RH: How did you first get interested in this
project? You talk in your book about your love of
snooker and billiards as a youth...
DM: ...and ever since then, which was quite some time
ago, I've had a great love for the games. I met Tony
Annigoni at the Q Club in San Francisco (which has since
become Hollywood Billiards), when he had just opened the
club. I took some lessons from him, watched him play
matches, and was really impressed with the way that he
played and handled himself. He's very articulate, has a
great approach to the game, very analytical and
philosophical. I thought, "This would be a great guy to take
on the road," so I asked him if he was interested, and when
he was, I wrote a book proposal.
RH: One of the things that comes across right
away in the book is his methodic approach.
DM: He's a very workmanlike player, very serious.
RH: You played in high-class billiards clubs and
hole-in-the-wall pool halls in bad neighborhoods.
Were there any moments during the tour when you two
feared for your physical safety?
DM: Two or three times, which we managed to get away
from in every case. The hall in the back of a warehouse
outside Baltimore was one of those times. The first weekend
was fairly tense as well, in Seattle.
The more we played, the more I got the sense of poolplaying
as a distinct subculture, with a defined code of honor and
an enforced morality. A strong historical background and
perspective. A lot of the players I met were intelligent,
industrious, and aware people who had a great sense of that
history and an understanding of their place within it.
RH: As you travelled, you not only
got to hear stories about great games from twenty
years ago, you quickly found out that the grapevine still exists
today, and three cities down the road, they've
heard of the game you played last week.
DM: The grapevine is also somewhat unreliable,
because players' luck can change from one game to the next,
and also because people will tell you things that aren't
necessarily accurate, for their own reasons. They'll steer
you towards players that they want you to play, for example,
because they're going to put money on the game after they
sucker you in.
RH: What I find interesting is that despite the
surface level of chicanery, the code of honor you
mentioned does seem real. You can mess with another
player a little bit, and everybody accepts that
DM: ...but there are certain things you don't do,
right. You don't quit on somebody when they're stuck, win a
lot of their money and then leave them hanging. The loser
determines the length of the matches. If he feels like he's
had enough, he'll say so. If not, you keep playing. If a
winner didn't give a guy a chance to get his money back, the
word would get out and he'd find it hard to get another
RH: As a journalist, you've worked at a lot of
different places all over the western half of the country. Do you see any
connections between the life of the pool hustler
and that of the itinerant journalist?
DM: You mean a newspaper bum? (laughs) There is. Both
of those occupations or pursuits involve skills applicable
in many different places. Both require a healthy curiosity,
which often leads to a desire to move on. I enjoyed my
newspaper career immensely; it's who I was, what I was, for
a long time.
The thing about pool hustling, if you're good enough at it,
is that whatever else you're doing, you know that it's
always an alternative. If your marriage blows up, your job's
not going well, the pool room you opened isn't doing well,
or if you're just tired of working hard all the time, the
road is always there.
RH: And it's essentially a separate economy from
the one that ordinary salarymen have to deal with.
Whether the Dow is up or down, no matter what the
inflation rate, the pool table stays open.
DM: Those things have some effect, but it's minimal. Pool is
something of a Never-Never Land, and it's very addicting. I
wouldn't want to do it all the time, but I love it, and just
doing the book tour, reprising my trip with Tony, has been a
blast. I've been playing a little -- Tony's played more, of
RH: Pool's become extremely popular in the last
decade or so. Do any of the oldtimers feel that the
game has been gentrified?
DM: Yes, a lot of the people who grow up playing in
dingy halls filled with cigar smoke, where only men were
allowed to play, feel nostalgia for that kind of setting.
But what I like about the new order is that so many rooms
are clean, attractive places with great equipment. It's
opened the game, made it accessible to more people.
The big difference has been in the women's game; there are
so many great women players now, and the women's tour does
better than the men's in terms of the prize money and the
tournament. There's no intrinsic reason why women can't be
as good at pool as men; it's not a sport where physiology
matters. But there's still a talent differential between the
top players in each group, because women are still behind on
the curve, and their talent pool was smaller for so long.
But I'm looking to the day when women will compete directly
and equally with men in tournaments.
RH: You write about official attempts to "clean
up" the sport by eliminating the gambling around
it. Have those attempts had any success since the
time that you write about?
DM: I don't think so, and I don't think it's possible
or advisable of them to try. The late Minnesota Fats wasn't
the best player in terms of skill in his day, but he was by
far the most colorful player, the best known player in a
well known group. He was a great gambler, excellent at
matching up, at making the game before the game. If you do
away with those types of players in the name of purity, the
game loses a lot of its character. I just don't think that
the pro pool tour should look like the pro golf tour, with
cookie cutter players.
RH: Without the colorful players, does pool become
little more than geometry? Is it the sidelines that
make the game?
DM: There's a wonderful poetry to the game itself,
it's infinite variables within a fairly small set of
boundaries. Every time I play snooker with Tony, I'm struck
by the physical and logical beauty of the game. But the
spectators love to get involved by betting; look at the way
fans treat snooker in England. Tony would always say, if you
have a tournament match in one room, and two players in
another room with money on the table, the fans are going to
go to that second room.