Y+Cabins: A Personal Essay

Yoko always seemed alone, almost hidden by an invisible veil, or web, lightly woven over her; or rather: the space between us seemed emptily cold. Yoko, the daughter of Jinko, and the wife of Richard, had a relation to us that seemed only connected by nothingness; by “us” I mean the Cochran family, white people in the USA; this proximity at a distance made my child-mind sense her deep sadness, or what I would now call melancholy.

I recall her standing, looking out over the valley her mother owned, in autumnal wear, a slightly puffy jacket, jeans: she seemed to both enjoy the view, the freedom of being so very alone, and also, which I sensed more palpably then, she also seemed to want to go home. Much later, Richard would go on to open a quite successful sushi restaurant in Grants Pass, Oregon. I suppose this enterprise would be necessary, as Jinko’s wealth came primarily for the 1980s-1990s Japanese construction boom that went bust. Years later, in 2015, I visited their ranch, the place where I spent my first conscious nine or so years, and I found it deserted, filthy and desolate. Overgrown bushes and walls of flaking paint, a stalled–once top of the line–Japanese purple backhoe, stood, just as I remembered it when it arrived. This foreign, streamlined and strangely garish construction equipment felt like to came from another planet. And there it sat, over a decade later, frozen in time.

A Buddha sat calmly on the patio of the little house where we, the Cochran family, the caretakers, had lived. Something that shook me, made me laugh a little, as my grandparents were perpetually paranoid about the “paganism” practiced in the Jinko residence. I recall being shown a photograph that allegedly had a ghost in it. I think Richard wanted to startle my grandfather.

When we lived there, roughly from 1989 until 2000, my grandfather had tended to the bushes, mowed the large heaths with a riding lawnmower, on which I first practiced ‘driving.’ My grandparents and I lived in modest bungalow; slabs of concrete formed the porch, where an eave covered what one might call a patio, and this concrete led to a large garage, always kept immaculately clean. Being of very poor stock, my grandparents appreciated the place to live, rent-free, and devoted their labors to the maintenance of the horse stables, the garden, the lawns and rock-roads to pay their dues. They had found the gig advertised in newspaper! Such was the time, 1989, which is also the year of my first memory, at the age of two, heading down a rocky road through a deeply forested, verdant paradise. We were lost. Something about being lost must have shaken my little child-mind to remember the moment: I clearly recall the interior of the van, the look of my grandmother turning her head around to see my mother. Their discussions about being lost, a map in my grandmother’s hands. The van, a Dodge caravan, had three rows of seats, and I do believe I was in the second row, but I could have been in the third, although I think that row was occupied by our luggage. My grandmother seems calm in this memory, yet also perplexed. It was before she would lose her mind some years later when we were forced out of this idyllic abode–a move that I think nearly killed her, and, not so incidentally, me.

We settled into the little house of the prairie, with the forest surrounding us, near a heath that had a large impression in the ground; during the rainy season, this impression, which looked a great deal like the type of hole a meteorite had made some–centuries?–ago, would fill with water creating a transitory pond. Another road led almost to the edge of the Applegate river; this river was a place of great relief, and I recall many times wandering in its dry flood-zone during the summer months, under the brightly lit leaves of the deciduous trees, among the pines and firs, finding a rusted out old car that had washed up. My grandfather and I inspected this car; I suppose it hearkened from the 1940s or so. The alluvial plane gave way to forested, rockier slopes, and eventually, upwards, led to Jinko’s house. Although the two-or-so mile road leading to her ranch was made of dirt, rocks and pebbles, the road that winded its way up to her home was paved. A gate, stood at the entrance of the paved road, demarcating class more than providing security (anyone could walk around the gate). Below the main road stood our little house. A dirt-rock road twisted down, in the opposite direction of the Jinko’s gate, so that when you approached our home you saw it from above. The roof, I remember the roof of that little house–a rusty red. Alongside the short road that led off from the main road to our house, a dirt thoroughfare that led onward to several more properties, to our house, stood a small, red wooden cabin. A space to park a car or two was carved out around the cabin. My uncle, Rob, lived there. He would be the reason we had to leave.

Architectural Memory Doodle, Little House in the Woods, 2020 by Tony Robert Cochran

Rob robbed Jinko of a family heirloom, an expensive kimono, and although he returned it, after what I presume was an agonizing discussion with my grandparents, the trust between the two families had been broken irreparably. I would only learn of his transgression years later, and it made me very angry that my grandparents always treated Rob, their man-child of a son, much better than they ever treated me. But I know it is because he made babies, fucked women, never got baptized as a Jehovah’s Witness and so was immune to being formally, theologically that is, ‘disfellowshiped;’ despite leaving a trail of emotionally scarred children, his heterosexuality both protected him from my grandparents’ disapproval and also stunted his growth. He was, and remains, if he is alive, a baby, or, at best, a toddler. Despite the fact that he would take out his rage on my little child self, toss me about, hit me now-and-then, pinch and taunt me, and despite the fact that my grandparents would later kick me out of the house for indiscretions far less than making one homeless, the indiscretion of being gay, yes, only to let the bloated 40-something live, again, in small cabin on their new property (obtained via a Farm Home Loan), I no longer feel anger or resentment or envy for my uncle Rob. No, all of that has melted into a sort of numb indifference, for the man has constantly lived in a little cabin near his father’s manor–even if that manor be humble–and Rob cannot escape being in the shadow he maintains, yet he maintains it unconsciously, mechanically, without awareness. As long as he lives, it seems, he will always live in my grandparents’ cabin, wherever they–or he–might go. And that is nothing to envy, but something to be deadly serious about, something to remember; although I do not occupy a perpetual place in my grandparents’ adjacent space, I do know what it means to live under their shadow, and also, what it means to escape. The light of day burns brightly in the eyes, and the effect can be quite grotesque. Yet the price of the ticket is worth–for me–the journey.

