Latkes as Love

My grandmother’s kitchen always felt safe.   If I was Quasimodo, I would not need to ring the bell in church steeple and yell “Sanctuary!”.  Sanctuary for me was sitting in a red vinyl chair in my grandmother’s kitchen on Glengary Avenue in Toronto.  My grandmother’s meals were always nurturing.  When I need comfort I immediately think of my grandmother’s meals.  The meal I still remember as being pure comfort was a small bowl of Lipton’s chicken noodle soup, followed by some green beans, followed by potato latkes.  There is no emptiness that that meal will not fill.  Not a permanent fix but for that moment in time; I am full, I am safe, I am loved.

I lived in Los Angeles but at the end of the summer I would usually fly to Toronto and spend six weeks with my grandmother.  Usually the six weeks before school started.    On arriving at my grandmother’s house there would be latkes and baked rice pudding.  All the unhappiness of the past ten months would melt away in the safety of my Grandmother’s kitchen and an outpouring of food.

Sometimes after coming in from playing in the park, I would be met by a large stack of potatoes and a peeler.  My Grandmother preparing rice pudding or veranchicas, she needed help with the potatoes.  Then I was given the rectangular metal grater and was instructed to “shraboon” (the Yiddish word for grate).   I would grate the potatoes and try not to add too much of my knuckle skin or blood.

At the ripe old age of 19, standing in my grandmother’s kitchen, I had a moment of clarity.  If I wanted to have latkes more than the once a year I came to Toronto I was going to have to make them for myself.   I turned to my grandmother was drinking a cup of Red Rose tea and said, “Granny can you give me the recipe for latkes?”  My grandmother looked at me and she said, “There’s no recipe?  I will make them and you can watch me.”  We prepared some potatoes and then she turned to me, smiled and said “Sharboon!”.  There were no measuring tools, no cups or teaspoons.  Breadcrumbs were measured by the handfuls, and the same hand was used to measure out a small mounds of pepper and salt in the middle of my grandmother’s hand.   She separated the egg yokes and beat the whites so when the eggs were added to the potato mixture it would make it all fluffier.  I admit in my recipe I have dropped the ball with beating the egg whites and I have improved on the grating of the potatoes by using my Cuisinart mini food processor.  I push a button that says “chop” and say “Shraboon!”.

In a few days it will Passover.  I love this holiday.  The message of freedom from bondage. That we were slaves and live in Egypt (Mitzryim) which literally means “a place of stuckness”.  Where do I now still live in slavery?  Am I ready to pack up and walk toward freedom?  What do I leave behind?  What do I take with me?   I will always pack a few potatoes, some eggs, onion, breadcrumbs and my Grandmother’s love.

There is a Universal Spirituality  Seder with Rabbi Ted Falcon on Wednesday April 12th.  One of my favorite things to do.  There is a link in case you want to join me and we can break matzo together.

Happy Passover.

March 28th 2017

I am sitting at the kitchen table of my cousin’s home in Nanoose Bay, British Columbia watching Spring and Winter battle for dominance through the wind and clouds.

Tomorrow is my 67th Birthday.  It is quiet and reflective. No wild party.  No DJ is being hired so I can rock out to Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels singing “Devil with the Blue Dress”.  It will come and go and hopefully there will be no blazing cake that might need a fire extinguisher.   Perhaps a corned beef on rye!  Strange now that the gift I think of giving myself is a professional hair trimmer for the hair growing uncontrollably around my ears.  These are the things I think about, that and how long will me knees last me playing “old man” tennis.

Yesterday I found an old book of poems.  One I had loved.  One I had lost.  I found “Selected Poems from 1956 to 1968” by Leonard Cohen.   Out of print, it had disappeared from my life over a decade ago.  It was given to me by a woman who I loved deeply when I was 19 years old.  My own fears, insecurity and the fact she lived 3000 miles away broke us apart.  I was not very good at carrying on a friendship with those I had loved, but I did carry that book with me for over thirty years.  From apartment to apartment, across borders and state lines, on planes and in cars.  Where ever I landed and had a bookshelf it would sit.

