Author Archive: Christopher Waldrop

Christmas Surprise.

Nowawadays travel is easy, or at least easier than it used to be. You can use the web to look up schedules, maps, points of interest, and even estimate times–you can plan out a whole itinerary without leaving your chair. This doesn’t prevent accidents from happening or things going badly–the best laid plans of mice and travelers, you know–which is something I thought about while listening to “The Holiday Coping Mechanism Spectacular” episode of The Hilarious World Of Depression podcast. Host John Moe shares a story about the year he and his wife decided to skip seeing their families for the holidays and take their young children to Sequim, Washington, which, as soon as he mentioned it, I added to my list of places I want to go, which, admittedly, covers pretty much the entire planet, but that’s another story. The trip wasn’t exactly disastrous, but it wasn’t as happy as they hoped either. No spoilers–go listen. You won’t regret it.

And it took me back to a place I’ve visited several times–metaphorically, since I haven’t been able to go really go back since I last passed through in 1991. While I’ve mentioned the little Welsh town of Carmarthen in previous yarns about my pilgrimage to the home of Dylan Thomas I’ve never given it the space it deserves. It was purely an accident that I found myself there, and even though I was just passing through I kind of fell in love with the place.

The first time I even heard of Carmarthen it was just a dot on the map, the end of the train line but close to my intended destination. And also I’m very much a freewheeling traveler. The best thing on any trip, for me, is to be surprised, which is why I set off on so many journeys without a clear idea where I’m going. The best part of any journey is the journey itself when you don’t have a destination. So I left Swansea on a rickety train that I’m pretty sure dated back to, and may have even been built by, George Stephenson. It was dark and cloudy most of the trip and then pouring rain by the time we pulled into the Carmarthen station. It was late on Saturday night and without realizing it I’d taken the last train. It was in the train station that I found the information I’d need for my second, and more successful, trip to the home of Dylan Thomas. Still I was stuck spending that night in Carmarthen and, because everything in Wales shuts down on Sundays, I wouldn’t be able to take the train back until late the next afternoon.

On that second trip I was, of course, better prepared: I made it to Dylan Thomas’s home and then took the last bus back to Carmarthen. I struck up a conversation with a guy on the bus who informed me he’d never met an American before. We made plans to meet up later at the pub, although we didn’t specify which pub and Carmarthen, small town that it is, has about fifty pubs. And anyway when I got off the bus I stepped right into an enormous crowd. I wouldn’t be surprised if the entire town was there because it was the lighting of the town Christmas tree. The mayor of Carmarthen was there with the city council and he made a nice speech wishing everyone a happy holiday season then turned on the lights. Everyone cheered and started milling around and going to pubs. I went in to one too and spent the rest of the evening talking to several nice people who informed me I was the first American they’d ever met. Before that I shook hands with the mayor, although I didn’t get to talk to him, unfortunately, because I might have been the first American he ever met.

It was a month before Christmas but being there for the lighting of the Carmarthen tree, to be able to spend an evening with the people who lived there, to share in their holiday spirit and their pride in the little Welsh town at the end of the train line, was a fantastic gift. And the best part is I hadn’t even planned it.

Lights Out.

Source: Things You Wouldn’t Know If We Didn’t Blog Intermittently.

When I was a kid I begged my parents to get Christmas lights for our house. We’d drive by other houses with Christmas lights and I always thought they looked so fantastic. I thought it must be wonderful for the people who lived in those houses to have those lights right there all the time. I didn’t think about the problems of running electricity outside, storage, or the annual disentangling of the wires. As anyone who’s ever dealt with them knows that strings of Christmas lights get bored sitting in the attic eleven months of the year and amuse themselves by seeing just how tangled they can get. Either that or they’re mating, a prospect I find highly unlikely because I’ve never known Christmas lights to increase in number. Or maybe they’re wrestling, which is why one bulb is always knocked out, but that’s another story.

Anyway, my parents did finally get some outdoor Christmas lights and strung them up around a couple of holly bushes on either side of the house. It was subdued and tasteful, which is probably just as well since we lived on a cul-de-sac. And I realized something about Christmas lights: they’re not that interesting from inside the house. People passing by might see them and smile but if they’re your lights chances are the only times you’ll notice them are when you put them up and take them down. The neighbors, on the other hand, might see your lights all the time.

