John Tang


Posted in Short Stories and Excerpts by Jt's Item Roster on June 19, 2011

This is another story about San Francisco State University. My goal here is to develop his values so we can understand why he has those thoughts in the end. I think I have to develop the relationship with parents if I want a more dramatic experience of the reader. I let the story settle too long in my backpack.


Donating forty dollars to Japan’s relief fund, for an earthquake had occurred in April, David had his father in mind, who lead and generated a group of donators for the typhoon that had swept Philippines in a fifteen-day flood.

In front of the student center, also known as the Ceasar Chavez, students from the Japanese club stood together at the long tables. There two boys holding a white banner with red lettering which read “Ganbate” in English letters, while the girls and other members were accepting donations in plastic bins. They worked under the stretch of fog over the campus. Another rain might fall for its third day in spring. By now David was on hill, walking beside the fence where the university was building a new library. He made an effort not to look back at the Japanese club. He wanted to keep his mind away from money, or as the business class might called his emotions, Buyer’s Remorse (he wasn’t sure if it applied now. What did he buy?); it didn’t matter though, for he knew somehow he could justify forty-dollars would pale in light of all the supports he received from his parents and work.  He could remember, as a child his dad would always drop a hundred yen in the man’s hat, the thin Japanese man who cross-legged sat under the bridge. He was dingy, skin brown as a Filipino. This was when he lived in Okinawa on the military base, and the very bridge was right offbase on Gate Two. In the mind of a child David could remember in its fantasy his father made the moral code: You have to practice how to let money go. Maybe, David reasoned, that was because his dad calculated math easily. How did I know what was in his bank?

He lugged his bag up the hill. He saw 19th street on the horizon; it was clear of cars, Munis, and bikers, all of which that made the morning feel slow. His mind felt so vague he had to simplify the day. He imagined studying and napping in his room, perhaps find some coffee shops on Ocean Ave later. If only he could capture San Francisco’s every movement into meaning, he thought of as an expression rather than a political claim. Just then he wondered if he had work tonight, but after a few minutes in silence he assured him he wasn’t scheduled. His mind still wandered further as he imagined folding shirts three o’clock in the morning, the pressure of his performance review (for he was temporary), then waking up five hours later for Japanese class in the morning. Why did I take the job? He concluded and readjusted his tasks into one objective: Go home.

Spread out on the hill there were students in sky-blue shirts with prints of pine trees asking for donations. Thankfully many of them seemed busy with their prospects, already, sharing their binders and offers of an opportunity at achieving an excellent life-accomplishment at young age—to be a part of something greater than one’s self. To be safe, David stayed on the far right of the hill where the cherry blossoms and their white petals were blooming; as if he kept his head down, he focused on the curious growth of the petals, a thought shallow as ocean’s spume—like, how a tiny pod carried so many colors in one space in time—just when a voice called out to him.

“Hello, hello!”

David heard someone as he turned away from the petals.

“Sorry.” David was sure he said to the man. “Not today.”

The man stepped closer to David’s side. David had glanced, said hello, “I’m fine,” but again, wasn’t heard.

“We are from the Sierra Club.” He introduced himself. “Your clean air; the laws that protects them. That is what we do for you. You’re a smart man, I take it: If you love Golden Gate Park, you’ll have to love we do for the community…”

“I’m sorry.” David said. “Not today.”

But the man had kept talking about his group, opening his binder where in the pockets there were brochures. He was able to slip one into David’s hands because his mind hasn’t cleared since he finished class and has lost consciousness, idly waiting for that right pitch in his voice, an inflection, surmising his community, his benefits, his goals, into question of either no or yes.

“Look at the kind of programs we have here.” He pointed at the page. “You’ll be helping us have these laws protect nature. Have you heard of the law that’s going through congress right now?” As his fingers slid over the brochure, he read the law code supposedly about clean energy passing through congress which David could’ve read himself.

“I’ll take a look at it when I go home.” David said.

When the dark man stepped in front and blocked David him from seeing 19th street, David laughed to himself (and the humor showed in his smile): What an asshole. The man was black, tall, thin, in a dark pea-coat, wore a moss turtleneck underneath and a pair of khakis, with brown loafers; his eyes were white as his gapped-smile; his hair trimmed and shaped neatly to the hairline.

“What we have…” he leaned closer, pointing in his binder. “If you sign up you will have the benefit of joining other members on camping trips, while advocating for a laws in support for nature. What do you say about signing up now?”

“I wish.”

The dark man could see David’s skepticism as he took back the brochure.

“Sorry. I just donated fifty dollars to the earthquake in Japan.” David tried not to pay attention to why he lied about the dollars. “I know how hard it is to live overseas.”

“That’s good.” He said. “Now you’ll have the opportunity to help again.”

Did this man know I have four-hundred dollars in my bank right now? David thought, yet he didn’t want to personalize the argument, staying within “boundaries.”

“I’m saying I don’t think I can,” said David. “I know how hard it is to rebuild after an earthquake or a typhoon. I lived through them.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

Why am I lying? David questioned himself. He tried to clear the last statement by saying he lived in a military household, overseas, and knew how a typhoon could cut the power off weeks and shatter windows…

“This is what I’ll offer.” The dark man changed the subject. “You can donate fifty dollars, and you don’t have to sign up. There is no commitment there.”

“I donated fifty dollars,” said David. “You know, all my money goes into my tuition.”

“Well, I’m not asking for tuition.” He said. “I’m not asking for a pay check.”

“Also, I don’t feel comfortable donating without a job.” David said. “I have one, but it’s temporary.”

“You are giving me a job right now, a man like me, a job!” He didn’t have to remind us the economic burden in America. His second point about being a “man” could refer to his African American background and their adversities in America.

“Well then, what can you donate?” He said. “Thirty dollars? That’s all I’m asking.”

“I don’t think I can.” David said. “Even twenty dollars is two days of food for me.”

“Ten dollars?”


“Why not?”

“Now you’re just asking me to check my fiscal responsibilities.”

David was unsure what he said himself. Fiscal responsibilities? It sung as if it was an advertisement for a debate on the economical crisis. There was a moral and immoral way you must feel about the issue.

“Thank you.”

“I’m sorry, I just can’t afford to…” David tried to explain.

“Thank you. Go now. Have a good day.” The man shut the binder, smiled and looked away.

Appreciating my time, he didn’t mean it. David thought. A fucking asshole. That’s what I should’ve said. You’re a fucking dickhead. David imagined the solicitor’s black face, round, glistened like slate in the warmth. Get the fuck out of my way, I should’ve said that first right after I said I’m sorry, not today. I’ll bet he didn’t even understand “fiscal responsibility”; that I’d bet would be way beyond his vocabulary. So now am I a racist? Those guys are all fucking assholes. David imagined a can cornbeef cooking slowly over a short candle stick, held by a metal ring, as he listened to the typhoon finally coming to an end that one morning, but it was only an eye for thirty-six hours: You guys are all fucking assholes.

He was exhausted, regretting he put so much thought into money. On 19th street there was a wave of cars in the distance, a Muni unloading people across the street, and bikers turning into the campus. The day was slow, David thought, as he stepped on the street before the signal. It was good the day was slow.



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