Taxi Distractie

•October 24, 2015 • 1 Comment

Everyone knows about distracted drivers. We all see people using their phones on the road. In the good old days, putting on makeup or eating behind the wheel were the worst things. Then came the cell phone. As if this didn’t provide anough distraction, the phones soon got GPS apps. Then came little GPS screens that could sit on the dashboard, and now, cars are coming with tablet sized monitors right in the dashboard.

If you’ve ever been in a taxi in a big city, you know to wear a seat belt and brace yourself for potholes, lane swerving and unexpected accelerations. Even the most sedate cab ride can be a challenge if your hand encounters a suspicious sticky spot on the seat, or you notice, after boarding, that your driver looks like he hasn’t slept in a month and when he did, he most likely slept in the taxi.

Taxi drivers used to leave their communication radios turned up and passengers had the pleasure of hearing the calls and static. Then the drivers got cell phones, so they yakked to their families while driving. Now they have better phones and the phones have screens. They take business calls, they talk to their friends, and if they think about it, they might glance at the road from time to time.

Recently, I got in a taxi at night at an airport. A minute after the driver pulled away, he received a call on his cellphone. He answered, “AIRPORT TAXI.” Then, apparently, someone started to give him an address. He reached for a small notebook and pencil and proceeded to write this down while simultaneously navigating a cloverleaf on ramp at high speed. From my seat in the back, I couldn’t tell–did he have either hand on the steering wheel? Fortunately, he ended the call when he had to merge on to the freeway. Just when I got my breath back, his phone rang again. This time he answered, “CITY CAB”. He had a brief conversation, then made a call on a different phone and assigned someone to a pickup. Yes, it could have been a comedy skit, but after 13 hours on airplanes I wasn’t in the mood to laugh. He continued to take calls the whole way. I was more than usually happy to reach my home! Yes, he is a very enterprising young driver, but I doubt he will live long enough to enjoy the fruits of his labor. In any case, I won’t be calling either of those taxi companies any time soon.

There are alternatives to taxis, but they’re not necessarily safer. I recently rode a Super Shuttle where the driver had three large monitors arranged around the driver’s seat. We were hurtling down a highway at 70 mph and he seldom bothered to view the road ahead.

Sometimes, yes, I say something like, “Maybe you should watch the road.” One driver agreed with me and seemed to be embarrassed. Most of them ignore it or blame their supervisors for making them work too hard. How much do you tip someone who almost gets you killed?

Mickey Hoffman is the author of two mystery novels. Visit for details.

Set in “Stone” : The Neighborhood Divide

•July 25, 2015 • 2 Comments

If you haven’t been following this blog you missed my rant about the concrete work in my city. It’s here for future reference:

The city government is obsessed with what they refer to as traffic calming dividers. These are blobs of pavement that jut out from corners or divide traffic lanes. In my opinion, someone important or influential owns a concrete company because the money the city spends on this stuff could be used elsewhere.

Anyway, about a year ago the powers that be decided to place a street divider in front of my house. This was to slow down the cars. The city hasn’t done anything about slowing down the skateboarders who zoom from the top of a hill in a nearby alley and roll right into passing traffic which is way more dangerous. Or, they could have made the intersection a four-way stop sign like many, many others. But instead, the concrete men came and constructed an ovoid island of concrete and then covered it with river rock. It was lovely when new and now it’s even more beautiful. I will give you a moment to admire it. Notice the accompanying cracked pavement and weed growth.


Ignore the dry grass on the other side of the street. We are in a drought and aren’t supposed to water the grass. It’s not a reflection on the “quality” of the residents.

If you travel one mile south, to the neighborhood where some of our city council members reside, you will find quite a different scene. Here’s the street divider those folks got.


Note they got a two-tiered island which even has a small tree growing in it. There’s also a bird bath but it’s hard to see due to all the greenery. This neighborhood has an average income higher than my neighborhood and very few apartment houses. I guess those people a mile down the road just appreciate foliage more. Right.

Do these dividers slow down traffic? Not that I’ve noticed on my street. They do make it harder to park. Perhaps the drought will sooner or later nullify these esthetic differences. The whole city might look like the Sahara soon. With concrete.

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Are Fish Cute? Yes!

•April 11, 2015 • Leave a Comment

There are many animals that are popular for their looks or behaviors. Most people agree that pandas and penguins are adorable. Dogs and cats are much loved, at least in the United States. Fish, however, are usually just praised for their colors, almost as if they are interchangeable with a vase of flowers. “Oh look at that one, it’s gorgeous.”

Fish have very interesting behavior and some of them become quite tame and friendly. Most people don’t know this. I can’t show that in a blog, but I can post a few photos that might change your mind if you’re not agreeable with the premise of this blog. All of the fish shown below are marine animals from tropical waters.

Meridia   This Wrasse lives in an aquarium in my house. She is about one inch long (2.5 cm) and is found in the Pacific Ocean, Micronesia and Indo Pacific.

