaujolais Nouveau is mediocre wine. With some random free time on my hands, I decided to give my game a few hours of work.
The first hour of practice was painful for my ego. By the second hour, my game began to resemble what it normally is, but only if you’re squinting and looking through gauze. It was time for a break so I made my way to the bar to trade my coffee for a beer.
Around the time of my second sip, a very well appointed sixtyish lady ambles next to me and says “You’re pronating on your follow through.” Her voice had the unmistakable lilt of southern gentility.
“Thank you, I’m trying to shake a few months of dust off my game and I appreciate any advice” I reply.
“It’s most pronounced when you’re trying to get some English on the ball” she continues in a very accurate assessment of my stroke.
“Atlanta?” I half ask half guess.
“Born and raised, but we live in Savannah now” my impromptu instructor says with the word Savannah seeming to take a half second longer to pronounce than a Yankee would say it. As I’ve long had a fondness for southern women, I start to develop an affinity for this very married woman who could be my mother.
Just as I am about to introduce myself a booming baritone voice exclaims “Is my bride talking your ear off, sir? If you let her, she’d talk a hole in a deaf man’s ear.”
He has the same lovely southern drawl.
“Actually she was telling me to keep my arm straight on my follow through; I’m Refugee, by the by,” I say while extending my hand.
“So nice to meet you, Refugee; I’m Sonia and that big fella there is my husband, Les. Now how did you know Atlanta?”
“I went to university down south and got pretty good at recognizing the various accents.”
“I don’t know what you mean with that accent stuff; it’s you northerners who talk funny” Les says with a wink.
As we’re all laughing, a younger version of Sonia approaches us and says “Daddy it’s your shot and are you two ever coming back with drinks? Oh, forgive me, I didn’t realize yall were talking with someone.”
“Refugee, this is our daughter, Alexandra” Les says by way of introduction.
She is as tall as her six-three father (with the aid of the four inch heels on her riding boots) and has his steel blue eyes, but the rest of her is all Sonia down to the dimples and freckles.
“My pleasure” I say as we shake hands.
“Refugee, would you care to join us? We’re five now and could use a more even number” Sonia asks before changing the question to a declaration with “You know that we won’t take no for an answer.”
I grab my sticks and join them. I am introduced to Alexandra’s older brother, Les III, and his wife, Christina, who just moved to DC a month ago for jobs.
Over several games of team eight ball, it becomes apparent – rather quickly too – that I am the worst player at the table. Les paid his way through the University of Georgia by hustling pool and it seems that skill on the table is a familial requirement.
Hours seemed to vanish into a haze of laughter, empty pint glasses, and fascinating conversations that ranged from esoteric billiard games, the best way to make a roux, the golf courses Les won’t play because of their exclusivity, and too many other things to mention. Afternoon stretched to evening and the whole affair seemed charmed.
Eventually Sonia asks “Refugee, this is your city, where should we go eat?” seemingly taking charge as is a matriarch’s want.
“Keep in mind that we need a table for six” the younger Les adds.
“Yes, it’s not even question, you will be joining us right” the older Les insists.
By the end of the night, too much wine had been consumed, friendships formed, and email addresses exchanged.
Before I even get home, Sonia has sent me a thank you email even though Les insisted on getting the tabs for everything – including the bottle of dessert wine I attempted to surreptitiously buy after dinner. It was a stunningly gracious act; that she ended her message with “and keep that arm straight” was stunningly funny.