Tuesday, July 9, 2013

How I Learned to Stop Playing Table Tennis And Love Dick York

            A television set arrived one day. It was a color 1972 Emerson model with an 18” screen. I plugged it in.
            That was about the time I started playing table tennis with my ex-lawyer.
            The table was teal with taupe lines. It was lopsided towards one side where there had been some water damage because it had been stored under a leaky roof at some point in its existence. I always served from that side. My ex-lawyer was a bad competitor. He didn’t edit his feelings well.
            Winning was sometimes everything. We chatted meaningfully during the matches, taunting each other with such things as, “I am not Dracula, Fuckhead!”
            Did I mention the television set?
            Well, I plugged it in.
            Dick York was on it. This was not just a, “one day I turned the thing on and there’s Dick York,” sort of situation. Dick York was always on it-- for a good portion of time, at least. Let’s say-- I don’t know-- 20 hours a day, minus sleep and taking out the trash and other boring apparatuses of life.                  
            When my ex-lawyer was my current lawyer, he would say to me, “Shoot all the dogs and remove all the car horns.” That was before I could spell his name. Now I spell it backwards.
            The TV's reception got choppy during the wee hours. I know, because I was up during the wee hours quite often. Maybe I was just waiting for Dick York to disappear, to be replaced by some Dick-Van-Dyke type, some generic look-a-like; or perhaps I was just uncomfortable from the paddle I'd wedged beneath my mattress for safekeeping. I grew to crave the removal of certain encumbrances from my person, to attempt an airy escape, something light and meaningful.  ‘He's so thin,’ I remember thinking while watching a Twilight Zone episode in which Dick York was playing an army captain. ‘Gangly even.’ Calm eluded me. I remained heavier than necessary.
            Then, one night, or another, perhaps, I thought, ‘Fuck Dick Van Dyke and his stupid hassock!’ I’m still not sure why I had this thought, but I believe it had to do with my recent confusing of hairdressing with salad dressing. There is always confusion when two discordant plains or dimensions of competing universes meet. Sometimes one runs after one’s stunt double just to have something to run to or for or, well, against.
            I left the television plugged in at all times. It buzzed, even when I snapped the Off nodule to Off. It was a purposeful humming buzz: Xerox-machine warm, coffeemaker soft and steady-- and it left me a tad woozy on most days. After a few weeks I decided not to turn it off anymore. Dick York was just always there, like he’d always been there, always. His face grew more familiar to me than my own.
            The volume grew to an unacceptable pitch. The set’s adjustment knob had broken off and splintered when a wild and powerful serve from my ex-lawyer had hit it dead on. Also, on a similar account, my ex-lawyer had begun demanding to play our matches blindfolded. I acquiesced. It wasn’t as helpful as he had imagined. The racket of Dick York’s escapades on the television roared and kept us off our toes. Many balls were lost.
            We bought more balls.
            It wasn’t ice skating on railroad tracks. It wasn’t mean or nice. We wanted quiet through the hammering of our lives. Sometimes, when we could hear, we bickered.                   
            “You don’t have to worry about the sort of things that I have to worry about.”
            “Bear steak. Emu jerky. Snow-leopard testicles. Oyster juice. Let’s have a fucking party about it already!”
            My ex-lawyer’s name used to be Ralph Vandeerhoof. That was before the change. Now he says it, “There are calves in the café.” Pronounce it any way you will, I still had to deal with the guy’s phony theatrics, and play table tennis against him. The hardest thing to remember about it all was how to tell the difference between what was only in his head and what was in mine and what was in both of ours at once; or what was real, or happening just to us, or to everybody. Then, well, of course there was Dick York on the television set.
            My backhand grew less than legendary, and I gave up slicing my serves. Divots abounded in the table’s surface. I played farther and farther back, perhaps ten feet from the table’s edge at times. ‘Just a touch of massé, there’ I thought. ‘Just a tad.’ But it never did the job. My ex-lawyer retired from our sessions for the long haul. I laid my paddle down for good. It was as it had to be. All was well.
            I dreamed last night that Dick York was a clown, or at least that he had clown whiteface makeup on. In the dream he pretended to smile at me, but I knew it was all a gag. His countenance was blanc, not auguste. Everything about the whole situation screamed, “You’re a fucking fake! Your whole life’s a joke! Nobody is ever going to care about you and the spindly little life you lead no matter what you do, ever!” It was all too loud for me. But there was no way to control the volume. Dick York’s face was stuck in a permanent menacing scowl. It haunted me wherever I went. It was a look that meant, “I am Dick York. Who the fuck do you think you are, huh? I am Dick motherfucking York!” I could tell. I had become an expert on knowing Dick York’s looks.
             When I woke I found this note stapled to my pillowcase: “Whatever diaphanous or drab way we’re headed in this tugboat of a life, here, merely waiting for commercial breaks with chipped paddles and jingle-bruised ambition, do not fret over the pleats in the pants of existence. Remember when we were champions of drosophila smashing in fluorescent-lit kitchens. Remember the best of it before the reruns begin. Remember. It is all that you have left.
            “PS- If you haven’t figured it out already, I’m taking the TV set, kid.”
            I squinted out at the world around me, and everything was in black-and-white. I thought to myself, ‘Damn. I’ve never had it so good.’