Tuesday, May 17, 2005


There wasn’t a lot to do on Guam. Our (nearly) all black unit had a small dayroom with one pool and one ping pong table. The rule on the tables was, winner stays.

I wasn’t very good at pool so I didn’t challenge there much. But I could play ping pong and often took the table for a while.

There was a small muscular kid that I knocked off the table a few times. He may have beaten me also but I don’t remember. I didn’t think anything of it. He was just another face to me but it seems he took it personally when he lost.

Once, after losing, he came up to me and said, “You’ll never beat me again.” He was pretty intense.

That shocked me. I had no idea he, or anyone else, took the game so seriously. I was dumfounded and couldn’t reply.

The result was that he psyched me out completely. I not only couldn’t beat him, I couldn’t beat anyone else.

Ping pong is a reflex game, free movement is everything. My coordination got thrown off completely. My movements became stiff. I quit trying to beat anyone who was halfway good. In an effort to get my coordination back, when I got the chance, I would only play against the worst players.

Gradually, and this took weeks, my coordination started to come back. I started to play some of the better players. I could even beat some of them. But that kid, I just couldn’t beat.

Every time he beat me, he taunted me, calling me “chump” and “easy pickins” and “ham fatty” (I have no idea what that means). I didn’t mind too much because my coordination was getting better. It, and my confidence, were returning.

In playing ping pong, I belonged to the Yogi Berra school. When asked what he thought when he was at bat, Berra replied, “I can’t think and hit at the same time.” That was the way I played ping pong. Hit it hard when you can, hit away from them when you can’t hit it hard. That was the way I played everybody.

Then, for the first time in my life, I started to study an opponent. I watched the kid’s game closely when I wasn’t playing. After a couple of games I saw his weakness. He had a great forehand and a great backhand, he could kill anything hit away from him. But stuff right at him? That gave him a problem. He couldn’t slam a ball hit right at him. Wow!

Next time I played him I showed no mercy. I had him beat from the start and taunted him throughout the game as he had done to me for the last 30 or more games. It was simple, just the reverse of the way I had always played. If I couldn’t hit it hard, I hit it right at him.

After I beat him I called him a chump and reminded him he’d said I’d never beat him again.

“Well it took you long enough,” he replied.

“Yeah,” I said, “but now, you’ll never beat me again.”

I thought he’d work on his game as I had. His weakness seemed easy to overcome. Then he’d come back and challenge me.

That’s not what happened.

He would never play me again.


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