1983: Scott Boggan on a 21-year-old’s Table Tennis Life.
Having been an English Professor for so many years, having heard so many speak to me through pages of pen or print, I naturally value an individual voice that comes off as being multi-layered real and so worth listening to. Hence I include in this volume, in this appropriate place, Scott Boggan’s article “A Three Week Break” (TTT, Mar., 1938, 4; 6):
“After being in Germany since early January playing four Team Matches for my Club—I’d lost my first singles and doubles, but had then managed to take my last ten for a satisfying month of play—I was ready during the German holidays to take a three-week break, to come back home to Long Island.
Astonished that I’d miss ‘Carnival,’ a youth said to me, ‘It’s Karneval time, Scott—you kahn trink ahnd go krasi.’
‘That’s the way I live anyway, sonny boy,’ I told him.
At the Bruxelles airport my massive bags had weighed a little less than the legal limit—20 kilos per piece. Now I had to wait for that inevitable quadralingual voice to tell me how long this last leg of my $375 round-trip flight would be delayed. And then seek a very cozy and comfortable environment so I could kick back, relax, and maybe read a bit. Ahhh!
Ahhh, bull____! Give me the first empty seat next to a chick….
And, sure enough, my hungry hunter’s eyes spotted a nice bird.
Might as well give it a shot, I thought. Probably initially it would be in vain, but I hoped she would at least be on my New York flight. What would my opening line be?
As I was contemplating, I gazed over her—her body, her attire, her possessions—praying I could find a slight conversation clue. She had long dark hair, sea-blue eyes, a sweet face, and a damn nice figure. Probably some stuck-up French chick. But a FOX!
Her apparel had an up-to-date sexy look with a pair of red high heels to boot. The boots really turned me on. She had a nice, black-leather pocketbook and alongside it a stuffed flight bag with two badminton rackets delicately balanced on top.
She was a badminton player perhaps, I thought joyfully, remembering I’d been to a Germany-England match. I gazed spacily at the emblems on the racquet handles. What! That’s the Stiga mark! What great luck! Fate had led me to wear my 100%-cotton Stiga shirt with that same logo. It was the one I’d gotten mugged in at the National Sports Festival last summer. Again I saw that huge blood spot and felt the cold darkness.
A bit depressed after having my head stitched up, I’d shown my brother Eric, the actual owner, the sorrow of what I thought to be a wasted shirt. Waving his hand and the shirt away, he’d said, ‘It’s no good to me now,’ leaving me with guilt on my hands. But as it turned out, my mother again came to the rescue by putting some awful-smelling chemical on the spot and washing it with, as I later learned, water. Miraculously, the stain came out, and because I like the shirt and want to keep it I’ve never worn it in my brother’s presence. Hopefully, in a year or two, he’ll forget about it altogether, and I’ll be able to sheepishly wear it that first day he’s in good humor.
I was about to literally jump at this girl, shouting, ‘Look! My shirt and your racquet—they have the same insignia!’ But then I thought, ‘Now keep your head together, Bogs, you gotta play it cool.’
So I pulled out a bottle of untouched, corked German wine—Spatlase, it was called, whatever that means.
‘This white wine was a great buy,’ an American friend of mine, playing the role of connoisseur, had told me a few days earlier. ‘It was bottled in 1980 and not 1981,’ he said, wrinkling up his face and pronouncing ’81 as if he were about to take a tablespoon of cough medicine. [In the following Topics, Scott would write a “Correction”—1980, not ’81, was the year of the bad wine.]
A great buy indeed—I’d bought it because it was only four marks ($1.80).
I asked this chick with red heels if she could speak English—she could. If she would stay here a few minutes—she would. If she could watch my bags—she could and would.
‘Thanks,’ I said, and marched on towards the cafeteria, wine in hand. After noticing with a pang of disappointment the corkless bottles available, I bobbed my head through the glass shelves of cellophane burgers, dogs, and whatnots till I finally managed to get a counterwoman’s attention. I then encircled my fingers around the wine bottle, trying to employ the same masterful stroke Ralph Richardson, the Sorcerer, did over his potions in ‘The Dragonslayer.’ I held an imaginary corkscrew, dug it into the cork, and with all my isometric ability twisted my wrist downwards.
A bit exaggerated, I agree—but the woman got the point. She smiled and said, ‘Au restaurant,’ and pointed down the hall.
I did eventually get my wine opened there—and with very little pantomime. Le garcon took it and returned it in less than ten seconds. Having no idea how much his flip of the wrist was worth, I rewarded him with five Belgian francs.
As I approached my seat the redbird smiled—a good sign.
In my bag, among the mass of chocolate bars, I fished out two unbroken German bier goblets. I poured her a glass of wine, and, ‘Ohh,’ to her surprise, she delightfully accepted.
“Is it your birthday?’ she asked.
‘Is it a special occasion?’ she inquired with a puzzled look.
I shook my head slowly, looked at the floor, slightly smiled, raised my wine glass in the prevailing fashion, and said, ‘No, this is just the way I live.’
She obviously couldn’t figure me out, but took me as a harmless sort.
We spoke a few lines of basic info, and naturally I told her that I lived in Germany.
‘What are you doing there?’ she asked
‘I’m playing Ping-Pong,’ I replied.
‘No kidding,’ she said. ‘We have a table at home. My boyfriend plays a little and to tell you the truth there isn’t a friend of ours that can beat him.’ Of course because she was European (‘there isn’t a friend of ours that can beat him’) and not American (‘there isn’t anyone around that can beat him’), she knew her boyfriend wasn’t that good. She invited me to come to Oslo one day to show him how to hit the ball.
