It can perhaps be said that Senior Writer Ray Kennedy is SI's resident bon vivant, raconteur, boulevardier and a whole lot of other French words. He spends as much time as he can in Majorca and is the kind of guy who should probably wear a beret and smoke Upmann cigars a lot. Last week, in a Manhattan saloon, Kennedy was holding forth on such varied matters as life in the Orient—where he once lived and taught Japanese airline stewardesses to speak English—literature in the '70s, truth in advertising and table tennis in Marty Reisman's basement. Kennedy was especially loquacious on the subject of Reisman, one of Ping-Pong's enduring stars, and this week he gives the rest of us a look into Reisman's remarkable life in A Little Night Music (page 82).
Kennedy has himself been an avid player since 1970, when he was a writer for TIME. One of the memorable moments of his table tennis career came after a business lunch when, to settle a bet over who was the best player, Kennedy and several of his colleagues descended upon a department store and bought a Ping-Pong table. They proceeded to carry the thing through busy streets back to the Time & Life Building, where the bet was settled on the spot. Kennedy's passion for the game has not abated. "I began playing two or three hours a night," he recalls. "It was a great release from writing all day and, if you wanted to, you could always envision the ball as your least favorite editor's head."
After a year of honing their games during lulls in the Middle East crisis and respites from domestic turmoil, Kennedy and five other Time Inc. staffers hit what is loosely called "the circuit." "We played in bank vaults, Lithuanian church basements, lofts in New Jersey, wherever the game was," says Kennedy. "We even wore those linen shirts with our names embroidered on them. Ping-Pong is a whole subculture that normal people don't know about. Entering that world is like opening a grate in the sidewalk and having bats fly out. At one time or another I played transvestites, junkies and a guy with only one leg. It was the most fascinating collection of people I've ever met."
Kennedy had heard of the legendary Reisman for years, but it wasn't until he became hooked on the game that they met. "If you're into table tennis, Reisman's is where you eventually end up," Kennedy says. "Over the years it became a kind of way station; there are always friends there if you walk in at four in the morning."
November 21, 1977
Kennedy and his doubles partner, TIME'S Stefan Kanfer, took a page from Reisman's book and became small-time hustlers. Says Kennedy, "Big strong kids from Brooklyn, kids who could really hit the ball, would take on these two old guys with their guts hanging over their belts, and through total psych jobs we would reduce them to screaming maniacs. We beat one kid who was really good, got him so upset he broke his racket in half and said he'd never play again. Some of the things we did were absolutely scandalous. We broke every canon of ethics and sportsmanship. It was wonderful."
Last week Kennedy finally got his chance to play Reisman. Kennedy, who started the game with an 18-point handicap, was heard muttering vile oaths and he sweated a lot. Reisman maintained his ineffable cool. Kennedy chopped and spun his way to a 21-13 victory, then won the rematch 21-16.
"He set me up so I'll want to come back and play for higher stakes," panted Kennedy. "And you better believe I will."