Scott Frost at Paradise Billiards
Updated: Mar 22
Recently I was at a birthday party for a friend’s wife at a cozy tavern along the shore of Lake Washington just north of Seattle. The joint has three very nice Gold Crown IV’s and eventually several of us were playing inebriate eight ball. Our gang was mostly physicists, lawyers and musicians so you can imagine the reptilian level of pool. One of the guests, with whom I have played some table tennis and pool over the years, while admiring my eight-ball game, said, “I won’t play with you any more because you’re so damn competitive”. His remark reminded me of an old college friend who used to say about all the sports I did, “Why can’t you just have fun? Why do you have to win all the time”? What if your brain surgeon said, “Well, you know, I just like to get in there and poke around a bit and have some fun”?
The few times we played ping pong this friend just wanted to “play”. He never wanted to hit balls back and forth and groove our strokes and do a proper warm-up, much less practice a few loops or chops. “Training” was as alien to him as linguistics is to George Bush. He would laugh at me for diving for a ball. But then he would get angry when he lost. Once, at my nephew’s wedding stag party he walked away from a game of eight ball when I played a beautiful safety leaving him glued to the back of the black. “Chicken shit pool” he called it. The last time I talked to this guy he said he was much happier not playing any competitive games. I would say he is much happier just being lazy and stupid.
I have another friend who has excoriated me for “studying” chess. He thinks it is cheating to study openings, endgames and strategy. “Why can’t you just play the game and figure stuff out as you go along”, he says. Right, and why don’t I just re-invent the wheel? A large part of the pleasure of chess is studying and learning the deep thousand-year-old secrets of the game and playing over the amazing brilliancies of past masters; appreciating the incredible beauty in a finely woven mating net.
Who are these idiots who just want to “have fun” and go through life indifferent to excellence? The thing is competition sharpens our skills. Anybody can look nice having fun skiing down the mountain on a sunny day, but try looking nice while skiing through icy gates with the sleet biting your face.
Some of my earliest memories are of waking up every morning listening to my father practicing the piano. Up and down the keyboard his hands would glide in ever faster and more complex scales, and then a few solfeggios before launching into another sonata, stopping now and then to play a few bars over and over and then moving on. At eighty-five Horowitz said he was “still learning new things” from Beethoven. Hokusai said he was still trying to learn how to paint just a few years before his death! At seventy-one I still want to become a better One Pocket player. Excellence does not come easily. How does that old cliché go: “It is better to have tried and failed…”? Sure, I am competitive, but that misses the point. The point is to study, practice, “dive for the ball” and be the best that one can be at whatever one does. Anything worth doing is worth doing to excess. This is respecting oneself and respecting one’s opponent. The great pool players, painters and musicians got that way by practicing five or ten hours a day for ten years. The word fun was not part of their vocabulary.
While some people get their inspiration from arcane experiences with two-thousand-year-old scriptures and faceless jealous deities, I get mine from earthly, visible, articulate human beings. I discovered long ago that an encounter with genius (excellence) is worth a great deal in the enrichment of one’s life. Imagine, for a minute, living in Nicaragua or Gambia, where you could go through an entire lifetime and never see or hear anything that is excellent, much less, “world class”. The average Gambian NEVER sees a real Impressionist painting, never sees a Frank Lloyd Wright building never hears Midori play the violin or sees an Olympic caliber-sporting event. It begs the question: can one become excellent if one has never experienced excellence?
America has a love-hate relationship with excellence. Well, duh? We invented the factory assembly line, an excellence killer if there ever was one. We democratically forbid trophies and blue ribbons in our elementary schools (but love our Olympic gold medal winners). God help the merit scholar but everybody loves the quarterback. For fifty years Chrysler Motors developed bad cars to a high art. Only in America would a song that says, “I’m an Okie from Muskogee and proud of it” become a number one hit. One year I had my students read a book called, In Search of Excellence and you would have thought I had asked them to read the Manhattan phone book.
Arguably, the main gift of the experience of excellence is to amaze, invigorate and strengthen us in ways we have never imagined; to hear a Beethoven piano sonata played with passion, perfection and knowledge or to see the actual Sistine Chapel, or listen to Richard Feynman explain quantum electromagnetism; these are priceless experiences that make us better, smarter and more aware that life is indeed worth living through the dark days of our Novembers.
The other gift of the world class performer is that he/she allows us to appreciate our own (limited) capabilities so that we do not go through life deceived that we are better than we are. As athletes we must always aspire to be champions (local or otherwise) and strive to compete with the very best. We might get our asses kicked, but then, at the very least, we will know where we stand. Once, I was at the annual convention of College Photography Teachers in Colorado Springs, and remembering that the United States judo headquarters was just across town, I forsook the last evening’s dinner and dance and went over there for some grappling. I had gotten my black belt at the Royal Marine Commando training center in Essex, England and had done well in several tournaments and thought I was pretty good. Ha ha. I’ve never had so many nice people beat the crap out of me but at least I don’t pretend to know much about judo anymore.
