John Tang

In Lines Available Now

Posted in Short Stories and Excerpts, Uncategorized by Jt's Item Roster on August 13, 2012

My collection of short stories about Colegio City In Lines is available for download on the margins under “Books” or http://www.mediafire.com/view/?vmnrsfcw1l94v2p. Thank you for reading.

 

 

Here’s an excerpt from “Another Good Thing about Ice Cream”:

 

Junko meant to own an ice cream parlor, not a coffee shop. Although he had imprecise dreams, he
was loyal to the foundation of the coffee shop. The wooden floors shined each day as if it were
linoleum. The tables with checkerboards prints were polished. At its best, he could remember when
he inherited the coffee shop from a close friend whom passed away without a spouse or child, which
at the time was convenient for both men because he needed a friend and Junko needed a job after he
had retired from accounting for eight years.

Nothing too hard. Junko said. I just want something-I can take care of.

Children? His friend smirked. I’m not a doctor, man. Or a woman.
Junko felt very old being that sentimental.
Two o’clock in the afternoon, Simon Alvarez, an anemic Junko met through bombardments
and interruption, came in with his silver sweater and a laptop under his arms. His wavy hair
disheveled from natural oils and fog. He studied at the international school for agriculture. He said
hello and the normal greetings in Japanese, and ordered his normal small Mocha Tesora. Then out of
nowhere, as he spilled coffee on his pants, he spoke of urgent news.

Mr. Junko, sir, there is a convention next weekend, he said, that I’ve been meaning to tell you
about.

Silence, with a brief hum.

Downtown. There is a contest on who can serve the best pastries. If you win, there is a
thousand dollar prize. And here’s the best part: The worst that could happen is you get free
promotion. People in the city will be asking you, oh, where’s your coffee shop, then you tell him,
then he looks at his wife, oh, it’s over there, I know where that’s at, then he says thank you, then you
have a new customer.

Simon never had the ear for tonal expression, but his heart was in the right place.
Bring your best confections, okay?

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How I left Mr. Pamuk’s Apartment and Another Essay

Posted in Short Stories and Excerpts, Sketchbook, Uncategorized by Jt's Item Roster on August 2, 2012

How I left Mr. Pamuk’s Apartment

In a dream I came back to the apartment and asked my friend if I could borrow his coolant for the car. When he said he didn’t have one I told him there was one in the back. The back connected to four other tenants, shared through a cross section. The room was plainly painted in an orange coat closed to a pumpkin. The wainscoting was green as winter grass with frost. The coolant was on the ground in a tall gallon, standing beside a rake and box.

Is it all right if I borrow it, I asked.

It’s not mine.

You don’t mind if I ask your neighbor.

Be my guest.

I don’t know who my friend was. I had the feeling he was my friend on the account he accommodated me when my car was broken without any queries. He didn’t even question my intrusion to the backyard. He was tall and slim, had a diva-like attitude. He was bald and had a neatly trimmed mustache that seemed to be hard with hair gel. He left me alone to deal with my problem. I knocked on the door and appeared was Istanbul author Orhan Pamuk. He looked nothing like the man I’d seen in videos or university interviews. His hair was silver and oily. Face had a soft demeanor with the look of fierce inquiry.

Yes?

I was wondering if I could borrow your antifreeze. My car is overheating.

Oh, sure. It’s yours.

Could I ask you something, sir: Are you Orhan Pamuk?

Yes, I am Orhan.

I didn’t know what to say. I was sure a thousand of people asked about how to write very well, asked him how he’d endured his trial for desecrating the land.

Thank you, Mr. Pamuk.

He hummed and shrugged his shoulders, then he closed the door. I was delighted to have met the author and borrowed the thing which would fix my car. The antifreeze was cool and pretty heavy, probably fifteen pounds. It had a sticker of a mountain cap with a violet tone over the picture. I wondered what Mr. Pamuk would say about this: I woke up in the middle of the night and heard someone knock at the door. There was a young man holding a coolant of some kind and claimed it was mine. If it was true, I hadn’t seen it for years. Didn’t know when the last time I used it on my 94 Chevorlet. He asked if he could borrow it because his car had broken down, and I said take the damn thing, I have no use for it.

I carried the bottle of antifreeze under my arms and went back to my friend’s apartment. He didn’t answer the door. I wanted to knock harder with my fist, but was afraid of disturbing the neighborhood. Because I knew Mr. Pamuk’s house, I went back to his, with a little excitement that I’d enter his house.

Oh, it’s you again. Mr. Pamuk said.

My friend is not answering the door. I said. Could I exit through yours? I’m just parked on the other side.

