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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Take the A train

This is a taxi-top ad. The copy says it's from a Gentlemen's Club, but I have an idea about the real sponsor.
I'm very impressed by the contemptuous look on the model's face. It seems to say that she is disgusted at the very idea of the smarmy worms who want to come by and watch her dance. The effect is even more pronounced when seen on the top of a cab in the soft pink glow of street lights.

So my thought is that this ad was really placed by the Anti-Erotic League as a anaphrodisiac addressed to all those lusty, horny businessmen who might be wandering on the streets of 19123 right now thinking about the charms of g-strings, brass poles and very high heels. 

Doesn't that welcoming expression just make you want to drop
in at her club?

Various Kinds of Bullshit-#8 
Take the A train, 'cause that's the only way to get to Harlem

Now I have a series of poems (don't worry, I'll spare you) about the things that get said that are pure bullshit. And when I have the chance, I'm going to add one that points out that not only can you take the C and the 1 to get to Harlem, but there are buses, car services and the imagination, all of which will do the job.
You might also want to remember that you can take the A train to Brooklyn or Inwood or even to Washington Heights which is what I did today to visit the Cloisters. I haven't been there since, um maybe 1965 so I was due.


The Cloisters is a branch of the Met. It's a museum in a park all the way up at the Northern tip of Manhattan. It's the only museum in the country that specializes in Medieval Art. The building incorporates parts from five European abbeys which were disassembled and shipped to New York City, they were reconstructed and integrated with new buildings in the medieval style designed by Charles Collens. The area around the buildings was landscaped with gardens planted according to horticultural information obtained from medieval manuscripts and artifacts, and the structure includes multiple medieval-style cloistered herb gardens.
The whole thing was paid for by John D. Rockefeller and there is something wonderfully triumphal about the ruins of the old world being preserved and their message restated here.  Rockefeller even bought land across the river in the Palisades so that the view would be spared from any possible Jerseyfication.

One of the columns that supports the portico around a cloistered garden had a charming detail:

See those pine cone-like things on the top left and middle right of the capital? Them's hops. Yup, hops the magic herb that both preserved beer and gave it a flavor worth enhancing. Many of the columns have botanical features that are pure fancy, but this one is unmistakably our old friend H lupulus. There he is, France, early 12th century, even got his own column. Kale? Nothing. Brussel sprouts? Zip. But hops? Ah! hops got her picture in the paper and almost 900 years later, she's still famous.


By the way, here's a picture of a very dorky visitor to the Cloisters wearing his Audio Guide and his beret.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Dejà Dejà Vu Vu

So one of the reasons for this trip is to see if I can induce Nostalgia Toxicity-just make myself so sick of my own memories that I have to give them up right at the time that I'm planning to go senile and have no new memories with which to replace them. Good plan, huh? Very Buddhist.
I went to the Met (the Metropolian Museum of Art) today, just before closing. I have some work there: in fact, I hung it myself.
Notice the beautiful lighting.
Sometime in the early '60's, I was an electrician: a genuine Local 3 IBEW, 4th year apprentice. The company I worked for had a contract at the Met. One of the things we did was install lights in a tomb. It's the tomb of Per-neb, the Pharoh's architect.
I'll bet that I am the only person you know who can say that they've put lights in a tomb and one of an even smaller number that gets to go back and admire his work.
There was more to see of course, but time and my aching knee put a damper on things. There was a bawdy Flemish painter who got out of gloomy Flanders, spent time in France and Italy and ended up in gloomy Prague. Bartholomeus Spranger was his name and like many worth eroticians, his reputation has been unfairly dimmed. 400 years after his death, the guy finally gets his first show in New York. (A comparable talent like, um let's say Stuart Shils has had dozens of shows in New York and he's still alive!)

Bartholomeus Spranger 

One of my minor quests on this visit is pizza. I may be blinded by delight, as Springsteen says, but most of my great pizza memories are here. So I started off in Manhattan at Marta, a Danny Meyer restaurant. I sat right up at the pizza bar so I could watch other people cook (much more fun than watching other people play with a ball)
That's wood burning in there
Before I tell you about the problem with nostalgia (from the greek words algos-pain-and nostos-homecoming), I should mention that the beer and pizza problem remains unresolved. Pizza 'n' Pilsner is more a matter of cultural coincidence in the US than real taste affinity, and the cultural and geographic distances involved at the places of origin have prevented a synthesis of tastes.
In the absence of deep tradition, we seem to be slouching toward two traditions in the making. One is that the sour-sweet taste of tomato and the fat-rush of cheese get a big contrary dose of bitterness in the form of an IPA or other hop-monster. The other possibility is to pick up the sweet fruitiness of the tomato and echo it in a sweet stout with notes of hop and roasted grain bitterness. 
I went stout with Gun Hill Void of Light Foreign Stout. It's from The Bronx (not 'Bronx' as it says on the menu-sorry to see that solipsism in the City itself). Think of it like making a harmony in sound. You start with a tone from your basic pizza piano. Then you can add the tenor sax of a hop-bomb or the base guitar of a stout or porter. (there is the saison or abbey dubble option, stay tuned for the results of that one).
Gun Hill is good stuff. Rich, full-body, malty and bread-like, it's perfectly balanced and ready to play the bass notes under the pizza. In fact, when I get home, we should probable find a case of it and have a party, but that's another story.

