Periscope Depth

baby did a bad bad thing

Saturday night, I shot perhaps the worst game of pool I’ve shot in over a decade.

I’ve never been good at pool. There’s no great mystery behind it: I never had much opportunity to play growing up and have never invested the money in learning. I developed enough skill to knock balls in the direction they’re supposed to go, to break without embarrassing myself and to distinguish stripes from solids. Which is good enough for social play. And I need to stress that I still had fun this past Saturday.

But, man, my game sucked. I scraped the cue ball on three consecutive shots like Moe going upside Curly’s head. Every ball I hit went at least one radian off from its intended direction. In three rounds of play I sunk two balls total. To quote Achewood, if my game had touched some eggs, the mother bird would have killed them.

So: I’m no good at pool. You can count on me to forget at least two of the essential rules of poker in any given evening. I’m good enough at fighting, though I don’t test it by getting in a lot of scraps. I have a good beard – not the ragged beard of most Internet professionals, but an honest beard of style. And my haircut’s been okay this year.

This got me thinking about the Classic Hallmarks of American Manhood.

I know, I know, gender roles, etc. I don’t feel any worse about myself for not being able to shoot a competitive game of pool. The hours I would need to have spent practicing billiards, I spent doing things like Not Smoking, Not Getting Teenagers Pregnant, Not Getting Arrested and other life skills that are hard to acquire at a pool hall. Not Putting Some Guy’s Cousin Up On Your Couch for his First Few Days Out of Prison. Not Wrecking Your Charger. Skills like that; real resume boosters.

This is more of an intellectual exercise than anything. But before I can measure myself against this arbitrary checklist, I need to devise it.

Why do we think that shooting a good game of pool is a Classic Hallmark of American Manhood? It certainly requires skill, but so does gourmet cooking. There’s the element of gambling, and particularly hustling, which goes a long way as well. But I suspect pool looks cool because of its pop culture history. When you think “pool hall,” your thoughts will probably drift toward dim rooms with wood slats, smoke curling near the ceiling and bright lamps haloing green tables. Taciturn men leaning on cues like sages out of myth and young guys with crew cuts and faded jeans. Jazz music and pitchers of beer. You know, some place cool. Not an actual pool hall.


Look at this cool mother right here.

So this Classic Hallmark of American Manhood comes to us from pop culture. Surprise, surprise.

Every now and then, some men’s magazine or website will publish a link-baiting list of the essential skills every man should have. The editors rarely give a methodology behind this list. It’s usually cobbled together from a survey of Manly Men, furtive memories of shortcomings that these skills could have avoided, and copy-pasting from last year’s list. Screw that. Our list is going to have reason behind it!

Since we’re admitting that the notion of American Manhood comes to us from pop culture anyway, let’s dip straight from the trough. Help me assemble a list of Classic Hallmarks of American Manhood by asking yourself this question: if I’m shooting an action movie, and I want to establish our male protagonist as a bad-ass without any dialogue, what could I depict him doing?

Some easy answers leap to mind:

  • Shooting pool
  • Playing poker
  • Firing a gun
  • Beating some thugs up
  • Staring down a bad guy
  • Lighting a match with his thumbnail
  • Drinking a shot
  • Opening a beer on a counter-top
  • Tossing his hat onto a coat rack

And so forth.

Obviously, that’s an incomplete list. So I open it up to you! What are the Classic Hallmarks of American Manhood? How else can we feel incompetent today?