He opened the door so I could enter. Already it had led me to his kitchen. The countertop was marble blue with a hint of smoke. On the right was a painting by Ciudad Real painter Antonio López Garcia of the apartment complexes in Madrid rendered in oil. An orange horizon stood from one side as the buildings cast a shadow over the streets below. I wondered if it told me the secret to where I  was. I wondered if Mr. Pamuk would say something profound about the painting I stared at.

He didn’t.

We passed the kitchen. In the living room the walls corrode an off-colored white. He owned a very old couch, which you could tell he read feverishly on it by the books that laid on the far side of the couch and the bookshelf that stood behind it. Because Mr. Pamuk was granting me this favor of passing through his apartment, I didn’t get a good look at his bookshelves, the one he restored after the earthquake.  Before I knew it I was in the foyer, standing beside the green door.

Thank you for letting me pass, I said.

Oh, it’s no problem. He said. I hope you enjoy my coolant.

It’ll only take me a second. I said. I don’t think you use the whole thing, anyways.

No, take it. I have no use for it anymore.

He opened the door wide which meant I had to leave.

Thank you.

Enjoy.

I stepped through the door but turned around. Instead of saying goodbye I had left the Turkish writer with a question.

Mr. Pamuk, if you could begin a story about a coolant how would you tell it?

–Owakari

What’s to come is my desire to become an instructor for Teach for America.  When they asked for my personal information, I wasn’t sure what form they preferred: The continuity of an essay or the direct bullet-point form of a resume. I chose to write in the former, but in the end they had you insert your personal information on their form.

My Desire to Teach for America

I first graduated from Solano Community College with associates degrees in Liberal Arts and English to suffice my General Education to enter into a four-year college. Then I received my Bachelors in English at University of California Davis in 2009 with an emphasis on Teaching and Creative Writing. And lastly I received my Masters in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing this year June of 2012.

This may be grand and marks of growth in my English discipline, but they do not entirely justify my development and desires to be a teacher, for a teacher requires leadership and empathy for the student.

With experiences of leadership, I would refer to my work experience. Specifically in regards education, I tutored English at Solano Community College from 2007 to 2008 and was a Graduate Instructor’s Assistant for an English class for a semester in 2012, where I had my own group of students, twenty students to be precise, for an hour every week. Some days I would lecture before a hundred students in the auditorium under my professor’s supervision. As an English tutor, I helped ESL students to more advanced students who were enrolled in critical thinking. I learned using the white board helps establish an objective view of texts. I broke down paragraphs and showed the profluency of content, from topic sentence to transitional sentence when diagramming an essay. I normally would write them down before the student arrived. Because repetition was vital to the learning experience, I learned patience is highly valued. The student may have asked me for the answer, but I had to refuse because they needed to possess the grammar rules at an independent level. “I won’t be there when you take the test,” I said. Some might be acrimonious to the standard, but those who were diligent and patient with themselves, the pass the test at the end of the semester, moving them one step closer to their college career. That was where I learned the most important value as a tutor: Have an optimistic outlook and high-expectations from your students.

My experience as a Graduate Aid Instructor at San Francisco State University was different, but perhaps closer to being an instructor. Unlike tutoring, where I tutored one student at a time every session, being a Graduate Aid Instructor allowed me to conduct my own class. I had learned the value of time management, a student’s motivation, and the significance of structuring a class session. The original class size was a hundred students, and every week I was given a group of twenty students who stayed with me the whole semester. Then two times in the semester I had lectured to the entire class about the craft of writing. Teaching the group is much more difficult than to the individual. The tempo is different because you simply cannot address everyone’s strengths and weaknesses in a session. I had followed the professor’s lessons and at the same time facilitate a discussion. This required structure: First, you want to engage the student. I would ask an interesting question or begin with an activity. Second, once you got their attention, you want to elaborate on the lesson plan, which I call the “study” portion of the day. Third, you want to give the students a chance to practice what he/she learned, hoping they played with the concept, by which I mean, experimented with the concept.

As I read back my experiences, it seems I have ignored the difficulty of fostering a productive classroom. I hope to clarify here that I had my achievements and failures during these times. Some students would be unmotivated in the classroom. Some students would be disrespectful by putting their feet on the desk or not showing up for their tutoring session and later emailing me asking for the answers to the test. For the disrespectful student, my goal is never to embarrass him. After class, I would ask him or her about how they felt about his or her expectations, skills, and desires. Getting at this level of their lives helps establish a rapport and finds solutions to the issue, because the problem is usually outside the classroom. In regards to managing a classroom, I had my share of difficulties trying to engage the students with a teacher-centered environment, where I lecture over twenty minutes. This method simply does not work, and I realized it rather late in the semester. The classroom environment is when the teacher lectures for fifteen to twenty minutes, and most of that time is to help set up the next activity.

