A Pool Hustler's Daughter grows up in subterranean America. She dreams big, hustles daily and loves her Daddy. With empathy, fascination and grace she navigates and inhabits every tier of society; sees beauty and hope and magic in all things; respects and lives by the "mitzvah."
A Pool Hustler's Daughter calculates the trifecta payout at the racetrack, hides money on three parts of her body, has an arsenal of "Uncles," and keeps a baseball bat by the front door. She values friendship, loyalty and experiences over "things." Like her father, she seeks to learn "The secrets of the universe" and believes "Life ain't on the square." She applauds the self-made and those who learn to "overcome" their circumstances. Her door is always open for a sofa to sleep on, a hot meal, or an eager listener for a life story.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Tina Fey vs. Mindy Kaling: The Battle to be a Comedy Queen

Like most forty-something women I grew up with an idea of what women in comedy "looked like." First there was Carol Burnett, who was so modest and provided guttural laughs from behind our 1,000 pound television on many an occasion in the 70s. Carol Burnett was never holding hands with Gloria Steinem chanting "We Shall Overcome" in front of the White House, nor was she bragging about her ancestral linkage to Susan B. Anthony. She was just...funny...and silly...very much a girl, a woman. There probably were very few job opportunities for women as funny as Carol Burnett - an awkward Stork, face contortionist who could sing and/or belt out Tarzan's call on occasion. A few women had already had variety shows prior to Carol, like the immensely talented Judy Garland, but that was not a comedy show, and instead made you want to grab a vodka on the rocks and a bottle of pills from the heartache of not only love, but of just being alive. In sum, it was a real downer. When I watch reruns of the Carol Burnett Show and I see the camaraderie of her comedy troupe - Harvey Korman, Tim Conway and Vicki Lawrence - the laughs they often tried but failed to hold back, I kind of think that's the epitome of great comedy - Pleasure. Those comedians were enjoying themselves. I often see that in the best Late Night TV show hosts, when they are honestly cracking up at their own writing, I know it's going to be a good show. Carol Burnett's Scarlett O'Hara has to be a top ten TV comedy scene of all time next to Seinfeld's "The Contest."

The only predecessor as powerful on television to Carol Burnett, was Lucille Ball. Lucy had a mix of Carol Burnett and even the questionable darkness of a Judy Garland. Lucy was old fashioned and yes, she might have the balls to "throw it all away" just for a man. Lucy probably had the most understated beauty of all female comediennes and if you look at her early movie studio stills from her youth, you're just like "Wow!" The whole IDEA of Lucy, was a self-deprecating, delusional woman who in the end is the second fiddle to a man. Wait, isn't that the formula of EVERY funny female on television? Oh, how she wanted to be on Ricky's show! Or stab to death with her felt pen one of her annoying, sexist bosses(in later shows) during "dictation?"

Wait, women aren't funny? REALLY?

And Imogene Coca on Your Show of Shows (odd looking, clueless) Gracie to George Burns(clueless.) Being clueless seems to be a key to getting a job as a woman in comedy.

The other example of a female comedienne was Phyllis Diller. I have no idea why I always gravitated toward this tenor voiced Madam. I always looked forward to her on Bob Hope's variety shows(again, am I making a point here that I miss variety shows?) I had heard that Phyllis Diller was actually a looker in her day, but purposefully made herself look ugly on stage. That was the only way she could deliver jokes. I do give her credit for wanting to be known for her material, rather than her looks. Ba-dum-bum.

Another one of my all-time favorite comediennes is Cloris Leachman. I like her because more often than not her comedy is absurd - costumes, accents and dirty jokes. I know my love for her stems as repetitive viewings of Mel Brooks movies as a young child, but she was also a fabulous foil to Mary Tyler Moore on the Mary Tyler Moore show, and you had the chance to see how beautiful she was.

Madeleine Kahn was used as Mel Brooks sexy ingénue. Now she was a tiger, she was so gorgeous. She was the perfect middle ground between sexy and absurd. And I appreciate Mel Brooks(for like a thousand reasons) but I do appreciate him for not being misogynist in the least bit. He made so many jokes about sex and even dumb women, but he never hated women(as some hard up male comedians do) and almost always showed the male counterpart in the wrong, or being a rascal. And he gave women great roles. High Anxiety is a masterpiece of epic proportions.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus is still the epitome of a beautiful comedienne. She was next generation Madeline Kahn but she is in on all the fun that all of the boys in the room are having. And I think she was the first to usher in jokes around the comic actress and her sexuality, which is standard now.

