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University of Ping Pong

I have, in my humble opinion, the ultimate ping pong setup in my basement.  I think this audacious thought based on the following.

It is a man’s basement. No faux adobe sconces on the walls or wet bar in the corner.  Concrete floors, florescent lights.  It’s the sort of basement where men and boys can play ping pong late into the night, sipping Dr Pepper from the can as AM radio gives the baseball game play-by-play in the back ground.  Girls are welcome, but they don’t stick around.  This is manstyle.

My wife bought my ping pong table at an estate sale for $20. We stored it in a garage for a long time, dragging it out annually for a yard sale or something.  Now it is finally in it’s proper place, a man’s basement.  If we had dropped $400 on a nice table, I’d feel bad every day I didn’t play it.  Now, if I play it once a week, I’m all like “hey, that was twenty bucks well spent!”.

My best paddle was given to me by my friend, Kirk. He found out we had a table and stumbled down the stairs like a zombie to the butcher shop, grabbing my old paddle and playing with zen like precision.  The next day, he brought me The Paddle and a packet of balls he’d had for a long time….since his table went away.

So I like my little set up.  My cheap table, my rough surroundings, and my free paddle.  I like that my boys – especially Grayson – are growing more competitive at the sweet science of spin.  And I like that I can still beat them all, almost all of the time.

I’m beginning to think that there’s a lot to learn at this table, whacking a little white ball back and forth.   For instance…

There is an art to reacting.

I know all the big management books talk about being proactive, and that’s certainly a part of serving the ball, but in ping pong, 90 percent of the time, you don’t proactively plan “I shall now hit the ball at a 86 degree angle, spinning down and left towards the far right corner.”  There’s simply not time.  You may do all those things, but you don’t plan.  You see the ball hit towards you and you instinctively whack it back.

More often, you don’t know what’s coming in life.  We’ve all had had the ball spiked on us, or watched it zoom by.  All the proactivity in the world can’t take the surprises of life into account.  Blessed is the man or woman who knows how to respond to the curves hit their way.

Every house has it’s rules.

The first think you learn when you play in my basement are the house rules.   No serving off the corner, and no one loses on a bad serve.

We serve off the back because it moves ping pong away from it’s sissy tennis roots.  This is a game of speed and brute force, not patty cake criss cross.  We don’t lose on a serve because it allows a 13 year old who’s down 16-20 to pull out his riskiest play – the one he’d never use in a tie game – to try for a come-from-behind rally.

Every time you start a new job, you need to learn the permanent quirks of the place and quickly acquiesce to the fact that you’re not going to change them.   I’m not saying you don’t try and improve your situation, but you do so within the confines established.  Nothing is less welcome than a newbie who is there to ‘fix things’.

In our basement, if you play by my rules you have a fair chance of beating me.  Cheat at those rules and we drop air-soft ammo in your Dr Pepper when you go to the potty.

There are a lot of Life lessons learned via a swift backhand.


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