Saturday, April 9, 2011

Hustling. What's in your blood?

My grandfather was a pool-hall hustler. He couldn't read or write but he eventually owned the 42nd Street Oyster Bar in Raleigh, North Carolina -- and he could shoot some pool.

This story is going to lead me to my nephew -- now a senior in college -- who has achieved amazing feats in his life (that deserve a post all their own). Suffice to say for now, he can balance a chair on his chin while playing the piano -- extremely well. He can balance a lot of things on his chin. He's an unusually gifted human.

This nephew was on a spring break trip and happened upon a pool competition of some sort. He'd only played pool a few times with my father (whose father-in-law was the hustler). My dad took him up to a pool hall on Main Street and he shot around a couple of time -- over a decade ago.

But my nephew winds up paying into the competition -- just a little up front money. And he starts playing. It all makes sense to him. He plays intuitively -- against solid competition, people who've been playing all their lives and some of whom are now in their 50s. It's a real crowd. He keeps working his way from round to round, people getting knocked out. And, in the packed pool hall with people shouting and hooting as they watch him in the semi-finals, he plays a hugely defensive game and wins. He makes it all the way to the finals, where he's finally taken down.

I've talked about time an awful lot here on this blog. I've praised hours and drive. I've said, "You can't teach ambition."

But then there's this kid who comes along -- and he's good at almost everything, and, yes, he puts hours into fixed concentration, but never pool. A couple of boring, dusty afternoons when he was ten? That hardly counts. I saw WANTED. I know that guy had a genetic gift to slow time (a la Ted Williams, as he talked about hitting the ball dependent on how he read the red stitching) and shoot wings off of flies.

The expert on expertise, Anders Ericsson, would say -- I'm guessing -- that my nephew has some innate eye-hand, but still to compete internationally it would take all of those drilled-in hours, no matter what, no way around it.

But, still, I like to think about what's handed down, what's been given to each of us innately, and how some natural ability could be riding just beneath the surface of any one of us, untapped.

Damn, can something as odd as pool be in the blood?