This Mormon boy
(I didn’t get his name and it doesn’t matter)
was on his mission at Nakano Station
handing out tickets to god and scattering seeds of fertilized Jesus.
The Japanese soil won’t take those seeds.
The Japanese never needed a long-haired hippie foreigner to tell them
how to fear death and ghosts.
Besides, Japan’s gods are legion,
tend to be more entertaining,
and bring darker blood and better humor to dinner parties.
And they’re good for a short loan and fast drink on payday.
What this Mormon boy didn’t understand,
will never understand,
is Jesus will never get more from the Japanese than a 90-day visitor’s visa.
The Japanese love their ancient gods so much
they’ve made them characters in video games.
And how is Jesus going to bring devout people
closer to heaven than that?
(Nakano Station, Tokyo, September 2013)
An older gentleman dozing in his van while a summer breeze animates an American flag and the late morning sun illuminates the multitude of second-hand clothing he had for sale at the Alemany Flea Market in San Francisco…
(Alemany Flea Market, San Francisco, California 2017)
This is brief recounting of two men from very different walks of Japanese life, whom I encountered near Ueno Station within 45 minutes of each other. The first, an older and somewhat rugged-looking salaryman, stopped for a smoke on the south end of Ueno Station by a ramp which descends down to the Tokyo Metro…
The second, a monk holding out a bowl for alms on a street corner across Chūō Dori from Ueno Station. Monks with such bowls are a familiar sight in this spot…
I wondered if the monk was a fake, for in Tokyo these men are sometimes convincing imposters who collect money from unsuspecting passersby for no legitimate religious purpose. But about the salaryman I had no doubts. He was who he appeared to be, and I respected the miles I saw in the lines on his face and the battle his hair was losing to age.
Ultimately, however, the contrasts between the two men captured my attention. The differences between their appearances, apparent professions, and between Japan’s new ways and old ways.
(Ueno Station, Tokyo 2015)
Extremes enrich an abundant life…
In my chosen profession there are extremes which exist outside of me and are mine (or yours) to take or leave. The world is ugly, and the world is beautiful, and I personally wouldn’t feel comfortable calling myself a photojournalist if I wasn’t willing to embrace how wonderful and horrible the world can be. You got to love the hate and hate the love, so to speak.
Scholars & Rogues has given me a forum to show you, our faithful readers, the weird bits of pathos, promise, and pain that I encounter as I wander in and around San Francisco, California and its suburbs. I do this to show you that we are not just a collective of progressive thinkers, critics, and college professors. We are also no strangers to the street. We have been in, and sometimes slept in, the gutters and found within ourselves the strength to take a realistic but also an humane and compassionate view of American life and how our country fits into the world.
So on the tenth anniversary of Scholars & Rogues, I want to make you feel good. And I want to make you feel bad. And I want to give you hope. Because that’s what life does to all of us on a regular basis. And to start here’s my kitten Kuro-chan grooming himself at my house in Brisbane, California…
Then we have a junkie fumbling with a meth needle on 16th Street and Potrero in San Francisco…
And here’s a dog from my neighborhood named Babaloo showing a bit of pink steel…
Finally, here’s Steven, a manic street kid who treated me with grace and humor while we hung out behind a gas station on Patterson Street in San Francisco…
This is our lives, all of us. We all have to understand that we live in an uncomfortable zone encompassing the kitten, the junkie, the dog, and Steven. It’s a place stuck in between soft kitty fur and the used needle on the sidewalk. You don’t get to choose whether you’re in this paradigm or not. You’re in it.
All we at Scholars & Rogues can do is try to draw you in and make you a willing part of it all. We owe you that. As human beings and journalists, we owe you nothing less.
On my way to work this past Monday, I drove past an older man doing t‘ai-chi exercise by the side of a particularly busy street in South San Francisco. I broke several traffic laws turning my car around so that I could pull up to the curb in front of him to take a photograph. Luckily, I got to him just in time to capture this exuberant expression.
I’ve looked for the old man each subsequent morning since this encounter, but haven’t seen him…
(Hillside Boulevard near Lincoln Street, South San Francisco, California 2017)