John Tang

The Pugilists & Offbase:Gate Five (with Revision process-letter))

Posted in Short Stories and Excerpts, Sketchbook by Jt's Item Roster on May 21, 2011

These are my last stories. They have so many flaws, as my professor convinced me are consistent through out the texts. I posted them so I could move on,  and rather have them represent my current state in writing, I’d can use them as stepping stones.

I have plans to write three books in the summer: (1) Dream stories for my Brother. I will choose ten instrumentals composed by Nobuo Uematsu, Joe Hisashi, Illmaculate, so on and so forth. How the goal came about was when the night my professor convinced me I wrote poorly, I had called my brother for advice on the arts. With his body of works (sketches, portraits and mix media)  in mind, I listened to my brother advise you have to better than school. He left me with a question only Rilke would ask from his writers: Must you write? And if the answer is  anything other than yes, then you must walk away from writing. That night I was alone in my room. A lamp threw a flat shadow on the wall of all my things (ipod, drawing board, coffee cup, rice cookers, novels, a stapler, laptop, and the heater). My writing began with Things in its Rilkean sense. Once my wrists grew hot and tired my mind wandered into an unfamiliar hour. I stepped out of it when I realized I don’t write at the every chance, between school,work and family. My lack of patience and discipline depressed me, so I had to reconstruct myself through my favorite writings (like Don Quixote) and favorite music (in my Ipod I have a catalog of songs I personally listen to when free-write).

I now realize too much time was spent into defining my goals, so I won’t go into the other works for now. The point of the collection is to exercise my flaws: Staying in the moment, grammar, and affective tells (contextualizing).

One question I have is: How do you produce works straight from the keyboard? And an aside note: This declaration and all the works below were typed. It seems the keyboard doesn’t teach you patience. It teaches you to listen with your eyes instead of your ears and mind. Oh well, this is my last time I will type, aside from transcribing and editing works from the notebook. Hajimemasho.

Ayo J Teazy,

Let’s keep it reality, b. You need to wreck that shat.

  1. Put value in every paragraph. Every paragraph, ask yourself: How does he feel about that? What does that image suppose to evoke? What is the abstract he wants? Be impressive? Does that read as pride?
  2. Is he an older man looking back?
  3. Fix time. Fix sentences. Enough said.
  4. Finish the story a week earlier so you can proofread.  Get that facking writing skill down.
  5. If you get excited writing the last part, stop yourself and count to ten. Don’t force anything. Don’t force concepts onto details.
  6. Have fun wit it. Don’t get stale.

Splash. Ya’ll shkno what it is.

You need tray longs infinite nines/ bombs and napalms extending the lines/

And James Bond proximity mines.

You need your arch-nemesis’ mind/ Strong as big-dog when you liftin’ that iron/

Fast as Hedgehog it’s Genesis time.

–Hollow da Dinninon

John Tang

Offbase: Gate Five

For the narrator of James Joyce’s Araby

The children would walk like sea turtles in the sun. Going to school they would have their face cast down, lugging their backpacks full of things they would never use in a class, like a box of tissue papers and seven kinds of notebooks for each class. I shook my head at their naivety. Kadena was wet and warm in the morning. Offbase, too, I knew the humid air was shared throughout Okinawa. I was waiting for my father who was praying in his room. What could he ask every morning? Was it to avoid another trip to the Gulf of Mexico again? Was it to become Tech sergeant next year?

The streets would take a beating from the sun while the children and I were in school. Later in the afternoon, the perennial showers would unlock the bitter smell of ash and nickel that steamed high into the clouds. The odor would linger well into evening, but it wouldn’t interrupt our games of Manhunt, in where our parents would search for us in the bladed grass of deep ditches or have their hands in the tangerine trees if they weren’t afraid of the locust who lulled three notes while their eyes flashed a neon green. Depending on the chase in our blood, our bodies brimmed in the dark, and the best place to hide was under the car in the gasoline fumes. The mistake children made was anticipating to be found. A kid would have his face lean on the edge of a house and then turn away as if he was faster than the wind, or from my position, faster than my eyes. The simple fact was this: If you couldn’t see the person, then the person couldn’t see you. Then on the same street there was Alice who picked up the mail on front the porch. She would draw us from the shadows for answers of maybe she might join our games. We were content boys until she went inside her house; it was then we would resume our games—whatever we were playing. The thought of her golden hair touched my nose and I might’ve withdrawn myself into the dim street lights, expose myself and end my game; or in another hiding place amongst the leaves, if I didn’t remain compose and held my breath until I mouthed hello in the boughs of the black tree in the front yard, I would’ve lost the game in the circle of kids.

Because her skin was light, I saw everything she did inside her home. By the cabinet the bright lamp was burning in the corner. Alice was in the dining room arranging the envelopes from earlier. Her white skirt fluttering. Red streams flowing through her golden hair. I could smell the scent of strawberries in the soft knots that cleared my thoughts from all order in the world, and could carry the ghost of her for days: While she was dropping off the mail, penciling in her homework, opening the screen door, chewing on a chips, watching television. Her body resonated with me other days. When my mom and I walked off base for milk bone fish, the white meat would remind me of her face and legs; and when she wore a skirt her bare shoulders was soft like the meat flayed open. I was too afraid to touch anything when my mom was around. She would yank my shirt by the collar and remind me how dirty the squid’s violet blood and the salty grime on the iron clams were: “You’ll stain your shirt again.” I was once alone in one of these walks offbase and I had the quiet chance to touch the soft head of the squid’s mouth. The juices were wet, slick, and cold. As I played with it on my fingers, my body however was warm all over. I didn’t understand where my excitement came from, but my fingers had an urge to chase the feeling.

