Friday, December 4, 2009

There is my mind

Here lies the brain of H.M., the most famous patient in memory research. He died last year at the age of 82, after over five decades of being intently studied by neuroscientists. When he was 9, he was hit by a bicyclist, and began suffering epileptic seizures -- up to 11 each week. In his mid-twenties, he underwent a lobotomy which essentially made the seizures go away, but also mistakenly took away his ability to remember anything new.  So if you asked him at 6 p.m. what he'd had for lunch that day, he couldn't say. Yet most of his memory up until the surgery remained intact. For example, while he was never able to remember new acquaintances again, he remembered his mother. And after she passed away, he experienced grief each time he learned of her death -- again and again. Though it's difficult to grasp how he perceived his life, he once said:
"It does get me upset, but I always say to myself, what is to be is to be. That's the way I always figure it now."
Thank you, H.M., for all that we have learned from you, and your 2,401 brain slices which the U.C. San Diego Brain Observatory will now be studying. And for those minds whose whereabouts we are still looking for, thank you Maxence Cyrin for taking on the search.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


When I was in California a couple months ago, I was assigned to interview Rivers Cuomo for Nylon magazine. I asked him all kinds of questions, like if he still asks groupies to jump naked on his hotel room bed after shows. Some of his responses made it into the article. It's out now in the November issue, the one with Serena Van der Woodsen on the cover.

P.S. No, he does not bounce naked on his bed with fans now - maybe just his family.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

It's been awhile since I spent much time around caskets and dead people, but after being thrown into a dark coffin last night and spun around (For fun! Really! Yes, way!), it reminded me of a story I once wrote that required me to work in a Detroit-area funeral home. At the time, particularly after observing my first embalming, I felt I had been damaged for life. But as my friend Dave recently reminded me, "Nothing lasts."

I just posted the whole text, which you can read here. (You may want to skip the New England Institute embalming description if you plan on eating any time in the near future.)

Monday, October 26, 2009

For the last year, I've been writing my way in and around this recession, attempting to take advantage of slower times, promising myself to finally spend time on "my own writing." I took off for California again, but instead of producing copious amounts of cohesive book chapters and scripts, I generated pages of fragmented, confused narrative, and really, just lived. I went to the ocean, often; I became fairly obsessed with hunting for wild fruit. I climbed fire trails, watched sunsets, prepared elaborate dinners involving caviar and saffron with friends and family. I tried in vain to answer a question from a child at the school where I volunteered: Why do clouds float? I touched melting glaciers, descended into craters, and yesterday, having returned to the city, witnessed the Tompkins Square Park dog halloween parade.

Today, as fall wrings out the last days of warmth, I sat on the front stoop of my new home-for-now and read John Steinbeck. "And although it has nothing to do with this story, no Abbeville child, no matter who its mother was, knew the lack of a stick of spearmint ever afterward."

Friday, October 23, 2009

It's a men's world.

This month on newsstands, I have two pieces out. For your convenience, you need only stop at the men's interest section. In Nylon for Men, a short profile about Danish rock band Mew. And in Men's Health, Go Fish!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

RIP Edgar Allen Poe, again. And again. And again.

Apparently nobody showed up at Poe's original funeral, so today, on the 160th anniversary of his death, Baltimore is holding two more.

Coincidentally, I sat in on a lecture by Michael Chabon up at Columbia University a few days ago, titled "I was Edgar Allen Poe" -- as a child, Chabon obsessed over the idea of being the reincarnation of Poe. I learned quite a few things during the talk -- that Chabon is a pretty funny guy, that singer Jeff Buckley did a recording of the ballad Ulalume, and that Poe is considered the first (well-known) person ever to try to make a living solely by writing. And so it follows, from a BBC News article today, that Poe "died an impoverished lunatic at the age of 40. His tombstone was destroyed. An enemy wrote his obituary and damaged his reputation for decades."

P.S. Asked if he had any mantras for when he hit obstacles while trying to write, Chabon answered with several, including: "This is it, this is the one that's going to kill me," "I'm not up to this" and "Help."

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Clutter=Frugality=Virtue=NY MOMA. So there.

"My mother's idea is, 'If something is not broken, but we should use again, we can. If we waste them, maybe in the future-future, we have nothing.'" -Artist Song Dong, "Waste Not" exhibition at the MOMA in New York.