Rob’s cabin made me feel uneasy. It had a musty smell about it. I was afraid of what it stood for: being outside, away, dislodged from the hearth but not quite banished. His cabin represented a confusing a place where good and evil blended. In my child-mind, good and evil, when I thought of them, a habit that grew as I was pursued by the virtuous vultures who lived off the corpses of dying young child-minds, minds that were slowly made into ground-meat by an authoritarian cult, were quite distinct. That cabin haunted me, and in some ways it still haunts me today. Our address was haunting too: 1395 Sleepy Hollow Loop, near Ichabod Lane; indeed, we lived in spot brewing with the mental remains of Washington Irving. In more ways than one did the place haunt. Spanning about two miles, the long dirt road that led from Sleepy Hollow Loop to my house, as I grew older, had to be traveled by foot. By the time I was about eight or so, I was no longer picked up at main road. Walking, at first, was terrifying. Bears roamed freely, packs of dogs were menacing, and yet, as I walked through the dense forest, past houses large and small, some grand and gated off, others not much more than trailers on concrete slabs, I felt connected to the Earth. Past meadows, past streams, on a clear, sunny and warm day, walking around the haunting places felt gave me a keen sense of pleasure, a type of pleasure I have never experienced again.

All of this brings me back to Yoko, her proximal distance, as she occupied the periphery, yet, socially and economically, as Jinko’s daughter, formed the nucleus of the family’s central core. Her inside-out hybridization reminds me of her home. Their home, situated up beyond the gate, up a steep driveway that made it hard to navigate safely in snow or frost, is a typical, large wooden house. Nothing architecturally special about it–excepting its size and multiple garages. It is a large version of boring. However, the interior had been remolded in the fashion of a traditional Japanese house. Small wooden planks in the shower, low or indented-floor seating for dining; I recall eating miso soup and watching Jinko stir mysterious bowls of food on a huge gas stove-top; we had an electric stove-top, and I had never seen open flames heat pots and pans before. I recall Jinko opening a Japanese rice cooker–I loved the writing on it–we didn’t have a rice cooker (炊飯器), and the magic of perfect, snow white rice amazed me. All sorts of unusual foods and smells, sights and habits surrounded me. One habit, leaving outside shoes at the door, became a staple in our own home; a practice I continue to this day. Deep in this house, I felt the shadows and time moving differently. Their house felt deep whereas our house felt just like a shelter. Depth and shelter are not the same things: what is a building after all? Is it an assemblage? Did Jinko’s house include her massive garage, which housed her many cars and vans? Did our house include Rob’s cabin, which housed musty smells, my uncle and moths? Where was Yoko looking towards? To my recollection, she must have been facing south, as the hillside was south facing. How does one orient oneself when they accidentally find themselves in the Occident? I hope she experienced the pleasure of the meadows, streams and sunny warm days even as I know being at the center of the periphery is dizzying. After sometime it can produce anhedonia, the inability to feel pleasure. Rob’s cabin represents this dizzying depression, and I carry it with me more than I thought. So long ago, so far away, and that entire place is still inhabiting my neuronal circuits. Again: what is a building?

Is it in [my] brain?

. . .

After Notes

Grants Pass, the nearest municipality–although I am not sure if the address was within the actual city limits–ostensibly named after Ulysses S. Grant, the first United States president to be elected by a massive African-American voter turnout, happens to be one of the most racist cities in the nation. It hosts a wide variety of white nationalist domestic terrorists, is nearly exclusively white and old, leading me to call it the one of the largest “whites-only retirement center” (there are cities like this all over the USA), and largely poor. The KKK once had about one in every five people in the county counted as members. I recall a barber that had a photograph of a Klan march in his shop into the 2000s. Swastikas, white nationalist propaganda, and posters promoting domestic terrorists are regularly found in the city. It boasts “the Caveman” as its mascot, a boast that goes back at least to the 1920s, when the Grants Pass Chamber of Commerce would organize parades where businessmen would dress-up as cavemen, with clubs and other accessories, grope, beat and put women in cages and call it a day of pleasure. Tours were organized to local caves, where the good men and women of the city would dress in faux-paleolithic attire.

After Reference

On May 24, 1924, the Southern Oregon Spokesman published this editorial titled “Let’s Keep Grants Pass A White Man’s Town.

One comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s