Kenny Koo with Mike Olmon at Family Billiards in San Francisco, a stop along the way on Mike’s “Great West Coast Pool Hall Tour.”
I can’t remember how I found out that Kenny Koo is Burmese. I think he told me when I asked him to repeat “Koo” so that I’d spell it correctly when I wrote about him, and I knew I wanted to write about Kenny. It was his openness when Mike introduced him to me – and his smile! Mike and I are a bit of an oddity walking into a pool hall on a sunny afternoon, Mike with his leather cue case swung over his shoulder like Robin Hood toting his quiver with me following behind him carrying a notebook and pen. It takes most people a little time to warm up to us, but not Kenny. As Mike led me over to take a look at one of the many custom pool cues Kenny designs, Kenny was all smiles. He first pointed out the inlay of the pool cue he had with him, just one of the unique designs he uses when customizing a cue. It was truly a work of art.
Craftsmen like Kenny who make custom cues use exotic woods from Asia along with ivory and ebony for inlaid patterns. Cocobolo is a sought-after wood because of its weight and density and beautiful patterns. That particular wood actually comes from Central America and is also used to craft chess pieces as well as martial arts equipment.
As I listened to the ins and outs of creating custom cues, a friend of Kenny’s whose name I neglected to get, was eager to extol the praises of the way Kenny wraps the leather around the base of the stick: “You’ll never see a seam in the leather of any of Kenny’s wraps,” he said. Back and forth he rolled the stick and impossible as it may seem, there was no seam!
Kenny’s own personal pool case is unlike any I’ve ever seen. It was hand-tooled, Kenny told me, by a craftsmen friend of his in Indonesia. The cap of the case is embossed with the Koo logo and was impressive.
As mentioned above, I don’t know how I found out that Kenny’s heritage is from Burma (presently Myanmar). I just never had met someone from that country before. But, as fate would have it, that very night after we left “Family Billards,” Mike continued his tour onward to “Town and Country Pool Hall.” Mike shot pool with a regular there whose name was Andrew. Eager to assure Andrew that the two of us weren’t crazy with all the picture taking and question asking, I tried to illustrate with an example. “Just tonight I met a guy named Kenny Koo over at Family Billiards who is fascinating,” I explained. “He customizes pool cues.” When Andrew tried to make sure he had the last name right, I answered, “Yeah, it’s Burmese.”Andrew’s eyes lit up.
“I was born in Burma,” he said.
Now the pool shooting world is less of “a world” and more of a family. Kenny Koo in San Fran, for example, has met Eddie Cohen another talented custom pool cue designer who shoots at Danny K’s in Anaheim. So when Andrew at “Town and Country…” heard about Kenny Koo at “Family Billiards” from two people on some strange road trip, he was surprised. “There are a lot of people from Burma here, but I never met another Burmese pool shooter!” He seemed pleased to know there was one and smiled, “I’ll have to check him out.”
I’m thinking that now Kenny and Andrew might meet some day, and one of them will say “Yeah, that kooky couple who breezed in from the O.C.a few weeks ago told me all about you!” And that would be very cool, or should I say “very Koo”?