Thursday, September 13, 2007

I Love You, Let's Light Ourselves On Fire

My little sister did this on her blog. I couldn't resist trying it out with The Mountain Goats.

1. Choose a band / artist and answer ONLY in titles of their songs:
The Mountain Goats

2. Are you male or female:
Golden Boy

3. Describe yourself:
I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink

4. How do some people feel about you:
I Will Grab You By the Ears

5. How do you feel about yourself:
The Irony Engine

6. describe your ex boyfriend/girlfriend:
Bad Priestess

7 Current boyfriend/girlfriend/crush:
Going to Reykjavik

8. Describe where you want to be:
Flight 717: Going to Denmark

9. Describe where you live:
Warm Lonely Planet

10. Describe who you love:
I Love You, Let's Light Ourselves On Fire

11. What would you ask for if you had just one wish:
Love Love Love OR Cobra Tattoo

12. Now say goodbye:
No, I Can't.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Wax on, wax off

Today I washed and waxed my car. This is not terribly exciting. Not even when you consider that i believe it to be just the second time I've washed my car and the first time I've waxed it in the some 5 plus years I've had it. (I think bethy may have washed it when she was using it regularly a few years ago, but she is a Howard, and you just know how we are.) When you use a car as infrequently as I do, and have no easy access to a garage or, most importantly, a hose, well, washing it is not something you consider so often. I've pondered taking it to the ol' drivethrough carwash several times in the last month, though -- until my mom sent me an e-mail forward about ripoffs -- or rather things people spend money on that they oughtn't that add up (one and two on this list: cigarettes and booze, natch).

So anyway, I was up in Bethlehem visiting Amy and took the opportunity while crashing at the mom's place to wash the dear, neglected Green Hornet. And after washing it, I was all like, hmm, i ought to wax it, imagining fondly the emeraldy glow that would radiate from my little VW. Well, I guess this should be a lesson that, um, you shouldn't go several years between car washings. (And a lesson that I can't wax my car without spending the rest of the day thinking about the
Karate Kid.)Rather than produce the aforementioned glow and turning my buggy into the visage of, oh, say, The Emerald City's finest delivery vehicle, the wax served to accentuate every scratch, nick and ding with a glaring chalky residue -- kind of like outlining the dead -- that was impossible (alright, very difficult) to remove with what I'll deem "normal buffing effort." It is my hope that the next rain rinses the crevice-clinging wax (and, of course, bead magnificently on the rest of the finish).

So yes. I've just washed my car, and I'm hoping it'll rain.

In other car related news, i've caved and started putting bumper stickers on my rear bumper (to compliment the white, clear-backed Phillies decal on the hatch). Now my Golf will be an advert for: Ted Leo /Pharmacists, The Thermals, The Postal Service (the band) and the City Paper, all causes we can agree, I think, that one should support.) Oh, and going a bit nuts, i also applied two of the homestar runner static stickers bethy got me for Xmar a year or so back, Trogdor the Burninator on the right rear side window, and on the left rear side window, of course, The Cheat.

Also, each and every time I typed the word "car" in this post, I first typed the word "care." anyone else have this typing affliction?

Monday, April 23, 2007

BH1 Classic: Bring Tha' Hanoize iii: You get what you pay for, and then you jump off a boat

Sorry for the delay. Here's the third and final installment of Bring Tha' Hanoize

From: Brian Howard Sent: Aug 1, 2004 10:56 PM Subject: BRING THA' HANOIZE No. 3: You get what you pay for, and then you jump off a boat (the GMail edition)
Ladies and Gents,

So what have you been up to for the last couple of days?

Me, I've been getting around. As you may recall from installment 2 of this little trip-o-logue, I was on my way to Hanoi's museum of military history. Viet Nam, in it's short history as an independent country has seen more than its share of bloodshed. Maybe you've heard about this. The museum, a sort of modest, ramshackle affair chronicles the string of fairly amazing military victories of this tiny country. It was difficult to walk through the place and not be in awe with the way the Vietnamese people have persevered a string of armed conflict. The musuem's exhibits feature a mix of historical kind of strategy stuff, maps depicting the movement of troops, air strikes and the like. But most of these exhibits are marked in Vietnamese only. Marked in English and French, however, are exhibits depicting weapons used against and confiscated from enemy soldiers from the French conflict in the '50s all the way to the "American War of Aggression" or the "American War of Sabotage" as the police action we call the Vietnam War is called over here.

