The game of pool requires concentration, which is hard for beginners to achieve in a noisy, smoky, crowded environment like a pool hall on league night. The noise is like a constant roar, punctuated with mechanical dings and bleeps from the pinball machines, squeals of delight or anguish, thumping bass from the jukebox and the smashing of beer bottles as they are tossed into the trash. As you gain experience, you discover the Zen-like ability to focus your attention on the shot, excluding the distractions around you, which fade to a kind of background hiss, like white noise.
I consider this noise filter to be a kind of superpower, like invisibility or the power of flight. Unfortunately, like comic book superheroes, certain things can take away my power like Kryptonite, leaving me weak and vulnerable.
One night, early in my attempts to develop a noise filter, a group of six Yuppie guys in white shirts and neckties rented the table next to where we were playing our league matches. They had been drinking, and were playfully trash-talking as they took turns. They all had these weird, high-pitched giggles, like middle-school girls. I’d be lining up a shot, tuning out their clumsy sarcasm and dull witticisms, when suddenly one of them would shriek a hideous laugh that cut right through my noise filter, causing me to stiffen and wince. I’d have to stand up, sigh, and line the shot up again.
I’ve since reached the point where noisy players no longer bother me. But there are some things that still do, and they’re all found on the jukebox at my pool hall.
Jukeboxes have come a long way since the days when they actually contained vinyl records that had to be moved mechanically onto a turntable. These days, they’re all solid-state electronic devices. Only a couple of hundred songs are actually on the jukebox at any one time, but if you want to pay a little extra, you can download almost anything from a central server and play it. Today’s jukeboxes have a nearly unlimited catalog.
Although I live in Central Florida, the jukebox in my pool hall has a pretty wide selection of music, from the 60’s to the present; it’s not all Country and Western, thank God. Most songs, no matter what genre, good or bad, simple or pretentious, don’t annoy me at all. But for some reason, the following songs are able to penetrate my defenses:
“Hurt” - Johnny Cash
Never known for his ability to carry a tune, his aged voice wavers and fails to find the necessary notes, while the bass player attempts to seize control of the planet.
“Lumberjack” - Jackyl
A fairly tolerable rock song, but at one point, the lead singer plays a chainsaw as a musical instrument and my fillings jiggle in their sockets.
“It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock and Roll)” - AC/DC
A great song, until the bagpipes come in. Then I just can’t play pool. It's not that I don't like the bagpipes. But I'll never be a pool champion in Scotland.
“New York, New York” - Frank Sinatra
Yeah, somebody plays this occasionally. I know who it is, and I’m gonna take care of him. Fuggetaboutit.
But there is one song that outshines them all as the most annoying, soul-destroying song ever, capable of penetrating my noise filter with no resistance at all. The problem is, it’s been around for 35 years. I never thought I’d still be hearing it in the 21st century. It’s “American Pie” by Don McLean. Somebody plays this song every week, and I haven’t caught the bastard yet. Because it’s eight and a half minutes long, I can’t wait for the song to end to take my shot. My only consolation is that somewhere, Don McLean is sitting in a decrepit tour bus outside of a seedy bar in a small town somewhere, fighting the urge to kill himself as he prepares to sing that song for the 3,000th time.