“Table tennis is a very romantic game,” Harry Evans said the other night, over the din of bouncing basketballs at the City Athletic Club on West 54th Street. “The movements are balletic, and there’s a musical rhythm with the sound of the ball. Tennis is like bassoons; this is like a clarinet.”
Mr. Evans, the noted editor and publisher, has also been, throughout his life, an on-again, off-again pongiste . “My big problem with table tennis was vanity,” he said. “I was shortsighted, and I wouldn’t wear glasses. All I saw was this furry object.” Mr. Evans said that when he stepped onto the firing range as a young man with the Royal Air Force, “I almost killed the entire platoon. And then I gave up table tennis.”
But now, with contact lenses, he was back at it. Mr. Evans was at the club to meet fellow septuagenarian and idol, 18-time national and international titleholder Marty (the Needle) Reisman. The two men wanted to warm up for a Dec. 6 match at the Manhattan Table Tennis Club, held in honor of Jerome Charyn’s new book, Sizzling Chops & Devilish Spins .
Mr. Reisman arrived at 5:00 swinging a Lancôme tote bag. Tall and thin-thus the nickname-the Needle was dressed in gray slacks, a Panama hat and white tennis shoes with neon-green laces. The former champ had a lengthy résumé: traveling with the Harlem Globetrotters, playing half-time exhibitions with a frying pan for a paddle; giving ping-pong lessons to a chimp.
“Do you play with your hat on or off?” asked Mr. Evans.
“On,” said Mr. Reisman, inspecting his paddle.
” Aha ! To spook me!” said Mr. Evans, who was dressed in baggy sweat pants and a Lacoste shirt.
Mr. Reisman flung off his sport coat, and then the men started to whack the ball. Mr. Reisman stood planted, left hand splayed out for balance. He kicked the occasional shot over the net or took a behind-the-back shot. Mr. Evans played mouth agape, brow furrowed, looking a little less fearsome than his preferred table-tennis nom de guerre-”Hurricane Harry”-implied.
Before long, a handful of clubgoers gathered, heads bobbing back and forth.
“It’s a defensive shot,” Mr. Reisman yelled as he cracked the ball over the net. “He’s going to have to take care of himself -I’m not going to be too easy on him!”
“I promise to behave!” said Mr. Evans as he poked his paddle behind a towel rack, looking for a stray ball.
After an hour of back and forth, it was time to go. “He’s perspiring!” said Mr. Reisman, pointing his paddle at his opponent, who was catching a rest on the edge of the table.
“Yeah, yeah,” Mr. Evans agreed, between gulps of air.
“I’ll tell you quite honesty,” said Mr. Reisman, “we could play another hour or two.”
Mr. Evans, catching his breath, was not so sure. “I’m in a state of total terror,” he said, panting. “What do you think?”
“Are You In or Out?”-tag line for Steven Soderbergh’s new star-jammed remake, Ocean’s Eleven .
O.K., well … Julia Roberts (out), Matt Damon (out), George Clooney (out), Bernie Mac (in), Carl Reiner (in), Brad Pitt (out), Andy Garcia (in), Casey Affleck (in), Steven Soderbergh (out), Don Cheadle (in), Elliott Gould (in).
There you go.
If you fell in love with him, as I did, because he was beautiful, hugely talented, beguilingly understated and, for eight long years, perpetually in the shadow of two others who were really his equals; if you were part of my cohort-and there are many of us-you cringed whenever George Harrison’s talents were marginalized by the legions of rock critics mesmerized by the songwriting talents of John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
You winced when The Times called John and Paul the ones “who counted” the day after John was killed, and you minded again last weekend when Paul remembered George (undoubtedly with the warmest of intentions) as “really just my baby brother.”
John and Paul preceded George into the Quarry Men, but they knew they had to let their “little brother” in as soon as he demonstrated the talent both of them lacked: At 15, he actually played the guitar well enough to imitate the solos on the American rock singles which were their inspiration. And right through the final chords of Abbey Road , he continued to play better than they did, insuring him the lead guitar spot despite the consistently stingy attitude of his partners.
How stingy were they? Early on, they set the pattern of usually allowing George no more than two songs among the typical 14 that graced each of their British LP’s. In fact, John and Paul wouldn’t even agree to record “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” until George brought Eric Clapton into the studio to play it with him. Only then did it become the transcendent achievement of that eclectic and fiercely uneven (remember “Revolution 9″?) collection dubbed The White Album . It’s true that George was much less prolific than they were. But his melodies had to be the equal of theirs to fit so seamlessly into all those Lennon and McCartney tapestries-and he always had to do it all by himself.
The Beatles were a triumph of craft, collaboration and cross-cultural pollination. While Paul and John were luminescent in the spotlight, George and Ringo had an equally important, though much less readily identifiable, talent: They were the masters of fitting in. Each of them was always trying to push the group into something new. George made the crucial contribution in this department when he spotted a Bob Dylan album in a record store while they were performing in Paris early in 1964. Their competition with Dylan was critical in the second half of their careers, producing landmarks like “And Your Bird Can Sing” and “Norwegian Wood.”
Then there was another brilliant stroke of serendipity, when George spotted a sitar in an Indian restaurant where they were filming Help! That quickly led to his infusion of Eastern mysticism into the fine strains of Western rock ‘n’ roll. Without that influence, the transcendental magic of Sgt. Pepper would never have been possible.
It was only after the breakup that George was finally able to demonstrate the breadth of all of his talents. “In fact,” said Sir George Martin, “when the Beatles broke up, he became the strongest one.” With All Things Must Pass , he became the only one to produce music that was just as powerful as what the four of them had produced together-something John and Paul were almost never able to do again without each other.
The secret of George: His latter-day success lay in his choice of collaborators. While Paul chose Linda and John chose Yoko, for All Things Must Pass George teamed up with Dylan, Klaus Voormann, Billy Preston, Dave Mason and Phil Spector. In the late 80′s, he chose just as well when he melded Dylan, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and himself into the Traveling Wilburys. Their first album together was another sublime achievement-the closest we’ll ever come to knowing what the Beatles and Dylan might have sounded like together inside the same studio.
Times Counts, Economist Laughs
A strange correction appeared in The Economist ‘s Nov. 17 issue, in tiny type at the bottom of page 29: “In the issues of December 16th 2000 to November 10th 2001, we may have given the impression that George Bush had been legally and duly elected president of the United States. We now understand that this may have been incorrect, and that the election result is still too close to call. The Economist apologises for any inconvenience.”
Just kidding, explained the London-based publication’s U.S. editor, John Micklethwait. “It was just a joke off the back of the recount of the papers,” he said, referring to the recent recount conducted by a media consortium including The New York Times that was published on Nov. 12.
Of course, The Economist isn’t known as a humor magazine-and Mr. Micklethwait said the correction has inspired some angry letters from America. “In fact, I have a letter in front of me complaining about it from a lawyer,” he said.
Indeed, The Economist ‘s dry British witticisms don’t always play with an American audience. For instance, Maureen Dowd quoted from a story in its Nov. 24 issue comparing Attorney General John Ashcroft to Oliver Cromwell, a 17th-century English leader with Puritan impulses. Mr. Micklethwait said the magazine was willfully exaggerating on that one, too.
“Irony does not always go down well with our American readers,” Mr. Micklethwait said.