Instant Nature by Akira Ohiso

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Epstein commits suicide in his jail cell. Trump blames the Clintons. Top back-to-school buys: bullet-proof backpacks. I unplug Google Home from the wall. “Hey Google, you’re dead.”

”I’m sorry, I don’t understand.”

Sunday morning. I talk to my father who vents about an upcoming dental procedure. Since my mother died, he’s had no emotional ballast. Through adult eyes, I wonder if he ever did. My mother grew up with an alcoholic father where she was socialized to maintain statis. Did she enable my father? Did she enable me?

In hindsight, I was a spirited child and a difficult teen. I was hard to parent because of my impulsivity and lack of focus. My kindergarten teacher told my mother during a parent-teacher conference, “Akira’s just here to play.”

Yet, my mother gave me room to be. And a lot of my upbringing was a series of starts and stops, choices I made. Today, I acknowledge my self-sabotage, my feelings of inadequacy and my reasons for quitting. Wisdom has given me the confidence to honor my limits. Just saying “no” is revolutionary for people with histories of low self-esteem.

I have been doing analog excursions with the kids. To me, they are self-consciously “analog”, to the kids “excursions.” My parental guilt needs to acknowledge the “providence” in providence.

My oldest son is fascinated with instant cameras. He cannot believe that I lived in a world where you could not delete photos. The photo came out depicting reality, pimples and all.

My daughter asked for a Fuji instant camera for her birthday. She walks around our apartment mostly taking picture of our cat. She waves the ejected photo like a fan, a developing technique I remember adults doing when I was a kid.

I walk with my oldest son around the neighborhood so he can experiment with the camera. To him, the film feels precious. He doesn’t want to waste it. I encourage him to waste film and find his artistic eye.

He takes some nice outdoor shots and has no desire to share them on Instagram or Snapchat. When we return home, he puts them in a photo album.

Public Art Portable Works Purchase: Fresh Perspectives II by Akira Ohiso

Two of Akira’s digital prints were purchased by the City of Seattle for their portable art collection.

“The City of Seattle owns over 3,000 portable artworks in its Civic Art Collection and has been collecting for over 40 years. These artworks will enter the Seattle Public Utilities Portable Works Collection managed by the Office of Arts & Culture. They will be displayed throughout city galleries and offices.”

Red Lines, Digital Mixed-media, 2018

Red Lines, Digital Mixed-media, 2018

My Muslim Neighbor, Digital Collage, 2019

My Muslim Neighbor, Digital Collage, 2019

Dead Philanthropists by Akira Ohiso

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The American Museum of Natural History has always been one of my favorite museums. I remember taking the Long Island Railroad into Penn Station with my parents. We walked through the station corridor towards 8th and into the warm sooty subway, hopping the C train to 81st Street.

I begged my parents to buy me a hot pretzel with mustard from one of the street vendors. Then I would sit on the stone steps staring at Teddy Roosevelt on his horse.

We often visited Sagamore Hill, Teddy Roosevelt’s summer home in Oyster Bay, NY. The furnished rooms were time capsules into the way life was at the turn of the 20th century. It was a rugged American narrative that I was taught and believed in, unaware of the privilege and continuing fortification of white supremacy that undermined my mixed-race heritage.

When my relatives visited from Japan, we took them to Sagamore Hill to experience something “American,” at least in my father’s eyes who did whatever he could to assimilate when he immigrated to the United States in the early sixties.

America’s two atomic bombs knocked some good ole’ moral sense into those Japs.

The dioramas of animals in their natural habitats continues to fascinate me as an adult, especially in an age where museums are increasingly using digital technologies to create exhibits.

They are so a part of my kids everyday lives that they found the analog dioramas to be the most engaging exhibits.

Kids run from one diorama to the next trying to be the first to get to the next animal scene; an octopus being devoured by a whale, a bear hunting for fish, a sea otter rolling playfully in seaweed. Is being first nurture or nature?

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We walked through the Hayden Planetarium, but the exhibits were dated. Moore’s Law assures that contemporary exhibits always need to be on trend. Maybe Bloomberg, Trump or the Sacher Family will sponsor a wing? The experience of a dinosaur walking across a flat screen is commonplace and finite. The dusty dioramas are timeless.

Growing up on my street in the seventies, teenagers with leather fringed clothing would often go to the planetarium for the Floyd laser shows. I would hear them talking about it when we played Running Bases; manhole cover eavesdropping. I knew there was something rebellious about it.

I worked briefly at the museum in the Events & Conference Services department where I was privy to wealthy New Yorkers and Fortune 500 companies renting wings of the museum for weddings, award ceremonies and galas.

