The regulation ping pong table in our unfinished and slightly musty basement was the center and source of our family’s shared sporting fun. My sisters and dad became Bellevue city table tennis champions. My mom was pretty good too, but she and I could never claim that title. Yet, table tennis came to be the core of my heroic sports identity.
I went on to sink the dominant portion of adolescent spare time into improving my game. And I got good at it. Not great, but quite good.
My rating peaked above 1600. I was in the top 20 players in Washington State and one of the only non-Asians. In fact, my white and tall guy appearance, somewhat unorthodox playing style, and beyond-clever-moving-toward-devious psychological games would redound to my advantage over traditional – and otherwise better – players. The psychology of ping pong is worth several hundred rating points, and the pure-form, well-trained young Asian players would be tied up in frustration playing me. Like the “Saturday Night Live” line by Jon Lovitz, I could just hear them muttering under their breaths, “I can’t believe I’m losing to this guy.”
I wooed women with my game – unsuccessfully. I traversed the Pacific Northwest in tourneys – with occasional success. And over the years, the many years, I returned to the table for camaraderie, for exercise, for intense competition, and for a certain kind of continuity of identity.
For when I hit the ball just so, I am at one with bliss.
 Table tennis ratings start at 1000. From there, you gain points by beating others and lose points in your defeats. The greater the difference in your scores entering a match, the more a surprise win, or a disappointing loss means in your ratings. Tournaments align people within rating classes. Below 1000 is Novice. Every two hundred points up is a new letter such that 1000 – 1199 is E, 1600 to 1899 is B, etc. 2000 and above is called “Master.” Open events allow entrants of any rating to compete.