Risking My Life to Take Care of My Health

How I barely survived 4 trips to the dentist and 3 trips to the optometrist in the time of COVID

Even in normal times, I hate going to the doctor. When mine asks why I’m so nervous, I remind him that if I am going to hear terrible medical news, I will most likely be sitting in a doctor’s office. The odds are that sooner or later, one of my routine check-ups is going to end badly.

Giving up the crown

I got a notice from my dentist a few weeks ago that he was retiring. I was pretty sure COVID made it happen sooner than he would have liked. For the 10 years I had gone to him, I felt comfortable like he was a familiar old shoe. Whenever he asked, “How are you?” I’d reply, “How do you think I am? I’m at the dentist.”

I decided to wait to find a new one when hopefully everything settled back to normal. That plan worked until my husband Saul made his famous homemade caramels.

“Be careful chewing this batch,” he warned. “They’re pretty hard.”

“I’m not 90,” I replied as I chomped into one.

Wow, I thought to myself. These really are hard. Some parts of this caramel feel like pieces of teeth.

A moment later I was staring down at a crown of my tooth in the palm of my hand.

The search for a new dentist moved to the top of the list.

The dentist — trip #1

I nervously waited in a parking lot as a woman in scrubs and mask walked out and handed me a clipboard with forms. After filling them out in my hot car, I called her and she told me to come into the waiting room. Before I could say “hello” the receptionist zapped me in the forehead with a device. Depending on which articles you read on Facebook, she was either taking my temperature or inserting a tracking chip into my brain. Then I had to fill out yet another form promising I didn’t have COVID. Finally, a woman looking like one of those guys in the hazmat suits from E.T. escorted me to the exam room.

“You can pull your mask down,” she said as I settled into my chair.

“What?”

“We can’t look at your teeth unless you pull down your mask.”

I tried to argue with her logic but couldn’t. I slowly pulled down my mask for the first time in four months for anyone but my husband. I felt like a virgin on my honeymoon.

A dentist wearing a huge mask and large plastic visor came in and put in a temporary crown until my permanent one was ready. I told her if I ran into her on the street or at a dinner party I would have no idea who she was even though she had spent the last hour with her fingers in my mouth.  

The optometrist — trip #1

For the second time in two months, my glasses broke and had to be superglued together. Glasses are important in the time of COVD. They are part the part of you that people see the most on Zoom.

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When I walked in the front door of the glasses store for my eye exam, I quickly discovered this place was nothing like the dentist office. There were several people looking at glasses and one customer running around with her mask around her neck loudly talking and spewing COVID everywhere — at least in my mind.

I had made a pact at the beginning of all this if I didn’t feel safe somewhere I needed to get out of the situation. I yelled as nicely as I could to the front desk that I had made an appointment but didn’t feel safe and was going to leave. I ran next door to the grocery store and bought a new tube of superglue before heading home.

Serenity interrupted

Certainly the universe would take good care of me for taking good care of myself. Right? Isn’t that how that works?

The universe was on my mind on Saturday, July 4th, when Saul and I scheduled a meditation Zoom session with a friend. As we were about to start, I felt something stuck in my teeth and grabbed a piece of floss.

“Be careful,” Saul warned.

“I’m not a child,” I responded.

A moment later, my temporary crown was sitting in the palm of my hand. I had a raw exposed nerve. It was a holiday and it was Saturday — no dentist until Monday. I canceled the meditation. I was in no mood for Zen.  

Saul ran to the drugstore to get adhesive to stick the crown back on. We bickered over the correct way to glue it. We were lousy at repairing our broken dining room chair so how were we supposed to figure this out?

By the end of the afternoon, I definitely didn’t feel like a child. There’s noting like staring at a tube of Polident on your counter to make you feel very mature.  

The dentist — trip #2

Temperature check and/or tracking device inserted — form filled out saying I didn’t have COVID.

As the hygienist peered into the back of my mouth, she told me a story about her son’s wife’s friend coming to her house for 4th of July and drunkenly diving into their pool and breaking her tooth. I think it was supposed to be an ironic story since she is a hygienist, but all I could think about was that this woman who was mere inches from my respiratory tract was having drunken and most likely maskless strangers at her house all weekend. I tried to not breathe until she was done.

The dentist — trip #3

Between stories of the drunken COVID carriers she associated with, the hygienist somehow convinced me to come back a week later for a cleaning because it had been six months and an entire lifetime since my old-shoe dentist had done one.

Temperature check and/or tracking device inserted — form filled out …Wait…I do have a little bit of a sore throat — I’m sure it’s nothing but I don’t want to get the whole office sick. I quietly checked “yes” and handed the form back to the receptionist.

WE HAVE A YES! she screamed. WE HAVE A YES UP HERE!! Someone…either a hygienist or FBI agent…came running out in full protective gear and asked me all kinds of questions, trying to get me to break down and admit I was a virus carrier. Finally, they reluctantly allowed me to have my teeth cleaned.

As we finished the appointment, the hygienist complimented me for still having one of my wisdom teeth. It made me feel slightly old, but I’ll take what compliments I can get.

The dentist — trip #4

The next day, I was back at the dentist with my last remaining wisdom tooth in a plastic baggy. Earlier that morning, I had been absentmindedly chewing on the plastic cap for a dental floss soft pic of all things when I suddenly felt something hard in my mouth.

Temperature check and/or tracking device inserted — form filled out, saying I didn’t have COVID. My throat was still a tiny bit scratchy, but I didn’t see the point in re-convincing the same interrogator that it was just allergies.

“I don’t understand how this happened,” I mumbled to the dentist as she filed down my jagged tooth. “Could this have to do with you guys cleaning my teeth yesterday?”

“NO!” the dentist said emphatically. “IT IS PURE COINCIDENCE.”

I wanted to explain that I didn’t care if the cleaning did cause it. I didn’t want to sue. I just didn’t want to feel like my teeth were all randomly falling out.  I wanted to stop feeling like everything in my life was totally out of my control. I’ve had enough of that feeling in 2020.

The optometrist — trip #2

The receptionist had called me repeatedly during the last week. “I talked to my manager and you can come in early before anyone else is around for your eye exam. We will make sure everything is clean and sterilized.”

That last part didn’t feel like something special they should do just for me, but I’m a nice guy and decided to give them a second chance with my life.

This time when I walked in the front door of the empty store, a young clerk in a mask immediately took my temperature. I had a good feeling about this visit.

I went up to the desk to check in. “Um…I’m sorry sir. Your appointment isn’t until tomorrow.”

The optometrist — trip #3

Temperature taken again. If I am being microchipped, I feel sorry for whoever is tracking me. All I do is go back and forth between my home office and kitchen several times a day. On the bright side, I have learned my body temperature is, without fail, a consistent 97.1.

The staff was nice and followed me around spraying everything in my path with disinfectant. I could tell they had written something like DIFFICULT or HYSTERICAL in my chart but I didn’t really mind.

And I was at least allowed to keep my mask on during the exam. But as the doctor peered into my eyes from a mere six inches away, it felt odd. Five months ago, I would have worried about my breath. Now I worried one of us was getting the other sick.

I can’t see anything but a blur without my glasses, so trying on frames is already a challenge. That process was now compounded by having to do it with the lower half of my face covered in cloth. I ran outside in the parking lot to take pictures of myself without a mask wearing several options for Saul to weigh in at home.

