Bob Flaherty
Bob Flaherty

When I think about the refugees living here in Northampton, including two young Congolese brothers, Gaylain and Olivier Ngoy, who spent 14 years in a sweltering camp in Borundi, I feel some pride that this America, the America of King Street and the Oxbow and Hospital Hill, is the one that they will know. But when I think of their parents and their four younger sibs stuck back there in the unforgiving bleak, victims of the worldwide Reign of Testosterone, damn do I get pissed. But one thing I have is a microphone, and it occurred to me that maybe there’s a better use for it than singing songs about deporting Trump into it.

So I will play ping pong. FOR 12 STRAIGHT HOURS. Raising money for the many refugees who’ve resettled in our city, and for the dedicated souls who got them here, Catholic Charities, the Welcome Home committee, and the amazing Circle of Care.

The trick will be in using my inside voice. Nothing like a game of ping pong to bring out the outside one. All it takes is one of those back-and-forth slapfests with opponents careening into the lawnmower, the golf clubs or the outgoing trash for my vocals cords to erupt in a “WAAAAAHHHH-HOOO!!” to shake birds out of trees. That this can involuntarily occur at any time, even during a 1-1 game, and that this big booming bray is rarely bound by inside restrictions, often causing those watching TV upstairs to holler down: “Bobby, for God’s sake!” has me concerned.

For the pong I shall be playing on Friday will not be in my garage or on any of the makeshift tables in the various cellars, cottages or caves I’ve darkened.

No, this will take place at Zing! a state of the art table tennis center in Easthampton owned by the congenial Noel Abbott, who’ll make the place available for an eager procession of pols and pigeons who dare to believe they can beat me. “I love it,” said Noel, knowing full well he won’t be making a dime.

Okay, so why pong, … er, table tennis? Well, the tradition in fundraising by radio personalities calls for the personality to make a sacrifice of sorts, like sitting atop a telephone pole and not coming down until a certain dollar amount is raised. Excuse me — not coming down? I take more leaks than a mishmash of mongrels at the dog park. Oh, I’m coming down alright, so frequent that most passing motorists would only see me emerging from the bushes and not from my perch on the pole. And sitting there? Hour after hour? In my life, just getting up from dinner sounds like skeletons mating, a rattling creak-fest of spasms and groans that doesn’t let up until the plates are in the sink. Me and my back on a telephone pole? I’d leave a farewell note seven minutes in and jump off. So, no, feats of endurance that don’t involve movement would not be for me. As a wise yoga instructor once told me on my first lesson: “The motion is the lotion.” Without the lotion, I’m an armless carbonized statue in the park.

“But Bob,” I hear you reasoning, “Your aim is to play table tennis for 12 straight hours. Just out of curiosity, Bob, how long have you played the game, continuously, in any given session?”

“That’s easy,” I grin. “When my son Sean was born in 1981, I kissed Annemarie goodnight around midnight, left the Cooley Dick and drove home, only to find my best friend Sully in the driveway with a box of candy and a bottle of champagne. After a toast, we repaired to the cellar and played ping pong til 3:30 in the morning. All out pong, every point contested, caroms off walls and oil burners allowed. So, to answer your question, three hours, minus another toast or two, and maybe a couple of bowls.”

“And this, you believe, prepares you to play the game from dawn to dusk?”

Deflecting, I say, “Table tennis? Don’t you see — it’s perfect! It’s a game anyone can play.”

(It’s also a sport that’s very difficult to play well. My son Pat and I entered a winter tournament at Zing! And, man, can these folks bring it. Return serve? Oh, I returned alright — to the wrong tables!)

The reason for this is spin. “This game is all about spin,” says Zing’s Noel Abbott, who’s been showing me different paddle-angles to neutralize it, and sending me over to the Robo-Pong to perfect them. Yes, the Robo-Pong, who fires triple-x balls at you from a seemingly bottomless pile, and you return, return, return, until Noel cries out “YES!”

So, YES! I am ready. I am taking on all comers, and I am ready. This Friday Oct. 6, I will play table tennis for 12 straight hours.

“Supposedly you will play for 12 straight hours,” cautions State Rep. Solomon Goldstein-Rose, one of many who will be challenging me that morning, “There seems to be some concern as to whether that’s possible.”

Ping Pong-a-Thon: Friday, Oct. 6, 12-straight hours of tennis to raise money to support local refugee resettlement efforts, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Zing Table Tennis, 122 Pleasant St., Easthampton.

Contact Bob Flaherty at bflaherty@whmp.com.

Author: Bob Flaherty

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