John Tang

The Watermark and Its Effects on Marquez’s Autobiography

Posted in Uncategorized by Jt's Item Roster on July 31, 2012

The water damage on my hardback novel was more devastating than the muscles repairing after a day of lifting at least five-hundred pounds worth of items into our new house. I remember yesterday. After my friends, dad, my brother, and I finished moving into our new house we sat in the car garage of the former household where a slight breeze blew from the hot hills in Vacaville. At first, Gabe Castro invited us to his house to make spam wasubis and play games, but there was a silence because that was routine at the Castro’s household. Three days a week someone from the group of friends would play video games at their house. Then from the top of the circle Chris Parker invited us to his house as if he didn’t want us there to his pool and smoothies made from his mother. How could we not accept the accommodations? Gabe was the first to accept it. He loved the ocean like a tourists on an island in the Pacific, and it spoke to his character that he couldn’t swim very well. We all agreed to meet at Parker’s house in an hour from now. Two hours later everyone made it with the Playstation 3s and the ingredients to produce the wasubis: three golden recycled spam cans, five cups of long rice, bacon, and roast Korean seaweed wraps. For me, I brought my underwear and a spare t-shirt for the pool, and I brought one book that served me well.

            The book stained by the watermark was Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Living to Tell the Tale, which you will find in my recent journal entries my reverence for the growth of the Columbian author. It is serving me well now in the stage where I stand in life. Not that my accomplishments parallel to the classical story teller of our time, but the simple and natural act of movement that comes from life: Adjustment. Currently umemployed and twenty-six years old I am in the procession of maturity. I told my brother my wish to visit Okinawa, Japan, or as the maps know it as, the Okinawa Perfecture, even it went against my dad’s wish for me to be employed with health insurance. I debate that health insurance is worth ignoring as I look back at the passage from the Marquez’s autobiography when he left Bogotá for the warm harbors of Cartegena where the schooners drifted and where the brothels were more hospitable than the hotels. Living on thirty-six pesos, Mr. Marquez slept on his first night not in the hotel or brothel, but in the prison where the hay was fermented in sweat from the night before. He was arrested for breaking curfew in the park as he sufficed the anxious craving from the nicotine. I wonder if my trip to Okinawa would be the same.

We were never collected. Some of us played Playstation 3 on the large television screen that rendered images in standard definition. Some of us swam in the pool while the sun was lethargic. Some of us cooked the spam on a low-fire. I was part of the third group with Gabe watching the natural oil from the spam hiss like an aggravated kitten. He was on the last set, and I helped him prepare the bacon sugaring them. Everything was in order. One could imagine the American paradise here in the suburbia, where expectations dissipate in the face of friendships and unsaid forgiveness, and where the primary goal was to serve the omnipresent nature of self-enjoyment. One could imagine these are the only pieces you need to run chess board against your recurring opponent: Life. I was not immune to the idea. I had thought of nothing, for there was nothing to think of. Food and water served well during the afternoon. I had embedded myself in the enjoyment like a bronze door-knocker on a wooden door. I had lost myself and felt it was worth it.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez doesn’t recount his life with chapter numbers. Now don’t misunderstand me. Numbers one, two, three, four, five and six, are printed somewhere between page one and page four-hundred-eighty-three. And yet, that is not how one pinned the sprawl in which Marquez’s life unfolded before the author. The best term to describe the pace is natural continuity, for in nature, shifts in adjustment occurred on its own volition and fortune, with glimmers of hesitancy, reluctance, steadfastness, contralto, and chaos, and in continuity, for the prose never read as if it was not at service to the reader but to the author, a misconception from the avarice reader that has become our current standard of American literary digest that had branded on his tongue from years of institutional fortification, “It could be better.” Because if the author has entire control of the prose, then the reader has entire control of the prose in its reconstruction, and if done very well, best said by the Oklahoma journalist Ernest Hemingway, the reader will feel as if he wrote it. Marquez works in this fashion. Events and circumstances simply occur wherever the author stood at the specific moment in time. If he was in Arataca, where he heard his mother cry about the strain caused from his father’s infidelity, in the same frame of premature adulthood, he observed the intercession of Monsignor Lopez Lleras take presidency, which he believed was no good for the country because of the ideals of the Conservatism. He’d suddenly conclude the incident simply and innocently: Peace was restored to the household. Or in Cartegena where he hid away and prayed for protection from the devil’s tangible form, bats, the last situation to the sequence of events, before we felt we were about learn a new item from the author, was his imprisonment for violating the curfew in the park. I never got the hint why he retells us his life or had a hint where he was going or what he needed: The cogs which make up Aristotle’s theory of traditional narrative. Like the curfew, Mr. Marquez violates the rules of narrative, and the reader has every right to tell the Columbian author the same answer the police officer told Mr. Marquez’s when he joked about not having a place to sleep at two in the morning: “Stop being an asshole.”

