John Tang

Some Help

Posted in Short Stories and Excerpts, Sketchbook by Jt's Item Roster on February 27, 2011

The Pugilists

My counsel’ll sneak in, hold the sun up like I found the season

–Yak Ballz

A fight was scheduled on February according to the Roman calendar. The state of Phaedra had two exits in the country: The western exit was called Aelia, a sister to the metropolis Corvin, a bridge away from the starry hills; the eastern exit was called Seneca, also known as First City. After thirty-seven years the art of pugilism surfaced through the lower class of the city of Aelia; it was a major surprise when it reached the suburbs eighty miles from the city. It was there the message of the fight pervaded the town like grass: That the city of Aelia would fly in a contender from the Seneca’s wall for a match underneath the city railways—there, too, was a mythology they had begun a league of their own that had been living thirty years old to date.

The local hat peddler Lavin was on the muddy beach in the snow of last night’s bonfire ashes. Winter has been in the air passed its said-date, the cold wind gathering a violet cloud where a hint of twilight glowed through a bed of the ruffled clouds. He followed the sandy causeway to the house, and inside Lavin had made general courtesies with the parents in the living room and followed them to the terrace where Mr. Hov was reading in the local newspaper, receiving the news about the contender before Lavin offered five hundred dollars for the match.

“This will be a headliner, isn’t it, Lavin? Four thousand? Six thousand. Eight thousand? You think you’ll profit from the event?” Mr. Hov said. “I want a thousand before we lock in a date in April. I even think the mayor of Corvin will let us set up there.” “No, no. I planned to have it in Aelia. But I see where you’re coming from.” Lavin said. “Let me find the promoters we need to fund the venue, first. Then I have to find a flight for Chaos.”  “Chaos? Is that what that they are calling him on the east?” Mr. Hov smiled. “That is an idiotic title, embarrassment to the sport; it says nothing. You think I can take someone seriously who gave up his God-given name? A name he doesn’t know how to respond to when the teacher calls him up for some math questions, when his mother asks him to wash his hands before dinner. What do his parents think of him entering in this kind of sport? What theater. My girlfriend could stand in front of the tv with that kind of entertainment.” “Do me a favor though.” Lavin warned. “Let the coals burn before you begin fanning them.” “What in hell is that suppose to mean? Don’t talk in metaphors to me. I trust you, you know that, Lavin; in the past you always put the money up the night of every performance. No need for metaphors between us.” “Here is what I am saying.” Lavin said. “I want the fight as much as the coasts, the people, to watch a legendary match between two lions of our generation. Will you please do that for the city you love?”

In Aelia people believed Mr. Hov would take the title by the second round in a knock out.  There was a website people could talk of sports, and for some odd reason, since the match was proposed, the website has been gaining notoriety amongst the people, including citizens from out of the state, if you read the section “location” under the name. In the last two days someone by the name of The Draconian posted a thread where people could express their opinion on the website. On the head of the page there were poll in black and pink predicting who would come out as the champion; twenty seven of thirty votes said Mr. Hov win.

Chaos’ girlfriend must have believed people of Aelia were behind the predictions, because as the “reliable source,” by giving out her government name Melissa Davis, Aelia’s newspaper printed the fight would not happen if this kind of “bias nature” persisted in the region. To which


Question: Does the language shift?



That First Step

Posted in Sketchbook by Jt's Item Roster on February 25, 2011

Currently I am enrolled in Teaching Creative Writing.  One of our assignment is to interview a professor outside your genre, which mine would be fiction.  I interview a Larry Eilenberg from San Francisco State University in the art of theater. In the very least what I left from the interview is a sense or a platform you can make it in the genre; and this is what teachers should do. Also the experience highlights a quote I heard from Michael Jordan in a summation of his work ethics: “If you don’t shortcut the game, the game won’t shortcut you.”


Interview with Larry Eilenberg

Scene: Small room. A wall of two shelves full of master dramatists and criticisms. A cluttered desk. Two director chairs. Tapestry on the floor with a raincoat hanger by the door. When lights turn on they’re sitting across from one another.

Me: By the end of this semester, what do you think every student should know or grasp?

Larry: What do you mean? You’re not asking anything.

Me: For playwrights…like what should they read? Should they know their Shakespeare’s, their Ibsen’s, their Reza’s, their Williams’, their Beckett’s…”

Larry: If you want one of my course syllabus, I can give that to you. I have a copy. I know you’re here for an interview, but I don’t think a copy of my syllabus will be of any help.

Me: I’m asking: I want to be a playwright. How do I increase my chances?

Larry: If you’re serious, well yes, they should know the history of each era: Greeks, Renaissance, Modernity, the politics behind those times. I teach contemporary plays in the last five years; they should know who’s doing it best now. They should read plays, more so, watch plays. They need to write for the stage. Observe set designs. Things they like, they don’t like.

Me: What about writing?

Larry: It’s a collaborative art, so it doesn’t all fall on the playwright. It’s not meant for the page. You said you’re in fiction.  Have you read Thornton Wilder—you might know his Our Town, Skin of our Teeth…

Me: Heard of them, but never read them.