The names of dead philanthropists are as prominent as the exhibits.

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Patina by Akira Ohiso

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An Uber drops us at 8th and 34th next to Port Authority. Brown men with no shirts sleep against the shaded wall on cardboard boxes. The humidity is a threshold you cross. The air smells of bus exhaust, pretzels and chicanery.

The streets are crowded with Europeans sporting different fashion trends. People hand out discount passes to Broadway shows, bus tours and the Empire State Building. The spiel is always a tad deceitful; you pay less now, you don’t have to wait on lines then, you are missing out.

Pedestrian plazas are just more place to get hassled by low-paid pleasure pushers. Construction zones cattle pedestrians into the streets and into cordoned spaces surrounded by orange transportation barriers. Bottle-necking is a common pedestrian pattern in NYC. At DON’T WALK signs, people take pictures of novel nothingness, filming with a selfie stick and narrating their Instagram story.

A group of black men hand out CDs, but then ask for money once it’s in your hands. If you ignore them, they say things like “You don’t have to be afraid of black people.”

Madam Tussaud’s, Ripley’s Believe It or Not, Harry Potter & The Cursed Child, McDonald’s, Sephora, Disney, Hershey’s, TCKTS, Fuji Water, H&M, Barclay’s, Forever 21, T-Mobile, LG, Levi’s, Elmo, Spider-Man, The Naked Cowboy, New York Times, Red Lobster, The Hulk, ACENQRWS1237.

Time Square is a multi-media clusterfuck.

We take the Q to Herald Square and walk to the Empire State Building. Macy’s is a city block of fast fashion like consumed water bottles overflowing from corner sanitation cans. Concrete barriers can’t stop a semi-automatic shooting spree.

On a Sunday morning, only tourists walk the streets and engage with predatory tour bus employees. I miss the Seattle Freeze.

My son’s friend wants to visit the top of the Empire State Building. We spend $240 for 7 tickets. It’s a hit job.

We are corralled into Disney-like traffic flow patterns around corners so the wait doesn’t break our anticipatory spirit. I take a picture of the Freedom Tower because that’s what you do. We spend 20 minutes on the Observation Deck and are done.

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Side streets in Manhattan are a backstage of sorts. It’s where loading docks, hotel alleys, dumpsters and kitchen doors are apparatuses of the consumer spectacle on the main drags.

We walk 33rd Street west towards The Vessel, a giant Escher-esque sculpture in Hudson Yards.

MSG looks like a mod stereo speaker from the sixties. It’s ugly, but ironic. The original Pennsylvania Station, a beautiful Beaux-Arts structure, was torn down in a time when modernity meant progress. Today, such a structure would be a architectural treasure.

On Eighth and 33rd, the James A. Farley Post Office is being renovated into the Moynihan Train Hall, named after the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan who advocated for a new Pennsylvania Station in the Farley building decades ago. When completed, it will become a new transportation hub for a relevant-conscious city trying to retain an exodus of residents.

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The Westside train yards have been transformed into Hudson Yards, a commercial and residential hub that connects the High Line, the Javits Center and the continuing development of the Hudson riverfront. The Vessel is the centerpiece.

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We walk through a mall to the Vessel. A security guard gives us directions. “Turn left at Cartier.” I notice again the dearth of actual shoppers. Lots of people congregate around the Vessel.

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The shiny copper exterior attracts people to their own visage in the monolith. I wonder if the stewards of this sculpture will let the copper patina?

Aquamarine and purple swirls, Neiman Marcus long gone.

Damn Yankees by Akira Ohiso

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I take the boys to Yankee Stadium to watch the Bombers play the Red Sox. We get to the park early, but the lines to get in are already long. Only a few gates are opened.

An exasperated older man behind me says, bromidically, “This is the post-9/11 world we live in.” With anachronistic assuredness, he doesn’t notice people walking through a gate with no lines.

Clear, a biometric company, has a gate that allows people who sign up ($15 per month) to skip long lines at airports and stadium events. Clear technology scans your eyes and fingerprints. You simply walk through without showing ID.

Eventually this will be the norm. Face recognition will replace any need to carry identification and even money. What will the people selling $1 water bottles outside the stadium do? Valu-Pack disposable scanners.

We sit in the grandstands right behind the left field foul pole. A family from Sheffield, England is at their first Yankee game.

I strike up a conversation with the father who is a high school teacher. We talk about the similarities between baseball and cricket eventually getting to the topics of Trump and Brexit.