Every now and then a performer comes along who is just electrifyingly superior to anyone else of his generation. Vladimir Horowitz was such a pianist; somehow, he was just a cut above Rubenstein, Serkin and Fischer. Once, late in life he gave a one-day-only performance at Carnegie Hall and two hundred Japanese music lovers flew all the way from Tokyo to hear him. They knew that if there is a god He spoke through the fingers of Horowitz playing Beethoven. It was worth five thousand dollars to hear that three hour performance of a genius.
There is a memorable scene in the film Vision Quest in which the wrestler seems surprised that his friend, the cook, is going to take the night off and watch him wrestle the state champion and the cook says something to the effect that he wouldn’t miss it for the world; in other words he, a zero, a nobody, a short order cook in a third rate hotel knew that in two hours he was going to see something amazing that would make his whole life more meaningful. He was going to see an individual put EVERYTHING on the line, strive for the utmost, if only to KNOW an existential truth about himself and share it with the rest of the world.
Scott Frost is arguably one of the best One Pocket players on the planet today and he is in Seattle, right now. Given everything I just said, one can imagine the excitement I felt at this news. Indeed, for the past week my girlfriend has not seen me from eight to midnight every night as I have driven up to Lynwood hoping to see this great champion perform at Paradise Billiards. Actually, I was there when he first arrived and was practicing on a back table where I was able to take a few pictures. I must say, there is a “force field” around the guy that is palpable. YouTube cannot convey the power he puts into some of those five rail banks. Anyway, his girlfriend told him not to play that day because of “flight fatigue” so I had to come back the next day and the next and the next. It would be ten days before I saw him play his game: One Pocket.
One night when the local boys wouldn’t let him play in their sand box I watched Scott give a lesson in nine-ball to a young woman. Having been a teacher all my life, I take particular interest in all pedagogy and I was fascinated to see how adroitly Scott handled his teaching responsibilities. I look forward to watching his DVD.
Essentially, they played a dozen racks of nine ball with Scott interrupting to explain some nuance of a particular shot now and then, making her shoot it over and over until she got the feel of the new stroke. Often, he would fake a miss so she could finish the run-out while he kept telling her to “have confidence”. Once, on a shot with the cue ball about two diamonds out from the rail she made a cute little tripod bridge with her finger tips and Scott demonstrated the solidity of getting the base of the palm down on the cloth. Maybe she didn’t know who the hell she was playing with as she continued to use her wobbly little tripod. Not once did Scott look around the room or show the least trace of boredom. Over and over, he gave her the most important gift of all great teachers: unambiguous encouragement.
Another night, I watched him play nine ball with Ed Hobbs on a bar table for twenty a game. He gave Ed the six. I already had Tinnitus, but now, instead of ringing, there is clanging in my ears from the nuclear breaks of those two bar table behemoths. Unbelievable (for those of us who have spent many, many hours practicing our break) is the only word to describe the power and accuracy of those breaks as the white ball settled stolidly in the middle of the table while everything else spun around at warp speed looking for gravity.
But I wanted to see the guy play His game; One-Pocket. Night after night everyone else played their pocket-change games on the tight money table as Scott sat in the shadows and one night he even said with ill-disguised impatience, “What the hell you guys, I’ve been here for a week and have played only one game”! Both his patience and mine were being stretched thin by the fear and reluctance of the local talent. I mean really, here is the best one pocket player in the world and everybody is, like, pretending he isn’t even in the room.
Well, lets be honest about WHY Scott Frost is in Seattle. He is NOT here to go sailing or climb Mt. Rainier. He is not here to play a few fun games with the locals. He is here to earn as much money as he can from Harry Platis, pure and simple. This is the way it has been in Seattle for decades (read: Playing Off the Rail by David McCumber). Attorney Harry Platis is an excellent player with lots of money who loves the “action”. But woe to him who takes Harry lightly; years ago I saw Corey Deuel leave town a few thousand short thanks to Harry’s “shtick”.
Despite an occasional, scatological irascibility he is actually a pretty nice guy. The stories are legion of his generosity toward not a few impecunious pool players over the years: helping with legal matters, paying for medical stuff, even housing and funerals and donations to the pot of local tournaments. Some people throw their money at the Red Cross, others at the local art museum and Harry Platis does what he can to keep a tradition of serious money pool alive in the Puget Sound. In his excellent book, Winning One Pocket, Eddie Robin recounts a story by “The Monk” Constanza. “I called Harry when I hit Seattle in ’86 and his wife Alethea answered the phone. I could hear her calling for Harry to pick up an extension, explaining that ‘it’s Monk. He wants to know if you can play…I guess he needs some work done on his house’”. (Eddie Robin. Winning One Pocket. P271).
Finally, Sunday night my girlfriend and I were on our way to a Sounders game dinner at my nephew’s when Barry Hill called and said there was going to be some serious action with Harry Platis and his partner X (a friend of mine who would like to remain unidentified) against Scott for four grand. Screw soccer as I pulled a U-ee and headed north to Lynwood at five above.