At about the same time some friends of my parents who lived on another cul-de-sac had a neighbor who put up what was, even for the ’80’s, a garish and extravagant amount of decorations. There were at least nine Santas–three of which were on the roof and threatening to collide, elves, giant candles, light-up snowmen, and lights, lights, lights over everything. It was on the news–and was noted for being one of three such displays around the city–and caused traffic jams as people came from all over to gawk. Did the guy who lived in the house care? Did he even notice? After all he was in the house.

One year I lived in a house next door to someone who set up an elaborate Christmas display. I have to give the neighbor credit: it wasn’t gaudy or tasteless. It was, in fact, a matched set of trains and candy canes and snowmen and a jolly Santa, all made out of blinking LEDs. About seven-hundred million of them, which was the problem. It was so bright I swear I could hear the damn thing–it sounded like The Magic Roundabout theme. I’m pretty sure it used up more electricity than the state of Wyoming. He left it on all night long, and my room faced his house. When I went to bed and closed the curtains the light burned through and looked like flickering flames.

All of which makes me wonder: Was the Grinch born that way or was he made?



No Business Like Shoe Business.

The package landing on our porch was a surprise even though it was the holiday season. My wife and I weren’t expecting anything, having gotten every package we’d ordered, and, as far as we knew, anything that everyone we knew was going to send us had already arrived. Since it was just two days before Christmas whoever had sent the package was cutting it pretty close. And then I checked the delivery address and found it wasn’t for us. This wasn’t surprising. Our regular mail carrier regularly slipped our neighbors’ mail in with ours, and probably vice versa too, but I didn’t mind. Sometimes I’d put the mail back in the box and let it sort itself out and sometimes I’d walk to the neighbor’s house and usually I was early enough that they hadn’t gotten their mail yet, so I’d just slip what I had into their mailbox and if they had gotten their mail I’d still slip what I had into their mailbox and assumed it would just sort itself out. And on some occasions I talked to one of the neighbors, and older man. He’d look through his mail and say, “Well, this is crap, this is crap, more crap,” and then he’d thank me and we’d talk a little. And that’s how I learned he was ninety-two and his wife had passed away a year earlier, and one day he told me he’d just remarried and that his new wife was ninety, all of which I thought was the height of optimism. I didn’t ask but I assumed the wedding was a quiet affair, probably done at city hall without any fanfare. I didn’t ask because I preferred to believe the wedding was a big gala with a banner that read “Here’s To The Future!” and that as the happy couple ran to the limo that would take them to their honeymoon in, let’s say Poughkeepsie, the guests all threw nitroglycerin tablets.

Anyway the package was small and rectangular and heavy for its size. I thought it might be a fruitcake and that its intended recipient had left it on our porch to get rid of it, and I have heard stories of families that pass around the same fruitcake from year to year, which makes me think it’s fruitcakes passing fruitcake, and I’ve never heard of anyone passing a fruitcake on to a complete stranger. The fruitcake theory was further bolstered by the name of the company on the box which was something like Rjujsjnk, which I thought might be Dutch, and if there’s one thing the Dutch are famous for it’s pastries that can be used as building material, and if there are two things they’re famous for the other one is using “j” as a vowel. And also Van Gogh, windmills, dams, funny hats, being extremely blonde, tulips, dairy products, a pretty decent system of government, and Amsterdam where you can wander through the red light district and then walk purposely to a cafe where you can sit and smoke a spliff the size of your head in a desperate effort to forget what you just saw a woman wearing lingerie in a glass booth do with a chicken, also wearing lingerie, but that’s another story.

The odd thing was the delivery address wasn’t our street. As I said, normally we got the neighbors’ mail, and it was only a couple of blocks over which, I guess, is still the same neighborhood, so still neighbors, just not anybody whose house I’d normally walk to. And since it was dark and cold I really didn’t want to walk so I threw the box in the passenger seat and set off into the night. It was supposed to be an easy mission, but it was a part of the neighborhood I wasn’t used to. I made a couple of wrong turns and had to backtrack a few times, and then, once I found the house, I couldn’t find the right number. This was mainly because it was dark and I couldn’t see the house numbers on mailboxes or on the houses themselves, but finally I got the right house. I thought about leaving the package in the mailbox and letting it sort itself out, but I could see people in the house through their big front window where they were gathered around their nice big Christmas tree, and they’d seen me, and I thought it would look weird if I left something in their mailbox. So I went up to the door and knocked. A woman answered and I handed over the package.

“Oh, thank goodness!” she exclaimed. She’d been tracking the package and knew it was misdelivered but didn’t know where and she was afraid she’d never get it.