He tells me that Brexit is supported by many people who didn’t know what they were voting for. It was marketed as a nationalistic solution to immigration and a lagging economy, but instead it has put many people out of work who relied on EU membership for their livelihoods.

I mention similarities between Trump and Johnson and their ability to use fear to garner votes and power at the expense of citizens not in the know.

He agrees. Do dispel the idea that the United States is synonymous with Trumpian politics, he often reminds his students that more than half of Americans do not support Trump.

The Yankees beat the Red Sox 9-2.

Two deadly shootings occured at a Walmart in El Paso and a bar in Dayton, Ohio. 29 people were killed. The suspects are both white men in their early twenties. Angry white men with guns are the most dangerous threat to Americans…and Mitch McConnell.

Boondoggle by Akira Ohiso

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We landed at 12:10am at Newark International Airport. There were no six passenger Ubers available so we took an airport taxi from Newark to Riverdale.

Several minutes passed before the concierge could find a driver who would take six passengers. There seemed to be a hubbub among taxi drivers, which did not make a former New Yorker feel comfortable. They were winging it to make an extra buck.

We were told the cost would be $80 plus tolls and “a little extra for six.” The concierge added, “It’s a liability thing.” The driver, a heavy-set man, said, “No extra charge, just give me a nice tip.”

The trip went smoothly until we reached the George Washington Bridge. Because of roadwork, we sat in 30 minutes of traffic at 1am on a weeknight.

With tolls, the total fare was $131 not including a “nice tip.” Welcome to fucking New York.

Morning

Our oldest son’s friend is along on this trip and they both want to visit the Freedom Tower. We tell them our stories of 9/11 and they are shocked and fascinated like I was when my parents talked about the Kennedy assassination.

I notice my heart rate increase when I remember that day 18 years ago. I was a temp in the HR department at Black Rock, the CBS building, on 52nd Street. When the planes hit, people wandered on to 6th Avenue to watch the dark unctuous plumes of smoke rising into the late summer sky.

Phones worked for a bit, until the antenna was destroyed with the collapse of the North Tower. I walked to Ellie’s apartment on East 79th Street. Masses of dazed people walked uptown unable to use phones and subways.

That night F-16 fighter jets roared up and down Manhattan Island ready to fire missiles passed bedroom windows.

Several large parks are situated along the Henry Hudson Parkway; Inwood Hill Park, Fort Tryon Park, Fort Washington Park, Riverbank State Park and Riverside Park.

The parkway is lush and verdant with views of the Hudson River and Palisades looking west. I’ve always noticed a white columnated viewing area, but have never stopped in all my years of living in New York. We take our localism for granted and often don’t explore the history right outside our door.

After passing under the George Washington Bridge, the green disappears and the urban takes over. Graffiti narrates fences and stone retaining walls, train tracks run parallel to the highway and large billboards vie for you peripheral attention.

Near Hamilton Heights, a neighborhood where Alexander Hamilton once lived, old stone retaining walls with balustrades and labyrinthine stairways separate residential buildings from the historic industrial zones close to the Hudson. Efflorescence oozes from mortar.

In Harlem, the river view has changed as Columbia University expands north of Morningside Heights. Fairway supermarket, an institution for westsiders, looks antiquated next to the glass and steel.

Riverside Drive apartment buildings with ornate stone facades still dominate the real estate and the views. A neoclassic mausoleum of stone columns and a rotunda preserves the body and memory of President Ulysses S. Grant as yuppies walk dogs and sip lattes.

Presidents will never again be be memorialized with such grandiosity.

We drive down the West Side Highway passing a cluster of Trump buildings with “Trump” removed from the entrances. Tenants demanded his names be removed. In death, Trump will make sure he is buried with dictatorial pomp, but it will become a place of desecration and idol worship.

The Donald J. Trump National Library…think about that for awhile. It will hold first editions of Dennis Rodman’s Bad As I Wanna Be, the Kremlin-authorized hagiography of Vladimir Putin and Goose Steppin’ by Kim Jong Un.

We visit the 9/11 Memorial and then walk across the street to the Oculus, a $4 billion white-boned cathedral of consumerism. You ponder the events of 9/11 then shop just like George W. Bush once told people to do.

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The Oculus is empty like lots of malls across the country. In essence, it’s a glorified mall to tell terrorists “we won.” The New York Times called the Oculus a “boondoggle.”

There is a dearth of shoppers. Retail clerks stare out from their opulent window displays or fuss with merchandise. Armed guards walk the periphery. Police dogs sniff visitors. It feels sterile and dystopian. I expect Galactic Stormtroopers to walk by.

We decide to leave the area and have lunch at Lombardi’s on Spring Street. It was established in 1905 and is touted as “the first pizzeria in America.” The Original Margherita is a purist’s dream.