I learned a lot over the years, how to structure a lesson plan, how to have command of the content, and most important, how to humble yourself before your students, which includes listening to them in and out of the classroom, demanding high expectations as if they were adults, and demonstrating mastery over the content of today’s lesson plans. Working for your corporation would help me improve my philosophy as a teacher by showing great leadership and empathy for the student.

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.

Afterword

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.

My Father in the Morning

Posted in Short Stories and Excerpts, Uncategorized by Jt's Item Roster on March 15, 2012

Every morning I would find my father in his bedroom with his head down over the Bible, the one with torn pages, where the plastic covering was falling apart, praying goodness comes to the family and himself. He would be in his military uniform, camouflage, green and brown, with steal-toe boots laced up the shin. He had rough skin and a flat nose that would shift in its clay-like material as my father closed his eyes, wrinkling the skin about the face with his eye lids, asking the lord to heal his brother Louie from his heart disease, to bless the Tang family, to bless him the opportunity to contribute more to this family tragedy, to give him strength to make it to through a busy day on the military base which was laying off contractors because America was bringing their soldiers back home.

I would wait for my dad under the doorframe outside his room. With sheer curtains, the window allowed some light into the room. Maybe I might save my childish query for another day: Can I have the plasma tv back in our room, because you guys don’t even use it?

Why I wrote this passage: Not only do I love my father, but I need to practice Gardner’s psychic distance. As I get closer to my father in details, I can get closer to his soul as a person, or as the modern generation tends to call the soul, the psychology of the man. I hope understood him and rendered him with care and a strong sense that I am no doubt his son. I hope it shows that I love him very much.

Being Tone Deaf also applies to Writers

Posted in Short Stories and Excerpts by Jt's Item Roster on March 11, 2012

I have this feeling I don’t have a voice of my own. Writing my last story about a toad-man, I have the crisp prose of Ernest Hemingway; now what I mean by crisp, I mean lines are complete from one sentence to the next as if they can stand on their own. Sometimes they can sound too clipped. That’s my main concern. I want my prose to sound like music, from one sentence to the next, without pause or end in the thought until we get to the passage. But it seems I’m tone deaf and I lack a cadence in speech. Before Racleo, my friend and piano teacher, left for South Dakota, he told me I was tone deaf. I asked him to teach me how to sing, and as we went up and down the scales, I couldn’t really match pitch or keep harmony with the chords.

“Is there a problem with me?” I asked, taking my fingers off the keys of the baby grand piano.

“No, there isn’t.” Racleo said. “You are just tone deaf.”

“Is there way I can improve my ability to hear?” I asked. “Is there a way I can learn perfect pitch.”

“I don’t know.”

It devastated me to know I can’t listen to music well as others. The quartets, the bebop, soul, hiphop’s drum and bass, rock’s sharp guitars, all of that has no meaning to me. I’ve been feeling the wrong emotions when I listened to them. Then I see the deficiency bleed into my writing. I can’t keep a steady voice like my heroes before me, who can command language to swing and pause like song, who can end a passage intensely as a crescendo, who can take us through a dream state with the subject simple as the coffee mug sitting on the corner of the desk. Why do I not have a strong voice?

*

It reminds me of my revision process. When I finished my manuscript and printed it out, I would go ahead and correct the grammatical errors in each sentence. But sometimes my eyes would glaze over the beginning of the sentence with a conjunction perhaps, like But, and I quickly think to myself if I can remove it or not; do I want to begin with the tone of the sentence with a contradictory? But I forget where that sentence belongs in the passage. Maybe I’ve rendered the atmosphere in a positive light, but at the end of the paragraph I wanted something a bit darker because the character was about to appear on stage and disrupt the atmosphere:

All his things on the table were out of order, or as David liked to call his room, the perfect example of Chaos Theory. Half the things he owned didn’t really have a place on the table. Time left it there. There was a day-old coffee, its whip cream beginning to smell better. There was an empty ketchup bottle lying against the mug of loose change. There were books, bottles, staplers, notebooks, computer mouse, and folders with student’s manuscripts. What could he be using all this for? David was lying in the bed that sat beside his work desk. He woke up and got behind the laptop and began writing the worst sentence. He lifted the coffee and didn’t realize how old it was until he felt the weight. The bitter odor reminded him of body odor. The books took up half of his working space. He saw the ketchup bottle leaning against the mug of loose change, picked it up, and threw it away. What could I be using all this for?