Then it was lost, by time or carelessness or by some absent minded borrower.  Yesterday I found it again.  On a dusty shelf of a large Thrift Store in downtown Parksville.  It flew into my hand and I was out the door after paying on three dollars for my birthday treasure.  The cover was worn and faded, just as I remembered it.

My cousin said to me, “It is bashert!”.  In Yiddish it means my destiny or fate.

I don’t know about that but it was good to visit with my old friend Leonard Cohen, who I only met on the pages of this book.  He inspired me to write poetry, to risk, to talk honestly.  I mourned his death last year.  Thank you Leonard for your music and your words.  And thank you to the Love who put the book in my hands so many years ago.

Zack Hoffman 2017

Having It Out With God

(note: I read this piece at our Writer’s Readout in March.  We only have 5 minutes to read so I wanted to put the completed writing up.)

 

Having it out with God.

I am crawling out of my skin.  I have been sober for 4 months and now there is no block…no buffer…no end to my pain.  I understand the reason but reason doesn’t remove the pain.  I have been numb for 20 years and now I am raw.   I turn to my therapist, we talk but I am still in pain.  It is then I go to see my spiritual advisor.  Everyone should have a spiritual advisor.  Mine has tattoos, wears a leather jacket, used to deal heroin, rides a motorcycle.  Usually these things would scare me but he has a light in his eyes.  A kind of light I want.  He talks about serenity and breathing.  He listens to me when I speak.  Except I don’t speak, I unload.

He smiles, takes a deep breath and says, “You need help, and unfortunately it’s more help than I can give you.   You need to ask someone else for help.”

Who do I ask?

“You are going to have to ask God for help.”

And I felt like the guy on a rope hanging off a cliff.  The guy is screaming “help me! help me!” and he hears a voice, “Yes my child, I am God I will help you”

“Help me God”

“Yes my child .,.just let go of the rope”

( a long pause)

Is there anybody else up there?

Not God. Not that bullshit.  They tried to sell me God, when I was a child but after a while, after disappointment, after fear, after betrayal, after feeling like a thunderbolt was being thrown in my general direction on a daily basis, after all of it, I look up, I was on my knees looking up for God, kneeling by my bed needy, hopeful, discouraged, and I looked up and I saw only ceiling. There was no God. And now you tell me I have to seek God for help.  He’s not up there! And if he is he doesn’t give a shit about me. No not God. Not the God that sent the Laughing man and Mr. Cinnamon. No Way!

My spiritual advisor takes another deep breath, he looks at me and he said, “you need to go somewhere. You need to go somewhere deserted.  A mountain, a Valley, a desert.   Somewhere with space, somewhere where you can be alone, just you and God, and then you can have it out with God once and for all.  You can yell scream kick punch do whatever you want.   But when you’re finished you have to listen to what God has to say.”

Well that sounded good to me. Me against God. Mano-a-deity. Me against the capital italics Him.  Me against the myth that there actually is something out there.

So I found a mountain and I got a backpack. And I started to prepare myself. Started to get ready for a 10 round no holds barred winner take all battle with the supreme being.

Cue the Rocky music and the training montage.  Now it’s an out of shape Jewish Rocky, and I have Mick with me.  He’s training me to be an atheist. And I am doing sit-ups with the works of Voltaire and the Communist manifesto strapped to my chest.

I am memorizing quotes like:

“Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime; give a man religion and he will die praying for a fish.”

I grunt and snarl as the training heats up.  I start to jog up the mountain with quotes from Bernard Shaw and Mark Twain and Gene Roddenberry.  And I keep moving up the mountain slowly methodically waiting for a chance to knock God on his eternal ass.   Because I was pissed.  All the events in my life where I felt abandoned and betrayed flickered one after another like an illuminated scrapbook.  I was ready to confront this God of theirs.   I am ready, I am abstinent, I am clear, I am clean.  I have nothing but a backpack and I take that to the top of the mountain.

It is quiet and the clouds roll through the top of the mountain like fog.

In a clearing I see the ring.

I climb in.

Start to dance.

Show off a few moves with a couple of quotes about the nonexistence of the supreme Being.  I’m getting myself pumped up I am ready.