I guess I differentiate comediennes and scripted comedy actresses. I feel like comediennes are the ones who did a tour in improvisational comedy, or at the very least, have an innate ability to be funny, without a script, and I'll leave it at that. Lucy Ball was a scripted actress, yes, but the direction of her characters in terms of physical comedy and looks and sounds, was all her own.

The first movie I ever saw that made me think women were awesome was "Private Benjamin." I didn't know at the time, that it had been written by a woman, filmmaker Nancy Meyers. Goldie Hawn was amazing in this film, and let me tell you, to watch an entire film, any film, about a woman and her story, was spectacular. A woman owned the whole film. That was BIG. I was totally okay with her being neurotic and self-absorbed. In the end, she didn't want to be second fiddle to a man.

Another great scripted actress was Bea Arthur. Even as a child, I saw Maude in her pant suits yelling at Arthur and thought, "My God, I am going to look like this woman one day." I followed her to Golden Girls which was filled with sex jokes delivered by middle aged women, because its just too scary to hear sex jokes from women you might actually want to have sex with. Thank you, Chelsea Handler, for remedying this situation for us.

And then there were the women who surrounded Bob Newhart.

What I like is how today we have multiple offerings where the show revolves around the woman - 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation and The Mindy Project. That is progress. Roseanne Barr was brave, and had a show around her, but I just never got her comedy, so I have to "put her on a shelf" for now. I have too many morbidly obese hillbillies in my family eating mystery meat sandwiches, so her show just hit a cord too deep for me. She couldn't make me laugh, unfortunately. But she did make a lot of money. Good for her.

Designing Women? Another successful show based around women for a change but way too political, too scripted for me. Not comediennes.
Murphy Brown took some time to get used to. I always saw Candace Bergen just for her looks and her not-so-secret affair with Steve McQueen. But she proved everyone wrong and managed to exceed expectations and be funny. Cheers to her.

I don't know why I put Joan Rivers and Chelsea Handler in the same category, but I just do. They are not meant for scripted television. Although Joan went to Julliard, she knows she couldn't cut it as an actress. They don't attempt to be Rhodes Scholars and are always the one to call out the Elephant in the room. They are manly women. They intimidate men. This is a different phenomena than the "clueless" woman who is second fiddle to a man. These women have balls and scare men. And it works for them.
Sometimes I think Chelsea Handler's writing is one part Sweet Valley High and the next moment Hustler.

I like that Joan Rivers and Chelsea Handler exist. They are not shrinking violets. Okay, I'm still upset Carson never forgave Joan Rivers for getting her own talk show. She did owe him - a ton - there is no doubt, but she was being given an opportunity to be the first female late night TV host. Not a guest host - the host. This was huge for women everywhere. It just had to happen for progress, sorry.

My Dad was on the road a lot as a pool hustler and he always kept comedy tapes in his car that I heard over and over. Like RED FOXX. Do you have any idea how successful his comedy album was? It's hilarious. Every single Richard Pryor. I'll never forget the line of his, when he's recalling visiting a prison with Gene Wilder, and Richard Pryor has to explain that men in prison who have sex with one another are not gay. And at home, always with the Mel Brooks. In my mind, great comedy always had a little sexiness to it, perhaps an undercover political statement, because of Mel Brooks. Mel Brooks was never afraid to make a fool out of himself. Even when he won like a thousand Tonys for The Producers, he still had the balls to try new material, make people uncomfortable, make himself look crazy. I love that. And don't think I forgot that his wife was an Italian girl, Anne Bancroft.

I can't begin to tell you how many dreams I had growing up where I was starring on a sitcom. Especially with Jason Bateman in it. This definitely puts me in the category of delusional, which is essential to comedy. I still dream entire film scripts.

Catherine O'Hara is probably another underrated comedienne who knocks it out of the park every time. And I miss Parker Posey and wish I saw more of her on television. She was a pleasant surprise on her guest spot on Louie.

For sanity sake, let's just skip over the NBC television show Friends which I pretend never happened. The only actor on that show that I felt had any innate chops was Lisa Kudrow. But again, lets skip it.

There was a lot of scripted television - Alice, Rhoda, etc., that definitely got some laughs out of me which starred women, but, again, I don't see those actresses as comediennes. They didn't live and breathe comedy. That's my differentiator. I'm attracted to the cult of comedy personality!

Let's get to what this essay is really about. Who would dominate in a mud wrestling match - Tina Fey or Mindy Kaling?

