Howard Jacobson has been a ranked table tennis player in England. He is also the author of, among other functions, The Finkler Question and Kalooki Nights, 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 inhabitants became the substance for his 1999 book about a ping-pong aficionado, The Mighty Walzer. His research for that publication also brought him in touch with all the American champion Marty Reisman. Click here to see as a single page: https://www.quora.com/profile/PongStart ... -To-Choose
Jacobson's 1999 profile of then-69-year-old Reisman almost 40 years after his last U.S. men's singles tournament appeared in Table Tennis News, the now-defunct publication of this English Table Tennis Association. At 80, Reisman is massacring Marlboros. Here is the first U.S. publication of this piece.
The major issue for 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, and the quiet kill was whether the good Marty Reisman, merely one grey hair short of 70 but still denying the remainder due to old age, was much advanced on his comeback path to lift the following U.S. Open Hardbat title.
Hardbat? The antiquated three or even five ply paddle covered with rubber pimples. Elegant and audible. Ker plock-plock.
The smart money was saying no. "The guy's driving me fucking nuts ringing me up each hour of this day telling me how well he's playing," Tim Boggan confided to me about the first morning of this Open in Fort Lauderdale. "But he is living in a fool's paradise. Sure, he is practising, but against the exact same opponent. Steve Berger. Always Steve Berger. He is not tournament-hardened. My heart says yes. But he's got no chance." Tim Boggan is listened to by you. Himself among the game's older hardbat lions, he is American ping-pong's most impassioned 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 man with an icy beard, faking thwarted dreams, yet another mariner chasing the gleaming borders of this untraveled world. So that you listen to what Tim Boggan's heart states.
But then whose heart doesn't say yes to Marty? He is the mortal Odysseus you have to follow beyond the sunset. Succeed or fail, only one more ship. Opinions differ as to whether Marty Reisman was America's greatest ping-pong player ever, but he was clearly its boldest adventurer, lifting the British Open title when he was only 19, enlivening a doleful postwar European ping-pong community with Lower East Side effrontery, an extrovert belligerent with among the loveliest and most lethal forehands you could hope to see, a natural who appeared to be inventing the game afresh every time he played with it. And now 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.
Attend to Reisman himself and it is in the bag. I too have been. "Howard, I just gotta tell you my table tennis has been super amazing things lately," he told me when I rang him out of London a week before the Open. "I've gone to another plateau. I have tapped in to a huge reservoir of talent. I have zeroed in. New strokes are evolving. I'm much better than I've ever been. I feel my life is just 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 already. But if he shows up at the Convention Center, indifferent to the oof-p locking in the antiseptic hall, an ostrich in a bookie's cap everywhere in advance, he's nevertheless the braggart. "My match is raised to such a level," he states before we've even shaken hands,"I've fully discouraged Steve. Last week he was slaughtered by me. I've got him in my pocket now." Tim Boggan's words of earlier in the afternoon din in my mind:"Steve Berger. Always Steve Berger." Is Marty basing his estimation of his kind entirely on the thrashing he gives his sparring partner, a participant but maybe not the toughest opposition in the planet? That's if he's thrashing him at allbecause that has to be weighed in the balance: the Reisman hyperbole. Either way, are Marty of talking terms at 15, on some other sort and fact?
There's an atmosphere of other worldy optimism about him. "I will let you know, Howard, I'm playing strokes I did not know I had," he states. He rejoicing what he attempts abides there however and is currently talking about digging into the mother lode of his expertise. This serenity that is overblown may be because the singles event isn't until tomorrow. For the moment he has only the. And he is not thinking too hard about that. His partner, obviously, is Steve Berger. When a message arrives saying that Steve has missed his plane and will not have the ability to compete, Reisman's countenance's landscape undergoes an extraordinary transformation. He looks as though chosen to be the site of God's refulgence, beatified suddenly. Is the On-High whispering promises to him? Is Steve isn't coming a signal? "I am not gont let this wipe me out," he says. "I got bigger fish to fry." I express surprise that he is not even disappointed. A game of doubles is a workout that is useful , after all. A loosener. But there is not any dimming his radiance. "I hate sharing the glory," he laughs. Except it isn't a joke isn't just a joke.
Marty was not joking when I met him at the Ninth World Veterans Table Tennis Championships in Manchester twelve months ago. He wore a wild beard and looked unaccustomed, unsure whether he would arrive at the right place and what sort of reputation preceded himlike a left handed Beat poet going to read to some how to set up a ping pong table ping pong start bunch of modern kindergarten kids in a non-English speaking nation. He carried a shoulder-bag comprising press-clippings 50 decades heading back. Everything you needed to learn about Reisman, filed and dated, in multiple copies, there on his person. A information base of the self. Before I'd known him 10 minutes I had been needing some hundred sheets of photocopied magazine and newsprint celebrating less or more his genius. He should not have tried so hard; there was great excitement about his existence. Have long memories, and all of them remembered Marty Reisman for the summers of the early childhood using all the type of remembrance folks book. He belonged to the Golden Age of table tennis, when players prided themselves on variety, the elegance and of course the sagacity of their strokes and wore philosophers of linguistics.
