Post for Howard Bryan6:15 PM
by Rudolfo Carrillo
Listen up folks, because the news from the wild frontier ain't good today and with the bright summer receding fast into the restive darkness of the seasons that follow, you ought to know that Howard Bryan has died.
Bryan was ninety-one and enjoying life, eating and smoking and typing with continuous grace and autumnal authority until he was diagnosed with terminal cancer four months ago. The Santa Fe New Mexican reported today the old man spent his last days helping out with research for a colleague's book, rallying against the infirmity that was hot on his heels. If that ain't dignity in the face of death, I don't know what the hell is.
Bryan's oeuvre as a journalist, newspaper columnist and historian is remarkable in its depth of knowledge, subtly wicked wit and gloriously colloquial stylings, period. In person, the man was affable and kind and could talk for hours with great confidence on just about any subject that had anything at all to do with this city or state. He wrote everyday, too, and his dwelling was lined with hardcover books and photographs of all the amazing people that flowed through his life.
I began reading Bryan's column, Off the Beaten Path, when I was a kid. That collection of musings, essays and outrageously true histories from the heart of Burque's past and present appeared in the Albuquerque Tribune, a daily that went defunct about three years ago.
Way back there further, as the seventies lapsed into the eighties, Bryan's writ went straight to my brain and made me wonder what it would be like to be a writer.
So, when I was about seventeen, I scored a job as a features stringer at the Albuquerque Journal. In that epoch, the whole operation for the Journal and the Tribune - newsroom to press - was located downtown, on the corner of Seventh and Silver.
After meeting with my boss, some guy named Arnholz, some days, I'd sneek over to the Trib newsroom and ask Bryan to read the stuff I was writing. Since the Trib was an afternoon paper, their newsroom kept way different hours than its morning counterpart. Sure enough, some days, Bryan would be still be sitting at his desk, reading or talking on the phone way after the paper had been put to bed.
In recollection, I'm sure he thought it was weird for me to wander into that place so youthfully unannounced and brimming with false confidence, but he gave me good tips anyway. One of the best things he ever told me was to stop using the word "that" so much.
In 2001, I interviewed Bryan for a short freelance feature in the local alt-weekly's Best Of issue. For that interview, I went over to his apartment and we hung out for about two hours, with him discoursing about history and the newspaper, chain-smoking and offering me an ice cold soda pop now and again. That was the easiest most comfortable interview I ever did.
Nine years later, I rang Bryan up during a particularly potent bout of writer's block. Of course, he remembered me and referenced with nearly instantaneous certitude, something or other I had recently published.
We talked for a few minutes and I got around to asking him how he stayed so productive. He told me about the time one of his editors assigned him to write five columns per week, and it couldn't be all history, either, the editor told Howard. At first, Bryan did not appreciate the assignment. But then he started to write down the stories people told him, started trying to find things that were funny or wondrous in what was going on right there in front of him. He suggested the same for me.
He also told me "never be afraid to make fun of yourself", and that others were fair game too, as long as it was done with humor, grace, and good intentions. At the end of the call, he started coughing a lot and I told him that I wished he'd stop smoking. He laughed and said it would be awfully inconvenient to stop now, at the age of ninety and, besides, he was on deadline.