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.
This is our country now, this is our lives.
I saw a flag on a house
that does not usually fly one.
An elected official lives there.
I voted for her, hell yes.
I’ve voted a shitload in my life.
I voted the last time,
the bad time
when the change we wanted
is the worst we could’ve imagined.
And I’m standing there
looking at this flag,
and the dog’s looking at me.
And I’m pretty sure
the dog’s asking “What in the FUCK did you people do?!!”
And, you know,
I love that dog,
I’ve known him for years,
but I hate the question.
Because I don’t have an answer,
and I’m not gonna like
the answer that comes.
(This is a real photograph, not staged, proudly taken in Brisbane, California on November 12th, 2016)
Brisbane’s chapter of the Fraternal Order of Eagles had its annual Halloween party this evening. I’m not a member, and I’ve been sick with the flu all week, but I made the effort to go for a short while to pay my respects to the friend who invited me. That’s her on the left in the first photograph below. The rest of the photos are selected scenes from the party, and a look at a part of American small-town life which may not be familiar to you…
(F.O.E. Aerie #3255, Brisbane, California 2016)
Indy caught a mouse today, which as far as my wife and I can recall is not something he has ever done before. The upside to this is he’s over 16 years old and still spry enough, with the help of regular medications for his aging joints, to be the predator he was built to be. The downside is Indy didn’t kill the mouse outright.
So to keep him from eating it, I had to grab the poor mouse out of Indy’s mouth by its tail and throw it into my back yard while it was still barely alive. I really hated throwing away a little life like that. It will probably give me nightmares…
(Brisbane, California 2016)
Snack time for an energetic dog in the parking lot at Brisbane’s grocery store…
(Brisbane, California 2016)
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)
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.
(↑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.
(↑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.
(↑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.
(↑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.
(↑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…
(↑Brisbane, California 2016)
(Also published on Scholars and Rogues.)
And they came into and through the crisp sea air, looking for pocket monsters…
(Brisbane Marina, California 2016)
Part one of a three-part series.
My father-in-law Jesse passed away two years ago today. The photograph just below is of him and my mother-in-law on August 1st, 2014, a week before he died.
I miss him, more than I often admit. A year after his death my wife and I weren’t dealing with it very well. Two years on and the sting and sorrow are easier for us to bear. But during the past 24 months my mother-in-law has been remarkable, a steady, consistent rock who as endured rather than fall apart. Having her around gives my life needed perspective since I’m in my early 50s and starting to wonder more often when the ride’s going to end.
Several days before Jess died, I got to really see what champions my family are. I wasn’t born into a particularly close family. But my wife, the woman on the right below, had better luck. That’s her sister on the left. My brother-in-law is in the next photograph, holding his father’s hand four days before the end.
You only think about the dying when death is near, not the people you look to after someone’s gone and say out loud “Shit, I guess we should have a drink.” My wife, her sister and brother, and my mother-in-law showed me how to face the fading and passing of a human life. At the time I didn’t cope with it well and hid behind my camera. Thankfully I had superior family examples from which to draw strength.
On the day Jess died, August 8th, 2014, my wife was a genius of calm. She was collected and circumspect. The old man passed about five hours before I shot the picture immediately above. I had never before been in a room with a deceased person who wasn’t shut tight in a coffin.
I was uncomfortable and squeamish about it. My wife’s behavior showed me how to man-up and deal with it. Women can be so superior in this department, probably for the same reasons that men make war while women clean up the emotional messes afterward.
My wife’s sister, above on the right, and my wife’s step-sister, on the left, also showed me how to confront the death in the room, and how the love of siblings not born of the same parents can be a source of connection and strength.
About six hours after Jess died, two nice men came to his house, put him on a stretcher, covered him, and walked him down to their hearse.
After Jess was secured, I told the undertaker, pictured above, that I was squeamish about my father-in-law’s death. I asked him how he dealt with hauling corpses for a living. He looked at me with genuine sympathy and said “You get used to it.”
Yeah, I guess you do. Or maybe you don’t. I don’t fucking know if I could. I just had to take the man’s word for it.
(Brisbane, California, August 2014)
Next, part two “Memorial”