So don't give me funny looks when I have the compulsion to save those pink or green biodegradable spoons from Yogurtland. One could argue I'm not only participating in upholding traditional Chinese values, but an exercise in modern conceptual art as well.

Plus, I'm not the only hoarder. From

Friday, October 2, 2009

366 days, today.

This is an installation for Urban Play Amsterdam (2008) from Stefan Sagmeister's "Things I Have Learned in My Life So Far project." It took eight days, over 100 volunteers and 250,000 Eurocents. Less than a day after it was completed, a local started taking the pennies, and the police, in an effort to "preserve" the artwork, swept up the remaining coins for protective custody.


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Egg Tarts and Country Squires

I love this story about the Phoenix Bakery's strawberry cakes in Chinatown, Los Angeles. My friend Betty wrote it, and while she was reporting it a couple of weeks ago, I got a chance to join her and spark a few of my childhood memories. Namely, death-matching with my older sisters in the back seat of the car, parked in the bank lot on Broadway while my parents food shopped. My mom insists we were never left alone, but who's paying attention when you're being tickle-tortured on the floor mat of a Ford Country Squire station wagon? The best memory: Pink boxes carefully tied with string and filled with egg tarts, sesame balls, yellow-sponge and taro cakes.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Surfing at the End of the World

Photography by Jason Green

7 a.m. Woke up, got out of bed, rode my bike to the LIRR and three hours later, double-overhead at the end of the world.

Epic 8.23.09

Thursday, July 30, 2009


I was riding up Bergen Street a few weeks ago when these appeared in the horizon. They weaved up and around in fluid, synchronous flocks, sometimes splitting up into groups, sometimes coming all together. That's when a fellow biker pulled up along side me and spontaneously began telling me about this old guy who stands up on his roof, waving his arms around.

"So he just stands up there and conducts the pigeons?"


And it just gets better and better.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Fair Syndication Consortium

We seem to have made some headway in solving this whole "newspapers and magazines are dying" debacle.

Editor & Publisher reports that over a 1,000 publishers -- including the NYT, Washington Post, Conde Nast, and even Gawker -- have band together to "track sites that swipe and re-use content from the original creators. The Consortium would then contact the site as well as the networks serving ads for compensation." So that means I'd owe E&P some money, eh? Or is this considered fair use? Actually, since the article doesn't disclose whether E&P's publisher joined, I'm assuming not.

Here's hoping it all works out smoothly.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Bikes and Skinny Jeans

Urban Outfitters now has a portal linking their shoppers to custom-built Republic bikes. Though my instinct is to make some sarcastic comment (see "Ipecac" reference here), I actually think it's not repulsive. Bikes should be as mainstream as hipster fashion. That said, I'm much more into this and this.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


Planters Cheez Balls are dead. And have been for quite awhile.

Thursday, June 4, 2009


A few years ago, while I was on fellowship in Boston, I decided to brush up on my Mandarin-Chinese speaking skills. I found a woman from China, a doctor, on Craigslist who had also recently moved to the city, and began a language exchange. Once a week, we'd meet in Cambridge and converse: 45 minutes in English, 45 in Chinese. We'd talk about mundane topics -- involving words that I could pronounce with ease -- and not necessarily things that were really on my mind. For example, "I am having a nervous breakdown trying to understand synthesizing a chemical compound, namely from a Mexican root plant, into an anabolic steroid" was not one of them.

One evening, we met at the Barnes and Noble cafe in Harvard Square. After multiple sessions talking about weekend plans, the orange line to JP, and, like, siblings, I decided to venture onto more trenchant subject matter. I asked her what she knew of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. In 1989, she was just a child, maybe in high school, and lived in a city far from Beijing. She recalled it as barely a blip in the news -- certainly nothing of too much note, some students causing trouble. I was incredulous, though at the same time, having studied contemporary Chinese history during undegrad, not. But surely, I pressed, she'd seen the internationally famous "Tank Man" image. She didn't know what I was talking about. I became obsessed, and led her down to the history aisle. I pulled book upon book from the shelves. Totally futile. Sweaty and nauseous from the effort, I finally gave up and we parted, with the implicit understanding that we'd meet again the following week.