RanbowClosePIC2    This is a Rainbow Parrotfish. I photographed it off the coast of Bonaire. This fish is about 4 feet long, or just over one meter for those of you on the metric system.

ErasmusOne   This is an Anchor Tusk fish. See the teeth? They grow back if they break off. The fish uses them while hunting for food, to pick up rocks to look for what’s hiding underneath. This fish grows to about 10 inches or about 26 cm.

butterflyfish   A mated pair of Butterfly fish. Below them is a cleaner wrasse. I took this photo in the Philippines. These fish poke their long noses into the tiny crevices of the coral reef. They would be cute even if they didn’t do that, but like a puppy doing a trick, they get cuter on the move.

Sasha4April24    A bit blurred because these Bird Wrasses don’t settle down often. I had one years ago that used to park himself on the bottom with his long nose on a rock and watch TV. He seemed to prefer talk shows. Not my preference but I’d leave the TV on for him. He was turquoise blue because he was a male. This photo shows my female Bird Wrasse. She could turn into a male, but I like her this way so I’m happy she’s stayed female over the years.

I hope you are now convinced that fish can be loveable. Since I found this out I have had to remove most of them from my diet. Like Alice in “Through the Looking Glass,” once introduced, it doesn’t go on a platter…

Dangerous or Amusing?

•October 17, 2014 • 2 Comments

With all the recent panic in the USA about possible dangers coming at us, it occurred to me that not every culture seeks to wall off the same threats. Some cultures seem to be downright fearful of exposure to things we view as totally benign like disco music. When traveling to another country, these fears can be somewhat perplexing. Some of these I also find amusing. I am going to show you three items from China and let you rate them on your own personal scale of danger/threat.

Here’s a scan of a customs form handed to me in China around 1990. I certainly understand why a few of the items listed are dangerous like arms, ammo, narcotics, poisonous drugs (planning to poison someone?), but in the 21st century to adhere to the radio transmitter and receiver they’d have to confiscate everyone’s cell phone. Of course, they try to block certain transmissions, so I’m sure they don’t even bother to ask you these days. You can’t bring plants or seeds into this country either, so I get that too. What really makes me laugh, though is that they ask you to declare your arms and drugs.

I see that in the USA at the airports, too. The TSA has a poster telling you not to bring explosives on the flight…But I digress.


Next are documents from hotels. Both were placed in the hotel rooms so you don’t see the rules until you get to your room. The first one’s from a hotel in Shanghai. This place is so very polite. Rule one is common sense. Don’t smoke in bed. Then we get to rule number 2: “Please refrain from gambling or engaging in indecent or immoral in the hotel.” So no poker games, casino activity and no immoral. What activities does that encompass? And number 4: “Please do not bring with you the following articles into the hotel: Pets, Malodorous articles, Explosive, volative or flammable materials, Unlicensed firearms or swords, Radioactive or other items or articles which may threaten the safety of other hotel guests.” SWORDS? Wow. And radioactive? What could that mean? They’re requesting cooperation of someone who’s carrying around radioactive material?


The final document is from a hotel in the city of Chengdu in Sichuan province.

formTHREE1988The form starts out with Chinese numbers, but after 5, it suddenly reverts to “western” numbers. I have no explanation for this. My favorite is number one. “Wild drinking, Disturbance, Gambling, Drug-taking, Lecherous acts, Prostitutions, Obscene and superstitious painting, Calligraphy and videotape recordings disseminating and projecting are strictly forbidden.” Superstitious painting? What’s wrong with calligraphy? I’m completely stumped here. I’m also very fond of number 6: “Burning substance, setting of fire-crackers, piling up flammable items and the washing of objects with flammable liquid are prohibited in the main buildings.” Oh, so I can step outside and set off a five minute coil of fireworks? YAY.  And not shown, because I was too lazy to scan the back of the page, is glorious number 7: “Raising birds, poultry and livestock is forbidden within the room.” Remember, this hotel is located in a very large city. They’re either very paranoid or they’ve had some interesting guests.

Now that you’ve seen the safety measures in place in another country, my fellow Americans, you can perhaps adjust your perception and relax. I hope, at least, I’ve made you smile and forget the evil world that’s probably not coming to get you.

Mickey Hoffman is a printmaker and the author of two mystery novels, Deadly Traffic and School of Lies. Visit the website to see etchings and check out the novels at

Trashed: or How I Tried Not to Pill Anyone

•August 27, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Always call first. I know this is good advice, especially when you’re depending on a website for directions, hours of operation, etc. The consequences of not calling might lead to a long wait for the place to open up, or there’s a furniture outlet where the computer store used to be. These are indeed frustrating experiences, but I have now really learned my lesson.

