Brian writes me that the inspiration for this piece comes from Donald Barthelme’s story, “The Palace.” In this story, the author is in line at a bank in New York City when he notices the yellow check for $84.06 that a Puerto Rican woman holds. Then he notices that there are many other black and brown and white women holding similar checks and he thinks about how little that is for a week’s work and what 84 dollars might buy. Finally he lights on the crazy idea that this check might buy a good tennis racquet and that everyone might buy a tennis racquet and might beat him to death and start a revolution.
Brian cites especially the work’s final paragraph: “And I suddenly shouted right out loud, right in front of everyone, in line at Chase Manhattan Fourteenth Street, “Tennis Everyone?” And everyone shouted back, “Yes, yes, Tennis.” And we all set out, the white and black and Puerto Rican Women with their tennis racquets, and the clerks and tellers, too, with their racquets, and even the bank officers, in their dark suits, with their racquets, in a long straggle, or friendly mob, in the direction of the palace.”
Three Riffs on an Idea from Donald Barthelme
A paycheck for 225 dollars, that’s 40 hours multiplied by the minimum wage of $7.25 minus 50 dollars the government takes for everyone’s needs. A paycheck for 225 dollars for a week’s worth of plumping white pillows and replacing white sheets on white beds till all your dreams turn white. Not much money for carrying white towels through endless white halls of rooms stacked on rooms of elevator floors. You can buy a good racquet for 225 dollars to wield like lance in the windmill faces of others. They may never see you, never comprehend.
A paycheck for 225 dollars a week, not much for 40 hours at the grocery store watching every fourth or fifth customer buy rice and beans and milk with food stamps. You watch each customer pass. You watch other cashiers have their hours cut back to 32 hours a week so that no one will pay for their health care. You are next in line. You are next in line. You are next in line. You are next in line. You are next in line till everyone around you is next in line. You can buy five or six cheap tennis racquets at Walmart for 225 dollars, pass them out to anyone. Tennis, Anyone?
A paycheck as high as 390 dollars, not much for 32 or 40 or 47 or 53 hours driving a taxi or bus or midnight uber, ferrying those who might carry racquets through concrete rivers of smut and smog. You would rather be the saxophone on the radio, the saxophone held close and fingered and blown through gently by an invisible God whose many leaves flutter and fall. September again. The US Open in NYC. All the world’s best come here to play tennis. You can buy two very good racquets for 390 dollars, watch them fall in love. More racquets are inevitable. So many racquets you might pass them out to everyone you see while the US Open is played. Open tennis began in NYC in 1968. Arthur Ashe won the tournament, started a revolution so quiet no one knew it was happening. Tennis Everyone?
Artist Bio: A professor of English at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, Brian Cowlishaw grew up in rural Idaho before earning his Ph.D. at the University of Oklahoma. Inspired by the 2019 NYC exhibit of JRR Tolkien’s watercolor art, he took up painting himself. “Why didn’t I think of this earlier!?” he wonders. Brian shows his work at Tahlequah Creates gallery. You can also check out his art by following him on Twitter @BrianCowlishaw or Facebook.
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