I am dynamic kung-fu dancing!

Greetings from Tokyo’s skid row…

Part four of my S&R Tokyo Series

Just a guy, a bit too much in his cups perhaps, that I photographed in Nihonzutsumi in Tokyo. He was next to a vacant lot where a Nodaya liquor shop used to stand. I liked him. He was a nice, chemically happy man…

(Nihonzutsumi, Tokyo, November, 2015. See my other work here and here.)

Yakuza leisure dōjō

Let’s alcohol with happy gangster human…

Third in my ongoing S&R Tokyo Series. Here’s part one and part two.

In Asakusa at Kamiya Bar (神谷バー) you never know who you might meet. My wife and I were drinking there one night in November, 2015 with an Australian friend and her Japanese husband. The tables in Kamiya Bar are packed closely together, so we couldn’t help notice that the people at the next table were having a hell of a good time.

I took a chance and asked if I could photograph them. They happily agreed.

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Yasukuni rain

Second in my S&R Tokyo series…

Yasukuni Shrine is an interesting place, but I won’t make more of visiting it than doing so deserves. Suffice it to say the Japanese struggle spiritually with militarism far more than we Americans do. Hirohito himself refused to visit Yasukuni in the last 21 years of his imperial reign.

My wife and I went there on a rainy Sunday primarily to browse a weekly flea market on the shrine grounds. We arrived around 9:45 a.m. There wasn’t much right-wing nationalist activity, just five or six men in olive-drab uniforms sitting out the rain in two black propaganda vans. They drove away 20 minutes later.

Everything at Yasukuni that day was wet, the sky was uniformly dour and grey, and the immense Daiichi Torii gate looked as if it was indifferent to who walked under it that day and would maintain its indifference for the next 1,000 years…

(Yasukuni Jinja, Tokyo, November 2015. See my other work here and here.)

Darkness/lightness

First in an upcoming series on Tokyo, Japan, and life generally…

This is brief recounting of two men from very different walks of Japanese life, whom I encountered in Tokyo 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

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United Airlines and its ‘calculated misery’: happy customers just aren’t needed to make money

The future of Oscar Munoz, the CEO of United Airlines, has just been re-accommodated.

You remember him, of course. After airport dragoons dragged a boarded, seated, paying customer off a United aircraft, Munoz’s first PR apology contained what Scholars & Rogues has called the “word of the year”: “I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers.”

telemmglpict000125651009-large_trans_nvbqzqnjv4bqbe6o56qrl4zbrlmqqi7ubfvse9jsn00kzbur3ixhagoWell, that’s cost him. Munoz had been groomed to move upstairs from CEO to chairman of United Continental Holdings, the airline’s owner. (You do remember, of course, that Continental agreed to merge with United seven years ago.) Well, Munoz won’t get that top job.

United’s twin clusterfucks of policy execution (overbooking issues) and PR aftermath (“re-accommodated”) have derailed Munoz’s career — well, a little. He may lose about $500,000 from his bonus, because it’s tied in part to what airlines call KPI — key performance indicators, as indicated in consumer satisfaction surveys. But don’t shed a tear for Munoz — he received $18.7 million in total compensation for 2016, more than triple that of 2015. Continue reading

Waiting at the Mark Hopkins

See in his face what you will…

Yesterday I photographed a luncheon for a San Francisco lawyers’ group in the Peacock Court at the Mark Hopkins Hotel. During a down moment I noticed this food server at the ready and looking completely patient, professional, but also a bit procedurally weary. I admired the combination of those three elements in him, and wanted to honor the man by preserving the moment…

(Mark Hopkins Hotel, San Francisco 2017. See my other work here and here.)

Dogs and fracking and beer is food – Denver deserves better than Mayor Michael Hancock

I asked Michael Hancock a straight question and got a dishonest answer. Then there’s his kneepads and chapstick service for the frackersbeer-is-food

I recently sent an inquiry to the office of Denver mayor Mike Hancock asking about his position about the city’s recent crackdown on dogs being allowed in tasting rooms. We mile-highers love taking the pups to our favorite microbreweries, but earlier this year the authorities started showing up and telling management that this was illegal.

Because – check this – beer is food. Continue reading

Playing Marco Polo…WITH Marco Polo: S&R Honors

Marco Polo is one of our most renowned travelers and explorers. Yet there is controversy about whether he actually went where he says he did. If only he’d taken a selfie stick and set up an Instagram account….

