Thursday, November 30, 2006

Doing Stuff: Day 2, The Pottsgrove Table Tennis Club

For years, my name sent terror and shockwaves throughout campgrounds, basements and rec rooms throughout the east coast. The mere whisper of my name caused folks to shudder for I was the most dominating ping pong player of my childhood.

Okay, so I'm prone to a bit of hyperbole. But in a lifetime spent playing and sucking at any athletic event, I found one sport that I was actually good at. Table tennis.

The first time I played ping pong was on a Boy Scout camping trip in elementary school. I didn't have much respect around my fellow Boy Scouts: I was a bony, scrawny nerd from another neighborhood who was in Boy Scouts largely because I thought it was expected of me; they were largely the sons of bike gang lieutenants who were in Boy Scouts because of juvenial probation cases. The ScoutMasters were largely a bunch of drunks who'd rather stay in musty cabins with pre-teens than with their own families. (I'm guessing they don't let gays in Boy Scouts as a whole transference thing.) The only merit badge I would have earned in scouting was in "DIGNITY STRIPPING" from the constant humilations I endured.

But on one camping trip, there was a ping pong table in the rec center. I waited patiently and finally got a chance to play. And play I did, beating person after person after person. (I'd like to say that I won my peers respect that night via ping pong and I soon fit in with the rest of my troop. Instead, they threw my socks into a campfire.)

I apparently had a gift born with me to dominate others on the ping pong table. I became obsessed with ping pong. My family had a RV that we used for weekend camping trips, I begged them to only go to campgrounds with active ping pong rooms. My dad bought a ping pong table for me and put in our basement. I spent hours playing my dad, brother, friends. I took on all comers and rarely lost. I even subscribed to the National Table Tennis Gazette Newsletter to find out about the table tennis scene: how the US Olympic Team trained, their strategies, how they played the game. I mastered how to use spin, how to counter spin and when to play defense and when to attack.

My ultimate ping pong moment came on a family vacation at Lake George in the Adirondacks. There was another teen playing on the table and he knew what he was doing. We soon played each other and it was a great experience. I finally met someone who also was a ping pong dork. I always wanted to be able to return balls from about 15 feet from behind the table, like I had watched the pros do on the rare times table tennis was broadcast on the Olympics or on ESPN. I had my chance to do this against this kid, since there were no steps behind me like in my parents basement. Our battles felt like epics to me, our games going into overtimes, back-and-forth affairs rivalling Connors vs. McEnroe and Sampras vs. Agassi.

(I'd like to say I met a friend via ping-pong. I didn't, the kid was a douchebag who had a temper tantrum after one heated battle and broke the leg of the table after kicking it.)

My dream of ping pong glory and a slot on the U.S. Olympic team, however, was fleeting. The bigtime table tennis players play at the New Jersey Table Tennis Club in Westfield, which was about 40 minutes from my folks house. Their membership fees were steep and my dad had to do things like work and go to grad school as opposed to shlepping his asshole son around the state so he can play weirdoes in a rec room game. I also, eventually, got a life.

After college, I decided to start playing serious table tennis. I finally joined the NJTTC. My first meeting was an odd affair -- Ben, the guy who ran the place wore a flashy tracksuit and a sneer, telling me that it would be a while before I'd get good enough to really play at the club. The regular members looked like they lived at the joint and hated Ben's guts, at one point plotting an overthrow of his rule. (One of the members was a Rutgers grad student in Poli Sci, an Asian kid with a futuristic mullet. "His type of leadership has come up several times in my coursework. He's such a top-down ruler.")

The most bizarre person who played was Joyce, an overweight middle-aged woman who would play in Spandex and frequently curse and throw her paddle around. Everyone who played was intense, but you'd think by her reactions that her victory in ping pong would have given the world a cure for Muscular Dystrophy or something.

While clicking around the Internet, I also discovered Joyce fancied herself a poet, as made evident by her work about U.S. Olympic Team Member Lily Yip.


Train when you train, take a lesson or two.
It will help the sport be better for you.
Put your training INSIDE, when your keeping score.
Have fun, enjoy the game, and do nothing more.
You can be sure, it won't feel the same,
when you try to train during a game.
A single thing, you will NOT learn,
not strokes, or spins, or how to turn.
When all you think about is doing what's right,
and that you better get busy and put on a good fight.
When you go over all the errors that you make,
while checking every step you take.
Then you will notice all that's wrong
that's not really playing Ping Pong.
Neither Lily or me, learn what we need to know
But then when we play, We Must Let It Flow.

After about two weeks, I quit the New Jersey Table Tennis Club.

