There was a time when gentlemen often enjoyed a frame or two of billiards at their club, and when they did, it was the billiard marker who attended on players, and kept score.
On it's fiftieth anniversary, I present to you The Marker.
14 Feb. 1963
THE MARKER is invariably a tragic figure. He's the one who is supposed to have played the game better than anyone else, but who, for some mysterious reason, never won the championship. He can recall feats which the club champion can never hope to perform, but which used to be child's play to him, the marker. He knows every little intricacy of the game, and is always ready to enlighten you on how he'd have himself played this stroke or that one in the good old days.
It isn't really that the marker is an empty boaster. It's just that his playing days are sufficiently distant to acquire a certain color, and the continuous reverie in which he indulges to kill the monotony of his work leads him to believe sincerely in a substantial portion of his yarns; in this, perhaps, he isn't unlike your sailor! Besides, it's almost always true that the marker did attain a degree of proficiency superior to the average club member's. But he never did have the means to take part in competitive games, and his skill soon began to fade. He nurses a grievance against society for that, and attempts t find legitimate relief from his frustration in an exaggerated projection of his own image. You really can't blame him for that. And so far as the theoretical side is concerned, he certainly is no hoax; he does know a thing or two about the game, and can be a pretty edifying coach when he's allowed to be.
Withal the marker is a dedicated soul. He has a genuine love for the game. His earnestness when he elucidates its nicer points, or analyses a member's performance, is touching. The game is part and parcel of his existence. His greatest ambition is to see his son, the ball boy, become a champion some day; but alas, more often than not the boy wouldn't show any great keenness for the game, for, of course, he'd seldom get a chance to play. The marker never forgives him for it. When he approaches a club member to ask for a job for the youngster, he wishes with all his heart that he could say, "The boy's good at the game, Sir!" But poor marker, his ambition is seldom fulfilled.
For one so whole-heartedly attached to the game, the marker shows remarkable tolerance towards those members who never seem to be able to shape well. Maybe he can't afford to do otherwise, for the list of indifferent players would cover most of the club's patrons. But no doubt he feels a secret contempt for the whole lot, though he's all politeness and encouragement even at the most provocative moments. The marker has to be, and is, always restrained. He just cannot understand why they wouldn't spend enough time to practice. That they may not be having sufficient leisure for it is unacceptable to him, and he's convinced that it's lack of interest, and nothing else. It's a painful thought for him; but nevertheless he resigns himself to it stoically, and tries to be of help to the best of his ability.
The marker's despair about the duffer is naturally matched by his veneration of the truly skilled player. His admiration isn't so great if the player belongs to the club and is constantly aided by the marker himself; for then his attitude is rather patronizing, though not without a touch of respect about it. But it's really the flashing guest, who obviously knows more about the business than the marker does, and who plays better than the marker ever did in the wildest of his fancies, who excites his imagination. But the better a player is, the more harshly he is judged; and while the man who is just above the average creates a good impression on the marker, the club champion fails to do so, for the simple reason that the latter is pitted against the country's stalwarts, while the former is ranked only with the club's duffers. The marker, after all, is human.
One of the most memorable days in the marker's life is that on which a national champion graces the club's premises. As a rule the master plays too casually, and commits mysterious mistakes. But although it's a big disappointment for the marker at the time, it's something for him to talk about for the rest of his life, how the champion failed to strike form. But it's really when the ex-national champion turns up at the club that the marker's soul is stirred to its depths. For this man's mistakes cannot so readily be attributed to recklessness, and it's obvious that he, like the marker himself, has become a relic of the past. The marker recognizes a kindred spirit in him, and can never recall his visit without a choking heart.