We chatted a bit more and I think she found me an interesting cat with undoubtedly a touch of class for having those crystallized wine glasses. I remember her subtly mentioning that lucky dude boyfriend of hers; however, she told me the way all the nice girls tell ya, early—as if to say, ‘Sorry, I’m taken.’ And that’s why they are.
We exchanged addresses.
‘How can you speak such good English?’ I asked her.
‘I had an American boyfriend.’
‘That’ll do it,’ I thought.
‘What do you do in Germany?’ she repeated.
‘I just play table tennis,’ said I.
‘You must be very good.’
‘For an American I am, but that doesn’t go very far anywhere else. We lack international experience.
‘You are well known?’
‘In my home town practically everyone knows me or of me. On Long Island—that’s a big island, like a state within New York state where I live— I’m fairly well known because I spent a few years putting on lengthy exhibitions there, some of which I received little or no pay for, and giving interviews trying to promote the sport. Plus a few thousand American T.T. enthusiasts know of Mr. Boggan, and also some hackers who just “party with Scott.’
‘Do you make a lot of money playing Ping-Pong?’
‘Not at all—barely enough to scrape by on.’
‘Why Germany? Do you play in tournaments there?’
‘No. I play in the Bundesliga, the German Leagues—one of the garden spots in European table tennis. But unfortunately there’s a world of difference between the Premier Division and the Second Division I play in. The First Division matches are packed with bier-drinking , wurst-eating aficionados expecting to see world-class top-spinning, bat-twirling, spin-changing athletes at their best. Most of them play a bit and not only follow the players’ varying techniques but their fist-clenched acts of triumph or top-of-the-lung curses on suffering the agonies of defeat. The halls the matches are played in are usually fairly small with a seating capacity of a few thousand. The fans know the sport and the teams—like the Americans do their Major Sports. A hall may be packed one day when a top team comes, but maybe the next day only a few hundred would want to see the worst team Houston Rockets of the Bundesliga.’
‘How many players on a team?’ the bird suddenly asked. But it wasn’t as if she were in Norway—she was following.
‘They’re six men on a team with three position slots—1-2 (the best), 3-4, 5-6. The first two slots consist of world-class players and the best Germans. Only two or three Germans play with really positive heads. In the middle slots are top-notch Germans—those who’d be ranked #5-#25. The last slots are made up of 2300-2400 players. They start a match (play’s on two tables) with two doubles (the four players participating from each team do not have to be from the same slot), then a singles—with #6 on the A team playing #5 on the B team)—after which the matches progress as follows: #5 A vs. #6 B; #1 A vs. #2 B; #2 A vs. #1 B; #3 A vs. #4 B; #4 A vs. #3 B. Then there’s another complementary round of singles—#6 A vs. #6 B; #5 A vs. #5 B…—until a club gets nine wins. If the score’s 8-6 or 7-7, they play two more doubles at the end (but no new pairings). A team win equals two points; a team tie one point [so I presume if it’s 8-all, there’s no more play]. Some think it’s all rather long, but you can imagine the excitement at 7-all.’
‘Once Julich, then #2 in the League, overcame a 7-2 deficit to win 9-7 against Reutlingen, then #3, to keep their hopes alive for the Championship. Because play was in the usual small, college-type hall, the Match had to be stopped at 7-all. The fans had got themselves so caught up in the excitement of it all, had smoked so much, that the players could no longer see well enough to play and the gym had to be aired out. After the match, the Julich team, the team’s relatives and friends, as well as the friends of the team’s friends, went out to party. By the time they’d finished gorging themselves, it had cost the Club $700.’
‘But it isn’t always peaches and cream for the fans. One time in Julich, 1971 World Champion Stellan Bengtsson, whom most of the fans had specifically come to see, refused to play because of a slight temperature. The team lost 9-0—with the fans booing and shouting throughout for their money back.’
The redbird continued to seem more than politely interested. More interested in my conversation, I noticed, than the wine. ‘And the Second Division,’ she said—‘that’s different?’
‘Yeah. The matches are mostly played in small, empty halls where the playing conditions aren’t quite as good. But, being American, that doesn’t bother me a bit since I’m used to adjacent-table distraction as well as playing on any kind of table in any kind of place, even where loud workers, preparing for the next circus and freak show are ripping the present one down. The top players in this Second League usually consist of not so young men who earlier had played Bundesliga Ball and who now play on the side for some fun plus the chance to make a few easy bucks. There are also serious-minded young players trying to make a name for themselves who want to climb up the table tennis ladder of success. The remaining team members are usually quite lazy and play to make their mark socially, for the hell of it.’
‘The first-slot players in the Second Division are practically equal with the last-slot players in the First Division, except for those on two or three elite teams. So the competition is still quite good for me—about what we call at a 2400 level in our player-rating system. The money is also quite good for those Second Division players who in their day had made a good name for themselves. Each club’s team allowance varies. Some of the top Second Division players get more money than the young players who play for the glory, for the spectators, in the Premier Division. Why? Because the best clubs have to pay a hell of a lot for their big guns—current and past champions like Appelgren, Bengtsson, and so on.’
‘My problem is that I’m a foreigner and they passed this new rule that just one foreigner is allowed per team. If I weren’t a foreigner, I could easily play in the First Division. Since I play in the top slot in the Second Division, I’m good enough to play in one of the back slots in the First Division. But I can’t be picked because I’m up against the foreigners who are superstars—and a superstar I’m not.’