A few months ago I had my birthday and I was still waiting for my father to issue me my I.D. Today our teacher was late and the door was locked. The children were already sharing their cards although they weren’t supposed to. I knew why, too, because it had your father’s information, like his rank, his pay grade, so on and so forth; the base didn’t want you to compare a father’s pay with other fathers. Just look at them over there: They were distracted with another round of tether ball, with monkey swings in play, like children they quickly forgot what kind of trouble was around the corner. Didn’t they know first period was our Culture class? How quick Wood sensei (pronounced Udo sensei) would punish them by having a quiz? How she would stop the schedule dead and do something different? I began counting in Japanese: Ichi, ni, san, shi, go, roku…

On the fake grass I was practicing by the door. There was Alice standing alone holding a single notebook to her chest also waiting for Wood sensei, too. I thought that was smart of her to leave her things at school. She knew Wood sensei would’ve came any minute now, knew that a pop quiz was coming and that could hurt your grade. How hard it would to show your parents a pink slip with only an S for satisfaction. If she was me, she remembered the time when we were in the middle of folding origami and the class was reckless—some idiots even used staplers, glue and scissors, to make their toys—and Wood sensei stopped production and asked us to pull a loose leaf paper and write the three greetings of the day in Japanese and have them spelled correctly in Hiragana.

There was something different about Alice today: She wore a yellow skirt, plastic banana clips in her hair, with high socks and tennis shoes. I could’ve sworn from a distance she was the same as yesterday and the day before. I said something, or I thought I asked her about what kind of mail her father opened at home, but rather all my voice seemed to do was catch her attention, move her blue eyes my way for a brief interval, as I silently felt my lips part, a breath escape, and somehow she must’ve heard me by voicing her soul—which was only proof I said something to her!

“Have you gone offbase yet?” Alice asked me. “I just got my I.D.”

“I’m getting my I.D., too, and I think my parents said we’re going off base today.” I said. “Have you been to Gate Five?”

“If I can only speak Japanese…” She said. “It’s so far, too. You go by the middle school.”

“I know. You go pass the USO.” I said and imagined the store outside the gate and its large silver sign in black and English/Japanese. “That’s where they have Silver Bullet.”

“I think so?” She paused and asked. “You speak Japanese, don’t you?”

“I’m half Chinese.” I said. “We do the same thing: Take off our shoes at home and stuff.”

Her face seemed to say, Oh again, looking down and away from me. I had to remember there was a time she asked me why. I told her our family practiced it for ages since the Chinese kicked out their people, even the ones who went to Japan; that I could trace why we removed our shoes all the way to the Bible. My grandparents did it before they passed away. I’ve been doing it at home for ten years ever since I learned how to run.

“I think my parents said I can go offbase,” I said. “Did you want me to get you something?”

“I always wanted…I think we call them rice cakes.”

“Mochi?”

She paused and saw our teacher. “Konichiwa, sensei.”

“Ohaiyougozaimasu.” I corrected her. We were still in the morning. I knew she could see the sun was out. It was tiny mistake on her part. The teacher repeated my greeting, confirming I had it. Embarrassed, quiet, pitiful, Alice blushed and stepped aside as Wood sensei unlocked the door. Alice humbled herself and even stood in the back of the line when the kids lined up at door. I was already inside the classroom and saw she disappeared with the kids. I wished I knew why.

The day went on as usual and we sat in our arranged seating, with our names in Japanese, for me, in Katakana, as they called it. For the children’s sake, she didn’t quiz us on counting in Japanese. Rather we went over how to fold an origami balloon, frog and a house; that was fine, but I preferred we stuck to the schedule making Japanese sticky rice with red bean paste. Then the day was like any other day, I missed a chance to say hi to Alice because she was going over greetings with the teacher after class. A good day was if we met up at the door, by some divine fortune, as we went to our next classes.

I came home 2:30. In the living room I turned on the air conditioner. I opened the blinds and saw the children playing their games—I didn’t know which, nor did I have time to care while the sun was up. The plastic blinds were filthy; the dust was thick and annoyed my nose. Where was my dad? Why when I was not waiting for him, he would come home on time, turn off the tv and tell me to get away from the living room?  Where was he now? Why was he not in his bedroom with a hand on the Bible praying for something?  I was like an animal in cage pacing around inside the house. I stopped in the middle of the hallway when I realized I didn’t know why I walked between the kitchen, the hallway and my room. I saw the master bedroom. It was dark. The white bed sheets were folded neatly and the pillows were in order—long pillows first, regular pillows next, throw pillows on top, the largest ones with the buttons made with the kind of wood you found expensive furniture. The room was cool inside. My dad’s Bible sat on the glass table. The pages were coming off. The only thing keeping the book together was the zipper and the plastic lining my dad had kept over the years since he first join the military ten years ago. I put my hands on it and traced the edges of the book. I was saying something in my head for five minutes until I found a thought that touched my body as well as the mind, when the coolness rolled from my face and a warmth was glowing in my stomach: Alice’s soft face swiftly came into mind and then I lost sight of it; I prayed to get the gift…no, first I prayed my dad came home…no, first that my dad has a safe drive home from the airport terminal. Everything felt in order.

