Sam's Little Larks

by Sam Van Wetter | 10/15/15 6:41pm

MASTERS SAM and DISASTERS SAM are playing pong together.

DISASTERS: I don’t understand this game.

MASTERS: What do you mean you don’t understand? It’s trucking fun as truck.

DISASTERS: It’s not really that much fun.

MASTERS: You’d have more fun if you were better.

DISASTERS: And you’d have more money if you were richer. And you’d have more mates if you were hotter. But I live in the real world.

MASTERS: You just need some practice.

DISASTERS: I’ve been practicing since freshman year.

MASTERS: You’re kidding.

DISASTERS: Dead serious. I learned during pre-Orientation week in the basement of Chi Heorot. I was with some kids from my Trips section, and a brother gave us a rather rudimentary outline of the game and a case. The rest is history. It was back in the days before the freshman ban, when freshman table scenes were as ubiquitous as Canada Goose and freestone flowed like the Connecticut.

MASTERS: You’ve been playing pong since you were a freshman?

DISASTERS: Yeah, why?

MASTERS: I mean, you’re pretty bad.

DISASTERS: I’m not that bad!

MASTERS: You’re not great.

DISASTERS: You shoulda seen me three years ago then.

MASTERS: You think you’ve improved?!

DISASTERS: Of course I have. Everyone improves. But I’ve since plateaued.

MASTERS: You should keep practicing.

DISASTERS: I do! Many Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights! I sometime even schedule two-, three- or six-a-days with extras on Thursdays and Sundays. But it’s no use. I peaked sophomore summer.

MASTERS: Me too, man. Remember masters? All those pong-loving pongerinos ponged up in that basement, pong flowing through out veins, pong ringing in our ears, the pong pounding into our hearts, pong pong pong and like wham! Pong save! Paddle! Ball! Half cup! Chug it! Sink it! Brawl! Pong is the song on everyone’s lips, pong is the question that is answered with a sip, pong for your friends and your enemies and your dog, pong for your daddy and pong for your mom. (MASTERS is enraptured, reliving the moment, feeling the grime and the sweat and the cloud of evaporated beer hovering three feet above table. He snaps back into it.) Did you play masters?

DISASTERS: I was on the alternate c-team for my coed society, so sort of.

MASTERS: Well I for one believe that pong is the single greatest contribution that Dartmouth has made to the world ever.

DR SEUSS: Really?

MASTERS: Absolutely.

NELSON A. ROCKEFELLER: You wanna rephrase that?

MASTERS: Why would I?

A CHORUS OF DARTMOUTH’S CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE WORLD — MORE THAN 164 REPRESENTATIVES AND SENATORS, TWO SUPREME COURT JUSTICES, 12 PULITZER PRIZE RECIPIENTS, THREE NOBEL LAUREATES, A NATIONAL BOOK AWARD WINNER, A MULTITUDE OF OLYMPIC COMPETITORS, SEVERAL LIFE-SAVING MIRACLE MEDICAL ADVANCEMENTS AND PHIL HANLON’S MUSTACHE: How do you figure?

MASTERS: I mean, pong is the greatest and most customizable hang out activity you could ever ask for. No other game is as social and multi-faceted, allowing for dancing and conversation and flirting and drinking and demonstrations of athletic prowess. It’s a way to unite brotherhoods, sisterhoods, gender-inclusive hoods, neighborhoods, children and parents, alums and undergrads, Tuckies and Thayies and Geisies and townies together in one room just being together, building something. I’m sure there’s no better feeling than a successful throw save. It’s the game that gives forever and never gets dull. You can’t say that of Dr. Seuss.

THE ACCOMPLISHED CHORUS: That’s fair.

DISASTERS: Doesn’t the waste bother you?

MASTERS: The only thing wasted when playing pong is the people.

DISASTERS: What about the hours? The mental facilities? The bags languishing on Sunday lawns, brimming with cans and cups and cardboard? What about all those paddle handles?

A CHORUS OF DISCARDED PING PONG PADDLE HANDLES SINGING A GOTYE COVER: You didn’t have to break me off!

MASTERS: “Waste” is an essentially capitalistic and therein constructed concept meant to guilt people who are just trying to have a good time. But, yeah, kegs would probably help reduce the footprint.

DISASTERS: Granted.

MASTERS: And I don’t mean to oversell it — though I couldn’t if I tried — but pong is the only place at Dartmouth, possibly in the world, where phubbing is prohibited.

DISASTERS: Phubbing?

MASTERS: Phone snubbing; the act of ignoring the people around you via a tiny, shitty screen. Pull out your phone while waiting with friends in the KAF line and they’ll be annoyed but not indignant. Pull out your phone while you’re supposed to be serving and you’ll be annihilated. There’s no reason to do it — no Snapchat worth sending and no mother’s text urgent enough to justify a phub. Anywhere else in life you get a free pass, but at the pong table, your presence is sacred.

DISASTERS: I hadn’t thought of that.

MASTERS: And, you’d probably know better than me, but there’s really no such thing as being bad at pong. Sure, you might not hit the table, much less a cup, but pong is less of a sport and more of a ritual. And rituals will always be successful as long as all the component parts are present. So it matters naught if you’re uncoordinated as long as you bring your entire living-breathing-paddle-flapping self to this meeting of minds. No one is unwelcome. We’ve all seen the guy willingly partner himself with the least skilled girl in the room. Is it because he feels bad for her? Because he wants to get her drunk? Because it makes him look better by comparison? No, it’s because he is a missionary for the ritual, a diplomat of debauchery who only wishes to share the fun with someone who might think the game is dumb. He wants to coach you along, not necessarily into proficiency but at least to appreciation. He will hold your hand all the way to the golden tree, if necessary.

DISASTERS: Is that why you’re playing with me?

MASTERS: Don’t worry about it. It’s your serve.