Beachcombers by Akira Ohiso

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For the last few days, we have wandered the beach near our rental. The beach culture in the PNW is not the hedonistic sunbathing that you find at other summer vacations spots; vacationers wear sun hats and windbreakers, poke the smooth sand with walking sticks and relax in tents to cut the brisk winds.

Older folks enjoy retirement with their dogs and take long walks down the beach. Younger couples run, children follow the ebb and flow of the tide, screaming with delight when the foamy line almost touches their feet.

The surf is far out during low tide so you can walk for about a quarter of a mile before you reach water. First you traverse grassy dunes, then warm soft sand and finally wet smooth sand that shines from the uneven scalloped shapes of the tide.

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The kids find beached moon jellyfish, sand dollars and crabs. They try to save them with shovels,running them thoughtfully back to the surf. They use a metal detector, hoping to find buried treasures, but come up empty on a beach that doesn’t attract the Coppertone masses.

After a few days on the beach, we decide to leave the tsunami hazard zone and drive 13 miles north on 101 to Cannon Beach. Our hope is to get close to Haystack Rock.

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We are pleasantly surprised to pull up in a residential beach community, park the car on the side of the road and walk down a stairway directly to the beach. The unimpeded view of Haystack Rock is monolithic and austere.

It’s low tide so people are able to congregate around Haystack Rock and the surrounding tide pools that foster a fragile ecosystem of sea life. Signs inform visitors to protect the tide pools. I wonder about human fragility and our ability to protect ourselves.

Trauma is the uninhabitable parts of ourselves, the conceded land that we refuse to explore, yet preserve and protect against other humans. Bessel Van Der Kolk said, “Trauma constantly confronts us with our fragility and with man’s inhumanity to man but also with our extraordinary resilience.”

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I notice small white dots on the top of the largest rock, a white rim lining the mossy greens and gray brown basalt. These dots are mature Western Gulls, the most visible of bird life on Haystack Rock. I don’t see the Tufted Puffin, which is famous for mating on the formations away from predators. I learn that mating season is coming to an end.

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Gull keows pierce the clamor of visitors below. People on rental low-rider beach bikes zigzag through leaving bathetic tracks in the sand. Throngs face the formation compelled to moments of extended silence. I stand in solitary spots simply seeing what’s before me. To be in the presence of these natural formations is fleeting and timeless.

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We exit at the Tsunami Evacuation Route stairway and have a hearty lunch at Pelican Brewing Company just up the road. It’s still in the tsunami hazard zone, but I take my chances. I am starting to understand how locals think; you memorize where hazard zones end and safe zones begin.

Several Oregon schools have begun the process of relocating out of hazard zones. Many of the homes along the coast are not built to withstand a tsunami, but architects and engineers are starting to design tsunami-proof homes.

Still, conceding land to nature and moving to higher ground seems like the most logical choice. But, humans are often prone to illogical choices that lead to mortal outcomes.

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Manzanita Bound by Akira Ohiso

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Traffic slows in Seaside. A cluster of chain stores, intersections and traffic lights accommodate convenience and the traveler’s need for commercial relief and the amenities of civilization from time to time. For example, Ellie’s temporary crown fell out and she needed emergency Polygrip.

Since crossing the Lewis and Clark Bridge two hours ago, it’s been a one-lane highway of yellow line literacy and brief two lane sections so restless drivers can pass slow drivers.

We miss most of Seaside because the tourist attractions and hotels are closer to the coast where the Necanicum River splits Seaside in two. We never stray from 101.

A scruffy man on a bicycle passes us. He looks like a traveler of sorts, colorful bungee cords cleverly crisscrossing to hold a Jenga of patchwork belongings in place. His pace is steady and deliberate; it’s not the demeanor of leisure, but necessity.

Cars park along 101 and people walk down to the Necanicum River kayaks, water gear and coolers in hand. It’s a Sunday so northbound traffic is slow as people head home from weekend vacations, vehicles packed carelessly like the Exodus with pool floats and mountain bikes.

There are intermittent openings in the West-facing evergreens and we get glimpses of the Oregon coast. Near Cannon Beach, we see the top of Haystack Rock, but the trees never clear again.

The kids are antsy to get to our rental in Manzanita, so we keep moving along roads that snake, peak and valley. The driving is focused and laborious.

In Oswald State Park, we drive along a vertiginous section with low cement guard rails where the views are an exercise in acrophobic desensitization. I hug the double yellow line, both hands clutching the wheel tightly and trying desperately to avoid the view. I think of an X-Wing Fighter trying to blow up the Death Star. “Stay on target, stay on target.”

The family enjoys the splendid views, while I sweat out the slow descent into Neahkanie Beach.

We arrive in Manzanita in late afternoon. The kids don their bathing suits and run straight to the beach.

The Pacific is blue and endless, except for wisps of gossamer clouds and whitecaps.

The Goonies House by Akira Ohiso

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“RIP Uncle Jimmy” on a gray rotting barn east of Astoria, Oregon. We cross the Columbia River on the svelte Lewis and Clark Bridge to Route 30, which leads into Astoria where we will stop for lunch.

Most of America looks the same outside of cities. Rural Oregon is no different. There is economic hardship here; shabby homes in disrepair, leaning barns and gas stations line Route 30. RVs and sports cars pass through for pee breaks and embolism prevention.

In Astoria, you know you have entered a tourist trap for coastal summer travelers; corpulent sunburned couples, surfboards on vans, gift shops, microbreweries, antiques, ice cream, souvenirs emblazoned with ASTORIA.

Locals live in the Victorians nestled in the hills overlooking a once busy trading port for fur, fishing and lumber. In the 20th Century Bumble Bee Tuna had a canning facility that closed in 1980. The theme song still rings in my head. “Yum yum Bumble Bee, Bumble Bee Tuna…”

Coming of age in the 80s, I am obsessed that this seaside town was the film location for The Goonies. Yes, Astoria is named after New York fur magnate John Jacob Astor, but I am only interested in finding the house where Mikey and Brand lived.

As a former New Yorker, I remember the Astor family name engraved in stone all over New York City like so many obscenely wealthy people undergirding the foundations of white supremacy in America.

Today, the owner of the “Goonies House” does not allow visitors. The street is marked “Private” like an Instagram account. During film anniversary events, over a thousand visitors a day were crowding around the house for pictures and vacation antics. Unfortunately, many visitors were disrespectful leaving empty beer cans and the detritus of human volume.

Still, The Goonies continues to provide a local narrative just as significant as any history of Astoria. I bought my son a t-shirt with Mikey, Data, Mouth and Chunk, but he doesn’t connect to the film like an aging Gen Xer. I try to explain that without The Goonies there would be no Stranger Things.

A local waiter at Astoria Brewing Company said, “It’s still a big deal in town.”

After lunch, we head down Route 101 along the coast looking for Haystack Rock, another Goonies’ location where One-Eye’d Willie’s pirate ship, The Inferno, emerged from the misty coastal rocks.

Robot Holocaust by Akira Ohiso

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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Book On Hold by Akira Ohiso

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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.