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 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

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?


The Watermark and Its Effects on Marquez’s Autobiography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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