As the water dripped from the ridge of my shorts I removed my shirt in the bathroom. My body was hard from lifting the boxes of books, bed parts, and furniture. The tumult was a struggle and an impossible task if it weren’t for my friends. This celebration was our reward. I learned a few things about them, especially their future prospects. Like Mr. Parker’s desire to move to Arizona because he hated the cold weather. Or Mr. Cato’s literary reviews he’d publish for the Dixon newspaper. I wondered where I was at in life. What kind of growth did I need to endure to be a more disciplined person, the kind of nature for writing? I think back to a time when I was an undergraduate student at UC Davis and my first year at San Francisco State University. Both students and professors, in one way or another, deemed my work to be an “unreadable.” In their defense the language was very tough to read. It reminded me of Faulkner. Still to this day I don’t understand his literary merit except for the experimentations that pushed the norm of literature when it was difficult to read a passage. My friend Greg made the observation as he described my work to have “a lot of color.” I was discouraged, because even my professor Junse Kim from San Francisco State University said my prose was very difficult to follow: “You want to render a moment by moment, a step by step, rendering of the vicarious experience.” It took this heart, and mean I wasn’t naturally gifted in the art. He also said something more valuable to the fiction writer than the poet: “Story comes first. Language is secondary. John, you seem to always put the cart before the horse.” I had asked myself if I had a story to tell. “How come Marquez can write a story without a scene?” I asked him. To which he replied with reverence for American authors: “I haven’t read anything from Marquez since my undergraduate years. But if you want to use models, think of Pam Houston, Mary Gaitskill, or if you like the more hyper-reality, George Saunders.” These thoughts bothered me.

Later this evening a quiet warmth pervaded the backyard. My friends were inside playing video games or sleeping on the couch. I took out Marquez’s Living to Tell the Tale with a cup of ice tea. I sat beside the stone demarcations around the pool and read the passage beginning with his new assignment as a writer. He lived with a family who read Virginia Woolf instead of Pablo Neruda, and he found it amazing. I thought being not alone but away from my friends and family and paradise, like how I’m positioned now outside, would bring me to a closer relationship to Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I wanted this relationship so deeply I had held the book firmly in the y of my palm, pages held out to me like music notes on a music stand. That was when I felt the watermark on the bottom of bookcover. Particles of the cardboard began to roll, leaving a rotten residue behind. I thought about throwing it away that instant, knowing that I had three-quarters of the book, meaning I had a “firm grasp of the concept,”  to use my Political Science professor’s words, but in the same instant realized the depth of reflection it had asked me to study. As I look back at the passages, I see my growth unfold and Mr. Marquez’s prose work through me.