The next day, I pulled a link from the Internet and prepared to forward her the image. But somehow, I couldn't hit send. It's hard to explain why I suddenly decided to become a willing accomplice in covering up a shame of such magnitude. Perhaps I just didn't want to rip her from her bliss. In the end, you can't pull or push someone else into facing life's harsh truths, and certainly not inside an anemic Barnes and Noble. We never met again.

For those who aren't afraid, here it lies.

And here.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Last night

I was biking through Long Island City

listening to Tom Waits, Nina Simone, Cat Power, Karen O

feeling a bit lugubrious -- despite the glorious weather --

when suddenly out of nowhere, the sky exploded and

I was no longer in such a shit mood. In fact, I was ebullient.

Speaking of Karen O, she is on the latest cover of Nylon magazine. I have a few pieces published in that issue, including a feature on a French girl rock band called the Plastiscines, a bitty q&a with singer Anjulie, and a spread about up-and-coming UK musicians. A highlight from my Beth Jeans Houghton interview:

Do you still have a day job?
I did, up until last week. I worked in a magical coffee shop called Heaton Perk in Newcastle. They serve happiness on a plate if you ask nicely. But I had to leave because the boy I love lives above it and he got a new girlfriend and I didn’t want to hear them fucking.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Nobody cut the cheese

Amazing. Our new government really is working for my specific needs. That absurd Bush-administration-imposed, 300% Roquefort tariff has finally been knocked down. Now, instead of taxing arbitrary EU food items to compensate for losses from the EU ban on hormone-fed U.S. beef, the USTR has negotiated to triple the amount of non-hormone U.S. beef exports over yonder. Logic - don't you love how it makes sense? And in fact, we should be seeing Roquefort prices dropping in about four years, when they remove all existing sanctions. If you're not quite a cheese fanatic, other items, like Pellegrino and ligonberry sauce, were also saved from the tax. This reminds me of the time Bloomberg banned smoking in restaurants, and almost makes up for the lack of universal healthcare. Well, not quite.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Rock on, Roquefort

My USTR contact just informed me the 300% Roquefort tariff has been delayed once again, pushing back to May 9 from April 23. This should allow more time to negotiate with the EU, and hopefully rescind the tax. Bated breath, my friends.

French Country Living

While waddling through France looking for food-related stories earlier this year, I simultaneously worked on a Country Living magazine feature, on chefs and their favorite recipes from their mothers. I know I sound like a luddite for being so impressed with technology, but I gotta say it was fairly awesome when I got a call from Sara Foster, who's based in North Carolina, while I was making faces with French cows in the Norman countryside. (Possibly as surreal as interviewing Frank Stitt over my cell phone from the floor of my friend's 6e Parisian flat at 2 a.m. GMT.) "Just Like Mom Used to Make" is out now, in the May issue, and also includes treasured recipes from PBS' Lidia Bastianich, Chicago-chef Rick Bayless, Lucques and AOC's Suzanne Goin, cookbook author Deborah Madison, Nancy Silverton (Mozza Osteria and La Brea Bakery),and Alabama's Frank Stitt.

(Pictures, above: Nancy Silverton's mom's Egg Salad Sandwich; below: Mrs. Foster's Chicken Pot Pie)

(More, left: Mrs. Goin's Priest's Pancakes and, right, Deborah Madison's mom's Cherry-Almond Babka)

Sunday, April 5, 2009


Took the 51 down to Shattuck last night and went to Halsey Chait's first solo show at the Firehouse North Gallery (1790 Shattuck Ave./Delaware). I've been waiting for this one for a while and glad to have been in the right place at the right time.

It takes him about 48 hours to finish each piece (please fact-check, I was only eavesdropping) and yes, he needs to take breaks. Fingers cramp,etc.

(Above) This is a close-up of my favorite, "Night City." Limited-edition archival pigment prints (of all show pieces) are affordable, for now.

And (below, left) the artist himself. Not bad, eh?

Friday, April 3, 2009


Unfortunately, my Giant Robot blog has been mysteriously corrupted and I can no longer post there. So it's as good a time as any to consolidate here.

Took the morning to head over to the water and catch a few waves. Before we mustered up the courage to paddle out at what we now refer to as "Ice Cubes," we stopped by a deli, where I ordered a bagel sandwich and started staring at the cover of this large-format magazine in the discard pile.

I immediately thought, "This guy is copping Dave Choe." And then I thought twice and sure enough...

