The Life in My Years

An anthology of life

My take on Len-Artist Challenge, A One Lens Walk

San Francisco’s Chinatown is one of my favorite places in the Bay Area – maybe even the world.

I try to visit Chinatown a couple times a month. When I was young, single, living in The City and didn’t know better I visited multiple times a week, usually stopping at a little bar on Ross Alley, called the Rickshaw Lounge. It was across the alley from Danny’s Dynasty. Both joints were divey (Danny’s looked downright dangerous) and the alley itself had an air of assault and battery to it.

Didn’t know better? I sometimes closed that place down, particularly when I was dating Hyung Suk, one of the hostesses who worked there. It must’ve been nice to be young and have the vigor, or bad sense, to leave a bar at 2 in the morning when you have to get up 4 hours later to get ready for work.

That was during the 1970’s, when 2 rival Chinatown gangs, the Wah Ching and the Joe Boys were feeling their oats. In 1977, 5 members of the Joe Boys shot up the Golden Dragon Restaurant on Washington Street just around the corner from Ross Alley.

I guess my love conquered all, even common sense.

The Golden Dragon is gone now, replaced by another restaurant. The dives are also gone, replaced by …  It’s hard to say what replaced the bars. There’s no indication of a saloon ever having been on that alley. Now housing a florist, a fortune cookie shop, a gospel center, and a neon bedecked boba shop, Ross is hardly foreboding anymore.

The Chinatown alleys are fascinating places. I cut through them often to avoid the crowds on the main streets, or well, just because. The old mystique is of opium dens, brothels, and gambling parlors.

Indeed you can still walk through an alley at night and hear the clattering tiles and animated voices that mark a Mahjong game.

***

I usually carry three lenses with me when I walk through Chinatown; a wide angle, a 70 – 300 mm zoom, and the usual go to, an 18 – 135mm zoom.

All of the photos in this post were taken through the 18 – 135.

St. Louis Street is a dark little dead end alley. It’s home to the Waiyang Benevolent Association, Leung’s White Crane Dragon & Lion Dance Association, and two or three other businesses which I might be able to name if I could read Chinese characters.

Saint Louis Alley, Chinatown, San Francisco

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“Beg to report sir, the good ship California is taking on water and is listing to port.”

***

“It’s raining, it’s pouring,
The old man is snoring …”

It’s been raining and pouring but this old man hasn’t been snoring. He’s a light sleeper, even lighter when anything that isn’t tied down is blowing around the backyard and up and down the block, while sheets of water are slapping the pool cover.
It takes a dark and quiet night for this old man to snore, while the trite old, “dark and stormy night,” has me staring sleeplessly up at the ceiling, hoping it won’t leak.
My phobias don’t include snakes or great white sharks. My phobia is over the need to contact the State Farm adjuster because Mother Nature decided to pee in the living room.
Any man, woman or child, young or old who’s been able to snore through California’s atmospheric rivers and bomb cyclones of the past two weeks has got to have been on intravenous melatonin.
I have to wonder how the people just to our east, over on Carson Street are faring. Years ago three homes on that street were condemned when part of the hill looming above, oozed into yards, kitchens and family rooms. The hill still looms. If this old man was living in one of the still standing houses he’d be spending the night downing shots of bourbon while staring out the back window.

Wading room only at the city park

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“Out with the old and in with the new,” goes the old New Year’s saying. The year 2022 decided that it would not go gracefully. I watched 2022’s final stormy afternoon from inside Peet’s Coffee at the local supermarket mall.

The Bay Area was shooting the rapids, metaphorically speaking, of an atmospheric river. Atmospheric river. It’s the weatherperson’s currently in vogue term for what used to be called a gully washer, or a rainstorm, or raining cats and dogs. At the risk of sounding old and out of vogue, I think I prefer the latter terms.

“Out with the old and in with the new.”

Out with torrent and in with atmospheric river.

The vernacular goes through constant change. Words and terms are out and replacements are in. Sometimes the changes are necessary and other times change just guts our language of creativity, color and verve. It turns rich dialectical brioche into sterile, insipid, stale white bread.

Well meaning people make it their job, sometimes with unmitigated presumption, to legislate changes. They sit around a conference room table and sap the energy out of communication. Maybe they aren’t well meaning at all. Maybe they just figure they need something to justify being on the payroll.
“We’ve run out of things to do,” said Stewart.
Miles thought for a moment. “I’ve got it! Let’s sterilize the English language.”

To whatever end, some folks at Stanford University figured they would begin the New Year on a forward-thinking note by unveiling its brand new language guide which aims to “eliminate many forms of harmful language, including racist, violent, and biased … language in Stanford websites and code.”

