The address wasn’t clear. You got there by a laneway. If by chance another garage was open that day then things might’ve gotten weird. We just said, between this and that street, head down the laneway, you’ll hear loud music and see a garage and people drinking beer and playing ping pong. Dead giveaway.
The garage had a stiff, crusty roller door. You needed to prop it up with a wooden stake so it didn’t drop down on someone. The first table was crammed into the garage. The laneway end had space to move but there was a pretty rough transition from the concrete to the overgrown grass in the laneway. The other end was equally cramped. If your opponent pushed you back, watch out for the vice on the workbench. There was about a foot on each side of the table, too.
The only way in was down the side of the garage table. Everyone knew the etiquette. They would hang back in the laneway until the point was over, then sideways shuffle to the door at the other end of the garage. Walk through that and you’re in this misshapen, overgrown backyard. The only flat space had the garden table. It always seemed to be on an obtuse angle to everything else.
The best seats in the house were either front row and pressed up against the wall in the garage, or hanging on the balcony overlooking the garden table. Miss out on those and you just had to find a place to hang out between games.
“[The racquets had] been made by prisoners; really solid, barely sanded.”
Of course, you needed to sign up, all proper like. New players paid a 10 spot and they became a Garage Ping Pong life member. Names would be taken down on this wrecked bit of paper and then copied onto the wooden board in the garage. Then you would get your GPP racquet. A blank would be taken out of the stack, they’d been hand made by local prisoners; really solid, barely sanded. A cross-hatched black rubber was glued on to each side, no sponge. These were the sort of racquets that made you slap at a ball. Top spin? You’re dreaming. Block a shot? Surviving.
Before you get your racquet, your initials and player number would be punched into the side of the handle with red ink and a metal tool. The racquets were priceless. But if you had to put a figure on it, it would be $10.
“The best seats in the house were either front row and pressed up against the wall in the garage, or hanging on the balcony overlooking the garden table. Miss out on those and you just had to find a place to hang out between games.”
Start playing, anyone you want. You lived by the wooden leaderboard in the garage. It was all about the board. Like the tax system, the ideology of self-regulation was perfect. In life, though. When you won a game you could give your name a mark. The more wins, the more marks. The more marks, the more likely you would be a contender. Some players got a reputation of adding marks illegally. Scandals became a part of the league. Like bad umpiring, you just had to work with it.
The season was pretty sporadic. The next league day would get announced on Facebook or even by text message. At the end of the season, the players at the top of the leaderboard played off for the prize, usually something handmade. Wise not to expect too much. Think grungy, canvas bag and a t-shirt with literally a finger-painted Garage Ping Pong on it. Best ping pong league, ever.