Wednesday, September 8, 2021

And yet another one: Remembering Peter Hochstein (The New York Crank)

 This blog reboot doesn't get much traffic, but when I look at my stats, I always see referrals from The New York Crank. It occurred to me this morning that I hadn't checked out the Crank in a while, so when I clicked over there and found that nothing had been posted since March, I kind of already knew why.

The New York Crank was the nom-de-blog of one Peter Hochstein, a prolific and peripatetic author of books and (his words) "corporate histories, personal and corporate biographies, book-length premiums, brochures of substance, and other long copy projects that others find too daunting." He was also a book author with a penchant for catchy titles, such as Up From Seltzer: A Handy Guide to 4 Jewish Generations, Heiress Strangled in Molten Chocolate At Nazi Sex Orgy: A Memoir and No Biz Like It: from gofer to producer in just 57 years.

Peter first contacted me in 2010 to thank me for linking to a post on his blog. Every time I linked to his blog, he emailed me to thank me. In November 2013, after Mr. Brilliant's death, we began an intermittent correspondence, because it seemed we had something in common other than political leanings: Both of us had lost our partners in the same neuro ICU in the same hospital.  I was far more confident about Mr. B's care than he was of the care his love, Roberta, had received three years earlier, but we shared the same doubts, wondering, and having had to make The Decision No One Should Have To Make.

Peter would check in about once a year and occasionally he'd comment on something I posted on Facebook, under his Facebook-specific nom-de-Facebook, Etoain Shrdlu. In 2018, he checked in after I started this new blog, revealing that he had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma  (yet something else we had in common, since a) my father had died from NHL just three years earlier; and b) I had been working on NHL studies before retiring earlier that year). He said then that he didn't expect, nor did he want to be, around for much longer, though at that time he didn't yet know if his was an aggressive or indolent form.  About the latter, he said "I love that word," indolent," as if the medical community is chiding it for not taking its victims out a bit more industriously." 

How I wish he'd done a chronicle of his journey through his illness. There is something about Jewish fatalism that makes us get funny at times of crisis, and in his last months, the Crank went pretty gonzo. 

Last Thanksgiving I held a "family and friends" Zoom to which I invited him. He emailed me the next day that he'd been unable to connect to the link. I wish I knew why, and I wish he'd been able to attend.

Peter is one of the few bloggers who have left us whom I actually knew as a person, however peripherally. I feel badly that I didn't know about his death until now, but given that his last blog entry was March 17 of this year and he died on April 9, I take some comfort in knowing that however bad his last days may have been, there weren't many of them. And I hope that as he wished, he exited the way his father did -- by simply going to sleep and never waking up.

Peter was a terrific writer, an entertaining blogger, and for me, a good online friend at a time when I needed people who truly understood what I was going through was like. I'm saddened by his death out of all proportion to his role in my life, and I feel badly that it took me this long to check in and find this news. We may not have been close, but it was nice to know he was there.

I'll leave you with Peter's own words, from his Amazon page:

I became a writer because that was the only thing I ever learned how to do. In retrospect, it's amazing I could even do that, given the focused-on-failure mindset of my immediate family. They were nuts. On the outside they seemed, well, merely a bit uptight. But trust me, my parents, and especially my mother, were batshit crazy.

Evidently it ran in the family. I learned only recently, years after my mother's death, that my mother had a sister who had been sent away to a state insane asylum before my birth. The poor woman was never mentioned in front of me. After a lot of prying I learned recently that her name was Gussie, short for Augusta. She was the real life equivalent of the fictional crazy aunt locked up in the attic.

You want an example of crazy? My mother was terrified that I would do something, or say something, or live someplace that would reflect badly on her. And her standards of what reflects badly were indecipherable. That may explain why, wherever I lived, she wept bitterly. She wept bitterly at my first apartment, a small townhouse studio in Greenwich Village, looking out on a charming flagstone courtyard. Later, she wept about an apartment on a high floor with sweeping city views. Still later, she wept when I bought and moved with my now ex-wife and child into a large two-bedroom apartment with a chichi Park Avenue address.

Nor was the problem that she hated city living. I spent nine years as a suburbanite, in a big house with a large back yard and beach rights - and that, too, brought her to paroxysms of tear-gushing grief.

But I was talking about writing. I became a newspaper reporter when I was 18. I sold my first book - thank God under a pseudonym! - when I was 22. I got out of the journalism business for a very long stretch and went into advertising, at the age of 23, because it paid better than journalism.

These days I do almost anything that involves putting my fingers on a keyboard and wiggling them. I still write TV spots, and brochures, and junk mail. I report and write occasionally for business publications. And I turn out books. I ghostwrite autobiographies. I write biographies on commission. Of course, I also write my own stuff. Why?

Because it's fun. And I've always figured that if I'm having fun writing, people will have fun reading my stuff. So please do order my books and have a few laughs before it's too late. Remember, nobody's getting out of here alive.


  1. He sounds like he was a hoot. I'm sorry for your loss.

  2. Another person begins the Big Sleep.

  3. I've been watchin', and wonderin'. Thank you for this.

  4. Thanks for sharing about your friend. I hate I never knew about him.

  5. Thanks for doing this. I knew him much more slightly than you did, though well enough to own a copy of Up From Seltzer, and to feel similarly bad about not having paid enough attention.

  6. I've been wondering for several months, just asked if anyone knew at Yas's place and was sent here. Every bit as interesting as his writing. Thank you.

  7. Sorry to hear of his passing although not surprised. He was one of my favorites for many years. A master wordsmith and an old school gent~~~

  8. Thanks for sharing this - I got a moment to chat with him about his Antioch College days in the 60s for a film I'm working on and we shared a few notes. I was just about to follow up with him... I need to make this film now!

  9. I left—dropped off, really—a comment on his last post (“Curses! The mother of all maledictions…”), the same day. It never emerged from moderation, and as the weeks went on, I suspected why. Sad to learn, at last…

    For what it’s worth, my response was a riff on Assyrian monarch Esarhaddon, reproduced from a 1959 journal, a Bronze Age honcho who really knew how to curse a guy. I’d like to think that Peter saw it:

  10. Peter was a close friend since 1958-9, when we were co-editors of the Antioch College newspaper, the Record. We never lost touch. Until now, of course; I miss him.

  11. I'm well over a year out finding out. Had bad Trump derangement syndrome is my only excuse. Miss his blog and Bad Attitudes.


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