Josiah Fingers Wall, a.k.a. Tribeca Slim, is resisting calls to turn pro. He is planning to go college after he graduates from high school.
Since the name Minnesota Fats is already taken, some people call him Tribeca Slim . . . as this lanky young pool player from New York City was born in Tribeca. Real insiders call him Fingers, and when Josiah Wall starts talking about his game, his fingers start doing a wild little cha-cha on the green felt of the table in order to illustrate his point. He has beautiful strong hands, with the touch and agility of a concert pianist. However this young man uses his hands to play pool, often practicing 12 hours at a stretch when he has free time.
At the tender age of 17, he is turning heads at Corner Billiards, a popular pool hall at the corner of Fourth Ave. and 11th St. Recently he earned first place at a prestigious tri-state tour where he was competing against more than 60 pool players from the region, including some salty older men well into their 50s who have been at the game for years.
In the eight years I have been the manager at Corner Billiards, I believe Joe is the youngest player to ever win a tri-state tour, says Ria Katz, who sponsored his entry into the competition, which is by invitation. He blew everyone away at this tour. He stayed in the winners bracket the entire time he just kept going! Joe never even dropped to the losers bracket, adds Katz, sounding almost like a proud parent. When a player loses a game he or she goes to the losers bracket, but can eventually get out of if by consistently winning there.
Are you going pro? is the question everyone is asking Fingers these days, especially his mentor Tony Roblas, who is nicknamed Silent Assassin.
If I go pro now, I would have to sacrifice everything, no college, no girlfriend, no free time ever, says Wall. I have applied to colleges here in New York and the West Coast and I am going to college, period. Hopefully, I can keep my game up. I have made a vow to never look back on my life and be sorry about any decision that I make, he adds.
His sponsor, Katz, puts no pressure on him to go pro. Rather, she simply has given him a chance to practice and excel at his game. Ria Katz no longer has much time to play pool herself; instead she concentrates on running a tight ship of 28 well-maintained tables and a seasonal amateur league that people from all over the city enjoy.
There is a game called one-pocket that nobody but the old guys play anymore. But we host a night for the silver-haired set to show up and have fun, Katz adds with a big smile. She also prides herself in sponsoring individual women to compete in the pro circuit, for the expenses can be daunting.
Young Joe Wall has a love of the game and has by now pocketed hundreds of great stories the older pool hall vets have deigned to tell him.
Not only do Ginky and the Iceman show him tricky shots now and then, but they weave in wicked tales of hustlers who would pretend to get sloppy drunk while really downing cider, only to leave a pool hall with thousands of dollars won in a game (not at Corner Billiards).
The Silent Assassin has given Joe some great advice that sticks in his head. Everyone, every athlete hits a slump from time to time. But if that happens to you and if you quit the game, remember, you stopped just short of making it to the next level, so why stop now? says the wise, but not old, Tony Roblas.
When Fingers was 6 years old, his father took him to pool halls regularly, even though he couldnt see over the table. Beriah Wall, his dad, would have Joe stand on a milk crate, from which he would practice shots for hours with incredible focus for such a young child. When Joe was 15, father and son became regulars at Corner Billiards, where people began to take notice of this kid who kept winning. How does he stand the pressure of the shot and a game where he competes with men who are often twice his age? Joe will tell you that runners or other athletes will describe something called being in the zone.
I dont know if that is what it is for me, but I just start flying along in this state of being where I am not thinking too much but I just know I am unstoppable, he said.
When one door closes, another opens, says Joe as he philosophically describes his bouts of multiple knee-surgery that he suffered through his early teens. Although he was once known in the neighborhood as a great soccer player and skateboarder, he had to completely stop both activities due to a congenital knee problem that resulted in more than one reconstructive operation. No more soccer, basketball or skateboarding. This was a sentence that would have plopped most teens in front of the television forever. Instead, Joe looked at this as an opportunity to perfect the art of playing pool. Because Katz believes in his talent and potential, she has hired him to work at Corner Billiards where he now gets free practice time.
Fingers still lives in Tribeca, on Franklin St., and attends the High School of Environmental Science. He is the son of Professor Janice Farley, chairperson of the art department at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, where she is a straight-shooting administrator who is best known for her delicate and technically exceptional sculptures, which are executed with great precision in clay. This is work that can only be done with extraordinary fingers. She met Joes father, Beriah, in a ceramics studio in Vermont where he worked as a potter and a sculptor.
Having two parents with exceptional hands, it is no wonder that Fingers is a great pool player. But it is not just the good-finger genes that will help Joe along in life. Joe is a very steady, levelheaded young man who looks you right in the eye when he talks to you, adds his mentor Ria Katz. He is very focused and will go far in life, whatever he chooses to do. It is an honor for me to know him.