“Well,” I said, “enjoy your fruitcake.”

“Oh, it’s not fruitcake!” she said. “It’s some special shoes I ordered for a Christmas event.”

And that’s when I noticed that she and her husband and children were all blonde and if there’s one thing the Dutch are also known for it’s wooden shoes and I got out of there in a hurry when her husband yelled, “The chicken’s ready!”


Live And Let Live: 2017.

Every year on the first night of Hanukkah I take a moment to remember a squirrel. This is a revised version of a previous post.

Gassing the woodchucks didn’t turn out right.

The knockout bomb from the Feed and Grain Exchange

was featured as merciful, quick at the bone

and the case we had against them was airtight,

both exits shoehorned shut with puddingstone,

but they had a sub-sub-basement out of range.

-Maxine Kumin, Woodchucks

I have a contract with the squirrels. They may not consider it legally binding but it should be understood by both of us that they’re supposed to stay out of my attic and not come in to make nests in the insulation and chew the rafters and wiring. Since I can’t retaliate by moving into their nests in the trees I reserve the right to set traps in the attic. A few years ago I woke up to squirrels or mice or used car salesmen or some other kind of vermin scrabbling around in the ceiling over my head. I set traps in the attic and whatever it was avoided the traps and went away. I like to think it or they saw the traps and said, “Holy mackerel, let’s move to some place safer like a nuclear reactor!” This is the way it should work. In December, though, a few dumb squirrels moved in and were holding cocktail parties well past midnight. I announced the terms of our agreement very loudly as I set out traps smeared with peanut butter. I didn’t really want to set the traps, primarily because that meant going up in the attic, which meant climbing that rickety wooden ladder. The ladder has two warnings on it. One, in huge print, says, “Failure to use ladder correctly could result in damage to the ladder!” As far as I can tell “failure to use ladder correctly” means dousing it with gasoline and setting it on fire. The other warning, in fine print, says, “Oh yeah, you might also hurt yourself, so please take off those stupid slippers and put on some real shoes.” But the real problem is I don’t like heights, or, to be more specific, landing at the bottom of them. I get the shakes when I stand on a chair. Once in the attic I’m fine because I’m on solid ground again, or at least solid plywood over that insulation that looks like cotton candy but tastes much better. It’s the climbing part that gets to me, especially since I have to use at least one hand to carry the traps. I use the spring bar traps, the kind that are sold under the slogan, “Build a better mouse trap and the world will beat a path to your door,” except I use the larger ones. The slogan for the large ones is: “These will cut your fingers off.” I could pride myself on being able to set these traps and position them with the steady hands of a neurosurgeon or bomb defuser, but there’s nothing good about any part of the job.

In her poem “Woodchucks” Maxine Kumin goes from killing the woodchucks with poison gas to picking them off with a gun. It ends with her saying there’s one woodchuck who eludes her, and she concludes, “If only they’d all consented to die unseen/gassed underground the quiet Nazi way.” It’s not a perfect metaphor, although if it were it wouldn’t be a metaphor. The only perfect metaphor that I know of in English literature is, “a rose is a rose is a rose”. There was no justification for the Nazi concentration camps. The woodchucks, on the other hand, threatened Kumin’s food supply, or at least her rhubarb and brussels sprouts. Interspecies violence is, like it or not, part of nature, and often fundamental to survival. The squirrels don’t know this, of course, any more than Kumin’s woodchucks who saw her garden as an open buffet. When I set traps for the squirrels it wasn’t because of an irrational and unnecessary prejudice against them. It was because they could chew through an electric cord and burn the house down, which would mean we’d all be out of a place to live. And I hoped the squirrels would see the traps and leave. Unfortunately it didn’t work that way. I took several squirrels, their necks broken, to the garbage. Then one night I found a squirrel wounded but still alive in one of the traps. I knew I couldn’t let it go. Even if it survived its injury, even if it avoided being run over by a car, even if it escaped neighborhood dogs, stray cats, coyotes, foxes, owls, hawks, werewolves, and pangolins it would just get back into the house. And if it didn’t it was still in excruciating pain. I’d caused it to suffer and I had a responsibility to end that suffering. I knew all this, but I wasn’t looking forward to what I had to do either. I put the trap with the squirrel still in it into a white plastic garbage bag and took it out to the driveway. I got a shovel out of the basement. The squirrel struggled a little in the bag, which I appreciated because it told me exactly where to hit. I wanted to make this as quick and merciful as possible for both of us. I nearly lost my nerve at the last minute. My wife had suggested I use a hatchet, but I didn’t want to do that because I’d actually have to look at the squirrel.