I don’t know if I rendered the example clearly as I want, how our psychology reflects how we treat objects. I wish I could muse over the Things in my room like Rilke and Pamuk, but it seem stories don’t always do that, unless your character is a poet. And this fact seems very restricting for an author.

Donations

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.

Donations

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?”

“No.”

“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.

 

Everything You have is Lights

Posted in Short Stories and Excerpts by Jt's Item Roster on June 10, 2011

For an exercise the story took too long to finish.  My goal was to find the character’s flaw, find an opportunity where he needs to confront it; the trouble, however, is the ending doesn’t deal with the issue directly and rather sounds didactic. I might not know Sylvio well enough, and for now, too focused on the narrator’s thoughts.

Everything you have is Lights

Over lunch, Stephen said I was too nice. He was alluding to an experience from my work at Macy’s; (so we could understand the determination to share his wisdom, we need remember Stephen was once the master of retail): “Man, you’re giving discounts left and right. I’d bet if someone punked you, you would give him eighty-percent off.”

“I don’t mind manipulating the system for a customer.” I said. “You want an associate do that for you when shop, right?”

Stephen paused, eating a spoonful of curry with white rice. The sweet, spice aroma brushed my nose as I pushed plate aside.

“The problem is you will always have the same customer coming back to you,” said Stephen. “There was one woman who’d always look for me back at Banana. Worse is she told her friends about me.” Stephen parodied the friend in a soft, childish voice: “Oh, you helped Keri. Can you give me the same discount? They wanted to use discounts on damaged merchandise on top of clearance—I couldn’t take it anymore.”

“What did you do?”

“I was stressed, man,” said Stephen. “I called my manager. Asked her: Does this look damaged?”

“What happened?”

“Didn’t give her the discount. Hell no. It wasn’t damaged.” He said. “Do you want the same people coming back to you?”

 

Later that day I woke up on Stephen’s carpet after a cup of warm tonic we chased down our heavy meals with, a slow roasted mocha made through a drip method and tea-spoon measurements of sugar to a perfect blend. My thoughts amidst a fog, I remembered I needed a bike; Stephen and I discussed this before—perhaps one time we’d bike three miles on the Golden Gate Bridge which has a bike trail that spirals down to the coast. Stephen was already on his computer, and he checked two websites he had saved as his favorites: Ebay and Craigslists. For a road bike, the kind you saw on the streets of San Francisco, the average price on Ebay was five-hundred dollars. Too expensive. On Craigslist, Stephen seemed to have more faith in its offers as he carefully pared down the selections to include mountain bikes in the search, and only searched for sellers who were selling bikes a hundred and fifty dollars or below.  While so, he was schooling me how to properly buy something from Craigslist, a bike especially. You want, for example, to only look through ads with photos (“There is why they don’t post any pictures,” Stephen warned me. “They don’t want you to see a rusty break, for example”). There was a bike and the buyer was from South City, San Francisco, close to my house.

“How about you buy this one?” Stephen asked.

“I don’t know.”

“You’ve been talking about it for months.” Stephen reasoned. “You’re never going to do it if you don’t do it now.”

I paused and said to myself: “Am I being impulsive?”

“What are you worried about?” He was genuine in solving my problem. “Money, that’s the issue.”

“Do I have any plans for the summer?” I questioned myself. “Are there any events happening?”

“Most of the places you go are in the city.” Stephen said. “Think how easy it would be, how much money you’d save from driving, if you biked around.”

“I would…” I’d like to buy the bike. It was a speed-bike I remembered a friend of mine bought for five hundred dollars before, and now it was available for a hundred. “My head is just foggy. It feels better if my head was clear and I wanted it. I hate being wishy-washy.”

“What is there to worry about?” Stephen repeated. I felt Stephen was annoyed, that he could see I was now making excuses. I knew logically nothing could prevent me from buying the bike. It was close to home, and I had a car; I could visit the coffee chop on the beach without driving;

“Let me withdraw money, first, then I’ll call him.”

“Don’t forget to ask if he’s flexible with the price.” Stephen added. “Maybe you could get it cheaper. Just ask: Are you flexible with the price? Tell him you are student, working, and need something to help reduce the cost and to get around.”

I withdrew the odd amount of a hundred and thirty-seven dollars from the bank. I called the owner of the bike, Sylvio, yet I had left a message. He didn’t call me that night, either. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to have the bike.

