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Jay Nova Hoffman

· by Karl Auerbach · Read in about 10 min · (1979 Words)
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Revised: Nobember 23, 2021

My oldest friend died this morning.


Jay Nova Hoffman.

I’ve known him since we met one morning at Hazeltine Elementary School in Van Nuys (California) waiting to get into the first day of Mr. Stone’s 4th grade class.

I doubt that any of us thought that our teacher, Mr. Stone, had a first name, much less knew it.

Jay went on to become a teacher and educator. I suspect that his students knew his first name.

Jay and I somehow managed to both win a Good Citizenship medal from the Daughters of the American Revolution. Had the DAR had any notion of what our political and social views would become they probably would have chosen differently.

Jay had an afternoon newspaper delivery route. Every day he’d get a bundle of newspapers, a pile of rubber bands, and a page of delivery notes. I helped fold and wrap the papers, and often shared the route or handled it when Jay couldn’t. One of our customers as a well known former gangster. We took great care to always get his paper on his doorstep.

Jay lived on Runnymeade in Van Nuys. His neighbor, Claude, was a mad scientist in the making. Jay had an old bowling ball – somehow Jay always had an old bowling ball – and Claude brewed up a mix that was essentially home made thermite that we packed into the finger holes and ignited. The ball burned for three days; the entire neighborhood partook of the stench of burning rubber.

We both went to the same elementary, middle (“jr. high”), and high schools. After the 6th grade we didn’t share many classes; I was more into the sciences and French, Jay into more liberal arts and Spanish.

While at Robert Fulton Jr High (middle school) we created posters for a faux show: “The Fulton Follies, Staring the Girls Athletic Association and Carolyn Kennedy”. That was before November 1963. I remember Jay and I listening to the First Family album and The 2000 Year Old Man. We also got an early copy of the Beatles Yesterday and Today album and carefully pealed off the overlay cover to reveal the infamous baby cover underneath.

We worked on our parent’s cars – Jay got to know Chevy Novas really well – which was appropriate since his middle name was also “Nova”, after a wrestler. Jay taught me to drive a stick shift, in particular a three-on-the-tree in a Chevy Nova.

We once sank one of those Novas in a muddy zone up in the hills above Granada Hills in the San Fernando Valley – we got the car out by putting on tire chains. Who else in LA, where it never snows, would be carrying tire chains?

Jay started teaching at the Learning Center in Encino. Rich kids. He moved on to working with kids who had disabilities, euphemistically called “special education” at the time.

Jay and I also worked with blind kids at our high school. (That’s where I learned to read braille.)

As we got older we both took summer jobs on electronics assembly lines in places in Culver City. Jay used those summers as an opportunity to learn Spanish. I should have.

In high school Jay wore the school mascot outfit at football games – Willie the Wolf. He was elected class president.

Jay had a lot of wolf attributes – first was Willie the Wolf, then there was his friend “the wolf lady” (her last name was Wolf and she played a mean classical piano and had a wolf-like dog that ate a picnic bench.)

Jay was also “a lady’s man” – or “wolf”. My nerdy self was envious. I especially remember “the hungle woman from La Jolla” from the night before one of the times when Jay organized a trip for 3rd graders to campouts on Catalina Island or Joshua Tree.

Those campouts with the kids were fun trips, at least for the adults. I’m not sure that the kids appreciated humor in a herd of buffalo wandering through our camp on Catalina or a pack of coyotes coming into camp in Joshua Tree at 3am and letting loose with a major group howl-a-long.

Kabakians Armenian restaurant in Pasadena is now gone, but Jay made it his place. The restaurant was owned and run by several aging brothers from Armenia by way of Lebanon who like to drive around in a convertible Lincoln and hoot at women. But they made great food and Jay was working with them to create a cook book.

Somehow Jay discovered The Lake Balaton restaurant – underneath a dance studio. The ceiling had wooden clouds that bounced around to the motions of the dancers on the floor above.

One of Jay’s favorite regular places was Chez Puce, a very French crepe place on Pico near Lincoln in Santa Monica. The owners spoke nary a word of English and we had no useful French.

Jay liked cars. He had one of the slowest sports cars ever made – a Volvo P1800. Blue. With wind wings that always threatened to punch our your eyes as you tried to get into the seats.

Eventually he was able to buy much nicer, and faster, cars.

We used to do time-speed-distance car events, but I was rather more into it than Jay.

I went to UCLA, Jay went to Cal State Northridge (now Cal State University Northridge, but I still call it Cal State.)

Jay met Traci S at Cal State. I met Traci S at a car event. Romance versus friendship, tension. I wonder where Traci is now?

May wine, may wine from Safeway – cooled nearly to (and sometimes beyond) freezing. That was Jay’s entree to wine. We had it everywhere. I don’t remember but I suspect it was inexpensive.