Okay, I feel like I owe Tina Fey so much, like a million, billion thank yous just for being successful and for this I mean, showing the world that women comediennes can make money for producers and networks. This alone is worthy of a statue in Central Park. However, and I do mean, however, I cannot relate to Tina Fey. But I can however, relate to Mindy Kaling. I feel like Mindy Kaling is someone I could actually have a drink with. Like I could make a joke about choking on a big dick and she would laugh and buy me a girlie drink. Tina Fey would probably move seats, roll her snotty eyes at me and say "I hate dicks" and ask "Where's the Souvlaki?"

So, difference #1 is that I think Mindy Kaling likes dicks and Tina Fey does not like dicks(perhaps other than her vibrator.) I don't trust women who don't like dicks. Like, it would be hard for me to go into business with a lesbian, for instance, because who could I talk about dicks with over the water cooler? Okay, maybe strap-ons.

Mindy Kaling is all woman. She oozes feminity. She is a delicious and delightful dark angel. If any man tried to finger Tina Fey their digit would turn into a popsicle and break off. If someone(and I'm saying one hell of a lucky guy) had the chance to finger the magnificent Mindy Kaling(and I'm not saying she's that type of girl, as I know she's extremely picky) their digit would emerge sparkling and shooting Harry Potter magic wand lightening bolts while tasting of the sweetest cinnamon and cardamom elixir that only Charlie and his Chocolate Factory could manufacture.

Every time a finger goes into Mindy Kaling, Slum Dog Millionaire's soundtrack begins to play and you feel the urge to dance, perfectly choreographed, with large groups of people.

When you finger Mindy Kaling, she enthusiastically sticks her tongue down your throat and says "I love this, MORE!"

When you finger Tina Fey, she sighs and says "you know, I'm wearing my Depends undergarment right now."

I WISH that Tina Fey was actually one of those geeky girls who wears glasses and flannel and granny panties who secretly like to be tied up and spanked. The girl guys around the water cooler(I heart water coolers, FYI) whisper, "No, dude, she's a Tasmanian Devil in the sack...and I've got the scars on my back to prove it." But I don't think she's secretly a horn dog. I don't know, I just don't.

How can you not like sex, Tina??? You need to sleep with some more guys, pronto. I'm telling you - it gets better. I'm just mad that you think you need to be an asexual cross dresser with IBS to get men to like you, buy you Meatball subs and/or laugh at your jokes/write you giant paychecks. WHY?

Mindy knows how to bridge the gap between smart/sexy/funny. She just does. She is a romantic at heart. I HEART that right back, sweetie! Not only are her television characters in love with love, her personality on social media suggests this as well. She thinks its fun and kind of cool to be a girl. To try on clothes and makeup, take pictures of yourself and to compare yourself to celebrities. And I'm not saying this is because Mindy attended an Ivy League School and Tina Fey did not (okay, shh, it might have something to do with it.)

Mindy Kaling is fun and looks like she's having fun. Like Carol Burnett. Carol Burnett would never let a camera shoot her with her pants down on the toilet or pretend to shit her own pants for laughs. Even Phyllis Diller wouldn't stoop that low! Tina Fey makes the prospect of being a woman like the worst thing in the fucking world. Maybe I'm delusional here, and that's her whole theme, but I like being a woman. I don't want to be a man. Why do I have to look like a man - and not even a cool man but the Steven Wright of men - in order to get laughs.

Tina Fey is the worst Frenemy you ever met before in your life. Mindy laughs with you, not at you. There's a difference!

Listen, both Mindy and Tina's range is limited as actors, I get it. Please don't make me watch Tina Fey in one more dramatic scene about a lost puppy - or a long lost child. I don't want to see it. You make me want to give up on life, Tina.

Mindy makes me feel energized, giggly and as bubby as her. I want to wear pinks and purples and paisley patterns. And it has nothing to do with Mindy being in her thirties, while Tina is in her forties. Like I honestly feel Mindy doesn't only want to be famous so she can punish everyone who ever cut her from the basketball team. Tina, you act like your desperate vengeance on those who wronged you in childhood will never be satisfied. That you will never be able to smile, but not because of an insecurity regarding a smile on your face, but because if you smile, than you have to admit you are actually happy and grateful for all of your millions and new Uptown digs and private school for the kids and "first look" at scripts and endless producer credits.

My father couldn't stop talking about Amy Poehler and how funny and adorable she was and "The only Liberal I could love." Like she was the second coming for Christ sake. "Tina Fey is a hideous dog" he would say and hock a luggie.