While starting this adventure, I started looking for a table tennis club. I found one about 30 minutes away in Pottstown, in the shadow of the Limerick Nuclear Power Plant.

I was hoping these people would be as intense and as crazy as the folks at the New Jersey Table Tennis Club. They weren't: they were all really nice guys who just liked to play ping pong. I played two games against Shelly, a guy in his 50's who has been playing ping-pong seriously for about 20 years who has a ranking which qualifies him as an "intermediate level" player according to the United States Table Tennis Association, and one against Charlie, another long-time player.

I lost every game I played (Table Tennis games are best-of-5 sets up to scores of 11) and saw a lot of room for improvement. I reacted to what my opponents were doing (and made poor decisions while doing so) as opposed to doing anything to put them on the defensive. But each game, I felt like I improved and more than held my own considering I haven't played ping pong in several years and played against guys who've entered national tournaments.

After this experience is over, I plan on going back. Who knows? Maybe with some practice and experience, my dream of being an Olympic table tennis player could get a little closer.

(EDIT: Photos of this and the Germantown Social Dancers will be up as soon as we find the cord to hook up to the digital.)

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Doing Stuff: Day 1, Germantown Country Dancers

"One, two... now post! Post and corner! Now full circle left turn!"

When I started brainstorming ideas for this Doing Stuff project a few weeks back, I checked all kinds of weekly listings for events to attend. My eyes, for some reason, were drawn immediately to one event: The Germantown Country Dancers. (

Their webpage was somewhat vague about what this group did. Their description of English Country Dancers follows: "English Country Dance is social, community dancing. Dancers take a different partner for each dance of the evening, and join a 'set' of couples. Each couple dances a series of figures with another couple, then repeats the same figures with each couple in the set. There's minimal footwork: If you can walk you can dance!"

The website also said that newcomers were always welcome, and that the only requirements were loose, baggy clothing and sturdy, flat shoes.

Well, I know how to walk! And I also own flat shoes and baggy clothing. This mysterious form of dancing seemed like a perfect way to start this project.

The weekly event of the Germantown Country Dancers is held at a Friends Meeting House (for those out of the area, these are places where Quakers go and practice their faith and they are fairly common in the Philadelphia area) in Lower Merion, not to far from my apartment. I arrived about 30 minutes early, as suggested, to get an orientation as to what to expect.

A mustachioed man in a worn, quasi-Hawaiian shirt approached me. His giant nametag read Sam.

"Have you ever done any dancing?"

"Only when I was drunk at my wedding."

"Oh... no, that's not what I meant."

Sam then explained to me what the Germantown Country Dancers do. "Have you ever seen any of the movies adapted from Jane Austen?"

I told him that I was familiar with them, which was a pretty blatant lie, unless you count Clueless. But now I knew the type of dancing these folks did... old-timey group dancing with a variety of partners.

Orientation was with Sam, a middle-aged woman named Jane and a man with a greying ponytail who kind of looked like Mick Foley. Sam led me through a variety of dances and steps, all of which involve intricate Figure 8 patterns and spinning in a circle while changing partners.

This seemed pretty simple and easy. Except for the Mick Foley lookalike. He kept on emphasizing making eye contact with your partners, especially when you're moving with them. He grabbed me and started moving across the room with me, staring me dead in the eyes with Swayze-like intensity.

This weeks event, I was told, was special. This was the last informal dance before the Predominantly Playford Ball, one of the big events on the Philadelphia English Social Dancing calendar.

The small meeting room soon became filled with about 50-60 people, most of whom were in their 50's and 60's. Some of the people were in clothing one would expect to see in a period piece from the Austen-era, others were in normal gear, and still others were so frumpy I couldn't tell if they were dressed in costume or not.

The partnering rule was simple. People just kind of approach you to dance and show you the steps. Sam would lead us through a run through of the dance, and then the music (performed live) would begin.

The dances I performed in were so complex, especially for someone as clumsy as myself. There were so many crosses, spins and movements that it was impossible for me. And because this is a group activity where one's movements effect the rest of the group (between four and 20 people, depending upon the dance being performed), I could sense people getting frustrated with me consistently messing everything up, especially since these people had a big ball coming up in a few days where they all wanted to nail their preformances.

But people's frustrations were more in a "kindly math teacher trying to teach pre-calc to a kid who can't even do long division" way. Everyone was exceptionally nice and helpful to me, despite my constant blundering.

In the middle of the dance, I recognized a familiar face. It was this lady Ann I used to work with. And fairly closely. After a few minutes, she of course recognized me. We both had a whole "why are you here" moment between us.

I hadn't even considered that I would find someone I knew at one of these events. and I never would have considered that Ann listed English Social Dancing as one of her hobbies. She seemed like an incredibly normal, average person who did stuff with her children and family.