Later, when I was trying to decide between two pairs — I did something madcap and stood very far away from the two clerks who were helping me and pulled down my mask and held my breath, so they could see how I looked in them as a normal person.

By the time I got home, I was exhausted. It hadn’t been physically hard, but after two weeks of navigating the new world with its new rules and new calculated risks, I was emotionally exhausted.

“Why don’t you just relax?” Saul said. “I will make you some nice soft food.”

I almost protested that I wasn’t a child and I wasn’t an old man, but then decided maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea.

About the Author: Keith Hoffman lives with his husband Saul and is finishing up a memoir. He has an appointment with a skin doctor next month. He is hoping his mask wearing has protected his fair-skinned Irish nose from precancerous growths.

Til Death or Quarantine Do Us Part: Marriage in 2020

The Best Policy?

“I’m sorry I’m so sick of you,” I said to my husband Saul the other day as we settled in to watch TV.

“I’m sorry I’m tired of hearing you breathe,” he replied nonchalantly.

Psychologists say honest and clear communication is key to a successful relationship. Apparently after 20 weeks of quarantine, Saul and I are pretty successful.

I had no idea when I wrote How to Stay Married During a Pandemic in the middle of April, that Coronavirus would not only still be around but thriving in July.

My husband and I aren’t those people who decided we were sick of the virus and drank ourselves silly in crowded bars without masks. We stay behind closed doors together except to walk our dog and grocery shop.

So now we have to dig deeper. We are in unchartered territory. How do we stay happy in a year that is trying to kick our ass? And how do we keep our marriage fresh?

We aren’t experts. But we have done a few things to keep the police from showing up at our door.

Improve our surroundings

I recently read an article that most people doing home improvements during quarantine have actually made their homes worse.Luckily Saul and I are smart enough to not try to add another bathroom or second floor balcony or third floor skylight.

We are proud enough when we figure out how to replace the filter in our our microwave. Who even knew there was a filter in a microwave that needed replacing?  

Bunker Sweet Bunker

Saul needed a space at home to do his artwork since it’s next to impossible to work with paints in the dining room, living room or bedroom and I took over his “art room” and made it my home office. The dingy low-ceilinged basement of our 1850’s house was the best option — but not very appealing. We climbed down the rickety wooden stairs, cleaned the clutter and cobwebs, ordered fabric to hang from the walls and rafters, threw down some old rugs we’d been storing down there, added a lamp and desk…and voila!

We now have what we lovingly call an “art bunker”. It’s colorful and quite cozy. Not only can Saul paint there, but during the air raids and tornados that 2020 will surely bring, we can live out our days in a nicely decorated space.

Do good for others

Saul and I marched in the local protest for Black Lives Matter. We were definitely out of our comfort zone even though we wore our masks and did what we could to stay six feet from every other peaceful protester. It was the most unsafe we felt since the pandemic started but we felt it was too important not to do.

We needed something more our style. There were signs popping up in the front yards of our town that we loved, and we found out we could purchase them from a local artist for 8 dollars. It read:

We Believe
Black Lives Matter
Women’s Rights Are Human Rights
No Human is Illegal
Science is Real
Love is Love
Kindness is Everything

We picked up our sign and walked home feeling good about ourselves. In our small way we were adding positivity to our little town.

A woman stepped out of the car as we neared our block. She didn’t have a mask on, so we made a wide circle around her.

“What’s that sign?” she called out with sugary sweetness. I turned, smiled and held it up proudly for her to read and see what amazingly compassionate and tolerant people we are. She took an inordinate amount of time to read it.

“How about ALL lives matter?” she finally blurted out. Her sugary tone had become suspicious and belligerent.

In less than a second my compassion transformed into murderous rage.

“What? What??” I said — my eyes narrowing. “What did you just say???” I began approaching her menacingly when I felt Saul gently grab my arm.

“Ignore her. Let’s go.”

I hate when Saul is the rational one. I like to cast myself as the calm one in the marriage and many people believe this. Saul thinks I have them fooled.

I stormed away but was boiling. I wished I could have said to her something smart and rational like, “No one is saying all lives don’t matter. We are saying black lives and other POC have mattered less in this country for centuries and we need to finally acknowledge and truly address that.”

What I really wanted to do was hit her on her head with my new sigh, but i was pretty sure that KINDNESS IS EVERYTHING line wasn’t written ironically.

Travel to Faraway Places

Saul wanted to find a nice little house on a private beach to rent. For cheap.

“What universe are you living in?” I asked.

“I’m just going to do a quick search on Airbnb,” he insisted.

Here is another quick tip about marriage: You have to let them find for themselves that their idea is wrong.

After researching the costs of those “cute little houses on a private beach” in the time of Covid (who would have guessed they would be so expensive?), we decided to instead go on a day trip to New York City to see our doctor for Lyme and Covid tests. Maybe not as fun or faraway as the ocean, but it was a start.

We arrived a few hours before our appointment to walk around the city we both love. Saul was more nervous than me and I had to convince several times we weren’t going to get sick from someone not wearing a mask walking on the other side of Seventh Avenue. We were excited to visit Saul’s favorite little tea store in the village, McNulty’s — but found it closed up and dark, and had to settle for Starbucks takeout instead. We did order delicious tarts from the sidewalk in front of a small bakery, but they weren’t as delicious as my husband makes at home.

But I guess that was the whole point of the trip. It gave some perspective and appreciation for our life back home.

When we walked in the front door that evening, our dog Alfie was over the moon with joy. He had not been alone more than 45 minutes since the middle of March. I think he might have needed the perspective too.

Nurture Furry Things

I don’t know what people do without animals.

Caring for Alfie, who has a limp that will not go away but who anxiously licks our legs if we don’t exercise him enough, certainly keeps our lives interesting. Having cats that constantly want to go outside and when we let them out constantly jump over the fence no matter how many times we tell them not to gives Saul and me a common interest.

The latest animals to come into our lives are bats.

I climbed up the ladder to our attic the other day to look for an old book and discovered to my horror something flying around my head. I had seen enough vampire movies to know what it was and what would happen if it bit my neck.

I rushed down the ladder yelling for Saul.

My husband finally went up two hours later. “I don’t see any bats,” he said with what I detected as a bit of dismissiveness. I suggested we lock Saul up there for the night just to make sure.

A few days later Saul had to go back up into the attic himself. He came running down a few minutes later.

“There really are bats up there!” he said with surprise. I was annoyed he questioned my sanity enough that he actually thought I might have been imagining them.

We called a bat man (as opposed to Batman, which would have been much cooler) and found out you can’t really do much. You can’t kill bats because they are endangered, which we wouldn’t have wanted to do anyway. You can’t even evict them during the summer when they are raising babies. In September you can install some contraption where they can fly out of the attic but not get back in —  but that seems kind of mean. Where would they go? Who wants to suddenly get locked out of their home?

We decided to let them roost up there until they leave in the winter to hibernate in a cave. There aren’t that many, and the bat man wasn’t concerned. As long as they don’t bite our necks and give us rabies or vampirism we should be fine.

But on hot days like today I think about bringing them up something to drink like water or blood.

