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.  

Northgate Mall by Akira Ohiso

Today I work in Northgate across from the mall.  I arrive early so decide to walk around the mall before work.  Most of the businesses are closed before 10am except the Starbucks in the food court.  Seniors walk back and forth along the length of the mall in small groups.  Seattle Parks & Recreation organizes walking program for seniors.

I walk from the food court to California Pizza Kitchen which is at the north end of the mall. Vending machines, massage chairs and kiosks line the middle of the long dimly-lit corridor.  A big white chair with giant eggs around it awaits the arrival of the Easter Bunny.  A flat screen hangs desperately from the ceiling to catch the eyes of passerby with advertisements, but it doesn’t seem to be working as many storefronts are empty and dark.   This could be because big changes are coming to Northgate.  


On a daily basis, I witness the rapid progress of the light rail project as it snakes up to Everett knocking down houses in its path.  When completed the rail service will connect Seattle-bound commuters to employment while also expanding the dimensions of the metro area.  The I-5 traffic is predicted to decrease, but Americans like the luxury of their cars of convenience and will guzzle gas if the commuter experience is an inconvenience.

Everett, with a local community college, could become a new target of gentrification. 

I walk around the outside of the mall. When you visit the mall in a car you don’t notice sidewalks along the perimeter, the Macy’s drop-off canopy and entrances to department stores that are locked for security purposes.  These spaces are now underused as shoppers are funneled through the electric doors of the mall entrances.


Around one corner, I notice a burglar alarm cover in an Art Deco style that looks like it is from the original construction of the mall which opened in 1950. It was one of the first malls in the United States and has gone through several renovations and expansions in subsequent decades.  The National Bank of Commerce was at this location.  Today, it’s a Bank of America.


The vacuous parking lot is empty most of the time except around the holidays or during big sale weekends.  Otherwise, the sprawl is antiquated as traffic is online these days.  On a side note,  the Green River Killer lured Tracy Ann Winston from the Northgate Mall in September of 1983.  In 2017, Anthony Bourdain did a episode of Parts Unknown in Seattle, highlighting the curious number of serial killers hailing from Washington State.  

In addition to Gary Ridgeway, the Green River Killer, other famous Washingtonian killers include Ted Bundy, John Allen Muhammed, the Beltway Killer, and Robert Yates Jr.   On Bourdain’s Seattle episode, he posits that the year-round cover from evergreen trees helps hide bodies for a long time allowing decomposition to occur.  An anecdotal Quora entry titled “Why Are So Many Serial Killers from Washington State,” points out the historical transient and fluctuating population created by economic booms and the states inability to address the demands of increasing social issues.  

As a transplant to Seattle, I do notice that police work is much different than my home state of New York. Whether it’s a Libertarian ethos or the progressive policies of city government, I often see few police cars patrolling or officers on the beat.  

The latest social issues are homelessness and opioid addiction, which are turning Seattle streets into tent cities and encampments.  These two issues are often lumped together, but, in my opinion, mutually exclusive.  While some are experiencing homelessness and addiction, many are not addicted and trying to obtain affordable housing in a city that is still adjusting to the consequences of astronomical economic growth and rising housing prices.  

We often see the human suffering of addiction and homelessness and the desperation that plays out via crime and vagrancy.  It’s hard to bear witness to, but often unseen injustices of power and privilege are ignored, normalized and systemized.

Two weeks ago, a young married white male with a job, a house and no history of criminal activity drank too much, played video games then walked outside and shot and killed a woman in her car.  Next, he shot a bus driver who managed to drive his passengers to safety.  He got in the woman’s car and crashed head-on into a senior citizen killing him as well.  Someone I know was behind the bus when the shooting happened. She witnessed the man acting like he was in a video game.

The public reaction afterwards was minimal in comparison to the outrage of a person sleeping under an awning.  In my opinion, the angry white man is much more dangerous.


As I walk along the east side of the mall, I notice that some of the outlying lots are fenced off with land use signs and pictures of large apartment complexes.  The mall is again planning for major renovations as the light rail nears completion.  The new Seattle NHL team is planning to build a practice arena and Simon Properties, the owner of the site, envisions more retail, hotels and housing.  

I stop to take pictures of skybridges connecting the mall to a parking garage.  A corpulent man in a security car with a yellow flashing light slowly drives by, eyeing me suspiciously.  I stand my ground and make eye contact.  He drives off.  For most of my life, I have accepted  and internalized these interactions without much thought.   It’s just how things are.  Today, with self-awareness and a better sense of my identity, the experience is painful and infuriating.  Still, if I was brown or black I might be in jail on trumped up charges or dead, my  iphone mistaken for a gun.  Privilege.


