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**PRINT: FRIENDS FROM CINCINNATI: Installment 24 features this part coming-of-age short by Chicago's Patrick Somerville, author of the Trouble collection of shorts out in 2006. | PAST BROADSHEETS |

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Benjamin Jared Gilton

I'VE GOT ALL these tremendous expectations of myself. I'm the city's best this -- I'm the neighborhood's prime selection for that. Sometimes I'm a critically acclaimed director of masterpiece foreign films, while in other instances I'm the greatest American lover of all time. I'm the most fantastic parent who ever walked the globe, and yet I have no children of my own.

Which brings me to Wednesday nights. I play in a 9-ball tournament in Hollywood. I play against the older guys who shoot pool all day and bide their time until Paul Newman comes to town and starts production upon a much anticipated HUSTLER, part 3. They've been waiting 20 years and have been sharpening their sticks all the while.

And then there's me. I fit into the equation by being the youngest guy competing, and virtually unheard of, while possessing the most elaborate, expensive, and fantastic expectations in history's brief account. I'm the slickest -- I'm the youthful grasshopper. While these guys have been playing 30 years longer than I have, I still should be able to defeat them with little or no exertion of my paltry talent. Except for my self-inflicted defeatism, a unique mental deficiency which takes an attitude of supremacy and whittles it away until the only thing left over is loss. I will lose and I will lose. I will take loss over victory at any moment, but not because I am in control, but rather because my head is cursed.

Take last week. I walk into the pool hall. I am the greatest nine ball champion the world has ever seen, and soon large sculptures will be erected in every town square wherein I have stopped, for a moment or more, stopped in whatever dusty pool hall and chalked up my stick. I walk into the place knowing this, first. Second, I know I'm playing an old man, now appearing to be no younger than 75. He's wearing a dress. He beats the hell out of me. And it's not because he is a better shooter than I am (I am the greatest nine-ball champion in the world!); it is because, while we are playing, I am systematically and unconsciously choosing to (and then proceeding to find creative ways to) give this guy the worst game of my life. I lose bitterly.

And it's over. Just so. No sweet goodbye and barely a sporting hand shake. I want to take my stick and brutalize it over my knee. I want to throw all the colorful balls at innocent strangers. I want to swear off the game completely and go perform less impossible tasks. I want to give my attention to more important works. Put simply, I want to wither up and disappear.

It occurs to me, four days later while I'm sitting on a rock facing the ocean and cursing at the clouds, that there's enough evidence to support the existence of a Supreme Being, an energy-force that overwhelms everything, including my terrible pool games and my mental retardation, for which I like to use various other technical-sounding terms lifted from pop-psychology books. There, on that rock, there is some sort of a flash and I realize that perhaps I'm supposed to remain humble and teachable. Maybe I'm not supposed to be "the chosen one" in any of my human endeavors. Maybe pool is simply set up as an extension of enjoyable free time. Maybe I should take myself less seriously and just enjoy the exposure. From time to time it occurs to me that it's not necessary to be the world's greatest citizen, and if I sit still and learn to think less about full-page descriptions of me in history books, I may have an opportunity to experience an entirely new zest for life.

Benjamin Jared Gilton is communing, spiritually, with you, when he says, 'What the hell was that?' He may be contacted: bjgilton@yahoo.com.