 

Ten o’clock this morning was foggy when Sylio called my cell phone, interested in selling the bike. He said he was looking out the window, that the weather was “beautiful” down there: “It’s the perfect time to come now.” I was alone in bed, just woken up, and I tried to buy an hour by reasoning I had work at two o’clock. I also needed directions.

“You know,” said Sylvio, “Just research the direction online, now.”

“My internet is down.” I said. “It’s been happening every morning for the past month.”

“That’s okay.” He said. “The directions are easy: You drive…you’re from Holloway, that means you take Nineteen. It turns into 280; take 280 to 380 until you hit 101. You take 101, then you will drive down and you will see Oyster Point Boulevard. It splits into three streets when you reach Gull Street—but you don’t take Gull Street. There will be a Y at Oyster, and you want to turn onto Marina Ave. Go all the way down Marina Ave. and stop at Suite B where I’ll be with the bike outside. I know it sounds complicated, but it’s real easy, you know; it’s a fifteen minutes drive.”

I managed to scratch down the main streets like they were talking points in a debate. How long was the drive? I wondered, for I needed a bolster of time if I got lost. If we were still in south city, it’d take, I could imagine, ten to twenty minutes.

“So you come down?” He asked.

“I have work at two o’clock.”

“Two o’clock? I can meet you at two o’clock.” He misheard me. He had a German accent, bright and loud, enthused as if I was removing thorns from his hands.

“Okay. How about at twelve?” I offered. It was the first number that came into mind; I planned last night I’d take an hour nap before work.

“So you’ll be here now?”

“Give me like thirty minutes, sir.” I said.

“I will see you in thirty minutes.”

“Okay.”

 

I decided there wasn’t enough time for a shower. I put on a yellow, dull hoodie and sweatpants; brushed my teeth and spread a lather of deodorant under my arms. I was as if prepared to exercise at the gym— a self-consciousness shadowed me closely as I searched for my body for odors in the silence of my room. In what seems like gym-clothes, and keeping my breath and arms concealed in freshness, I found a comfort to be in the public—maybe I would jog later in the park today, I thought. Who’d know?

280 to 380 was easy to find, since I passed by the exits driving to work. I had just passed under the overpass. I saw 101 in the distance—however, the freeway seemed to split into north and south. Did Sylivio say north? I searched in our conversation from earlier. I couldn’t find the answer, hence I searched into the confinement of my knowledge that was logic: Did south city include Daly City and Millibrae (I knew San Jose was absolutely too far to be a part of a twenty-minute drive)?

I was looking for the card where I wrote Sylvio’s address and notes for the road, but it fell on the side of the car seat. The tip of the card stuck out by the car door. Each glance I made, I reached for the card. I swerved several times on the road, grew afraid and focused on the overpass coming up when a yellow bus sped on the right side to exit 101 South, forcing me to take 101 north.

Shit. I said in the car. I was driving down now, could see a plane fly over me. There were industrial buildings off the side, like design corporations, delivery trucks, pharmacy plants, sitting quietly by the violet ocean. I knew this road would take me to the airport somehow or back to Sacramento (to be safe).  Shit. I knew should’ve reasoned more with Stephen. I’d imagine moments when Stephen made excellent talking points yesterday, from one stone, leap, step to another: The weather would be clear in the next week; if I didn’t buy the bike now I would never have bought one; you could go anywhere and save gas; you’ve been talking about buying bike since you moved to the city three months ago, if you didn’t buy a bike now you would never buy one—the last of his bullet point could only be resolved by me, that was the issue there.

 

My head was drained as yesterday. I didn’t have breakfast yet and drank only a glass of water to keep the metabolism up. I couldn’t reason why 101 North was the right exit in this state of mind. I was more familiar with the south exit; I have friends who resided in Daly City and Millibrae, there was Stanford University in the valley, and my brother who lived in San Jose. I wanted that kind of familiarity with the northern road.

I told Stephen having a clear mind was important. If my head was clear, I’d be open to choices rather than having conditions shape my answers. There were better questions I should’ve asked Stephen. Thinking about the quality of the bike now, I should’ve asked Sylvio more specifics about the bike: The size (How about for someone who five feet nine inches), the year (Can the bike shift gears), and if it was even a road bike (How light was the frame?). I tried to remember yesterday, and all I could see in my mind was the photo on the computer—and I based my decision on the image of a brown bike with curved handles that justified a road-bike.

I wanted to call the Slyvio, but the turn under the bridge was too sharp and the overpass was too steep. I was looking for the next exit as I heard another airplane tore the sky above me.

