Friday, October 2, 2015

We Are the World. Okay, Not Really.

Finally, a few answers.

And big news! I'm a white guy!

I've suspected this for a long time. My lips are so thin I can curl them inward and floss my teeth with my mustache stubble. I'm working it up to a Sonicare-type pulse, but I must practice this alone.

Anyway, right, big surprise—I'm cauc-freaking-asian. Not hard to surmise, since I like Rush (the band, not the douchenozzle), and my veins still run slow and chunky with full-fat cream-of-mushroom soup from all those acres of potlucks.

And, like fifty-three-year-old guys of many cultures, I had no idea what to ask for for my birthday last summer. Socks maybe? A tasty canned ham and some Ritz Crackers? Enticing for sure, but let's put those in our back pocket for next time, because, one evening in July over drinks and Mexican food, a friend told us she'd had her DNA analyzed at For around a hundred bucks, she explained, you spit in a little test tube, mix it with a chemical, seal the tube and mail it in a prepaid package to a lab in, um, somewhere.

Our friend's genetic heritage was ninety-nine percent Scandinavian with some trace elements of African. Oh really? After hearing her describe the various regions and how each possessed unique genetic markers, I decided to request the ethnicity estimate for my birthday.

Oh, and hey, for those of you who may feel reticent, and without delving into any distasteful minutia, it was the most effortless DNA sample I've yet to commit to the bottom of a far.

Anyway, fast forward to Wednesday, when, as they say in a corporate setting, I was "pinged" with the results. My heart raced. From which primordial stew did I arise? Why do I tan but my brother looks like a blue-skinned Shumai dumpling in the August sun?

I started thinking, as currently-thriving human beings on the planet Earth, we've all got to have some fairly robust genes, wouldn't you agree? Let's face it, we can freak ourselves out considering the minuscule odds that were overcome to lead to our existence, so for God's sake, congrats to us all!

I clicked open the page that revealed my genetic makeup:

I'm 25% of Scandinavian descent—Not to brag, but if you compare my brother to me, I've got significantly more Viking in me. My eyes are blueish-grey and I've an aptitude for push-ups. He's got muddled, dilated brown eyes and a fourth nipple. He's also got these abnormally large earlobes that make him gain weight when he eats too much salt or cheese.

21% Great Britain—Makes sense. The Cliffs of Ben Dover were a convenient port for Leif Ericson  & Company to enjoy some much-anticipated bangers and mash on the way to Liverpool to pick up a crate of the new Herman's Hermits 45s.

20% Ireland—I'm not going to lie. I love being Irish. I'm so proud of my maternal grandfather, Patrick Joseph Conway, who made a life for himself and his family after leaving Westport, County Mayo, for New York in 1905.

15% Iberian Peninsula (Spain, Portugal, Andorra and France)—Okay, this made the whole thing worth it. I'm a Spaniard! Actually, if you are of Irish descent, chances are that you're also of northern Spanish origin. Throughout the middle ages, sea travel proved far more speedy than land exploration through Europe due to dense European forests.

That's when the Milesians from Basque Country in northern Spain made a quick nautical junket up to Ireland, ensconced themselves in the recently-widowed Celtic populace...and taught them to dance like never before.

The rest (13%) is western European. I suppose that's where I get my love of a good poop joke.

Kind of crazy to think that Vikings can swoop in from the north and Milesians can invade from the south, and somehow, despite all of those non-Biblical relations, some dude in Seattle ends up being around to write about it.

Done now. Must dance.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Fear and Hatred: This Year's Running Mates.

Wow, that didn't take long. Already, things are heatin' up all good and hot.

With a year still to go until the election, the mud's been flying like spittle from a stuck razorback. It won't take long for all that aerial muck to form quicksand beneath most of the field, but right now, no fewer than fifteen Repub hopefuls currently contend for the silver medal next November.

Did you watch the debates last week? I missed the JV contest, but made it home in time for the main event, the one featuring the eleven highest pollers. Entertaining theater overall, the candidates sweltered under the kliegs for three hours, with Mike Huckabee joking afterwards that he'd sweat through both his women's underwear and his wool suit.

