My oldest brother John bought a pool table when I was eight. It became the one arena where I could beat my brothers.
When you have brothers, you’re competitive about everything: sports, board games, who gets to lie on the couch. When you have three older brothers, you’re also at a physical and intellectual disadvantage in any contest that doesn’t rely on chance.
Originally, I played pool for fun. But I was good at it. Once, my brother had a friend over and I beat him game after game. On one occasion, he was ecstatic because he snookered me, but I fluked my way out of it. It must’ve been heartbreaking for this guy in his twenties to have this annoying ten-year-old kid beat him at pool.
I got better and better over the years, until I became the best in the family. Here was a game where size and strength didn’t matter. You still had to think your way through the game, but playing so much educated me – at least in the way that I could see how a game would unfold and the best tactics to use.
My best friend Stan suggested I try play professionally. Unrealistic probably. But it was something I considered when I dropped out of school halfway through my second last year. I was sixteen.
School had become unchallenging. Being pushed ahead a year meant that once I got to Year 11, I was doing work I’d done the previous year. They couldn’t push me ahead any further, since Year 12 was self-contained. I just felt stagnant.
I also developed the attitude that a lot of the stuff I was learning was useless. I didn’t mind knowing the basics of Accounting or Legal Studies, but if I really needed them, I’d see a professional. It’s not like if I opened a business I’d do the books because I’d taken Year 9 Accounting.
I was walking past the school the day I decided to quit. It was a Sunday. My friend Tim and I had played footy for the local football club. I’d spent the whole match getting smashed by the opposition after mouthing off to one of the opposition after he bumped me late. From there, I got poleaxed for the rest of the game. During one bit of play, I stood under a mistimed kick and an opponent whacked me over the back of the head as he attempted to spoil, while another cannoned into my back.
Tim commented how much he couldn’t be bothered going to school the next day and I told him I was quitting. Just like that. It was the first thought that popped into my head. I might’ve been concussed.
And that was it. My parents blasted me, threatened me, and all that. Why wouldn’t they? Work and stature was everything. You work, you save, nothing else matters. It’s about the nice job you have, the nice house you own, and all that. Then, when you’re too old to enjoy it you retire.
One of my uncles offered to buy me a car if I went back to school. I said no. Then one of my teachers called and asked if I was having any problems. Nope. I appeased my parents by telling them I’d sit a scheduled clerical exam later in the year and get a job.
They understood that: real work. It wasn’t like my brother Nick could’ve ever told them he wanted to be a concert pianist, or me a writer, because they were abstracts. Things like that earned an amused but condescending laugh, the way you laugh at a four-year-old who tells you he wants to be an astronaut. They did that a lot. They disapproved of things they didn’t understand or for which they didn’t see a place. In contemporary society that was only, well, pretty much everything.
They would’ve preferred I became a doctor or a lawyer. That’s stuff they understood, stuff you could really boast about – well, not you, but they. Clerical wasn’t as good as those, but it was something else they understood – a 9–5 job. So that was my plan.
Then I played pool – all day. I’m not sure why. It might’ve been because Stan put the idea in my head, or just because I was obsessive. I played ten to twelve hours a day and I became really good.
About six months later, I broke my arm playing football, and that was that.