The situation arose from a family member having accumulated a large supply of unused prescription medication during a serious, but short term illness. Disposing of left over controlled substances presents both moral and environmental problems. If you dump the pills in the trash, especially in our area where homeless people go through garbage cans, the meds could wind up in someone’s stomach with disastrous results. If they’re not removed and ingested, they will go to a landfill and eventually leach into the soil and the water supply, also an undesirable outcome. The solution is to be a good citizen and take medical waste to a designated drop-off.

Searching the city’s website (and they don’t make it easy), I found three locations where pills are accepted for proper disposal. The closest was a pharmacy unfortunately located on a street a former student of mine cited as the name of a street gang she liked. But this really was the closest location. The website gave directions on how to repackage the pills: remove them from the bottles and place them together in a ziplock bag. For safety, remove the labels from the pill bottles, black out the writing on the labels and throw out in your own trash. Simple enough. I followed the directions and we headed out for the drop-off.

I realized from the address and my former student’s declarations that we’d be traveling to a sleazy area, but it was a weekend morning and the pharmacy’s address was on a main business street. The street is lined with strip malls and newer chain stores at major intersections. Busy and safe enough. However, driving slowly by, we didn’t see a pharmacy. The strip malls lack signage and are set way back from the street. Cars and trucks blocked the view. Also, showing a street number on stores is apparently superfluous in our town. We pulled into several lovely malls. You can BUY AND SELL GOLD. You can get a PAYDAY LOAN. You can get lots of fast food. The odd thing is I couldn’t figure out what most of the businesses were.  The shops had innocuous names and their windows were covered with so many posters and signs it was impossible to see inside. This made us feel extra lost.

Having no other recourse than to use the street numbers on corner street signs to navigate, we found we’d already gone too far south and would have to turn around. Easy? No. The intersection was a block from a freeway entrance and jammed with cars. Another feature of our city is the penchant for NO U TURN signs paired with concrete meridian strips in case you were thinking of avoiding the law. After several infuriating detours, we found ourselves approaching the right block once again. Unfortunately, by the time we saw the sign above the pharmacy (the name was painted in faded green on a yellow background) we’d passed the entrance to the parking lot. My friend, who was driving, wasn’t willing to do another big drive around, so he abruptly pulled into the next available parking area. There were only three cars in the large lot.

Behind us sat a hulking dark warehouse. I pulled the pills, packed in a gallon size, ziplock bag from the glove compartment and opened the car door. My friend jumped out the other side, more than ready to finish this errand. As I turned to exit the car, my eyes rested on a line of lettering above the door of the building behind us. POLICE SERVICES. I immediately dropped the bag, realizing I was about to walk through a police lot holding a large, transparent bag of pills with no documentation linking them to legality. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a handbag with me we didn’t have a way to hide them.

I pointed this out to my friend, hoping he had a solution, but he was in an irritable mood after driving around in circles for half an hour.

“Let’s go!” he said. So I leaned into the car and feeling like a criminal, lifted up my shirt and stuffed the bag of pills under the waistband of my jeans. I then flipped my shirt down and exited the car, all the while sweating there might be surveillance cameras taping my every move.

We quickly headed to the little mall, passing a taco place, an massive insurance company, and several small bodegas. Having a rather odd looking lump on my stomach, I was glad we didn’t pass anyone on the walkway. We entered the pharmacy. There was just one customer sitting in a chair waiting while the pharmacist worked in his cage.

A woman stepped from behind a counter to greet us. I pulled out the bag of pills and told her we’d come to drop them off.

“We don’t take them anymore,” she said.

“Huh? WHAT?” I sputtered. “You’re listed on the city website as a disposal place.”

“We don’t take them. I think you have to take them to the sheriff.”

Sheriff? Maybe I should just stroll into that POLICE building. But no, not without documentation!

The woman didn’t have any information about the new location, which I found annoying. Defeated, and angry at myself for not checking before making the trip, I stuffed the pills under my shirt again and we left the store. The expression on my friend’s face I will leave to your imagination.

What to do??? The “good citizen” thing to do would have been to take the pills back home, do more research, and take them to the, ahem, designated disposal site.

Guess what we did with the pills. What would you have done?

P.S.  The city has updated their website. They now list only one disposal location, which is quite a distance from my house.

Mickey Hoffman is the author of two mystery novels, Deadly Traffic and School of Lies, published by Second Wind Publishing, LLC. For more information visit




Who gets to steal?

•August 19, 2014 • 2 Comments

This blog begins in the local supermarket with two shoppers ahead of me in line. While the cashier rang up an order for the first in line, I watched the elderly woman ahead of me. If anyone else saw what I now shall describe, I didn’t see any outward sign. I didn’t say or do anything either, although afterward I wondered if I should have.

