Robot Holocaust by Akira Ohiso


LIZARD BRIE in Krylon below the roof line. Taggers hang over the edge and write upside down. This building waits for demo along with Bento Sushi and Goofy’s, a Packer bar that might be finishing out its lease so the developers can begin.

I stand across the street at the bus stop and envision a boxy apartment building, the light rail running down the middle of 15th Ave. NW, the designated upzone away from the swanky Craftsmans in Phinney Ridge and Queen Anne. Ellie texts, “Did you feel the earthquake last night?”

I felt a subtle sway, but thought it was the rumble of a bus or truck. The epicenter of the 4.8 quake was about 40 miles outside of Seattle. Talk returns to “the big one.”

In Seattle, “the big one” is this looming existential threat that we have no control over. There are ways to be prepared, but we can never be prepared for the apocalyptic scenarios that the media often projects. Maybe we gravitate to end-of-the-world scenarios because America as we know is suspect; our historic narrative, the freedoms we profess, the “land of opportunity” sound byte. The patriarchal racist systems that our country was founded on are being challenged by the wisdom of time.

To those that have held and hold most of the power in this country, the threat of shared power is creating dictatorial impulses. Equity to the privileged feels like oppression.

I walk with Ellie and Cy to Starbucks. Cy saw a YouTuber talking about a tie dye frap and wanted to try one. Market Street is busy as people in scant summer attire walk to the Seafood Festival. In the distance is the hazy clamor of food trucks and people.

Bars and cafes spill out onto the sidewalks. Dude squads take up space and talk loud. Families walk in slow moving caravans; strollers, dogs, balloons, ice cream management, blocking bottle-neck walkways, men akimbo, women contrapposto multitasking.

I notice more people of color. If only this was everyday. I notice the diversity and non-binary boundaries of young people. The world moves forward whether America does or not.

I purchase a collection of Basho’s haikus. In the forward, author John White discusses synaesthesia, a perceptual process where one cognitive or perceptual pathways leads to involuntary activity in another cognitive pathway. He says, “It comes in many forms; each sound may actually be seen, not merely thought of, as a color, every color has a smell, each fragrance has a sound, the call of a distant deer be seen as being only one inch high.”

It has been hypothesized that Basho and some of contemporaries experienced synaesthesia because their haikus moved poetically through different cognitive realms. Perhaps, the connections were uncomfortable for Western ideals; oriental, exotic. It must then be abnormal. White states that their Buddhist beliefs, centered around unity and oneness, may have allowed for this liberation from normative cognitive connections.

I channel surf and wipe out when I come to a movie called Robot Holocaust. It’s juxtaposition with today is synthaesthetic.

shut for a while
behind the falls, I will start
the summer retreat
— Basho
Seafood Festival
Tevas, beer, neon tank tops
the mustache is strange
— Akira

Phantom Skim by Akira Ohiso


Before 7am, I walk along Market Street to the 40 bus. Sprinkler systems water corporate greenery, a public concession to lessen the anthropogenic harm of real estate developers. Throw a line item in the budget for the gray-haired white liberals -3 dozen Arborvitaes. Sprinklers on timers indicate wealth and conspicuous consumption. The humanistic design lets you know that it’s corporate; the rest of the city is overgrown and unplanned. Lawns and parks are brown, bank entrances verdant.

People sleep in heaps of clothing, blankets, boxes and shopping carts in the doorways of vacant storefront waiting to be torn down for redevelopment. The taggers have been through: LEM, ARMOR, LIES.

7-11 bustles with early morning hunger. Men draped in blankets stand outside in the fluorescent half-light asking for change. In the age of apps and smart phones, fewer people carry cash. Will homeless advocates equip their clients with Venmo and a bank account? Lotto board blinks millions.

Stained mattress against sixties stone masonry. Microsoft Connector buses wait for employees to be shipped to Redmond. Lime bike in a sequestered spot left for a round-trip. Women in sports gear exit CrossFit and yoga studios. At this hour, coffee shops serve seniors and people living on the streets. People going to work hastily pick up app orders.