‘That’s a shame,’ she said.
‘But I go to Germany mostly to train. I live and train with the players from a leading First Division team. The First Division teams are all funded. The clubs are used as advertisement outlets—with sponsors like the Ford Motor Co., Pepsi Cola, or a leading German bier company. The Big Chief owners aren’t quite the New York Yankees’ George Steinbrenner, but they’re still fairly high up there on the list.
‘Do you live with a family?’
‘No. I live in Stetternich, a small village five kilometers from Julich, not too far from the Belgian border. Julich has both a First and Second Division team. Their Club fronted $2,500 for the safety of my wall-to-wall carpeted, six-room apartment with its beautiful glass doors, kitchen, bar, and balcony. They wanted an apartment for their hopefully-in-town-dwelling players. But it kind of backfired on them because one Swede left on account of the new one-foreigner-per-team rule and his replacement just flies in for the weekend matches, stays only about three days a month and with the Big Cheese owner himself.’
‘So I’m in this rich pad with just this one cat who’s seldom there. He’s Michael Plum, German National Team member and retriever extraordinaire. He’s now more often in the safety of his mother’s hands than my “Let’s Live For Today” slippery grasp. I have it pretty easy because I pay only $125 a month rent when I’m there. But though it’s really more Plum’s apartment than mine, he’s set down only one rule—as have a few other households on Long Island where I come from: NO MIKE BUSH ALLOWED. Bush is an American—and the seriously stated NOT ALLOWED is an inside/outside joke.’*
‘It sounds pretty good for you there,’ said my redbird. It had crossed her mind to visit me maybe?
‘Well, it is quite good for me now. But it took three years for me to be in the situation that I’m in today. My first year was a nightmare. I played in Julich on the second team and none of the good players lived in my village. Worse, they only came to Julich to practice once or twice a week. I remember playing one month with just 1600 players—all kids. Every night I’d run the three miles there in the cold, go to the front table and play for three consecutive hours as the kids lined up waiting their turn. Then I’d run the three miles back home again, racket case in hand.’
‘The first half was hard for me. I knew no one, had no friends, didn’t go out or associate with anybody. Plus, I hardly had any money. They took advantage of me too. I was supposed to receive a free dinner once a day at a local restaurant, but they said they’d give me the equivalent in marks.’
‘And didn’t they?’
‘Well, the Treasurer of the Club owned a shoe store and once I thought he’d given me a free pair of the fanciest walking shoes I’d ever seen, along with 20 pairs of expensive socks. Later I learned that the shoes and socks were to be subtracted from my dinner allowance—which turned out to be $2.50 a day.’
A great lift for me though was the confidence my trainer still had in me after that half season of catastrophic play. After the first half is over, the teams readjust the players’ slots or positions. But my trainer, Dirk Huber, didn’t move me down from the first to the middle position, which is what would usually happen when one played as poorly as I did. He said no one in the Second Division trained as hard as I did, and that even with that horrible record I was still one of the best players in the Division. This was a hell of a fine thing for him to do, and in the second half, after working day after day on my backhand with a 1600 chopper in a local gym class, I proved my trainer was right to have such confidence in me. From 5-16, I turned my record completely around to 15-5—one of the best in the Division.’
‘And you’ve been playing in Germany ever since?’
‘Well, the next year I skipped the first half season to go to college—which didn’t quite work out for me. After making the U.S. Team to the World Championships during what otherwise would have been final exam week, I played the second half of the season in Julich, living with Plum in an apartment, the entire size of which was smaller than the average homeowner’s living room. I played good and they said I would be on the First Division team next year. But then they had problems getting some German players and had to get a much better foreigner than me, so suddenly they told me I was on the second team.’
‘This night and day difference naturally pissed me off and I was very depressed. The management said, though, that changes for the better would be taking place—that the players would get a better apartment and would have halls open for them day and night. But I was still pissed, and when another club offered me an opportunity to play for them and live in Julich practicing with the First Division players I agreed.’
‘And that was better?’
‘This was the best situation I’ve ever experienced in table tennis. In the mornings, with Leiss, Coach of the German Junior Team, as trainer, I practiced with the German Nationals Wosik, Nolten, Plum, Huging, and, to my delight, mostly with Oke Grunland. “The Swede,” as I called him, was the other foreigner that Julich obtained and so came to live with Plum and me in that classy flat I was telling you about. Grunland was currently ranked #15 in Sweden, was a former member of the Swedish National Team, having played in the 1977 World Championships, and once finished as high as third in the prestigious French Open. He was your usual fast-handed, up-at-the-table serve-and-attack Swede. A great athlete, he was the best of the Pongers at soccer—a game the players used to warm up with before playing t.t. He lacked only one thing, the most important thing—heart.’
When Grunland was younger, he was the best for his age in Sweden, dominating his age groups the way my brother Eric did in the U.S. He grew up a typical hard-drinking Swede out of the middle class who wanted to stay that way. He never knew what to tell the girls when they asked him why he was in Germany. To be a star just wasn’t in the cards for him. He went where the money was—Germany—and for eight months of play he brought back $12,000 under the table. He often talked of what he’d do with the money, how he’d move away from his parents and into his own pad. “I lose so many girls because I live with my parents,” he told me.’
