Okay, this is the last time I’m going to write about playing ping pong for charity. I promise.
As many of you are aware, I participated in 826NYC’s So You Think You Can Pong tournament, held Wednesday night at SPiN in Manhattan, which sounds like it could be a gay nightclub but is actually a high-end table tennis establishment with good food and expensive drinks and very attractive bartenders. Despite the Warming Glow readership’s generous donations to my cause, and even though I finished in the top four fund raisers, the people for whom I’ve been volunteering for the last five years arbitrarily determined that I was fifth at tournament time, so I didn’t get to play your celebrity of choice. Despite this grave injustice, your money went to a wonderful cause, and I thank everyone who donated.
Shaken by the inexplicable snub, I ended up losing in the first round, despite wearing my most intimidating t-shirt. Luckily for you, my participation was the least interesting part of the night. Buckle up, because it’s anecdote time!
– Will Shortz, pictured above in a mustache and his finest crossword-editing sweatpants, won the tournament. He is insanely good at ping pong.
– Jason Jones of “Daily Show” fame emceed the event. I asked him why he was filling in for Wyatt Cenac, and he joked, “Ehhh, I couldn’t come up with a good excuse to get out of it.” Apparently Cenac had a last-second engagement in Las Vegas, and Jones was happy to take a break from playing Mr. Mom to his two kids. (Then we had a lengthy, brutally awkward silence. I said, “Hey, sorry about that awkward silence,” which he rolled with and we ended up talking about TV and, of course, NBC and Conan. Apparently Jones had made a pilot for Conan called — if I remember correctly — “Dr. Dan,” in which Jones played the titular character, a psychiatrist who records a reality show of himself living with the country’s most dysfunctional family for a year. According to Jones, people really liked it but Fox and NBC passed.)
– When you have a roomful of nobodies playing ping pong, it’s not really easy to hold the public’s attention, so there were two celebrity doubles matches at “center court,” as it were: Dave Eggers and David Schwimmer beat Catherine Keener and Sean Avery, and Mario Batali and Will Shortz defeated Peter Sarsgaard and Sarah Vowell.
– Yes: Batali wore his patented orange Crocs. He also carries an orange Sharpie to sign autographs. I had been instructed by my mom to relay a message, so I went up to him and said, “Uh, my mom really likes your father’s salami.” He laughed and said, “Don’t say that. Say that she really likes the cured meat that my father makes.” And I was all, “Your father makes cured meat?” Ba-dum-cha.
– I didn’t actually say that last part. I’m not nearly quick enough on my feet.
– The highlight of the night — other than getting slapped by Catherine Keener — was Mike Myers dressed in full Canadian regalia and accompanied by a loud cheering section in a match against ping pong pro Wally Green, who won the match 22-20 using his cell phone as a paddle. I repeat: he used a cell phone as his paddle. It was incredible. Well, as incredible as ping pong can be. (Watch him do it against some other people here.)
– Keener, who sexily offered slaps (or compliments) for $10, wasn’t the only celeb who offered her talent up for a flat rate. For a $50 donation, Myers recorded an outgoing message in character on people’s cell phones (your choices were limited to Shrek, Dr. Evil, and Fat Bastard), and $20 got you a bar napkin portrait from Dave Eggers.
– Best exchange of the night:
Girl: Check it out. (brandishes ping pong ball after her friend defeated David Schwimmer) I got Schwimmer’s ball.
Me: There’s only one?
Girl: Figures, right? It’s small and hard.
Me: Wait, that qualifies as small? What kind of experience do you have?
Girl: (beat) I grew up in the circus.
– When I originally heard that legendary douchebag Sean Avery was participating, I thought, “Wow, he’s giving his free time to a kids’ charity. maybe he’s not so bad after all.” He ditched out on the event before playing his scheduled tournament match. What a dick.
– Look at this f*cking hipster:
– Before the night ended, I managed to get a pick-up game with Eggers. I’ve met him a couple times now; his demeanor is friendly but guarded. But perhaps that had more to do with me being four or five bourbons deep than anything else. After I squandered a late lead, I beat him 22-20. I did not, as one commenter requested, tell him, “You shall know my velocity!” — not until after the game. I think he hates me now.