Posts in Category: Homelessness

The kitten, the junkie, the dog, and Steven

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…

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Then we have a junkie fumbling with a meth needle on 16th Street and Potrero in San Francisco…

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And here’s a dog from my neighborhood named Babaloo showing a bit of pink steel…

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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…

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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.

(Pictures taken in Brisbane, California and San Francisco, California. See my other work here and here.)

25 days in Tokyo—12: behind the kōban

In late October, 2015, I was in Tokyo, Japan for 25 days. I shot many photographs. This series presents the most interesting, compelling, or touching person or scene I saw each day I was there. Click here to see the previous entries.

If you’ve been shopping in Shibuya even once you’ve probably walked past the kōban (police station) in Udagawachō. It’s hard to miss, and the Tokyo cops there are rumored to generally be very helpful. So these two guys were sitting behind it at a quarter to 10 on a Saturday morning. They might have just finished work at a local nightclub, or been homeless. They might have been co-workers, good friends, or lovers. But the man’s hair was very blonde, they both were very nice, and sometimes in Tokyo not knowing is good enough…

Udagawachō, Shibuya, Tokyo 2015 (Story:

I know you know I’m not really blonde, but I am really blonde for you. I’d be anything for you. In Tokyo, I can be anything for you. The trick is, and I’m sure you can relate, I need to figure out how to be what I want for me…

(Udagawachō, Shibuya, Tokyo 2015)

25 Days in Tokyo—11: Big issue

In late October, 2015, I was in Tokyo, Japan for 25 days. I shot many photographs. This series presents the most interesting, compelling, or touching person or scene I saw each day I was there. Click here to see the previous entries.

He was selling The Big Issue Japan on the south side of Nakano Station, so despite his immaculate appearance I knew the man was homeless. Only homeless persons are authorized to sell The Big Issue on Tokyo’s streets. It’s a legitimate way to earn money to mollify the effects of the predicament they’re in. My wife was with me and I described to her what the man was doing and why. She immediately said “I hope he doesn’t have to be out here selling that paper for very long.”

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(Nakano Station, Tokyo 2015)

Here’s to Henry

How do I pay tribute to a man who both enriched and destroyed my life? If I had never read his work I’d be less of a boozer than I am, but also less of a human being. Charles Bukowski would have been 96 years old today, and I have praised and cursed his very existence with every gulp of cheap beer or sip of fine rum that I have ever taken.

Kiyokawa, Tokyo 2012

(↑Kiyokawa, Tokyo 2012)

So what do I do here, Hank? Praise the fucking gods that I finally decided to get sober, or laugh at my own stupidity for leaving behind your horrible, desperate, inspiring, and beautiful world? I don’t really know. This is the kind of thing I used to have to consider over a cold beer.

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(↑Nihonzutsumi, Tokyo 2012)

I would have liked to have had a drink with you just once, to probe with some sort of scientific accuracy the reasons why demons chew on my testicles and nap on my liver and never pay one fucking penny’s worth of rent for the spaces they take up in my soul.

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(↑Nihonzutsumi, Tokyo 2013)

It would have been nice to talk with you about that. But you’re not here, and some days I’m not either, and who gives a shit anyway? It was your nihilism, probably more than anything else, that I admired most about you.

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(↑Seoul Izakaya, Nihonzutsumi, Tokyo 2013)

The Art of Not Giving a Fuck, you were a master of it. You were a horse’s ass in a pasture full of donkeys, and therefore owned the patent on a certain type of irony.

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(↑Freedom, Nakano 5-chome, Tokyo 2015)

And I love you, and I hate you, and to honor you I offer up these photographs of people whose beauty and tragedy not only rivals but exceeds your best writings about how our human condition is both wretched and worth living in defiance of sorrow and hope.

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(↑San Bruno, California 2015)

I’m a better man because of you, Mr. Bukowski, but I am a worse person. I love human beings more because of you, but I also feel better when they’re not around…

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(↑Brisbane, California 2016)

(Also published on Scholars and Rogues.)

Two cigarettes

He was pinballing along the sidewalk in front of a Popeye’s at Geneva and Mission. He asked for, and received, a couple of cigarettes, for which he agreed to be photographed. He asked for a bit of money too, but this is the debit card age so there was, unfortunately, no cash compensation available…

Geneva @ Mission, San Francisco 2016 (Story: http://www.brisbanegraphicartsmuseum.com/?p=304)

(San Francisco 2016)

Jasmine and Buddy

She was sitting on a Japantown sidewalk, on Webster Street around the corner from Nijiya Market. She looked displaced, like a woman who’d just left a difficult relationship and the apartment that went with it. But she also did not look frantic, and I hoped that meant she had friends who could let her crash on a couch for however long she needed to.

Then there was the dog, Buddy. He may well have been the reason she was holding it together, not freaking out, while she figured out how to use the city to take care of them both…

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(Japantown, San Francisco 2016)

Squinting at another reality

She was shuffling around Nakamise Dori, the shopping boulevard that leads to Sensō-ji in Asakusa. She touched a lot of elbows trying to speak to people who pulled away and ignored her. This did not phase her. She kept moving through the crowd, sizing up the passersby with a laser-sharp focus that seemed to cut through the communal illusion that we are all okay and everything will be fine…

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(Asakusa, Tokyo 2015)

The disparate gorgeous

You don’t normally look at these women. Be honest, you don’t.

They’re drifting-though-the-street crazy, as far as you know, so you don’t look. But you should. They’re the reason women are often superior to men. This black lady, for example, in the first photograph, she asked me for pocket change when I was loitering outside Original Joe’s in North Beach. And I gave her all I had, which was around three bucks. She was so appreciative. She hugged me and I hugged her back, for she was so warm and the night was cold and I figured the warmth she gave me was worth way more than the money I’d just given to her.

When our street business concluded she turned to walk away up Stockton Street and said “May the Force be with you” like she meant it. I considered myself blessed.

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Then a few days later I was at Tanforan Mall when this lady walked up to me. She also asked me for money. I gave her all the coins in my pocket, which this time was about two bucks.

If you’ve ever imagined your favorite piece of candy speaking to you in the most beautifully cartoony female voice in the world, that’s how this lady spoke. And her hair was so luxuriously silver she could have killed werewolves with it. She was sweetness personified.

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So pay attention to people, to the weird ones whom you think you know everything about. The biggest threat to us all isn’t anger or wariness, but withholding compassion.

(North Beach, San Francisco and San Bruno, California 2016)

Shimbashi disparity

In SL Square outside Shimbashi Station in Tokyo, there’s an outdoor smoking area cordoned off by a low wall and decorative metalwork. There’s no point in wasting words here on social commentary. The photograph tells you everything you need to know…

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(Shimbashi,Tokyo 2015)

Cold stone home

On a warm late September day they had staked out a spot in front of the Shinjuku Station A8 exit. He ate while she seemed to monitor their surroundings and the passersby, like she were guarding him so he could eat undisturbed. Their bags and overall appearances gave the impression that they weren’t just another couple out shopping. The step they sat upon was their cold stone home for the day, and they’d probably be moving on when Tokyo cooled down in the evening.

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(Shinjuku, Tokyo 2013)

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