Without delving too far into each candidate's performance, only former Hewlitt-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina bolstered her position in the pecking order by smacking down that misogynist meathead, Donald Trump. The rest of the roster just looked flustered and a little desperate,. For a moment, former Florida governor Jeb Bush even looked like he wanted to punch the Jersey Ginger. Seriously, I haven't seen Jeb that pissed since Dubya puked in his little brother's Chihuly bong.

Dr. Ben Carson also hurt himself in the debate. The soft-crooning pediatric neurologist made only a half-baked attempt at dispelling Trump's baseless assertions regarding a link between childhood immunizations and autism. Appearing tentative at the thought of attracting the Wrath of Don, Dr. Carson meekly ended his evening with, "Real leadership is what I would hopefully bring to America."

Hopefully? That's about as presidential as tweeting on the toilet.

Following the debate, Fiorina rocketed to second place at 15% support in a national CNN/ORC poll, leapfrogging Carson's 14% and creeping toward Trump's 24% rating.

Sensing an irreversible fade, the brain surgeon went all in. On Sunday's Meet the Press, Chuck Todd asked Carson, "Should a President’s faith matter?"

"Well, I guess it depends on what that faith is," Dr. Carson replied. "If it’s inconsistent with the values and principles of America, then of course it should matter. But if it fits within the realm of America and consistent with the Constitution, no problem."

Todd followed up with: "So do you believe that Islam is consistent with the Constitution?"

"No, I don’t, I do not," Carson said. "I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that."

As you might expect, while the good doctor's approval rating flat-lined, his donations exploded that Sunday like a moist Twinkie in a hot car, securing a cool million dollars within the first 24 hours of his assertion.

Ignoring the public backlash after catching the savory whiff of greenbacks, Carson doubled down on Monday: “I do not believe Sharia is consistent with the Constitution of this country,” he said in an interview with The Hill, referencing the Islamic law derived from the Koran and traditions of Islam. “Muslims feel that their religion is very much a part of your public life and what you do as a public official, and that’s inconsistent with our principles and our Constitution.”

Granted, this man is a highly accomplished physician, but does he actually possess the acuity to know how someone feels? Well, that's definitely part of the problem, but what I'm trying to understand is this: Ben Carson is saying that those who are ruled by their religion, those who place God over all else, are ignoring the Constitution and are thus not fit to govern in America.

Alas, how can such hypocrisy spring from such a learned individual? What Carson conveniently forgets is that his main supporter base is Christian evangelicals.These and all other Americans are protected, he claims, by the First Amendment, guaranteeing the unencumbered free exercise of religion with zero governmental interference.


Throughout history, only a handful of folks have experienced the privilege of speaking with God personally. Let's see, there was Joseph Smith, but he needed quite a few props to pull it off, and Russell Wilson had that brief touch-base with the Big Guy on the sideline after the touchdown-that-wasn't last February.

Oh, yeah, I almost forgot. This also happened:

If you are a practicing evangelical, you believe that God reigns supreme over all worldly kings and his laws form the basis of each inalienable right we enjoy as Americans. But what if God had something additional to say—and it was to you?

You'd probably freak out quite a bit at first, but he'd patiently wait for you to calm the hell down because he's God and time's not an issue. As your knees slowly stopped knocking together, his words would boom slowly and kindly:

"I, God, hereby command you to commit an act of terrorism against the United States."

What would you do? Would you say, "Hey...umm...listen...I'm pretty sure you're not actually my God," then immediately punch up Yelp for other religions in your zip code? Or do you obey him faithfully because his law supersedes all other and thus screw the pooch of patriotism?

Smart as he is, I think Ben Carson might want to rethink his position on the rights of American Muslims. His comments hurt everyone, not the least of which are his most fervent supporters, and the bigotry and fear he garners only energize the most ignorant and dangerous among them.