It's the 2007 premiere issue of "boarding lifestyle" BL!SSS magazine -- and the best single-issue mag find since a friend got me the 1995 Drew Barrymore Playboy issue.

It's a nice, long interview, and ends with classic Dave: "I don't care about being right or wrong. I just want to live." I think he's still in China somewhere causing trouble...

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Beef over Cheese

For the last two weeks, I've been reporting a story for the Los Angeles Times about the death of U.S.-sold Roquefort cheese, an innocent casualty in the EU/US dispute over hormone-fed American beef. Althought L'Aigle Noir, aka the Black Eagle, featured prominently in my article, I have to say my favorite Roquefort is the Papillon Black Label. It's richly flavored with a crystalline-like mold texture and is best savored in a dimly-lit room with some epic Chopin. Last week, I bought the last chunk of it at my neighborhood market for an astounding $10.99/lb -- the last time I saw it was at $44/lb in Silver Lake's Say Cheese shop, and in a few months, it may be closer to $100/lb. The cheesemonger told me it wasn't moving and he needed to get rid of it. While I was busy freaking out over my grocery coup, he explained to my friends who were with me that it was like getting vintage Jimmy Choos, still in the box, at clearance. But trust me, I'm going to town in these high heels.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

32 Stories

My friend Adrian Tomine has a new (old) book coming out next month. A revamped-edition of 32 Stories. He says the existing book version was going out of print, and instead of settling for a reissue, he decided to do a little artistic overhaul: "...present it more like little artifacts from my teen years, rather than a proper book. And that supplementary booklet does indeed feature my heinous yearbook photo on the cover, which kind of ties into the new essay that's inside. But I'm hoping it'll be kind of a funny surprise when people first open the box." And that's a Tomine quote hot off the gmail press.

I highly recommend picking this set up -- Adrian's been critically-acclaimed for years now, from his New Yorker illustrations to his Shortcomings epic. But these original Optic Nerve comics are the archetype (a word whose definition I particularly remember from freshman year of college when he did some kind of art project on it). Anyway, as I was saying, the mini-comics are what paved the path, before he moved to Brooklyn, grew that beard and got married. Now that I am in Berkeley, once again, and in fact, living in his old apartment, think I will re-read them myself.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Check it out - my plan is working! The New York Times is launching community-based "citizen journalist" sites, accessible through their own online edition. Of course, "citizen journalist" is just a euphemism for "unpaid reporter" - but if I were in J-School or just starting out my career again, I'd be on it like mold on Roquefort. We all had to work for beans at one point in this industry -- and you'd be surprised how delicious they can be.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

This morning, while enjoying the sun in my parent's backyard, my dad handed over the business section of the L.A. Times. That's right - handed it to me, so that I could read David Lazarus' Sunday column
advocating the iTunes model of economic sustainability for newspapers:

"When Napster and similar file-sharing services debuted about a decade ago, people said the music industry was dead because consumers would no longer pay for sounds. Then Steve Jobs and iTunes arrived, and the music industry was reborn (more or less).

I feel the same way about newspapers, all that genie-out-of-the-bottle talk notwithstanding. Yes, the Internet's eating our lunch. And, yes, that's because we served it up ourselves. But let's talk about now.

Unlike the proposal I put forth in my last post, Lazarus recommends an even better solution: have the papers band together to form a consortium ("the more the merrier") and offer an online subscription. The SF Chronicle says they might start charging for online access, but somehow, it doesn't seem as worth it in comparison to paying for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal (which does charge), or better, a consortium of papers.

Currently, it costs $1.44/week to get a daily, print-edition of the L.A. Times delivered to your doorstep -- that's $6.25 a month and $75 for the year. If you subtract the production and delivery cost, an online subscription would only be that much cheaper. Of course, maybe when 3G phones finish taking over the world and clunky computers become obsolete, people will once again be willing to fork it out for simple luxuries, like reading the paper.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Eat this.

Lately, I've been obsessively debating the gloomy future of print media with just about anyone I come in contact with. However, despite my daily intake of wrist-slashing NPR news reports and alerts on publication closures and massive layoffs, the discussion didn't quite reach a fever pitch for me until a few weeks ago. I was having dinner with a group of bloggers, when we got on the topic of print media vs. blogging. It went something like this:

Me: The New York Times cannot die! If it comes to the point where we have to make a choice between letting respected news media go or having to pay for it, I will gladly pay for it.