That’s not an ignoble goal but the end result had Stanford, as the old saying goes, “throwing out the baby with the bathwater.” Given Stanford’s new guidelines, tossing babies is not a good look, linguistically speaking.

As a writer, or someone who just occasionally plays at writing, I peeked at portions of the guide and was aghast. At some point one has to decide if a change is appropriate correction or ham handed mutilation.

The changes outlined in the new guide include replacing the term “Karen” with “demanding or entitled White woman,” and prisoner with “person who is/was incarcerated.” A homeless person should be referred to as “a person without housing,” as if that’s going to bestow some measure of creature comforts on someone who is, like, you know, without housing.
“I appreciate the new moniker — I guess,” said the person without housing. “But a dry place in which to lay my head would be more helpful.”

The old saying “beating a dead horse” is, according Stanford’s language police, now verboten, as it “normalizes violence against animals.” My dad often used that term and I can’t recall a single moment when it triggered in me some deep seated urge to grab a stick and hunt down a deceased equine in the suburbs of the Bay Area. Oh, and by the way, trigger is also a no-no.

I get it, some words and terms have rightly been put to rest and there are certainly others that should be on the chopping block (Chopping block is probably on Stanford’s taboo term list as it might normalize violence against vegetables. One doesn’t chop an onion. The recipe calls for one cup of an onion converted into smaller pieces).

It seems to me that the Stanford folks went a smidge too far. It’s just another of those instances that has other Americans (American is another forbidden word by the way) looking at the Bay Area as a haven for “fornicating people who lack substantial education,” known in the old lingo as “fucking idiots.”

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Cora posed the question sometime during Thanksgiving weekend. It was the never before posed query that put normalcy into doubt.

“Are we getting a tree this year?”

She might just as well have asked if we planned on breathing.

I’d actually been asking myself the same question since the holiday season began, sometime back in October. That’s when it starts you know – October.

In commerce anyway.

If commerce demands that Christmas season starts in October then Christmas starts in October, damn it. Commerce drives everything, even the seasons. Nature may determine whether or not Christmas will be white but the chase for money dictates when the celebration begins and ends.

In August, before kids are even back in school, the water guns, bright tropical colored plastic dinnerware, pool toys and beach towels that didn’t sell in June and July are all headed back to a distribution center near Reno or some little town in the Central Valley. The lazy days of summer displays have been replaced by rubber masks, plastic Jack-o-lanterns and overpriced, undersized bags of mini Snickers bars. Make sure you grab your candy corn before the September rush or you might be shit out of luck on October 1st. Before the first Jack o lantern has been lit, the nasty lattes that taste of eggnog turned bad are being served up at Starbucks.

***

“Are we getting a tree?”

***

When have I ever questioned getting a tree?

Well, there was that time when I was sharing a house with my friend Scott. Two guys in our mid-twenties and far too cool to sanction Christmas, we scorned any notion of putting up a tree. We were bound to be curmudgeons to the core, until Abra and Danielle, the two sisters who were sharing the house with us, put up a tree and saved us from our own macho cantankerousness.

When I think about it now, I realize what a pair of damn fools we were.

***

I guess that deep down Cora and I knew as long ago as June that Christmas would be different this year. For six years our daughter Jessica and her two children, Jackson and Luciana, had been living with us. We celebrated the holidays with lights; with candies and frosted cookies and eggnog and peppermint stick ice cream; with carols; with a tree; with stockings hung by the chimney with care, or even haphazardly. Who cares? Just put up the damned stockings. Oh, and did we leave a snickerdoodle out for Santa? Can’t leave anything to chance.

Last summer, Jessica had finally saved up enough money to buy a home of her own. I was heartbroken when they got into that overloaded SUV and drove away.

The kids are gone.

Jessica and the kids would do Christmas morning at her house.

So why do Christmas?

It didn’t matter that they’re just 30 minutes away in Suisun City. The crazy, day to day excitement of kids in the house is gone.

***

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It’s been a minute since I last posted and the plan was for a longer hiatus until I happened upon Tina’s Lens-Artists Challenge, the final one for 2022.
This challenge is to post photos from 2022 that have not been previously published. Couldn’t resist.
***
It’s a hard thing to plumb the passage of time. In one sense it seems like yesterday that I was chilling outside the local coffee joint while my grandson Jackson squirmed in his baby carriage. At the same time, those days seem like a lifetime ago. Twelve years.
Basketball is Jack’s love. Years ago stumbling and unsure, his game has benefited from confidence and maturity.
Taken in a dimly lit high school gym, the quality of this photo is iffy but for me the subject is priceless.

***
Forsaken and polished
During a road trip this past October I happened upon an automotive relic sitting in front of an old barn.

Every June, the nearby town of Pinole hosts a classic car show. The bright red beauty below caught my eye.

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