Though I've always felt that the U.S. had no business being in Vietnam, there was a weird sense of gnawing in my gut seeing the helmets of downed American pilots, captured flags and rifles. These troops, like those presently in Iraq, were not the ones who made the decision to go; they were pawns in what turned out to be a wrong-headed venture.

Later that day, while admiring a Christian church in the center of downtown Hanoi, I was approached by a man on a motorbike; normally in Hanoi, when someone approaches you on a motorbike, it's just a taxi driver looking to make a quick buck. However, this fellow, a guy named Vinh, asked me if i spoke English and if I'd be willing to have a coffee with him so he could practice. I figured why not, and, sort of wearily hopped on his motorbike. After a coffee, a smoke and the exchange of the names of some good books on both American and Vietnamese history, Vinh offered to take me to the lake where a B-52 bomber crashed during the war and has been partially submerged ever since. I'm fairly sure that this was the plane of one John McCain (ed. note: I'm now pretty sure it wasn't his). After taking me to buy some top-notch Vietnamese coffee beans (I may have been taken on this deal, paying far more than it probably cost, but still much cheaper than in the US), we parted ways (after, of course, he asked me for some money to buy a dictionary, and I graciously obliged). It was one of those chance encounters -- essentially getting a personal tour just by being in the right place at the right time -- that can't help but make you smile, even if you probably got bilked on the coffee.

And that was just Friday.

Saturday, Kate and I set out for a tour of Vietnam's famous, picturesque Halong Bay. You may have seen pictures of it; it's waters are punctuated by hundreds (maybe thousands) of rocky islands that jut straight out of the water. I think I read somewhere that the story is that in the early days of the land, it's believed that a dragon somehow made these islands as a way of protecting the Vietnamese people. (Take this with a grain of salt, as there's also a story about one of the lakes in Hanoi that involves, I think, a turtle emerging from the water with a sword that a warrior then used to battle someone or other.)

Booking the tour was no easy feat; after shuttling around the numerous travel agencies in Hanoi's old quarter, I'd settled on one of the tour packages that seemed no better or worse than any of the others. This turned out to be a mistake; the tour, which left on Saturday morning by bus to Halong City and then by boat from Halong, was an ongoing debacle of poor organization, rude tour guides and crap meals. A four-hour drive to the bay was punctuated by an hour and a half wait for a boat; the boat ride was pleasant enough, but once we arrived at Cat Ba Island, we were shuttled through a tourist-trap of a cave and treated to a largely uninformative guided tour of the cave. We were then shuttled back onto the boat, fed the most crap meal you could ask for, and then we docked for the night.

This is the only part where things get good. Once our boat docked for the night, a bunch of us threw on our bathing suits and dove headfirst into the South China Sea. There's nothing quite like taking a dip in the ocean at night. Unfortunately, there's also nothing quite like not being able to get a decent shower after a salt-water dip and then having to sleep in a stuffy, cramped cabin cooled only by a fan. But you have to take your little victories where you can.

The next morning, after a sufficiently bland breakfast the boat set back on the three-hour trip back to dock, then another crappy meal at the restaurant on the dock, and then a four-hour drive (with a requisite stop at a tourist trap) back to Hanoi. In all, we changed boats about four times, changed tour guides just as often, and got back feeling like herded cattle.

All this can be yours for just $30, though it would have felt like a rip-off for $30 less.


BH1 Classic: Bring Tha' Hanoize ii: Africa hot has nothing on Hanoi hot

As promised, I'm digging the old Bring Tha' Hanoize (BTHz) travelogues out of the gmail and publishing them here. Enjoy. Or don't.
Originally published August 2004

Everybody, everybody,

I may have mentioned in the first installment of BTHz that there was a little matter of the heat here. I hope to not beat this horse too vigourously over the course of our correspondence, but allow me to get this out of the way, and hopefully this will be the end of it: Holy crap it's hot here.

