I saw this solitary tennis player repeating lackidasical serves as I drove past Garfield Park the other day. I had to stop and take a closer look because he reminded me so much of the late David Foster Wallace, one of San Gabriel Valley's most cherished residents and one of literature's most sparkling and multi-faceted minds. Wallace committed suicide in nearby Claremont this past September at the age of 46. He had taken the semester off from teaching at Claremont's Pomona College.
Anyone who has ever read Infinite Jest knows that brilliant is too dumb a word to define Wallace's work. Like some madcap wordsmith on laughing gas, he manipulated language in ways that Pynchon and Joyce would have appreciated -- but never at the expense of the story. Rather than obscuring his narrative, Wallace dressed it in a rococo circus costume and celebrated its trippy excess. Then he footnoted it, told a joke about it, and started off on another adventure with it. Gertrude Stein would have approved of the way he messed with language. Robin Williams probably identified with his riffs on an established form. Charlie Chaplin would have loved his hilarious, spot-on depiction of modern life. He was a post-modernist with a heart, an ironic champion of anti-irony and a self-deprecating super-genius.
I once studied with a writer who was friends with Wallace. I asked him, "So what's he like? What's he really like?"
"Shy," he said. "And funny. And kind-hearted. And even smarter than you think he is. And probably more than a little tormented."
Infinite Jest covered a lot of territory -- addiction, depression, family, computer turn-based war games, Quebec separatism, pop culture, cinematic theory ... and tennis. Always tennis. So when I saw this singular tennis player with the familiar Wallace uniform of wrinkled sweat pants and wire eyeglasses, I guess I finally felt the crushing absence that was left in this world when Wallace died. I realized it.
Then, the player in this picture left the court, walked up the hill and disappeared out of view.
If you haven't read anything by David Foster Wallace, please do.