He constantly spoke of buying a car, a stereo and a TV with a video tape machine so he could watch the Porno movies with an acquaintance of his. And not play much Pong. He just hated Germany, as well as the Germans, often remarking how ugly their race is compared to the lean, light-haired, blue-eyed, clean-faced Scandinavian Vikings. Playing twice a day was too much to ask of him. He often just slept—once 22 out of 24 hours—the way all people do, collecting their thoughts, storing energy, refreshing themselves, and escaping reality.’
‘A 17-year-old nymph would often visit his bedroom. One day, before her arrival, Plum and I fixed a kind of wooden venetian blind up on our balcony so that we could see into their chamber but they couldn’t see us. Drunk out of our minds, Plum and I climbed through the kitchen window, the better to spy on the Swede in action.’
‘Another time when she unexpectedly showed up, Oke snarled the question, “Why did you come here?” No reply. “You came here because you’re so horny,” he said. “Get in my room and take off your clothes.” Five minutes later, he’d been in and out of that room and was asking Plum if he wanted to go in. And yet this romantic relationship with Oke and his girl lasted longer than you might think.’
Unfortunately, as I was just warming up in my conversation with this Norwegian bird, my Capital Skyscraper was not delayed and it was time for me to leave. Since I was starting to get a little raunchy and she was still listening, I could just see myself missing my flight. I’d done it once previously—had missed a ship in Ostende by going out for a few drinks with some Scottish fox.
‘You’ll have to drink up,’ I said to Miss Norway. ‘I need my glass back.’
‘Oh,’ she said, ‘you gave me too much. I’m getting drunk’
‘Oh? You don’t drink much?’
‘Well, not so fast. I just drink wine socially. Once I drank a wine from 1911. It was very good and I got high off it.’
‘I should hope so,’ I said, thinking for some reason that the older the wine, the stronger the alcoholic content.
After we’d said our goodbyes, were moving our lives forever away from one another, I was about to say something to her about quickly calling me if she happened to break up with her boyfriend. But I was afraid she’d take my sincerity as a sick joke.
I needed to drink some more wine so I could crash on the flight. I went to the Duty Free Liquor Shop and picked out the first bottle of white wine that I laid eyes on. It cost 350 Belgian francs, and once again I had no idea how much that was. I’ve traveled internationally for five years and I’m still a naïve American bozo. At the cashier’s I tried to play it cool, asking for a bag in German. Unfortunately, the cashier spoke back in German and I didn’t understand her. Then in English she asked me for my boarding pass, leaving me feeling like a total jerk. I paid with the monopoly money and quickly walked away.
My flight left on time, and after the ‘Fasten Your Seat Belt’ sign was off, I got up and stretched. Sitting behind me were two typical Germans—one an elderly, pot-bellied businessman with a goatee, the other a blonde-haired girl. Next to them was an American. Behind me and to the right were mothers with their infants. One was nursing a quiet kid, and another had a not so young girl in her arms whom she was treating like the other’s helpless baby.
I wasn’t the only one who was playing the observer. Sitting immediately to my left were two Frenchmen. The one who was sitting farthest from me looked your Basic French, but the fellow he was with, who was sitting next to me, had a very strange hair style. Since he had no hair in the front or on the sides, his cheveux was roundly shaped. But it well suited his long-nosed, comical face. I knew he had to be in the Arts.
I don’t remember who was in front of me, but directly to my right was the cuisine. There was also another homo there—some fruitcake steward who talked like an elderly, upper-class N.Y. Jew* and had a lot of feminine characteristics. He made me sick. The world’s full of fags, I thought.
As I talked with the French, the stewardess overheard me speaking about a corkscrew, and, as if I’d said, ‘E.F. Hutton,’ instantly turned her head. ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘we can’t have you drink that wine here. You can’t bring your own. You have to buy it from us. We’re very strict about the rules here.’
If ever there was instant hatred, it was in my eyes at this moment. I didn’t like the way this bitchy stewardess spoke.
‘We’ll get it open some way,’ said the smiling Frenchman next to me. Fag or not, he seemed a nice guy.
However, I soon decided to buy their capital vino after all and save mine—surprise my parents with it. A few moments later I spoke to a different stewardess. Her voice was soft and I instantly felt a motherly warmth in her. ‘Can I buy a bottle of wine?’ I asked ever so politely.
‘Red or white?’ she answered with a smile.
She brought me the wine in less than five seconds. ‘How much is it?’I asked.
‘How much is it in German marks?’
She shamefully said, ‘Five.’
‘I believe I’ll pay in dollars,’ I said, handing her two bills.
‘I don’t blame you,’ she said. ‘The airline rates aren’t very good.’
Twenty minutes later I needed another bottle. This time I asked the nearby bitchy one for it. Having no more dollars to my name I gave her 10 marks. ‘I have no idea how much to give back to you,’ she said.
I soon began talking to the French dudes. They were dancers preoccupied with putting together some new choreography. ‘You must be in good shape,’ I said to the guy next to me, trying not to look at his halo of hair. ‘Do you run a lot?’
‘Yes, I do,’ he said. Are you fit?’
I reflected on the shape I was in. My pulmonary circulation was prime. ‘I have to stay active,’ I said, ‘or I’d go crazy. I have to do something—run, swim, or play basketball. I feel fat if I don’t. I do sit-ups every day and, most of the time, exercises. I used to be in even better condition but I’ve changed my playing style a little, and that changed my rigorous training schedule. I used to do just random footwork drills, used to run all over the place like a maniac, then, after each session, follow up with a special German exercise in which I jumped back and forth over a bench. Now I train for more backhand play and for a long and short serve attack pattern. While I was in Germany playing all the time, I just played basically a forehand attack game. Now, instead of coming around to loop, to topspin hard, I’ll push return a ball short, long, flip it, or do anything to mix up the play. I also block more, hoping my opponent will make a mistake in trying to be the aggressor. I changed my style because I’m playing less now and have to use my experience as well as my instinctive attacking ability. And I think it’s paid off.’