Mindy looks at her opportunities every day and is like "This is so AWESOME!" I want to wake up like Mindy Kaling, super high baby doll voice, size eight and loving it, selfies galore on my phone, praising my parents in public every day, believing in love and most of all feeling like my self-confidence is just that - a result of how I feel about myself rather than what other people tell me all of a sudden(Classic Tina.)

I'm all for the Mindy Kalings of the world. I want to go to a party with you. When are you NOT smiling?

I DON'T HATE PEOPLE LIKE TINA FEY DOES. I DON'T HATE WOMEN LIKE TINA FEY DOES. And most of all, I DON'T HATE DICKS LIKE TINA FEY DOES. I want to spread joy around the world. And the importance of water coolers. And selfies.

Lena Dunham has been removed from this conversation. I CAN'T EVEN GO THERE. We're not even in the same league, and by league, I mean the pedestal that Mindy Kaling(my new best friend) and I now occupy.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Bang Bang Pie Shop: Walk of Shame

"So how did we end up eating pie for breakfast at five o'clock at night?" asked Freya - the Girl - who had long, dark brown hair, olive skin, dark blue eyes, long legs for five feet five inches tall, and who wore her roommate Caroline's second favorite sundress - the red one. "Good stuff" always happened when she wore this dress or so she thought - as it made her waist look extra small. She continued, "They'll be closing soon, and we've just had our first coffee. You're in the same clothes as you wore last night and your face is kind of scruffy. I'm sure that pastry chef behind the counter suspected you of an illicit or illegal act. Like he had seen your face on a wall at the police station while reporting the theft of his expensive Dutch bike" said the Girl, airily, as she liked to prove her wit.

"We're hungry. And you love pie" said the Boy, whose tenor voice was grounded and reassuring without having to try. His name was Jerome and he was what you might call, an old soul. He had dirty blonde hair, longish, choppy with some streaks from swimming and biking on the lakefront that summer. Swimming and biking made him feel young. He had brown eyes, and stood an inch above six feet. He had yellow skin, from Scandinavian blood in the sun, and long hands and fingers. He had a lot to drink the night before, there was some kind of drink special at the bar the night before, but could not recall what it was, and he was lacking sleep. His feet were filthy, and without socks, in his Converse low-tops. He hoped his feet didn't smell. Jerome was always conscious of his odor(s).

"You do, too, don't you?" she flirted back, with her indistinct Yankee accent, which sounded a lot higher this morning - nearly first Soprano - perhaps due to the Boy.

"I do."

"Thank you" they said together and looked at one another strangely. Stranger than the first moment their lips unlocked and they took a good look at one another under the porch light where the mosquitos were gathering.

"For what, the pie?" he asked, wrapping his hands around the hot ceramic cup of coffee. The air conditioning was on arctic at the pie shop this late August afternoon/early Saturday evening. All Jerome could imagine was a warm fleece blanket and snuggling - with her. What were the chances this spontaneous date would continue past sunset?

"No, for exfoliating my face."

"Sorry, my scruff," he said.

"No, no, actually you saved me a trip to the salon for a facial. By the're a good kisser" she said, avoiding his eyes. WHAT DO I HAVE TO LOSE AT THIS POINT? WHY NOT PUSH HIM? She thought.

He smiled. Hearing this made him happy. He wondered how badly he needed a shower.

"You sound like you're shocked," he began, "funny, how you're not hung over...when you're happy. And you smile a lot. The face gets numb."

"Well, we've known each other for years and now we're eating pie...for dinner," she explained and wondered if leaving the house without her panties on was a good idea or not. Was she asking for more of his attention? Was she willing to reciprocate?

"And I've exfoliated your face" he confirmed.

She waited a second, mulled over a few ideas and fears.

"I forgot how much I like kissing" she told him, again, not looking into his eyes, but at the slices of pie before them - one triple berry, the other chocolate pecan. She feared a blueberry skin or blackberry seed on her teeth, so she kept her lips squarely over them. She told herself she would keep rinsing the inside of her mouth with the ice water on the table, until she could excuse herself and go to the restroom and smile before a mirror. She didn't want to leave in the middle of this conversation. It was kind of...liberating.

"Me, too" he answered. It wasn't that he missed kissing, it was that their kissing felt different, and that was what he missed...feeling.

"Do you think everyone in here knows what we've been up to for the past twelve hours?" she asked as the Boy shrugged his shoulders and leaned back into the wooden chair and put his arms behind his head, hoping his arm pits didn't smell too bad. He sweated up a storm at the concert the night before.

"You mean, why now, all of a sudden?" said the Boy, asking the question that she had wanted to ask. That was it, really. Why does it take years for friends to see you as more than a friend?