The bus stop is located at the intersection of Ballard Ave. and Market. MATADOR and CATHEDRAL in black. Nightlife hotspots are stale and musty on weekday mornings. The electric bus schedule board says the 40 is 2 minutes away, but it ghosts like millennials after a few dates and a fuck. The next bus is 15 minutes away.

I gave up Instagram so checking my phone is about utility. It seems like everyone is plugged in, heads downward so their necks can grow horns. I think of Matthew Barney’s satyrs. Apocalyptic hybridity. I resist the urge to take an Instagram photo. I am still thinking in terms of an audience and hashtags. Phantom skim.

Inklings of a pre-digital brain surface. I think about my mother who died last November. The sadness and finality are overwhelming.

Up The Hill by Akira Ohiso


A man gets on the 40 Metro bus at N 105th and Aurora. He walks by the bus driver without paying.

The bus driver says, “Rides aren’t free.”

The man says “I just need a ride up the hill.”

“Rides aren’t free,” reiterates the driver. “You can pay for a ride or you can steal a ride? What do you want to do?”

”I want a ride up the hill.”

The bus driver closes the doors, puts his foot on the gas and says “Steal a ride.”

Portal by Akira Ohiso


A homeless man shovels leaves from the sidewalk median next to Safeway. The median is tree-lined, but the ground is filled with trash and jettisoned car parts. Safeway does not do a good job of maintaining this pedestrian space. An emergency exit with a ramp and overhang provides shelter for those living outside. Human feces dries in diarrhea drips down the wall, haphazard umber wipes on napkins and old clothing, an empty pack of Marlboros.

The man finds a metal utility plate in the ground and clears it sedulously. He walks around it, talking to it as if he has found a portal to somewhere else. He moves two rocks to each side of the portal like the lions, Patience and Fortitude, who guard the entrance to the New York Public Library. He is proud of his industry. The rocks bestow reverence.

The world is indifferent to his behavior until he moves into the proximity of passerby or car. Then the world braces for interaction, arcing their traversals and eyes away from him. The extended blare of a car horn, the quickened pace of a mom and child, the violent bravado of men in groups.

I watch from my apartment window as he spends the next two hours clearing leaves into a neat pile. He takes intermittent breaks, reviewing his progress and ability to control his immediate self-imposed task. He seems to clear leaves as a basic need, not a choice. It’s repetitive, obsessive, and focused. His behavior both confirms and annihilates his existence.

Maybe he’s outside the matrix? Maybe he sees the horror underneath the historic American narrative. We are just as evil, murderous and immoral as we portray our enemies to be. The portal is a way out or a way in.

Near the new corner building that used to be a Burger King and a gas station -how dare “they” replace a Burger King and a gas station- I notice an abandoned crow’s nest tucked between the roof of a bank drive-thru and a security light. Crows adapt and thrive among us even when our actions don’t have their best interests in mind. Their intelligence and tribalism are a formidable defense against extinction. A murder of crows is badass. They can live among the ruins of our civilization if need be.


Book On Hold by Akira Ohiso


I get an email that a book I placed on hold is at the Ballard Library.  A bit of planned serendipity that changes the trajectory of my day; I decide to walk to the library.  I leave my building through the side entrance next to Ballard Market and Quality Sewing and Vacuum. I wonder if sewing and vacuuming compliment each other in some way?  Why not sewing and watch repair?  Vacuuming and key copying? 

A line of used vacuums are behind a fence in a dirty doorway like children at the Mexican border.  The sad obsolescence of vacuums. Construction workers stand around a trench next to the new building waiting to be filled with merchandise, coffee and medical services.  I cross Market at NW 58th. 

NW 58th is a mix of Craftsmans and stucco apartment complexes, balconies filled with the detritus of singles. Ashy hibachi, bug spray, drying laundry, bikes.  Rotting mini-libraries house fingered Daniel Steeles, a coloring book, a cheap novel with a smoking gun, dice and a handkerchief with red lipstick on the cover.  I judge.  The best intentions of the privileged thinking we all have time to be part of their kumbaya community project. 

