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)
At an on-ramp leading to The 101 on Airport Boulevard in South San Francisco…
(South San Francisco, California 2017)
I was in San Francisco the other day, in front of the Goodwill Store on Clement Street between 9th and 10th Avenues. It was a warmer day than usual for early March, but even so it was surprising to see this guy with his shirt off in the middle of the day. He was unleashing a series of martial arts kicks upon an unresponsive parking meter…
He didn’t appear to actually be kicking the meter, just feathering his foot close enough to show the meter he meant business in case things got ugly…
Things didn’t get ugly, though, and when the man realized he was being photographed he was pretty cool about it. San Francisco’s a great town for observing people doing weird but benign things…
(Clement Street between 9th and 19th Avenues, San Francisco, California 2017)
Down in San Bruno, California
there are renegades and vampires
running gun and overrunning every street.
There are always women in the crosswalks
shepherding their invisible children
to non-existent schools.
These women drink hard liquor for no pay,
because that’s their little piece
of The American Way.
Their husbands and wives are all off at war,
there is always a war,
and they never know where the war is,
who the war is against,
or if their husbands or wives will ever come home.
This just in:
The Defense Department and Bar and Grill
just announced nobody from San Bruno, California
is on active duty in the war.
They lied to their wives and went drinking
in the next town over for several months
because their invisible children
are easy prey for vampires,
make too much noise when they die,
and they couldn’t face it.
San Mateo Avenue, San Bruno, California 2017