I remembered I had a television show at three o’clock; that I left the house to play when that was over. My dad, however, came home at 3:10, just when I found my place in the sofa, just when the anime cuts into commercial and he missed all the drama and couldn’t possible understand the story anymore. I had already imagined he would ask again, “Why do you watch that? You don’t even know what they’re saying?” He couldn’t see I did understand the villain was the white one in purple armored plates—shoulder blades, kneecaps, helmet—and the hero was the guy in tattered orange clothes, the vagabond, who lost his friends in another dimension. Under the Japanese title the episode was written in English, End of Time. I heard my dad’s steel-toe boots stomp in the hallway. His prayer must’ve been short.

“Move, move.” My dad whined. “Where’s the remote?”

What a child.  Look at him: He was too lazy to remove the boots. They were still laced up to the shins. He put his legs on the ottoman and forgot my mom would scold him later if there was black shoe polish on the seat. I observed the old man needed attention like a baby; that he needed his food, water, a cool room, and some sleep. I wanted to ask, why were you upset little boy? Was it because I changed the Filipino channel into Japanese anime? Because you still have to warm the rice later and reheat the oil for dinner? Because you were still a Staff sergeant? The questions ran through my head, but I didn’t let the questions irritate and confuse him. I gave him the remote I had in my pocket. I let him warm in the throw pillow, let him lull in the sofa, let his eyes narrow at the tv, let his nose whistle as he fell asleep.

“You said I could have my I.D. today?” I whispered.

“Can it be later?” He mumbled in English. “I’m tired.”

“I just want to look at it only.”

He opened his wallet and gave it to me.

“It looks cool.” I flipped it front and back. “Very interesting.”

“Don’t lose it.”

He raised the volume on the tv.

Soon as I was alone, I found a little bit of silence to appreciate the card. The black letters had my brown eyes, my black hair, my weight, my social security number and my father’s social security number. There was a granular, gray photo of me in the center of the card. Ugly. How the poor lighting ruined the picture, the brightness capturing every shade in my dark face: My small nose, fat cheeks, round chin; could you tell I could breath, that I could chew my food, that I could talk?…I flipped the card over. I thought Alice’s I.D. wouldn’t have this trouble. Her light skin would fit in the tiny box. The photo would have caught her brown freckles; they were like paint dots on a lady bug; when she smiled her braces were pure silver you’d find in stones; her nose twinkled in spring; her chin and cheeks were soft as light…so on and so forth…Oh, on my I.D. card I thought this was also cool: In the correct lighting, you saw government emblem of an eagle clutching thunder bolts and tree branches in the other claw. It was colorful as a rainbow. This meant I could leave now, that I belonged to the base. I slipped the I.D. in my wallet. I looked at the window. I saw the blinds glow with its thin strips of light, and I took advantage of the sun.

The clouds were muddy over the base. It was a sheet of cotton falling apart in the sky. The orange sun seemed to burn each cloud into air. I was sweating, hunched over, at the end of the street. You could walk anywhere if you kept your head down. But I knew you had to pass the Officer’s club, the libraries, the boonies, the boonies and more boonies on both side of the street, with their bamboo stems and elephant ear leaves broken on the road after a night of strong winds. There was Gate Five where there were cars gathering on the road, coming and leaving, rolling one inch at a time. The gate had two endless fences in where one side of the fence got lost into the boonies, while the other fence went up the green hill behind the gray building. After a closer look I realized Alice’s was right: There was the middle school on top of the hill, which meant these guys had Okinawa to themselves: White Beach with trailers you can sleep in overnight, Okuma Beach and the sea horses you’d find under any kind of rock, Camp Foster that also has a beach close by…They could just walk offbase anytime. Was this what they did after school instead playing games? I could see their parking lot and couldn’t find a single student playing four squares, tether ball, or peg against the cement walls.

I stayed on the left sidewalk. I could see the booth where you showed them your military I.D. The booth had whitewashed walls, a smooth brick surface, with barb wires stringed on the room that connected to the fences. The gate in the middle was larger than I thought, standing ten-times higher than me. The iron bars were a washed-out red, the bolts were rusting, and it had wheels so they could close the gate. My best chance of getting through was squeezing between the bars. Approaching the gate I imitated my mom. I took out my wallet and held the I.D. in the open for the dark man to see. I kept my head down and walked past the booth. I stopped. Was it that simple? I wondered. I turned around and saw the sun was coming on the base. The white military housing was growing darker. All I could see were the red lights on the back of the cars, red as the stoplight hanging over the gate on a telephone wire. If the card didn’t do anything why did I need it?  What was its purpose? Did it mean I belonged to the base? My face grew a cold sweat and I felt a stickiness in my socks. I also felt something drop into my empty stomach, like stale bread almost. I hoped I would be alright. I imagined my dad’s face in the darkness of the boonies looking at me, unsure what he would say, but could only imagine he’d be upset—I didn’t know why, though. I grew afraid the base might not recognize me later when I came back. I walked back to the booth, stood on my toes, my head a little bit above the counter and left my card there at the plastic window.

