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$50 TO BURN IN SANTA MONICA

A turn at table tennis, with good ol' Italian

October 12, 2006|Zan Dubin Scott | Special to The Times

HERE are the trappings for some good old-fashioned fun: the unmistakable squeak of tennis shoe on gym floor; bodies alive with sweat beads and grimaces and the dainty thwack of ball on paddle.

Yes, it's table tennis.

And every Sunday afternoon, the tiny balls zipping back and forth at sometimes-scary velocity turn the cavernous gym at Santa Monica College into a study in Homo sapien focus and competitive zeal. Men and women (but mostly men) of all ages and races show up for open play from noon to 9 p.m., lunging and swatting at 16 tables until the sweat glues the T-shirts to their chests.

Squeak! Grunt! Slam! Thud! Muffled curse word. The soundtrack is constant. The visuals irresistible. Some of the really good players, so suave, make you stare and chant "wow" like a dope. How do they slice that little orb so fast and low?

When my husband and I took up our paddles, the giant gym instantly shrunk. Nothing mattered but that ball and the green Butterfly-brand table in front of us. Although I'd barely played since I was 12, it's amazing how the game comes back, even the scoring system.

"7-6!" "10-Up!"

My husband has played more often in recent years, so he won both games but I caught on quick. Our first final score: 21-11. Our second: 21-18.

For a breather, we watched badminton players on courts that shared the shiny wood gym floor. They seemed to grunt even louder, attacking fragile birdies with the ferocity of Roger Federer.

After all that, an old-fashioned Italian meal was the only way to go.

Anna's has hardly changed since 1969: red vinyl booths, checkered tablecloths, fat bottles of decorative Chianti. My tangy chicken romano with marinated artichokes was exactly as I'd remembered it, and the green beans were just as garlicky. My husband regenerated with his homey manicotti and iced tea.

No, table tennis wasn't an Olympic sport when I first played, and Anna's didn't use compact fluorescents back then. But the essentials are reassuringly the same, and I'll be back for more.

weekend@latimes.com

*

The tab

Table tennis $8.00

Where: Santa Monica College, SMC Pavilion, 1900 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica. (310) 434-4000. Gym user's fee: $4 per person. Open noon to 9 p.m. Sunday. Bring your own paddles and balls. Dress for sweat.

Dinner $42.00

Where: Anna's Italian Restaurant, 10929 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 474-0102. Two entrees, beverages and tip. Open 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; 11:30 a.m. to midnight Fridays; 4 p.m. to midnight Saturdays; 3:30 to 11 p.m. Sundays.

Total $50.00

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