The microphone drops from the sky and the announcers voice begins, “Ladies and Gentlemen. Beings and creatures. All life on the planet. We are here tonight for 10 round battle for self-determination. For a final solution. For an answer to “is there or isn’t there”.  For the Enlightenment of the soul. Let’s introduce our fighters.   Let’s meet the challenger first. In this corner. Masticator, Hunter gatherer, prone to fits of depression, anger, low self-esteem, warlike behavior, selfishness, self-indulgence, masturbation fornication defecation a flesh bag of meat, once exiled from the Garden of Eden it’s the one the only man.

My hands fly in the air I dance. Moving back and forth in the ring there is silence. A wind howls through the mountains. Nothingness. Emptiness. Silence. I stopped dancing and move back to the corner and wait.

The announcer speaks again,

“And in this corner the being who is supreme. The spark of all life. Holy one of being. His name has echoed through the world in 100 different languages. Energy of prayer. Praise for the ruler of all rulers. Mother. Father. Brother. Sister. Friend. Beloved. The Clear Channel of all energy.  The great creator.  The universal presence. The one, the only God.”

Voices begin singing, chanting. Choruses of Ohmmm and Ahmmm and shalom fill my ears.  A thousand birds fly overhead singing praise, and the animals are shouting and roaring.   Crackling lightning and thunder, the clouds part and the sun shines.  Then there is an eerie silence.  The clouds again begin to move across the mountain top.

I looked across the ring and I could almost see a figure but no, there was nothing there. There was a light. And the light seemed to move. There were no referees. No ring girls in bikinis carrying signs. No one was in my corner or in the Deity’s corner either, just the light shifted back and forth and suddenly there was a bell.  A clear Bell, the bell I was waiting for.  I saw nothing from the other corner so moved in that direction, the direction of the fog and light.  I move from my corner and started to raise my fist, raise my fist to smack God right into oblivion.  In a millisecond I was hit,  hit with a wave.  A wave that picked me up like a tsunami.  A wave that exploded across my whole body and I was powerless, motionless, frozen and in slow motion I started to fall forward toward the mat.  I’m falling forward but I heard a sound, a sound that engulfs me as I continued to fall. I slam against the mat and hear a word. It was clear and distinct and overwhelming.  The word was “Love”.

It was an instant but I am down and I am out .  I lay on the ground surrounded by silence.   I don’t know how long I was out, the ring had disappeared there was only the mountain and my backpack.  My consciousness came back and all I could do was honor the promise that I made.  I closed my eyes and I listened.  All I could hear was the echoing in my head, one word rattling around that had brought me to my knees, took me down to the mat, all I could hear was “love”.

I have encountered God on my terms and now I must walk down the mountain.  Walk down the mountain and surrender one foot in front of the other.  The war is over and I have lost.  All I can do is surrender to an open heart, to risk, to reach, to work, to fail, to succeed one foot in front of the other.
The battle has not scarred me.

I do not limp away from God after the confrontation head hung and feet shuffling.

The encounter doesn’t take my pride, my esteem, my worth, my joy.

I am not possessed, wildly shouting and speaking in tongues.

The encounter doesn’t ruin me, shame me, humiliate me.

I do not walk away from God bloodied or bruised.

I do not walk away from God broken or disabled.

I do not walk away from God with clenched fists or a broken heart.

I do not walk away from God.

I walk away with God.

Zack Hoffman 2017

Smoking While Sober

Smoking While Sober

For me, the first addiction was cigarettes.  Nicotine.  I was sixteen years old when I started in earnest.  Inhaling the smoke, stuffing down the feelings even then at 16.  The brand I started with was True cigarettes.  They were trendy cigarettes in the late 60’s. True had a plastic tip.  My best friend smoked Tareyton which had the charcoal filter.  My mother smoked Marlboro Gold 100’s in the crush proof pack.  I know that because I used to steal them.  I have smoked pretty much everything in the tobacco world.  From Shermans and the French Gauloises to Drum, Dutch roll your own shag tobacco and the worst being Silons from Israel.  Silon means “jet” in Hebrew and you could get ten packs of Silon a week on the kibbutz.   Non-filtered tobacco that would get you coughing you lungs out in no time at all.   At the end of my smoking career I was smoking Camel Lights filtered in a crush proof pack.

