Sergio is always the first to arrive. He wears a low-cut yellow tank, the v-neck down to the sternum, exposing tanned skin that has taken him through eighty-three winters. Wiry white chest hairs escape from the skimpy tank top. He has been on the table since ten, having walked from his apartment on 39th Street and Sixth Avenue. “Twenty years I been living there,” Sergio says, laughing wryly like this fact is incredible. “I seen the ping pong tables when they first come.”
“Did you come to the park before the ping pong?” I ask. I know the answer will be no, but I want to see if he is the kind of New Yorker who fetishizes or derides old midtown.
“No, no,” he says. “It was no good before. Drug dealers there,” he points at the 41st Street porch, where tourists watch an accordionist. “And there”–the back of the library, lined with restaurant patrons dining al fresco.
He plays for an hour more or so, with Rev, who has a lazy eye and a benevolent smile. Rev tells Sergio he needs a wife. Sergio laughs but his eyes are hard. “I like to be alone,” Sergio says.
“But man was made to be loved by woman,” Rev says. “There is a woman out there for every man.”
“What about the men who love men?” I ask. “And the women who love women?”
Rev shakes his head, still smiling like he knows some calming truth we don’t. “Self-serving,” he says. “It bears no fruit.”
“I am going to SPiN,” Sergio says suddenly. SPiN is the indoor ping pong club. Not free of charge, like the park, but free of proselytizing. Sergio pulls a string backpack on over his stooped shoulders and heads toward Sixth Avenue, his yellow tank top soon indistinguishable from the taxis whirring by.