‘You mean, although you play less now, you play better?’ said my tonsured friend. He was smiling.
‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘I believe in general I do play better now than I did before. Being in California recently helped me out a lot. I didn’t practice much but I needed the money from tournaments to live. So I used every trick of the trade during those matches, came second in five straight tournaments, losing only to one player—a Korean named Song. Lately, I’ve got some sort of international confidence. A German told me I was better because I’m older, more mature, and more sure of myself. I know my game better now and where my balls are going.’
The Frenchman nodded, seemed to understand where my balls were going too. The unsaintly one, meanwhile, had settled back in his seat for a nap.
‘As for my strength, I have very few muscles except for those in my legs and stomach. But there are facts, theories, and reasons for that. Facts: (1) Natural athletes have strong body fibers and don’t need to lift weights. (2) If you lift weights and neglect pliant exercises, you’ll lose flexibility—and that of course a table tennis player can’t afford to do. Theories: I have a few of my own crazy theories. (1) In doing push-ups or lifting weights, you have to be careful you don’t develop any muscles other than your table tennis ones. If you think you should be stronger, swing a heavy racket or a light weight in a table tennis motion. (2) I’ve never been a big looper and don’t win points with power or spin. So if, like me, you’ve played the game practically your whole life without lifting weights, it’s foolish all of a sudden to try doing that. Instead you use your body and naturally adapt, like a kid born with only one arm.’
‘But enough of absurd theories. Though I know most players do little if any upper-body building, I know all too clearly why I don’t do it. (Reason #1) I’m already growing out of too many of my nice cotton T-shirts. (Reason #2) I just don’t want to do it.’
The dancing master and I talked about how hard it was to push yourself. It was all the same—whether you were training for table tennis or dancing. Sometimes it was enjoyable but other times it was anything but fun. Getting up day after day when the first thing you have to do in the morning is to play. Plus Oke didn’t want to work very hard and was satisfied just being out there on the table—so I did mostly footwork against his ever-consistent blocking.
The Frenchman and I talked a bit more, and I told him about the upcoming World Championships in Japan. ‘How did you get so good’ he asked when he found out I was on the National Team and after training with the Germans had won the U.S. Men’s Championship.
‘Well,’ I said, ‘I started very young in a very small sport, and wasn’t born, thank God, in, say, Montana, where there’s almost no organized table tennis. My father encouraged me to play when I was a little tyke, but for a long time I still lobbed too much—played too many high badminton-like shots. When I was 15 or 16 I really started to improve. We had an elderly couple in a nearby neighborhood who had a special parlor built for t.t. They let my brother and me play there when we wanted to and many good New York players often came there to play with us. This was a great arrangement. But unhappily for everyone they couldn’t keep the house and since then we’ve had no place to play. Now if I’m home and want to practice—and with my still risky style I need to practice often—I have to drive a disgusting three hours round trip to New Jersey to play at a nice club. It was and still is just too far.
‘Three hours was so far you had to go to Europe and stay there?’ said the pleasant if mocking Frenchman.
‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘I went to Germany to learn the real game—which means I had to stay there a while. It’s crazy that so many players go to Sweden for a six-week or a two-month stint. That’s not long enough. It’s better, I think, to go one time for six months—before our National Championships—than go several times for two months. But I’ve had enough of Germany now—just a few months more.’
I seemed finally to have talked myself out—so by mutual consent we just leaned back in our seats and followed our own thoughts. Amazing, though, how mine continued to center on table tennis. What an easy sport it was for an American to get good at in America. With so few competitors it was mostly a matter of putting in the time rather than having any great ability. The sport has changed now—it’s all technique—and players (especially the ones who didn’t start so young) can peak at 35 or 40.
As I told the Frenchman, though, it’s important where you live. If you’re inconveniently located and you want to be good, you absolutely must move and get a job somewhere near the right club where you can train.
The most important thing for upcoming young players to understand when training is that it’s got to be intense—you’ve got to give it all you’ve got. I don’t believe in warming up all your shots in slow motion for 40 minutes and at the same time talking about yesterday’s basketball game. Players have to be literally chasing after the ball instead of slowly, almost dreary-eyed walking it down. I believe it’s better to play two hours this way than eight hours the other way.
Often people ask me how much I play a day, and I say, ‘Oh, maybe a total of 2½ hours.’
‘That’s all?’ they say, not understanding.
It’s hard for the American players to think as I do because we weren’t table tennis-raised this way. I don’t think improving has very much to do with getting some secret Chinese coach to supposedly show his magic. We have to do it ourselves. There’s too much emphasis on a coach in America—there should be much more attention focused on a trainer. The best trainers give very little stroke information but tell you the drills to do, give tactical info, and, most of all, push you.