Unfortunately, money seems to talk a lot louder than God these days.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Be Cool, Fool: It's the First Day of School

It's hard not to love fall here in the PNDub—the warm, murky rains, the crisp, bright mornings—the giddy optimism that jolts my spirits on the eve of another football season...

Wow, sorry, I just got a little physically excited there. Okay, I'm good. There's still another reason why autumn is my runaway winner of Most Valuable Season:

It's back-to-school time. I miss it, do you? It's alive and well in my house, where only two family members aren't returning to the piny confines of academia this fall: me and my toothless cat, Leo. Everyone else will be either fifth-grade teaching or high-school-sophomoring or college-junioring-and-moving-into-a-house-off-campus-with-three-friends-and-a-55-inch-TV.

Remember that night before that first day of school? I do. I always slept fitfully, waking often to gaze through the darkness at my opening day outfit draped over the chair, an ensemble assembled through painstaking, patience-trying trips to Sears, Penney's, the Bon Marché. Thank you, Mom.

Every summer, I'd reassure myself that I'd look totally cool but not enough to stand out. Each first day marked the only time I'd dress up for school, but I'd also be committed to that outfit for the duration of the church and Sunday school year.

In kindergarten, a gold turtleneck was my statement piece. Just to give you an idea, here's a sketch for a turtleneck pattern from 1968.

Okay, is it just me, or is that guy trending a little closer to the camel toe than the moose knuckle? Glad the pattern wasn't for those pants.

Throughout the elementary years, my first-day clothing choices varied between the more-dressed-up...

(I'm not kidding, my fifth grade garb was freakishly close to these guys standing here with their wife.) the utilitarian. Sears Toughskins were a staple. They came in a wide array of dimensions, a major asset for the fussy, tubby shopper.

After a growth spurt during junior high, my body stretched out, allowing for more appealing choices:

I looked up to all three of these guys. The one in the hat is Mr. Penny, my P.E. teacher. In the middle is Mr. Barnes, who taught social studies and coached the map club, and then the dude on the right was Mike, who said he did security at our school but I'm pretty sure he just sat around and looked at girls. I took this picture in the lunchroom right after this kid Lonnie spilled pork gravy on Mrs. Olson. Her mouth started twitching, and I seriously thought she was going to punch him.

Oh, and here's Charlie's Angels, just because:

Have a great autumn!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

If You Like Piña Coladas...

Please understand—I understand.

Sitting through a vacation slideshow can kind of suck.

Who doesn't remember those Saturday evenings at your Great Aunt Pedreen's house, bored out of your gourd and anxious to get home in time for Mary Tyler Moore, or at the very latest The Bob Newhart Show. You've already spent four hours trying not to stare at Great Uncle Odgar's unrepaired hernia flap and you're ready to purge their chipped-beef-smelling Davenport from your teenage memory bank.

Your aunt feverishly clears the dessert dishes, boosting your spirits with her apparent desire for an accelerated end to the evening's festivities. You arise, hopeful that but one final obstacle lies ahead: the inevitable bosomy grind and slushy smooch from Pedreen's frustrated spinster sister, Latreena.

But alas, even before the kitchen sponge's snail trail can evaporate into the musty air, Uncle Od enters the room and lowers the slide projector onto the dining room table—gingerly, lest his hernia distend his tender abdomen another belt hole. At the sight you lower yourself back into your chair, pissed and discouraged that you'll be lucky to get home for the last half of Carol Burnett.

I'll try to keep things brief since that memory is apparently a bit tarter than I had thought.

My family and I are back from two weeks in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Here's where the place is in the big picture:

And here's it is up close:

Located at the tip of the Baja Peninsula, Cabo is situated atop the Los Amnesias Aquifer, Earth's only known natural Tequila spring.

I don't expect you to feel sorry for us, but as KISS famously said in two chords or less, it was hotter than Hell. Seriously, I'm typing this post so obnoxiously sunbaked, I look like a blackened pot roast with glistening teeth and slowly-diminishing intestinal distress.

