The Accidental Author: Two job lay-offs to full-time writer

You ask a bartender or waiter around here, ‘What do you do?’ They say, ‘I’m an actor, I’m a singer, I’m a student, I’m a writer.’ After a couple of years, you have to be honest with yourself. ‘I’m a bartender, waiter, waitress.’ Life is what happens to you while you’re waitin’ for your ship to come in. — Uma Thurman as Glory the waitress, Mad Dog and Glory (1993)

By Alan O’Hashi — from True Stories of a Mediocre Writer

My name is Alan, and I’m a mediocre writer and proud of it. I didn’t wake up one morning when I was a kid and say to myself, “Someday, I want to grow up to be an author and write the Great American novel.” I think in the school aptitude survey, I wanted to be a policeman.

We all have our origin stories. Why I ended up writing this book revolves around one of my true stories that began in 2006 after being laid off from two real jobs in three years.

I’ll recount the various ships that came into port and I boarded. All of them led someplace and eventually where I’ve ended up today, as a full-time writer.

If a guy like me who has boarded and disembarked any number of ships through a lifetime can end up as an accidental author, anyone can.

Growing up, my parents didn’t steer me towards any particular interest. My dad started out working for wages at the Coca-Cola Bottling Company in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

He clawed his way up to manage production and stayed with Coke for 46 years retiring from the same job in Laramie, 45 miles west.

When I was born, Mom stayed at home with me, and a couple of years later, my sister, Lorinda, came along. After my sister and I were in college, Mom eventually went back to work.

After retiring from her job, she started “Sumiko’s Art,” a successful art business that was active literally up until the moment she died suddenly of a brain aneurysm in 2003.

If my parents pounded anything into my head, it was an expectation of upward mobility. My parents were products of the American Way by choice, but even more so following World War II.

There was still blatant racial prejudice toward the Japanese, including in Cheyenne.

Blending in was a matter of survival for my parents and eventually for my sister and me.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but it took a lot of courage for my parents to stick it out in Cheyenne after World War II ended with Hiroshima and Nagasaki’s annihilation in 1945.

That must have been sobering. I can’t remember the atomic bomb ever being discussed around the house, except following a family activity watching a movie on TV with Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner called On the Beach (1959) about the world after World War III.

“The Americans are the only ones to drop the bomb,” my dad said. There was no mention of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I didn’t learn about that until high school history class.

That was the first time I was given the “talk,” the one-on-one advice that non-white parents give their kids about behaving in American Anglo culture. The “talk” has come to light around current racial injustice events.

“You be good, don’t draw attention to yourself.” my mom warned. “Whatever you do bad, that reflects on all of us. Anything you do that’s good won’t be noticed.”

There were also high levels of international tension. It didn’t help that the possibility of nuclear war was ever-present when I was a kid. The Cuban missile crisis in 1961 was on everyone’s minds back then.

That was a time of international tension when Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev installed medium and intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Cuba.

That was a defensive move after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion by the US. The clandestine military operation was in support of Cuban forces that opposed the Fidel Castro regime.

There is a literary tie-in. According to various accounts, author Ernest Hemingway lived in Cuba starting in the 1940s until he exiled himself in 1960 amid political tension in Havana.

In 1961, Castro imposed a travel ban that stranded Hemingway’s stuff in his home known as Finca Vigia.

Kennedy made arrangements for Hemingway’s fourth wife and widow, Mary, to return to Cuba and bring back her late husband’s papers and other belongings that now are in possession of the JFK Library.

Kennedy quotes Hemingway in the preface of his book Profiles in Courage (1955), that’s about the human traits behind solid political leadership, “grace under pressure.”

As the Cuban crisis played out, Kennedy and Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) Premier Nikita Khrushchev looked down the barrels of nuclear war.

The two leaders finally agreed that Russia would dismantle its missiles in exchange for the U.S. lifting a military quarantine of Cuba that was imposed shortly after spy planes documented the presence of Soviet nuclear missiles being installed there.

Not only was the prospect of nuclear war a part of the national agenda, but Cheyenne was also the command center for the US Air Force Atlas nuclear missile program in the 1960s.

The highest concentration of nuclear missiles in the country was situated in southeast Wyoming.

It was commonplace that one of the typical Cub Scout tours was to a nuclear missile silo.

When I was growing up in Cheyenne, post-World War II, xenophobia amplified because the Heart Mountain war relocation center located in northwest Wyoming was one of 10 camps dispersed through the United States interior.

After the Empire of Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, widespread hysteria followed.

In February of 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 that ordered, in the name of national security, approximately 120,000 Japanese, mostly American citizens residing on the West Coast, to be sorted, then transported to a relocation camp.

What was odd, there were more attacks by Nazi Germany on the east coast of the US between January and June 1942.

According to Ed Offley in his book The Burning Shore: How Hitler’s U-Boats Brought World War II to America (2014), German U-Boats sank 226 merchant ships compared to one attack by Japan on Santa Barbara, California, yet no German — Americans were relocated.