Marco Polo dressed as a Tatar (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Marco Polo dressed as a Tatar (image courtesy Wikimedia)

On my book shelves are several of the nicely bound sets of what used to be termed “classics” (i.e., books considered sacrosanct members of the Western Canon) that were all the rage many years ago when the American middle class aspired to be like their betters and give the appearance of being cultured – back when part of being cultured meant being well read, of course. Please do not misconstrue my intent here; owning a handsome set of “classics” is not the same as having read them. Lea and I have bought most of these sets in used book stores and antique shops and found almost all of the volumes in a given set in mint or near mint condition (after all, sitting on bookshelves year after year does cause some slight aging, as does being moved from the prominent bookshelves in the den to the ratty ones in the basement).

Thus it is that I have, as mentioned above, several sets of these “collections of ready made culture” (I have mentioned one popular collection in another essay). The set from which the book that is the subject of this essay, Travels of Marco Polo, The Venetian, is taken is called, interestingly, “The Programmed Classics,” and is published by Doubleday. It’s a handsome book, though the translation by 19th century “Orientalist” William Marsden is, at best, creaky.

So, to Marco Polo’s travels…real or made up…. Continue reading

One need not catch them all

The game doesn’t matter, people do…

I’m not a fan of the Pokémon franchise, I don’t play the mobile game, and don’t intend to start doing so. Still, without even trying at all I encountered a lively, free-range Pokémon whilst he was buying afterschool snacks at my local grocery store…

(Midtown Market, Brisbane, California 2016)

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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…

(Asakusa, Tokyo 2015. See more of my work here.)

Tempeh sausages with pepper spray on the side

By Tamara Enz

A few weeks ago in a random historic-site parking lot in far-flung western Colorado I met a 60-something woman from Atlanta.

CATEGORY: PersonalNarrative“You’re traveling alone? Well good for you. I always wanted to do that but I just don’t have the courage. Some day I will. You’ve never had any problems?”

This is a common question when people see me alone. A few variables in wording, some more direct language about scary people and places to avoid, but the sentiment is the same.

I’ve worked alone in many remote places over the years. I have occasionally stepped out of sight when I felt unsure about what was coming my way. I’m more often worried about destroying an axle on my pickup, not finding my way out of a random maze of canyons, or falling off a cliff than about other people.

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Mean street cutie pie

There was no child’s garden in sight…

She was tagging along while her dad walked his dog along Palou Avenue in Hunters Point in San Francisco. Dad and the dog are on the left. On the sidewalk nearby there was trash, discarded clothing, and a dead raccoon. Hunters Point can be that kind of neighborhood. But that didn’t keep her from skipping, giggling, hugging dad’s dog, and being the cutest thing lighting up the street that day…

(Hunters Point, San Francisco 2016. See more of my work here.)

Find the kitty: Hollister, CA

Find the kitty

Neighbors told me the story; the cat confirmed it…

The neighborhood story is the old man who lives in this house is a millionaire widower whose wife died 25 years ago. She was a beautician, the story goes, and the man keeps the old-fashioned hair drying machine on the porch to preserve her memory. He comes out at least once a day and sits in the hair dryer, watching the world go by but never speaking to anyone.

(Hollister, California, April 2016. See more of my work here.)

SuperShuttle satisfaction survey: you people need to get your act together

SuperShuttle is a smoldering dumpster fire.

I returned home from vacation this morning. I had reserved a lift with SuperShuttle to save a few bucks on airport parking. Never again.

As we landed I flipped on my phone. I had an e-mail from SuperShuttle explaining how to check in on the mobile. Sweet. I followed the instructions and proceeded to the baggage claim. I was to select “Downtown” or “Not Downtown” and submit once I had my bag. Here’s where it went sideways.

  • I was instructed to go out door 505 on the east side and head over to the shuttles on island 5. I did. Found SS there, gave the guy my reservation number, he says cool, and I hop in.
  • Once in we got into the “where are you going?” process. Turns out I was in the wrong van. Continue reading

Book Review: Waving Backwards: A Savannah Novel by V. L. Brunskill

V. L. Brunskill’s Waving Backwards is a bildungsroman with a twist; the heroine must find her way forward by finding her way backwards….

Waving Backwards: A Savannah Novel by V. L. Brunskill

I wrote last week about Lee Smith’s excellent bildungsroman Black Mountain BreakdownIn that essay I defended Smith’s work, which falls clearly in the realm of what is sometimes unfairly dismissed as “lifestyle fiction” as a work of considerable power and a bildungsroman with a true twist: its protagonist collapses when she encounters her existential moment.