“What?” He seemed to say. “Only coming inside, your card you use.”

His voice was deep and had a heavy accent. I got a glimpse of his dark square face. He wore a gray blue suit, the kind you might see on a janitor in school, but I knew the suit meant something different now. Because of his deep voice, I kept silent. He spoke as if I was in trouble. I felt his hard look on my face. He repeated what he said and this time I understood since I had to a little more time to think about what he said the first time, that I had a little time to make sense of his accent, like when my dad would scold me in Tagalog. I understood that it was easy. I was so excited I had to remember tomorrow to tell Alice the things parents told you weren’t true. There wasn’t a curfew hanging over the base. Police weren’t patrolling after seven o’clock for kids to lock in prison. Habu snakes wouldn’t just come out of the boonies. You needed your I.D. card to go offbase. We could go any time after school and laugh at all this together.

Something special happened in the sky over there: A dark building sprouted a never-ending rainbow. It was a strange rainbow, too. It came from the heart of the building and colored the face in gold, red, green, purple, and blue, all shining together and then flashing in some kind of pattern you’d find in fountains—on, off, on, off, on.  The lights made the sky feel like it was for me. I ran, crossed the street without looking, until I made it to the glass and leaned into the view. I had ignored the bus that honked at me; I couldn’t really hear it anyways in the wind rushing through my ears. Inside, there were Japanese men sitting on stools, smoking cigarettes. They sat in front of these red washing-machines with bubbly stars stuck on the glitter. When they put in a five-hundred yen, tiny metal balls rained from the top of the machine onto metal polls and plastic cups. Looking closer at the plastic cup I now realized it was a white smile. Now that I saw the turban with a scarlet ruby and malting feather on the head of the machine, I realized the machine was a happy genie. I got it! Throughout the great space in the room all the machines chimed like gold coins you heard in video games; they didn’t ring like quarters and yen bouncing on the dinner table. The old Japanese men were like children, but they were calm, sat still and didn’t to walk all over the place when gold coins came out and they could play an extra round. Some of the men just pocketed the coins straight from the machine and disappeared somewhere. I could see myself inside saying, konichiwa and asking for a chair by one of the games: Sumimasen, suwate? I mouthed good afternoon on the glass.

I backed away from the window and saw my breath and hand impressions in the light. I remembered I was looking for a commissary where I could buy Mochi cakes for Alice. My journey wasn’t nearing an end anytime soon. When I look over my shoulders I saw my strength—in the great walk, the vicious boonies, the beasts in the trees, and the government police—that there was one final thing I needed to reach like when the vagabond in the orange clothes travelled to prince akaitori for the fiery feathers. My father could never grasp this feeling I had in my chest for someone. The old man could only pray for himself at home. He never told us at dinner what happened at work, but I could hear him in his bedroom in the morning while I waited for him before school. In between when he spoke Tagalog, he would whisper in English: Tech Sergeant, The Gulf, test, typhoon, sounding out every syllable; he didn’t want to take care of them when they came along. That was how I knew he prayed for the same things everyday for himself. Why couldn’t he see he could always retake the test? Didn’t he know he would always come home after a couple of months—and even sometimes miss the typhoons that could crack the windows? Didn’t he know there were other people at home? That I had to entertain mom by going offbase to markets that were irrelevant to my life? What was I going to do with squid, rice, packaged meat, and strange-tasting milk? (And all these things she could have found on base most of the time). I looked inside the building one more time. There was an old Japanese man shaking his fists in the air as the machine was blinking and releasing coins into a metal bin. He was like a child in a sandbox who discovered a quarter, a blue ball, or a scissor grasshopper, losing control of his body, losing sight of the value of money. How was he going to use that fake money anyways? I wondered. He couldn’t take it home and feel its wealth. I remembered money was silver, both the yen and the cents, and they made your hands feel you had dirt was under the fingernails—and you couldn’t eat if your hands were dirty. The gold coins rang like metal and were harsh against my ears. I left the old man to his own blindness, in the very worse state, through a child’s eye.

My love for Alice was more than a game of chance and money. She was waiting for my return tomorrow, with anything now. Being so deep offbase I knew she prayed for my safety. And the least I could do for her was keeping the Mochi rice cakes close to my heart as well as my memory. The night was warm. The sky was dusted in golden stars, leading the pathway further up the hill where there was an apple-green light shining over tall lamps that could only be for a parking lot. I ran up it with my head down, one leg at a time, until I lost my breath. The parking lot was flat and when I turned around I could see the first crosswalk in the distance. On the left and right side of the cross they were completely dark. I knew I had made the right choice running up the hill; I had made it to the shop! I saw a clean vending machine standing outside of the shop, and would’ve bought from there if they had any Mochi rice cakes. All I saw was cigarette cartons lined up in a row under the white lights. I tried to look inside window. They were, however, drawn in a heavy fabric and yet shined like silk, soft, fluent as water. I went around the shop and entered inside, as a soft bell had chimed over my sweating head. Then I heard the most ferocious sound behind the shelves. I ran in the shadow of the closest shelf, holding onto my senses by telling myself it was just a woman screaming. On the shelf there were various teabags in the torn boxes. My fingers crawled on the golden-black tea bags like they were packets of basketball cards. There were also medicine bottles on the shelves. I knew they were medicine because there weren’t any cartoon characters on the label, like this one had a picture of a golden horse with a violet lightning bolt in the background of black mountains. There was also a lot of Japanese writing in bold red. I was in the wrong area and could already feel a sting on the back of my hand when my mom smacked it: “Come here,” and drag me to counter with her. I didn’t even know why I touched them in the first place, I wasn’t going to buy any of them. In the time of my thoughts the silence seemed to return.