 

I passed abandoned buildings, their symbols crooked on three nails. I was afraid I’d find myself in the heart of the city where I’d drive in the against the said-direction on the one-way street, never anticipating where I want to be on the grid, even after making squares; then I imagined Hunter’s point on the map of San Francisco sat on the lower east coast somewhere by the ocean. One midnight my friend rode the Muni there because he fell asleep and missed his stop fifteen block ago. A dark man sat by him in a green pea coat with a blade innocent on his lap. He kindly asked for my friend’s cell phone and wallet. I was searching for boards which read Fourth Street, Fifth Street, and Hunter’s Point (Didn’t know if exits shared the same name as the districts).

I didn’t recognize the name of the first exit but I took it. I was relieved cars slowed to a stop at the street light. This street (the one paralleled to the freeway) had to guide me to an overpass, I reasoned. Now west or east, which direction should I drive in? Just then I saw in the corner of my Oyster over the freeway in plain, white lettering. It said about a mile and three-fourths further. I saw you could make a u-turn at the stoplight.

 

Exiting on Oyster into a neighborhood of industrial buildings, quiet, still, enormous, heavily fenced in, all the way down the stretch of cement road and healthy grass, I followed the path to Gull street where a Y split down the slope which Sylvio said was there; further down there was a harbor with boats laying softly on the ocean by the Yacht Club and the Bait Store. There were old couples walking on the dirt path, older men on mountain bikes riding on the edge of the sandy causeway. Where were the houses? I wondered. Why did he draw me to the remote side of the city? If there weren’t people around, I would’ve thought there was plot in the scene.

In the empty lot I parked beside the trailers. After a while of slowing my thoughts into breathing fresh air in the car, I called Sylvio on my cell phone.

“Do you know where Bait store is?” Sylvio asked. “Go there, please. I will be there with the bike, sir.”

“I know where it is.”

“Go there, sir.”

The street dipped into the ocean where a paunchy woman in a plum blouse waved at me. I asked if people lived here? When she said yes, I thought I’d further ask if she knew a man named Sylvio. She said yes: “He’s on his phone right now. I saw him this morning. Wait for him.” She pointed to a wooden gate with blue tortoise-shell eave. It had metal bars and had an electric security pad.  There, a tall man was coming down with a bike by his side (I couldn’t see him clearly because of the bars). The gates opened. He brought the bike down the handicap slope, and I got a clearer look at him: His red hair was out of control, he had a handle-bar mustache, glasses sitting crookedly on his aquiline nose which had a wart on the upper corner by the drip of his lower eyelid. He was still on the cell phone scheduling a time to meet with “Bill.”

We met at the dip behind the Bait store. While I waited for him to finish his conversation, I saw the bike by his hips. It was a road bike, like what I saw in the photograph. If you stared long enough into the golden flakes on the frame, you’d know the bike was once a Schwinn. The spokes and rims had a touch of rust on the bolts and wires. By the shine on the nose the leather seat seemed to be hard. The only thing that visually seemed fit was the steel chain and the gear-shifter. Could I ask for a lower price? If I only knew more about a road bike, I thought.

“Nice to meet you.” Sylvio hung up the phone. “Sorry, I have to see another man tomorrow.”

I shook my hand and introduced myself.

“Do you like to bike?”

“It has been a while since I rode.” I said. “I usually ride mountain bikes.”

“This bike you will usually see in the city people ride on.”

“Oh.”  I knew that already; that was why I considered a bike outside of my knowledge. The air was cool, thin. The land dry and made for a quiet run for you and your footsteps and breathing. I couldn’t hear any trucks for miles, nor people talking, nor the boats floats on the ocean. I didn’t want to think about the bike anymore. Rather I wanted to ride against the wind. At the moment I further chased my wonderment, asking myself how a man lived in this kind of solitude. What did this man find so appealing when he said today was “beautiful” when there was overcast and a slit of orange light peeling from under the earth? Somewhere in me I knew the answers but somehow I asked him: “So you live here?”

“It’s the only way to live, sir.” He said. “I come out and the air is clean.”

“We’ve been having showers lately.”

“Yes.” He said. “Are they your first out here.”

“My first, yes.” I said, thinking he could probably warn me for hours about the weather, and so I asked something interesting. “How often do you visit the city?”

“Never.” He said. “It will be there when I want to go.”

“As long as it’s there,” I finished his thought in English, “you don’t worry about it, right?”

It’s too long since we talked about the bike, and I was here under compressed time and for business.

“So the rust,” I said, considerate this was a used-bike. “Can I just clean it?”

“You can buy a…not wool…a sponge, one’s with the rough layer, some soap, and clean it; the rust will come right off.”

“May I ride it first?”

