Color of Money
Easy St. Billiards owner Michael Stansbury takes on an up-and-coming player.
Thursday, January 29, 2004
With only three balls left, Jose Miguel lays his pool stick on the green felt of the billiards table and walks into the bathroom at the back of Easy Street Billiards, an all-ages pool hall in downtown Monterey. A crowd of about 10 spectators quietly waits for him to return and finish his match with Michael Stansbury.
In the restroom, Miguel probably thinks about the envelope filled with $300 hidden in the cleavage of the female manager’s shirt. If Miguel misses the next shot, Stansbury will win the match and take $150 from Miguel and his backers.
Returning to the table, Miguel looks like a carpenter for a few seconds when he uses his pool stick to measure the angle necessary to hit the cue ball and sink the No. 7 ball. Next to me, Andy Kolonics leans forward in his chair to get a better look at the action.
“For me, it’s just fun,” he whispers. “These guys live it, though.”
When Kolonics turns back to the match, Miguel pulls the stick back and fires it forward like a piston, banking the cue ball off one of the table’s sides. The cue ball sails right by its intended target, and Kolonics heaves a heavy sigh. Before stepping away from the table, Miguel contorts his face into an exaggerated grimace.
Before Stansbury takes aim at the three remaining balls, he walks to the back of the pool hall to quiet down a table of loud players. One player is heard announcing that he is good and drunk. He doesn’t seem to know that Stansbury owns the joint and takes the game of billiards very seriously.
When Stansbury comes back to the table, he props his pool stick on his trembling hand and quickly sinks the last three balls. After the final ball rolls into the corner pocket, Stansbury raises his pool stick above his head and orders free drinks for everyone in the room.
This is not the first time that these two have played one another. Stansbury, a national player who has competed in the Reno Open and the Senior Tour, noticed Miguel about two and a half years ago. While a lot of pool players stroll through Easy Street’s doors, Miguel stood out.
“There are people who work and want to be good, and I can recognize them,” Stansbury says. “Jose was one of the most dedicated young men that I have seen.”
Eventually, Stansbury started to give the budding billiards player some advice. “He would give me tips on ball positioning,” Miguel says.
For Miguel, a business administration major at Cal State-Monterey Bay who also works at his family’s Monterey restaurant, Easy Street became a place to escape from the pressures of everyday life.
“I think it’s a very challenging game,” he says. “You have to be focused all the time. When you are focused, you tend to forget everything going on in your life.”
About two years ago, Miguel accompanied Stansbury to a pool tournament in Reno. Though they showed up late—too late for Miguel to register for the competition—Miguel was able to watch some of the best pool players in the world. He still mentions the various players he saw there like they are household names.
This past summer, Miguel decided to challenge Stansbury to a match. Even though Stansbury won that first match too, the elder player knows that he cannot take Miguel for granted. “There really is no one left that can count on beating him,” Stansbury says.
Some of the people who watched last week’s game at Easy Street believe Miguel had an off night. “He played 60 percent of his game,” says Tom Spataro. “He plays much, much better than what you saw.”
After the match, Stansbury stands around while a few of the spectators congratulate him on his win. While Stansbury talks to his girlfriend and his daughter, Miguel silently steps behind the bar and watches a videotape of the match on a small television.
Though he is clearly disappointed in the results, Miguel tries to stay positive. “I will be a better pool player after that match,” he says.
A few minutes later, Kolonics is playing pool against Stansbury’s daughter, but it looks like Stansbury has left the building. It is getting late, and Miguel is still practicing shots, thinking about his next game.
Easy Street Billiards, at 511 Tyler St., Monterey, holds matches every Thursday at 7pm and saturday at 1pm. 333-0825