A history teacher once told me that Mary Queen of Scots, as she approached the chopping block, turned to her executioner and said, “Be mercifully quick.” Her request apparently made him lose his nerve; it took him three tries to finish the job.

After the clang of the shovel faded, I heard someone a few houses away in their backyard practicing “Jingle Bells” on a flute. For some reason this song always makes me think of people and woodland animals sharing the sleigh ride together, a sort of Eden with snow and blinking lights. The sun had just set, and in the stillness I realized that in some houses and places of worship the first candle of the menorah had either been lit or was about to be lit. I’m not Jewish. I’m not even religious in any traditional sense, but I know Hanukkah is a holiday that celebrates hope and perseverance. It’s about a miracle of light and life–one day’s worth of oil burning for eight–coming to people who have just been through darkness and death. It’s a celebration by people who survived an all-out attempt to wipe them off the face of the Earth. I also understand that over a thousand years ago two rabbis, Shammai and Hillel, had competing ideas about how Hanukkah should be celebrated. Rabbi Shammai said all candles should be lit on the first night and then one extinguished on each night as a literal representation of the diminishing oil. Rabbi Hillel said that one candle should be lit each night so on the final night all eight candles would blaze with glory. Instead of increasing darkness there would be growing light and hope. Hillel’s tradition is the one that’s survived. None of this has anything to do with the squirrels, but it all came to me anyway. I was glad for Hillel’s tradition; glad that lights were being lit against the dark. I didn’t feel compelled to think about all these things as I emptied the trap at the edge of the circle of light from the patio. I was glad for what seemed like a conspiracy by the universe to make me feel bad about what I’d done. I deserved it. I can rationalize until I’m blue in the face. I can say that even though one-fourth of all mammal species are presently in danger of extinction squirrels aren’t one of them. I can say that at least I’m not actually harming another person, and that through history people have done terrible things to other people with less justification than I have for killing the squirrels in the attic. Nothing I can say changes the fact that, hokey as it sounds, I don’t want to be directly responsible for the deaths of squirrels. The Netsiliks, like other so-called primitive peoples, had specific rituals for killing seals, polar bears, and other animals they depended on for food. The Netsiliks said the rituals release the spirit of the animals back to the wild so they could return in earthly form. It’s a way of acknowledging their dependence on other species. I don’t think the disappearance of squirrels would tip the balance and lead to the extinction of homo sapiens, but being too casual about extermination does threaten us all. As long as the traps were killing them I could shirk responsibility. I was just a caretaker; the traps were doing the work. When the trap failed, I had to face my own role in squirrelicide.

I realized I’d have to take the ladder outside, quit my whining about my fear of heights, find where the squirrels were getting in, and seal it up. It was up to me to keep them out, because ultimately that was the only way to prevent more deaths. I’m pretty sure that, somewhere in the contract, it says that I’m responsible for this because I’m the one with a memory, a conscience, and, for that matter, a big warm attic full of nesting material. It must be in the fine print.

Citation Needed.

Source: Harlaxton Manor

My alarm hadn’t gone off, but I was up and wide awake anyway. Maybe this was because, for once, I’d gone to bed at a reasonable hour after an evening of diligent work and studying.

During my higher education I spent a semester overseas in Britain, living in and going to classes in Britain’s Harlaxton Manor, which has been featured in several movies and TV shows, including the new series Victoria in which it played a chateau in Normandy, and I wonder what the original owners would have thought about being moved to France, but that’s another story.

I won’t claim to have been a model student. Harlaxton was a womb with a view and it was really hard to not get caught up in getting an education in things that had nothing to do with, well, getting an education, but there were times when I really tried. As the end of the semester approached I really did start to buckle down and work hard, frequently going so far as to carry my textbooks with me to the pub. And there were also scheduled school activities outside the school, like the class trip to Stratford-On-Avon which, as you know, is where Shakespeare was born and had a family and now boasts some of the biggest gift shops in all of Britain. We’d be touring Shakespeare’s home, having lunch at Shakespeare’s pizza place, and then in the evening we were scheduled to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which I thought was kind of a strange play for winter, but, hey, it’s better than The Winter’s Tale.

Anyway I woke up early. As it turned out I woke up very early. I was stumbling through the hall when I bumped into John G., the only other person up at the time.