Miscellaneous Tips

I’ve also gathered a potpourri of advice to keep things happy at home. I read somewhere that you can’t stay angry if you open your eyes really wide. It’s some kind of physiological thing because a person narrows their eyes when they are mad about something. So now whenever one of us gets pissed off, the other one shouts “WIDEN YOUR EYES! WIDEN YOUR EYES!” Surprisingly it works more often than not.

I also heard from my friend who is studying to be a therapist that the longer couples stay together the more they skew to a negative bias towards each other. I suspect quarantine has quickened that phenomenon. To counteract this, you are supposed to say five positive things for every negative thing you say to your partner. We try that too. Although it can get kind of tense when you get stuck after listing only four positive things.

Oh, and caftans–we each order a few caftans for ourselves online. Trust me, they make living in lockdown together a lot more fun.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Keith Hoffman lives in Lambertville, NJ with his husband Saul. He loves to write in the mornings, although lately he has had the urge to lie inside a wooden crate deep in the art bunker when the sun begins to rise.

Five Things My Beat-Up Old Pitbull Taught Me About Love

You can’t always choose your angels

Sasha literally showed up on my doorstep one morning.

I was living in LA, rushing to work when I opened my front door to find a weird-looking, weather-beaten dog staring up at me. I quickly slammed the door between us. It was a pit bull, for God’s sake! I opened the door a tiny bit to take a closer look through the crack. She seemed pretty harmless. Her face was scarred, and she looked like she had recently had puppies.

Pit bulls in the section of LA I lived in often came from hard lives, and it was pretty clear she was not well taken care of. I knew if I called animal control her breed would be put down immediately, and I would be condemning her to death. But I was definitely not looking for a dog at that time of my life, so I decided to feed her some cereal and hope she would wander off and not be my problem anymore.

I thought about her all day at work until I finally broke down and called a friend who always drove past my house early in the afternoon on his way home from work. “If she’s is still on my porch, can you let her inside?” I asked. “The key’s under the mat.”

She was fast asleep in my bedroom when I got home. I eventually named her Sasha and told myself that she had chosen me. Later, I found out from a neighbor that she had hung out on every porch on the block and got to mine last. Apparently, I wasn’t so special. I was just the poor sap that took her in.

Whatever the reason, Sasha was in my life to stay.

How to heal during walks

As Sasha’s life got dramatically better, mine took an equally dramatic turn for the worse. My sister and mom, who were the people I was closest to in my life, died only a few months apart. I felt leaden with double grief, and didn’t want to do anything but lie in bed under layers of blankets in my darkened bedroom.

But through the hardest days, I knew I still had to be a good dad to this kooky creature I had rescued from the street. Making sure she was fed and felt loved kept me from going completely off the rails. I began a habit of taking her on hours-long walks late at night when it was dark, and no one could see me crying. She became the silent witness to my grief, and never said dumb things to try to make me feel better. She just let me walk and weep.

Every night, we would stroll by a street lamp that would shut off just as we were underneath it. I became convinced it was my sister saying hi. Sasha didn’t laugh at me for this, and if she rolled her eyes I didn’t see it.

French fries are better shared

I drove across country from LA to New York City for a new job and new life, and Sasha was at my side.

She was a pretty good traveling companion, except when she saw other dogs — then she would become some insane she-devil barking ferociously and jumping all over my little Mini Cooper so much I thought it would break apart. In those moments, I learned to go into my special mental safe zone and focus only on staying on the road until she settled down. When we got stuck in a traffic jam near Phoenix behind a pick-up with a large German Shepherd in back, my car shook so much I was waiting for it to fly off its axles.

Staying in motels had its own challenges. First I had to find places that accepted pets, then I had to be less than forthcoming about exactly what kind of pet.

“What type of dog, you say? Um…it’s a pit…ooodle?” I would mumble.

Explaining she was a pit bull but a friendly one just didn’t seem like the way to go.

But mostly Sasha sat in the front seat and looked at the scenery with me. On the last evening of the drive as we headed into Pennsylvania, Sasha was leaning against me while we shared McDonald’s French fries — one for her then one for me. We had become so close during this huge transition in my life, I would have shared my vanilla shake if she had known how to use a straw.

Love is hard

Sasha’s weakness was her hatred of other dogs. She loved people, but other dogs really bugged the crap out of her.

I’d have to slip her through the back door of the vet because the waiting room drove her mad — there would be dogs coming in the front door or out of waiting room doors in every direction. She thought she was under siege.

After I had her a few years, I foolishly decided to get a puppy thinking if she got to know a dog as it grew up, she wouldn’t perceive it as a threat. 99% of the time she played joyfully with the pup I’d named Rose after my mom’s favorite flower. But that other 1% she’d start a fight without provocation that would destroy my apartment and my nerves. Still, I was determined to make it work and tried for another year.

“No one likes a crazy pit bull,” I’d try to tell Sasha, but she didn’t seem to care. Since I didn’t know her history, I had no idea where this unpredictable behavior sprang from and was becoming increasingly overwhelmed by it.

Finally, when they nearly destroyed my new TV during a ferocious battle, I couldn’t take it anymore. I called my big brother Paul in tears. “I don’t know what to do.” Paul had a lot of space in his home in Indiana and kindly offered to take Rose.

I drove twelve hours from Brooklyn to Seymour, Indiana with Sasha in the front seat and Rose in the back. They were both on tranquilizers, but neither was very calm. When crossing from West Virginia into Ohio, we hit a huge thunderstorm and I couldn’t see more than a half a foot in front of the car. In the midst of it, I noticed Sasha giving Rose an unfriendly side-eye and starting to growl. “Not now,” I muttered. “We will all surely die.” Either my threat or the tranquilizer stopped her from taking it to the next level.

After a week at Paul’s, it was time to go home. The morning of my departure, I led Sasha into my car. I walked back to where Rose was still sleeping in the guest bed and hugged her hard. “I love you so much. But I think this is what is best for you.”

I ran out with tears streaming down my face, got in the car and drove off. Even though I was pretty sure Rose had a happy life ahead of her, I felt like I had failed her. Sasha, on the other hand, gazed contentedly out the window without a care in the world.

“Probably no one else in the world would have kept the difficult dog and given up the cute puppy,” I said to her. “You are one lucky girl.”

Rose thrived and seemed to have been destined to be a farm dog, and things in my apartment in Brooklyn settled down. Still, it took almost a year to fully forgive Sasha. I knew it wasn’t her fault that she had an issue with other dogs, but I still had to find it in my heart to fully love her without reservation again.

A few minutes don’t make up an entire relationship

It helped when I met Saul.

Sasha fell for him even harder than I did. And the feeling from my future husband was mutual. It was a late-in-life romance for Sasha. She was so in love with Saul that when I’d walk in the front door, she’d look over my shoulder to see if he was with me and seemed disappointed if he wasn’t. After Saul moved in, the two of them made me feel like a third wheel. I didn’t care. Sasha had mellowed by this time (although not enough for me to trust her with a puppy) and she just wanted to be coddled, which Saul was more than willing to do.

But late one night, she had trouble breathing. Saul and I stayed up with her and got her to the vet first thing in the morning. She had a terrible and dramatic reaction to a sedative he gave her and went downhill fast. Before I could register what was happening, she was put on a respirator. The vet said there was a chance she could recover but would have to go to another vet hospital for at least overnight. I couldn’t do that. It would be so confusing for her and at her advanced age would give her a few more months of life at the very most. We made the heartbreaking decision to put her to sleep.

