“Fast Eddie…let’s play some pool.”

Minnesota Fats (played by Jackie Gleason) is on the ropes. He’s been shooting high-stakes pool against Fast Eddie (Paul Newman) all through the night and into the morning. He’s been beaten and everyone in the pool hall knows it. The only reason why Fast Eddie hasn’t collected the victory and the stakes is the fact that when you play against a legend like Fats, “The game isn’t over until Fats says it’s over.”

That’s fine by Eddie. He came here to prove something. He wants the money but just as strongly, he wants the concession that he’s the better player.

Fats is slumped in the chair, disheveled, sweaty, exhausted. The cue rests against his open hand.

He excuses himself. He sends a kid out to buy a bottle of top-drawer booze. He goes into the washroom and washes his face and hands carefully, and then he powders both. He combs his hair. He changes into a fresh shirt. He puts his jacket back on and fixes his boutonniére.

He emerges a new man. “Fast Eddie,” he says, adjusting his cuffs and smiling, “Let’s play some pool.” From that point on, the ending is inevitable.

When I’m having a bad workday — when it’s X o’clock and I’ve only accomplished Y of the Z things I’d hoped to finish by now, where Y divided by Z is heartbreakingly closer to 0 than to 1 — I think of this scene and reflect upon its lessons:

  1. It’s not over until you say it’s over. In most situations, you didn’t lose because you got beat. You lost because you accepted the loss while there was still time left on the clock, when instead you should have focused on the ways you could still win. And maybe you actually can’t win…but at minimum, you can do a better job of losing.
  2. Sometimes the stink of failure is a physical thing. Wash it off. No kidding. Brush your teeth, wash your face, change into a clean shirt. Move to a different workspace. Once you’ve left behind all of the sights and smells of your Ungodly Unproductive Morning, your brain restarts and reboots.
  3. The good news is, the whiskey works. Yes. Pour yourself a drink. Have a cookie. Slice yourself a bit of that nice Y Fenni cheese you bought a few days ago. And don’t just gobble it down. Nibble, sip, savor. It’ll help put some sensory distance between now and the time when you were having such a horribly unproductive day and doing such terrible work.

Then I sit back down, rub my hands together, and say “Fast Eddie…let’s play some pool.” Because nothing counts if you don’t keep trying.

16 thoughts on ““Fast Eddie…let’s play some pool.”

  1. larick

    A nice and needed bit of inspiration that I’ve printed out for times, that frequently happen to me, when I feel stuck. I’m also “inspiered” to queue The Hustler on Netflix Thanks Andy.

  2. Tim Windsor

    Wow. That’s an entire bestseller, shelved in “Business: Motivation,” in under 500 words!

    Good stuff.

  3. Harry

    This is an instant classic post. Thank you for distilling these points in such a clear and effective way, This is headed to the bulletin board in my work space.

  4. Marcel

    just loved this post from a legendary reporter like Andy.. at the end of the day, all of us, and really, all of us have off days, however, the way it ends is clearly up to us!
    Thanks Andy, strange how I was having a particularly off day today and then I read this post, I washed my face and the world was brand new.

  5. jazzmaniac

    You’d be a terrific writer, Andy, in any field. It’s just our good fortune that you chose tech.

  6. Tom Streeter

    Well said. I had a professor in college years ago who gave me similar advice at a really rough time and there’s definitely something to it. This is a great, concise description of it.

  7. Marty Jencius

    The title of the piece pulled me in (I love that movie). The ideas are simple but transformative. Loved it!!

  8. Anita Thiernian

    Well done, Andy. I’m passing this along to my (grown) children. They face a tough world out there and, yep, sometimes things are not quite right in the cosmos. Kind of needed this myself today. Thanks much! (she says, briskly rubbing her hands together)

  9. Paul

    Good stuff. I really enjoy Andy Ihnatko’s writing, about all topics. Always smart, often funny and never crude or snarky. A rare find these days…

  10. Sean O'Flaherty

    Or you can make lemons into lemonade, by turning an unproductive day into a blog post.

  11. John Abrahams

    Fast Eddie asked for J.T.S. Brown bourbon. Fats ordered a bottle of White Tavern. White Tavern seems to have never existed. J.T.S. Brown is for real. After seeing the film in theatrical release, I tried like heck to get a bottle of J.T.S. Brown. No luck in California, which is not bourbon country.

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