John Tang

At the Pizza Joint on Ocean Ave.

Posted in Short Stories and Excerpts, Sketchbook by Jt's Item Roster on April 21, 2012

At the pizza joint on Ocean Ave. David asked the owner if he could post a flower on their window. The owner said of course, while David’s daughter, Ana, said thank you. Ana wore a lavender cotton shirt and plum-colored sweat pants. She also brought her scooter and helmet, and carried it. Out of kindness David wondered where possibly the best place to post a flyer. Her daughter went further into the restaurant, in fact, to the very end of the spinach-green wall.

“That’s too far,” David said. “No one’s going to see that.”

At the entrance he already strips of tape lain out on the edge of the window sill. He palmed the flyer down against the window, took a strip of tape and stuck it on the flyer. Ana did the next three, one for every corner.

“Thank you,” she told the owner, a blond older woman, with harsh skin, and spoke Italian softly, when addressing the chefs. She wore a dark blue flannel sweater and sweatpants.

“That’s no problem.” The owner said. “You’re very welcome.”

“We appreciate it,” David followed up.

“Could I ask,” she said, “what’s it for?”

“My daughter’s school is having a carnival.”

“That sounds wonderful.” The owner

“Okay, thank you,” Ana said, strapped on her helmet.

David and Ana opened the glass door as a tiny golden bell rung above their heads. They left the pizza joint, Pizzeria Sophia, on Ocean Ave. The lights were romantically dim, highlighting the peachy-hues and spinach-green off the walls. It was filled with marble tables and leather seats, with all the amenities, from napkin dispensers to parmesan cheese to powdered pepper. On the window, in blue and white, the flyer read, Come one, come all, friends, families, to Lakeshore Alternative Elementary School.


For this vignette, I tried to practice clarity of images. At times, most times, I think so much about philosophy, the placement of things, a legato voice, so on and so forth, I forget the simple basic craft to unfolding action, the essential skill to creating a movie in people’s mind. John Gardner in The Art of Fiction says the mistake that amateur writers make is logical assessment of images. You can’t write: “David asked if he could put flyers, when he closed the door behind with his daughter.” Well, you can write that, but the lines is easier to follow if you write, “As he closed the door, with his daughter behind him, he asked the owner he could post a flyer on their window.” That’s still a bit jarring, but the gesture is easier to follow.


Immersion into Astor Piazolla

Posted in Sketchbook by Jt's Item Roster on April 20, 2012

Why not immerse yourself in your work? That includes entertainment, for your consciousness is the last filter before mental digestion. In my studio apartment in San Francisco Astor Piazzolla played on a Panasonic docking station, about the size of computer speakers. It was hollow and brash. Instead I removed my ipod and plugged my earphones into the machine and into my ears. The space between my thoughts and song was like no other. At first images and gestures suddenly bloomed in my mind. Something between a boxer and Spanish dancer. I was listening to Mr. Piazzolla’s “Libertango.” The boxer and the Spanish dancer didn’t take any form; those were just the words to describe my impression. But they never left me. They took shape once I was able to follow the melody in the violin; in my experience, like how the intervals moved from one note to another, also did the Spanish dancer moved with her shoes of flaming tongues swinging my heart into places. Or the famous boxer Ricardo Finito Lopez. As he raises his gloves before the bout jumps at the drop of a hammer on a golden bell, he steps cautiously towards the center of the ring, waits patiently in front of his opponents, finds openings, aims, and then leaps, landing the leading foot, which by then would land a blow on the jaw (very similar to the Filipino sensation Manny Pacquiao). When the contrapuntal movements between piano and violin, my Spanish dancer finds fight with men’s heart in the auditorium while my boxer pivots around his opponent. I find comprehension in the imagination.

In the Presence of Something Great: SF Radio Tower

Posted in Sketchbook by Jt's Item Roster on April 15, 2012

I was in the presence of something great. I once heard Mary Gaitskill explain as she recalled an undergraduate reading of Franz Kafka. Although she didn’t comprehend the text, she knew she was in the present of something great. The same could be said here. In the photos of Twins Peak (one side, mind you), I was in the present of something great although I didn’t understand its purpose then and there. The winds were harsh. The cold air stung my face. But the sun was there to keep my body warm as I climbed through tall bladed grass, red rocks, hard dirt, and yellow flowers.

If only I owned one of those neat cameras, that dramatizes the depth of the world, today would’ve been a good time to own one; so the photos to come are not rendered up to cinema’s standards. But nevertheless I had a good time walking on a side of San Francisco no one seemed to care for—especially tourist, students, and the saddest of them all, locals who lived here since their childhood. What a breath of wonder they had right in their backyards!

Just a warning to those who might hike there: I had the luxury to blaze the trail. You might find two hills that give you an overview of the city, from the Academy of Science’s clay rotundas to the bustle of Mission Street, from China Town to David’s Cross, but maybe your goal is to be under the Radio Tower. Well, you must trust me: Everything is connected. There is a trail or a street that connects San Francisco together; that’s one of its beauties. To get under the Radio Tower, you have to climb the guard rail close to the aqueduct—the one heavily fenced in with rusty barb wires—if you climb it, follow the cement path and you’ll be on the main street sooner or later that’ll then take you to the tower.

As I stood on the nameless hills, I despaired a little. I yearned to be in the presence of something great. I saw the Radio Tower crown the mountain, with its cross-like figure, red and white colors, the satellite dishes trimmed around the body as well as the head like a jeweled embroidery of a Russian tiara. How’d it be if I was underneath it? I wondered, as the winds brushed against my face, and I sat down on the slope. Even fellow travelers with their large backpacks backtracked when they gave up, saying to me: “If you want to get to the Radio Tower, you need to go back around. See, over there, is Sutro Heights, and the tower seems to have a mountain all to itself. From what I can tell, there isn’t a safe path. I thought I could finish over there, but as you can see, you can’t.” The young Japanese man continued on his way up the nameless hill, while I continued to stare at the tower and climb down the nameless hill. My goal was to finish the hike by touching the guard rails. At the guardrails, I then saw in the direction of the Radio Tower a cement paved way and a very narrow dirt trail. If I just jump the guard rail, I thought. Wonderlust filled my heart, and I jumped the guard rail and ran down the dirt trail. I found the main street, which spiraled upwards to the Radio Tower.

Don’t despair, have patience!