The two of us were led to a room in the back of the clinic where Sasha was lying on a table attached to a ventilator, barely alert. I saw her nose immediately start sniffing when we walked in the room and her eyes move in our direction. I hoped she felt safer knowing her two dads were there with her. We held and stroked her and told her how much we loved her as the vet went about his job. It took all my strength and courage not to stop him. I told myself this was the merciful thing to do.

It wasn’t the beautiful, peaceful death I would have wished for Sasha. It reminded me of what my friend Steve, who has had to put three dogs to sleep in his lifetime said: “One felt spiritual, one felt sad, and one was just awful.”

This death was awful.

That afternoon Saul and I sat in an apartment that felt unbearably empty without her life in it. “Do you think she knew we were there? Do you think she felt loved?”

“I think she felt loved the entire time she was with you,” Saul reassured me. “It’s not about the last few minutes of her life. It’s about a lifetime.”

Saul often reminds me of this. When he’s mad at me, I’ll often ask him how he’d feel if he died suddenly and him being annoyed was my last memory of him. “It will be like Sasha,” he’ll reply. “You’ll know over the long run that I loved you.”

About the Author:  Keith Hoffman lives with his husband Saul in Lambertville New Jersey.  He attributes his happy marriage to the lessons he learned from Sasha.

How My Love Affair with NYC Survived a Plague

Pandemics and protests can’t dim my city’s spark….  

Abandoning ship (and a friendship with roots)

I woke up nervous. It was the middle of June and I was heading to my office in New York City for the first time since March 12th. That was the day my life changed in major ways without me even quite noticing.

Back then this pandemic thing seemed overblown, but we were being sent home from work for an indefinite period of time — perhaps an entire two weeks until the end of March! I walked several blocks through the crowded city to my car, seeming to hear the word coronavirus on everyone’s lips. It was surreal. I was clueless I was probably walking through a hot zone of the same virus everyone was talking about.

I began working from home 72 miles outside the city and became proficient at Zoom and making my husband sick of me. As two weeks turned into three months, I began worrying obsessively about a jade plant I had left behind that was a gift from a coworker. Why hadn’t I thought to bring it that last afternoon I was in the office?? I remembered a terrible story about Hurricane Katrina where two dogs were found dead at their front door faithfully waiting for their owner to return and feed them. That story haunted me. Was my jade plant waiting for me as it slowly died of thirst? I’m sure Keith will come back, to water me, I imagined it saying. We’ve been together nine years.

I cared about that plant, but I suspected it represented a lot more. The truth was, everything in my world was feeling totally out of my control.

Good vibrations

Two weeks ago I got a notice the lease was up for our office building in midtown Manhattan, and because of Covid-related delays we wouldn’t be able to move into our new space until at September at the earliest. Each employee was given a strict two-hour window to come pack up our things. Only a few of us were allowed in the building at a time, and wearing masks would be strictly enforced. My time slot was one of the first.

As I drove through the Lincoln Tunnel, I thought about the first time I had come to New York City, with my Ohio college theatre department. I had only known Manhattan from montages in TV shows and movies. Nothing prepared me for what assaulted my senses as the bus emerged from the dark of the tunnel on that gray November mornings so many years ago.

The energy that hummed from the sidewalks was so powerful I felt more alive than I had in my entire life. Even though the sky was overcast, the city still had an incandescence from the signs that were lit up even during the day with names such as Panasonic, Coca-Cola, and Suntory Royal Whiskey. Nestled between them were huge billboards advertising Evita and Howard Johnson’s and Castro Convertibles.

I sat at the edge of my bus seat transfixed by this new world outside my window of yellow taxis incessantly honking horns as they wove through lanes vainly trying to go fast in the impossible gridlock; and the people of every color and hue darting through the cars and walking down the sidewalks dressed in suits and jeans and furs and exotic saris as they passed hot dog vendors and stepped over manhole covers where steam shot towards the sky from some mysterious world underground.

This was not Ohio. I could feel the vibration of the city and it matched my own. I had found home.

But nothing prepared me for the men. They were quite obviously gay, and I was flabbergasted they could be so bold about it. They wore tight pants in bright colors, and shirts open to their navels showing off their chest hair. When I walked down the street, they turned their heads to look at me, sometimes stopping in their tracks and spinning all the way around to watch me stumble shyly in the opposite direction — red-faced, flattered and wanting to die all at once. I was completely unaware that being 19-years-old and fresh off the Ohio bus was like catnip to the seen-it-all New Yorkers.

Flash forward to the land of hangry rats

A lot has changed since then.

New York isn’t my home anymore. It’s only where I work since I moved away three years ago. And it has been awhile since men turned around to get a second look at me.

But had it changed even more since I last saw it in March? I was curious how the city had held up after several months of lockdown followed by almost two weeks of marches supporting Black Lives Matter and protesting the murder of George Floyd. From news reports and social media, I pretty much expected it to be deserted and boarded up. I had even heard the rats were starving from the lack of people leaving uneaten food around and had become terrifyingly aggressive.

But as I drove through the heart of Manhattan, I was surprised to see it looking pretty normal — a little less crowded maybe — like the city on a summer Sunday morning when most New Yorkers are at Jones Beach, Fire Island, or The Hamptons. I did see a few boarded-up windows, but it was a functioning, still-alive city. I could feel that magic vibration, even if it was less intense — I just hoped it wasn’t a stampede of vicious rats I was sensing.

I looked forward to revisiting my familiar haunts, but as I walked toward my office I discovered my favorite coffee place was still closed. For the last ten years with only a few interruptions, I had coffee every day at 3pm with my friends and co-workers Jamie and Sara. We took those fifteen minutes very seriously.

When I met them after starting my job, the three of us were single and living in rented apartments. Over our decade of daily catch-ups, we each got married (not even a legal possibility for me when we first met), they both had children, and we all bought our own homes. I had even officiated Sara’s wedding and walked with Jamie to the jewelers the day he was going to propose to his future wife. As I looked through the window of the dark and deserted space, I realized the next time we’d all see each other we’d be in a new building in a new part of town. I was certain we’d find another coffee shop. This pandemic couldn’t break the bond that had grown between us. But the truth was I wasn’t ever sure we would realistically see each other in person for the rest of the year.

It was the end of an era without any fanfare.

Returning to the scene of the crime

The inside of our office looked like it had been raided by a SWAT team. The kitchen had yellow police tape blocking the entrance as if it was the site of a homicide. Footsteps taped to the floor showed me which direction I had to walk. But when I arrived at my office I couldn’t believe my eyes.

My jade plant was alive!

Barely. Time was definitely of the essence. I grabbed a thermos off my desk and headed to the kitchen.

Oh right…the kitchen was sealed off.I turned abruptly around and followed the footsteps on the carpet which took me in the opposite direction of the bathroom that was the other source of precious water. I finally made it there after circling the entire circumference of the empty office. Almost ten minutes later, I returned with a full thermos. I am pretty convinced that plant was literally one minute from totally giving up the ghost.

