Five-Ring Circus

Best Jobs at the Olympics: Table-Tennis Autograph Wrangler

Table-tennis autograph wrangler (left) wrangles autographs during a table tennis competition at Riocentro Pavillion 3 in Rio.

Nominee: Table-tennis autograph wrangler.

Where to find her: Riocentro Pavilion 3, the Rio Games’ table tennis center.

Job requirements: Get victorious players to autograph their victorious table-tennis balls. Encourage those players to toss those balls into the crowd. Own a pen.

Why this might be the best job at the Olympics: You have a very important role. As the table-tennis autograph wrangler, it’s up to you—and only you—to ensure that a table-tennis match is appropriately commemorated. You must instruct the exuberant victor to follow a strict order of operations. First, sign the ball. Second, fling the ball into crowd. Without you, the table-tennis autograph wrangler, the athletes would probably mess that up, flinging the pen into the crowd, flinging the ball before signing it, or attempting to autograph the pen with the ball. Without you, Riocentro Pavilion 3 would descend into complete chaos.

You add welcome flair to the goings-on at Riocentro Pavilion 3! You are the table-tennis equivalent of the T-shirt-cannon guy at basketball games. If, like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, you, the table-tennis autograph wrangler, had never been born, the world of table tennis would be inestimably poorer for not having known you. Pens would remain capped. Balls would be flung, unautographed.

As table-tennis autograph wrangler, you will get a lot of quality one-on-one time with Olympic athletes. You will interact with them, in person, at their proudest moments. You will come away with many good stories, with which, if you are fond of namedropping, you can subsequently regale your friends and family. “Oh, yes, I know Ding Ning,” you’ll say, casually, like knowing the world’s top female table-tennis player isn’t anything special. “I was just talking with Ding Ning this morning.”

You are the envy of autograph hounds around the world, for whereas they must chase their sometimes-unwilling idols and plead for chirographical fulfillment, you can walk right up to them and request an autograph. No, not request—demand! You, the table-tennis autograph wrangler, are not a person to be trifled with or ignored. You are basically Michele Tafoya, except instead of a microphone, you wield an autograph pen, and instead of asking softball questions of the athletes, you ask them table-tennis-ball questions. Actually, a single question: “Sign the balls please?” The answer is always yes. Nobody ever says no to you, the table-tennis autograph wrangler, at least in a table-tennis-ball-autographing context.

Unlike your presumed nemesis, the tennis autograph wrangler—for, as you know very well, the tradition of the post-match autographed ball toss also exists in that fuzzier, greener ball sport—you need not engage in any physically strenuous tasks. A table-tennis ball weighs much less than a tennis ball. You run no risk of getting a dead arm during the performance of your duties, or of having your hands coated with strands of green fuzz.

Your uniform shirt is fun and sporty. You might wear it around the house after the Olympics, to remind you of the time when you were the table-tennis autograph wrangler.

Why this might not be the best job at the Olympics: Sometimes table-tennis champions do not want to be wrangled into autographing your balls. Sometimes you will have to stand there, awkwardly, as the player dawdles—drinking some water, perhaps, or blotting his sweat with a towel—showing no respect for your time or your task. In moments like these, you might fall prey to despair or self-consciousness.

At other times, you may wonder whether you are making the losing players feel worse about themselves by focusing exclusively on the victors. Perhaps the guilt will consume you.

Unless you are also a rakishly handsome street magician—a table-tennis autograph wrangler and a master of sleight of hand—you will not get to keep the autographed ball.

You will live with a constant gnawing fear that players will not be able to autograph the small table-tennis ball without smudging their signatures. You will also live with a constant gnawing fear that your autograph pen will run out of ink. In order to assuage this fear, you will have to buy a backup pen. You will wonder whether to file an expense report for the backup pen, and you will ultimately decide it would not be worth the trouble. You will never have to use the backup pen.

How this could be a better job at the Olympics: The table-tennis autograph wrangler could be presented with an official Rio Games table-tennis autograph book, so she can have the opportunity to collect autographs for her own personal use. The table-tennis autograph wrangler could also be tasked with getting the winning player to autograph the table-tennis table and fling it into the crowd.

Verdict: I’ll give this job 0.5 out of 3 for exposure, because your plain uniform does not do a great job of reflecting your elevated status; you do not have a red flag or scuba gear. 2 out of 3 for enjoyability, because—hear me out—it would be cooler if the table-tennis autograph wrangler was also on roller skates. 2.5 out of 3 for enviability, because who hasn’t dreamed of rubbing elbows with Ding Ning? And 0.5 out of 1 in the category of “Do you get to wear a cool hat?”, because I see no reason why you couldn’t wear a cool hat, if you really wanted to and pressed the point with your supervisor. 5.5 out of 10 for the job of table-tennis autograph wrangler. This is not the best job at the Olympics.

Previously in Best Jobs at the Olympics:

Guy With Red Flag at Trap-Shooting Competition (this is currently the best job at the Olympics)
Earring-Retrieving Scuba Diver

See more of Slate’s Olympics coverage.