Our fifteen-day excursion to Los Cabos was divided into two segments: the first week with friends and the second with family. Here's the initial group:

Left to right, that's me, my wife Terri, Becky, Isabella, Pete, Lauryn, Zoe and her friend David.

We've known Becky and Pete since the days of Bartles, James and Glass Tiger. As soon as the four of us were convinced that Y2K wouldn't cause locust infestations and permanent Windows-based computing:

Izzy and Lauryn came along.

The first week we stayed at a place called Villa del Palmar. If you're familiar with these timeshare facilities, you understand that upon check-in, you're assaulted by the sales department. Okay, maybe "assault" is a little tough. Let's go with "violation."

We've lodged a few times at these types of places, but never agreed to attend one of their "seminars." This time, however, lured by the ambrosia of two hundred dollars in free adult beverages, a complimentary breakfast and fifteen percent off everything merely to sit through a ninety-minute tour and sales pitch, we capitulated. After all, how bad could it be?

Bad. How can I describe this? First of all, I was super hot from the get-go, just embarrassingly sweaty. My body irrigated itself with increasing gusto as the tour droned on, ultimately settling on a sultry hundred and three Fahrenheit. We toured all sizes of units from one-bedrooms to penthouse suites overlooking the Sea of Cortez.

Finally, like a Slurpee after hot yoga, our family was ushered into an air-conditioned room, packed with people sitting at tables and drinking alcohol in all imaginable forms. We settled into our own table with our own sales woman, a spritely imp half my age who used the word "awesome" like she owned freaking stock in it. Sporadically, the hollow "bolp" of a popping cork would fill the air, announcing another condominium purchase and two tickets to paradise for a lucky, albeit debt-saddled, couple.

Two-and-a-half hours and several offers later, our blond tormentor brushed back her bob, straightened her specs and looked at us.

"Okay, I understand you don't want to pay $52,000 for a unit here. That's awesome. Just tell me what you want."

My wife is a straight shooter. I am not, and that's one of the reasons I love and admire her so much. "What we want is for your presentation to be done," she said, looking Sally Jessie Raphael, Jr. dead in the eye. "The only reason we did it is to get the stuff and we told you that from the beginning. You told us this would be ninety minutes. It's now two and a half hours."

Silence engulfed the air around our table. Finally Barbie's little sister took a deep, uncertain breath."Okay," she said. "Awesome."

Phase Two was family week and here we are. At the edge of the infinity pool are my brother-in-law Andy, my sister Ann, niece Holly, Lauryn, Zoe, Terri and me. We spent week two at Hacienda Encantada, a few more miles down the coast from Cabo.

We quickly became acquainted with Pam, the woman in the floppy hat. Prior to knowing Pam's name, we called her Hurricane Sandy, since she told us within minutes of meeting her that she'd been though Cabo's Hurricane Odile last September. She was enjoying a free stay after enduring the Baja Peninsula's most destructive tropical cyclone in recorded history.

Here's how it looked coming in:

Not sure I've ever seen a storm with actual teeth before. Holy shit.

Okay, let's not wrap things up on a bad note, because Cabo San Lucas is a fantastic place. I've never known lamb to resurface so quickly after a major natural disaster, but like a beacon in the darkness...

On another note, Zoe was so thrilled that these guys knew the whole Neil Diamond catalog.

And I finally found the time to show the amazing fit of my new Speedo. 

Trust me, okay? 

Great to be back!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Seeing the Ocean for the Macaroni.

What's a good term for my situation?

Existential crisis? Nah, too dramatic.

It could be more of a midlife malaise, only that would imply I'll live to be 104, which would be fantastic. Problem is, if I'm currently peeing every morning in five languid installments, by the century mark I'll need a tasteful prostate pram to wheel around that leathery gland that partially popped free of my body in 2038.

No, I'll just assess this situation using a system to which we grew accustomed back in the Bush years—Irrelevance Alert Level Orange, or more formally defined as "a high risk of becoming paternally insignificant."

When I started keeping this journal six years ago, my children were ages fourteen and nine. I was fully immersed in nuclear family Americana, rarely poking my head through the surface in an ocean of macaroni, cheese and hot dog pennies.