Don’t stand so…

As I finished watering, four hired movers rushed in and offered to bubble wrap my posters and lamps. They were quite friendly and eager to help, but kept pulling down their masks to talk to me up close. I wanted to back up, but my office wasn’t big enough. My only option would have been to ask them to keep their masks on and not stand so close to me. I’m codependent so that is hard enough, but compound that with the fact that I’m white, the movers were black, and society’s nerves were frayed because cops who look like me couldn’t seem to stop murdering people who look like the movers. I became self-conciously vigilant that I not say or do the wrong thing.

I had marched in my own peaceful protest back in my hometown (mask on and doing my utmost to keep six feet from everyone), but I knew things could easily be taken the wrong way. I had already had an awkward moment when the movers first walked into my office. One of the guys tried to fist bump me (I guess that’s safer than a handshake?) and when I clumsily tried to return the gesture, I somehow accidentally punched him right in the stomach. It wasn’t a hard punch, but still….

Now I considered what I could possibly say that wouldn’t come out sounding wrong. “Can you not stand so close to me — not because you are black, but because one of us might have Covid?”

No, that wouldn’t work at all.

I was baffled. Was I racist for even thinking about this, or was I just being culturally hypersensitive? And was being culturally hypersensitive a form of racism? I felt very guilty, and very white.

I dove in, packing up my office alongside them with my mask on and doing my best to keep socially distanced when i could.

But that feeling of life being confusing and out of control welled up in me stronger than ever.

Don’t count us out yet

A few hours later, I was heading back out the Lincoln Tunnel with my office belongings crammed in the car and my jade plant sitting on the passenger seat noticeably perked up and enjoying the sun.

I saw the iconic Empire State Building in my rearview mirror and smiled for the first time in a while.

I realized New York City was a lot like the plant at my side.

Resilient.

They had both seen some hard times, but had bounced back and were looking ready to thrive again.

I decided that maybe they were an omen of hope for the rest of us humans. Maybe we could also figure out how to bounce back and even thrive together in this world.

I wasn’t completely convinced…but maybe…


About the Author: Keith Hoffman is a writer in Lambertville, NJ. You can reach him any time by Zoom except from 3 to 3:15 when he is having virtual coffee with his friends. He still hopes to turn heads on the street every once in awhile…as long as they don’t stand too close and are wearing masks.

An Introvert’s Guide to Coming Out of Lockdown: When the end of a pandemic causes panic

My dirty little secret

“I’m nervous about the idea of going back to the office,” my coworker admitted.

I understood, but felt like that’s something one shouldn’t admit out loud.

“I’m over it!” a lot of other people have been saying. “I’m done with this pandemic!”

My anxiety actually went down during the peak of the lockdown.

I know that makes me sound selfish. Of course, I don’t want people getting sick and dying and losing their jobs just so I can feel more relaxed. But the fantasy of everyone staying in quarantine forever is more than a little appealing.

What I didn’t miss during lockdown

I didn’t have to ride a bus two hours from Lambertville, NJ to work in NYC and then two hours back three days a week. Actually, it wasn’t as terrible as everyone thought. I wrote an entire book on that bus and I watched the complete series of Game of Thrones, Succession, Madmen, and Handmaid’s Tale. But I definitely did not enjoy being crammed next to someone with body odor or eating ear-splittingly crunchy chips or shouting on a conference call while sitting under a NO CELL PHONE sign. And even pre-corona I worried about my health. I’m still haunted by the time that old guy in the seat behind me sneezed so hard I felt it on the back of my neck.

I haven’t had one single bout of pre-party social anxiety in the last three months. Even after years of therapy, I still look at a party invitation as some sort of threat. My husband Saul and I used to spend the entire day before every social event debating whether or not we should go.

ME: “It’d be nice to stay home.”

SAUL: “Do you think we’d regret not going?”

ME: “I guess it’d be rude to cancel now.”

SAUL: “Why did we agree to do this in the first place?”

I was no different before I met Saul. I once went up to the door of a party I had driven an hour to get to, stood on the porch listening to all the people inside, and promptly sprinted back to my car and drove home.

Zoom parties aren’t so bad. I don’t get trapped in a corner with one annoying person, and if I want to leave, I can pretend my connection is bad instead of sneaking out the bathroom window.

As much as I love theatre, I don’t miss people next to me who can’t stop themselves from texting. “I’m trying to meet someone after the show,” one guy lamely explained as he texted on his glaringly bright phone while Sally Field performed a monologue as Amanda Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie a mere few feet away. At another play, a woman explained she was obsessively texting throughout the first act of On Golden Pond because she had a family member dying at home. If that was true (and I had my doubts) perhaps she shouldn’t have come. I love theatre, but only a play starring Angela Lansbury would be worth skipping a loved one’s deathbed.

New abnormal

Quarantine suited me.

I loved how strict the rules became at my grocery store with arrows taped on the floor that pointed the proper direction to walk down each aisle. I glared over my mask at a woman who blatantly defied them to grab a can of creamed corn. I’m pretty sure I would thrive in a police state

I began to look forward to walking with my dog Alfie and rarely seeing another soul. If I did, it was like seeing a zombie. It was as if I had the world all to myself — just me and the zombies. Alfie liked it too. His main job became barking hysterically through the window at the FedEx man who dropped off packages of unnecessary items around 17 times a day. That was plenty of excitement for him.

Who was that masked man?

But now the world is opening back up. The streets are crowded with non-zombies and you can walk willy-nilly in any direction at the grocery store.

And we are divided between the maskers and non-maskers.

This stupid debate drives me absolutely bonkers. I lived through AIDS, where people debated for years whether to wear protection on an entirely different area of their body. Why would you not want to wear something that at the very least makes other people feel safer and more secure?

I know some claim masks are weak, but I find a man who wears one kind of sexy. Maybe it was my crush as a kid on Batman’s sidekick Robin. In fact, I wish we could wear tights and a cape to go along with our masks.

I live a ten-minute walk from one of the most charming little towns in this country: New Hope, PA. You have to cross a cute little bridge over the Delaware River to get to it and the walkway is narrow and often crowded. The ratio of maskers to non-maskers is about 30/70.

A few weeks ago, Saul and I walked across it to meet with a friend for a socially-distanced backyard meal. A couple was strolling toward us wearing no masks while holding hands and making no effort to move to the side. Finally, I couldn’t take it.

“WALK SINGLE FILE!” I screamed.

The guy just mocked me. “You’re not socially distancing if you’re talking to me.”

Saul joined in with, “Grow up and be a responsible adult and wear a mask.” There may have been a few curse words thrown in there. I can’t recall.

It felt really good to yell at such entitled jerks, but it is probably not a good habit to get into. Still, I wouldn’t mind having a job as a Bridge Mask Monitor with all the power that would come with it. In the olden days, I think I would have made a great bridge troll.

What I miss from pre-quarantine

· Walking by myself after work in Manhattan and getting lost in the anonymous crowd as I took in the sights of this city I’ve known since I was 18 and has yet to bore me.

· Observing every type of humanity from all over the world on a crowded subway car.

· The thrill a moment live theatre can bring that no film or TV show can — Ruthie Ann Miles singing “Something Wonderful” in The King and I so simply that it brought chills, or Andrea Martin singing “No Time at All” while hanging on a trapeze in Pippin. Both moments caused the audience to set down their phones and rise to their feet to cheer.

