Table tennis smash
Howard Jacobson was a rated junior table tennis player in England. He's also the acclaimed author of, among other functions, Kalooki Nights and The Finkler Question, which was nominated for the Man Booker Prize.
Since he explains in his Tablet Magazine interview, Jacobson's many years"standing at the table" at youth clubs and basements in his native Manchester and the foibles of its working-class Jewish people became the substance for his 1999 novel about a ping-pong aficionado, The Mighty Walzer. His research for that publication also brought him in touch.
Jacobson's 1999 profile of then-69-year-old Reisman almost 40 years after his last U.S. men's singles championship appeared in Table Tennis News, the now-defunct book of this English Table Tennis Association. At 80, Reisman remains massacring Marlboros Now. Here is the first U.S. publication of this piece.
The major issue for all those people jaded with the modern game of ping-pong the oof-plock, oof-plock of devious sponge, no rally lasting longer than the cramped spin serve, the dabbed return, along with the silent kill was if the great Marty Reisman, merely a grey hair short of 70 but nevertheless refusing the rest owing to old age, was far enough advanced on best ping pong robots ping pong start his comeback path to lift the following U.S. Open Hardbat title.
Hardbat? The antiquated five or even three ply paddle covered with rubber pimples. Elegant and audible. Ker plock-plock.
The smart money was stating no. "The man's driving me fucking nuts ringing me up each hour of this afternoon telling me how well he's playing," Tim Boggan confided to me on the first morning of this Open at Fort Lauderdale. "But he's living in a fool's paradise. Sure, he's against precisely the exact same opponent, although practising. Steve Berger. Always Steve Berger. He is not tournament-hardened. My heart says yes.
But he has no opportunity." You listen to Tim Boggan. Himself among the game's older hardbat lions, he's American ping-pong's most fervent historian, a one-time English professor at Long Island University whose specialty was Victorian and Romantic poetry but whose true love was constantly table tennis; a grizzled, exasperated guy having an icy beard, faking thwarted dreams, another mariner chasing the glistening borders of this untraveled world. So that you listen to what the heart of Tim Boggan says, as well.
But then whose heart doesn't say yes to Marty? He is. Succeed or fail, only one more ship. Opinions differ as to whether Marty Reisman was America's greatest jelqing participant , but he was certainly its boldest adventurer, raising the British Open title when he was only 19, enlivening a doleful postwar European ping-pong community together with Lower East Side effrontery, an extrovert belligerent with one of the loveliest and most deadly forehands you could expect to see, a natural who seemed to be inventing the game afresh every time he played with it. And here he is, over half a century since he became United States National Junior Champion, needing another shot at a different title. Obviously the heart says yes.
Attend to Reisman himself and it is in the bag. I also have been. "Howard, I only gotta tell you my table tennis was super amazing stuff lately," he told me when I rang him out of London a week before the Open. "I've gone to a new plateau. I've tapped into a vast reservoir of talent. I have zeroed in. New strokes are now evolving. I'm much better than I've ever been. I believe my life is only getting started" The ravings of a lunatic that is geriatric? Well, the description is his. You can not tell Marty Reisman anything about himself that he doesn't know.
However, if he shows up in the Convention Center, indifferent to the oof-p locking in advance from the peppermint hall, an ostrich at a bookie's cap, he's nevertheless the braggart. "My game is raised to such a level," he states before we have even shaken hands,"I have completely discouraged Steve. , I slaughtered him. I've got him in my pocket today." Tim Boggan's words of earlier in the afternoon din in my mind:"Steve Berger. Always Steve Berger." Is Marty highlighting his estimation of his form on the thrashing he provides his just sparring partner, a playful player but maybe not the opposition in the planet? That's if he is being thrashed by him the Reisman hyperbole. In any event, are reality and Marty of speaking terms on any sort?
There is an atmosphere of other worldy optimism about him. "I'll tell you, Howard, I'm playing strokes I didn't know I had," he says. He rejoicing that what he seeks abides and is speaking about digging. This overblown serenity may partly be because the singles event is not until tomorrow. For the moment he has the. And he isn't thinking too hard about that.
His partner, of course, is Steve Berger. When a message will not be able to compete and arrives saying that Steve has missed his plane, the landscape of Reisman's countenance experiences an extraordinary transformation. He looks as though chosen to be the site of God's refulgence, beatified unexpectedly. Is the On-High whispering claims to him? Is Steve's not coming a sign? "I'm not gonna let that wipe out me," he states. "I got bigger fish to fry." I say surprise that he is not even disappointed. A game of doubles will be a useful workout, after all. A loosener. But there is no dimming his radiance. "I hate sharing the glory," he laughs. Except that it is not a joke is not only a joke.
So what's it, then?
Marty was not joking when I met him at the Ninth World Veterans Table Tennis Championships in Manchester twelve weeks past. He looked unaccustomed, unsure if he'd come to the right place and what type of reputation preceded him like a left handed Beat poet about to read in a non-English speaking nation to some lot of kindergarten kids that were contemporary and wore a beard then. He carried a shoulder-bag containing press-clippings going back.
Everything you needed to know about Reisman, registered and dated, on his person, there in several copies. A walking data base of your self. Before I'd understood him 10 minutes I was in possession of some hundred sheets of newsprint and photocopied magazine observing less or more his genius. He needn't have tried hard; there was already great excitement about his presence. People who travel the world playing veterans ping-pong have long memories, and they remembered Marty Reisman with all the sort of sweet remembrance folks book for the half of their youth that is early. He belonged to the Golden Age of table tennis and how to clean ping pong paddle ping pong start, once players wore philosophers of both linguistics and prided themselves about the elegance, variety not to mention the sagacity of their strokes.