“What are you doing up this early, Chris?”

Good question. John G. was a big guy, an athlete, and always got up earlier than everyone else so he could spend forty-five minutes in the shower. He was one of those guys who could shave his chin completely smooth and would have a five o’clock shadow by the time he came downstairs. So I knew why he was up. Why was I up? Breakfast wouldn’t be served for an hour and a half and we wouldn’t leave until at least an hour after that. I muttered something and went back to my room, thinking I’d grab just another half hour of sleep.

When I woke up the manor was empty. Somehow my half hour had turned into a solid three hour doze and everyone was gone.

While a taxi was on its way to pick me up I grabbed a quick shower, got dressed, and guzzled a cup of tea. The taxi dropped me at the train station and I guzzled a couple more cups of tea while waiting for the train to Stratford-On-Avon. As I said I wasn’t a model student but I really wanted to go on this trip and while I wasn’t sure my absence had been noticed I hoped my dedication to catching up to the group would be appreciated. And, in fact, some time that evening as we were getting settled into our seats to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of my professors would glance my way, raise his eyebrows, and say, “I’m glad you could join us, Mr. Waldrop.”

On the train I somehow fell into a conversation with an older gentleman who was amused by my experience, and then we started talking about Shakespeare. He told me he was a scholar and had studied Shakespeare at Oxford.

“Do you know what the secret is to truly understanding Shakespeare?” he asked me, his blue eyes vivid over his half-moon spectacles.

“No,” I said. “Please tell me.” I had a paper due soon and final exams coming up. I needed anything that would help.

He raised a finger and said, “GUINNESS!”

Well, at least I was justified in taking my textbooks to the pub.


A Little Question Goes A Long Way.

A friend posed a striking philosophical question: can something be beautiful if it isn’t seen? Obviously the answer is no which made me think that maybe there was more to the question so I started rambling about whether a tree that falls in the forest with no one to hear it makes a sound. And there obviously the answer is no, although the tree falling does create the potential for sound–that is, it vibrates the air in a way that would be perceived as sound if anyone were around to hear it, unless the tree falls in a vacuum. That’s all a matter of physics, though, whereas the question of beauty is a matter of metaphysics. And it is an interesting question, one that brings to mind the heavy philosophy of Roland Barthes who, in his essay The Death Of The Author, considered the role of the reader, or, in the case of art, the role of the spectator, in creating the work. It’s a cooperative process, and in the case of graffiti it becomes multilayered. The utilitarian object, mass-produced, is repurposed as a canvas and made unique. And what is beauty, anyway? Clearly it’s subjective, neither universal nor measurable, with no specific standard.

That was probably a longer answer than he wanted.



The Christmas Play.

Like a lot of professional actors I first trod the boards in a school Christmas play. It was second grade and the play was the idea of Mrs. Knight, one of the greatest teacher’s I’d ever have. She had a Master’s degree in education which, surprisingly, did not interfere with her ability to teach. She encouraged us to use our imaginations and challenged us to think. She told us “There’s no such thing as a bad word,” and I said, “Holy shit!” because semantics is heavy stuff when you’re seven years old. She kept us apprised of current events in science. We built a papier-mâché solar system that stretched from one end of the classroom to the other and read about Jacques Cousteau’s undersea expeditions. She was also a big fan of Star Wars, which had just come out the summer before, and thought we should put on a Star Wars-themed Christmas play.

The plot was pretty straightforward: Darth Vader decides to steal Santa’s beard which, we learn, is the source of all of his magic power. It’s the beard that allows Santa Claus to fly around the entire globe in a single night, delivering toys without setting off alarm systems or getting shot. That amount of power would also presumably make rebuilding the Death Star a lot easier. Grounded on Christmas Eve Santa is desperate until Luke Skywalker makes a dramatic entrance and announces that he’ll carry the toys in his X-Wing fighter, or maybe the Millennium Falcon which, let’s face it, has a lot more cargo space, and deliver them, thus saving Christmas and giving Santa’s beard a year to grow back.

It was all very simple and observed the Aristotelian unities. It would be filled out with a few Christmas carols, accompanied by our music teacher Ms. McKraken on the piano. There was, I think, a subplot about Santa agreeing to help Han Solo pay off some debts to Jabba, but that ended up on the cutting room floor.