Even if I hadn’t been bored and searching for something to watch, the woman in front of me would have caught my eye because of her attire and her blank affect. Although she looked clean enough and her hair was neatly combed, something about her seemed homeless without having the usual disorder and grime. On her head sat a pillbox hat made of pea green fabric. Her dress was shin length, dark blue with a gypsy-like drape to it. She wore white hose and black shoes.  One hand rested on the rim of a square, four-wheeled cart she’d brought with her. The cart was loaded with plastic shopping bags, all of which appeared to be stuffed with more plastic bags. At first glance I’d thought the cart was full of round pillows. On top rested a small cloth purse, a few items of clothing and some papers.

I watched her set two small plastic drink bottles on the checkout stand. Then she dug into the purse and removed an avocado and a tube of deodorant, which she set on the checkout stand next to the drinks. The deodorant looked unused and the avocado seemed pristine as well (although I’m not sure how to tell if one’s just been removed from a bin or if it’s been in someone’s possession for a while). The next thing to come out of the cart was a small plastic sandwich baggie, the kind that only folds closed and is so small it barely holds 2 slices of bread. The woman picked up the avocado and deodorant and with some difficulty, jammed them into the little bag, holding it closed with one hand while shoving the works into one of the larger bags in her cart.

By this time my eyes were wide open. Her next move was even more unexpected. She quickly picked up the bag from her cart and walked forward, squeezing behind the man whose order was being rung up. She went to the front of the store where there is an unused counter next to an ice machine. She quickly placed her bag on the counter, whirled around and returned to her place in line.

I expected the cashier to notice some of these activities, but I didn’t see any reaction. The man at the head of the line didn’t notice, but he’d been watching the cashier process his order. I turned around and looked at the people in line behind me. Surely, someone had seen!

To my amazement, the large man immediately behind me appeared to be crying. Tears rolled down his cheeks. Maybe he just had allergies. I didn’t want to engage him because he looked like he was having a really bad day. Behind him some kids were jumping around so I knew their mom hadn’t been seeing anything except what little Pete was grabbing off the candy and magazine racks.

The cashier started on the woman ahead of me, looking at the two drink bottles. The odd woman reached into her purse, pulled out a card of some kind and held it up in the air next to her right ear. The cashier stared at this card and instead of taking it from the woman, kept looking at the card while inputting something into the register. Then she asked the woman for $3.20. I knew this was not enough to cover two drinks and an avocado and a stick of deodorant, but the cashier went on normally and finished the transaction.

I almost said something but what could I say? What if I wound up making a false accusation? I wondered if the mystery card accounted for the gap in payment. Or maybe the cashier just wanted to avoid a scene. Or…. or… In any event, the woman took her drinks and wheeled away. Moments later, she left the store.

After I paid for my few items and hit the parking lot, I heard footsteps running behind me. It was a clerk from the store chasing after the strange woman. She called out, “Ma’am, you left a bag behind in the store.” Could things get any weirder? I could be wrong, but it looked like the woman had stolen from the supermarket and then forgotten her stolen items, only to be helped to get them by an employee of the store she’d robbed.

I’ve heard that old people can get away with “things.” Maybe this is just an example of this magical situation. Any thoughts?

Mickey Hoffman is the author of the Kendra Desola mystery novels, School of Lies and Deadly Traffic. Visit the website to see some etchings and read more about the novels.

The Lost Soul of the Fair

•July 19, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I just went to the California State Fair. Twice. The purpose of the second visit was to visit a horse I missed the first time. Read on and you’ll learn all about it.

Note: I didn’t go alone, but I’m leaving out my companions so that my words will be taken solely as my own reflections and opinions.

As soon as you enter the gates your mind loses focus. The environment seems programmed to spur any four year-old into a frenzy and adults into a coma of sensory overload. I kept thinking, “What is all this about“, if anything more than consumerism or eating binges?

The fair had its origins in agriculture. Here’s a poster that clearly states the intent.

CA-12-jpgHere is a poster from the current fair, which I feel completely falsifies the ambience:

Events-ExhibitsSo, you’d think there might be a lot of greenery about and a restful, rural feeling to the event. Instead, what you see after passing through the entrance is this:


That’s a monorail track overhead. Beyond is a huge sector devoted to amusement park rides and booths. There were kids on the rides. Fewer kids wanted to try to throw balls or darts at bottles, fishbowls, crates or dummies to win the stuffed or inflated toy prizes. Many booths had no takers at all. I felt rather sorry for these vendors. Maybe their games are too low-tech for our digital culture.

The food vendors had no trouble getting customers. Everyone knows about the food sold at state and county fairs. Deep fried peanut butter on a stick? No problem! Chocolate covered bacon? No problem! Hamburgers stuffed with macaroni and cheese? No….. oy vay. I can’t say that’s not a problem. Anyhow, more than the food itself, what grabs my attention more is the “Food art.” Here’s are examples:

food art1

Boris_17I said something earlier about driving a little kid into a frenzy. I think these jumbo signs are designed to lure adults into a coronary! Well done, I’d say. No pun intended.

