The truth was, Ray hadn’t played ping-pong in years. Not after Stanford Table Tennis Club. Not after it turned out that the level of play he faced at home was an unreliable test of his ability with a paddle, and that the number of players who could render him a sniveling idiot in uniform-mandated short-shorts was indeed considerable, and weirdly concentrated in the Palo Alto–Menlo Park area. The realization that his years of undefeated streaks and cavalier handicap offerings had been a textbook case of the big-fish-in-small-pond scenario had not been a painless one. Despite what the Wongs would have guessed, it hadn’t involved substantial money loss in misguided bets against stronger players (the idea of putting money in a situation the EV of which was unclear and potentially wildly negative was simply incomprehensible to him), nor had it been achieved after a stage of excuse-making and self-delusion; it had been a quiet landing on an island of small sadness. Weird as it was to admit, he had been forced to accept the loss of a source of validation and self-worth he’d somehow relied on for years. A thing people liked and at which he had been unquestionably good. The best. He had soon started to overcompensate, to exaggerate his assessment of himself: when somebody asked, “Are you good?” he would now shrug and say, “Average, I think.” This was a transparent lie, and yet he felt that it would do him good to frustrate his ego in something he had really cared about. He perceived there was a lesson in it to be learned.