Feeling Annoyed

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

For the past two years I have played ping pong for exercise. The club
has about 100 members and at the time I play, 9:00 am, many retired
folks, some of whom are completely out of my league excellent and
others welcoming and helpful. I was a newbie for a while, but got
pretty good, certainly mid tier. One of the very regulars is a man in his
80s, who had eye surgery that seems to have failed utterly. He used
to be mid-pack but now couldn’t hit the ball if it were the size of a
basketball. In addition he tells long stories and jokes to cover up his
frustration, which just slows down the game even more. I like him,
and I feel sorry for him, and I know this will happen to us all. But for
me this is exercise time, and I cannot give it all over to kindness, even
though I feel guilty saying that. Is there a gentle way to convey my
need to rotate with other players without offending someone who was
kind to me when I needed it?

Feeling Annoyed

Dear Annoyed:

There’s a certain amount of kindness and grace that’s required from us
all, in every situation. Here’s your chance to step up. When you play
with him, gently suggest that stories are great and interesting, but
they slow down your need to keep in motion, something your own
doctor has said is essential. Say you’re happy to hear them but could
he please keep playing while he talks. If he complies, hooray. If not,
try to rotate to a different table after a politely appropriate amount of


Most clubs have some kind of manager or facilitator. Quietly take that
person aside and ask if s/he has noticed to decline in this person’s
play. Say that you like him and are happy to keep playing with him a
little while each time you come. But that given the large number of
players, there should be a rotating pool of people to help care for the
elders. Ask him if he would be willing to speak to the man directly,
suggesting that he schedule a follow-up with his eye surgeon. The
difficulties might be temporary, or they may presage something that
requires more medical attention. No matter what, stress your
willingness to be a good person. You’ll need the same grace someday,
as will we all.