· How my town filled up on weekends with people who came to appreciate its charm, and then how it belonged to the townies again from Monday to Thursday.

A trick my dog Alfie can teach all of us

The truth is, I want those things back as much as the rest of us, but I don’t think rushing there is the answer.

As always, Alfie shows me the answer if I just pay attention. He hurt his front leg about a month ago. Every time he stopped limping, we would take him on longer walks and let him chase deer and play with other dogs. By the time we got home, he was limping again. We finally realized we have to wait longer — even when he seemed totally okay — if we wanted his leg to really heal. We had to exercise self-discipline and patience to make progress. It wasn’t the most convenient solution to the problem, but Alfie’s injury didn’t care.

It seems pretty logical that the same goes for the pandemic. So, I am going to go at my own pace and not care if anyone thinks I’m being too cautious.

Saul and I were going to walk across the bridge again last Friday evening. My husband had convinced me we could do it. He told me was going to keep me calm. “Who is going to keep you calm?” I asked, and it was a very good question.

As we were about to go out the door I realized I wasn’t taking care of myself. “I can’t do this.” I said.

Saul immediately understood, and we decided to drive across instead. As we did, we saw groups of people without masks taking up the entire walkway. We yelled at them through our rolled-up windows, which was just as satisfying but safer.

It’s like on the plane when they tell you to put on your oxygen mask first before you try to help your baby: Put on your mask first… then you can help put our world back together.


About the author: Keith Hoffman lives locked away in Lambertville, NJ. He dreams of being a superhero or a troll or a hermit. Or maybe even a hunchback if he can find a nice bell tower to hide in.

Meeting a Lot of Mr. Wrongs to Get to Mr. Right

My Disastrous Dating Life 


Recently a good friend asked to have a Zoom chat to talk about how I ended up married after being single for fifteen years.

Ahh! I thought. This will be a great opportunity to pass on my fabulous wisdom. How lucky can my lonely friend get?

But by the time we got to our scheduled chat, I realized I had nothing profound to offer — just the same old clichés.

It happens when you least expect it.
Learn to love yourself first.
They won’t buy the cow if they get the milk for free?

The only thing I could think to tell him was that I had decided finding love was a numbers game. If I really wanted to meet someone, I had to do the work myself.

I wasn’t being invited to fancy balls like the sisters in Pride and Prejudice. I wasn’t being set up by a yenta like the daughters in Fiddler on the Roof. I could dance around my apartment with my broom singing Matchmaker Matchmaker Make Me a Match as much as I wanted, but it wasn’t going to get me a man.

Trust me. I know from experience.

But dating was never one my top skills. It was one humiliating experience after the next. And I never really got good at it.

Mitchell — The double downer

I adored Mitchell.

It was 1985. He was a handsome actor/waiter who worked at Joe Allen’s, a restaurant in the theatre district of New York City. He was twenty-four, the same age as me, but that was where the similarity ended.

Mitchell was tall with jet black hair, piercing blue eyes, a jutting masculine chin and an aura of sophisticated glamour. I was an average-looking receptionist at a video duplication company. On each of our three dates I was star-struck, as if I was having dinner with Cary Grant. Mitchell didn’t want to get too physical too fast — he wanted to go slow and really get to know me first. Of course, that unavailability made him all the more desirable.

I had big plans for our fourth date. I had decided it was going to be the date. That’s when things were going to go past third base all the way to home plate at my apartment. So when my phone rang, and I heard his deep voice at the end of the line, my heart leapt into my throat. Just the right position for me to choke on it.

“I can’t see you anymore,” Mitchell said. “I’m in love with someone else.”

What? But? Why?

He had never mentioned he was dating someone else. I had convinced myself he felt about me like I did about him. I thought we were going slow because I was someone special. But now I understood it was because he was marking time until someone better came along. I felt devastated. I felt stupid.

His call came only days before an already planned trip I was taking by myself to Key West. But instead of hiding in my dark bed and breakfast with the curtain drawn, I forced myself to spend the days riding my rented bike, swimming in the ocean, and watching the sun set while savoring a slice of tart key lime pie.

As my beat-up heart healed, I was almost back to my old self by the last day of the trip. Just because Mitchell isn’t attracted to me doesn’t mean I don’t have worth, I told myself. He just isn’t the one. Now I have room to meet the right guy.

I wasn’t only healed. I was enlightened.

I arrived home from the airport and hit the button on my answering machine.

“It’s Mitchell. Call me.”

I threw down my bags and dialed as quickly as I could. “Hi, it’s Keith.”

“I made a terrible mistake,” he blurted out. “I’m so sorry. I think I just got scared.”

It was a miracle. It was that point in the movie where you think Meg Ryan is going to spend every New Year’s Eve for the rest of her life alone and then Billy Crystal shows up. The girl was going to get the guy after all! Or in this case…the guy was going to get the guy.

Mitchell wanted to meet that very evening. I didn’t even unpack before I jumped in the shower and got ready. He had picked a restaurant that was a favorite of his on the Upper East Side. I lived in Brooklyn and it would take over an hour to get there, but I wasn’t going to let that get in the way. The long ride on the subway gave me time to dream about the perfect rest of our lives together.

Mitchell was already waiting at the table when I arrived. I rushed over giddily and sat down.

“Wow! You look wonderful tonight!” I said.

“I’m sorry. I just can’t do this,” he replied.

“What??”

“I’m sorry. I thought I could, but I can’t.”

I had so many questions. Why did you call me after I had just gotten over you? What happened between the phone call and me arriving at the restaurant to change your mind?

But mostly I wondered. Why? Why can’t you love me?

But I didn’t ask any of these questions. I just sat there what my mouth hanging open.

“Okay,” I finally said with a defeated sigh.

“We can still have dinner together,” he offered.

“No….no…I’m kind of tired. I’m just going to go home.”

I stood and walked out trying to look like I was taking this all in stride when I really wanted to just curl up and hide under one of the restaurant tables.

I climbed down the steps to the subway and felt better just being underground and away from that awful experience. All I could focus on was being home in my bed eating Pringles and weeping loudly. I looked down the tracks impatiently and waited for the subway to come.

Twenty minutes later I was still waiting.

Thirty minutes later the platform was full of people but still no subway.

Forty-five minutes — no subway and I had to pee. The trains seemed to have stopped running.

I considered throwing myself onto the tracks and ending my miserable life by being tragically crushed under the wheels of an oncoming train like Anna Karenina, but realized since no subway was coming, I would just be lying on the tracks for a long time with people staring curiously down at me.

I finally made it home and Mitchell never reconsidered again. He got together with the other guy and they were a couple for several years. I have to admit that when I occasionally heard rumors of their epic fights, it gave me just a little pleasure.