"You offer to walk me home, and then..." she began, "It's on the way, you tell me. You've walked me home before, so many times before."

"It was..." the Boy interjected.

"And then...I get to the door and you stand there speechless, staring at me..." the Girl explained, remembering and refeeling it all, from just twelve short hours ago.

"I was nervous" he said.

"But, you're Jerome, you're NEVER nervous."

"You could have said no," he responded, "you could have pushed me away."

"But I didn't"

"You didn't"

"You're my best friend's boyfriend's best friend. It's like we're related. In-laws."

"Kissing cousins"

"I've seen you date some real freaks, too. Remember the girl...with the piercing...down below?"

"That one had a mean left hook," he added, "pretty sure she'd rather see you naked than me."

"What's it like?" she asked, shoving a giant piece of the berry pie into her mouth, too big, and regretting this decision immediately. It was so large that she had to lick her lips and wipe her mouth with a napkin, and she could feel the sugary berry juice sticking to the side of her mouth.


"To see me naked?" the Girl asked and swallowed painfully, afraid she might cut her throat on the giant slab of crispy pie crust.
She swallowed water and hoped she wouldn't choke. The Boy did know a lot about her, but perhaps not her proclivity for calling ambulances(yet.)

"Oh...that...," he answered, so fucking glad that she asked him this question ,the best question ever, "Oh, that...Quite...nice...what...about me?" the Boy asked bravely. Why have I never asked this question before??? he thought.

The girl swallowed and finally removed the pie debris from her airway, sending oxygen back into her brain and her saliva down her sore throat.

"Surprising," she answered," in a good way."

The Boy lifted the thumbs of both hands up, under the table, and tried but failed, to hold back a smile. I've got this...he thought.

"Three years," he began, "three years and now we've..."

"Kissed, just kissed," she interrupted.

"More than our mouths" the Boy reminded the Girl.

"And snored. I'm pretty sure I snored." the Girl admitted. I'm going to be self-aware. Wait, I'm already self-aware, she thought, maybe too self-aware.

"I'll match your snore with my drool! Too many shots," the boy laughed. Snoring, drooling, okay, we've survived this, he thought. A Duece at both our houses and we can call this one...

"Last night...I know we didn' know...but it was still good, wasn't it?"


"What will our friends think?" she asked. Not once had their friends even attempted to make this love connection. Not once. Maybe they thought it was a bad idea. Maybe their friends knew things about the two of them, dark dark secrets...buried bodies...poor credit scores...

"They'll be pissed" the Girl said.

"For once they won't be the center of attention!" the Boy said.

"Please, Jerome. Why now? I mean we already know so much about one another..."

"As friends," the Boy finished.

"Like you know I get pissed when Caroline clogs the drain with her gobs of long hair. Or smokes cigarettes in the house when I've asked her a thousand times not to....Did you also know I'm afraid of being in the house alone without the lights on?" The girl rambled on, mentally trying to hide her manic side, which she remembered was fucking useless.

"Okay, so you're afraid of the dark?" he said, "I'm scared of Ewoks. Can't even talk about it with anyone other than my therapist."

She laughed. She thought "Return of the Jedi" sucked. A fear of Gremlins, perhaps, but cute little Ewoks?

"Did you know my first kiss was a boy named.."

"Ethan," he answered.

Great memory, she thought. He had an eye and an ear for details. Jerome's eyes and ears brought her joy - and made her feel - important.

"And he..."

"Killed himself"


"But it was much later and had nothing to do with you. But you learned how fragile people are from that experience."

He does have great eyes and great ears, she thought. He listens.

"How did I flip your switch, so to speak? You made some serious statements last night." And no, she wouldn't bring them up in the daylight, wouldn't embarrass him in the pie shop in case he had said them only in a moment of passion. If he were to ever say those things again, they would emerge from his mouth first, not hers. They were such lovely and special words. She did hope - fingers crossed - under the table - that she might hear them once more.

"Well, Miss Analytical," he began, hands on the table now, his body facing forward and deep toward her across the table, a predator eyeing his prey, assuming the dominant position, the higher ground just like Obi-Wan Kenobi warned Darth Vader at the end of Star Wars Episode Three. He considered grabbing her hands and holding them, but didn't want to scare her, "when I arrived at your apartment last night to meet Jeff for some beers before the show, well, you offered to make me a cup of coffee."

"That's it? Coffee?"

"And then you asked me about my mother," he said, quieting the room while they both started to feel things, awkward things, but loving things, at the same time, "you knew she was having a check up and you followed up."