That’d give me the real answer we’ve been looking for. Leaning the bike to its side, I spun the petal to the top, and rested my leg on the petal. The first push was then easy on the stony street, and it helped me find bStephence as I turned the handles left, then right, grinding the rubber tires. It has been eight years since I rode a bike and felt this was my only means of traveling; there was a bus, but it was hot in the day from body sweat after being under the dry sun for fifteen minutes. Also, you might see a trail or a garden you might want to walk through, but couldn’t because you were secured in the velvet seats. I knew my home city on a bike, the street by the penitentiary where people raced their cars, the playground where children drank and had sex in the warm nights, all my friends’ homes that traced the rim of the yellow valley.

I rode behind the Bait store, and coming around the wooden stairs there was the dip again. I rode down the fall. Following the curve of the street, fighting through the influence of gravel on a slit of rubber, I inhaled some of the rush until I rolled for a while. I stopped and parked the bike between me and Sylvio in the shadow of the Bait store.

“Are you from here?”

“Came here from Vacaville for school at SF State.”

“Welcome, sir.” He said. “How long have you been here?”

“One semester. You’re looking at three months.”

He didn’t seem interested in school as if heard it for the first time, and plus, every state has its own college. I understood his common knowledge would take care of his curiosity about me.

“You’re from Vacaville, you said?” He smiled. “We had our puppet tours at the Onion Festival.”

“I heard it used to be called Onion city or something with Onions.” I said. “So what, you had a theater company? When did this happen?”

“My God, place your mind in the 60’s. I will die in the next five years.” He laughed. “Our last stop was always in Vacaville, our tour usually for children.”

As he explained, I imagined his golden stage, violet curtains closing on a moral note; the Czech craft in the silver strings hovering and eclipsing one another, with the paint flaking off the deadwood—he said he shaved the paint with a box-cutter. “Why doesn’t your generation have a sense of intuition for the things they buy,” he said. “You’re generation doesn’t have that kind of entertainment anymore, to listen to someone. Everything you have is lights, you know. If it flashes, like a silver spoon on sand dunes, you would reach for it.”

I didn’t want to steer too far away from business, so I clarified the features of a road-bike or a bike in general: How to remove the wheels and tighten the breaks.

“Can this fit in the car?” I asked.

“Yes, sir.”

He followed me to my car. Sylvio removed the front-wheel as I opened the trunk and set the backseats down on their faces. The car neatly fit inside, with the wheels by the window and on the frame of the bike the chains faced upward. I closed the trunk, and we leaned against the car waiting the brush of wind to fallback, which I knew was marker of the last exchange of words.

“Can I have it for a hundred dollars?”

“I cannot sell it to you for that, sir.”

“It’s in the car, already.” I said. “There was rust on the bolt, the name was coming off, the breaks were loose.” Some of the details I said outside what I’ve seen must’ve been true, for he seemed to ignore them. By the look of his hard face, he didn’t seem to be upset but in thought. I further fed him the other conditions of my life: “I’m a student, working in retail to pay for college. And all I have on me is a hundred dollars.” I opened my wallet in his line of gaze. Aside from a hundred dollar bill I showed him the depth and space inside the leather casing.

“It is in the car; that is true, you know. It is all there like your reasons.” His eyebrows furrowed to the street. “The message you left seemed like you wanted the bike. You were so detailed in your thoughts, sir, with the frail pitch in your voice.  I know, sir, you have the thirty-seven dollars—that is the problem there. But I will not ask you to complete the payment. No, no.” He paused. “I could do about anything to compensate thirty seven dollars; dent your car, use this box-cutter I have in my pocket and slash your tiers, ask my neighbors to close off the parking lot. But, no, I won’t have that fall on you. You just stole from me and you’re leaving freely with a good bike. I can’t have ill fall on you. You’re a college student, you know. They teach you well how to justify everything, including your own self in the world. I won’t stop you from you discovery.”

With my justifications in mind, the rust, the conditions of school and all, I thought he acted absurdly as if I didn’t pay anything (a hundred dollars was more than sixty percent of what he was asking for). He just didn’t understand my conditions were true. Turning away from me, he said many more wise things under his breath, his hands holding each behind his back. This conversation we’re having, I wanted to tell him, was going pass by next week. The threats, the guilt, the fear, were only passing stones in my head. A couple nights of sleep wash them away; I knew some of the conclusions would be, the bike was something from the 60’s, it wasn’t a mountain bike, the tracks on the tires were worn. So what I did was fine. Also if I could remember clear as the air I breathed in, Sylio would die in five years—he said that! I was trapped in a short gaze when I thought these things needed to be said, yet Sylvio has passed the gate and his thin body floated down the harbor.