And the loser is…

I wish I could say that was the worst of my dates, but it wasn’t. There were so many, I can’t even begin to pick the actual worst. Some contenders:

  • The guy who insisted on meeting me the same day I returned from a trip to Nepal. We had chatted for months, but he was in the neighborhood and wanted to have drinks. “I’m not at my best,” I tried to explain. “I’m really jetlagged.” “I’m sure you’ll be fine,” he reassured me. Wow. He seemed like a pretty understanding guy. I arrived bedraggled and bleary-eyed. Once I sat down, my jetlag hit hard, and I struggled to keep up with the conversation. Later he texted. “You are a nice guy but didn’t seem very engaged in our conversation. Thanks anyway but not really interested in meeting again.”
  • The one I went out with only a week after I’d decided to stop drinking who wanted to meet me at a wine bar. I didn’t want to seem high-maintenance and ask him to pick somewhere else. Besides, you can drink other things at a wine bar, right? Apparently it was VERY important to this guy that a date drink actual wine at a wine bar. He felt I met him under false pretenses. That was the last I heard from him.
  • The blind date I was set up on by a famous celebrity I knew. (Who doesn’t love a celebrity friend?) It was an okay date but no chemistry. A week later, the celebrity called and asked why I wasn’t going on a second date. I told her he was very nice but there was no romantic spark. She got mad and never spoke to me again.
  • The date where I fought with the guy because he told me he had thrown a rock at a sick opossum hanging out in front of his apartment. During the same dinner, we got into a second fight because I told him I always put my clothes away in drawers when I stayed at hotels. “You are going to get bedbugs,” he said with certainty. “You don’t really know that,” I replied. “YOU ARE GOING TO GET BEDBUGS!” he insisted as if he was putting a curse on me. We both angrily agreed that would be our first and last date.
  • Then there was the guy I went out with for several months who kept falling asleep at odd times. I thought I just bored him until years later he confessed he had been secretly addicted to meth the entire time.

What doesn’t kill you forces you to keep living

So I was a terrible dater and had a lot of really terrible dates.

But there was something that kept me going. It happened after that date with Mitchell back in the 80’s. When I had finally made it home, I wanted to do anything but feel that gross pain of rejection. Maybe I should smoke pot or buy a pack of cigarettes or pour myself a huge glass of wine or two or three.

But instead I decided to do nothing. I was going to let myself experience the pain instead of numbing out. I lay on my couch and just felt it. I cried for about fifteen minutes, but then got kind of tired of that.

Then a random funny thought popped into my head. I don’t remember what it was anymore, but it made me smile and then actually chuckle out loud. In that moment, I realized that this pain I was feeling would not kill me. If I just let it play out, I couldn’t even sustain it for fifteen minutes. Learning that made me fear it less.

During the next decades of bad dates, I’d have to occasionally remind myself of that lesson. It would give me the strength and endurance to keep going until I finally met a guy who wouldn’t dream of throwing a rock at a sick opossum and has seen me jetlagged many times and still stuck around.

So, I suppose my advice to my friend or anyone else asking is to not let a little humiliation stop you from searching for what you want.

And just in case that guy’s right about bed bugs, don’t put your clothes in hotel room dresser drawers.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR Keith Hoffman lives in Lambertville, NJ with his husband Saul. You can read his blog at theravenlunatic.com. He currently has no celebrity friends.

 

My Dog Would Make the Worst Service Dog

All the ways my dog does not soothe my anxious mind

Alfie. Who’s a good boy?

The perfect pet, if you happen to be a farmer in the Australian outback

It’s not over ‘til the fat lady sings…or the dog pushes you off stage

On the other hand, I make a great service human


Figuring Out Our Relationship Puzzle

Is true love always easy?

Everyone’s a critic

Last month, I posted what I hoped was a relatable relationship essay entitled How to Stay Married During a Pandemic. I tried to write something funny but maybe a little wise about the pressure that being quarantined together can put on any marriage.

The right way to nap and grocery shop

Saul often wonders what I would write about if I didn’t have him as inspiration — or as he calls himself — fodder. We aren’t one of those Zen couples who automatically validate each other’s feelings and immediately work towards a compromise whenever we have a disagreement.

Fake couples as real role models

It’s a question I’ve often asked myself. I have very early memories of my mom and dad’s passionate arguments. Then my dad died suddenly when I was seven, and I’m pretty sure the lesson I learned was fighting leads to abandonment. Since my mom never remarried I had to look other places for clues, and television was my best resource. That left me very confused.

What rocks can teach you about love

I’m a sucker for clickbait.

Finding the piece that fits

I love that Saul is willing to work on our relationship together. When I first started dating him my friend Sara, who saw me go through a lot of bad dating experiences said of him, “he’s in it to win it.” Saul said during that same period. “You have to admit, we both give a damn.”


Three Tips to Becoming Everyone’s Favorite Boss

And how to apply them in a pandemic

Photo by Pablo Varela on Unsplash

I’m a good boss. I can’t deny it.

I‘m terrible at fixing cars. I’m a horrible cook. I am the worst athlete you would ever want to know, but I’m a good boss. Maybe I’m not the best boss but I often seem to be able to inspire my team to do their work and be proud of a job well down. I’m often told by my employees I am the best boss they’ve ever had. And why would someone whose paycheck depends on me ever lie about that?

I’ve been my own boss, the boss of large TV crews and now I am boss in a huge corporation. There are a couple tips I’ve learned in the few decades I’ve been doing this, but nothing could have prepared me for these last few months when a pandemic sent us all working from home.

I’ve quickly realized that even though it’s a very different world right now, the rules still apply more than ever.

You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room

I don’t remember who told me this. It was very likely the smartest person in the room.

I do recall it was told to me when I was brand new at running the story department for a TV production company. I had been working from home as a freelance writer for several years but had hit a dry spell so I had to put on pants that didn’t have an elastic waist and get a job in an office.

On my very first day, a Production Manager walked purposefully into my office holding a huge calendar.

“When do you think we will be able online the locked cuts?” She asked.

I had no idea what that sentence meant.

I didn’t even know what a Production Manager even did but I was pretty sure she worked for me.

She stood there looking at me waiting for an answer.

“Two days?” I said tentatively.

She seemed slightly puzzled.

“Tues…day?” I guessed again.

I could tell she now realized I had no idea what I was talking about.

“I need help.” I finally confessed.

And instead of storming out and calling me a fraud, she smiled kindly. For the next two hours we sat on my office floor poring over her huge calendar as she taught me all about making a production schedule. We are still friends twenty years later. Whenever we look at each other and say Twos…day? that means we have no idea what we are talking about.

Even when I’m in charge I have to remain teachable. Not being the smartest in the room is a lot less pressure and allows those who work for me to have better ideas and gain confidence in the process.

I’m certainly not the smartest person in dealing with this pandemic. I have had to say “I don’t know” and “I need help” a lot lately. And I would only be half as efficient working remotely if I didn’t have the help and ideas of my staff to help me muddle through.

Hire good people and let them do their jobs

I know this is not always possible. I once inherited someone else’s hire who informed me I was the worst boss she ever had. I think she changed her mind once we figured out how to work together, but I’m afraid to ask and ruin my Best Boss record.

Hiring is the most important thing I can do and I always have to go with my gut. It’s way more important to me than a resume. I feel you can always tell by talking to someone if they are going to be the right person for the job. And if we share the same sense of humor they get major bonus points. I spend most of my waking hours with the people I work with so why wouldn’t I hire the ones I really want to spend my time with?