"Of course," she answered seriously, "I'm so glad she's healthy."

"No, you don't get it," he argued, like this was the whole point, Freya, "every time I come to your house, it's welcoming, its safe. You offer me a cup of coffee, something to eat, like it's nineteen goddamn fifty. And you ask me about my mother..."

"My grandmother always did that..."

"It's like you know that there's this piece of me, inside of me, that's always scared about it - my mother - and you know that - you observe that - its like you know my secret. And you ask me, and you smile, and you listen. You're a stand up girl, Freya Louise. You're a stand-up woman...And I can't believe you said me."

"I said yes."

"Say it"


"Say it again"


"I want to you. I just want to be near you...and your goodness."

The Girl took a forkful of pie and quickly put it in Jerome's mouth to hush him up. It was hard for her to hear so much about herself. She was supposed to be self-deprecating.

Then he kissed her, with the purple colored pie stuffed in his mouth, on her cheeks...over and over again...moving from her cheeks, to her soft neck, which smelled liked magnolias and reminded him of college down south. He felt young all over again. Still young.

The shop was closing. The suspicious, now annoyed pastry chef began to lift chairs and drop them loudly on top of the tables to get the (now)and (new)couple's attention.


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Why Pool Hustlers are Important

Neophyte or not, when one thinks of the game of pool the names that come to mind are usually Fast Eddie Felson or Minnesota Fats. The former is a fictional pool hustler brilliantly portrayed by Paul Newman in the films, “The Hustler,” and “The Color of Money.” The latter was a real pool hustler, who cunningly leveraged the film, “The Hustler,” to become a globally recognized entertainer who occasionally sat beside Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show,” and whose TV matches against Willie Mosconi were emceed by famed sportscaster, Howard Cosell.

The movie, “The Hustler,” premiered in 1961. Thirty-five years later, Martin Scorsese helmed the sequel, “The Color of Money,” and Paul Newman won a Best Actor Oscar by playing a subterranean American folk hero – a pool hustler – in it.

“…steal my daddy’s cue and make a living out of playing pool” - Rod Stewart, “Maggie May(1971)”

Star power aside, both movies were critical and box office successes and proved that not only is there a global audience for pool lore and storytelling from a dramatic standpoint, but pool never stops being cool. It never stops being fashionable, it never stops piquing one’s interest.

When there’s a pool table around – at a bar – let’s say – and someone starts running the table – you notice, you watch. It’s fun to watch. It’s almost as much fun to watch a game of pool up close, as to play it. And if a pretty girl gets up and makes a few choice shots, perhaps leaning over the table and focusing on her cue ball target –well, every guy in the room will take notice and ask if they can play against her. Even for amateurs, the game of pool is seductive, highly competitive, enthralling, and a great way to meet people.

In “The Color of Money,” an aging Fast Eddie’s poor eyes and gray hair do little to distract him from playing the great love of his life – the game of pool. Like cards and chess, pool happens to be a game that you can play and compete in your whole life. Intelligence can supersede athleticism.

“Listen, in what other sport besides pool can a guy like Willie Hoppe win the world championship two times: at eighteen and 61? Like I said, pool's kept me young, you know? “ – Freddy "The Beard" Bentivegna quoted in Bruce Wexler's feature article "The Shooters" published in the Chicago Reader October 14, 1977

Did you know that Sports Illustrated magazine used to have a section devoted to pool? Did you know none other than noteworthy magazine The Paris Review's Founder, George Plimpton, used to hang out with Minnesota Fats and watch him play in the late nineteen sixties? Not only Plimpton - but other members of the East and West Coast Intelligentsia, artists, celebrities and scions of business were enamored with the sport. Famed society columnist Igor Cassini, when escorted to his first pool room in New York City, said it best when he claimed "This is one of the most undervalued assets in America."

Let’s explain why pool hustling exists from an economic standpoint. First off, there’s just only so much money a pool player can make at a tournament. Tournaments - although highly lauded in Europe and South East Asia let’s say – are few and far between here in the US, and even for those lucky enough to get a payout – it’s not enough to make a living. There are also far more players than there are tournament entries. Competition is fierce, there’s no question; but there is something lacking in a tournament – great risk, danger perhaps. And that – combined with the ability to gamble and earn enough money to make a living – to keep doing what you love – is why you do it. Why you can’t just be a pool player; you have to be a pool hustler or a pool shark.

