John Tang

Renderings of a Literary Colleague and Family

Posted in Uncategorized by Jt's Item Roster on March 5, 2012

Call of Duty after Midnight

There a little boy reciting his essay, “and this happened…and this happened, then this happened…” through the wide television screen where my brother was playing a serious game of Call of Duty, a video game that rendered accurately World War I and War II, from the ruins of Germany to the guns of the French rifle called the Canine. Very interesting. It was Sunday night around eleven o’clock and there was a boy who playing a violent game. It was safe to assume that the boy—if he lived on Pacific time, and he if lived in the east coast, then it was absolutely pass his bedtime—snuck out of bedroom for a quick game before he had to submit himself to the day of responsibility that we called middle school.

Afternoon in Sacramento

We were driving to Sacramento to the Arden Mall this Sunday afternoon. It has been months since I been to the northern side of California—well, perhaps this is an exaggeration, but that is because I’ve lived in San Francisco for the last two years. So when the dry farmland, the blue skies, the broken boughs, the green Sacramento River, pass through my vision like a movie, I feel alien to the surrounding and feel almost refreshed to be there.

            “I don’t think California is the best state.” I said to my brother (who was driving) and to my cousin. “Look a Chad. He lived in Arizona and he’s happy. Look at Morris. He moved from Sacramento back to Texas, and now he’s happy.”

            Chad and Morris were close friends in high school that we’ve grown to love as brothers until now.

            “It sucks we didn’t get to hang out with Morris that much when he was here.” My brother said.

            “Yeah, it’s true.” My cousin said. She lived miserably here for the last ten years, with a boyfriend who wasn’t romantic like the men in Philippine and a job as a administrator for Bank of America who has manager who treated her poorly.

            “Maybe,” my brother said. “We haven’t really lived in the other states. So we don’t really know.”   

            “No, I have.” My cousin said.

            “Where have you been?”

            “Ohio,” she paused. “Wait. California is better. I’ve also been to NewYork.”

            “No, you haven’t.” My brother said. “When?”

            “When I first came here, we went to New York.” She said. “It was nice. I wouldn’t mind living there, but you know how much it costs to pay for parking: forty-five dollars. Just for parking! I’m not saying we’re cheap. You know, we’re coming from Philippines, so when you see forty-five dollars for just parking, it’s a lot.”

My Friend who Teaches Literature to Middle School Students

Beneath the very passage I’m writing now has a few flaws. I wrote it freely, without who has priority of desires, my friend or me. In the end I do, however, have an epiphany. Is the story for me, and is it earned?

We were moving in May, and I needed to get rid of some of my books. I’ve been boxing them for weeks now, when I texted my friend if he could take them: “I’m heartbroken I have to depart with them.” My friend, Aaron Capri, was an avid reader. He was a thin young man, who dressed well for casual days, in a dress shirt and jeans, leather shoes, in example. He was in word ready to be a teacher for the modern age. One time he came over to my house for short stories.

            “I hate kids,” he said. “They don’t have the attention span to listen in class.”

            He was a substitute teacher for high school in Fairfield.

“What were you teaching?” I asked.

“Romeo and Juliet.” He said. “Do you remember the irony in the story? It’s like the humor you get from Kafka; if you didn’t laugh, then you didn’t get the story. Romeo and Juliet is the same. You have these two lovers who disregard everything, their families, their lives, and when in the end, when Juliet doesn’t recognize Romeo and Romeo doesn’t recognize Juliet asleep—asleep, because they’re not dead–and they kill each other; that is irony.”

            I saw the tragedy in the inebriated state of romance.

            “I see.” I said. “Don’t you think you’re teaching something too hard to grasp. Kafka is a dense piece. So is Shakespeare.”

            “We had to go over Shakespeare in class.” He said. “One thing I learned about them: their teacher doesn’t teach shit. We had to memorize the end and act it out. How can you know how to act it out if you don’t understand the work?”

            I brought out the anthology he asked for. From Ralph Ellison to Gabriel Marquez, from John Keats to Yusef Komunyakaa, from Shakespeare to Arthur Miller, it carried a breath of literary masters, from traditional to contemporary—which in fact used the traditional forms. The anthology used thin pages and was worn down. I had kept the thing since my undergraduate in college.

            “So why do you need this?” I asked.

            “I’m tutoring this girl.” He said. “God, she’s dumb. We were reading Kafka’s ‘Before the Law,’ the one we read in Mr. Wiley’s class, where a guy appears at the gate and the gatekeeper doesn’t let her through. Right there, John. That is literally the plot. A guy appears at the gate and the gatekeeper doesn’t give her entrance. When I asked the girl, what is literally happening on the page, she goes, I don’t know.”

            He mocked the girl saying the last remark in an upward inflected falsetto.

            “How old is she?”

            “She’s in middle school.”

            “You don’t think that story is dense for middle school student?”

            “But it’s short.”

            “Then what’s the second one you went over?” I said. “Over the phone you said it was a Marquez piece. Was it ‘An Old Man with Very Enormous Wings’?”

            “No. I haven’t read that one yet though.” He described the second short story. I faintly remember it; I have read the entire collection of Marquez, but was never able to grasp the full meaning of the mythological renderings of people in all the stories. The one my friend described had a dentist and mayor. I tried to dialogue the meaning of the story for myself, but all I could remember was the last scene had emotional intent and the character had motivation, when the dentist drilled the mayor’s tooth.

            “Something like that happens.”

            “Doesn’t the dentist have motivation to drill the mayor’s teeth?” I said. “Something about the town’s money? Doesn’t the dentist torture him in the end?”

            “I don’t know about that.” He said. “The way Marquez described the dentist’s utensils is amazing and suggests torture is in story. But I don’t remember the dentist torturing him.”

            “Anyways, he’s as dense as Kafka,” I said. “Maybe his prose a little softer.”

            “But it’s short.” He said. “All she has to read is like three pages.”

            “I agree.” I said. “Well, all my suggestions are in that book. They use contemporary language. It’s not too highfalutin. Then some of them are even funny. I would start with Sherman Alexie. It’s accessible culturally and thematically; you have several attack points.”

            “I’ll go ahead and read them, first.” He said. “I hope the student learns from them.”

            “I think you should teach college students.”

            We shook hands, and I had to part ways with my anthology—because I knew I gave it to a very intelligent man who could reconstruct a million world-views in each story. I remembered the anthology kept me interested in literature, beginning with Metamorphosis by Kafka. As I sat on the dark-brown woven chairs on the porch, I thought, maybe I shouldn’t be so quick to judge what was accessible and what was inaccessible to a student. Perhaps they just need the right density to challenge their minds and at the same time keep them stone through the text. Then again that stone was a naive dream we all rendered in our minds.

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