Year after year, the fatherly importance threat level hovered at its lowest stage—Green—and only occasionally would it elevate to Level Blue, or "guarded." This slightly higher risk of irrelevance occurred only when one of my daughters did something unusually independent, like replacing toilet paper.

I coached soccer, I went on field trips; Costco wasn't a place to hit up real quick for a few odds and ends, it was a destination rivaling only the IKEA ball pit in kid curb appeal. Nearly every visit, after watching my grubby cherubs stuff their rosy cheeks with enough fro-yo to illicit unfettered shivering, I'd wrap them in their pink or purple jackets as we cruised the aisles looking for enough Gogurt and Goldfish to make it through another week.

My younger daughter was a bubbling aquifer of verbal treasures:

"I'm sorry. I just feel fragile today."

"When can I drink coffee? I want to try a crappuccino."

"You don't know how I feel! You're not inside my heart!"

Sure, life had its routines back when I started writing this weblog, but with kids in the house, the mundane could explode into the insane in the blink of a pink eye. Ever had someone vomit in your slipper...while it's still on your foot? Ever pulled a Barbie out of your coat pocket on the bus and wondered if you should try to explain it to the lady next to you?

Anyway, I think you get my point. I'm obviously still a dad who does a lot of dad stuff, but now I'm more the key grip than the director. During those days of high energy and overwhelming fatigue, I yearned for a future that allowed for a bit more breathing room. It happened. And with it came an abundance of time, and a heightened fear of irrelevance.

The Mayo Clinic defines empty nest syndrome as "parental feelings of sadness and loss when the last child leaves home." I disagree, since it's still another three years until my younger daughter goes to college.

I'm feeling it now, maybe not as severely as I will, yet still I never could have imagined the meaty chunk of my personal identity that's permanently and irrevocably embedded in my dad self. And currently, while it does make me sad, this is not yet the time to step aside.

After all, while the nest may be half empty, it's also half full.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Creamsicles and Copperfield.

Hi! Holy Crocs-in-the-mud, it sure has been a while, eh?

For me, writing is one of those deals that, when things are rolling, when I've got lots of ideas, can be very, very, very, very fun. Yet for every muse that whispers fragrant gifts of inspiration, a lazy Lucifer lurks. He taunts me with Netflix series, reality shows and naps, and it is under this douchebag demon's spell I have been moldering these past thirty-eight days. This must stop.

So let's review—how much do you remember about what's gone down in the last month-and-a-half? Actually, don't worry about it, because I looked it up, and let's just say that fortunately it's closer to the Bellagio buffet than Roy's Chuckwagon. So, just to refresh your memory:

On June 6, two inmates at Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate New York David Copperfielded their way out of the maximum security facility and stayed on the lam for over three weeks. One of them ended up with a tap-tap to the temple while the other was shot twice in the torso, survived and was recently remanded to Supermax to spend 23 hours a day in a box for the remainder of his life.

Meanwhile, Andrew Cuomo's casting call/cocktail parties continued every Thursday evening in the governor's mansion. Whomever is going to play Cuomo in the ABC Monday Night Movie of the Week is still too close to call, but so far, Alan Thicke leads after killing it in his press conference monologue. Hasselhoff, desperate and trying to show his chops by summoning tears, blew it in Cuomo's stern eyes. You could tell the gov's frowny grin that The Hof had blown it.

Remember the Rachel Dolezal affair? Spokane's NAACP leader was outed (by her own parents!) as being whiter than my brother's calves. I'm not going to judge this woman. I don't doubt what she says is true—that the situation is complex. But inevitably my mind strayed. Every time they showed those split-screen before/after photos, delicious Creamsicles hijacked my consciousness.

On the political front since June 3, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry and Donald Trump have lobbed their greazy top hats onto the rug of presidential candidacy, joining an already crowded field. I'll save the jokes for later posts—so many possibilities—but I did hear that Christie is still undecided. He actually showed up thinking he was in the line for maple bars.