If I were a trainer—and sometimes I think seriously of being one—I’d have the players on entering the hall loosen up for a few minutes then warm up their shots for a quarter of an hour or so. Then I’d demand of them an hour of very hard practice centering on footwork drills. I’d have them moving and fighting, and then get them the hell out of the hall. No moping around sleepy-eyed for a three-hour period. This schedule I’d follow twice a day, maybe occasionally three times. Also, there should be a very personal relationship between trainer and player. Every player should be handled differently and on a personal basis. This goes for the drills as well. The loopers should loop, the hitters hit, and the choppers move around retrieving. The trainer should talk over the drills with the players to try to ensure that the player is doing not only what he thinks best, but likes. There should not be more than 20 in a camp, preferably 14. The players should be allowed to do what they want during the rest of the day and night so long as they give their best effort during those 2½ hours at the hall. Two and a half hours is very little to ask. If one wants to watch TV, let him. If another wants to go out at night, that’s o.k. as long as he can handle it and not be all hung over and sick the next day.
Anyway, enough trainer talk. Surely a human being had something else to think about besides table tennis.
I was worried about the Customs in New York. I had bought $150 worth of chocolate bars, plus $150 worth of records. The difference between our Hershey’s and this German milk chocolate called Riquetta was like orange drink and hand-squeezed orange juice. This Vollmich-Schokolade—it was so smooth and pure.
The best of the records I bought were: five Jimi Hendrix bootlegs at $1.75 each, three David Bowie albums at $3.50 apiece, two Don McLean albums at $3.00 each, and 12 records by John Mayal and the Bluesbreakers for 98 marks.
There’s a record store in Germany called Saturn that sponsors the German National Basketball Champions. Actually, Saturn is two stores. The smaller one has a limited supply—European bootlegs, a few normal records, and lp’s mostly out of the ‘60’s that didn’t make it in England and America. Through this store I found out about great groups like Fever Tree and The Road. Once I bought a double Beatle (then the Silver Beatles) album for $2.00 with the greatest version of ‘A Taste of Honey.’ In the other store you can get any record you want. It’s the size of Macy’s and is the largest record store in the world. You want an album by the Blue Devils, a Kansas City blues band from the ‘30’s? They got it. Saturn can run rings around their competitors—they’re clearly #1.
Looking at my declaration card as we circled J.F.K., I saw something about being able to bring in up to $300 worth of foreign goods—except for vegetables, fruit, meat. There was nothing about chocolate. Nevertheless, to be on the safe side, I knew I had to pick out a somewhat humane-looking customs official rather than some always-serious official type. I just can’t relate to some of these guys. They’re like those people who rate Bugs Bunny movies PG (Parental Guidance suggested) because Elmer Fudd blows up Daffy Duck with his cannon. Can you imagine asking these guys out for a beer?
The French dancers were vegetarians so I gave them the Edamer cheese I’d brought along. We talked a while more before we were able to land and it turned out they were into all sorts of far-out stuff like Meditation and some stick game called Itchy, which is supposed to tell your future. This prompted me to express my particular religion or private belief. One thing I remember saying to the monkish Frenchman had to do with self-reliance. You can’t escape reality through Meditation or alcohol or look for a way out through grass or some phantom thing—it’s up to you to face things. You’ve got to do it. You.
The Frenchman smiled and nodded. We left each other in peace.
At Customs I picked out my man—a tall, cool-looking colored guy. Probably some smart basketballer that couldn’t quite make it. He was rapping with the chick ahead of me about her thick glasses—said you couldn’t see they were thick from the front, only from the side.
As I handed him my passport he was pointing to another bird and saying how this one looked like his neighbor. Only I was listening to him. He tapped the computer a few times, handed me my passport, and waved me by without so much as even glancing at me. To my left as I walked by, a serious white official was diligently inspecting the vase of a 60-year-old lady.
My mother met me at the airport and I made it home to unpack my chocolate bars and records 45 minutes before my Dolphins got caught by the Indians.
As the days passed, I watched some TV—the show ‘Soap,’ sports (mostly basketball), and some cable movies. Everything else was garbage. I tried to sell my Vollmilch Schokolade (I’d paid $.33 a bar, was trying to sell them for $1) but was unsuccessful—once in a shopping center I was even chased by a cop.
I went to visit our religious and very Irish neighbors, the McSweeneys. They’re nice people but very prejudiced. ‘I want Arthur Ashe to beat Jimmy Connors because that Connors has got a big mouth,’ Mrs. McSweeny said to me one time. But when she found out Ashe was black, well, maybe Connors wasn’t so fresh after all. They know I’m not quite like them, but they’re slowly learning to accept me.
Of course the moment I walked in, Mr. McSweeney noticed my short hair. ‘You look like one of those Rolling Stones,’ he said. This didn’t really make much sense if you looked at the Stones’ hair style—but I got the message. Mrs. McSweeney was telling me how I should have my hair like one of her son’s—a kind of back and out—because I have a big head. I said that was too conservative for my taste—but I hadn’t really listened to or understood her description. I gave her a chocolate bar. ‘Oh, where’s your earring?’ she said. I haven’t worn an earring for three years. But she liked my chocolate. I kind of play into them now because I know how they think. As I was leaving I said to Mr. Mac, ‘Great game, huh? Washington played super.’ ‘I was for them,’ he said. ‘No kidding,’ I answered, thinking of the white running back Riggins.
I played a little helpless basketball—couldn’t help but notice how the other players dominated the game. Some of them could play a bit—high school and community college ball. I also played in a football game with non-athletes. I was amazed at the lack of sportsmanship in the game. All of them cheated—I mean every one of them. Everyone argued for the call to fall on his side, and not once—except for me—did someone admit the truth that, yes, the ball did hit the ground. Still, I kept my mouth shut the whole game—smiling, yet knowing how everyone was thinking. I couldn’t wait for the end of the game, and when it was over, the other team that of course loved me asked me if I was coming back next week. I shrugged my shoulders.
