SideWalk Ghosts / Interview 331: You Are Cordually Invited To The “The Ping-Pong Council”

Left to Right: musician Joseph and pro table tennis coach Vahid.

35 days to go until the ending date of my 365 goal, one year, at least one stranger turned friend every day. A lot has changed since the beginning of this journey. And although organic to it’s originating purpose of uniting the voices of “We the people,” it has grown to be a greater mission,one that I am entering into the early stage of planning. But one thing I promise to you, “365 is only beginning.”

It’s come too far now and has evolved to publish the hopes, fears, warnings and advises of so many diverse and unique people. People whom with comments expressed makes a statement much larger than any I could have made solely on my own.

We’ve spoken regularly of community, both on the local account and in the broadest of global perspectives. God, faith, government and new technology has proven to be a constant companion to the words of so many, and in them, we have revealed a grand list of to-do’s and we-wishes.

But the most rewarding of conclusions revealed by the many who have stopped to listen, to read, to own and to contribute is the unveiling of one major dream of the masses, “Respect for one another.”

Yes, acceptance is center to the hearts of the many that have stepped forward in responding to my 365 solicitations. No matter if exampled in the darkest of stories or revealed through the most loving outreach. The need to be heard… to be acknowledged for one’s opinion and/or to at least be considered as a voice, free of persecution of mind and spirituality has reigned top billing in being highest common denominator of the majority of those I have spoken with.

I drive today with this notion in my mind, past the post office that I regularly frequent, through the light at the corner of Remit and Sherman Way, and towards the intersection that boarders the Farralone line, Day 124.

Over the last eleven months I’ve come to know this stretch of neighborhood as never before. There are many faces and businesses that are so close to me now. David, Day 145, the man on the Buddhist street retreat, Roberto, Day 157, as he plays guitar outside of Follow Your Heart, Brook, Day 155, teacher of my daughter and now inspirer to so many other friends who have graced us in posts past. And even though Sherman Way is no destination street of palms and beach, it carries it’s own charm of diverse culture.

With this heightened awareness that I am speaking of, a funny little byproduct has entered me, as I’ve become hyper sensitive to every change of my area. It’s a really interesting phenomenon, one that has left me with a checklist of remembrances in noticing every change within the four-mile radius that surrounds my home.

And for the past ten days I’ve been acutely attracted to a previously unoccupied storefront. In which, and almost overnight, a banner has been hung over it’s front doors… It reads, “Table Tennis Club.”

For several hours I have passed by it in my day’s errands, in each ignoring feelings that will not allow me to take my eyes off the store. I have done my best to look far into it interior on every pass, not quite the smartest decision while traveling in busy traffic at plus forty mile per hour.

But finally, I can resist no longer, and with camera over shoulder I park to enter.

The place must be two thousand square feet; in the center of it are four very high-end Ping-Pong tables… all well spaced and all with elbow room itching for a competitive match of play. And smack dab in the middle of the space are two men, both highly focused in play.

At first I say to myself, “There is no way these guys are going to break their match to speak with me about 365.”

So I start self-bargaining, “I’ll come back later… maybe they have not noticed me and I can sneak out.” But I can’t turn away… the voice in my head will not let me excuse myself from the presence of these two absolute strangers  (boy, I sound crazy now… voices in my head).

I muster up my words, and in the usual style, tell of 365.

The game ceases, “Sounds like a very cool project… we’ll do it. We can pick our game (well actually a lesson) back up in a minute.”

Turns out that I have stumbled upon Vahid, a twenty plus year Professional Table Tennis Coach (owner of the club) and his student, Musician Joseph, here for his second lesson (and the guy is already slamming a crazy cross table forehand).

Joseph serves first words, “Share and be nice to one another… be good to one another. Share your resources. Be grateful… life is short. Look at people and appreciate them. Enjoy your life and let go… breath. Don’t be so worried about how other people might judge you.”

With heavy Iranian accent Vahid stages his concern, “My language is not very perfect.”

“Just go for it…” Joseph encourages, “…speak from your heart… we can get back to my lesson in later.”

Vahid relaxes and begins, “All the people of Iran, and the people of the world, can help each other. I hope that one-day all the countries will come together and we don’t have different countries… That we can all live together, like it is one country. It’s free and we can move about, we won’t have passports or green cards. That it can be like one system, not driven by religion. Religion will be for personality and does not come between us. But for all of us, it’s the same, like one world.”

“How we can do it?” Vahid proposes. “People need to talk…” he says, “…We need to make a better system. We have two systems, Capitalism and Communism, and we need to find a new way of how we can share all the things between all the people.”

And a key can be seen in Vahid’s conclusion, “That we can learn to have good minds… open minds… and loving minds.”

Joseph kicks in with a joke, “I suggest having all the leaders work out our problems with a game of Ping-Pong.”

Not so sure that would be the best of politics, but the visual that comes to mind is very amusing. I guess we could call it “The Ping-Pong Council.”

“What do you guys see the future being?” I challenge.

Still a little inhibited with language Vahid enlists Joseph to become the spokesperson for the two of them.

Joseph takes the baton (taking the paddle just does not sound right). “I see different trends… and I think it is our choice in which way we want to go. A lot of the things that connect us, and make us closer together, also can bring us further apart.

Without any Facebook… without any Internet… I found this place (referring to Vahid’s Club). Sometimes people have the illusion of being connected in their devices, and they end up isolation themselves. I see that as a danger, where people become increasingly isolated. I think that the danger carries a very heavy psychologically effect… it can be a major cause of depression… and it can be a major cause of a lot of problems.

At the same time, those same tools can help the planet allocate resources faster and the people can be made more aware. Look at what happened in Iran, the Internet really helped the situation.

And, I think if we can be smart about the way that we harness technology, we can use it to better society. It a tightrope and I don’t think there is an easy answer to it. I think what it really is… is our learning to be able to tune in and to be present, and to not necessarily depend on the Internet for all of our answers. That we can come up with local answers to the problem in our own communities. This kind of communication needs to become the wave of the future.

We can’t really do everything from the top down, and if we use technology to communicate more effectively between local communities, to take advantage of our own local resources and communicate with each other better… Then we have a chance.”

Vahid simply agrees.

Readers, I’ve got a new challenge for us, one that kind of aligns with what we are talking about today and something we have not yet tried. Think of it as an experiment in testing the strength of local community and an offer to help a talented coach to get his small business going, all while getting the opportunity to chat about whatever.

I’m calling it, as conceived by Joseph, “The Ping-Pong Council.”

On Saturday, August 25 (that’s two weeks for today, and I’ll throw a few reminders in the weeks to come), between the hours of 3:00pm and 7:00pm, let’s get as many Angelenos as we can to play a few rounds of Table Tennis at Vahid’s club. It’s not the expensive, $7 each and I’m sure will prove to be a lot of fun.

I see two things that can come from it. One: A great opportunity to share thoughts and witness just how in common we all are, and Two: to help a deserving dude get his business off the ground. And in either I see no downside.

So friends within commuting distance of Vahid’s “Table Tennis Club” we look forward to seeing you at the tables.

Table Tennis Club
21911 Sherman Way
Canoga Park, California 91303