Granted, today is a little better than yesterday, as overcast skies have made a liesurely stroll around Hoan Kiem Lake, the body of water that sits in the middle of Hanoi's Old Quarter, quite pleasant. But still I find myself, like David Lee Roth before me, going a little bit crazy from the heat. Keroac, in his rambling travelogue
On The Road, described the heat in Mexico (or was it Central America? My days of reading the Beats are so far behind me) as a sort of enveloping presence, and that those who live in such conditions develop a symbiotic relationship with the clime. I recall his description of a young child whose face was covered with beads of sweat that seemed almost permanent. And I imagine that the population of Hanoi have a similar relationship with the heat; some people buzz to and from wherever it is they're constantly buzzing to and from on their motorbikes decked out in suits, sleeves, long pants and other seemingly unfathomable modes of attire given that the temperatures seem to be consistently in the 30s (celsius, goddammit). Sure, there are some who sport shorts and short sleeves, but y'know. (Also fascinating is that many motorbike pilots sport facemasks or bandanas to guard their lungs from exhaust, dirt, etc. But more on this in a future edition perhaps.)

Thursday, April 12, 2007

BH1 Classic: Bring Tha' Hanoize i: The Serioiusly Jetlagged Installment

As promised, I'm digging the old Bring Tha' Hanoize (BTHz) travelogues out of the gmail and publishing them here. Enjoy. Or don't.

From: Brian Howard []
Sent: Jul 27, 2004 9:54 PM
To: Subject: Bring tha' Hanoize No. 1, The seriously jetlagged edition.

Halong Bay
Hey everyone,
Just a quick note to let y'all know that I'm in freaking Hanoi.

Still adjusting to the local time (which means that I was wide awake at 3 am and will likely be crashing at, oh, 5 pm).

The defining characteristic of this place thusfar is the heat. christ on a popsicle stick, is it hot here. I'm writing to you at 8:30 a.m. in a shirt that's soaked through with sweat (my own). I'm kind of learning my way around the city at present, and have already had tens of friendly interactions with motorbike drivers offering to take me anywhere I'd like to go. I've declined thusfar, preferring to hoof it.

I hope within a couple of days to work up the gumption to rent a bicycle and brave the chaotic byways of downtown Hanoi. The traffic in Hanoi is unworldly. There are very few cars, just a sort of constant peloton of motorbikes and bicycles swerving, bobbing and weaving through the streets. And yet, I've not seen even the slightest hint of a smack-up. Traffic moves both ways on pretty much all streets, with ill-defined lanes. But it moves pretty slowly in anticipation other motorists, pedestrians (the sidewalks are predominantly unpassable on foot, blocked as they are by, natch, parked motorbikes), and women and men toting their wares on long sticks they balance across their shoulders.

I had my first bowl of honest-to-goodness vietnamese pho (noodle soup), and was summarily underwhelmed. The bowl I had was chicken pho (pho ga) that — Kate and I both agreed — was sorta bland. Kate says she's yet to have a bowl of pho that's knocked her off her keister (though she also admits she doesn't exactly love the stuff back home). We ate the pho for breakfast in this little hole-in-the-wall eatery where we perched on tiny little plastic stools that were barely a foot off the ground at a table that was maybe a foot and a half off the ground. I'm no towering specimen, but even I felt a bit like Tom Selleck's Jack Elliot in that quintessential West-meets-East folly Mr. Baseball. While the pho has been something of a letdown, the coffee here has not disappointed. Thick, dark, and sickly sweet, it is presently powering me through this maiden installment of BTHz.

It's also taken a bit to get used to the whole currency thing here. One US dollar equals approximately 15,000 Vietnamese dung/duong. So you start getting into pretty big numbers quickly, even for a relatively inexpensive meal. I paid 90,000VND, for instance, for dinner for Kate and I last night. At first, I was like "holy shit, 90,000!" until i realized how little that actually was. (Like six bucks. For dinner. For two).

Anyway, I'd best wrap this up as it's approaching 9 and I've got travel agencies to visit. Kate and I are planning on heading to Halong Bay for the weekend, which means beach action [editor's note: I was wrong about the beach action]. (I'll be keeping my eye out for Dana Delaney, though I'm pretty sure I'm in the wrong half of the country for China Beach references to make any sense at all.)