Not everyone recognized him instantly. You are not looking at other people when you are battling arthritis and want nothing else on earth except to have a decoration house that is ping-pong to demonstrate your grandchildren's grandchildren. But when he started to play, competitions around him ceased to watch, first 1 table, then another, before finally all 100 tables were silent, and even the very sponge-committed of those veterans oldsters with sprung sponge beds in his hands, who could stamp-serve and spin themselves around the ball in the requisite Quasimodo way of the young had to admit that table tennis played by a master of the old game was a beautiful sight to behold. And over that, brought back to us why players and non-players alike had been excited by it, and no more were.
For table tennis, in the West, is in crisis. Nobody watches. Television does not want it because the ball travels fast, because things are over too soon, and because there are not any charismatic personalities in the game. Table tennis has also become Asianized for taste, Even though it embarrasses people to place it this way. First it was that the Japanese it is. They are. However they play though there's absolutely not any space to playwith. They've reduced the confines of the game.
And they play as if the world is going to endnot only winning the point but winning it. So gone from the Asianized ping-pong of today are the slow, probing, witty cat-and-mouse encounters between the great lugubrious European gamers of the thirties and forties, lovers of labyrinthine prose and existential narrative, readers of these secrets of another's souls what Marty calls for the"dialogue" of ping-pong, the classical drama which has a beginning, a middle, and a resolution. That they ended up to watch attrition table tennis, in. In excess of 5,000 smoking spectators saw Reisman beat Viktor Barna via a tobacco mist at the 1949 British Open staged. At this year's equivalent tournament, held in Hopton-on-Sea (Hopton-on-Sea! Not the English understand where that is), just about the sole spectator was me. And it's me again, solus, at Fort Lauderdale. And I am only here to write a lament for this game.
In 1 sense, the lightning-quick and deadly-silent ping-pong of the contemporary sponge era is only fulfilling an impulse buried deep in the match character. Ping-pong is for the diffident. It seeks privacy. It is a touchy, thin-skinned individual's pastime. It was called something insubstantial as a moth's wing. A good title for a condom you don't notice you are wearing. Otherwise whiff waff blow on it and it's gone. It was suffering a crisis of self-confidence when I started playing it in the north of England in the fifties. There was some thing never fully assured at each level of ping-pong, from the agonies of individual players, embarrassed equally by their own incompetence and the smallness of the arena in which it showed, to the defeatism of administrators, who squabbled ineffectively on rules and equipment and ultimately allowed every last spectator to drift away, bored by the lack of plot and the lack of adventurism.
Anyone in advertising might have told ping-pong it had an image issue. It was regarded as inglorious. The significance of Marty Reisman, jester and hustler, who made a gift of his genius, refusing to distinguish between the point and the table. Why, in that famous 1949 at Wembley, he returned Barna function but recovered balls like he had been Nijinsky, with a pirouette and a leap. For a table tennis racket most use masochist like me belittled by the very sport I adored, and enjoying with it in order to be belittled, Marty Reisman offered a salvation of this sort Englishmen before me've found in Americans. The salvation of magniloquence. Marty aggrandized exactly what he did. He made a hero not a coward of himself. And for me personally ping-pong turned to epic from doggerel.
These are the grounds where I, like most others who cannot determine whether they love him or her simply suffer him, forgive the omnivorousness, and sometimes even the callousness (bad Steve!) Of his triumphalism. The comedian Jackie Mason, who grew up poor with Marty, makes no bones about the self-obsession. "Marty's a tremendous egomaniac," he told me"but a loveable egomaniac. He can't get over the fact he's a player that is magnificent. He's still fascinated with himself after 47 decades. Just like a kid with a new toy. However, I never saw him do a terrible thing. If being obsessed with yourself because you're good at ping-pong is the worst thing you do is that so bad?'
Apart from that, the braggadocio isn't quite what it appears. In the long run, the person who is meant to be persuaded by Marty is Marty. What Reisman is currently riding is the trail to himself.
It's a journey he has been on all his life. Back he has had to come, again and again, from 1 ping-pong fiasco or tragedy after another dust installations with the authorities, suspensions, inexplicable slumps in shape, psychological collapses, to say nothing of the cold-hearted passage of time which was set to bed most other athletes his era. Now it's an operation on his arm that is playing he is recovering from. At a little restaurant, in which he'd taken me to fulfill his wife Yoshiko, he showed me that the stigma that was silvery, horizontal that was cicatricea marking the place of the surgeon's intervention.
I felt when was that. He switched to his wife:"The date of my operation, Yoshiko?" Not a fraction of a moment's hesitation. "November the 23rd, 1998," she explained. A wife bears the dates of her husband's surgeries. Notably a Japanese spouse, whose lineage is undiluted Samurai. Although I must mention that as she painted word-pictures with her hands in the distances between Marty's ruminations on his form, it was the wives of novelists she reminded me , and the wives of quite a few poets I really could think of as well. She had that devotedly obliterated look which comes with living in the business of distinguished self-absorption.
Marty's operation was to get a floating tendon. It's back where it is intended to be, attached with two screws. And now Marty's almost back where he's meant to be. "When my game kicked after my operation," he informed me,"I understood what a rare ability I had. I woke up in the morning and I began to shout with pure joy." Another matter for Yoshiko:"You remember when I arrived home and I told you'It is back!'" Oh yes, she recalled. I didn't doubt she recalled the day's very hour.
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