“Switching seats on the Titanic” is a phrase you hear a lot in recovery programs. What it means is there are primary and secondary addictions.  If you’re abstaining from alcohol another addiction will usually raise its ugly head.   Like the game Whack-a-mole.  Whack!  After drugs and alcohol it was smoking.  Whack!  When I first got sober I was probably smoking between 10 and 15 cigarettes a day.  Almost a pack but not quite.  By the time I have had nine months of sobriety I was closing in on two packs a day.  This was insane because I use my voice to make my living.

When I got sober I thought a lot of things would immediately happen which didn’t.  I thought I would get a new girlfriend, large sums of money, my career in show business would return.  I got none of that.  What I got was clarity. “What a rook!” I thought to myself.  I get clarity.  I felt like I had somehow been cheated.  I got clarity, showing me that I make my living with my voice and either I want to use my voice for the rest of my life or I’m full of crap.  I can continue smoking and ruining my voice and lungs or I can see smoking for what it is, a secondary addiction.  At a year and a half into my sobriety I quit smoking.  The clarity is that I can apply the same tools I used to keep me off drugs and alcohol.

Anyone can quit smoking.  It’s not easy but it is simple.  Once you have gone 72 hours without nicotine the physical addiction is gone. The rest is all mental.   My ritual in the morning for the past year and a half was to get down on my knees and ask God to relieve me from the obsession of alcohol, marijuana and cocaine.  I didn’t think God would mind if I added one more thing, which I did.  “Dear God. Please help me live this day without drugs alcohol and tobacco. Your will not mine be done.”  That was the prayer but then I needed action. I was taught that, “Faith without works is dead”.   I went to work.  I did two things right away.  I bought organic cinnamon sticks.  I needed something to handle the oral and tactile part of smoking.  Cinnamon sticks filled the bill.   They were the size and shape of cigarettes and you can put them in your mouth, and because they are hollow and you can take a drag on them just like a cigarette.  You could hold them between your fingers exactly like you did with the cigarette.  This works for the physical and tactical manifestation of the cigarette.

The second thing I did was get a large glass jar.  I was spending five dollars a day on cigarettes so I put five dollars a day in the jar.  Here was the deal that I made with myself.   If I fell off the wagon and went back to smoking cigarettes then I would have to toss a match into the jar and burn up all that money because that’s what I was doing by smoking: burning up money.  Within two weeks the jar was cram jammed with a lot of cash.   Now in the 12 step program I was working you got rewarded.   You got chips for 30, 60 and 90 days of abstinence.  I was going to use that glass jar and all that cash to create a rewards system too.  I would buy something for myself at 30, 60 and 90 days and stick the receipt in the glass jar.  I would get something nicer for six months and 9 months.   When I had a year without smoking I would take myself on a vacation.   At 30 days I bought a very thick beautiful plush terrycloth bathrobe, and I put the receipt in the jar along with the remaining money.  At 60 days high end Cologne and at 90 days shirts and slacks.  At six months I put a new sound system in my car.   When I had a year off cigarettes I took a first-class vacation to Palm Springs California.

It wasn’t always easy but it was enlightening.  At 30 days off of cigarettes I was driving a friend to the airport.  On the way back I was listening to Stevie Wonder’s song “Heaven Is Ten Zillion Light Years Away”.  About a minute into the song I was sobbing.  It’s a good song but I think it had more to do with the fact that I had spent years stuffing my feeling and now they were surfacing.  At times all it needed was a little push by Stevie Wonder.

Another time I was upset because someone wasn’t doing what I wanted them to do.  Imagine that!  I was angry.  Later that evening I was with my friend Jan (who smoked) and I said to her, “How many cigarettes do you have on you?”  Not if I could have one but how many because I need to know if I need to stop and get a carton because I was still angry and wanted to smoke that anger away.  That was the kind of addict I was.  A carton!  Her answer was “three” and I had a moment of clarity.  There it is again “Clarity”.  It wasn’t about the cigarettes, it was about the fact I was spiritually unfit.  I was angry, resentful, I was powerless and I wanted to stuff my feelings.  Then I saw cigarettes, not as a nicotine delivery device but a spiritual thermometer.  I was able to stop and take my temperature.  To breath and turn it over.  To let go and let Jan have her cigarettes.