A brown man takes a mattress out of a moving truck and carries it into a rental walk-up.  The soft malleable bounce, dropping not an issue, a brief respite. 

At the corner of NW 58th and 24th Ave NW, stop-sign passive aggressiveness.  I waive that I am crossing and proceed on faith.   Interactions from a car are polite, in person not so much.  I pass St. Luke’s.  White people garden, brown people sleep under trees on the property, a group of white men play hacky sack on the sidewalk. An older white women changes the changeable letters, a task, I presume, for congregants.  A sign reads: We stand with our Muslim neighbors; yet I don’t see one Muslim neighbor.  They are redlined to the outer fringes, by the progressive fringes of Seattle. 

I pick up my book, my last name bookmarked under O.  I remember my password and the library procedure goes smoothly.  No requesting new passwords and usernames in the purgatorial process of digital identity.  I am the number I said I was like a Holocaust survivor’s arm.

Meditation 1 by Akira Ohiso


During meditation, a memory of Alex surfaced that I have not thought about for decades.  We were bike riding at Caumsett State Park in Huntington, NY.   On summer days before the internet and smart phones, Caumsett was a destination my friends frequented to escape the provincial environs of Port Washington.  We were in the first few years after high school when those of us who were unsure of our futures took classes at local colleges (for transfer credits one day), while loitering around town on weekends. 

It was a sort of rapproachment with my parents after years where my peers took priority.   I got along better with my parents as I finally had state-sanctioned independence.  My parents let me be in many respects as I tried to make my way in the world.  As a Gen Xer, the loitering around would go into my mid-twenties.  I was directionless and reactive so I would often, impulsively, drop one thing to try something else.  But, as Douglas Copeland said, “There is no shame in impulse.”  

Odd jobs, stints in college, dead-end bands and too much depressive partying is not a recipe for success even in an unconventional way.  Even writers and artists work every day.  While some of my more mature (with a hard T) classmates were on to masters programs and starter homes, I idled, indecisively, to the sounds of Nirvana, Ace of Base and Celine Dion (if we are talking 1994).

I rationalized my anger and jealousy.  Douglas Copeland succinctly expressed my feelings at the time:

 “When someone tells you they’ve just bought a house, they might as well tell you they no longer have a personality. You can immediately assume so many things: that they’re locked into jobs they hate; that they’re broke; that they spend every night watching videos; that they’re fifteen pounds overweight; that they no longer listen to new ideas. It’s profoundly depressing. ”

“Depressing” is living in you parents attic surround by dusty posters of high school idols.  

I was also incapable of holding down romantic relationships.  I had girlfriends, but I always found a reason to walk away.  I let so many good relationships go because I did not understand myself.  I was mixed-race, but my public identity was to be white and fit in.  As long as my skin wasn’t brown or black, I got a pass in the hierarchy of racism.  Yellow trumps black in this case. 

I also carried generational trauma.  My mother survived an alcoholic and abusive father.  My father was a child of World War 2 Japan.  I’m only beginning to understand how their experiences imprinted on my life. 


Today, Ellie told me a story she heard from her hair stylist.  She took her dog to the dog park at Golden Gardens.  Her dog was not leashed and when she opened the car door in the parking lot the dog darted into a wooded area near a homeless camp.  She thought nothing of it and her dog eventually caught up with her and they entered the dog park.  Soon her dog started acting confused and drowsy and had some difficulty breathing. 

She rushed her dog to the vet where tests revealed he had high levels of opioids in his blood.  Her dog wandered over an area where people where going to the bathroom. The human feces contained opioid remnant that the dog ingested accidentally.  Her dog was treated with Narcan.  She reported the incident to a local animal program who stated they received  several similar complaints.  The unintended consequences of addiction create vertical trauma for our canine companions.

It’s been almost twelve years since Alex passed away unexpectedly in his sleep.