Sunday, January 16, 2011

I competed in a ping pong tournament

Never Done: "Competed" in a ping pong tournament
Never Done: Walked to Golden Fest

I'm not saying it was the most competitive ping pong tournament ever, but I did sign up, and I did play in the inaugural Park Slope Armory YMCA ping pong tournament. God, it was cute. They put 6 tables in the middle of the gym, where the basketball courts are, and they put notes up asking the basketball players to be gracious and let the ping pong players have the courts for a couple hours. They had three divisions: family, novice, and intermediate. When I was signing up, and trying to place myself, I explained that I am by no means pro, but that I can have a pretty long volley, and I can hit low and hard, but that I am not very good at putting spin on the ball. And that I am competitive. Then I confounded them by asking if there was doubles. "If you want doubles, you should play at the family table." That sounded fun but uncompetitive to me, so I clarified, and they suggested I play at the novice table. Again I checked -- but they thought that would be the best place for me, and they agreed that if I was too intermediate for the novices that they would just bump in into the next level. So I signed up, and I signed Josh up, and I checked with Rimma and Pat to see if they wanted me to sign them up (they didn't.)

I was excited. Competition! But when Josh and I showed up at the gym, we saw the sweetest scene ever. Six tables: two family tables, as promised, with adults and children playing together. Two novice tables, one of which had an amazing game between a three-year old and his dad. The three year-old would hit the ball, and no matter where it went (usually it went nowhere near the table) he would randomly and delightedly announce his score for that hit. "Twenty six!" "Fourteen!" Meanwhile, his dad ran all over the courts retrieving the balls. The other novice table was a couple adults mildly lobbing the ball back and forth. And then there were the intermediate tables, which we soon learned were the only tables actually in the competition. And there wasn't any room for us at those tables -- they had been all signed up for. Alas, we weren't in official competition. Not to mention that even though I had purposely signed us up for our own slots so we could play other people, they put us together and whispered conspiratorially that we could play for the whole half hour that way.

So we did. We played two games, to twenty-one, and Josh beat me both times. We had some great volleys, and I had some great shots, but Josh knows how to put spin on the ball, and it did me in. The other thing that did me in was my concentration. Because while we were playing, there were little kids running around with soccer balls, sometimes hurling themselves at the table, or at each other in the general direction of the table. It did occur to me that concentration would make a great mide (middah) -- and that if I ever make up my own, the way Stosh did once, I would put it on the list. Maybe like this: Concentration: Pay attention to what what you pay attention to.

When we were done, two delightful things happened. One: the organizers came over and asked if I wanted to be in competition at the tougher tables. Someone had advanced, and someone had dropped out, and they needed a competitor. After watching the guys play though, I knew it would be a very uneven match. They weren't even smiling while they played. Total concentration, lots of spin. I declined. Two: a woman told us that she had been watching us and that we were REALLY GOOD. "Oh no, it was nothing. Just a little something I picked up when I was in fourth grade." No, you were REALLY GOOD! We ended up talking with her, then her husband, and then her two little sons, for a while. Each of them was more unbearably good looking and friendly than the next, and when they commented on Josh's Toronto Jewish Film Festival shirt, we found out that they are Canadian, and that she is going to start taking her younger son to Shake, Shimmy, and Story, or whatever that class that I sometimes take Tabitha to is called. I felt like I made my first neighborhood mommy friend, and I don't even change the diapers!

OK, jump ahead several hours. Zlatne Uste Golden Festival is an amazing festival of Balkan music, dance, food, and culture that takes place every year on my birthday weekend. I have been going for years -- and as long as I've been going it's been in a school up in Inwood. This year it moved to the aptly named Grand Prospect Hall, a mere ten minute walk from my apartment!

There is so much I could say about Golden Festival, but I think what I would most like to say is that thanks to the organizers, once again I found myself face to face with the reality that I have deep community here, some of whom I have known for twenty years, and some of whom are much more recent friends. Dancing to Albanian urban folk music on a dance floor packed with hundreds of people, from authentic music and dance nerds to (I'm not saying they're necessarily inauthentic) Brooklyn hipsters, I found myself feeling central, surrounded, and connected. It was wonderful to see you:


And then I got to walk home!

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