The difference in the ability of the basketball players as opposed to that of the footballers was as great as the difference in their sportsmanship. ‘I got im!...Sorry, man, I hit ya too hard.’
‘No problem, you’re just playing contact ball.’
Though I had a tournament coming up in Pennsylvania a few days before I was to return to Germany, I didn’t play any table tennis, except for an hour’s practice once. It wasn’t worth it. I did run every day though, and spent a lot of time writing this, and listened to music.
Also, I was out almost every night—often went dancing. Twice a week I go to a totally insane Punk Jungle called Spit. At work one day, my mother was talking with a woman she described as ‘very conservative .’ ‘My daughter goes to Spit’ this woman was saying.’
‘Oh yeah?’ said my mother. ‘So does my son.’
‘She goes there to look at the weirdos,’ said the woman.
‘My son is one of the weirdos,’ said my mother laughing.
At one pub a girl accused me of stealing her wallet. At another, there were 11 Swedish foxes—all together, as in a den. I talked to them a while and discovered that, sure enough, they knew the great Swedish player ‘Stellan Johansson.’
Pretty funny, huh? But in this sport, even if you’re a star, people who don’t know you, who don’t talk to you, who really have no interest in you, can more often than not, get you all wrong.”
*Felix Bogart of Baldwin, NY, in the following Letter to the Editor (TTT, May-June, 1983, 14) objects to a line in Scott’s article:
In reading your son’s story…I was about to call up and say what a good story it was.
One line stopped that—the reference to a fag who looked like a New York Jew [that’s not accurate: the correct quote—it makes a difference—is: ‘some fruitcake steward who talked like an elderly, upper-class N.Y. Jew and had a lot of feminine characteristics. He made me sick’]. As a New York Jew I object to an offensive remark. Substitute any other minority group and see if they would not also feel incensed. We are not fair game to be shot at. Sure, there are N.Y. Jews who are homosexuals, but so are there Jonas Salks and others to be proud of. Every N.Y. Jew that I spoke to (and I spoke to a few) was unhappy with this.
Your son allowed a foolish line to slip into his story and you compounded it by printing it. Surely an editor should edit. The pen was used here to hurt if not destroy.
We are on the defensive all over the world and we need no attacks from those we formerly considered to be friends. An apology by both of you I believe is in order and in no general but specific terms. Such an anti-Semetic canard cannot go unquestioned and unanswered.”
I of course adjacent to his Letter appended a reply:
Scott feels that your reply to his article should go into Topics unanswered by him. He wants his article and your letter to speak for themselves.
As for me, well, surely you must know that I’m not crazy—that I half-expected to get some flack from Scott’s article. From the USTTA establishment, from feminists, from gays, from blacks, from Jews, from Germans, from—who knows?—‘The Swede,’ Oke Grunland, the football players Scott said were constantly cheating (one has subjectively assured me that certainly he was not cheating), our neighbors the McSweeneys.
All some readers need is even a glancingly offensive line, a different point of view, and they are understandably moved to defend an ideal. So, no, THIS article (so different from many a carefully inoffensive and unreadable article in one pretend magazine after another) was from the beginning sure to offend someone.
Surely, though, you can’t think Writer and Editor were blind? Obviously Scott and I know people have feelings, sometimes very strong feelings—we ourselves do. Scott the Writer made it very clear in his article that he, with his varied experience, was as well aware as I the Editor, with my varied experience, am of people’s prejudices. In fact, Felix, your own prejudices have found their way into print. Your uncomfortableness with Scott’s appraisal of this steward is that he’s apparently a Jew and apparently a homosexual, and that mix doesn’t sit well with you. And what’s the “canard” anyway? What’s ‘false,’ ‘unfounded,’ or ‘fabricated’ in the way Scott sees this individual person? Have you any reason to believe the steward is not what he appears to be?
In my judgment (and I am after all something of a 25-year expert in these matters), Scott’s aim in writing this long ‘Three Week Break’ was not to be combative or to proselytize a racist point of view, it was (however surprising this may seem to you) to write an article of Truth and Beauty. This would be his and my—Writer and Editor’s—reward.
For you this article was marred by an ugly (though a specifically limiting) line: ‘some fruitcake steward who talked like an elderly, upper-class N.Y. Jew and had a lot of feminine characteristics.’ And if for another it was an article marred by more than one ugly line that was a risk I had to take. Otherwise, what, antiseptically, was I to do? Edit the way you would have me edit? Or someone else out there would have me edit? So that no one might possibly be offended? But I can’t do that. I can only do what, thoughtfully, I judge to be right (like, o.k., through substitute symbols keeping very nasty words out of Topics).
As you well know, Felix, as your Letter above shows, without the element of conflict in Jonas Salk’s life, or anyone’s—particularly a writer’s—there is no literature (which is what Scott’s article aspired to be), no expression of the individual Soul or Spirit, no humanity.
Scott’s conflicts, whatever they may be, like yours, Felix, like any ping-pong player’s, need ordered expression to be resolved. It is the attentive reader’s struggle—not all enjoyment—to see in such conflicts his or her own self defined. To deny the conflict, the self-expression of it, is to deny the reader.
