Wednesday, October 23, 2013

I'll Say It All Here

I didn't really want to meet him for lunch. If he had something in mind other than an acquaintance and this interview, I wanted no part of it. I told him, through a text, that it was my treat if he'd meet with me.
The thought of meeting him, left me with hours of "build-up." Anxiety.  Incompetencey. Amateur writer attempts another interview.  My third, I suppose, if you count the one with The Cousin. And then, of course there's the thought, 'Does he just want sex?' 
In the day, the cute young girls were attracted to me. In the last few years, it's the men over 65.  
What are ya gonna do? It a slap of reality that I will most likely go to my grave not accepting. But I wore my Lucky Brand jeans anyway!  No, not because HE was going to get lucky, But because I was hoping to get lucky with my questions, lucky with opportunity, lucky to say it all here with a look at life through his eyes.
We were to meet at 1:00 p.m. I arrived at 12:45 p.m. and purposely chose a table in the sun. 
I felt way more confident with my sunglasses on.

HY:  You're early.

tpg:  For a change. Thanks for meeting me.

HY: What shall we have? Pellegrino? Large? Waiter. Please. 2 large Pellegrinos and what are today's specials?

His wrinkled shirt, which was tucked into jeans, was a neon lime green. I thought of 
over photo-shopped mint leaves.  He wore a baseball cap which smelled of stale cigars when the breeze hit it.
The waiter rambled off the Specials of the Day; first the appetizer, then the salad, then the entrée and finally, the dessert.  It's so fast, I couldn't recall one thing.

HY: Very good. Very good. Now, may I ask you a question?
(waiter nods)
How long does that take you? Every day, do you have to wake up and memorize the daily specials every day because they change, don't they?
(waiter holds a perplexed yet polite expression)

HY: So what shall we eat? (looking at the menu) I like the apple and pecan salad. What was the special? Halibut? Filet Mignon?

tpg: (panicking because I had offered to pay in exchange for his time.) The appetizer of squash blossoms stuffed with goat cheese (thinking it might the fucking cheapest special) sounds yummy.

HY: And salad? It's a nice day, eh?

tpg: Umm... Yes.
(waiter returns)

HY: We'll have the squash appetizer, pecan apple salad, Cobb salad and filet mignon, medium rare, salt and pepper only.

tpg: You're fast-moving. Do you ever slow down?

HY: Daytime. I sleep during the day and I paint all night. My neighbors think I'm crazy. They see my lights on all night and they think, "What's the crazy Japanese man doing now?" I don't care because I don't really talk to them. I don't really talk to people.

tpg: Yet, you're are here, talking to me.

HY: That's different.

tpg: Tell me about your art.

HY: My art. I studied art in Paris. Many, many years ago. My family, we are all characters and we all like to try new things. I only worked with oil on canvas in the beginning, then I changed to sculpture and pop art. I like color.

tpg: I looked at your work on-line and can honestly say I love the pieces of ink and paint on hand-made rice paper. I also love your laser project in Afghanistan.

HY: That was an experience.  I was approached to possibly re-build the statues but I didn't feel reproducing those ancient statues would be right. They're destroyed. Dynamited. There's only ghosts left. I wanted to bring awareness to this massive destruction of the 3 Buddhas of Bamiwam (Bamiyan) by the Taliban, while at the same time, use solar powered lasers to offer electricity, a few hours a day, to the people of the Bamiyan Valley who had none.

tpg: Wow! Was the project completed?

HY: (Laughing)  We completed it, but governments are corrupt. All of them. We couldn't come to an agreement on money, even after I had hosted fundraisers in Los Angeles. We are all sheep, you know.
(Food arrives)

tpg: Sheep? What do you mean?

HY: We are all sheep and all governments are the herders. It's intentional and it's always been that way since the beginning of time. You, me...We're not going to change it. Do you give money to bums?
I never do.

tpg: Yes, I do, but I prefer not to call them 'bums'. There's 2 in particular that I give some small amounts of cash to on a regular basis. One is a Vietnam vet. He stands in front of Home Depot in Seaside.

HY: There's always been poor. So much poverty. Never can we change that.

tpg: I agree, but it makes me feel good to give a little. Perhaps, it's self-serving.

HY: I did an 8-month project on Los Angeles Avenue years back. I lived on the street and hid a small camera in my clothes. I took black and white pictures of the bums, all the while, the mafia and drug lords would be in the fields and parking lots, watching. Waiting. I'd watch the bums spend every penny they got on drugs and alcohol.
I prefer people who work. I'd rather give to the men standing outside of Home Depot, the Latinos, who want to work. That's where I met my assistant 28 years ago. (He's eating and talking at the same time; half fork, half fingers.)

tpg: You met your assistant on the street?

