Satoh, suffering from a bad case of lost face, was driven to sake and never appeared again in international play. Reisman and Cartland rolled on, first and most expeditiously to Taiwan where they sold 200 gross of their dual-signature balls for a $5,700 profit.
What started out as a gypsy road show soon developed into a prolonged caper with overtones of Terry and the Pirates. Getting about was no problem. In return for playing exhibitions at U.S. bases in the Near and Far East, Reisman and Cartland were given free air transportation on military flights. It was a heady whirl. They played a command performance for King Farouk of Egypt, gave lessons to President Magsaysay of the Philippines and, after lunching with Prince Sihanouk of Cambodia, they flew off in the royal helicopter to tour the ruins of Angkor Wat.
And always, wherever they went, there were wealthy table tennis patrons eager to arrange money matches. One late-night session in the spring of 1954 found Reisman and Cartland playing in the ballroom of a mansion in French-occupied Hanoi while bombers roared overhead and mortars thumped in the distance. Dien Bien Phu fell to the Viet Minh the day after they left, but they managed to escape with their winnings and 200 bottles of Arp�ge perfume.
Because their military flights were not subject to customs inspections, smuggling and trading on the black market came easily. Inevitably perhaps, Reisman succumbed to the offer of a Chinese profiteer to cash in on a golden opportunity. So there Reisman was, 135 pounds of seeming innocence, stepping off a plane at Hong Kong's Kai Tek Airport on an in-transit stop from Tokyo. And there, one hour and a quick spin on the Kowloon ferry later, he went, 156 pounds of foreign intrigue, reboarding the plane for Rangoon. He had picked up and was carrying, in a muslin vest tightly corseted to his body and covered by a latex bathing suit, three 24-karat gold bars.
Reisman made many such runs, each one earning him $1,000 and giving him a few heart-stopping moments. He hung up his muslin vest after 25 missions and, wearing two dozen Rolex watches under his bolero sleeves, returned to New York in 1957. But his plaint, "I'm better known in Singapore than I am here," was all too true. There simply wasn't much call for retired gold smugglers. "I was 27 and had never worked a day in my life," he says. "The question was what to do?"
In a reckless fling at respectability, Reisman took a job as a shoe clerk at B. Altman's department store but was fired after four weeks for failing to faithfully report at the ungodly hour of 9 a.m. Undaunted, he got married in 1958, bought the Riverside Table Tennis Club for $6,000 and two years later fathered a daughter.
By then virtually every tournament player was wielding a fancy sponge racket and had a whole new arsenal of spin shots that had totally revamped the game. As it has evolved, the "sandwich bat," layered with generous slices of foam and rubber, does indeed resemble a Dagwood concoction. By contrast, Reisman's Hock Special, covered only by a thin slice of pimpled rubber, looks like a bread-line handout.
Yet in the eyes of the maestro it is the "Stradivarius of bats," a five-ply master-work that is handmade by an Indiana artisan named Bernard Hock. Though at a distinct disadvantage, Reisman has steadfastly refused to switch to sponge because, he says, "I feel I'd be prostituting a talent that I devoted a lifetime to learning. The sponge offends my dignity."
Nonetheless, he did manage to get in one last defiant lick when he advanced to the finals of the 1960 U.S. championships and a confrontation with Bobby Gusikoff, the defending titleholder. Reisman says, "I knew I didn't have a chance against Bobby and his sponge, especially since I'd lost a money match to him the night before. So I picked up a sponge in self-defense and won the championship in three straight games without raising a bead of sweat. There was no sense of struggle, nothing. I tossed the sponge aside and haven't touched one since."
Nor will he, for with that grandiloquent gesture he set the stage for his ongoing role as the "last representative of the great classical age of table tennis." "To play with the hard rubber racket is to be in communion with the ball," says Reisman. "Unlike the sponge, it lets you experience each stroke, each vibration, until the tone and feel of the racket become part of your neurological system. And it makes such a lovely sound—plickety-plock, plickety-plock. In the old days you went looking for tournaments with your ears. All you had to do was stop for a moment and listen—plickety-plock, plickety-plock."