by Jerry Buckley
So, I am playing table tennis in this tournament, and I am matched against Stephen Hawking. I condescendingly consider it to be a “handicap” match; and boy was I ever right about that!
My first serve up was an easy floating push to his forehand; I mean, who wants to take advantage of a guy in a wheelchair, right? But to my surprise, he managed a tight cross court return shot, the ball spinning fast enough to vanish from my sight and land for a winner. “Shazam” I thought, as I managed to push a second easy service, which he nimbly dispatched for another winner; an accelerating top spin smash at warp speed. This dude was no novice, and a deceptively good player, to say the least.
So I ramp up my service, to feature my best under-spin chops from a low toss set up, which Hawking turned on with particle acceleration proficiency, or else he sliced them back with a side-spin swerve that set the ball spinning like a neutron star, before just nicking the event horizon on my end of the table and falling into a black hole; impossible shots to answer with any contact whatsoever.
His slight-of-hand backhand chop block sent the ball orbiting so tightly it couldn’t be seen without an infrared telescope. And what’s with the uber-mobility of that wheelchair of his? Hovering over the gym floor and responding as if it had a motion seeking guidance system? And then no matter how well-placed my kill shots; this joker seemed to always be able to find sweet spot on his blade to keep the loop going. So maybe I should have balked at the use of his metallic-paint colored ball, embossed with the atomic symbol for cobalt, rather than the customary three stars. And what sort of space age materials did he have sandwiched between his junk rubbers? I swear man, there was some wicked electro-magnetism mojo going on around his end of the table. Nothing I served up failed to be returned into play.
Then it was Hawking’s turn to serve; and that’s when things really got cosmic. His high toss serve levitated to the rafters before descending like a meteorite onto his paddle, and then launching with sonic boom velocity, knocking me off my feet into a puddle of ear ringing confusion on the planks. The escape velocity of his topspin serve was such that it left a tracer behind it, like a bottle rocket shot sideways. I was hapless to return any of his first services with any sort of effective counter-punch.
The physicist launched a series of anti-particle attacks which lent the illusion that the ball was moving forward and backward at the same time, but of course it always landed with a ping on my end, before bouncing to the hardwoods for another point in his favor. At one stage of the match, the prankster took to mocking me by returning pabulum floating lobs for me to pounce on; but those had an almost quantum property, as if they were governed by the Uncertainty Principle; so that they could be found to be in more than one place at the same time; and so I whiffed on even the simplest of set ups. I swear to Einstein that one of his lobs entered a wormhole and never landed on the table… neither on the floor, for that matter.
He twiddled his blade and hit photon counter-smashes, which defied every one of Newton’s observations on gravity; and he performed trick shots by switching from his left brain to his right brain. The most frustrating part of the whole affair was when he would send up an easy floater that seemed to be a particle, but would then vanish when I engaged it; proving itself to be nothing more than a wavelength all along.
I mean to tell you, this dude was invincible. He seemed to play with a sort of Doppler Effect at all times; and at times to occupy multiple dimensions. He was brighter than a supernova, and better than my very best effort could overcome. The final score…. 21 to absolute zero.