HY: Yeah, twenty-eight years ago. (He pats his fist on his heart.) I trust him. When times are good, I pay him well. When times are not so good, he works for me for nothing.

tpg:  I dream of such a project like what you did; capturing life through photographs, gaining an understanding of the human condition. Where are these images?

HY: (laughing) We had an opening at a gallery in Los Angeles. Low turn-out. I think they're in one of my storage units in LA.

tpg: Do you have any children?

HY: Yes. Two daughters. You know we will all die with at least one regret and that will be mine.

tpg: What do you mean?

HY: I divorced their mother when they were very young because I wanted to travel the world, do my art, make money and I never saw my daughters or my wife. I was the father that never went to school plays or functions. The absent guy. My daughters never had the opportunity to know me. They hated me for a long time.
But now is Chapter 2.

tpg: Chapter 2?

HY: Yes. I have a second chance. I have apologized to them and have a pretty good relationship with them now. (laughing)  That is, when I can see them!  They are so busy, I have to make an appointment one year in advance!

tpg: Your art is very eclectic; oil on canvas, pop art, photography, ceramic cartoonish sculptures, posters, lasers. What are you working on now?

HY: I'm working on more canvases of ink on rice paper. You should see my living room! My living room is about 900 sq feet and it's a mess!! It's where I work.

tpg: What inspires you?

HY:  People. Yeah, I like to capture people and the actions of people.

tpg: I was blown away by your world-wide notoriety.  You must have the opportunity to meet many people because of your work.

HY: I hate people. Well, those people. The art world is like governments; crooked, greedy and pretentious.  They want me to sell at Christie's and to their private buyers and I won't. Most artists despise me. They think I'm stupid; a crazy recluse. I don't care. I value the apple tree that I've grown from a tiny seed more than any piece of art; theirs or mine.

tpg: Are you? A crazy recluse?

HY: (laughing) I'm here with you, aren't I?

HY: Check! (calling to our waiter) I'm going to meet a friend of mine in King City to look at a vineyard he purchased but hasn't seen yet.

tpg: Your friend bought a vineyard without seeing it?

HY: Yeah.  I've never been to King City. Have you?

tpg: (laughing) Ahh...yes. It's nothing to write home about!  Oh! And thanks so much for lunch! 

HY:  See you soon.


Saturday, October 12, 2013

Billie~A Piece of Oral Herstory

I met Billie one foggy afternoon two years ago. It was a Sunday and I know that for a fact because Billie only comes into the teashop on Sundays; always at 2:00.  She gets out her four dollars and her frequent flyer card, as I wash my hands and begin to prepare her bowl of premium matcha. She requests the same bowl; the one that "sufficiently holds the heat."
Billie is a different sort.  A misfit. She's the single, tiny piece of washed sea glass in a beach of a million granules of sand. She did not want to be photographed.

tpg: Thanks for sitting with me, Billie. I hope I can honor you in a way most deserving of the person that you are. Let's begin by you telling me a bit about your childhood. Where did you grow up? What were your interests?

Billie:  (rubbing her eyes and looking everywhere except at me) I grew up in Massachusetts and then in Hawaii, which was interesting to say the least. I always preferred Boston, you know, it was the 1950's and 60's and so on and so forth. Segregation, good old-fashioned lynching's were a hot topic and of course, I wasn't going down south, no way no how.

tpg: What was interesting about Hawaii?

Billie: I mean it was horrific at times because I wasn't Hawaiian or Samoan!!! (She's shouting) I was a "toe-head" for god's sake!!

tpg: Did you have trouble making friends?

Billie: I didn't need friends. I preferred books. Mother always bought me books. I read the entire Bible, THE KING JAMES VERSION, (shouting) by the time I was 11 years old!

tpg: Wow! And you were an only child, right?

Billie:  Yes, I was. My parents were a bit eccentric. I was most likely a mistake. Well, I shouldn't say mistake, but certainly a surprise! (laughter)

tpg:  Were you closer to one than the other?

Billie:  I found them both excruciatingly high functioning. In later years, after mother had long passed, I ended up caring for my father and during that time, we became somewhat close, though his dementia grew horns every now and then.

tpg: Would you consider either of them role models for you?

Billie: I think not! Aunt Margaret was who I went to for advice, direction and books.  Additional books. She and Yosko.

tpg: Yosko?

Billie: Yosko hailed from Tokyo and knew how to cook like nobody's business. I had my first bowl of matcha in her studio and I loved her dumplings. I need to buy some cut flowers when I go to the farmer's market for my English's the only place I can find fresh ones, well, except Grove Market... and put them on her grave. Maybe I can get some ribbon at Beverly's.
I think they're having a sale.

tpg: Are you a coupon-cutter like my mom was?