I was cast as C-3PO, because Mrs. Knight recognized that robots and British accents were a specialty of mine, but also because that’s who I’d been for Halloween so I still had the costume. And I was pretty excited because I’d never been in a play before, and it didn’t bother me that I only had one line. At least I had a line, unlike R2-D2 who didn’t even have a single beep and could easily have been played by a cardboard box. And, in fact, that’s what R2-D2 was: the smallest kid in the class inside a cardboard box. And I did try to expand the robot roles by writing a duet for C-3PO and R2-D2. I gave it directly to Mrs. Knight, since I didn’t have an agent at the time. She liked it but it too ended up on the cutting room floor, or maybe in the trash can over by the coats, since it did nothing to move the main narrative forward, but that’s another story.

My one line was “R2 and I will shoot the toys down the chimney with our laser guns.”

It was so clumsy and stilted it could have been written by Lucas himself, and then there were the logistical issues. Even if a blaster could be refitted to shoot toys instead of high energy photons, in less than twenty-four hours, C-3PO could barely hold a gun, let alone shoot one. Still, the theater always requires a certain amount of suspension of disbelief, and on the big day we took our places on the stage and almost everyone delivered their lines on cue.

It wasn’t stage fright and I didn’t forget my line. I just forgot when I was supposed to say it. Fortunately Ms. McKraken was there to give me a gentle nudge. I said my line. Then, as we all went into a rousing chorus of “We Wish You A Merry Christmas”, I looked out over the audience and, like so many who’ve been in Christmas plays, realized that was where I belonged: in the audience.

He Was Grrreat!

Source: Wikipedia

You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch,

You really are a heeeeellll….

If you’ve seen the 1966 animated classic Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! you’re probably hearing that song in your head now, but do you know who sang it? Now, before you went to Google and looked it up did you know who sang it? The narration was done by Boris Karloff, but the song “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” was sung by Thurl Ravenscroft whose name was accidentally left out of the credits, which is extraordinary because I can’t imagine a copywriter passing up the chance to type out the name Thurl Ravenscroft. It’s not as though we’re talking about Howard Keel. How could you forget the name Thurl Ravenscroft? There may even be bloggers who write posts about the song just as an excuse to write out the name Thurl Ravenscroft, but that’s another story.

So, aside from the man with a fantastic name and a voice that registers on seismographs who was Thurl Ravenscroft? Born February 6th, 1922, he was a voice actor and singer who lent his voice to several animated productions, many of them Disney films beginning with 1941’s Dumbo. He was also a founding member of a singing quartet called The Mellomen who also recorded under the name Big John and The Buzzards, and sang backup for several singers, including Elvis Presley. A devout Christian he also recorded albums of hymns and wanted to be the voice of an audio version of the entire Bible but James Earl Jones was selected instead. Even though James Earl Jones is an excellent actor with a great voice, though, he doesn’t have a name like Thurl Ravenscroft. Thurl Ravenscroft did, however, provide the voice of Darth Vader for a Donny and Marie Osmond Star Wars sketch, although the less said about that the better.

For more than fifty years Thurl Ravenscroft also provided the voice of Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes mascot Tony The Tiger. In a 2004 interview originally published in Hogan’s Alley: The Magazine Of The Cartoon Arts Ravenscroft mentioned that he’d been doing the voice of Tony for fifty-three years. It would be his last interview before his death in May 2005.

And now that you know you’re unlikely to forget Thurl Ravenscroft.

Rocket Man.

Many years ago when I was in Britain I fell in love. And how could I not? Snooker is unbelievably complicated but also elegant and fun and I was absolutely smitten from the first moment I picked up a cue and potted a red ball. Granted I was, and still am, not very good at it, although there was a professor who fancied himself a bit of a snooker shark and liked to put other players in what he thought were impossible situations. And somehow I could always find my way out and he’d grudgingly say, “Nice shot,” but that’s another story.

Ronnie O’Sullivan, whose birthday is today, is an amazing snooker player, staggering to watch.  Here is twenty years, and in record time, earning him the nickname “The Rocket”. If you’re unfamiliar here’s how it works: the game starts with fifteen red balls, worth one point each, and six balls of other colors—yellow (2 points), green (3 points), brown (4 points), blue (5 points), pink (6 points), and black (7 points)—on the table. A player must pocket a red ball first for one point and then can pocket a ball of any other color for the corresponding points. The red balls stay pocketed but the other balls are replaced until the red balls are gone. Then the player must pocket the other balls in order. If one player accidentally sinks the wrong ball the other player gets the points and the turn.

Ronnie O’Sullivan is the master of the nice shot.

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