My way of ‘apologizing,’ if it would please you to think of it so, is to print this Letter of yours on the margin of which is an aside that says print it ‘if you like.’ For surely I think your voice, like Scott’s, ought to be heard. That way, you and I can help others decide if they’d ever want to read (what has drawn far more angry letters than any article in Topics) that ‘anti-Semetic play’ of Shakespeare’s, ‘The Merchant of Venice.’
*Lest I be party to close Mike Bush out, I quickly point out that, in March at the Czech Open in Prievidza in their first Team tie (the only one I need mention here), the USA—Mike and Charles Butler—had a good 3-1 win over Denmark. Mike d. Kim Kartholm, 17, 11; Lars Hauth d. Charles, 14, 15; Bush/Butler d. Hauth/Kartholm, 12, 10; Mike d. Hauth, 15, -17, 13. I’m sure Mike would like me to mention that only a month or so later at the Tokyo World’s both Kartholm and Hauth beat Danny Seemiller and Scott Boggan.
Also, it’s as if suddenly I can’t get enough of Bush. I’m allowing him (Timmy’s, July-Aug., 1983, 14) to tell you something of his upcoming spring/summer peregrinations. “At Lipstadt, he defeated West German players Heinz (3-0) in the semi’s, and Ristig (3-1) in the final.
“At Veltheim, after beating Mathias Horing in the quarter’s, Mike lost to the very fine German player, fun-loving Peter Engel. Mike was up 1-0 and 13-5 in the second, which he lost; won the third, but lost the fourth; and in the fifth was up 7-1…down 19-16 with Engel serving…down 20-18…then got to 20-all…before losing 22-20. Mike took 3rd-Place—beating Bernd Sonntag, the #2 player on Eric Boggan’s 1983-84 Bad Hamm Bundesliga team, for which, starting this fall, Mike will be the Trainer.
“At Porta Westfalica, Mike again lost to Engel, but Charles Butler beat Germany’s Manfred Nieswand, the best #3- #4 player in the Bundesliga.
“At Bad Driburg, in the semi’s, Mike downed Franz Huermann, the hard bat player (who many readers will remember as having played quite successfully in the U.S.), but then he lost to Sonntag, 3-0.”
At this point, “Mike and Andreas Preuss, the #4 player on Eric’s team, went off on a 1,000-mile three-tournament swing in France and Germany. Both felt perfectly safe—at least Mike did, cruising leisurely along at 110-miles an hour in his Ford Capri [where’d he get that car?]. ‘I can’t drive 60 in my Ford LTD at home in Pennsylvania without feeling scared,’ said Mike. ‘The suspension’s so bad, and the drivers on the road worse.’
“At Mike and Andreas’s first stop, a two-man team tournament in France, they beat German and Austrian players in the semi’s and final. Off they went then to celebrate at a French restaurant—except neither of them could read the menu. Mike took a chance—ordered what turned out to be two soups and a pate.
“After driving through the night they arrived at the Holiday Inn in Trier at 5:00 a.m. Yes, believe it or not, they were encouraged to sleep for a couple of hours in the lobby so they wouldn’t have to pay any extra room charge. At 7:00 they awoke, breakfasted, and by 9:00 were in the Hall playing a match. Mike beat an Italian chopper, then lost in straight games to Janos Takacs, a member of the Hungarian National Team. In the eighth’s of the Men’s Doubles, Mike and Andreas had Waldner and Appelgren game-point in the first…but lost the match two straight.”
As you might deduce from the presence of Waldner and Appelgren, though this is not a “big” Open like the French or German Open, it’s nevertheless “THE most important ‘little’ Open. Anybody who’s anybody is here—including of course Mike. Results: Quarter’s: English Champion Des Douglas over Sweden’s Jonny Akesson. European runner-up Jan-Ove Waldner over a now behaving himself Tibor Klampar, 3-2. Surbek over Orlowski, 19 in the 5th. And (in a major upset) Yugoslavian chopper Bela Mesaros over Appelgren, 19 in the 5th after The Apple was up 2-0! In the semi’s, Surbek over Mesaros, and Douglas in a zip-by over Waldner. Final: Douglas,‘The Black Flash,’ was awesome. Was up 19-2 one game—and, comes the report, Surbek wasn’t playing half badly. This, the grapevine says, was Douglas’s first significant Open title.”
“Did Mike and Andreas go with all these other stars to the party? Uh-huh. And afterwards? Why, they drove leisurely along to a Monday morning tournament.
“At Hangover, how’d they do?...Don’t ask.”
One more tournament now for Mike: the July 9th 8-man-field Invitational at Flims, Switzerland, to which he was invited. Results: R.R. “A”: 1. Ralf Wosik (West Germany), 3-0. 2. Alan Griffiths (Wales), 1-2 (3-4). 3. Massimo Costantini (Italy), 1-2 (2-4). 4. Mike Bush (USA), 1-2 (3-5). (Note that the Tournament Committee found some way to rule that Costantini’s 2-4 game record was better than Bush’s 3-5.) R.R. “B”: 1. Zoran Kalinic (Yugoslavia), 3-0. 2. Thierry Miller (Switzerland), 2-1. 3. Hanno Deutz (West Germany), 1-2. 4. Juergen Erdmann (West Germany), 0-3. Final Crossover Matches: 1. Kalinic over Wosik. 3. Griffiths over Miller. 5. Deutz over Costantini. 7. Bush over Erdmann.
To me it’s wonderful that Bush, in despair over the provincialism of the sport in the U.S., took action, came to live in Europe, and is pursuing now what he enjoys and feels is purposeful play.