People live within a world of delusions.
I was really good at Ping Pong (delusion number one). I think the guys I played with would agree (delusion number two). In fact, I spent two years of my life – two long years – playing in a league, like a crazy fanatic. All I thought about was Ping Pong. During a job interview I was asked why I needed the job. I told them, simply, “The fees at my Ping Pong league increased.” They laughed. I don’t know why, because it was true. For some reason the manager in charge of making our lives more difficult raised the weekly rates, so I needed another job. I loved the damn game. Despite not playing for ten years, I still do.
Within the playing community there are about five levels, five being the best, and one being the lowest. Realistically, I was about a three and a half. I could play with the five’s – who were Chinese Olympic level guys – and they’d humor me, rallying back and forth, dispelling the myth that they were above the common man. But they really yearned to play with guys at their level. Deep down I accepted this. I knew this to be true. I knew I was not a five, and that I’d never be a five.
One guy I played, a guy who thought he was a four, went ballistic when I beat him three games to one. He started yelling at me, throwing a tantrum, telling me I was terrible. I decided to keep quiet. I let him get it out. He wore indoor soccer shoes. I imagined what he was like on a soccer field; going mad, losing his mind at any given moment. I figured his Soccer Mom filled him with nonsense his whole life, such as when you’re playing Ping Pong and you think you’re a four – when you’re actually a three – and someone beats you make sure you let everyone know how good you think you are by yelling and screaming at the top of your lungs like a maniac. Because we all know how important Ping Pong is. And then he left. He got in his car and left, screeching out of the parking lot. His feelings were hurt; his ego was destroyed. He had been kissing up to all the fives – taking private lessons from them, trying to talk with them. Though, I really didn’t see him as a four. It was just how he saw himself. In his mind a level below him wasn’t allowed to win. This was an attitude that transcended amongst the ranks. If you beat the organizer (who was a two) in a league match he wouldn’t sign you up for the weekend tournament that was invite only. The threes were insulted to have to play someone from the twos, the fours hated the threes, the fives sat on a thrown above everyone else, laughing at the fact that the 4.5’s even considered themselves in their league, while the one’s were outcast as untouchables. He was convinced all this hype he’d created around himself would now be diminished in the eyes of the fives. As far as he was concerned he may as well have been banished to the untouchables.
All the fives started early in life, practicing day-in and day-out, mastering the technique and skill required to be good. Most of them were neurotic bad asses that had spent countless hours honing their craft. They developed that eye-hand coordination and muscle memory that is essential in Ping Pong. I played throughout my life, but not like that. I never had a community available to provide me with that outlet, a high competitive level these guys had. I never walked around saying, “You know, I’m gonna be a level five someday. And you know what? I’m gonna be in the Olympics!” This is insane. Let astronauts be astronauts.