Middlefield by Akira Ohiso


Snow continues to fall.  Schools are closed.  We walk to St. Alphonsus Church to play in the snow.  Behind Ballard Market, I notice, for the first time, a protuding structure that looks like it once had windows or was open like a porch.  Green wood panels seem to be added to change the purpose of the structure.  Structural posts hold up horizontal beams in front of the wood panels and seem to have no architectural relationship.  

According to the Ballard Market website, the store used to be a Lucky’s Discount Supermarket and officially became Ballard Market in 1986.  A supermarket message board online reports that Mayfair Supermarkets sold the property to Lucky’s in the seventies.  


The Ballard Market website states:

In 2003, a renovation project doubled the size of the produce department once again – and created a new entry to maximize natural light. The giant awning came down, replaced by the equally imposing series of four-foot-tall letters spelling out Ballard Market. In 2017, the market underwent another major remodel.

I moved to Seattle in 2016 and witnessed the 2017 renovation that expanded the beer, wine and spirits section on the south side of the building.  Could the 2003 renovation have adapted the back structure for indoor use?  I will have to ask around at the market.

As a second generation Japanese American, I was fascinated to learn that Ballard Market was founded by a Japanese family.  The Nakata family originally lived on Bainbridge Island prior to World War II and opened the Eagle Harbor Market.  When the war began, the Nakata family was moved to a Japanese internment camp.  They returned after the war and eventually started Town & Country Supermarkets in 1957 with friend Ed Loverich.   

The Island Getaway Blog has a photo of the “old Nakata building on Winslow Way.”  This structure was once used as as a laundry and bathhouse.  

Photo: Island Getaway Blog. 

Photo: Island Getaway Blog. 

In 1924, The Nakata family purchased a strawberry farm on 7363 Weaver Ave. NW and built a farmhouse.   The farmhouse expanded to grow produce and raise pigs, which were sold in the butcher shop of the supermarket.  John Nakata, owner of Town & Country Markets tore down the farmhouse and built a new house on the land.  Today, the Nakata Farm is called Middlefield Farm; “naka” means “middle” and “ta” means “field.”  

A online search shows the current house at 7363 Weaver Ave. NW.  Middlefield Farm is on the corner of Wyatt and Weaver just down the street from this house.  


Glacier by Akira Ohiso


Mom died last November.  I think about her often.  The initial loss gives way to glacial loss. Time creates daily moments of remembrances; sometimes hunks of memory fall off into the oceanic abyss never to be conjured again. The mass moves, deep architecture like ballast...

Today, the snow triggers ancient memories; plastic bags over socks to keep moisture out, the Long Island Blizzard of 1978 and frostbite on the sledding hill behind the Port Washington Post Office.  The radiator in my kitchen was where boots, wool gloves, hats, scarves, snow pants and jackets thawed and dried.  I distinctly remember picking the pilly snow out of my wool gloves.  Mom would be cooking something warm and bubbly on the stove.

I walk with Ellie on 14th Ave NW.  A worker shovels snow off the roof of Ballard Market. Couples venture out to experience the rare event of snow in Seattle.  Dogs jump euphorically through powdery drifts in Gemenskap Park.

Six inches of snow in Seattle is a big deal; supermarket shelves empty out as if a Zombie Apocalypse is imminent.  The city does not budget a lot for snow management because it rarely snows on a scale that requires management.  When Seattle gets a snowstorm the city shuts down.  Bars stay opened.

The death of a parent sometimes marks a new chapter in one’s life.  For me, it has been a chance to reflect.  I am not depressed, but compressed, caring for an aging parent and three children.  My eldest is a hormonal tween on the cusp of finding friends more important than parents.  He is beginning to explore his identity, while I begin to avoid Ericksonian stagnation.  I know he wants me to be a supportive father, but it has to be different than just a year ago.   I have been resistant to adjust.  I’ve been resistant to many things lately. 

In Shadowboxes and the Round by Akira Ohiso

I walk across Market Street on 14th Ave NW.   Ellie and I are walking to Ballard Reuse, a store that resells used home furnishings.   It’s a creative exercise to browse in the jettisoned commerce of others; tubs, doors, street signs, school lockers, lights, cabinet handles, picture frames, radios, hardware, school desks, mirrors, chairs, nautical detritus, clocks, furniture with upcycle potential.  Hipster decor, cheap purchase or creative reuse for an upscale Craftsman.