One foot in front of the other, one breath at a time, I have walked into a place of self-care.   The good news is that you get your feelings back, the bad news is that you get your feelings back.  These feelings of joy and anger, peace and jealousy, love and fear at times feel like a rollercoaster ride. The alternative is numbness.  I willingly purchase another ticket for the next ride.

 

Zack Hoffman 2017

There Are No Jewish Cowboys

There Are No Jewish Cowboys

 

I love westerns.  When I was a kid, that was all that was on television.  Westerns!

My Grandfather and I used to watch westerns together all the time.  I loved my Grandfather, my mother’s father.  He passed away when I was eleven.  That was a time when I really could have benefitted from him being around.  But such is life.  Grandpa took me to see my first western on the big screen.  I was seven or eight and we went to see “Rio Bravo” at the Vaughn Theatre in Toronto.  A John Wayne western with Ricky Nelson, Ward Bond, Walter Brennan, Angie Dickenson and Dean Martin as Dude, a drunken deputy that was trying to get sober.   And with all the time we spent sitting watching and cheering those western, horse operas, shootem ups when I was a kid I had the realization of this one important fact…there are no Jewish cowboys.  There was never a synagogue under siege that John Wayne had to rescue, round up a posse and “save the Torah”.   I never saw an episode of the Lone Ranger when the masked man looked down on some travelers and said “Tonto who are they?”

“Them Jews Kemosabe, you think we should help them?”

“I don’t think so Tonto, I might be a masked man that wears pastels and hangs out with an Indian, but add the Jews to that mix and I might really be in trouble.”

The Jews weren’t on the Ponderosa with Little Joe and Hoss, Jews didn’t carry around Paladin’s card of “Have Gun Will Travel”, Boot Hill’s graves never bore a Star of David and every bar that Maverick gambled in was restricted.  Yet my grandfather loved westerns and so did I.   And by a funny twist of fate my grandfather’s son, my uncle Albert Zlatkis (or Ab as I called him), spent over half his life in Houston Texas.  Home of real cowboys, Texas rangers that wore badges and Beef “it’s what’s for dinner”.

My uncle is Albert Zlatkis.  He was famous.  He was a scientist not a cowboy but he was famous.  He helped develop Gas Chromatography.  But bigger than that he worked to bring scientist from all over the world together to share their breakthroughs with Gas Chromatography.  They were called “The Zlatkis Meetings”.  He did that for over 20 years and was given awards for the work he did.  He started out as out of work chemist from Toronto whose friend informed him that they needed research scientists at Shell Oil in Houston Texas.  Later he was then approached by the University of Houston and given a fellowship in the Chemistry Department.

My uncle is important to me for numerous reasons.  I didn’t have a lot of men who showed up in my life in a positive way.   I have a lot of stories.  I am only telling one.   He was my gateway Jew. The original corned beef Jew.  He was the man who taught me about all things Jewish culturally.  Mostly food, humor and music.  He used to walk around singing, “di di di di,”.  I thought he had forgotten the words to some lame Yiddish song.  It wasn’t until years later when I came to Bet Alef Synagogue that I was informed that melody was a nigun, a melody with no words.  After that moment at any service I am at where they start singing a nigun, a big smile appears on my face and I remember Uncle Ab singing a song with no words.

 

He lived in Houston but travel quite intensively for his work.  I visited my Grandmother every summer in Toronto.  If Ab was in town he would pick me up at the airport.  We would head immediately to Mo Panzers deli for corned beef and dilled cucumbers, pickles, kishka with gravy and fresh rye bread.  He would have pastrami and I would have corned beef.    When I hit my bottom with drugs and alcohol it was my uncle who sent me a ticket to Houston so I could be supported by family.  That was January of 1989 and I am forever grateful to my uncle and his family for their support, then and now. My uncle passed away in 1998.  My last memory of my uncle is being in his beloved Houston driving to Flying Pizza and laughing.

 

This is one of my favorite stories of hanging out with my uncle.  When I was in my early twenties I was invited to Houston because my cousin Debbie was getting married.   Much had happened in Houston in the twelve years since I had last visited.   The wedding was during the summer when I was staying with my grandmother in Toronto.   Aside from my clothes, my suitcase was packed with Health Bread bagels and Pearl’s salamis, which was the usual way to pack for a flight from Toronto to Houston.