The brown tenement buildings, crowded sidewalks and dingy cafes of Little Italy are refreshingly rundown.

A Chinese man carries two hefty bags tied to a stick across his back. Young people jump out of Ubers. Old people sit in a corner park. Men with aprons smoke in kitchen doorways. Bicycles, scooters jaywalkers, sweaty tourists and New Yorkers crisscross…

I think of Jane Jacobs.

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Libertarian Quirk by Akira Ohiso

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I walk along Market Street between 14th Ave NW and 8th Ave NW. An older man sits alone in a window seat at Kentucky Fried Chicken watching cars pass. According to recent studies, isolation has the same health as smoking. In older people, isolation and loneliness increase the chances of mortality.

I often wonder how these fast food restaurants of the 20th century will fare in the next century. Will more enlightened models of business create more enlightened chicken? Perhaps add flan with a Cuban touch to the menu as one KFC did in Florida.

Across the street, McDonald’s does steady business. Firestone Tires is rumored to be turned into senior living. But senior living is big business these days, catering to privileged boomers, so pricing is often unaffordable for many living on fixed incomes. Next door, Koi, a boutique apartment building, is unaffordable for people with unfixed incomes.

Craftsman’s with curb appeal line Market Street, an occasional house sold and torn down for a multi-family housing. NO HALA UPZONES placards on lawns. A dilapidated house with a layer of thick green moss on the roof was a drug den before police stormed it with assault weapons.

At the corner of 8th Ave NE, I turn left and head north. Laundromat, Chinese food, gas station, yoga, new and old houses. 8th is a mix of residential and commercial zoning, but changing towards the latter.

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I pass a blue fire hydrant on a side street where overgrown vegetation flows down mossy retaining walls and onto cracked uneven sidewalks.

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I’ve seen fire hydrants painted in different colors and patterns. I wondered if it’s illegal or a libertarian quirk.

According to Westside Seattle, it is legal to paint fire hydrants as long the water is supplied by Seattle Public Utilities and you don’t paint the caps, which are color coded to indicate water pressure.

Goonies Jail by Akira Ohiso

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On the drive back to Seattle, the kids request a stop at the Clatsop County Jail in Astoria. It is the jail used in the opening scene of The Goonies.

The jail was in use from 1914 to 1973. Today, it is the Oregon Film Museum highlighting the film industry in Oregon.

Parked out front is the black Jeep Cherokee used by the Fratelli gang when they escaped and were chased by keystone cops through Astoria. If you look closely, there are 3 bullet holes in the back that Mouth notices later at the lighthouse.

Heading east on 30 we spot the Goonies House nestled at the top of a hill. The noticeable wrap-around porch makes it fairly easy to identify.

The owner purchased the house in 1990 and has lived there to date. When it eventually goes on the market I’m sure there will be a long line of buyers bidding on the pop culture landmark.

On the Washington side of the Lewis and Clark Bridge, we drive through Longview, another coastal town built around lumber. Urban sprawl, strip malls, fast food and small mid-century homes share space along major arteries, an architectural timeline of growth and decline. Some houses are sold and turned into massage parlors, nail salons and psychic storefronts.

It reminds me of my childhood on Long Island. I grew up going to malls built in working class neighborhoods near post-World War 2 expressways. Where else could developers buy up large land parcels?

I took the bus to Roosevelt Field, Walt Whitman Mall and the Broadway Mall loitering in skylit Art Deco and neon mausoleums. I gorged on fried foods, arcades and record stores. Sometimes I idled with friends around indoor fountains, grottos and fake palm trees. I was filled with teen angst never imagining the obsolescence of these consumer leviathans.

We called our parents on pay phones to let them know when we would be home; houses that baby boomers would make a killing on decades later at the expense of Generation X. I only rent these days.

Most of America as we know it is dying. It’s been dying for certain people for a long time. My myopic privilege is just figuring this out now.

Over the last few days, I’ve driven through unvarnished coastal towns that pander to the 20th century, while vacation homes are rented to the privileged with the best views.

I know more and more younger people are moving to metropolitan area for economic and environmental reasons. Will infrastructure in rural areas take priority? Will roads, water systems and bridges decline in less populated areas? Will more people find themselves even more desperate with no work and no skills? Will the human divide continue to widen between the wealthiest and everyone else numbed by anomic consumerism?

My 12-year old son is furious about the planet older generations are leaving to him. I can offer him protective platitudes about standing up to these anthropogenic forces, but I just don’t believe that helps anymore. Honesty is the only guide.