I find alternative frame solutions for my work; a plastic streetlight, a drawer on its side, a wall piece with shelf and oval frame, gaudy picture frame.   I think about Michaelangelo’s Doni Tondo, a work that depicts a Madonna in the “tondi” or “round.”   


I also think about Joseph Cornell, an artist who created found-object assemblages in shadow boxes.  He was a self-taught artist and was influenced by the surrealist movement.  Seemingly random juxtapositions, sculptural collages and poetic play were integral to his work.  He once said “collage = reality.”  He lived much of his adult life in a house on Utopia Boulevard in Flushing, Queens.  I was born in Flushing and lived the first three years of my life in an apartment on Bowne Street.  I remember mostly through family photo albums and stories.  My father photographed prolifically during my childhood.  I swear I have a memory of walking in the building laundry room with red slippers adorned with anchors.  My parents vouch for the red anchor slippers, but don’t think I could have remembered such a memory -a gossamer instance like a fragment of a collage. 

“Cornell in Window” 1972 by Harry Roseman  

“Cornell in Window” 1972 by Harry Roseman  

Years later, I would return to Flushing to finish school at Queens College where I received a BA in Studio Art.  I lived with an ex-girlfriend in an apartment building next to the Whitestone Expressway and Whitestone Lanes. The New York Times distribution center was across the expressway. She was a tough Queens girl with a thick New Yawk accent.  She lost both hippy parents at an early age and was raised by her maternal Jewish grandmother.  Her grandmother had died and she lived in the apartment by herself.  There was unresolved trauma around the loss of her parents.  She found her mother dead from a drug overdose.  She was raped at age 13 by an older kid in the neighborhood.  Neither of us had the emotional self-awareness to maintain the relationship.

These were issues I was not exposed to in a north shore Long Island suburb.  I grew up in Port Washington, NY, a cow-neck shaped peninsula facing the Long Island Sound.  In Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby,  Port Washington was East Egg, the “old money” enclave of Gilded Age estates.  West Egg or Great Neck was for the “nouveau riche.”  Not that drugs and rape weren’t happening, but wealth can make those things go away very easily. 

I grew up middle-class.  We were better off than some, but I acutely felt the haves and have-nots in Port Washington.  The growing “Spanish” community lived in apartments on Main Street or in multi-unit houses near the industrial areas of town.  I remember the local police moving Latino men along who were “loitering” on fences around the train station.  Most of the young men lived together and simply sat outside their apartment buildings on warm nights.  Many worked in restaurant kitchen and landscaping companies. 

My neighborhood was middle-class, but has gentrified with yuppies since.  Smaller pre-war homes with wood floors and original molding appeal to a new generation of yuppies looking for authenticity and integrity in their down-low consumption. 

The Park section is a grid of four streets: Bar Beach Road, Park Avenue, Highland Avenue and Fairview Avenue.  The grid starts at Port Washington Boulevard and climbs up a slope to Woodlawn Avenue, a street that overlooks the Sandpits.  During the summers in the seventies, hang gliders would set off from the cliff and float over the Sandpits until you saw the soft silent landing in the sibilant spray of sand.  Someone would pick them up in “the pits” and drive them back up to Woodlawn Avenue for another run.

Sand was a booming industry at the turn of the 20th century and the sand pits provided raw material for many of the buildings in New York City including the Empire State Building, the Chrystler Building, the Queensborough , the former Twin Towers and Rockefeller Center.  Immigrants from Europe worked the mines and many single men lived in barracks.  Families lived in homes with stilts.  A school was established for children.  I remember seeing rusty cars and motorcycles embedded in the sides of cliffs.  People played “chicken” and it was rumored that the mob disposed of enemies in the pits.

A large green building with conveyer belts would transport sand to barges in Hempstead Harbor.  It was a dilapidated green relic that anyone who grew up in Port Washington at the time would remember driving along West Shore Road to Bar Beach or Hempstead Harbor Beach. The rotting barges remained on the liminal unused banks of the harbor until the nineties.


As the sand mining industry dwindled, the pits eventually were used as a landfill.  The last sandmining company closed in 1989.  In the early eighties, I attended Salem Elementary School.  The school and surrounding neighborhood was ground zero for aquifer contamination. Residents were getting sick from drinking water and one local teacher died of cancer.  Salem school and the landfill were eventually closed.  Today, it is a golf course and corporate real estate for companies.  The Sandminers Monument was erected in 2011 as weekend golfers perfect their putt.