Last night I played Ping Pong at my table tennis club, as I usually do on Monday nights. I started off by myself at a corner table, practicing my serves. Then Mike came over and asked me to play. I'd never played with Mike before, and as we started to hit I could see he was pretty good. Still, I thought I could keep up with him.
He suggested we play a match. A table tennis match is best of 5 games. A game goes to 11 points, but you have to win by two points. Then whoever wins 3 games wins the match. Once we started playing for real, Mike turned up the heat, and he ran me around the table pretty mercilessly. He soon had me panting and sweating, and he beat me 3 games to 0.
A few minutes later I saw Chris. I've played him many times before. He's a lot younger than I am, but he's about my level. He's rated slightly higher in our club ranking, but we generally go back and forth on our matches.
It wasn't league night, so just before we began our match, I paused. "This is not for ranking," I clarified. "It's just for fun, right?"
He leveled me a mock hard stare. "It'll be fun for me," he smiled.
"Well," I laughed. "I don't mind providing you with some fun."
He won the first game easily. But then he got cocky and started making mistakes. I won the second game. The third game went to 10-10. He won a point to take the advantage. I won the next point to get to deuce. We went back and forth a couple of times; but finally it was my ad, and I won the next point and took the game. It was a hard-fought, competitive match all the way, but Chris was getting frustrated and during the next game he started making even more mistakes. I won the fourth game when he faulted on his serve, and I took the match 3-1.
After that I played with Charles. I'm better than Charles, and we both know it, but like me, he's an older fellow and we like to play together. I beat him easily at 3-0.
Next up, I met Dirk, who used to be a real good player, but he hasn't played much lately, so he's unpredictable. Dirk won the first game, then I came back and won the second and third games. But then Dirk came on strong -- and by this time I was getting tired -- and he easily took games four and five. He bested me 3-2.
After that another new fellow, a young guy named Adam, asked me to play. I was pretty exhausted by this point, and so I agreed we could hit for a little while, but I told him I didn't want to play a match; I had to go home soon.
Adam turned out to be good, and he was smashing shots at me, putting me on the defensive very quickly. After a few minutes I was breathless. I held up my hand. "So, thanks, but I really have to go," I said. He was nice about it; we shook hands, and I walked off.
As I left I saw Robert. He's another young fellow who likes to play with me -- because I give him a good match, but he usually wins. I said hello to Robert, but when he asked if I wanted to play, I begged off. "I gotta go," I said. I was really sagging by this point. "I'm tired," I told him. He looked as if he didn't believe me. So I added, "I'm old! I gotta get home. It's past my bedtime!"
There was another fellow sitting on the bench next to Robert. A black guy, probably in his 50s. I've seen him around the club, and I know he's a good player -- too good for me to have ever played with him. He looked up at me. "Hey," he said with conviction in his voice. "Never say you're old!"
I back looked at him. "Well, I'm tired. What other excuse do I have?" I was joking around. Didn't he get that?
"Just never say you're old," he repeated. "I don't care how old you are. If you're 40, and you say you're old, suddenly you're 42. It makes you older just to say you're old."
So I bantered with the guy for a minute, and I realized that he knew I was joking. But he wasn't joking. He meant what he said. I then stumbled off to the locker room to get my stuff and go home.
I'd had a good workout. I'd played pretty well. I was tired. And I learned: Never say you're old!