I went back to the window with the nice fabric. I followed the shelf to the back of the shop, my hand raced and dashed from the candy to the small toys, dry noodles to the seaweed, Japanese cards to the snow-covered cookies, so on and so forth, until it made it the finishing line, the brightest area of the store that had the bins of vegetables. All of these would have been nice for Alice but they weren’t Mochi rice cakes. When the vegetables were sprayed in water, a peppery scent loomed into the air. I had to get away from this area. I was searching for a sweet smell. I saw the fruits further down the aisle and remembered, like in the commissary, they had kept the fruits near the bakery. My hand hopped from the sweet pickles to the fat mushrooms, sweet potato to the taro roots, turnips to the daikon white radishes, the Chinese cabbage to the grapes, oranges, momos, pears and apples. Their hard surfaces shined and were clean in the perfect lighting. I heard steps close by and kept my focused on the fruits. Perhaps I might buy one. The steps grew louder from my side. In a quick glance there was an old Japanese woman coming around the shelves at the far end of the room. She wore a pink shirt and a thick brown skirt dull as welcoming mats. Her skin was pale. Her hair was long and cut short in the front to reveal her long face, her thin eyebrows narrowing at me and her yellow teeth when she grinned. I looked back at the fruits and stared at how polished skin; that the shop did a great job in keeping them clean. Maybe Alice would like an apple? I whispered to myself. Yeah, she would like one of these. It’s hard, full, round, no bruises, no worms. Feels nice in my hand, fresh as ice. I am going to buy this one for her. Look at this: It has brown freckles. That’s funny. What are these again? Fuji apples. Okay, how much do they cost? Is there a price tag on the apple? There it is on the bottom.

“Hai.” I said as a shadow came over me.

“Dame!”  It was the Japanese woman.

“What?”

“No.” She reached for the apple. “No, no.”

I pulled away, stunned, and I was confused if I should use an English word or a Japanese word. I was helpless as a child. I kept the apple tucked in my chest. I took a couple steps back, my shoes seem to turn towards the open aisle. From there I knew a single turn would take you to the exit.

“What is it?” I said.

“No, no, no, you leave-shimasu. Go-su.”

“Why?”

“This is not for you to take.”

I was so afraid my arms loosed up and dropped the apple. I couldn’t believe she didn’t seem to understand my Japanese. Her hands fell on my shoulders, her nails dug into my soft skin. She pushed me to the window and, brushing against the fabric, my sweat caught a few knots and opened a few threads. By then I was at the entrance. The night was so dark I couldn’t see my reflection anymore. She pushed into the glass door until I was outside. The bell rang once more, yet I had the final word for her in Japanese: I told the bitch you couldn’t treat guess impolitely. My mom raised me to believe you put others before yourself. They even taught us the Golden Rule in school. That must not be a popular idea to the Japanese children. By the quickness in her red eyes looking away from mine, she didn’t seem to understand my Japanese again. Next time when I made another trip offbase with Alice, we could find another store deeper offbase. I could help her choose the rice cake that was lined up on tiny cards with princesses on them. Walking by the plastic covers, gliding our hands over the rice cakes, and the soft desserts, we could choose anything our hearts and stomachs wished for. Some voice in me wanted to say, I had no idea what happened, but I knew everything that happened in the store.

I was done pacing around the parking lot. The air was cool on my wet face. The street lights were nice and soft as the moon. I walked to the edge of the parking lot when there was something happening at the gate. There was a violent ocean of red lights blaring in the dip of the land. The red lights must’ve belonged to the ambulances and fire trucks gathered close to each other on both sides of the road. Was the gate close? There were cars gathering at the first crosswalk, creating a tail of yellow lights close to where I stood. Some cars began to turn into the dark side of the cross to the left and created a tail of red lights there.  On the corner of the cross I could see the rainbow shine over the gate and could see some of the military housing further away. I took a step closer when the lights shut off. Not the parking lot, but it was the rainbow in sky closing one stream of light at a time: First the red, then the green, then the purple, then blue and then the yellow. The building that was a home for a rainbow was now a bundle of black rods scratching at the sky. The rods waved in the air. The iron faded into the night. I felt I could smell the rods carry into the thin clouds, and they smelled heavy as the oil in my hair. But there was no way that could have been true; that was my imagination remembering the smell of my pillow sheets. I was breathing more slowly every breath. A voice in my head spoke louder than anything I mouthed before: Drawing the condition that I could not pass the red lights. The idea was concrete as the guards closing the right side of the metal gate and turning away cars back inside the base. Staring into the distance, for some reason I saw myself in the dark, standing straight, eyes closed, like my dad, who stared into the ceiling but was looking deep into his eyes. The way the voice whispered was warmer than the hollow in my stomach praying I’d make it home.