One area is devoted to exhibits of various sorts: crafts, fine art, middle school students’ vocational projects and exhibits sponsored by various corporations with a slant on science or technology (and a bigger slant toward advertising). Hmmm, what happened to Silicon Valley? I didn’t see much that seemed cutting edge. At the turn of the century, electric lights were new and exciting enough to get their own exhibit.


On to the art! One artist set up in the fine art building is the ultimate in low-tech. Meet Tapigami artist Danny Scheible. In the photo below, the backgrounds are fashioned from coat hangers. If you stand farther away, this isn’t readily apparent and you think you’re looking at some sort of intricate drapery. Below these, a cityscape is done wholly with masking tape.

Boris_25Contrast this tape city with the seriousness of a model of a domed building from a fair early in the last century, extolling the glory of architecture:

buildingStateFair18-jpgEach work of art in the fine art area has a rather large label. Apparently, the artists were asked to talk about their work. Being an artist myself, I’ve been put in that position many times. You don’t know what the heck to say.

Maybe we are stuck to satirizing ourselves these days. Is that why there doesn’t seem to be any focus behind the fair I visited yesterday? Everywhere I looked there was something that seemed to be “too much.”

Yeah, I did go see the animals. Sadly, the baby pigs got cancelled due to a swine virus outbreak. I did get to see some of my favorite cows: Holsteins. There is also a very small courtyard housing a rescued eagle and two river otters and a sulking pelican who had his back turned on the whole situation. The eagle stared at the crowd. I wondered what she could be thinking.



I tried to locate a horse owned by a friend. On this day, I never found the horse and in the process, had to ask many unsmiling and recalcitrant horse owners for help. Unfortunately, my horse IQ was beyond contempt. They weren’t interested in the horse’s name or even the name of its owner. They wanted to know what kind of horse it is. And I don’t know. I almost said something like, “a brownish one with four legs and a tail,” but let it go at “I don’t know…” However, they made me feel like it was an imposition just to ask in the first place. What’s up with that attitude?

Two days later, I located Mikey the horse after the owner’s friend took the time to escort me to the proper barn, which was behind the barns I’d looked at the first time around. I learned the horse is a thoroughbred. Perhaps that’s why he stuck his tongue out at me.


I feel that after expending so much energy to see him he could at least have been courteous! Perhaps horse manners are different. Like I said before, I don’t know horses.

By the time we left, I was feeling rather let down. My day was brightened by some college kids in red shirts. They were handing out information from the Southern Poverty Law Center and asking for donations for an anti-bullying campaign. Seeing these energetic and optimistic kids, I felt relieved that there’s more to our society than meets the eye.

Mickey is a printmaker and the author of two mystery novels. Check out





What is so fun about Dining “Out”?

•June 15, 2014 • 1 Comment

Most people love restaurants and more often than I’d like, I find myself in one. Seldom by choice. I hate the restaurant experience. In this blog, I will leave out fast food places and just refer to the slow food places. I also will mostly leave out ethnic places, which at least serve things you expect to get when you walk in the door. I love Chinese food. I love Turkish food. But I don’t like dining out. The only advantage I can see to having a meal away from home is not having to cook or clean up afterwards. (Although my style of cooking doesn’t involve much of either.) FYI, I do not eat beef or pork or chicken. Still, this leaves a lot of leeway. You’d think. But my objections are not just about the food. Read on.

First consider these typical dining environments. The tables are spaced too close together and invariably have legs or pedestals that make it impossible for anyone over five feet in height to put their legs in a comfortable position. Chairs are either hard as planks or cushioned thrones designed for 300 pound behemoths (ignoring the fact these same creatures need to have incredibly short legs). The center of these cushions are inevitably well used and feature a treacherous crater in their center. The cushions should have a short safety disclaimer on them: Do not attempt to extricate your bottom from this seat without proper supervision. In the event of an emergency, this cushion can be used as a slide, a flotation device or a pup tent.

There are other things to consider. Restaurant walls tend to exhibit what is laughingly called art, or sometimes they are festooned with memorabilia, found objects and cute signs intended to tell you where you are. I’m generally not swayed by these stylistic efforts, mainly because I’m too busy squirming in my chair to notice. In the case of Chinese restaurants, there’s also the likelihood of a large tank of murky water filled with fish or lobsters who are frantically attempting to breach the walls. Some restaurants have glass fronted counters filled with pastries. I guess they’re supposed to make you feel hungry. Did you ever wonder how many years the cakes have been in there? However, they have their use. The little screaming brat from the adjacent table can run over and smear whatever food item he was playing with all over the front glass. If you are really lucky, the place will have an outside dining area where you can freeze/roast and inhale toxic fumes while sitting on a chair that’s even more uncomfortable than those inside.

Enough about the environment. Let’s talk about the food.