Seriously, let's face it, good or bad, we can't have a president who wears his pants like Homer J. Simpson.

But shit got real on June 26. In a 6-3 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court proclaimed same-sex marriage legally enforceable in all fifty states and Florida. Amazing, isn't it? Especially for this fiftysomethinger who grew up in an era when the other F-word was tossed around with the frequency and ease of a Nerf football.

Oh, yeah, and chalk up another "W" for the good guys during June. In another 6-3 vote, the black-robed priests of the Temples of Syrinx upheld the Affordable Care Act, ensuring health insurance for ten million newly-insured Americans.

For all the messed up stuff that happens in this nation—the shootings, the religious and political polarization, it feels like together, we still seek a more enlightened society, which is heartening.

Next stop: fracking. Hopefully, we're able to become fully enlightened prior to becoming fully submerged.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Together at Heart.

What's your earliest memory? How far back can you go?

At a staff meeting in my accounting days, the managing partner (I'll call him Dave) sat at the head of the long conference table. That day's topic was choices.

"Some people believe," he said, his Otterpop-blue eyes drilling through bushy Scandinavian eyebrows, arched and challenging, "that we choose our parents in the womb."

I remember thinking, "Okay, what? That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard, and he's the head guy here?" And judging by the faces of my colleagues, I wasn't the only one thinking that. After a bloated silence, Jill, a tax attorney from Canada, propped her elbows up on the table.

"Dave," she said, "these people... are they friends of yours?"

It was one of those situations where one person laughed and it spread to three, then seven, then twenty-three, then forty employees in a small conference room, as Dave, ever the sporting chap, sat grinning and blushing.

Yet his question lingered. What is my earliest memory? After spending a little time ringing out the spongy, fifty-two-year-old grey matter, I've a vague recollection of propping myself up in a crib. It was a dark room in my grandma's house. I remember the fear of the dark in an unfamiliar place and the irritation at missing out on whatever was happening in Adultland: Place of Light and Stimulation.

But consider this: what if your first conscious memories emanate from the arid plains of the West? 
The winter wind stings your face and the sweltering July sun scorches your back. The images are blurred, but you remember looking down at your shoes in the dust, kicking rocks. It's home, and you are cherished. Everyone is within a few footsteps—cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, parents—your older brother. 

It's a good life.

This is the story of my friend Michel Kuwahara, whose first memories are as a toddler living at Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Park County, Wyoming.

Here's Michel, in his own words:

The location of the former concentration camp at Heart Mountain is barely more than the piece of local topography shown on Google Maps. A few decrepit barracks and a chimney stack are the only physical remains. The physical changes wrought by the camp's having been there are more obvious: the fact that it is now verdant farmland, while in 1942, when we were deposited there, it was arid wasteland. Internees from the Yakima Valley, who knew about farming in such unfriendly country, built an irrigation system that still serves the needs of the farmers who took over the site after the War.

Michel, at left, sits with his cousin Chico (Alan Kumamoto).

In February, 1942, all Japanese and their descendants who were living on the West Coast, were taken into custody on short notice. Many people lost much, or even, most of what they owned, including farms, other property, houses and cars. Thanks to the fact that my parents had many non-Japanese friends principally through my father's work, friends rallied round and agreed to hold property and possessions belonging to my family.

When we learned that multiple families from one address would be housed in close proximity wherever they were taking us, our extended family gathered at my grandfather's house the night before. We were recorded as residents of that address when they came for us, then taken to Santa Anita Racetrack to live for the six months it took to build the camps.

Then, after a long train ride, we arrived at Heart Mountain. The Camp's living quarters were divided into twenty blocks, of which we lived in Block No. 24. It's probably some kind of military logic. Each block had twenty five barracks divided in two, each half with a unit of six and one unit of seven barracks. I assume that the odd barrack was for "bachelors". Single women, I suppose, were expected to stay with "family". Each unit shared a mess hall and a toilet, bathing, laundry facility. The barracks had no water supply. As a toddler, I was bathed at home and I realized when I learned of the lack of plumbing, that someone had to carry my bath water from the laundry room. The same must have been true for watering my grandmother's garden.

