I believe in the power of ping-pong.
Consider the word, ping-pong. It’s the least supercilious of sports names. It’s understandable to those of all nations and social strata. It doesn’t put up a classy facade, like “squash” or “cricket,” whose names have their own etymologies to contend with before the rules even come in.
Ping-pong is onomatopoetic. Ping-pong is poetry. Like the gentle pitter-patter of rain on a rooftop, ping-pong is the pitter-patter pastime of perseverance, precision, and prowess. It requires both perspiration and perspicacity.
A game of ping-pong is like a musical masterpiece. There’s the staccato beat of a fast, intense point. Then there’s the largo of a lofty, looming lob. It is also like a dance. There are jerks and turns, as well as pivots and pliés. It takes a masterful player to appear graceful, but in slow motion even the gawkiest of them looks like he’s doing a sweaty rendition of Swan Lake.
My belief in the integrity of ping-pong has been put to the test amidst lingering prejudice in most pockets of society. “Ping-pong’s no sport,” they scoff. I learned this the hard way, such as when I showed up in sneakers and spandex (I contemplated bringing a towel along) to “hit a few” with a friend at Princeton. You know how campuses are. People notice things. And my ping-pong prejudiced friends didn’t fail to notice my attire. Nor did they let me forget it.
Fortunately, ping-pong enthusiasts know how to support one another. They must, to survive in this day and age. My father and I have stuck together like an intrepid table tennis twosome. Since I can remember, we’ve tested tables in many parts of the world, including the one in our backyard. We’ve played in Evian, France, where the locally bottled water helps us stay sufficiently hydrated. We’ve sought tables in Michigan and Marrakech. One time we played in a little shed by a secluded lake in Canada. My dad even assessed potential colleges by the prevalence of ping-pong tables on campus. It’s a good thing Bowdoin had one, or else he might have withheld tuition payments.
I’ve judged boyfriends by their ping-pong game. It can be tricky, though. If he’s awful, there’s a good chance I’ll lose interest. If he’s out of this world, I might feel threatened and withdraw. But if he’s just about at my playing ability, the relationship is automatically upped to a new level.
Ping-pong may not be a moral code or religion, but it’s certainly a philosophy relatable to living. There’s the reciprocity of the rally. There’s the uncertainty of tomorrow: sometimes with a little spin there’s no knowing where the ball will end up. Furthermore, if your opponent has the skill (or luck) to hit the way edge of the table, there’s nothing you can do to return the shot. This is fate.
Ping-pong is also about hard work. Sweat and yes, even tears, can accompany a brutal bout. Ping-pong takes us back to our primitive human roots, before television, ipods, and xbox existed. The challenge calls for the concentration of champions.
Indeed, ping-pong reminds us of a small but innate portion of our human potential. The ping and the pong, the yin and the yang – there is a harmony to it that, like music, comes from within, yet takes us beyond our very being.
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