Billie: Well, not really. I suppose I could be. But I sure can look a good deal in the face!

tpg: So, I'm gonna take a sudden turn and ask you about your dis-ease.

Billie: HA! It's a pain in the you know what because while most people can cry, I cannot. So instead, I have this enormous amount of rage that's like two burnt holes in a blanket. You're gonna read about me one day on the front page...Woman beats the crap out of domestic abuser because she can't feel sad about it.

tpg: So what's the medical term for what you have?  I've watched you put liquid in your eyes for almost 2 years now.

Billie:  I have kertoconjuctivitis sicca...Which basically means, I have no tears. DRY EYES! The doctors that I deal with don't seem to be worth a half a cent. I keep trying to find one that knows what the hell is going on!!

tpg: Gonna take another turn and ask you, do you ever feel lonely?

Billie: Do you?

tpg: Touché! Not often. But I guess I'm fortunate to have a partner and many friends in my life. I like how you turned my question on me!

Billie:  (laughing) I don't mind being alone. I'm used to it. I've lived in my apartment for 44 years. They do need to update the plumbing and fix the water pressure, but Pauline, the daughter of my slum lord, is easily agitated. Specifically, I walk on eggshells around her. 

tpg: Do you kill her with kindness?

Billie: I'd like to just kill her. Then I suppose you'd read about it in the headlines of the morning paper, but yes. (gathering her worn leather purse and reusable shopping bag)
tpg: You seem as if you're getting ready to go. Just a few more questions...

Billie: I have a lot to accomplish today. I need to steam my vegetables and press my shirts. I should sweep and air out the rugs and so on and so forth. 

tpg: I know you work at the library. Do you go in early tomorrow? 

Billie: It's a 6-day work week. They, the powers that be, want me to take some time off. I have too many weeks of vacation days to count. Hell, they probably wish I'd retire.

tpg: How old are you, Billie?

Billie: No comment. (laughing)

tpg: Fair enough. Thanks for this. See you next Sunday.


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Interview with a Two-InaHave Year Old

Obtaining and documenting oral histories (or herstories as the case may be) takes time. Not only does it take time, but it takes opportunity, some thought and luck. As I wait for the above mentioned components, in order to share with each of you a little slice of the human experience or "life on the street", I offer up the following interview with The Cousin.  It is my first interview in hopefully an interesting series. The Cousin was born with her daddy's (abba) hairline on April 29, 2011.  Her momma was in labor for god knows how many hours, but throughout the night.  Thank Jesus the Royal Wedding was on to distract her. She was named after the matriarch of the family, their great aunt who was a retired nun. She was 97 years young when The Cousin was born.  Her parents  continue to give her, warmth, stability and love, crazy love...

tpg: "So you are two years old?"

The Cousin: "No, Wallery. I am two-inahave."

tpg: "Oh yes! You are two and a half!"

tpg: "So, tell me what a two and a half year old likes to do."

The Cousin: "Well, I like to go to the park and play puzzles and I like to watch Cinderella."

tpg: "Do you get to watch Cinderella every day?"

The Cousin: "No, just a little bit." (holding up her right thumb and index finger to indicate about an inch)

tpg: "Why?"

The Cousin: "I dunno. Because momma and abba say not too much tv."

tpg: "How do you feel about that?"

The Cousin: "I feel mad about that because I love Cinderella and Gus and the Prince." (picking her nose.)

tpg: "What's your favorite part of Cinderella? Do you like the part when the mice make her dress? or when she cleans the floor? or when the pumpkin turns into a carriage?"

The Cousin: "No. I like the ball. I want to go to the ball. (running to the couch) Come on, Sweet Pea, let's dance..."(she pulls at her cousin who is content eating a cracker on the couch and shows great refusal.)

tpg: "Don't you also like taking pictures?"

The Cousin: "Yes I do."

Her Still Lifes:

Her Portraits:

tpg: "What's your favorite food to eat?"

The Cousin: "I like cookies and grapes.  And raisins!"

tpg: "Do you like cinnamon?"

The Cousin: "Yes, I love cinnamon!" (big smile)

tpg: "Do you like chocolate?"

The Cousin: "Yes, I like chocolate. Can I have a cupcake from Uncle Matt's birthday?"

tpg: "How about a half of one?"

The Cousin: "No, Wallery. A whole one!"

The Cousin: "Can we go outside now?"

tpg: "Yes we can. Thanks for talking with me today."

The Cousin: "It's ok."

Stay tune, readership, for interview # 2 next week...with a grown-up of interesting proportion.