Larry: He won a Pulitzer for his novel The Eighth Day, I think. Well, he wrote an important essay—I don’t know it off the top of my head…just find it online. He says he does something different for fiction than he does for the theater. Dialogue, for example, doesn’t work the same way it does in fiction than it does on stage; fiction has the illusion of realistic conversation between two people. Dialogue on stage is spoken.

Me: Wait. Why can’t you put that dialogue into fiction? I can imagine a world, a garden…uh, the lake in The Seagull, dinner set table when I read Chekhov’s play. (Pause.)…Sorry…go ahead.

Larry: Or in general. Scenes do something different in fiction than on stage. Phillip Roth. Say, you have a grassy hill; you want the reader to imagine that grass hill, its slope. But for the playwright there might be a backdrop of a hill, a lake, a window. Setting for the playwright is the stage. The playwright writes for the stage, not the page…who’d you be teaching?”

Me: Undergrads. Is there anything else they should know?

Larry: That they won’t get published until after it is performed. It only reaches its full potential on the stage. (Pause.) But if you’re serious, take an acting class.

Me: Tried that. Did not work out so well. I had to be Jim from Glass.

Larry: Even if you don’t do it well, get the experience, because people, actors will be saying your words. (Pause.) Well, if you’re serious, get invited to a reading, a design meeting…it is a collaborative art (Pause.) If you are taking it seriously. You have to see it at its best. It’s like basketball in the sense you have to set the standards. And for students, these things can get expensive, so we have a theater here in the city that broadcasts on screen productions from the National London Theater. (Grabs notebook off desk.) oh here’s one on May 1st in Berkeley: The Druid Theater Company. They are playing…playing The Cripple of Inishmaan by McDonagh, an Irish play, which is what they do best. They need set the bar high.

Me: I haven’t even thought of that. Drama has its own world. So here’s what I have: Read plays, watch plays, act…

Larry: See how they design stages, go to readings if you can, see it at its best, setting the standards high.  That they need to write for the stage, not the page.

Me: (Pause.) I think I’ll end it with that. Thank you. This has all been helpful, for me especially. Appreciate it.

Larry: That is more than enough for a student. I don’t even believe you’ll be using it all. What is your name again?

Me: John Tang.

Larry: John Tang. Good luck.

Lights Dim


Off Base

Posted in Short Stories and Excerpts by Jt's Item Roster on February 8, 2011

Here’s an excerpt of a short story I am writing.

Off Base (An Excerpt)

Marina St. was clean in the morning. Yet the homes on a down-slope and the black tree in the yard, the sun would peer in between and blind me from the order that served my house: My parent’s red car on the road, neighbor’s Halloween toys on the lawn, the locus on the boughs, the children of Kadena Air Force Base making their way to school. Before I go to school myself there was my dad praying in his room. But I’ve gone through the same route many times before, and in the light of it all I saw everything in my mind.

The perennial after showers would steam off the street a bitter scent of ash and nickel. After school the odor would stay in the warm, wet air and linger into the evening but it wouldn’t discourage us from having a few games. Our parents would search for us in the dark, and only we could see our bodies brimming on the sidewalks, depending on the chase we had in our blood. Or if Alice picked up the mail on the porch, the boys would watch her from behind my tree. Some of the brave ones would tease from afar, the very same boys who invited her to our game of Man Hunt. She would pause and draw us out from the shadows for answer of maybe. With that answer we were content boys, and until she gone inside the house, it was then we would resume our games—whatever we were playing. The thought of her golden hair tickled my nose and I could’ve withdrawn myself from the street lamp, expose myself and end my game. I only knew Alice on a couple occasions in school. Wouldn’t say anything but a few greetings I’d say to a teacher or the principle.

Because she was light, I saw everything she did. When I hid under the car to pass the time, in the gasoline fumes, I saw the inside of her house lit and her alone in the dining room arranging the envelope she picked up. Her white skirt fluttering. Her hair was down like she did in school. Red streams in her bright hair. I could smell the scent of strawberries in the soft knots that purified my thoughts. In this metal frame I could carry the ghost of her for days. The image of her body resonated during other activities. When my mom and I walked off base for milk bone fish, we would walk down the stand. On Styrofoam plates there were squids in its own blood, dry octopus legs, iron shell clams, and the stand next over they cooked fish, its body splayed open. The white meat would remind me of Alice’s face and legs and her body. Maybe a few things on earth stuck with me: The man behind the U.S. gate in the dark, the first park with a brick layering and a dry fountain, and then the market deeper in to the city; but my mom and I always got out of Okinawa before nightfall. Also Alice and I walked the same path to school, and when she walked a little ahead and cut through a lawn, I imagined her silk hair fall on her bare, boney shoulders.

Today my dad was supposed to give me my first I.D. card. In the hallway I saw my father in the master bedroom. Dark. Standing alone with a hand on the Bible. He whispered in the air something in Tagalog. I was afraid of his shadowy figure. So I left and heard other students were beginning to have their military I.D.’s too.

“Have you gone off base yet?” Alice asked me. “My dad just gave me my I.D.”

“Why don’t you go?”