Yoshi and Nevin arrive together, unnoticed. As the rest of the Bellhouse fraternity gather for Amateur Ping Pong, steadying our nerves with $2 Bud lights, infantile one-upmanship, and delusions of grandeur, Yoshi and Nevin take to the tables with their own balls and paddles, readying themselves with shadow play, carefully sand-bagging their way through the first few rounds.
It used to be that you had to either be Chinese, North Korean or an eighties throwback in matching sweatbands, tight shorts with a strong command of power-ballads to command any respect from across the net. But times done changed and the Bellhouse has thrown it’s Amateur Ping Pong night open to any rank amateur, any dreamer that has awoke paddle in hand from another all-night training session, any heartbroken would-be-Olympian, any Brooklynite that’s grown weary of Skeeball, Shuffleboard, Barcade or lonely drunken nights with surly bartenders and country music, this means YOU.
Tonight is more about selling beer than discovering future champions, it is at once a clash of metal and pine, of Metallica and pong, it is an all swilling, all twiddling homage to the armchair athlete, a Wiifit gone 3D.
It was so supposed to be so easy. I, the reluctant hero, throw the requisite $5 in the kitty, biding my time in the early rounds, reserving my patented counter-clockwise spin serve for the Semis, my non-chalant smile and easy-going nature hiding the truth of my Machiavellian gambit.
Alas, all is not as it seems. On the stage proper, the hot-lights bringing sweat to brow, bouncing sharp radiant lights from the table surface, it is but a moment’s work for Eddie, to dispose of our hero, our arrogant scribe.
As the night wears into it’s third hour of Sabbath and Black Flag, the final femme fatale Emmanuel is knocked out callously by emerging favorite Yoshi. In retrospect Yoshi’s unique pen-holder grip should have been fair warning of what was to follow, his rapid disposal of promising contenders should have been heeded as the nascent howl of an emerging predator, his coaching of early opponents as a loud billowing siren cutting through the Gowanus night, but confident as we are, our eyes focus on one thing and one thing only: the dead presidents at the winner’s table.
It takes until completion of his destruction of Jamie in his Semi for Yoshi to take time to acknowledge his exertion, a cursory fan of his face with his paddle the only indication of what for many of the fallen has been a gargantuan effort.
With what looks near enough to $150 dollars on the line, Nevin and Yoshi meet in the final. A crowd of drunken knock-outs cheer and jeer as the titans of Table Tennis reign over the green like Greek Gods over Mount Olympus, the winner to be showered in glory, the loser to be cast out to their Sisyphean fate.
Nevin’s shuffle-step keeps a 4:1 ratio with the beat of Europe’s “Final Countdown,” his frenetic ballet no match for the ever-present paddle of the Zen-like Yoshi. It is over almost as it begins, a foregone conclusion for tonight, for this month, but for his ravaged opponents, eyes glinting with alcohol-fuelled optimism, there is hope. They leave confident, misguided and refreshed, for they are but 31 days and $5 from a virtual guaranteed vengeance, a simple pen-holder all that lays between them and certain victory.
Pong Slang for Noobs:
Chop – a defensive shot reliant on heavy backspin as a preventative to an opponent’s kill shot
Skunk – a skunk victory is equivalent to the mercy rule, for example if the game is to 21 points and the leading player has a 11 to zip lead.
Pip – the rubber ‘nipples’ on the surface of the paddle that provide traction for returning shots
Blade – the ‘nude’ paddle; a paddle without the rubber coating.
Dwell time – the contact time of ball to paddle
Junk rubber – a colloquial phrase referring to awkward to play against rubber
Penholder – a chinese style grip similar to holding a pen with index finger and thumb meeting on the face of the paddle with the handle facing up.
Sandbagging – a player is Sandbagging when they deliberately play below their ability to enter a tournament at a more favorable level, i.e against weaker competition.
Shadow play – is practicing technique without a ball, giving more ability to concentrate on stroke.
Shuffle step – is a common method employing short-steps to maneuver around a table during play, using short steps to the left or right.
Twiddling – is the alternation of the face side of a paddle between forehand and backhand rubbers.