The world of America's top table-tennis players is a pretty peculiar one, as 10-time National Champion Dick Miles makes abundantly clear in the article beginning on page 90 of this issue. Mr. Miles himself emerged from it briefly last week and came by to give us an account of his present activities and pursuits. The slight, high-strung New Yorker moved around a good deal during the ordeal, observing of table-tennis players generally, "I think we're a very nervous group. A close group, and hostile. Tremendous hostility," he said cheerfully. "The thing that fascinates me about table tennis, and about most hobbies and sports, is the obsessive character of the people who engage in them. This is the thing that I find so humorous as I look around the table-tennis world. This is what really delights me." Miles is somewhat less obsessed these days than he was a few years ago and puts in a mere 10 or 15 hours of play a week. "I don't have that feeling of having to win all the time. You begin to realize what older people used to tell you—'Just play for the sport of it'—and it's not such a bad idea." Then what is Miles doing the rest of the time? The former champion slowed down to a near stop. "What can you describe me as?" he finally began. "That's awfully hard. Still a table-tennis player, I guess. You know, it's amazing how few of the table-tennis players work. Back when I was 17, a high school teacher of mine asked me why I didn't come to school more often and I told him, 'Work kills the whole day.' I still see him and he has said to me, 'When you were 17 you said something really profound. I'm retired now, and I've found out work does kill the whole day.' On the other hand," Miles added, "one of my friends who doesn't do anything says when you ask him about it, 'Oh, I just sit home and worry.' "
Miles did divulge that on a typical un-work-cluttered day he is apt to spend a lot of time with his dog. "Somebody gave him to me," he said, "and I guess that's the most noteworthy recent development in my life. I'm still very much interested in music—my feeling is that if you don't have Beethoven you don't have anything—and I'm reading Tristram Shandy."
Dick Miles is also writing—and well. In 1965 he did a piece for us entitled Spongers Seldom Chisel, a humorous introduction to table-tennis players that should in some measure have prepared the reader for the odyssey of Hugo Batzlinger in this issue. Miles admits that when he writes, at least, he is indubitably working. "Before, whenever I read anything about how hard it was to write I just thought, 'They've got to be kidding,' " he said. "But it's harder than table tennis. Still, it's a talent I didn't know I had, and I hope to go on and do other stories." He paused. "But I never know, exactly, whether I'm going to be able to write another one. That's the most frightening thing of all about this transition into the real world."
Some writers we know are going to be startled indeed to hear their world described as the "real" one, but if Dick Miles is game enough to enter it, he will certainly be welcome.
DICK MILES: CHAMPION TURNED WRITER