I mean, seriously, do people LIKE the food on offer at today’s popular restaurants? I refer to the common mixture of American, Mediterranean and “world” food styles. What’s with all the Bistros? Does anyone know what a bistro even is? And why does almost everything come with cheese? I fear there’s a secret cabal of cheese makers in play here. For example, let’s have a nice bowl of onion soup. Surprise! On top of the soup lies at least half a pound of cheese. I am not exaggerating. If I want cheese, I would order cheese. In order to reach the soup, this layer has to be negotiated. Naturally, it is the sort of cheese that devolves into long, unbreakable strings. Perfect for demonstrating one’s grasp of table etiquette! I won’t list all the other menu choices that have a default setting of CHEESE, but I’m sure you can think of many.

And speaking of secret organizations, what about all the olive oil? I remember when the only Olive Oil I knew appeared in a Popeye cartoon. Now it’s everywhere. And often as not, it’s got something “balsamic” with it, or on it, or in it. The very word balsamic makes me think of a fluid used to clean paint brushes. Get ready for little dishes of oil placed in the center of the table, vegetables served positively floating in it, salmon steaks grilled with and leaking the fluid from every pore. Someone needs to invent lip blotters–just stick them to your lips before eating to avoid that glassy, slick residue. I’m sure they’d be a huge hit. But I digress.

And you need an interpreter to figure out what you’re ordering. Your friendly—often overly friendly—server will be only too glad to tell you. For ten minutes. Because you can’t just get a potato, for instance, without it being enhanced. Every item must be garnished or mixed with rare seeds, fruits or alien sea creatures who either have intrinsically odd names or have been renamed to sound more exotic. Which takes me to another point. Restaurants can be disgustingly pretentious.

Not long ago, I had the misfortune of being invited along to an expensive French place in Manhattan. There were about eight others in the party, most of whom wanted to be there. Since they were paying the bill, this was a good thing. The waiter, an elderly man with his nose in the air, was visibly annoyed with me for requesting my food come without sauce. He said, “People who come here do so because they appreciate the food.” The tone of his voice was, “How did a peasant like you get in the door?”

After a two hour ordeal which included appetizers and main course, the waiter brought around a wheeled tray which displayed a variety of fancy desserts. I’d been waiting for a chance to do some sociological research. I innocently asked, “Could I just have a dish of plain vanilla ice cream?” The man’s back stiffened like he’d gotten an electric shock. He whirled around and hurried away to where another waiter was standing. The two of them exchanged whispers after which waiter number two flung a horrified glance in my direction and walked away. A few minutes later, he brought me the dish of ice cream, setting it in front of me with a sneer. Later, he had the chutzpah (I don’t know the French word for this) to ask me how I liked the ice cream. After a warning look from my nearest and dearest, I said it was just fine. In reality, the ice cream had proved to be vastly inferior, but at least it wasn’t coated with a layer of caviar, chocolate fluff and olive oil.

Then, finally, there’s the time factor. In the French restaurant the meal timed at three hours. Normally, I don’t frequent places like that, but still, I have better things to do than sit in a chair (see above) at a table that’s likely bouncing on uneven legs (see above) for one or two hours.

I’m sorry, but that’s the way it is. If you want to treat me, do it somewhere else. Please.

Visit my website and check out my mystery novels.





Prologue to the Seder: Exodus Revisited

•April 20, 2014 • Leave a Comment


by Daniel Hoffman


It is the tale of the Exodus (Haggadah) that we are commanded to recite on this occasion. The ritual, or Seder (literally, Order) has fifteen lovely steps, of which the meal is, lamentably, number eleven. But many of the steps are brief, especially when we skip them, Blessed Be They All.

Before the eight days of Pesach (Passover), observant celebrants must carefully cleanse the home of any trace of Chametz. Chametz refers to the bread that the Hebrews were not able to bring with them during the Exodus from slavery in Egypt.

Because their flight was so sudden, the bread had no time to rise overnight. Thus, the refugees were forced to eat unleavened matzo crackers for eight days. Unfortunately, their matzo had not been labelled “kosher for Pesach” by a qualified authority. There were no Rabbis, or labels for that matter. But the Lord, blessed be He, was furious that the matzo was not kosher. The Lord, it seems, is always furious about something, Blessed be He.

Now, here’s your prequel. The Exodus was not a simple matter of “We’re outta here.” Before Pharaoh would Let My People Go, they had to, first of all, teach him to spell his name. Pharaoh, that’s a tough one.

Now, first they had to find them a leader who could get access to Pharaoh. God sent them a stuttering Prophet, who just happened to have grown up in the Pharaoh’s court. The legend says he was a circumcised Jew, whose mother had floated him downstream in a special amphibious bassinet, hoping to spare him from (choose all that apply):

(a) the military draft

(b) his father, who wanted to sacrifice him

(c) Pharaoh, who wanted to sacrifice him

(d) Cubs postseason play

(e) having to be Moses.

