So me and Socrates are playing pool on the little table in the student center, only I don’t know he’s Socrates yet — to me he’s still a guy I’ve seen a few times playing billiards and asking people questions. He broke because I can’t really break and he can slam it, from 9-ball diamond rack to scattered on the worn orange felt in an instant, a few balls already sunk, and while he lines up a shot I hear him muttering to himself, “The 3 no longer exists, but the 4 still does.” It’s a few inches from the side pocket and after seeing him break I expect a careening crack, but he kisses it. The 4 vanishes and he follows the cue ball to the other end of the table.
“Is murder categorically wrong?” he asks.
This is back when I still smoked pot. Not when I smoked pot every day, but when I thought I could only smoke pot some days and still be okay, so I don’t find the question too strange, but I also take a little too long to answer.
Socrates tries to sneak the 5 into a corner from where it rests on a far cushion. He misses the shot and hands me the stick.
“Yes,” I say. “Murder is categorically wrong.” I have a decent angle on the 5. I play better when I’m baked because I don’t aim too much, don’t fidget, don’t contort my hand on the table to look like I know what I’m doing. I tap the 5 and it glides in.
“In every instance?” he asks.
I have a straight shot at the 6, but I always miss straight shots even when I’m high because I can’t not overthink them. After, I hand the stick back to him.
“I’ll concede most instances,” he says, “But I don’t know if it’s wrong in every instance. What’s your reasoning? How do you know?” He misses a bank shot.
I can’t in this moment distinguish between pretentious and earnest, and I wonder if he experiences the same phenomenon in regard to my prolonged silences, until I think only a person who is high would think so much about what another person thinks about how he thinks. I send the cue ball towards the 6 only partially aware of the path I’ve sent it on.
“I believe in a fundamental obligation to other human beings,” I say. I blink and the 6 no longer exits. “It’s more feeling than logic. Killing is bad.”
“Would you kill someone to save your life?”
“Probably, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be wrong.” Somehow I’ve scratched on the 7 so he’s shooting again. I realize my window to ask his name is closing, and if I don’t get it soon he’ll become another person I interact with regularly under the anxiety of trying to conceal that I don’t know his name. “What’s your name again?”
“Socrates,” he says. He hunts for the 8. I can tell he’s going to win.
“Really?” I ask.
“Of course. Just like my grandfather, just like his grandfather, just like my grandson will be named Socrates.” The 9 flits across the length of the table, the overhead lights glinting in its stripe. Socrates smiles. “Play again?”
I nod. Together we load the balls into the rack, assembling them for another creation, for Socrates to break them back into existence.
I want to ask him about the weight of his name, if he resented it, grew into it, if it pushed him to ask questions, to study philosophy, to see the world in the way he did, where the rules of a game of billiards can shape the fabric of existence, but I can’t focus; I just get lost in his ontological problems and lose a lot of games of pool.