I was a kid from the 50’s living in Flushing, New York City.  That’s when Flushing had only 3 Chinese people there – and, by the way, I knew all of them. Wait, wait, I forgot, there was Ling Ling, too, so there were four.   No, no, I’m sorry.  Mistake.   Ling Ling was a panda at the zoo. I just remembered that.  Yeah, there were just three Chinese people in Flushing in the early 50’s.   Jeese, I’m getting confused  after all these years.

So, anyway, in Flushing we were brought up with stickball and baseball.  Those games were a religion to us.  Everyone knew the players from the three home teams (Dodgers, Giants Yankees), and we knew how many homers the Duke, Willy and Mick had and all the batting averages for all the players.  Me? I was a devoted Dodger fan, principally because my mom and dad had bought me a real flannel Dodger uniform.  My mom had sewn on a number on it, which was one – Pee Wee Reese’s number – but my real hero on the team was Jackie Robinson who played second base.  I copied the way he walked and everything.  He was my inspiration.   I wanted to be number 42, Jackie Robinson.

Editor:  C’mon, c’mon, get on with it.  Can you roll the tape forward about 65 years.

Jackie, as it turns out, later lived in the town where I have resided for some 30 years, and they even have a little pocket park named after him downtown that has a statue of him in his iconic batting stance.  At the base of the statue it just has his name and mentions his attributes of  “courage, confidence and perseverance.”  But, in my opinion, they omitted the most important thing about him:  Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier.  Now that was a big deal.  My father said it was a big deal, so it had to be.

Now here’s the thing.  I still want to be like Jackie Robinson but, alas, I can’t play for the Dodgers because they moved the club to LA.   And, frankly, I just can’t afford to be paying rent on houses on two coasts, so I’m not about to move out there just because they want me leading off and playing second base.  Sorry, but they shoulda thought about that before they moved the team.

Then, a few weeks ago I heard the voice I was telling you about.  I was being called by some mysterious guiding force.  Ya know, sort of like Joan of Arc getting divine guidance.  That night I think it must have been Jackie’s voice that was coming down, and I heard it assigning me the mission to break the color barrier, among other things.  But when I insisted that I wasn’t worthy to do his bidding on such a momentous undertaking, Jackie insisted.  He said I was worthy enough.  Not a ringing endorsement, you could say, but it was still positive and encouraging and reassuring.

I had gotten the message but, truthfully, I was perplexed by it.  What was meant by break the color barrier and expunge the sponge? Cast away evil and blasphemy, his other pronouncements,  had to be related to those first utterances.  Well, I had to figure it out; was like my own personal riddle of the Sphinx.   Jackie had broken the color barrier in baseball, but what other sport or other area of human endeavor was the voice referring to?  I mulled it over and then I mulled it over again and again.  I was doing a lot of mulling, believe me.   And, then, it came to me.  BANG!  A eureka moment.  I suddenly understood.  Just like that, I knew what it was.  It would be my great task  not to break  the  color barrier – Jackie did that already –  but to break the barrier against the sandpaper racket.  Sure, I had just misperceived what he said in the beginning and thought I might have to Freedom Ride somewhere in the Sub-Saharan Africa.  But, no, it wasn’t that at all.  I had been selected purposely – it had to be me – because I was the only sane player at the Double Fish Table Tennis Club.  I was the sole user of a sandpaper racket amidst a sea of unbalanced and deranged Luciferians engaging in loop kills, third ball attacks and the very unkosher  twiddle! (the latter of which utilizes the most out-and-out chicanery and is the skankiest thing anyone can do playing ping pong – worse, even, than using long pips).  There was no question, the barrier to which Jackie was referring had to be the Sponge Bat classism as practiced at the Double Fish Club and as dictated by the dogmatic rules of the ITTFYeah,  of course it was the rackets.   He was talking about the rackets. He must have wanted the club to use sandpaper for the purpose of integrating  the homogeneous and exclusionary squishees.   Made sense – integrating another sport.

Well, far be it for me to deny those heathen  sinners at the club their sandpaper chance.  Who am I to deny them that entitlement.  Salvation through silicon carbide (sandpaper), that’s their ticket.   No question, that’s what Jackie Robinson had to mean by expunge the sponge.  And the rest fit perfectly, too.  I mean if you played with those cheating paddles, you were by definition a blasphemer! Casting away evil must have been his message to discard the diabolical sponge layer. Had to be!

And it also occurred to me, on a more philosophical level, that I might follow in Jackie’s footsteps in a more meaningful and more noble cause than just leading the league in homeruns and stolen bases.  That light which went on in my brain a few nights ago and which woke me up, was leading me toward what I was destined to do.  I was needed to do Something Big.  Something  Consequential.  Something  Significant.   This was to be my major undertaking in life, to finally achieve something purposeful which would enable me to leave a worthwhile legacy where others could later say:  Thank you Lao Du for paving the way for us. 

     What happened is kind of anticlimactic.   See, I got to speak to club owner, a guy who puzzled me by eating two full bags of popcorn while I was asking him if I could teach ping pong to people who wanted to use sandpaper rackets with oversized 55 mm ping pong balls.  He said, okay.  What!  I was shocked by his quick response, and then the manager, guy from Barbados, comes out and plays with me for a half hour using one of my own rackets!  And get this:  He said he enjoyed it!

      And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I broke the sponge barrier for rackets used at the exclusive Double Fish Table Tennis Center in Pleasantville, N.Y.  Now, if you’re patient and go in there sometime, look carefully and you might be rewarded to find some guy or gal playing with a 220 grit aluminum oxide Home Depot special, or maybe a 180 grit silicon carbide offering from Lowes.  Jackie would be proud.  Maybe.  (Editor:  Maybe not.)

Lao Du