A few weeks ago in San Francisco, I had just left my favorite comics shop and was in my car about to turn south onto Ocean Avenue when I saw an old lady had fallen to the concrete on the public transport platform in the middle of the street. Before I could pull my car over and jump out to help, a young man had already reached her. As I watched I knew I was witnessing newsworthy decency, and felt like I was seeing San Francisco write a song lyric about itself and the kindness built into the way this city moves.
And so from my car I saw the young man render aid to the fallen woman. He was gentle with her and handled her firmly but without aggravating her obviously fragile state…
Then he helped the lady get her legs back under her, and reclaim the clearly-necessary cane that had somehow failed her in the first place. While this happened drivers passed by oblivious, not necessarily out of callousness but because San Francisco is a body and it’s sometimes hard or risky to step outside one’s place in its street-artery flow…
When she got to her feet, the old lady checked her hands for injuries while the young man stood by to ensure her well-being. After a few moments the woman stopped trembling and stood firm but relaxed, which in turn caused the young man to relax. When I realized everything would be okay I started my car and finally turned south onto Ocean Avenue to continue my way home…
All of this happened literally within the space of 15 seconds. I checked the time stamps on my photographs to be sure. It was a hell of a thing seeing the kind of small but powerful human episode I’ve only read about in the news or seen dramatized on TV. But this is the way we orbit each other, and sometimes need’s gravity pulls us closer together than we would ordinarily prefer because there’s a life to be saved or changed for the better.
It’s how we’re built, thankfully, and I’ll remember that and celebrate it even if this kind of decency never unfolds before my eyes again.
A short, very unofficial sequel to “Blade Runner”…
“The river of the world is wide, but its waters are boiling away” kept going through my mind as I sat next to her bed in the hospice, holding her hand and waiting for her to end. The quote was from a movie I took her to see a year ago in San Francisco. It was about the Off-world colonies and the death of Earth. One of Eldon Tyrell’s numerous subsidiary companies produced the film, and another subsidiary had done the special visual effects.
When I was still a cop I used to know things like this, that a wealthy, powerful man like Tyrell had a vast cultural reach he kept hidden from little people.
And he had, somehow, used his wealth and influence to spare Rachel’s life from other blade runners and let me take her out of L.A. Since then she and I had had two years together, up north in San Francisco and a few remaining small cities beyond. This meant she was six, and for all I knew the oldest replicant who ever lived.
But she wouldn’t live to be seven. A cancer seventy percent of humans ordinarily survive was eating her bones like carnival midway candy. Unnaturally aggressive. The unlicensed oncologist said maybe it was a flaw in her genetic design. Who knows? Tyrell never said anything about human diseases. Until the cancer started killing her a month ago she’d never even had a sniffle or a runny nose.
For two years I had loved her. Her laughter, when she eventually found it, had helped kill some of my pain and taken Roy Batty out of my nightmares. Now she was minutes away from gone, and once again all I could do was just watch someone die.
At least a bullet in the back wouldn’t take her life. She would die in my arms and part of me would die with her.
After she retires, I think I might go back to L.A.
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)
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.
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)
when you drive by the beach
you see big bastard machines
and boys on skateboards
you don’t know if
one is going to crush the other
but you figure
what the hell
you might as well stop
have a look
and wait to find out.
(Erosion control @ Ocean Beach, San Francisco 2016. This photo is also on Flickr.)
As of August 31st, 2016, I have been in California for 27 years. I moved here with my best friend Brian, who had accepted a job offer in San Francisco a few months after graduating from Lehigh University. Knowing that I didn’t like my job in Maryland just outside the D.C. Beltway, and that I was losing my free room and board because my parents were moving back to Dallas, Brian suggested I move to San Francisco with him.
I thought about it for five minutes, said “What the hell, I’m in”, and by the second week of August, 1989 we were heading west from the Jersey shore in a Ford Aerostar minivan loaded with clothing, minimal furniture, and Coors Extra Gold. We drove the southern route and saw a lot of weird shit in Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. This old scanned photograph from a campground near the Grand Canyon is just one example…
By now I have lived in California longer than any other place in my 52 years. If I could I would trade some of the shitty times during my 27 years here (like being a poor student in Santa Barbara in 1991) for an extra year or so in Singapore when I was a teenager and in Tokyo when I was in my twenties.
But I met my wife here, and I wouldn’t trade her for anything. And I finally found a rich creative life here, after several crummy careers that didn’t suit me or that I didn’t suit. Yep, I have my wife and her love, and my view of the world through a camera held by the man that California has helped me become. And barring a couple of chronic physical ailments and psychological quirks, I am often at peace with who I am and who I still want to be.
So for me it’s California. It’s good here.
(Picture taken at Flintstones Bedrock City, Williams, Arizona, August 1989)