Yet with all the ingenuity and resilience shown by your family and the other internees during those three-and-a-half years spent in exile, the topic was rarely discussed during the ensuing 70?

Very rarely.

Why do you think that is?

Two reasons: the first is cultural. We don't discuss unpleasant things. The second is personal. For many people, it was the great humiliation of their lives.

Your brother Denis (at left) was eight at the time. Had the two of you ever talked about it?

As a small child, it was natural for me to talk about the Camp. My parents and brother would answer my questions, but I would never have thought to ask them about their feelings.

So after all this time, what happened? What changed?

The Interpretive Center opened.

In 2011, the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation opened the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center. Michel and Denis participated in the 2014 annual gathering known as The Pilgrimage. Those two nattily dressed folks in the middle are Michel and Denis' grandparents, two-dimensional museum greeters. 

In the cut-out, my grandmother, newly arrived from Japan, is wearing her first Western-style dress made by my grandfather, a talented and able man. He was a physician, delivering 240 babies while he was at the Camp.

My grandparents had a traditional, arranged marriage. My grandfather agreed to marry the sister of one of his friends before leaving for the US. The friend sent my grandmother across the ocean when she had reached the right age.

Talk about your father—was he born in Los Angeles as well?

My father emigrated with his family to the United States in 1910. This would not have been possible, because of the "gentlemen's agreement" between the Governments of Japan and the United States which severely restricted emigration from Japan, had his older brothers not arrived in this country prior to the "agreement". The family was only allowed to emigrate because they were family of already established immigrants.

His name was Shin Rokuro Kuwahara. When the man at Immigration heard Rokuro, he told my father that his name was Robert Kuwahara. Professionally, my father took the name Bob Kuwahara and, for some time after the War, the name became Bob Kay, so that readers of his syndicated comic strip would not recognize him as Japanese.

And your mother?

She was born in San Francisco in 1904. In 1906, the building in which she had been living with her younger sister and her parents, was destroyed by the earthquake. Their temporary home, immediately after the Quake was the city's Presidio, where the Government had set up a tent city for victims of the disaster. They eventually moved to the East First Avenue section of Los Angeles which, by that time, was known as Little Tokyo which, by the nineteen-teens, had the largest immigrant Japanese population in the country.

My parents were married in 1933. This photograph was taken on the grounds of Frank Lloyd Wright's Hollyhock House, then property of the Los Angeles Art Institute. Since my father was an artist for Walt Disney Studios, he was able to use the location.

Goes without saying that Disney was a considerably smaller operation in 1933, yes?

Yes, but growing. During the mid-1930s, my father became involved creating concepts and storyboards for the studio's first full length feature, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs."

I think I've heard of it. And Mr. Disney was a hands-on manager, from what I understand. 

He personally approved or rejected every idea.

Here's an example of a sketch created by Bob Kuwahara for a scene in the witch's lair. In this case, the finished product doesn't stray much at all from the original:

Mr. Kuwahara left Disney in 1937 and joined MGM Studios, remaining an employee until February of 1942, when the west coast of the United States was deemed a "military zone" by Secretary of War Henry Stimson, and subject to the immediate evacuation of Americans of Japanese ancestry. Nearly two-thirds of those interned were U. S. citizens. Here's Michel again:

Upon arriving at Heart Mountain, my parents and I were chosen to appear in propaganda films meant to show the "good" face of The Evacuation. Having lived in a Caucasian area of Los Angeles, it must have been apparent that my parents were well-assimilated. And as a cute baby in my mother's arms, I was the perfect finishing touch. My eight-year-old brother would have been a cumbersome extra body, so he was left out.

We were shown arriving at our new "home." A later scene showed my mother reading to me in a pleasantly set-up room. I suppose that these scenes were shot in simulations. The reality was a single room with unfinished walls, a pot-bellied stove and a single light fixture.

That had to have been devastating to your parents, helping to perpetuate a lie while also excluding your brother.