Till next time, people.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Traveling, writing and writing about traveling

I recently took part in a "storytelling" event called Generating put on by the good people at Gas & Electric Arts. The point of the evening was to find regular folks with amazing stories and then have them tell them -- in an off-the-cuff manner -- to a crowded room. Lisa Jo at G&EA thought the story of my amazing/tragicomic trip to Cairo at the end of 2001 fit the bill. So I kicked off their first Generating event with a story that started out: "This is a story about a bad idea..." I'm told they recorded the evening, so if a recording becomes available, I'll share it here.
But the whole experience -- combing through my brain and attempting to render a story that I could go on for hours in 15 minutes -- was a pretty interesting one.
And it got me to thinking about not only my time over there, but the writing I did while in Cairo. It got me to dig up the web site, Dust Never Sleeps, that I was working on over there.
And the three "blog" entries I wrote:
  1. The maiden installment: Landing face-first in the desert
  2. Feelin' Chipsy
  3. and the maudlin Don't nobody know how dry I am
It also got me thinking about the heretofore unpublished (save for the e-mail blasts to friends) writing I did a couple years later from Hanoi -- a little project I'd dubbed "Bring Tha' Hanoize" (BtHz). I managed to retrieve the three installments (two from good 'ol Gmail, which was just in beta at the time and one from Patrick, who never throws out an e-mail).
And I decided that I'd post them here, on my largely underused personal blog. I've found that the writing, which was done entirely in Internet cafes, is not as sharp as Dust Never Sleeps. Guess that's what happens when you're writing on the clock (and sweating through your shirt at the same time).
So stay tuned. I'll post "Bring Tha' Hanoize No. 1, The seriously jetlagged edition" shortly.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006


Got some bad news this morning.

First, the back story. This year is City Paper's 25th anniversary and to commemorate this, Patrick and I are, in the 25 weeks leading up to our anniversary issue, going through the archives year-by-year and telling the paper's story through bylines, headlines, etc. in a regular feature called Paper Trail.

Each week, we spend a few hours with a year's worth of bound volumes and note the big stories, important staffers who debuted, and choose one cover from that issue to print in the paper.

A couple of weeks ago in the 1991 installment we proudly noted that a young photographer named Mpozi (Mshale) Tolbert (that's him, above, in a photo we ran in 1997 in an ancillary publication called Earshot), a teenager at the time, had made his debut in the paper. Mpozi was already an established figure in the offices by the time I showed up in 1995. As an intern, I remember seeing this hulking, 6-foot 6-inch dreadlocked man pop into the office now and again to chat with Margit Detweiler and Neil Gladstone. He was a giant man, but always incredibly kind. He was the kind of guy you couldn't help but like, be drawn to. As a freelance photographer, he wasn't in the office all the time, or regularly. But whenever he did, it was like an event. "Mpozi's here," the vibe in the officed seemed to suggest. If Mpozi was here, it meant there was something going on that we should take notice of. He was plugged in, and his vision as a photographer was such that if he'd shot something, or wanted to shoot something, you'd better damn well pay attention. His photography was such that he really got into the lives of his subjects. There was an empathy in the celluloid. He was magic.

So last week we received a letter to the editor from Mpozi thanking us for being mentioned in Paper Trail. We'd received a letter a couple of weeks prior from Miguel Gonzalez thanking us for his mention as well. As we found out, there's something of an e-mail list of former CP staffers out there chattering about who gets nods in the column and who does not. Well, any and all feedback is smiled upon, but it was especially nice to get a nod from Mpozi (his message is replicated in the first link of this post).

So it was a horrible shock to learn that this wonderful man -- strong, peaceful, brilliant, artist -- had fallen, let alone that it had happened so young. He'd been working at his desk at the Indianapolis Star when he collapsed. He was rushed to the hospital where he was pronounced dead. A cause of death has not been determined yet, but when someone young like this passes suddenly, your first inclination is to think something was wrong with his heart. Which is just not something you could ever say about Mpozi.

I didn't know the man well, but I knew him well enough to say that his loss is huge. My condolences go out to his family, and anyone whose life he touched with his work or his generosity.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Requiem for a Nice Guy

Was kinda shocked to read the news that Chris Penn was found dead in his Santa Monica home yesterday at the tender age of 40 or 43. Until, that is, I saw the most recent picture of Penn wherein he's looking, well, let's call it "not quite the picture of health." His latest jawn, the now sort of eerily monickered The Darwin Awards, is set to be screened at Sundance. I've got an e-mail out to my Sundance correspondent, Andy Williams, to check on the mood.

Go gently into the night, Nice Guy Eddie.