Not everybody knew him immediately. You are not looking at other people when you are battling with arthritis and need nothing on the planet but to have a decoration house that is ping-pong to Vilnius to show your grandchildren's grandchildren. But when he began to play, competitions around him ceased to watch, first one table, then another, until eventually all 100 tables were quiet, and even the most sponge-committed of those veterans oldsters with sprung sponge beds in his hands, that could stamp-serve and spin themselves around the ball at the requisite Quasimodo way of the young had to acknowledge that table tennis played by a master of the old game was a beautiful sight to behold. And brought back to us why players and non-players alike had once been excited by it, and no more were.
For table tennis, at the West, is in crisis. Nobody watches. Television doesn't want it because the ball travels quickly, because things are soon, and because there are no charismatic personalities in the sport. Even though it embarrasses people to place it this way, table tennis has become Asianized for flavor. First it was the Japanese, now it is the Chinese who are invincible. They are. However they play though there's absolutely not any space with.
They've reduced the confines of the match. Plus they play as if the world is going to endnot just winning the stage but winning it instantly. So gone against the Asianized ping-pong of today are the slow, probing, witty cat-and-mouse encounters between the fantastic lugubrious European players of their thirties and forties, fans of labyrinthine prose and existential narrative, readers of the secrets of the spirits what Marty calls the"dialogue" of ping-pong, the classical play that has a beginning, a middle, and a resolution. That they turned up to watch attrition table tennis, where one point could survive an hour. In excess of 5,000 smoking spectators saw Reisman beat Viktor Barna through a tobacco mist at the 1949 British Open staged. At this year's equivalent championship, held at Hopton-on-Sea (Hopton-on-Sea! Not the English understand where that is), just about the only spectator has been me. And it's me again, solus, at Fort Lauderdale. And I'm 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 game's nature. Ping-pong is for the diffident. It seeks privacy. It is a thin-skinned individual's pastime. Gossima, it was called something insubstantial as a moth's wing. A fantastic name for a condom you don't notice you are wearing. Otherwise whiff waff blow it and it's gone. It was suffering a catastrophe of self-confidence when I started playing with it in the fifties, a boy.
There was some thing never fully assured at each degree of ping-pong, by the agonies of individual players, embarrassed equally by their own incompetence and the smallness of the arena where it revealed, to the defeatism of administrators, who squabbled ineffectively on rules and gear and ultimately allowed every last spectator to drift away, bored with the lack of plot and also the dearth of adventurism. Anyone in advertisements could have told ping-pong it had an image issue. It had been regarded as inglorious.
Thus the significance of Marty Reisman, jester and hustler, who made a public gift of his brilliance, refusing to distinguish between the stage and the table. Why, in that famous 1949 at Wembley, he returned the first serve of Barna behind his back however recovered balls like he were Nijinsky, with a pirouette and a jump. For a masochist like me, enjoying in a shadowland of pity, belittled from the sport I loved, and enjoying with with it in order to be belittled, Marty Reisman offered a salvation of the kind Englishmen before me have found in Americans. The salvation of magniloquence. Marty aggrandized what he did. He made a hero not a coward of himself. And for me personally turned into epic from doggerel.
These are the grounds where I, like most others who cannot decide whether they like him or her simply endure him, forgive the omnivorousness, and at times even the callousness (bad Steve!) Of his triumphalism. The comic Jackie Mason, who grew up poor 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. He is still intrigued with himself. Like a child with a new toy. But I never saw him do a terrible thing to anyone in his lifetime. If because you're proficient at ping-pong being obsessed with yourself is is that so bad?'
Apart from which, the braggadocio is not quite what it appears. In the long run is Marty. What Reisman is riding is the come-back trail to himself.
It's a journey he's been on all his lifetime. Back he has had to come, over and over, from one ping-pong fiasco or ping pong table ping pong start catastrophe after another dust installations with the authorities, suspensions, inexplicable slumps in form, psychological collapses, to say nothing of that cold-hearted passage of time that has put to bed most other athletes his age. Now it's an operation on his arm that is playing he's recovering from.
In a tiny restaurant, in which he'd taken me to fulfill his wife Yoshikohe showed me that the blot that was single, silvery, flat that was cicatricea marking the place of the surgeon's intervention. When was that, I felt. He turned to his wife:"The date of my operation, Yoshiko?" Not a fraction of a second's hesitation. "November the 23rd, 1998," she said. A good wife conveys the dates of her husband's surgeries like battle scars. Notably a Japanese wife, whose lineage is undiluted Samurai. Although I must say that as she painted word-pictures with her hands in the spaces between Marty's ruminations on his form, it had been the wives of novelists she reminded me of, along with the wives of quite a few poets I really could think of too. She had that devotedly look that accompanies living in the company of distinguished self-absorption.
Marty's performance was to get a floating tendon. Now it's back where it is meant to be, attached with two screws. And now Marty back where he is intended to be as well. "When my game kicked after my operation," he informed me,"I understood what a rare skill I had. I awakened in the afternoon and I started to cry with pure joy." Another question for Yoshiko:"You remember when I came home and I told you'It is back!'" Oh yes, she remembered. I didn't doubt she remembered the hour of the moment that is very.
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