The baby was rescued by an Egyptian princess and raised at Court. She named him Moses (drawing out), because she drew him from the Nile. His sister, Miriam, had followed his passage down the Nile, and slyly offered his mother to the princess as a nursemaid. Resourceful slaves! So he knew of his Hebrew heritage. As a youth, he noticed he was circumcised and went out to the desert to find the missing part of himself. He found himself on Jethro’s spread, also known as jeth row, where he married Jethro’s daughter, Zipporah. Zip-porah gave him a Zip file about the Torah that he would later write, and zipped him back to Egypt, determined to free his People. There he collected his brother Aaron, who had no speech impediment and could better speak to Pharaoh. (That impediment had come about when baby Moses cleverly grabbed a hot coal, instead of the nearby chunk of gold, and put the coal in his mouth. The baby prophet knew from E-Trade that the price of gold was falling and coal was rising.)

In the main event, the brothers duly obtained an audience with Pharaoh. Unfortunately, this particular Pharaoh remembered not Joseph, the Hebrew who had saved the kingdom in the time of an illustrious predecessor. Said predecessor, also known as Pharaoh, unfortunately was of another dynasty, spoke a different language, and ate really weird things for breakfast. See, the Pharaohdom was lacking in institutional memory, just like the Congress of the United States, and felt no gratitude.

So what could Moses do, except notify Pharaoh that he’d better Let My People Go, or else there were gonna be ten plagues so increasingly vicious that Pharaoh was gonna wish he’d skipped all ten of them. But Pharaoh loved horror shows—his whole life had been one. So he said unto Moses, “Show me what you got.” And he got the ten plagues:

Classic Version                        New Version

Blood                                               Blood Sugar Testing

Frogs                                                Frogs in Throat

Lice                                                  License Renewals

Flies                                                 Flying Long-Distance

Cattle Disease                                  Cat Messes

Boils                                                 Some Goils

Hail                                                 Halitosis

Locusts                                          Low Cost Limited Time Special Offers

Darkness                            Vision Loss

Slaughter of the Firstborn               Here, Sir (neon sign)

The multitudes suffered, but Pharaohs don’t need to run for reelection. Before the tenth plague, the Hebrews were warned to mark their homes with lambs’ blood, so that the Angel of Death would Pass- Over and spare them. They did not use Christian blood, for there were no Christians available. The Hebrews also installed Mezuzahs diagonally on their doorsteps, just to make sure only the Egyptian firstborn were slaughtered, Blessed Be He.

The tenth plague finally impressed Pharaoh, so he ordered the Hebrews freed. But soon he changed his mind—Pharaohs will do that—and ordered the extermination of the Hebrews. They gathered up their matzo and their DVD collections and headed for the Red Sea, as advised. Pharaoh’s troops followed, but Moses miraculously divided the sea by waving his Staff, which consisted of brother Aaron, sister Miriam, and Charlton Heston. The Hebrews escaped to Sinai, and the waters closed in to drown Pharaoh’s pursuing army. After this Staff Infection, Pharaoh wisely concluded that Egypt must stay out of Sinai and install missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic instead.

In the sequel, Miriam would write a song to praise the Lord, while the Hebrews wisely concluded that, with God, Blessed be He, and Aaron on their side, they could borrow the Golden Calf from the Johnson C. Smith University campus and worship it, laughing at Moses’s Ten Commandments.  Moses would be so angry at this sacrilege that he broke all ten of the Commandments, and then, coveting a more obedient People, had to reissue them in new and improved format. God was once again tempted to kill all the Jews, but He did not want to be in the position of coveting Pharaoh’s agenda, so He sentenced the Hebrews to forty years of desert-fresh, unrefrigerated manna instead. Blessed be He.

Now, if you think matzo is nasty, wait till you try manna. I’ve heard it is made from the offal of slaves whose manna-gruel labor was too much for them. Today it can be refrigerated, so it’s called Amana from Heaven. (The Amana company was originally a Christian commune that practiced Oneida-style free love, but somehow failed to make enough money for their services and turned to manufacturing.)

Well, let us now celibate the escape from slavery, the forty years of perdition (Blessed be He) and the triumphant entry to Canaan, the Promised Land of Milk (Real Whole Milk, mind you, not that filthy blue stuff) and Honey. But first, let’s finish the sequel to the Exodus.

For the immigrants, boy, that Honey was a honey. The Canaanites, though, were a pretty rough crowd. So God, Blessed be He, commanded His People to just go ahead and enslave what was left of them. And, it goes without saying, you must take good care of the strangers, also known as your property, who dwelleth among you.

Moses, it’s a pity, was not allowed to enter the Holy Land with his People. He was diabetic and married several times already and thus could not enjoy Honey, and further, he had displeased God by mistreating his Staff, in violation of the Eleventh Amendment, er, Commandment, Thou Shalt Not Mistreat Thy Staff. The Zip-Torah has 613 Commandments, but I’m too hungry to recite them all.

The lesson? Bless the Lord, pass the ammunition, and build a wall around the Holy Land, which reaches approximately to the River Jordan. Jordan, I believe, was Honey’s real name. So now that’s all Settled.

