Ha ha ha, bless your soul… Do you really think you’re in control?

I am writing from a hostel, Gnarls Barkley blaring through the speakers. The travel has been a little too taxing as of late, and I developed a growing need to spend a full week trying to write on my computer. I found this place, which is as much of a bar as it is a hostel, and I haven’t left the building since I arrived four days ago. I wake up, clean – eat – and plug in my laptop downstairs at the table across from the bar.

At three o’clock everyday the bartenders switch. Every day, a young Australian girl with hipster glasses enters and control of the music goes to her. The songs turn from I don’t need dolla bills to, well, Gnarls Barkley. And it’s a god damn miracle. She spends her time flirting with the old regulars of the bar. It’s pretty much her job to be attractive. She’s good at it; I fell in love when she starting controlling the music.

 

She’s too distracting. There was only one thing for it. I moved tables; from across the bar where I could see her nearly all the time, to a dirty corner on a clunky high-chair; the only other place near a socket. When my eyes wander up, it is towards the pool table, where there’s often middle-aged regulars playing. In the mornings, however, the table’s taken up by young’uns from the hostel.

You learn a lot watching pool. Everyone brings to the table a form of movement. I watched an hour worth of games from one with this jagged gait. A turn is like a spike jutting out towards you. His quick movements seem efficient, and so does his playstyle – it’s as if he knows what’s necessary, and so he minimises his actions to do only that, the necessary. Therefore, he moves quickly, and at the pool table, he destroys his opponents.

Watching him, I decided that during my time at the hostel, I’d take my own style. Act completely different from my usual self. I’ve been playing around with a ‘drunk-fu’ kind of demeanour. I intentionally waver in my step. I fall to where I want to be in the kitchen. I lazily flop around the pool table until the moment I must take the shot. Then I go still, and focused. And you see a certain dexterity in this man’s taffin’. Or at least, so I hope. Mostly, I think I scare people off. In fact I don’t drink, at all. But my flask is constantly full of coffee, which people usually assume is whiskey.

I have an opposite, a quick moving and powerful frenchman. He propels himself forward. He spends a second lining up his pool shots, and he smashes that ball. Once every five shots, he hits it so hard the white is hurled off the table. He loses every game…

Except against the women.

It’s a youth hostel. The cheapest one in the city. There are not many women here. Most of the exceptions are here only for a day or two with their boyfriends. Even in the bar, the other gender is a rare sight. It’s an old fashioned place, the average age at the bar is over forty. The place’s regulars are, without exception, male.

But once or twice I’ve seen the public’s rarest creatures, single women. Of course there’s the Australian bartender, she’s employed to be single. The others, who found themselves roaming about this area, were quickly snatched into conversations with the quickest and youngest cosmopolitans (Frenchy). During my nights here, Frenchy’s brought two different women to the pool table for flirtatious fun.

Two different women, I estimated the first as 19, the next at 27. Yet on the table, both acted the same: remarkably incompetent.
Without a moment’s concentration, they waved their pool cue’s in the general direction of the white ball. The ball would roll about somewhere and had some vague chance of hitting the right ball. Sometimes it did, and they celebrated as if they had scored a point.

The women lost every game. There was never any competition. They weren’t just amateurs… I’d never played in my life and my drunk-fu won a few games. They just didn’t think about the game. They didn’t try.

Of course, either of these girls could have tried. They chose not to because, they were playing, very successfully, another game. So I was playing drunk-fu. Frenchy, the ‘powerful’ type. Both of these girls played the clutz. Perhaps not exactly clumsy, but innocent, weak, incompetent… In need of support. The small and dainty girls were not to be competed against. They were aside from the actual game of pool. Perhaps, they were above it.

It became Frenchy’s responsibility to be good at the game. Hilariously, he never was. Every time he blasted the white ball off the table, it was inviting to a cringe. He failed further. She would line up shots and woozily sway the cue in front of the ball, practically asking him to guide her. He stood his distance and pointed at the white.

‘Hit it there’, he would say.

Was he a fool? Had he seen no television? Even I knew this one, he was supposed to stand right up to her and guide her hand. Together, they take the shot, and the ball smooths its way into the hole. They look up, turn to one another, and smile.

‘Hit it there’, he said.

Both girls soon lost interest in Frenchy and went their own way.

I’ve dedicated some thought in the past towards wondering who’s position is more in control. Frenchy or the women. The dainty little girl is terrible at the game of pool, but in another sense, she’s judging the man; it’s his job to impress her. Who’s in control? This has been debated to death. But frankly, I think the debate is null. Neither are intentionally filling their roles, they’re just going ‘as it is’. For men, it’s unreasonable, or unnatural, to not at least give some part of yourself to a competition. It’s almost incomprehensible to find people (women) who are not stopping to think about the pool shot. Frenchy was playing pool. That’s as it is. She wasn’t. That’s as it is.

From my observer’s seat, the interaction between these two worlds, play pool – don’t play pool… Is… Insipid? Pointless, uninspired. Impersonal! Unauthentic.

I speak with a lot of people. Men and women. But I haven’t played pool with them. I haven’t leaned in close and guided her shot.

The male world has become my default. I will always play pool well. I will always try to beat you in chess. ‘It makes you think’ is enough of an excuse to commit myself to hours of decoding basic tactics for an ancient board game. It almost seems human nature to be competitive. Is it the true default of humanity? Or just that for the males. I frankly cannot decide if those women at the pool table should have been figuring out the best way to hit the white. Is it self-improvement to do so, or self-manipulation? Please… Do answer. For once I don’t have my answer. Now I’m wondering if I should fundamentally remove chess from my life, and turn instead to ceaseless conversation. Not competition. Collaboration.

But. … … … I like chess.

***

I changed the angle of my seat. In between me and the bar is an unused chess board. I did not know the answer, but this week I am playing a role. Drunk-fu master. I saved my draft and got up. I stumbled myself over to the bar.

‘Hey, – eh.’

‘Hey’, she said with a smile. The Australian barwoman. She was waiting to serve me a drink. I was waving my hands like Jack Sparrow, but felt hopeful that she would notice I had no smell of drink from me. Remember! Drunk-fu! I only seem incompetent.

No time to dally.

‘So this is my last night here, you know? Don’t think much of this… I just like to know people.’

I’d chosen these words before standing. I’m never good at the eye-contact. Give her the eye-contact!

‘So – hey – what time do you finish? Catch a quick drink when you’re done? Talk, it’d be good to talk.’

Drunk-fu fuckin’ master. Literally, I scripted this and learned the lines.

‘Eh, sorry, eh – my sister’s waiting for me at home this evening…’

Some bar patrons were waiting expectingly for me to order a drink so they could get back to flirting with the woman half their age.

‘But I can get you a drink now?’ she said.

‘Nah, no worries’.

I sauntered off… Holding back my smile.

Exactly according to the fucking script!

My mind was cheering. I’d been rejected~! Now I wouldn’t have to worry about an actual conversation.

Australian, you never fail me. I fuckin’ did it, and didn’t have to go through the actual difficult part that would have come afterwards.

Heh heh… I’m so crafty. The drunken master. You never know when he’s in control.

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