Job interviews are all about chemistry. I learned this when I was on the other side of the process. Since I freelanced for many years, I went on a ton of them. I had great ones and ones where I just bombed. There was the time an executive offered me a cherry and I nervously ate the whole bowl in the next ten minutes. Or the time I lost my glasses even though I had not moved from my chair during the entire interview. I got both those jobs because we were able to laugh about it. And then there was the one where I brought my new backpack and went searching through it for my resume only to realize I had picked up and rifled through my interviewer’s similar-looking bag by mistake. She was not amused. I would have been and probably would have hired me.

I put a lot of care and thought into the people I’ve hired for my current job. They are so good they barely need me. I’m glad of it. It would be very hard to have to be micromanaging by Zoom.

It helps to be human

One of the best lessons I learned when I ran TV crews is that being a boss doesn’t have to be a rigid role. My job took me and my team into remote areas of the world where we knew no one and worked hard until late into the evening when we’d gather together and wind down. Of course, there were boundaries to be kept. Once a new production assistant got super drunk and started yelling in my face, “DO YOU KNOW MY NAME? DO YOU KNOW MY NAME??” I wanted to explain to him that was not the best way to get noticed, and it would have been in fact better if I did not know his name.

The head of the large corporate company where I now work has always seemed extremely unapproachable. He is in charge of thousands of people around the world and is quite intimidating. Even though his office is in the same NYC building I work from, I’m sure he doesn’t know my name (although, to be fair, I’ve never drunkenly asked him at a party). Whenever I saw him I’d usually tried to avoid him.

Not long before the pandemic, he was standing in front of the entrance of our office deep into a very intense conversation on his phone. As I approached the door, I realized there was no way to get inside the building without interrupting him. I couldn’t wedge myself past him to swipe my own badge, and wasn’t about to gently tap him on the shoulder. So, I stood there feeling like a fool for over ten minutes until he finally swiped his own badge and walked in with zero awareness I had been standing behind him.

But since quarantine, this guy has been leading a weekly Zoom meeting for those same thousands of employees on Wednesday mornings from his home with his son operating the camera. Every week I see him in his living room occasionally giving his kid instructions while talking to us about the state of company and the state of each of us. He shows what seems like genuine concern over employees who have experienced loss or are feeling overwhelmed and lonely, and offers resources to those who need it. He is not being some old-fashioned macho idea of a “strong” leader. He is being human and ironically in a time of social distancing: less remote and more approachable. In my eyes he has shown what a true leader can be.

Zoom presents a less “posed” version of our world than Facebook or Instagram. We can’t always control our children or pets or spouses from interfering from the perfect picture we often strive to present to our coworkers. We are all seeing in a much more intimate way that all our office mates are just humans doing the best we can.

And no matter how “corporate” we become again when this is all over. It’s a good lesson to never forget. Being a good leader is being a good human.

ABOUT THE AUTHOUR: Keith Hoffman is proud he got through the article without making a “smartest person in the Zoom” joke.

Laughs, Love and Joy During the End of Times: Finding Positives in the Negatives

I’m a romantic optimist. I can’t help myself.

I am compelled to search almost desperately for something to smile about or fall in love with even when everything feels terrifying and bleak.

It’s my father’s fault. Well actually it’s the fault of several generations of Irish ancestors. You don’t survive potato famines, the Troubles and centuries of alcoholism without learning to laugh a little at the absurdity of life.

Jokes in the attic

Humor can be a tricky thing. Last week, I wrote what I thought was a hilarious blog piece about how crabby I can be on my birthday on a normal year and how I was even worse this year smack in the middle of a pandemic.

I worked hours on that piece and wrapped it up with an inspiring ending that stirringly celebrated humanity. I posted it and waited for the accolades.

Finally, the first comment popped up.

“YOU SOUND LIKE A VERY SELFISH, NOT NICE PERSON.” Nancy M

I was flabbergasted.

I ran downstairs to my husband Saul and read her hurtful comment to him but he only burst out laughing. “Nancy’s got you figured out!”

Maybe he’s right. My humor was too dark even as a child at St. Jude Elementary School. Back then, I was obsessed with The Diary of Anne Frank. When I wrote a book report about it, my only critique was that Anne didn’t mine more humor out of being cooped up with all those people. Sister Maura marked me down a grade for being “insensitive” but I still think my diary would have been funnier.

Is that a bottle of hand sanitizer in your pocket or are you excited to see me?

Even now, I can’t resist a good love story. And my coworker just told me a good one.

Her daughter hates dating, but she is 27 and feels her biological clock urgently ticking. And this was before time ground to a halt because of a pandemic.

“Why don’t set up a Zoom meeting with one of those guys you meet on Tinder?“ her mom suggested.

It seemed like a dumb “mom” idea, but then her daughter realized it had a lot going for it. You only have to make the top half of your body look decent for the date (I just heard on NPR that shirt sales are currently skyrocketing while absolutely no one is buying pants). If it’s a disaster, you’re already home when it’s over. Plus a guy who’ll meet you on Zoom during the time of Covid19 is probably not looking just to get in your pants (or lack thereof).

So her daughter tried it out and met a really nice guy on her first virtual date. In fact, it went so well that they ended up meeting at a park sitting on separate benches. They got to know each other by yelling small talk from six feet away while snacking on the wine and cheese they each brought for themselves.

I mean they have to get married now so they can tell their children the amazing story of how they got together.

Doing the dog math

Who am I to say look on the bright side when people are facing unemployment, loneliness, fear and depression? Maybe you aren’t finding anything funny or maybe your heart’s just a little broken by all this.

The other day I was sinking into despair, but I still had to walk my dog, Alfie. When you are in a funk, chores feel that much more awful.

And for as smart as my breed of dog is supposed to be, Alife does not know how to read the room.

HEY HUMAN! LET’S GO FOR A WALK! THIS IS GOING TO BE SO MUCH FUN, RIGHT? ARE YOU AS EXCITED AS ME???? THIS IS SO GREAT! OH MY GOD, HUMAN, HOW EXCITED ARE YOU RIGHT NOW ABOUT THIS WALK, AM I RIGHT? AM I RIGHT?”

He wasn’t right. But I got off the couch, put on his leash and hiked…no…trudged through the woods on a trail by the Delaware River.

Alfie LOVES sticks. He is obsessed with him. I swear one time when I was driving with Alfie he turned to me from the passenger seat and calmly said “sticks are my heroin.” I can’t be sure if I just imagined that though.

And he loves when I throw them into the river for him to swim out and retrieve. He is uncanny in his ability to figure out how fast the current is and at what angle he needs to approach the stick at exactly the right time to grab it in his mouth. It’s like he’s doing geometry and physics at the same time.

As I watched him arrive at the stick and chomp down on it in the middle of the river at the exact right time I felt it.

I felt joy.

And because my life has quieted down so much, I could really feel this joyful feeling. I really hope you all know what it feels like to see this living thing you cherish so much experiencing its own joy. Nothing tops it.

But as I wrote that last paragraph, I got an alert on my phone announcing all the trails and parks by the Delaware River have closed for an indefinite period of time to keep crowds from gathering.

All Alfie joy is cancelled.

But not really. He and I are going to use our combined brain power to find something else fun. Maybe we are not as funny or smart as we think we are, but we both feel strongly that now more than ever, it is vital to find those moments where we can laugh or fall a little bit in love or simply savor those tiny moments that bring us that universal feeling we call joy.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR — Keith Hoffman is NOT a very selfish not nice person, Nancy.