Houston had something new.   They had a deli.  My uncle took me there directly after I landed at Hobby Airport.  I had an actual corned beef on rye with some white goop on the side of my plate.  “What’s that?” I asked horrified.  “Grits” responded my uncle, “Hominy Grits, they put it on everything here, just think of it as parsley and don’t eat it.”

I remember the corned beef was decent but the barbeque was better.  Houston had a growing Jewish community.  Ab was a member of a reform synagogue.  I was into Hendrix and pot and not necessarily in that order.  My uncle was into “The Barry Sisters” and Manachevitz wine.  The wedding was on Saturday.  There was a family dinner on Thursday night for the out of town guests.  And on Friday night the family went to synagogue to get a blessing by the rabbi before the wedding.  It was a mitzvah to bring the bride and groom up during the service and allow the community to bless their nuptials.  There we were.  Debbie and Craig, my aunt Esther, Uncle Ab the Scientist, and myself.  I was in awe of the ceiling and wall of this magnificent synagogue.  Then out from stage left to the bimah came a man in white robes, with steel grey hair slicked back and coifed, his eyes were cobalt blue.  He had the smile and stature of a used car salesman from Beverly Hills.  He was going to make you an offer you couldn’t refuse.  At that time Judaism to me was “Holocaust bad…corned beef good”.   So I really can’t tell you much about the service in reality, but what I can tell you about was the blessing.   My heart pounded and my eyes widened as I heard the Rabbi give a blessing with a thick Texas drawl.  “Baruch Atoy adonay eluhanu melach ha o lom.  Shehekeyanu ve kemanu lahigeanu lazman ha za.  Amen.”  And when the 150 Texas Jews said “Ahmen” it sounded much more like a revival meeting than any kind of religious service this corned beef Jew had ever attended.   The service continued.  I sat there stunned for ten minutes and finally I leaned into my uncle and whispered “Debbie can’t get Married”

“What?”

I tried again.  “Debbie can’t get married”

I had gotten through this time.

“Why not?” he whispered back.

“Because this Rabbi is obviously not Jewish!”.

We laughed inappropriately in the front row of the synagogue.  We immediately quieted down with an icy glance from Auntie Esther.  It was a good moment.

Somewhere in my Uncle’s DNA was his father’s love for westerns.  In 1979 I got an excited call from my Uncle who told me in no uncertain terms that I had to rush out and see Gene Wilder’s new movie “The Frisco Kid”.  My uncle called it “a Jewish western”.  I think there was part of him that wishes he could have seen it with his father.  I know that after I saw it I wished that my uncle and my grandfather were sitting next to me.

Zack Hoffman 2017

Workshop Poem

In 2004 I attended a local Poetry workshop.   In one of our exercises we were given a piece of art to look at and then write a poem.  We were shown “Japanese Girl With Red Table” by Balthus.   Here is both the poem and the painting.   Who’s art moves you?

 

Meeting Balthus’ Japanese Girl with Red Table for the first time.

 

posed

with her sex exposed

an ancient royal gift

tied up in a silk sash and bow

to be opened or closed

fondled or forgotten

leaning against the pillow

breath held

focused on a tapestry

until the spoken words “thank you”

break her neutrality

like the great exhale

as she humbly

turns to the red table

to pour tea

and cry

 

Zack Hoffman         May 2004

 

 

The Breakfast After

My writer’s group mostly sits in the café, nose down, writing then reading.  A safe place to find our voices.  Usually groups of three or four.  I am continuing to post pieces which began at the tables.

Once a month we meet up and read.  We get five minutes each.  It’s timed.  Dusted off and polished up pieces of what we were working on at the tables.  The next step in risk.  Standing up …being heard.  Here is the piece I read last year.

 

The Breakfast After

The bedroom was softly illuminated by two candles and the 3 inches of the open bathroom door.  Jimmy had turned on the water but Suzanne can still hear him peeing.  She was naked and warm, covered by a white down comforter.  She took the opportunity to look around the room, she saw signed concert posters professionally framed, all the furniture was light oak.   Suzanne imagined he’d gone into some trendy furniture store when he was flush, pointed at the bedroom set and said, “I’ll take it.”  On the dresser was a silver framed picture of Jimmy’s parents or at least Suzanne thought they were his parents.