Oh yeah, about nostalgia. The taste that I had in my mind's mouth was unctuous from real mozzarella and fragrant from oregano and pepper and tomato-sharp (not sweet). It had notes of bread from a hot oven and maybe even a little tiny bit of char. This pizza-Marta's pizza-was spare and well-balanced, modernist, even severely so. And it was delicious in the way that modernist ofter is, but it wasn't home. 
I'll go back to Marta, but I think I'll head out to Brooklyn (Brooklyn!) first.

There's a very big building on 34th Street

When I was a kid, my father had a shoe store on 39th street.

The store was between 5th and 6th avenue, so when you walked to either avenue, you saw the big building looming (yeah, it loomed) over the downtown skyline. (yes, in New York, 'downtown' is a direction.) When I was allowed to take the train in to visit him at the store, we'd always stop on the way home and he'd point it out to me. He had been a young man when the thing went up and he was proud of its daring: maybe he thought a little bit of it was his.
Four times a year on a Sunday, the shoe wholesalers would host the retail guys. Many of them had offices in the big building and men like my father would troup up, look at the new merch, have a shot of schnapps and buy their inventory. The offices on the downtown side looked at the Battery, the meeting of the two rivers and Bedloe's Island where the statue of Liberty looked out in the same direction.
Of course, I knew it was called the Empire State Building and I knew it was the tallest in the world, but I also took it for granted. Of course, world's tallest. The whole damn world was here after all, where else would the tallest building be?
It was years later that I got that New York State was the Empire State. It seemed kind of silly: have you ever been to Troy, NY? Empire? c'mon. They didn't build the UN in some state, they put it in New York, the Empire City.*
Last night, the crowds were on Fifth Avenue. Some out of towners transfixed like rocks, some New Yorkers streaming past them. I had a beer, actually two, on 33rd st and walked back uptown to home.
On one block's walk (between 44th and 45th) I heard three different languages leaking out of the crowd-none of them English. 
It reminded me. Oh yeah, this is why it's great. This is why it's New York, how it became the Empire. Everybody made it. Not just the folks who look like me or the ones who talk like you-Everybody. 
In a restaurant in Rome, the owner told me what was wrong with his city: "Nobody here except Romans and priests!" I'll bet it was a lot different back when they had an empire.

*The Big Apple is a sobriquet, an invention. It's supposed to sound homey, unintimidating. I've only seen it in ads directed to out-of-town and I've never heard a new yorker use it.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Radiation Days (the book) Gets its First Review

So the book based on the blog you've been kind enough to follow was published this week. One of the advance press copies got to a reviewer at the upscale Chestnut Hill Local. Here's what Hugh Gilmore had to say:

Death threats were not wasted on Lynn Hoffman: His new book is terrific

Lynn Hoffman readies for radiation.
Lynn Hoffman readies for radiation.
by Hugh Gilmore
Lynn Hoffman and I had been friends for about a year when he called me at the gym. I stopped pedaling the cardio machine and pressed my cell phone to my ear. He told me he’d just been diagnosed with stage IV cancer of the throat.
“If I live, I may lose my ability to speak and taste,” he said.
That was the only lament I heard from him then and in the five years since. He seemed to care less about whether he lived than about how he lived. And now he’s written a book about his experience, “Radiation Days.”
Based on a blog he maintained throughout his treatment, the book is unlike any of the many cancer survival memoirs now on the market. It mixes unapologetic intelligence with good will and serves that combo up with the attitude you’d expect from an educated (a doctorate in anthropology) guy from Brooklyn (whose Ph.D. thesis was based on his Merchant Marine service). He ain’t buying it, Doc.
Hoffman was facing an ironically threatening crisis for a man who makes his living by writing and talking about good food, wine and beer. He’d done that nearly all his adult life. He’s also a poet, novelist, cook, beer brewer, kayak builder and sailor.
His knowledge in most of the subjects we’ve ever discussed runs both wide and deep. But what good is knowledge when it can’t be shared? Losing your voice when you’re a great speaker, losing your sense of taste when you’re a gourmet – well, treatment might leave him alive, but in need of a new self-definition.
Yes, he can write – quite well – but he always seemed to live and breathe to stand before an audience and preach, brother, preach about the pleasures they could be experiencing with this wine, or that beer, or this here sheaf of poems he was about to croon.
So he “fought” the cancer as Americans say, meaning he submitted himself to medical treatment and followed his doctors’ advice between radiology and chemotherapy sessions. Though those twin stresses debilitated him terribly, he kept an online blog through every stage of his treatment at Fox Chase Memorial Cancer Center. Hoffman’s blog was funny, detailed, sharp and original and it has since been polished and turned into a very smart, quite offbeat book whose full title is, “Radiation Days: The rollicking, lighthearted story of a man and his cancer” (Skyhorse Publishing, July 1, 2014).
I’m sure this book will be given to other cancer patients or their friends and families, as a source of support or inspiration. However, I want to stake a claim for its being a readable and enjoyable book on its own, despite bearing the weight of those dreadful title words “cancer” and “radiation.” (You can see the publisher’s marketing department trying to lighten things up by surrounding those words with “rollicking” and “lighthearted.”)
The real subject of this book is Hoffman himself. The story begins with his waking at 2 a.m. with a really sore and bloody throat, going to the emergency room at Temple University Hospital, getting lots of diagnostic tests, going home, coming back a week later and being told in a dramatically blunt way (which he has never forgiven) that he has throat cancer.
The fast pace of the story gets faster then as Hoffman describes his treatments, their effects on him, and his ongoing battle to translate medical-ese into language that a patient can understand.
This book could serve as a “So you just found out you have cancer …” guide through the circles of medical hell. Along the way there are villains, heroes, and heroines. There is friendly advice to those of us not struck yet in life’s big dodgeball game. Lots of information casually offered. Advice too, gently tendered. Recipes, even – for how to blend up something one can get down when too nauseated to eat. And when to drink it.
Hoffman survived the treatment. It was successful too – in that cautiously stated way that must now be adopted: no signs of cancer present at this time.
With the help of speech therapy he can talk clearly again. He can drink beer again, but not wine. He explains that wine requires saliva if it isn’t going to scorch your throat and tongue. He explains the chemistry of saliva. He explains the chemistry of wine and beer. None of this feels like a lecture because Hoffman is Hoffman, a walking encyclopedia who never forgot his Brooklyn wisecracking origins.
In fact the book eases into the philosophy of what it means to be human, what is the measure a life’s worth, and what is important enough to ask for your time when your time might be scarce. This is a book about the getting of wisdom written by a man who was learned and wise and funny even before he was forced to enter Round Two of Life’s Weird Sweepstakes. As the title of this piece says, death threats were not wasted on him. The rest of us are the beneficiaries of what he learned.

If you'd like a copy of the book (complete with photos) you can find it at:

Please let me know what you think. thanks, Lynn

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

And I Got a Book Out of it

john ridge, md is impossibly tall, remarkably lean and habitually brisk. today he takes his time, tells a personal anecdote, makes a self-deprecating remark. he commiserates with me about my cold and fever, asks a few diagno-questions. he moves quickly though through the worst parts of the exam, the parts that make you gag, the part with the tube snaked down your nose. (there's a snake in my nose, there's a snake in my nose!)
he says it's not cancer. he talks about the new normal for post-radiation days. he says he'll see me in a year.
i still have a stopped-up this and a runny that, but frankly my dear, i don't give a damn. i stopped at home depot, bought some beautiful oak plywood, cut it to a diagram and now it's time to put up shelves, sculpt a few dryads and then settle in with a book and some music.
maybe i'll bake a loaf of bread, maybe i'll just sautee some spinach.
Radiation Days (the book) is supposed to be out July 1st. The version should be available around the same time. When the audio is out, I'll have to tell you about what it felt like to read the whole thing over-aloud-in the course of a week. 

Oh. Did I mention that you can pre-order the book at:

I did? Ah well, I'm repeating myself.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Radiation Days will be published May 6th. Here's the link to the cool blue cover. Thanks for sticking with me, Lynn

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Book!

A few months ago, I gathered all the blog posts together into a single manuscript and submitted it to the nice folks who published the Short Course in Beer. I just found out that they want to publish Radiation Days as a book in 2014. (If I were the type of person who indulged in multiple exclamation points, I'd put them here.)

In the meantime, i'm thinking about how to use this publication to do the most good for the most people. My message isn't one of those goopy 'keep hope alive' things and it's certainly not 'attitude is everything. It's more like 'live your life right now, live, live, live.' Cancer sucks, but if it reminds you to live your life intensely and joyfully, then it ain't a complete loss.
I'm thinking that there's a monologue in there-for as long as my voice still works-for cancer support groups, maybe a fund-raising thing for local cancer-fighting groups. If you have any ideas, any at all, i'm a-listening.

thanks, lynn