What’s good good, though, J.

Keepin’ it one hund’ed:

  1. I tried. I noticed I had to plate-spin: prayer, Alice, dad, and children. I don’t know if I succeeded. Can you only plate-spin in scenes? Does he think of something new? Also, the mouthing and whispering needs to recur, which is a quirk, not a value.  My theory is every scene is different and therefore should evoke a different value on a concept. I can feel the evolution from the narrator’s disrespect for his father to finally understanding the hardship of his long tours overseas.
  2. I don’t think he is older looking back. Aside from the diction he was still exploring like a child, which he doesn’t see; in fact, his logic can be off. For instance, you don’t share your I.D. because your father’s pay, but because it has his/her social security number. The narrator feels it’s because of the rank number, begging the question, who’s dad was better.
  3. I think the story reads better. I learned, don’t think lines, but like music, think from one interval to another, one measure to another. Or another way to look at, unless it’s a grammatical error, when you revise your work, take it one passage at a time instead of one sentence at a time. You will ruin the flow.
  4. I tried. I finished more than half the story, eighty-five percent deep with the event sequences. I thought I would have it finished by last weekend. Between school and work, however, the week passed and I had to finish one paragraph a session.
  5. I had to remember nothing big has to happen. This isn’t the time to stand outside of the story for a cheap literary achievement. I was, however, surprised I came to the same ending as Joyce’s  “Araby” with the eyes.
  6. Writing the story was fun. Looking back on it, walking to Gate Five wouldn’t have been difficult. It’s like climbing my first counter. When I was little I’d take one leg at a time, but now, older, I can hop on a counter in one leap and take a seat. I could probably jog Gate Five in ten minutes from my house, which is the same house as the narrator’s.
  7. Some other observations:  Rendering values is about the most enjoyable part in writing. I never listened so closely to someone’s logic, which even shifts in mid-paragraph. I had to sacrifice some language for the voice’s sake; you might see a huge difference between part one and part two, which was redone from scratch. I am so exhausted. Why does it feel like I just wrote a novel?
  8. For the future: I’m very careful when it comes to atmosphere (Thanks Kevin). It’s easier to build on something positive, so I’ll keep that close to my process when I feel stale. What I need to improve are effective Tells and character’s values, rendering character’s connection and disconnection to life. My theory is if you can render these intuitively, a story can go anywhere and retain its innocence that makes the surprises in the end. For now, I’m consciously putting them everywhere.

J Teazy put’em in a box and say eazy. Signing out.

.

The rain my fade yo life/ Daylyte say good night!

See: you’ll never be as dope as Pass/

I’ll put that blade on him that have smiling like the Joker mask/

You spit hot smokin’ trash/ you want to be Daylyte, welcome to the overcast!

–Passwurdz

The Pugilists [Rewrite: Too many flaws.]

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 cosmopolitan city 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 roots: 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 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 ruffled clouds. He followed the sandy causeway to the house, and inside Lavin had made general courtesies with the family in the living room and followed them to the terrace where Mr. Hov was reading in the local newspaper, hearing the news about the eastern contender; he knew before Lavin could offer five hundred ducats for the match.

“This is for you, baby.” Embarrassed, the grandmother left drinks on the table. “I’ll let you men do business.”

“Thank you, grandma.” Mr. Hov said and said to Lavin. “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. We will 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. 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 cast metaphors on me. I trust you, and 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 the people believed Mr. Hov would seize the title by the second round in a knock out.  Their opinions were cards tacked on the billboards in coffee houses in the heart of the city. Less than anonymous faces would write Mr. Hov’s name on employee stickers and place them bus stops, billboards, parking meters, police cars, and on the exterior of exotic golden restaurants. Then there was the internet website Sports Forum tailored to all sports, and there was a thread, like an endless cork board, committed to only the art of pugilism where enthusiasts wrote their opinions next to the advertisements. No one had a shape except for a name in neon green, red or a classic white. In the last two days a person by the name of The Draconian created the “official” thread called Does Mr. Hov have enough Nails for Chaos’ Coffin? Yet the title seemed to be a little misleading for several viewers. To which the creator referred them to the black and pink poll on the forehead of the screen: Thirty eight of forty voters said yes Mr. Hov claimed the title. Thank you.