Now, what have we here? Matzo, Wine, Salt water, and, on the Seder plate, six items: a Lamb bone, an Egg, Celery, Horseradish, Parsley, and Haroses. Their significance will be explained in due course. Let us begin the Seder!


Philippines under water

•March 28, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I recently spent 2 weeks snorkeling in the Philippines with a WWF group. Much of the trip centered around the northern part of the island of Palawan. To get there we took a small plane from Manila, then a 90 minute van ride followed by a long ride in a small boat. I could tell you the exact transit but I’m not really interested in doing a travelogue, although I will make a few traveler comments. FYI, at the last rushed moment leaving the house, I left my Nikon behind. That’s why all the dry land photos are from my phone and aren’t good.

Below are signs about two unfamiliar cultural things. When I saw these, I confess to having a very strong and unladylike reaction. Here are the signs. Feel free to have your own reaction. (The first was taken on the sly with my phone in the customs area of the Manila airport and I was laughing so hard the focus is off. Sorry about that. I just managed to get the shot when a security guy came over and I scooted back inside the ropes. Maybe he suspected I was a wang-wanger. I don’t know!)





About the first sign, I was told it refers to people who are working some sort of scam. If this is the case, I’m not sure what the line up comment refers to. The second sign is encouragement for a procedure that is often not done until the adolescent years.

In the cities, we saw a lot of security. I think there’s security everywhere the locals think foreigners might go, but I doubt if they’ve got sniffing dogs and armed guards in front of stores where the working people shop. Didn’t get a chance to go around Manila so I can’t say for sure. However, even out in the middle of the islands, one of the boatmen every day brought an assault weapon with us on the boat with lots of spare clips. I found this unsettling. The last kidnapping in the Palawan area was about ten years ago, other locations only five years ago, but who’s counting…

Manila looked like it has areas for the very rich and for the poor and very little in between. The atmosphere is laden with auto fumes and everywhere you look there are lots and lots and lots of people and vehicles of every possible kind, mostly gas powered. Here’s a view from the airplane. Again, taken with a phone, as are all of the dry land photos. You can see the interesting patterns of fish farms and some of the city of Manila.


fishfarmsThe people love color. There is bright and gorgeous color everywhere in the man-made world, including on and in the famous modified jeeps they use as buses and taxis. Here is one example, although it doesn’t come close to maximum for size or splendor. It’s a motorcycle taxi.


Even our bus had amazing seats. The windows had deep purple drapes.


We didn’t travel near the area that was hit by the recent hurricane, but many homes I saw in the countryside looked like they’d come down with only a mild breeze. Bamboo is a popular building material. It’s used in a million ways, some of which are very ingenious. The rice fields and heavily forested hills are beautiful.


ricefieldBelow is a photo of sunrise over Apulit island.


In the city of Legazpi we walked through a very strange mall which had a kiddie carnival inside. The rides were extremely strange; one of the group remarked they seemed something straight from a Stephen King novel. If I can get a photo from someone of this, I’ll add it later for your enjoyment, or your nightmare, whichever it may be.

My final “touristy” comment is about diet. If you’re a vegan, you will have a very, very, very, very hard time. Enough said.

Luckily, a woman in our group lent me a small underwater camera. I had not intended to take any underwater photos (my Nikon isn’t an underwater camera), but I jumped at the chance to try this. I really had a blast, even though I suspected most of the photos were going to end up being shots of my left fin. The viewscreen looked totally black to me under the water, so I just aimed in the general direction and pushed the twanger. Some of the results are below, with a bit of comment. And yes, those are the real colors!


PTDC0301The gray and yellow fish on the left is a variety of anchor tusk fish. The small blue object on the coral at bottom is a worm, called a Christmas tree worm. They come in several different colors.

PTDC0201Obviously, above is a jellyfish. A very large one. I didn’t go as close as the brave person you see in the photo. There were quite a few small jellies in the ocean almost every day and “no see-ums” would sting any exposed skin. Fortunately, the only exposed skin I had was around my face mask. I wear a wetsuit, gloves and a hood.


PTDC0313More color, special for those who love blue.


PTDC0348A mated pair of copperband butterfly fish and a cleaner wrasse.


PTDC0571A longfin emperor snapper and a bunch of blue damsel fish. Those little guys stick together, but not because they’re friendly. If you put them in an aquarium they will attack much larger fish.

PTDC0177The golden feathery creatures are starfish, known as feather stars. Unlike other types of starfish, these attach to the substrate and hang out. Below is a closeup of one.

PTDC0297You have probably soaked up enough at this point, so I’ll stop. Hope you enjoyed the little summary of my adventure. Please leave comments. Before I stop, I’d like to thank the marine biologist, tour leader Lee Goldman and Britta Justesen from WWF who lent me the camera. Now please visit my website:  where you can check out my two mystery novels and view my etchings. Yes, really, you can come see my etchings.








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