Jimmy walked out of the bathroom wearing a pair of pajama bottoms.  He sat on the edge of the bed with Suzanne playfully pulling the covers over her head.  From under the covers she asked, “Staying or going?”

“I vote for staying” said Jimmy, and got up and walked over to the closet and pulled a white terrycloth robe off a wooden hanger and walked back toward the bed.  Jimmy handed her the robe and Suzanne slid out of bed slowly, she showed him her nakedness again and put the robe on but deliberately not tying it.  He stepped in and reached up, closed the robe and reached around pulling the terrycloth sash and tying it.  Jimmy took this opportunity to lean in and kiss her again, to taste her.

“Hungry?”

“What you got Jimmy Z” she said playfully

He began patting her butt, herding her toward the kitchen, “Eggs” he said.

“That will do nicely.”

As they slowly walked toward kitchen Jimmy couldn’t believe how well it was going.  He was sure now that disaster was soon to follow, he would drop the eggs on the floor, start a small kitchen fire, fart inappropriately, he took a deep breath, sighed and decided to act cool.

Jimmy started pulling things from cabinets and the refrigerator; it was as if he were a teenager preparing for a science project.  He grabbed the bowls, forks, spoons, eggs, Swiss cheese, a Teflon coated frying pan and a spatula.  Suzanne started looking through Jimmy’s cupboards; as if the white terrycloth robe had given her carte blanch to act as if she belonged.  She made a mental note of all the boxes of Lipton’s chicken noodle soup, the cans of Green Giant niblets corn, and Mrs. Butterworth’s pancake syrup.  She saw a large circular glass container and pulled it down.  It had breadsticks in it so she opened it up and with Bugs Bunny proficiency chopped away on a crunchy bread stick.  Jimmy put a dollop of olive oil in the Teflon pan, he remembered asking his grandmother about putting olive oil in the pan and she said, “I like olive oil, it’s like adding another food”.  He poured two beaten eggs into the now hot frying pan.

The eggs started to bubble around the edges.  He quickly picked up the salt shaker followed by the pepper and added it to the yellow mixture in the pan.    Jimmy took the spatula and started moving it around the edge. When a circle of eggs had taken some form Jimmy skillfully shook the frying pan back and forth.  until the mixture moved freely in the skillet.   Jimmy added the Swiss cheese on one half of the omelet.  Suzanne brushed up against him and offered a bite of bread stick.  Crunch.   With the cheese in Jimmy folded the omelet from left to right.   He lowered the heat on the gas Magic Chef stove and then grabbed two slices of whole wheat cup bread and slow them in the toaster.

Being distracted and impatient for the omelet to be ready Suzanne wandered toward the living room.  She looked past the dining room into the living room and saw a wall of sideways turned blue plastic milk crates filled with record albums. After a few minutes of being lost in album covers she yelled back into the kitchen,

“How many records do you have?”

“Right there is 3000”, he gently pulled her back into the kitchen and handed her a plate with half of the omelet and a slice of toast.

“Not really 3000!”, she said sort of astonished, then took a bite of the omelet, smiled and said “yummola”.   “So that game people play where you crash on a desert island and you can only take five records and you have to say which five would they be… you couldn’t do it?”

“Probably not” said Jimmy, taking a bite of his own omelet.

“Five, you can’t do five?”

“Not five not fifty, don’t make me choose.  Which Beatle album should I leave behind? Coltrane or BB King. Which Stones or Who album? Dave Brubeck, Art Evans, can I leave the Doobies or Steely Dan or Santana or Sinatra or Mozart or Bach or Tchaikovsky which one of those guys am I gonna choose?”  Jimmy smiled while Suzanne took another bite.

 

Zack Hoffman

Al Jarreau

Al Jarreau

When I was a young man in Los Angeles, I was going to Valley College and doing standup on Thursday night at a small club call the Bla Bla Café on Vineland Boulevard.  On Saturday nights we would go to the club to see the headliner, this amazing jazz singer named Al Jarreau.  He blew us all away with his music, his spirit and his artistry.  We knew we were watching and listening to someone special.  When his first album came out, “We Got By” we all ran out and bought it.   The song “We Got By” is one of those songs that is like a tuning fork for my soul.  It moves me.  It moved me when I heard it in 1973 and it moves me every time I listen to it.  Pictures and people and the life I live dance through my head.   Here is the song done in Hamburg in 1976.

