John Tang

Carlo at Raley’s

Posted in Sketchbook by Jt's Item Roster on May 7, 2010

Carlo at Raley’s

Carlo, a coworker of mine, and I drove to Raley’s across the parking lot. Inside the place was, as usual, clean and in order. The fake wooden flooring had a glare off the white fluorescent lights. Carlo sought for energy drinks, using the term loosely, one has to be a sweet and the other carbonated. The freezer hummed over his face, as he reached behind for coffee in a soda can, saying to himself, “Ooo, I didn’t think they invented these.” He shared, again, his tiring schedule ahead of him today, before he regretted not seeing Sasha at her appointment last Saturday. “And it’s not like I can do anything about it because I’m not scheduled.” Carlo laughed. Until now, I avoided the conversation because the emotions would build an unnecessary pressure on my day, something that kept my mind occupied when time was still (not how I prefer thinking of someone, almost unconsciously; if I dream while awake, I enjoy the sensations).

In an attempt to shift the topic, I asked about his other job tutoring at Kumon. Side note, when I look back at the experience now: Perhaps I really wanted to know more about Sasha.

“Did she still work at Kumon?” I asked for the sake of relevance, knowing well she currently has an administrative position in Sacramento.

“We quit at the same time?”

I didn’t ask if he referred to a different tutoring center, derailing the conversation.

“I wished I got to see her.”

“You should’ve.” I looked down. “She was really pretty.”

“You know, she had a crush on me in high school. We were in band together.”


“I know.” He said. “How long have you known her?”

“High school, work.” I said. “But when I saw her at work, it was as if she didn’t remember me.” I held my heart in humor. “A little heart-broken.” I remembered the word. “Disheartened.” Not knowing if that was what I truly meant. “I was disheartened.”

“Yeah, she was dating Chris.”

I accepted the fact before working with Sasha. That was the complete foundation to why I never made a move at work; I had respect for their two-year relationship (I believe it was two years at the time). With that in mind, it was easier to joke with her, no human anchorage, simply sitting behind this enormous desk (white at the time) talking about every patient who came in—Medicares and their attitudes, teenagers quick to learn how to wear contact lenses but the haste only hinged their performances. Plus, she would usually begin the conversations, once asking me why I was so quiet. I regretted not opening even a little.

Carlo and I were walking down aisles five and six for cracker snacks. By now I was able to shift about Carlo’s girlfriend, which calmed me down, not focused too hard on the future, staring as if I had telekinesis to move solid objects. It gave me enough time slow my emotions down. For some strange reason Carlo was excited or “wired,” surprised at himself when he only had a few hours of sleep: “When I get home, I’m a go straight to sleep. Woke up at six o’clock this morning, reading physique books for four hours. Do you know I learned reading four hours of physique books might give you energy later on?” At the end of the aisle, there were the cracker snacks of baked golden fish.

“Pick one, John. Anyone.”

“Sorry, I normally don’t eat this.” I said and suggested. “Cinnamon?”

“Nothing sweet this time.” He said. “Look, I have cookies. Why did I buy them? I’m not going to eat them.”

He ditched the soft-baked cookies behind a row of fish crackers. Out of air, almost, he asked when I worked with Sasha, “Just to get the timeline straight.”

“Tuesdays, I believe, we worked together.”

“So you know Chris and her when they were working at the same time?”

“Yep.” I said because the question sounded as if he wanted to know more about their relationship, which I wasn’t unsure of, so I corrected myself. “She came before me. I’m not sure with Chris—we might have just had different schedules.”

“How was working with her?”

“She was always easy to talk to, even as quiet as she knew me.” I said. “I don’t know now. People change, and usually for the best.”

“What can you do with people?”

I looked at the clock on my cell phone. Thirty minutes from now, a flood of patients were scheduled at two-thirty. Carlo was shorter, had a bulky built, especially caught in a fitted v-neck, gray, which emphasized the bulb and firmness of his stomach. Outside Carlo opened the passenger’s door for me. The shirt was gray as his Scion TC, “Stick shift,” he always made sure to mention. While driving through the parking lot, he must have felt pity for me, as he apologized for a matter months ago: “Sorry about Aireen. She always has a suitor. Even my friends say she is the total package: Smart, cute. I used to have a crush on her, I knew her in Catechism.”

“You don’t have to apologize.” I said. “She told me she had boyfriend.”

“That’s why I’m so happy just sticking to be her friend.”

Quiet, so Carlo could focus looking both ways at the stop. Crossing, there was a large truck that seemed to take up both lanes. Carlo slowed down, shifted gears, to pass him, then turned into the street in front of the optometry.

“May I ask a favor?” I opened the door. “You said, sometimes you see Sasha around. Please, don’t tell her what I said.”

We shook hands, and I closed the heavy door. Afternoon was bright on the eyes, you even saw on the streets. Spring air was cool, crisp, not the usual grain of pollen pricking the face. I knew, though, allergies were around the corner, as I saw the realtor, where our shop sat besides, was on her third smoke break and scratching her eyes, coughing. I hurried into our shop.


Performance Review

Disappointed in my work habits, I missed familiar hours of writing. Or maybe this was what Rilke meant in “unfamiliar hours”; do not write undisciplined, disingenuous to the craft. No work, no school, an interesting piece at hand, I avoided writing all day. This morning I woke masturbating under the comforters. Warm, with pace, I finished myself an hour later at nine o’clock. I fell asleep again for a good hour.

I noticed I haven’t eaten since last night and remembered Gabe’s plan to eat at a pizza buffet. I texted him and James, while opening my day to its usual routine: Turn on the computer and play music or an episode of The Office. I’ve seen every episode posted on,, and and could recall each story in detail, so I listened to Gabriela Montero’s improvisation on her Myspace because the site played every song in rotation. She was known for impromptu riffs of C.J. Bach’s piano concertos. The improvisation left a jazz scent in every performance.

To Montero’s piano riffs, for myself, I worked on “Carlo at Raley’s,” adding a few more details.  Essentially, I heard a little bit more, though useless information, about Sasha. If anything productive came out, I discovered an interesting character in myself and the “I.” What I wanted to capture, too, was Carlo’s character. The innocence he portrayed has a hint of vainglory. He would talk how he thought of topics; whether agreeing or disagreeing, he invented topics based on the last conversation. From there he had more cushion to speak about himself without forcing the issue, himself.



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