Thanks to Neil Sentance for drawing our attention to this fantastic piece of writing by Norman Maclean on the Lapham’s Quaterly website. Norman will be known to most of our readers, I’m sure, as the author of ‘A River Runs Through It’ (‘In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing’). Here, he talks of his other passion, billiards.
Norman Maclean Learns From the Master
I would never have exchanged a single word with physicist Albert Michelson, the Master of Light, if I had not been brought up in western Montana, where all my generation spent more time in what were then called card-and-billiard parlors than in school or at home. In the early part of this century, the card-and-billiard emporium was “the home away from home,” and home was only where we ate and slept. Usually, the first table was the billiard table, because in Montana billiards was thought of as the sport of the upper class and was played only by the town’s best barbers and the one vice president of the bank. Then came three pool tables with dead cushions and concrete balls that hairy loggers hit so hard they jumped off the tables. At the rear, enthroned by several steps as at the Quadrangle Club, was the card room, in the center of which was the poker table under an enormous green shade. In the glare of the circle of light were always two or three poker players trying to look clumsy. They were housemen or “shills” waiting for some lumberjack to drop by who had just cashed his summer’s check. If you were any good at cards yourself, you could see it was hard work for them to look clumsy.