If you ask most players how they became great at pool, they won’t say it’s from playing in tournaments, they’ll say it’s from hustling and gambling on the road. Hustling encompasses different pool tables, rooms, geographical areas, American dialects, economic and racial backgrounds, and personalities. Roger Federer wouldn’t be a champion tennis player if he didn’t know how to play on clay as well as grass. A dome team wouldn’t be able to win a Super Bowl if they didn’t know how to win a game in Green Bay in January.

Hustling pool often involves a lot of time spent traveling, finding players, new and old, to gamble with and hope to beat out of money. You also have to find financial backers to put up the money, and then the players play for a percentage.

“Shark” and “Hustler” have negative connotations in the American landscape – and it has been argued distract from the legitimacy of pool as a great game. However, nine times out of ten, sharks or rounders are only playing other sharks or rounders. Even if the designated opponent is not a shark themselves, they are guilty of their own larceny for trying to win money from the shark. You can’t be sharked if you are not trying to shark someone yourself. For the most part hustling pool is just slang for playing the game of pool for a monetary reward, and in most cases, to earn a living among and from fellow sharks with the same goal in mind as you.

Pool hustling is also closely aligned with the American Dream – the Horatio Alger story. You can make a name for yourself, climb a ladder and make money if you work hard. The best part about being a pool hustler is the power of reinvention. The pool room is a meritocracy that rises above race, ethnicity, economic background and especially age.

Don’t we all want to reinvent ourselves to our better self –our super ego – the Captain America hidden within us? Wasn’t that Stan Lee’s point? Why he’s making millions of dollars and multiple movies a year? Because everyone wants to believe they are special and that they can rise above their circumstances and become super? That we all have innate talents and skill sets that might never get noticed by an untrained eye?

A hustler, with the right discipline, determination, chutzpah, can get rich quick, or lose it all any day of the week…

No one knows Peter Parker is actually Spiderman. But at night, he takes on this other persona, and is extraordinary, a hero, a piece of folklore. But most people just think he’s a poor orphan from Queens.

That’s what I’m trying to get to – pool hustlers are mostly Peter Parkers – who come out at night – not in costume, but with their weapon of choice – a pool cue – and a new name – and become something extraordinary, something special.

Cards vs. Pool

Much fanfare has been given to card players and sharks in America. From televised card games on cable channels to the cult hit film, “Rounders (1998).”

Most poker players don’t go on the road the way pool hustlers do. They have casinos to ply their trade. Pool hustlers have to enter the heart of Americana to ply theirs. Whether it’s at a bowling alley in a tiny southern resort town, the Boys and Girls Club in Jersey City, or the local dive bar, there is action almost everywhere, all types, and speeds. People play pool for money, just like cards. America is filled with places to play pool.

There is also something special about any sport which casts one opponent against another. Pool is NOT a team sport. Pool is a lot like tennis –and the most mainstream example closely aligned. It’s a game that’s psychological as well as physical. Remember the famed 2001 US Open Agassi vs. Sampras? Tie breaker, after tie breaker until one athlete changed the direction of his fate and nearly destroyed the will of his opponent – just like a superhero, just like a prize fighter. This type of game happens nearly every night in a pool room. And there’s no blaming your offensive line when you get sacked like in football. It’s all on you – that’s pool.

Plus, there is a financial obligation of a player that is not found in any other sport as you must put up your own money to participate and gamble with. What if the players and managers of the loveable loser team - the Chicago Cubs - had to gamble a portion of their own salaries on every game they played? Wouldn’t they play differently? Wouldn’t they give every game their all? Wouldn’t they have won the World Series already? Wouldn’t they have come back - guns blazing- after Bartman stole an out from them in game 6 against the Florida Marlins - if they knew if they lost they couldn’t eat dinner that night? That they would have to walk or take the bus home from Wrigley Field? That their car might get repossessed? The same can be said of politicians – they certainly wouldn’t green light such big checks if they were being withdrawn from their own bank account. Imagine the pressure! That’s pool.

In sum, one might argue it’s much easier to find an A game when your own tuchas is on the line. That’s the differentiator in the sport of pool. And why pool hustling is important and why its value is so beyond a simple entertainment of balls on a table being shot into pockets.

Pool players might be the least spoiled athletes in America, and yet have to exude high levels of strength, intelligence and confidence while risking their own cash.

In a card game, yes, it’s all on you; however, one can feed on the group dynamic and learn a lot about competitors on the faces of the players within the group. There’s an advantage playing cards if you have the ability to capitalize on it. You don’t have this tactic in a game of pool.