New Beginnings

Posted in Sketchbook, Uncategorized by Jt's Item Roster on July 26, 2012

 I Miss an Old Flame

 woke up missing an old friend, wishing one day that I could romance her. Jahara Cachola was an old flame I knew in Guam as a distant voyeur. In this dream she was slim and an adolescent. So was I. She wore a giant pink sweater covering her waist with black pants. My imagination did all it can to replace what was hidden. She washed fruits over a sink as I came around the counter. I held her around the torso and kissed her on the cheek. I was the happiest person with her long black hair which smelled of sweet salts sat under my nose. Then something only a dream could conjure for me: Peremptorily, I don’t know why I imagined this but even in dreams, as I reflect on it now, Jahara wouldn’t call herself fat, as tight as my grip around her body was. She was confident and optimistic, with a determination of a saint and engorged in false-modesty. She smiled naturally when saying oh no or when she changed the subject that instant. Her eyes were small under the bulbous curve of her cheeks. She was someone I hoped was spoiled by her boyfriend even though she’d hate after many years of taking care of her two younger sisters she care for like a parent. I miss being a hopeless romantic, and understand the cautionary dream to mean, The pure warmth was good for life. During my adolescent years I never thought of girls in the ultimate end that was sex. I thought they were there for us to pamper and assure happiness for. In middle school and the freshmen years of high school I would daydream in classrooms how I’d stand outside Jahara’s Japanese class and with a wave of a hand and a smile I’d convince her to ditch class. Or in the cafeteria we’d sit at the round table with one of the largest group of friends, which was true, and make faces at each other, a secret language under the talks about sweltering hot bus rides and mid terms. With the accessibility to pornography on the internet or at the self-help side of bookstores, pornography has erased the good intentions men once for women, speaking for myself specifically. Then my friends teased me with the greatest truth amongst men: “Don’t put pussy on a pedestal.” I woke up this morning with the warm sensation, and in the shadow of the plastic blinds felt sad how I lost a dear friend and flame from a time that’d never return in the innocence it was conceived in. I wonder if the dream was satisfied my ardor for her would dissipate on a snowy hilltop where daydreams didn’t belong with the social milieu.

Do You Spend Time with Your Family

We officially moved into our new house. With the last of the furniture, the cabinets, the shelves, boxes of cleaning solution, and the flat screen television once in the living room, we sat in the living of our new house where we watched on the flat screen the National Basketball Association’s channel screen the replays of the Olympics, USA versus the world. My father came in the living room and fell into the arms of the couch. The sound of quiet cheers, because these were only the preliminaries, washed over their tired bodies. I heard earlier today my father cried. The house meant much to him, and when I think about the time and effort driven into the house, ten years speaks volumes of tumult and tenderness into the stucco walls. Then Tim returned from his drive to Vallejo to sell our outdated cds. Are we going to throw away the stuff, he asked me, come on, let’s go, I want to get this shit out of the way. I came outside and closed the car garage door. Earlier today, as I lifted the barbeque grill from the serving tray, the serving tray flipped and scratched the corner of my eye. Tim reminded me I could avoid a trip to the wasteland because of the incident, but couldn’t because of my ego. I told Tim as we drove in the backroads where the hills were taller and more golden and the arid touch of the air attracted more flies into the Rav4. Damn, that grill bodied you, Tim said as I lifted the wet paper towel from the mark, did you want to stay here, No, I’ll go, and later down the road I had the urge to tell him about where my pride could’ve came from, Today, while I was biking, I said to him, if I get into an accident I won’t go to Okinawa, and then look at this, That sucks. I was offered an internship to Okinawa for investment bankers. They were in search of English teachers who could teach courteous mannerisms, basic English, and methods to running a bank. The internship, however, didn’t provide medical insurance and my dad assailed me to not take a job position that doesn’t offer medical insurance. Because what if something happened to you, he would say, then it’s my ass on the line. I would live there three months without medical insurance, I said to Tim and lowered the volume on the car radio, but I won’t stifle myself, I will find a way to live there, that means working nightshift, asking help from uncle Sotero, sean-sean, and Ryan’s dad, Yeah, you should do it, What do I do about papa, I would do it anyways, I don’t feel right lying to him. It was funny. Last night I got home two hours earlier than my parents and on the History channel they played a documentary on the Godfather series. I remember Marlon Brando hold Johnny Fontane by the face and ask the question which spoke to him as well as to me: Do you spend time with your family?