There are, unfortunately, very few things in this world that I’m especially good at. I am the world’s worst trivia player. I cannot adequately read a map, assemble IKEA furniture, pay my bills on time, follow a budget, budget my time, or rent a car from Budget.
But I can parallel park, and I can play ping-pong. I have, in fact, never lost to a white person at ping-pong. You can imagine my disappointment, then, when I picked up The New York Times last Friday to learn that a gaggle of white people (authors and “public smarty-pants types,” including Jonathan Safran Foer) had gathered at New York City’s Lincoln Center to play ping-pong without me.
They were there to promote a new book, Everything You Know is Pong: How Mighty Table Tennis Shapes Our World, but mostly they were there, I imagine, to best Foer at something.
According to the article, which was penned by Dave Itzkoff, men and women of letters have a special affinity for ping-pong. Writer Howard Jacobson is quoted as saying that the sport is well suited to writers because it is “perfect mock-heroic, absurdity in grandeur and grandeur in absurdity.” That may very well be true (or even mean something), but I liked kicking my dad’s butt at pong way before I realized that I wanted to grow up to be either playwright Harold Pinter or magazine writer Tom Junod.
My dad and I would battle for hours in the dark, cluttered garage of our San Francisco home, and his crazy spins were no match for my combination of crazy spins and brutal forehands. Our marathon matches were good preparation for my defeat, when I was 12 years old, of then-Golden State Warriors coach George Karl at his basketball camp.
George liked bragging to us campers about how good he was at ping-pong, so I challenged him and won. He didn’t like that one bit, and he ignored me for the rest of camp. Since then, I’ve gone on to beat every white person I’ve faced, losing only to a drunk, diminutive Japanese woman at a pool/ping-pong hall in Arizona. She beat me 21-4, and it wasn’t nearly that close.
I don’t own a ping-pong table, and I’m apparently not on the list of white writers who like getting together in New York City to pall around over pong, which means that I don’t play nearly as often as I’d like to. But I’ll happily beat Jonathan Safran Foer any day.