Poker is a billion dollar business with recognizable names like the late Amarillo Slim, but did you know that Slim was also a top-notch One pocket pool player? Whereas most of the action for poker is in a casino, one can find a pool table and play a game – for money – or just for fun – almost anywhere in America. That’s why its America’s game, just as much as baseball and football. The UK has Billiards and Snooker, and we’ve got pool. Rounders are poker players who travel and hustle for cash, and well, pool hustlers are their kissing cousins.

When a card player isn’t at a casino or at the racetrack, he’s at the pool room. It’s a place where one can sit back and watch and learn. A pool room is a safe venue for gamers of all types to congregate and gamble.

Opportunity for Celebrity Pool Tournaments

Two-time Super Bowl winning New York Giant, now former player, Jason Tuck has had five years at the helm of a celebrity pool tournament which has raised two million dollars for his literacy campaign, R.U.S.H for Literacy, plus a few other charities.

The question to ask is - why aren't there more of these? Celebrities love pool!

Why The Beard is the Successor to Minnesota Fats

Minnesota Fats has been gone a good long while now, and although he did a tremendous job being an ambassador for pool, the time has come for a new ambassador to be anointed - someone who spends almost every second of every day promoting all things pool. And who better to accept this role than a player who grew up under Fat’s tutelage, has traveled far and wide across America for the last fifty years, gaining first-hand knowledge from the masters and treating pool as a highly respected science that it is?
You can be a great athlete, a great player, a great scientist, but personality is important. That’s what made Fats so popular. He was a remarkable talent, but he also had a great personality. He was a great storyteller. People wanted to be in his company and just hang around him to get a laugh, or to get a few tips of coveted pool insight. Personality, respect, and screen presence is often hard to find in an athlete.

But here we have someone as book smart as he is street smart, who isn’t regurgitating second and third hand information on the history and current state of pool, but was there – in the room – watching the story and legend unfold. Trusted pal of the lady players as much as the gents, and who is able to deliver the story back to an audience –with the charm and wit of Tony Soprano after a very good day at the track?

Let me introduce The Successor to Minnesota Fats, The Foremost Pool Scientist of America – Freddy “The Beard” Bentivegna. The Keeper of The Flame that is pool hustling. Who recently helped break the first new story on Fats in many years – that Fats’ real daughter, Juanita, has been discovered, and was thanked personally for the scoop by pool sports writer R.A. “Jake” Dyer in his Billiard Digest article.

Beard is the man top players around the world come to for advice and nurture; he is in the Bank Pool Hall of Fame, he is the emcee of the One Pocket Hall of Fame dinner, and a lauded sports commentator. He’s a freelance contributor to Billiard Digest and Inside Pool magazines. He’s a favorite pool commentator for Accu-Stats. He is the author of two bestselling instructional books, “Banking with the Beard,” and “Banks That Don’t Go, But Do,” and the accompanying DVDs. He’s the guy people of all backgrounds, regardless of pool knowledge, congregate around to hear stories and hilarious and unique one-liners. It’s the same exact attention Fats earned in his day. And Fats was a super star. If he was on TV he delivered high ratings. We need the Successor of Minnesota Fats back on TV!

The Beard’s latest book, “The ‘Encyclopedia’ of Pool Hustlers,” is a catalog of subterranean, authentically American, folk tales of the world of pool for the last fifty years. This page turner will open the eyes of any sociologist or American studies professor interested in the history of American gaming. It chronicles life on the road in the second half of the twentieth century, and gives the mainstream world ownership of uniquely American folk heroes. Just like a door-to-door salesman selling his wares on the road, the great pool hustlers sold their pool prowess to pay the bills and hone their craft. The rounders of pool are pool hustlers – that’s why they’re important.

Read the Beard’s latest book, and take a journey into a world of Supermen and Lex Luthors, of Jimmy Connors and John McEnroes, of Alis and Fraziers. Learn about our American heritage. Of how men and women made a living doing what they loved and created their own unique myths and fairytales. How these men and women related to the fabric of America including celebrities, politicians and businessmen. As stated earlier, pool is always cool.

And hear first hand from The Beard, through his unique vernacular of a Bee-Bopper and road man from the South Side of Chicago, tell stories often stranger than fiction that will titillate and delight. His Frank Deford maturity and reverence is perfectly balanced with his slapstick Fats storytelling found in every interview he’s ever done – whether in print, TV or radio. He speaks in rounders - to the next level - secret codes and language that are found in his ‘Encyclopedia.’

Freddy The Beard Bentivegna - fan of many; America’s Pool Ambassador, and a role model of a life well-lived.

Goosebump Goddess

"Tell me, the dream , again..." "Well, it's night, and New York is particularly quiet. It's not necessarily late at...