(who mostly posts stuff pertaining to race issues): That would never work. People expect content on the internet to be free. Global Voices Online is a great site that gives local, independent perspectives...

Me: Geezus, people blow money on stupid stuff from eBay all the time. More importantly, the press serves as a fourth branch of the government...checks and balances, democracy, the free world! Blogs can be useful and interesting, but they just don't hack it when it comes to reporting the news.

Blogger: But plenty of articles misreport information and have biases.

Me: You have a point.

Since it was a dinner hosted by my sister and her husband, or maybe because I was suffering from spring roll-induced lethargy, I let it go. In retrospect, as nice and funny as the blogger was, it's infuriating. As we all know, many blogs rely on a steady stream of information first reported by journalists from the mainstream media so that the blogger can aggregate/link/bitch about. Of course, there's the argument that some blogs scoop papers with intimate, on-the-ground info that reporters couldn't possibly dig up on their own in a similar time span. But there is a big difference between a pithy blog post with a fragment of key information and a well-researched, well-reported story that's been vetted by fact-checkers, top editors, copy editors, and any of the multitude of professionals who get a look-see before the story goes to print.

Our well-established news media, along with its savviest, experienced reporters and editors, must not go the way of the Columbia Basin Pygmy rabbit: extinct.

Upon further rumination, instead of fighting each other, perhaps the answer is uniting the best newspapers with the best blogs (Lockhart Steele's Curbed Network comes to mind), to strengthen content, keeping everyone relevant. The New New York Times, online paid subscription required.

And to fulfill my blogging responsibilities, this Time Magazine piece by Walter Isaacson couldn't have said it better. I share his sentiments, and have even ranted in recent weeks: "If iTunes can do it, then why can't the freaking L.A. Times do it, too??!!!"

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Eat the head.

I saw this ad for the first time yesterday on the local Chinese TV station and immediately laughed out loud. Whether or not Tmobile got their money's worth pimping it out to a largely 1st-generation Chinese-American demographic is another issue.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Je t'aime, Berlin

Many people, when considering the ultimate European city, think, "Why, Paris, of course." Non moi. As a cheese-obsessed, Godard-loving, Carla Bruni-listening, otherwise exuberant Francophile, my non-lustrous opinion of the croissant city has always confounded me. And that is why I return, time after time, looking for that moment of clarity where I raise a glass of Pernod over the glorious stench of an oozing cut of Camembert and say, "Ah, oui...Paree." Recently, in a moment of economic denial, I got a ticket to Charles de Gaulle and joined a friend for yet another attempt at love. The awesome Velib bikes almost sealed it, but ultimately, it didn't go so well (vomiting literally ensued). Eventually, I made my way east to visit some old friends, and while I haven't entirely given up on Paris, I'm still happy to say, "Ich bin Berlin, all the way, yo."

On my second night in, an American-expat friend of mine invited me to a birthday party, well attended by filmmakers, artists and ethnomusicologists. It was held at an intimate bar with a beautiful chandelier in Prenzlauer Berg, where the crowd passed around a bottle of Polish vodka masquerading as a fat feathered rooster. I was hungry -- having lost my appetite the previous three days when I was still in Paris. Their menu was beautifully simple, and painted on the wall:

Not feeling quite ready for a heavy meat sauce, the bartender/waitress prepared the most comforting, delicious bowl of spaghetti with a tangy cheese, cracked pepper, olive oil, and I think a little lemon juice. Here she is, working behind the cozy front counter:

I still think about that spaghetti.

Gulasch Bar:
Winsstrasse 9
Prenzlauer Berg

When I left the bar, the streets were quiet, the TV tower radiating overhead like a spindly, stainless-steel matriarch on Quaaludes.

For brunch the next morning, my friends Mareike and Achim had their usual Sunday fare: coffee, bread, assorted cheeses, butter, honey, pate, jam, muesli, yogurt, fresh fruit and a bouquet of fresh flowers.

Later, they took me to Mueggelsee, the city's largest lake. Due to the sub-freezing temperatures, it ended up being a magical walk on water alongside speeding ice sailors and skaters, culminating in hot ciders and mulled wine.

In the end, I didn't take nearly enough photos or spend nearly enough time, but you get my point.