Tonight I am in Soria, Spain; one of the hauntingly beautiful areas of the Western world. It is a cold, rainy night and I am drinking a glass of Rioja under the awning of Bar Chayofa. OK, that’s it for the faux-Hemmingway stuff. Just an intro. Cut me a little slack. I’m brooding. My Pilgrimage this year was supposed to be a walk of 600 miles. I walked 150 and hurt my back. Tonight is all pain and distress. This year’s walk is over and I am brooding. There is some pleasure in it. In fact, it’s kind of a hobby of mine. I like to ruminate about life’s mutability and my own intransigence. I stole those last words. They are from the greatest novel of the 20th century: Robert Musil’s “The Man Without Qualities.” “Ruminating” has been a guilty pleasure since I can remember. It bears a high cost (like learning to play pool) and, most times, the truth I seek comes as partial as it is bitter.
The door to the bar opens. Primi and a man come outside. Primi is one of the owners of Bar Chayofa. She has a cool haircut. Earlier, when we met, she gave me that sweet, Euro, both-cheeks-to-kiss move which I always bungle and will never be comfortable with. The man is showing Primi something. I eavesdrop. I can’t help it. It’s a pool cue. A good one. A player’s cue. In Soria, pool is played.
I horn in (I am Carpet Jimmy after all!). My Spanish is as clumsy as the kisses I gave Primi. No one minds. Carlos is a 3-Cushion player. He gives me his number and warmly invites me to meet him at Soria’s private billiards club. He also mentions a good player, Javier del Santo, who lives in town and pines for competition. Carlos gives me Javier’s number as well. I wait a couple of days for my back to get better [it doesn’t] before I call Javier. Again, such a warm conversation. We have already googled each other and it turns out he knows about Greenleaf’s from a mutual friend, Mark Vidal; a solid Spanish player I got to know in New York and, later, saw a lot of action in Seattle with Vince, Harry, Z, and the crew from a previous incarnation of my pool life.
As Javier and I chatted my brooding subsided. I was no longer a tourist with a bad back. I was somewhere I knew, among people I knew. We spoke in pidgin English and descompuesto Spanish and laughed in common over the instrument of our passion and suffering. We shared stories about the absurd behavior of pool players. I told him about life at Greenleaf’s; about Phil, Jesse, Roman and Camille. I told him about Devon’s improvement and Everett’s private life. We agreed about Everett’s private life. Javier was on his way to a tournament in Austria but promised to come see us around the time of the U.S. Open in the Fall.
Later that night I found Carlos at his club. I drank a beer and watched him play 3-Cushion Billiards with his friend Eduardo. It was artful; speed and spin, a physics lesson with every shot.
We’re a far flung community. We struggle and yearn. We dedicate ourselves to a discipline impossible to master. We partner up, scheme, bicker and refuse to speak to each other for months. Just like families. In the end the reward these fickle pool games allow us is that we know for certain that anywhere we happen to be we find something akin to a home.