V. L. Brunskill’s Waving Backwards is similar to Smith’s novel in that its young female protagonist is trying to reach her existential moment, to come to terms with who she is as a person and what being who she is means. It’s also similar to Smith’s novel in that Waving Backwards might be dismissed as “lifestyle fiction,” as another example of what is often described as that peculiarly Southern form of lifestyle fiction called the “Mama and them” book. Such works are invariably coming-of-age tales, usually with female protagonists, that look at the eccentricities of growing up in a Southern family.

Brunskill’s novel is certainly about “Mama and them,” but in Waving Backwards the theme of “Mama and them” gets taken places that readers have likely never considered.  Continue reading

Arnold Gingrich: a well tempered angler

“Actually, though being well read must be a part of the process, an angler is tempered chiefly by practice and experience, by learning and attempting to reach the successively higher goals of his sport, and thus acquiring, through any amount of disappointment and frustration, the satisfaction of knowing that he is doing the simplest thing in the hardest way possible.” – Arnold Gingrich

The Well-Tempered Angler by Arnold Gingrich. image courtesy librarything.com

A slight detour from my pursuit of world literature classics via the 2015 reading list. I’ve had a couple of gifts this past week, both from my son Josh. The first gift is a new granddaughter, Susanna Quinn, our first grandchild and a wondrous new addition to the life of this old writer/professor/musician. Of course, in that endeavor he had notable assistance from his lovely wife Sandra, so credit where credit is due.  The second gift Josh bestowed upon me was a book – you may let your shock and awe begin. We were on our way  to pick up some dinner the evening that the amazing and lovely Susanna was allowed to come home from the hospital and when I got into Josh’s car, there was a book in the floorboard. “Take that, Dad,” he said. “I’ve been meaning to give it to you.” It was a copy of The Well-Tempered Angler by Arnold Gingrich. Having just muddled my way through Andre Gide’s Corydon and just become a grandfather, I was feeling the need for something – shall we say, self-indulgent? The Well-Tempered Angler fit the bill perfectly.

The book is on fly fishing, my favorite sport.  I’ve written about fly fishing, on a number of occasions now. You can read this and this and this if you feel so inclined. I shall probably write about fly fishing again.

I think we have established that I have a certain fondness for fly fishing. So did Arnold Gingrich. For anyone who finds the literature of angling of any interest at all, or for those with a curiosity about how those of the New York literary scene lived back in the heady days of White, Thurber, and Parker at The New Yorker, and Hemingway and Fitzgerald at Esquire, the various sections of this book will be delightful.  Continue reading

Encountering Mt. Doom: hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing

15 - 2Completing the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in on March 25 was neither what I anticipated nor hoped for. My husband,  John, and I have been planning our trip to New Zealand for months and since seeing the trek described as “one of the world’s top single-day hikes” we had put it at the top of our to-do list.

New Zealand consists of two main islands and Tongariro National Park sits in the middle of the North Island. For people who are not trekking enthusiasts, the way that the park is most familiar is that it was the filming site of the fictional Mt. Doom in Peter Jackson’s adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. There are several volcanic peaks in the park. Mt. Ngauruhoe, an iconic and stark volcanic cone became Mt. Doom–from which the One Ring was forged and to which it had to be returned.

First, let me say that the 19.4 kilometer “Crossing” was more of a “climb” than a “hike.” If I had understood more about the nature of much of the trail in advance–I might have had second thoughts. I read through the website, did some other research, looked at the beautiful pictures. The incredible scenery was all there when I did the hike. But, not surprisingly, there are not a whole lot of pictures of the narrow hogbacks that had to be climbed or descended (probably because few people are of a mind or stomach to stop and pull out the camera under those circumstances).

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Health

Something fishy in the air from the Voice of America

OMG. Beware the fast AIDS! Oh, and Cuba!

Turns out there was an article in eBioMedicine, an Elsevier service, so legit as far as I can tell. The paper appears to be by a bunch of legitimate researchers. According to eBioMedicine, the article is in press, publication stage: In Press Corrected Proof. To wit, no publication date as of yet. So far, I’ll be damned if I can figure out when it was originally written. Just skimming the intro, it appears that the research started in earnest in 2007. In the Discussion section, the most recent reference date is 2013. Maybe there’s been no further publication/debate/controversy on the subject since then. Plausible.

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