“The voices are in, if you haven’t heard yet. It’s looking very good, very good.” Lavine told Mr. Hov. “Don’t call it a promise, but I might be able to set a grand on the side before a date.” This weekend Lavin flew alone to the eastern city Seneca. Already at the glass mouth of the airport, Chaos was waiting in a winter coat on the dry street, with a few people behind him from his league Lavin soon learned was the Ultimate Pugilist League. He was taken to Chaos’s home downtown of the city under a bridge. There was the leather sofa with a couple of colorful blankets lain out on the arms; the bathroom was beside the master bedroom and the cable set has only the local channels. As expected in an apartment, Lavin was comfortable sleeping there for the night. Just then Chaos’ girlfriend came out of the kitchen and placed a plate of sliced bread on the table, saying: “What is this I hear over in Aelia? I read on the Sport Forum my James lost before it begun. How am I supposed to read that? Tell me. Are you flying him out there only to lose? Aelia is your city, Lavin. This kind of trash does not fly with me. And to add: It’s not happening in Corvin. What? Have a problem with my I.Q.? You don’t think I know where you’re coming from?”  “I’m sorry you read it that way, mam.” Lavin said. “The people on the internet don’t know what goes behind making this event, but the game came back because people moved it like grass-roots. This will be a major event; I consider it a festival with all the other contenders we’re having.”

“And what is the festival without my James?”

That night they settled a couple of logistics, money and accommodations; the rest of the weekend was used for the leisure of being in another city. He left with Chaos’ humble assurance the fight was locked for April, and in Aelia Lavin confirmed the match on Sport Forum under his own name, Lavin Aelia. Half an hour later the people wrote positive comments free of propaganda. Some yelled: “Yes!” “We doing it!” “I’m buying my ticket as we speak!” so on and so forth. Promoting the game for the last fifteen years Lavin knew this kind of commentary needed to swell. So he visited Mr. Hov to see how he was preparing for the fight, yet Mr. Hov convinced him to check the venue under the Marcus train station. With them was Mr. Hov’s grandmother Ms. Lascar Rodriguez, a spry short woman in a blue floral dress of lotus petals, who wanted to watch the thirtieth fight—a thousand ducat fight—and admittedly consented to a fight now a sport. The room was cold from the outside. She noticed they finally had set of chairs and the room was fully lit: the gray floor, an abandoned music stage, a garage door with ruffled steel, so on and so forth. If only the manager could do something about the ground: Just carpet it with a stainless vermeil in Russian velvet they used in casinos. She further included they could’ve easily set the fight in Corvin; those car garages were nice. “Can we do something about the floor?” Mr. Hov asked Lavin. “I wish we could.” Lavin said. “Then install the thing, Lavin!”

Lavin didn’t have answer to that, and dismissed “fixing” the place because Mr. Hov would forget anything he said a month from now when the fight was in session, the fire in the ceiling like the sun, the elevated ring like a volcano fenced in, the united voice calling for the second coming, a few silver kings to pinch…he envisioned, and in introducing the match, the dream was caught in his throat. He was jerked from the dream when the bar owner asked him to pen the contract for April the eighteenth. Mr. Hov looked over his shoulder writing the seal. They were on the first floor where the mirrored walls gave the illusion of space, adding twice as many tables, chairs, ceiling fans, fish tanks and pipes, and between that there was Mr. Hov’s reflection, saying: “My name is Abysmal. Lavin. Lavin. My names have to be on the flyers. Now.” “No.” “You need my name.” Mr Hov said. To which Lavin replied, “Before the fight I can introduce you as formally known as Mr. Hov. How does that sound? Can you make that work for everyone?”

“What in hell’s frozen lake is this, Lavin!” Mr. Hov cried when he read Sport Forum. For weeks Chaos’s girlfriend texted the public on their cell phones that if Mr. Hov changed the time limits from a minute to two minutes; based on fights prior to the headliner, Mr. Hov threw four punches against his opponent that could’ve been the end-game if the time-keeper hadn’t intervene in the blows and gloves. Mr. Hov read on Sport Forum: You understood where she was coming from when she claimed Mr. Hov was coward. He also noticed The Draconian criticized those kinds of tactics, though subtle, was “bad” for the sport: When did fighters exercise a game outside the sport? When did we allow headliners take control of the game, instead the game working for us? Then there was the omnipotent question grazing all the minds in this pit: Could the art of pugilism come to its end? You knew it sat on the heads of the world because there were twelve pages predicting the art would die permitting these kinds of “twisted” rules. We need a better system. Be professional. When Lavin was asked to clear the matter online, which someone called it an “essay amount” of writing, he came to the conclusion: “…Yes you can find them on the footage. Our staff does its best to make these rounds fair as possible to the artists. Let’s not let it prevent a festival come full circle. I will call Mr. Hov and Chaos and close the matter. No more concerns.”

In the living room grandma Lascar Rodriguez overheard the possible cancellation. Sitting down at a wooden desk, writing on a sheet of paper, in the glow of a single lamp, she carved the petrified souls resided deep in both her and her son’s frustration and sent it Seneca’s local newspaper: “I write today in absolute, myself in the foreground of my emotions on a matter, an artistry, under the stress of an uncivil city. For weeks I followed the writings on the website, and I cannot endorse this nefarious nature, the rumors cropping every day. Then one fine afternoon I read something out of the ordinary: After plucking a man by the name of Alexander Bijoux, I see he threatened my grandson, and I quote: ‘Come to my city, Mr. Hov. That kind of shit doesn’t pass here.’ (Here meaning the city of Seneca). Now I ask: How was this suppose to be read? It poses two kinds of questions: They will either harm my grandson or they will not harm my grandson? Good logic says to assume the worst and works from there. When I think of the dilemma I think of the Celine prize winner, Irish dramatist Vitelia McDonagh, who wrote in her plain speech: Language spoke to the mind, the skin spoke to the body. What it means is you leave the fight between their hands. I warn you tell your people they need to be quiet, or my baby will show them how to be quiet.”