Al Jarreau passed away on February 12th 2017, a month shy of his 77th birthday.   He had just canceled his tour a few months earlier.  He continued to do what he loved.    I am so sad.  Yet I am so grateful for his presence in this world, the joy, the music he brought with his passion, his gentleness.  For me, he will always be the greatest jazz singer of my generation.  God Bless you Al Jarreau.  Rest in Peace.

This Is My Start Line

This Is My Start Line

This is my start line.  For a writing practice.  We practice writing.   We practice having our thoughts flow. We come when we are tired, hungry, lonely, frustrated, calm, happy, joyous, paralyzed. We come when there are no words. We come when all words have stopped.  When our characters sit on the ground like petulant children and say, “Up yours!  We won’t speak to you, so go write some bullshit with your pen ink and paper that you so meticulously prepared”

We come when our lover has left us, when we have found love, when the world is a loveless cold place, when love and hope caresses our flesh.  We come when we remember.  Remember a relationship, a food, a walk through our favorite park.   We come and write and come and write and come and write.  The endless courage of showing up.  We write about nothing and everything.  We come and question ourselves and the world.

And Jack will say, “Where’s the poetry here?”

And the poetry is here when I press the pen against the paper and the ink spills out on the page.  The poetry is here when I am willing to risk everything.   Talk about the darkness of movie theaters in St. Louis, where sick men prey on young boys and laugh.  The poetry is here when Jimmy risks everything to love Suzanne and let her know she is special.  The poetry is here when Nick Sands needs one more Scotch to talk about his pain and in his pain I see my Mother and that is the poetry.

We keep coming empty and full, bloated with nothing and when the air seeps out of the bloat only the truth is left and you better write it down because it’s ugly and beautiful at the same time. The silliness of a well constructed joke, sex and death, my Grandmother’s hands, the pain of suicide, it all belongs here. Here at the table.  Sitting here at the tables and somewhere in the distance I can hear Natalie’s voice faintly saying, “Keep the pen moving across the page.”

My brothers and sisters keep me company.  To be a community.  To push and to push back.  To cheer, laugh, cry, risks, succeed, fail, inspire and most of all keep me accountable.  This is my start line.

tables

 

Zack Hoffman 2017

 

My Top Ten Films for 2016

My Top Films of 2016

I thought it was a strange year at the movies.  These, in my opinion, are the gems.  I think we managed to go to 40 movies this year.  I love going to the movies with my friends.  I hope the trend continues.  I also hope they forgive me for schlepping them to Jack Reacher “Never Go Back” in IMAX and the awful “Batman vs Superman”.

 

Here is the list in order.

 

  1. “Hell or High Water”

A surprisingly good tale of brothers, Texas and the system.

  1. “Dark Horse”

Documentary about a barmaid who had a dream and the people who believed in her.

  1. “Rogue One”

It reminded me how much I loved the original Star Wars.  Hands down a great action movie.

  1. “Where Do We Invade Next”

What can I say?  I love Michael Moore’s take on life.  My only problem was I thought he was going to have a stroke.  “Michael! Put down the cheese”.

  1. “Manchester by the Sea”

A heart wrenching cinematic poem on unresolved grief.

  1. “Deadpool”

This potty-mouth superhero had me in stiches from the opening credits.  I saw the movie twice and bought the dvd.  Of course it makes my list.

  1. “La La Land”

Inventive, fresh and visually stunning.  Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone worked their butts off to make the dancing believable and the characters soulful.  They have wonderful chemistry.

  1. “The Music of Strangers”

Yo Yo Ma’s documentary was captivating, moving and opened my ears to some wonderful music and musicians.

  1. “The Hunt for the Wilderpeople”

This funny and touching Australian film about a foster child captured my heart.  Sam Neil has never been better.

And my favorite film is:

“Sing Street”

singstreet

This romantic look at teenage angst in the early eighties was amazing.  Set in Ireland, it took me back to that time and recreated it with original music.  Moving and fun.