Jay’s taste in wine developed. He had a couple of wine lockers and a couple of Trader Joes in The Valley. Jay knew Joe – yes there was a real person behind the name Trader Joe, and Jay knew him on a first name basis (without the “trader” part.)

Once he and I went to Joshua Tree on a camping trip in early March. It was cold. So cold that my car battery decided to leave us for a warmer clime. But we had wine. We drank that wine while trying to take in the view of Palm Springs nearly a mile below us, while resisting hurricane force winds.

Jay had a neighbor, Peter Johnson, whose father was a professor of botany at UC. Peter had a UC provided jeep which we, Jay, Peter, and myself, would take into the mountains and deserts in search of Oryzopsis hymenoides, a plant. We were pretty bad at finding it, but we did explore nearly every thing that could claim to be a road in the San Gabriel mountains.

Another trip we made was to Mineral King – on the weekend that it was incorporated into Sequoia National Park. That’s why I can say that I’ve entered National Parks N times but left them N+1 times.

Jay and I would sometime get into synch and were able to riff off of one another with increasingly distant analogies and puns. One night in a restaurant in Westwood, our playing resulted in us ordering “boiled sandwiches”. That poor waiter. Our dates were very confused.

Jay loved the music of Peter, Paul, and Mary. Whenever they came to LA Jay and I would arrange a double date to wherever they were playing.

I suspect it was Jay who introduced me to the Canyon Store/Cafe in Laurel Canyon, probably around 1967. It wasn’t famous then.

Jay really liked the movie Dr. Zhivago. He gathered us up to see a restoration in Beverly Hills, and then insisted that we all drive to the Valley to get pie at DuPars on Ventura Blvd.

I think I tried, unsuccessfully, to interest Jay in live theatre. I remember us double dating to see Little Murders and an amazing small venue on Olympic Blvd in West LA.

When we graduated from high school, Jay and I wandered down to Cupid’s hot dog stand in Van Nuys and we celebrated by stuffing ourselves sick. In an ill considered reprise, one evening we went to Pinks hot dogs in Hollywood and had a competition to see who could consume more chili dogs – Jay won; my lower digest tract was the real loser.

Jay would find real hole-in-the-wall places to eat, particularly late at night. There was a place on Santa Monica that seemed to be some sort of biker bar. And there was a Mexican place in east LA that prided itself on serving “USDA Good” meats.

Jay’s step father was Roy – Royal Lyon, “the world’s foremost authority” (subject did not matter.) Roy could fix anything with a welding torch. Roy needed to do that because we broke a lot of Roy’s cars – always Novas.

Jay’s biological father flew single engine airplanes. So did Jay.

Jay created imaginary characters. One was Shiela Garbotnik (modeled on a real person, Shiela B.) and her imaginary brother Rensselaer. Those two always got blamed when something went wrong.

Sometime around 1972 Jay and I flew up to San Francisco to visit his former girlfriend, Lynn B, and her new man. We flew out of LAX on one of those 0-dark-thirty flights. It was just Jay, me, and Jay’s backpack – which was filled with bagels and wine. The airport security folks were amused. It was quite a trip. Jay and Lynn arranged a guys vs girls basketball game that was as much an exercise in friendly anatomical exploration as basketball. Then we all went to a party out on Alameda Island where Jay met a fellow admirer of fine wines, a UC professor who had a wine collection at his house on the top of Twin Peaks. So we squeezed at least four, possibly more, of us into one of those tiny 1950’s porthole Thunderbirds and set forth back over the Bay Bridge. Up at the house we had amazing wines – I remember some ancient ports that were from the 1860’s.

Jay managed to finagle things. One summer we got use of a nice, but old house, in Old Topanga. Just turn here, go to the end of the pavement, then follow the dirt road until you get there. The lower level had been washed out by a flood. And the garage was occupied by a very mean one eared goat, Annabelle. She had lost the ear when she was only a kid. That goat was slowly eating a car and was a master of the art of trapping and butting people. That was a very fun summer. I spent the summer there with my decade-long girlfriend. And did I mention that Jay kinda knew a lot of women?

Over the years Jay kept getting more and more involved with teaching of disadvantaged kids. And, of course, Jay met and married Jennifer. I remember the wedding, particularly the blending of traditions.

Jay disliked a lot of teachers – and disliked the institution of tenure that kept them in their teaching jobs. The kids always came first.

I moved to northern California and we grew somewhat distant. However, Jay always seemed to be doing something important and worthwhile. I never went to our high school reunions, Jay went to some. He told me how sad it was that so many of our class mates considered that time to be the best days of their lives. Jay certainly seemed to always think that the best was yet to come.

I was looking forward to being old with Jay, to remember our fun times and the various people we had known, to drink nice wines, and to fix the world.

Alzheimers sucks!