In two weeks the local paper was found itself in the hands of Seneca’s lower class: The title which boomed on page fifteen, Shame on you, Seneca: On Mr. Hov’s Fight. The news only needed travel for a day so the voices on Sport Forum to collect. While so, Lavin posted six flyers in each seat of the train returning to Aelia. He had changed Mr. Hov’s name to Abysmal, yet for promotional intentions he kept the original name underneath. Now it read on top of the teal flyer: Abysmal vs. Chaos. Parallel titles in fresh ink. The page crinkled from the afternoon showers. Lavin was proud of the city life built into every page. There was a young Chinese boy, sixteen years old, in a gray plaid shirt, who caught Lavin taping a flyer on the back of a seat. “Good, good…I don’t do it, though.” He confessed. “I’m just a fan of the game.” Although he wasn’t part of the Sport Forum, he reminded Lavin Mr. Hov’s record was six and eight in the past two years. Lavin imagined the boy must’ve sparred once before, yet was afraid of breaking his nose. After, Lavin rode the train until the beach—missing his home four stops ago—wondering how Mr. Hov was training with ankle weights on the beach.

Mr. Hov wasn’t on the beach, nor was he on the terrace where the workout equipment was under the eaves. On the sandy path Lavin saw Mr. Hov on the porch holding his grandmother. Her still face, vintage eyes. She was sucking her bottom teeth as the crooked fangs dried out the lips. Clutching a sheet of paper like a tiny thumb, she heard the dead voices. Sampling a few Ms. Rodriguez read off in a voice unlike the one’s on the internet, but her own, an unsteady pitch at the front of her throat: “What is a Vitelia McDonagh?…Tell a bitch to shut up…Disgusting: Dry umbilical cord, anyone…Will they check in the oxygen tank…You have no right to talk about a city you never lived in…” So on and so forth. “You can stop now grandma.” Mr. Hov said, yet Lavin tried to speak until he forced his voice inside their disdain: “…Those are just the roaming mind in a free world. It’s good our world is in the government. There are other voices on your side from Aelia.”

“Why is my address in here? Shit! Look here!”

Lavin read the numbers in black, saw the city of Aelia with the mailing address and a threat asking the city of Seneca to send a package. Lavin remembered when the league began in a parking garage of an abandoned mall. The ceiling low. The sun a muddy green as it glowed on the construction equipment left behind: the yellow rails, the orange cones, and the plastic sheets covering the entire building. This was a time when people were once silent, listening to the touch of gloves break skin. Mr. Hov was the first, six feet, one-hundred seventy pounds, standing to the left side of the time-keeper with a minute and a half glowing over his head. Before, they didn’t have ropes like the masters did; the people, the enthusiast, the judges, the hosts and the sponsors, naturally made a circle around the pugilists. Lavin had to wonder: Where did this kind of game arise from? When he couldn’t answer the question, he thought of man’s instincts not yet defined. Only the people of Aelia knew Mr. Hov did not attend the event.

For months Lavin quit responding to the people on Sport Forum. The event still went on with a smaller crowed than he dreamed. He heard some talk amongst the people that the fight between Mr. Hov and Chaos would’ve been good because it was even match: Some said because of the height, others say because of the length in arms, others because of the pride in their youth. The other divisions, known as top-tier, mid-tier, and low-tier, finished the night until three o’clock in the morning when the owner of the bar came down and closed it. Because Lavin knew the bar would close, he used the last hour for the main event, while the rest of the low-tier competitors concluded their matches on the wet streets and neon lights of closed bars.

“Will we still see the fight?” An older man said, with sagging cheeks. “You paid him and his tickets, didn’t you? That’s why you have contracts.”

One evening, high on the electric rail, he was riding the train into Corvin. He could see the dark city of Aelia behind him, lost in the speed of things. People were pouring into the train station. Voices flowing over low heads. Steps filling every space. The aroma of wet wool carrying in the breath of Aelia. Lavin felt the cell phone vibrate in his pocket. Answering it, he heard Chaos ask for him and then heard him call his girlfriend to the phone. Her voice was soft, kind, yet sharp because of the treble in her throat: “Now both cities finally hushed, I can ask you straight. I was reading on Sport Forum and listened to what the people have been saying. The title: Chaos Defeating Opponent before Fight: A New Trend? A poll says seventy eight of eighty voters felt Chaos ‘won’ the battle, Lavin. Now I’m giving you the business of flying him over there for a rematch. You peoples and the people of Seneca deserve this kind of entertainment, don’t you think, Lavin?”

“Not for awhile in Aelia.” Lavin said. “I heard the next event will be in the south.”

“Are you saying my James won? Are you giving me that easily?” She laughed. “Because by the looks of with the people are saying, he won. That’s bad promotion, Lavin. Are you really going to betray your friend, a representative of Aelia? Remember, I’m giving you the business. Not only will you have Aelia watching, you will have Seneca watching; that’s twice as many viewer that you need.”

“I’m saying no.” He closed his phone.

Therefore, by the looks of it, Chaos won the title.

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