The Heart Mountain relocation camp population numbered 10,000 to 14,000 Japanese isolated behind barbed wire and under the watchful eye of armed guards. At the time, the Heart Mountain camp was the third-largest city in the state behind Casper and Cheyenne.

After World War II, the Japanese threat was replaced by a new one. This time from Communism and the USSR, marking the beginning of the Cold War.

Political pundits called the ideological conflict “cold” because the tensions between the US, USSR, and their respective allies weren’t fought on a battlefield but rather by spreading their brand of politics based on nuclear weapon arsenal strength.

The Wyoming Alien Land Act enacted in 1946 is further evidence of the anti-Japanese sentiment in the state. The Act prohibited land sale to Japanese immigrants once they were released from the Heart Mountain camp.

Despite all that, my dad saved enough to buy a small house on the gateway to the “other side of the tracks.”

My mom and dad were native-born American citizens. My dad’s brother Richard and sister Elsie purchased my paternal grandparent’s house. I’m pretty sure my maternal grandparents entrusted my mom and dad with at least some of their money.

After the War, my parents invested in a few acres of vacant land east of town. They eventually sold that, which enabled us to move into the Cole Addition suburb of east Cheyenne.

After that move, we were now living the American Way during the 1960s — ranch home, two cars, two kids, and a neighborhood swimming pool.

All the kids walked a few blocks to Fairview Elementary School. I think getting to know my schoolmates outside of the classroom was a good thing. We all charged through one another’s homes.

That gave me insight into the lifestyles of families other than my family and extended families. I learned to live in two worlds: my Japanese family and the other, the neighborhood.

My parents wanted better for us, which is one of the main reasons we moved to the Cole Addition.

My maternal grandparents were in town. Mom was at the top of her high school class but chose to be married and become a stay-at-home mom. They provided support to her when my sister and I needed childcare.

Mom’s sister Hisako ended up going to college and eventually retired from a mid-level management career at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

She purchased my grandparent’s home on their behalf. She didn’t marry.

Their brother George was in a mixed-race relationship. He and Auntie Perry were married elsewhere. I think Kansas since mixed marriages were unlawful in Wyoming until 1965.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in the landmark decision in Loving v. Virginia, struck down miscegenation laws nationally in 1967.

Going to college wasn’t even on my father’s mind. He had a big family based in Cheyenne, including my grandparents and five of 12 brothers and sisters.

We had plenty of relatives around that provided lots of family support. Holidays were always a blast. My parents put out a big spread for Thanksgiving, plus both sets of grandparents made dinners, too. There were always leftovers. That explains why I can eat roasted turkey any day, any time.

I had the best of the two worlds I straddled. Our versions of traditional Anglo-Christian holidays had a Japanese flair to them. Life in suburbia was a good complement to that.

The Cole Addition suburb was a good place to grow up. Garage doors always open, and the neighbors all knew each other. The smells of suburbia were unmistakable.

On Saturday mornings, the putt-putt-putt of Pratt and Whitney mower engines puffed out a mixture of oil and gasoline exhaust.

Later in the afternoon, those scents were replaced by the smoke from barbecue grill briquettes heating up after “flamed on” with that low-grade lighter fluid and hamburger grease mist filling the air at weekend parties during warm and still summer evenings.

I didn’t get out much back then and still am a homebody. I don’t know if there was any differentiation between introverts and extroverts. There’s a personality measurement tool called the Meyers — Briggs test.

I’ve taken it several times and based on how I respond to various situations. The survey says I’m an introvert — INFP, to be exact. If you’re curious about what that means, it is easily googled.

There aren’t many INFPs in the world, which explains my strong connection to other INFPs and why I was a loner growing up and easily self-entertained.

I still immerse myself in writing projects with no distractions around having to be in constant contact with other people.

I was close to a few of the neighbor kids, but beyond that, I was very content to sort out my baseball cards by myself or work on various art projects, which is what I was the best at in school.

All I wanted to do was make art and write stories, but pesky arithmetic classes and reading books I didn’t understand always disrupted my childhood workflow.

What did I end up being when I grew up? It wasn’t by my choice, but I now see it was my destiny.

A funny thing happened while I was waiting for my ship to come in. I got tired of the wait and boarded another one instead and kept boarding different ships.

The most recent time I came ashore, I became a writer who writes the true stories of students, bartenders, and waiters. If another interesting ship docks, I’ll probably climb onto that one to see where it leads.

Over the past few months during Corona Virus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) isolation, I’ve been able to catch up on some writing projects I’d been putting off and chronicle my experiences during the pandemic.

Procrastination turned out to be a good thing. My cathartic musings are good fodder that informs my revived writing project updates with introspection that is more personal and current event angles.

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Alan O'Hashi, Views from Behind the Lens

Alan O'Hashi, Views from Behind the Lens

Have Typewriter-Will Travel: I’m a filmmaker & author. My book “Beyond Heart Mountain” was just released by Winter Goose Publishing www.beyondheartmountain.com