The wind blew hard as the overcast approached the coast. A drizzle sprayed on my face, a fog was veiling into the industrial buildings in the eastern distance. Perhaps this why people cleared from the sandy pathway. I got into my car when the rain began, and remembered I forgot to ask how to out of neighborhood and back onto the freeway. The truth was, I said to myself, he was the one who’d have to deal with the storm. I felt a little better.

 

 

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.

Some Help

Posted in Short Stories and Excerpts, Sketchbook by Jt's Item Roster on February 27, 2011

The Pugilists

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 metropolis 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: 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 old 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 the ruffled clouds. He followed the sandy causeway to the house, and inside Lavin had made general courtesies with the parents in the living room and followed them to the terrace where Mr. Hov was reading in the local newspaper, receiving the news about the contender before Lavin offered five hundred dollars for the match.

“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. I planned to 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, first. 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 talk in metaphors to me. I trust you, 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 people believed Mr. Hov would take the title by the second round in a knock out.  There was a website people could talk of sports, and for some odd reason, since the match was proposed, the website has been gaining notoriety amongst the people, including citizens from out of the state, if you read the section “location” under the name. In the last two days someone by the name of The Draconian posted a thread where people could express their opinion on the website. On the head of the page there were poll in black and pink predicting who would come out as the champion; twenty seven of thirty votes said Mr. Hov win.

Chaos’ girlfriend must have believed people of Aelia were behind the predictions, because as the “reliable source,” by giving out her government name Melissa Davis, Aelia’s newspaper printed the fight would not happen if this kind of “bias nature” persisted in the region. To which

 

Question: Does the language shift?

 

Off Base

Posted in Short Stories and Excerpts by Jt's Item Roster on February 8, 2011

Here’s an excerpt of a short story I am writing.

Off Base (An Excerpt)

Marina St. was clean in the morning. Yet the homes on a down-slope and the black tree in the yard, the sun would peer in between and blind me from the order that served my house: My parent’s red car on the road, neighbor’s Halloween toys on the lawn, the locus on the boughs, the children of Kadena Air Force Base making their way to school. Before I go to school myself there was my dad praying in his room. But I’ve gone through the same route many times before, and in the light of it all I saw everything in my mind.

The perennial after showers would steam off the street a bitter scent of ash and nickel. After school the odor would stay in the warm, wet air and linger into the evening but it wouldn’t discourage us from having a few games. Our parents would search for us in the dark, and only we could see our bodies brimming on the sidewalks, depending on the chase we had in our blood. Or if Alice picked up the mail on the porch, the boys would watch her from behind my tree. Some of the brave ones would tease from afar, the very same boys who invited her to our game of Man Hunt. She would pause and draw us out from the shadows for answer of maybe. With that answer we were content boys, and until she gone inside the house, it was then we would resume our games—whatever we were playing. The thought of her golden hair tickled my nose and I could’ve withdrawn myself from the street lamp, expose myself and end my game. I only knew Alice on a couple occasions in school. Wouldn’t say anything but a few greetings I’d say to a teacher or the principle.

Because she was light, I saw everything she did. When I hid under the car to pass the time, in the gasoline fumes, I saw the inside of her house lit and her alone in the dining room arranging the envelope she picked up. Her white skirt fluttering. Her hair was down like she did in school. Red streams in her bright hair. I could smell the scent of strawberries in the soft knots that purified my thoughts. In this metal frame I could carry the ghost of her for days. The image of her body resonated during other activities. When my mom and I walked off base for milk bone fish, we would walk down the stand. On Styrofoam plates there were squids in its own blood, dry octopus legs, iron shell clams, and the stand next over they cooked fish, its body splayed open. The white meat would remind me of Alice’s face and legs and her body. Maybe a few things on earth stuck with me: The man behind the U.S. gate in the dark, the first park with a brick layering and a dry fountain, and then the market deeper in to the city; but my mom and I always got out of Okinawa before nightfall. Also Alice and I walked the same path to school, and when she walked a little ahead and cut through a lawn, I imagined her silk hair fall on her bare, boney shoulders.

Today my dad was supposed to give me my first I.D. card. In the hallway I saw my father in the master bedroom. Dark. Standing alone with a hand on the Bible. He whispered in the air something in Tagalog. I was afraid of his shadowy figure. So I left and heard other students were beginning to have their military I.D.’s too.

“Have you gone off base yet?” Alice asked me. “My dad just gave me my I.D.”

“Why don’t you go?”