Eaten by a Ping Pong Table

By Cliff Springs

Elementary school was a tough time for me.  Not scholastically—I was quite smart.  No, the tough part was the physical toll life took on my little boy body.  I’ve previously referenced my four broken arms during first through fifth grade. 


In first grade, I was hanging from a board that my brother and Brian Carter asked me to traverse—just to prove I could do it.  I found out some years later, that the board was booby trapped to make me fall.  I did.  Hit my wrist on another board and fractured it.  My mom didn’t believe that I was really all that hurt.  She humored me with a splint for my arm made out of some flimsy cardboard and a ribbon.  When I kept complaining for a week, she finally took me to the doctor and got the confirmation I was looking for.  My mom felt bad.  She promptly took me to the store and bought me a Spiderman Web Slinger—essentially a suction cup dart tied to a string that you shot from a launcher strapped to your wrist (the other wrist).  It never worked like the one on TV.


In third grade, my sister and I had just returned from a weeklong visit to my grandparents’ house.  At the time, she and I shared a room at home because we were close in age and our older brother and sister each occupied the remaining two rooms.  We were back home.  Back to our bunk beds.  Climbed up to my top bunk.  Then the little butthead pushed me off—unprovoked.  Now there were many reasons why she might have wanted to exact some revenge, but nothing I did at that particular moment.  We were laughing.  She pushed.  She kept laughing.  I fell.  My left wrist broke.  The interesting thing was that on the way down, I had time to think about the fact that I was going to punch her as soon as I got up off the floor.  Fortunately for her, I was too busy screaming in agony.


In fourth grade, me, my brother, Brian Carter, and Petey from next door were in my back yard.  Years before, my brother would do this thing where he would lay on his back on the ground and bend his knees to his chest.  I would then sit on his feet (which were face-up), and he would thrust his legs forward and catapult me what seemed like a mile.  On this particular occasion, I sought a different trajectory:  up.  I said, “Send me as high as you can.”  Be careful what you ask for.  I went straight up, rotated in mid air, and headed back toward the ground face first.  I used my arms to break my fall.  Broke my fall, broke my arm.


Fifth grade was the one with the skateboard and the ski rope (see previous post).  No need to repeat it here.


Second grade was the only school year that came and went without one of my bones being disassembled by some form of blunt trauma, but it was not without incident.  It was not only my most unusual injury, but also the spookiest (I’ll explain that it a moment). 


One average Saturday morning, my parents were painting the shutters on the front of our house.  We lived in a very common brick ranch style house.  The single car garage door was on the front of the house, maybe 20-25 feet to the left of the front door.  This is important, I’ll come back to this.  My parents were painting the shutters between the front door and the garage—so they were somewhere between 5 and 25 feet away. 


We owned a ping pong table that I had no business using.  It was often left in an upright position—forming an “L” shape so that you could play by yourself by bouncing the ball off of the upright portion of the table.  The problem—actually, there were several—was that when folded like an “L”, the fold formed a gap where the ball would regularly get trapped if you didn’t know what you were doing.  I didn’t.  I was barely tall enough for my arms to be able to reach onto the table, and certainly not tall enough to maintain a volley with the bouncy plastic ball.


Well, the ball got stuck in the crack as it always did, but this time, it was in the center of the table.  I couldn’t reach it from either side.  So I climbed onto the table to retrieve it…


Now before I go any further, I failed to mention that my younger sister was standing just a few feet away watching me.  She proved to be a big help.


…so I climbed onto the table to retrieve the ball.  Little did I realize that the front legs of the table—the ones at my end of the table, where I had been standing—were not locked in a perfectly upright position.  In fact, they were actually angled inward—toward the fold in the table.  And then…


One more thing, before I go any further.  I didn’t pay any attention to it at the time, and it wasn’t until a week or so after this incident, but about two weeks earlier, I had had a dream about being eaten by a ping pong table.  It was a weird dream like most dreams are, but this was and remains my only dream that has proven prophetic.


…and then it happened.  As I climbed onto the table, the legs of the table folded inward… the table beneath me collapsed to the floor… and the upright portion came crashing down on me!  I was in some awkward, contorted position in which my head and one leg were the only things sticking out of the mouth of the ping pong beast.  I was screaming.  I was hurt.  I was trapped.


And my sister just stood there with her mouth hanging open.  Didn’t move an inch.  Didn’t scream.  Just stood there.


But the part that concerns me to this day is that my parents—remember, somewhere between 5 and 25 feet away—managed not to hear any of my wailing.  The garage door was wide open.  They were painting—not a particularly noisy chore.  It was fairly early in the morning—nobody out cutting the grass or anything.  But they didn’t hear me.  As I’m typing this, it suddenly makes sense to me.  It’s amazing how many loud sounds I tune out from my kids.  It usually takes me a minute to snap out of what I’m doing to determine if their screams are genuine problems or just them being bad.  No doubt my parents had their tune-out devices cranked up to full blast.


As I lay there wondering how long I would remain ping pong fodder, Brian Carter—usually the purveyor of bad luck—would prove to be my salvation.  He just happened to walk out of his house into his driveway.  His house was across the street and one house over, not even a direct line of sight into my garage.  But thank goodness he saw me (or heard me).  He came running across the street and managed to distract my parents from their child tune-out bliss.


They pried the beast’s jaws from my limp body and my father scooped me up.  My sister still hadn’t moved or made a sound.  My knee was bleeding and I was sure that I now could add a broken leg to my still-growing litany of battle scars.  No such luck.  I did have to get stitches and have a scar to this day.


The next week, I remembered my clairvoyant dream and thought how odd it was that THIS, of all dreams, was the one to come true.  Eaten by a ping pong table.  All I know is that if I ever have a dream like that about a billiards table or a vending machine, I just may not leave the house again.



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One Response to “Eaten by a Ping Pong Table”

  1. The other Shelley

    Sure, blame your little sister for not saving you. It’s always the little sister’s fault, right?


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