I had no idea what to expect going into this event, and I had no idea about the types of people I'd meet. But it all makes sense. Even the most average, sensible person has a desire or a passion. Some people hide theirs. But other people enact on theirs. And dancing with other people who want to try and live out a little bit of a fantasy of life in a different era isn't just reasonable, but it's also pretty fun.

(EDIT: I'm going to put pictures up with this as soon as we can find the cord to hook up to our camera.)

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Doing Stuff: An Introduction

We keep having problems with Comcast. I was getting really frustrated with the shitty service when I had an epiphany: I am getting pissed off about not being able to watch television. Getting pissed off about not being able to watch television is absolutely retarded. Especially considering that the only shows I enjoy are The Wire and The Office.

This flash gave me a brainstorm. From now until Dec. 22 (the date I leave on my honeymoon), I will be doing as many "fun" things as I possibly can. Every night after work, and every weekend day, I will do something that I've never done in the city of Philadelphia and its proximity.

Here are some qualifiers:
A) Doing something like going to the movies is out. Unless it's a special film seminar on an arcane topic.
B) Going to a bar is out, unless there's a strange event at the bar.
C) I might have to miss a day because of unforseen circumstances involving household responsibilities. Or if there's really bad weather.
D) Everything I attend must happen within a one-hour ish drive from my apartment. This means I can and will consider events in South Jersey, parts of The Lehigh Valley and even Delaware. Not that there's anything interesting in Delaware.

If you're reading this and have any suggestions, let me know of your idea. The more ridiculous, the better. The more boring, the better. It really doesn't matter what it is, as long as it doesn't involve me sitting on a couch wasting away watching crap.

Monday, November 20, 2006

My Personal Jesus Is Your MVP

For most of August and September, I had a creepy obsession on another human being. His name? Ryan Howard, the king of hitting 500+ foot home runs, clutch hits and the man who made my summer that much more special.

There were about seven games when I started the M-V-P chants in my section. I can at least take some of the credit for The Ryan King's award.

The best part about this, I don't think anyone in Philadelphia really cares after Donovan McNabb snapped his ACL into nineteen parts yesterday.

If I had any extra money, I'd get a season ticket plan for next year.


Sunday, November 19, 2006

Philadelphia's Smoking Ban And Me: A Letter To Mayor John Street And Councilman Michael Nutter

Dear Mayor Street And Councilman Nutter:

I am a lifelong Philadelphian who is writing to the two of you about the recent legislation the two of you helped pass which has eliminated smoking at bars and taverns in our fine city.

I understand your decision to do so as it allows non-smokers and bar employees to not suffer the dire ramifications of secondhand smoke. In addition, many people hate coming home from a night out reeking of cigarette smoke. Helping these people is a good thing.

But while I understand your decision, I do not applaud your decision.

You see, Mr. fancypants Mayor and Councilman, when I was nine years old, I discovered I had a unique talent. At that young age, I was at one of my uncle's poker games, and one of his buddies took down my pants and shoved a cigarette into my anus.

"DANCE" my uncles and his buddies yelled, so I did, dancing away, shaking my tender heiny as the cigarette butt whittled away in my rectum.

I have been doing this stunt for years. When I turned 21, I was finally able to do it for bar patrons throughout our great city.

Nearly 30% of last year's income came from when I would randomnly show up to bars to show off my famous trick.

"Hey, does anyone want to see me smoke a cigarette out of my asshole," I'd ask whenever I'd go into a bar. No matter what people said, I'd hop up on the bar and stick a cigarette into my ass while it puffed away, holding out an upside-down mesh hat for people to contribute money to me.

While you may have made some of your constituency happy with your decision to ban smoking, you've taken away both my livelihood and dignity in the process.

I hope you reconsider your smoking ban in Philadelphia pubs and bars. Maybe I'll go to your next council meeting and show you what Philadelphia drinkers are now missing.

Philadelphia's #1 Anus Cigarette Smoker

Friday, November 17, 2006

New project

That's an idea my brother came up with. Basically, it's a blog where me and Chris will talk about each other. Any stories I have related to my brother will now end up there. This will be fun until it ends up bloody.

I'm still working on relaunching my own page here. Probably in a week or two. I've been really busy with school and an upcoming comedy thing.


Friday, November 10, 2006

Hey Everyone

My blog is on hiatus. There's no drama behind it (although there was certainly drama this week.) I'm sick of looking at this format/template. There are a lot of stories I want to rewrite. There were a lot of things that were kinda pointless. So, I'm going to go through everything and start over. Stuff should start coming back up pretty quickly.

If you want to get a hold of me, hit me up at
see web stats