I'm sure it was, but as I said, it was never discussed.

Here you are again, second from the right.

This has always been one of my favorite photographs. Notice how the photographer has perfectly framed Heart Mountain inside the baby swing. It also gives you some idea of the barren terrain of the place.

On December 17, 1944, President Roosevelt announced the end of the exclusion of Japanese Americans from the West Coast, thus allowing the return home of the internees. Did your family return to southern California?

No, we moved to Larchmont, a small town in Westchester County, New York. My parents had decided not to return to the racism of the West Coast. Although our new town was entirely Caucasian, they accepted my family for what we were and I did not experience prejudice in growing up there. Here I am at a birthday party. I'll let you guess which one is me.

That TV in the background is awesome, by the way.

Larchmont's ethnic mix was predominantly Anglo-American with healthy Irish, Italian and Jewish populations. There was a working-class section of town, predominantly Irish and Italian, but social division was based on economics rather than race. There were as many Irish and Italians living in the better sections of town as in the working class areas. 

Of African-Americans—"negroes," in the parlance of the day— there were none. It was the result of another "gentleman's agreement," whereby realtors simply agreed not to sell to blacks. When I learned, in my late teens, that a house across the street from our church was not sold to an African family—the father was an ambassador to the United Nations, no less—because of opposition particularly from the pastor of our church, it caused me to rethink my opinion of my adopted hometown and led me to leave the Church. 

My father's first post-War work was Miki, a comic strip based upon me as young child and my imaginary Uncle Harry:

Also occurring during that period, I discovered my aversion to authority in all its forms. I spent many ensuing years never looking into the photographer's camera. Here I am around age fifteen:

Apparently, teenagers aren't a heck of a lot different now than they were then. Did your father ever return to animation?

Yes. In 1950, he began writing and directing for Terrytoons Studio (Deputy Dawg, Hector Heathcote) For Hashimoto-san, he created the characters and directed 14 cartoons prior to his death in 1964.

What did your future hold?

I attended Fordham University and the School of Visual Art, both in New York City, followed by a year living in Paris. Here I am during that period.

I spent my most of my adult life living in New York City. I worked in the music management business, working primarily on publicity for classical artists. Later I became a freelance graphic artist, which I remained until retirement.

Which brings us back to Heart Mountain and August of 2014. How did you expect to feel returning home, so to speak?

I looked ahead to my visit to Heart Mountain with mixed feelings. I initially found the word "Pilgrimage" uncongenial because the word implies something spiritually profound and the meeting that was described sounded like an ordinary convention. I was wrong; it was a pilgrimage and I came away from it with profound feelings.

Reviewing the Camp through the eyes of the older detainees opened my own eyes to a view of the experience that was new to me. The things I had seen in films or read in books were at a remove. Being with fellow inmates, even though I had never met them before, enabled me to realize that, oblivious as I had been as a three-year-old, I had been surrounded by people, including my parents and brother, who were hurting badly from loss and that nothing that they could do would ever make this place the home for them that it had been for me.

Since his retirement, Michel has honed his skills as a talented gardener, musician, writer and poet. Here's a piece he recently created about the Pilgrimage, written in a Japanese poetry form known as Choka:

Returning to Heart Mountain
Took a courage now
That I am older and more
Susceptible to
The kinds of hurt that the young
Shrug off like rain drops

Could these green fields and meadows
Be the arid plains
That blew up gritty dust storms
And when it rained
Pooled up lakes of sticky mud
Sucking at your feet
My brother’s recollection
Horizontal snow
My father remembered his
Hair frozen solid
My mother refused to have
Memories at all

Returning to the Camp site
Took me beyond all
My family’s hurt and pain
I felt a kinship
With perfect strangers who had
Been inmates with me
What kind of feeling is it
When there is a bond
With those you have never met
But whose feet once stepped
Into the stream of that life
That only a few
Of us had ever shared and
Always remember

Ambiguous feelings wake
These mixed emotions
Returning to the place of
Why should it feel so like
Finally returning home

Thanks, Michel. Welcome home.