The usual crowd of young hip beer-pong players wasn’t there yet when we got to Paradise Billiards around seven. The parking lot was almost empty. About a dozen people were watching “the action” already well in progress as the three players moved synchronously around the big Gold Crown, seldom shooting more than once in an olympiad of strategy. As everybody knows, Harry Platis, at seventy-one, has developed the most painful-looking pool stance on earth, while his partner, X, has one of the most elegant, smooth pump strokes in the business. And Scott Frost is simply a leviathan, seldom pausing for more than a few seconds before making one of his definitive and often, prodigious multi-cushion banks. There were several knowledgeable railbirds including The Lizard and Preacher Ronn watching and whispering conjectured possibilities after each shot. Many of the usual suspects were there as well, including Ed Hobbs, Roman, Vince and Dave. The score was two to one in a race to four. Excitement was a “ten”. Scott was giving them 11-6 and 10-5.
An hour later the score was three to two, in favor of X and Harry and Scott was getting visibly agitated. He joked with the crowd about his chances of winning. He and Harry began exchanging good-humored barbs. At one point Scott asked Harry how he wanted him to play a certain shot. Scott played it the way Harry suggested (who was sharking whom?) and left Harry a five footer straight in, which Harry proceeded to miss. When Scott won the hill-hill game he jumped in the air and racked the balls faster than you could say, “halleluiah”!
Sixty minutes later there were just two balls on the table and one of them was nestled close to the long rail three or four inches from Scott’s pocket with the white ball close to the far end rail. X studied the situation for several minutes and then, presumably shooting for a cross-over bank, ultra-thinned the ball which just barely bounced off the rail and out into the open and, of course, the cue ball flew back down table and back out again to the center leaving an almost straight-in four thousand dollar duck. The crowd gasped. X slapped the shaft of his Southwest against the wall, banged it on the floor and collapsed in his seat lamenting to Harry, “I’m sorry”.
In their brief post-mortem Scott asked X why he hadn’t just kicked the ball out of there. X shrugged apoplectically and Scott ran outside for the most delicious Marlboro in a week.
The game with Harry and X was pretty exciting but still, not the mano a mano I was waiting for. Finally, finally, one Friday night I went up to Paradise after dinner and there was a huge birthday party going on in the main room but Randy had closed off the back room just so the action players could have the eight big Gold Crowns all to themselves. If there is a resurgence of serious pool in Seattle we can thank Randy Comantique for his generosity at Paradise Billiards. His Gold Crowns are all excellent and his money table is nonpareil with its tight pockets and perfect roll.
Apparently, Scott and JD had played a set for four thousand and were just beginning a second set for five grand when I arrived. Scott was giving JD 10-6 and had lost the first set. In retrospect, what had happened was that against Scott Frost JD amped up his game several notches and played the best match of his life. What I saw was Scott Frost backed up against the wall and forced to play his “A” game against a guy who had surprised him.
We’ve all been there before, exceeding our best expectations against a champion and then in the rematch falling apart. Only Freud can answer this riddle. There is a famous story about the New York Philharmonic: at rehearsal one day the first violinist rather suddenly heard a noticeable improvement in the sound of the orchestra. He looked around and noticed that the great Toscanini had just walked in the back of the hall and sat down. Obviously the presence of the greatest conductor of the Twentieth Century had made a difference in the playing of everybody who had observed this. Somehow or other, greatness demands greatness and JD had dug deep and played an exemplary game. But the thing is, the superstars have some extra octane, a special reserve they can call upon and the second set was a clinic in jailhouse rock. JD seldom had a clear shot at anything resembling a clear shot and when he did he blew it.
Scott just kept moving balls up table, patiently laying up balls on his side, in his banking lanes and leaving JD tighter than a Payday loan interest rate up against the rail or one of his own balls near his pocket. Poor JD just fell apart and even Harry walked out in despair at watching his pony run out of breath. When Harry left, Scott conferred briefly with Roman and then ran outside after Harry. All the railbirds and “sweaters” joked that this was de rigueure for Harry (although he has always come through, it is not unknown for him to cry poor and escape the room leaving his opponent no option but to drive out to his house to recoup the shortfall). Scott returned with the agreed-upon funds and the game continued.
Afterwards, Scott said, “What the hell man, I had no idea how good you were. You played great that first set”. JD said, “Thanks man. I felt good. I was playing as well as I have ever played”. Scott said, “You sure as hell did. You should feel proud of yourself”. JD said, “Yeah, the second set I just wanted to see if I could keep it up, see if it wasn’t a fluke”. Scott, “Well of course, you’re a pool player, a competitor and you want to compete. No way your were gonna take your money and run. Shit, I’m only up a thousand after five hours of pool”! Everybody was happy except Harry… but then again, Harry Platis wouldn’t be happy unless he was losing money helping others play pool.