On the Bus #12 In Case of Emergency

In case of emergency, please stay calm.

That is the announcement they make on a recording on the loud speaker on the bus every day.

Staying calm is not my strong suit.

Sometimes everything in life feels life an emergency.

Well, actually that is not true. My job entails a lot of problem solving. I’m a TV producer which means basically I have to untangle a lot of knots–from trying to figure out how to turn a disastrous shoot in Nigeria into something that looks like a TV show, to dealing with a crew member getting hurt in Zimbabwe, to getting calls from the cast of my Bigfoot show complaining that the light we use to shoot at night scares away the Bigfoots. In all those situations, I have to keep calm. I can’t scream out “THERE ARE NO BIGFOOTS TO SCARE, YOU LUNKHEADS. THEY ARE NOT REAL!” because:

A) that would alienate the cast;  and
B) I will have egg on my face when they actually find one.

Someone once told me that a good producer is the calmest person in the room, and I try to remember that when I am at work.

But at home it is a different story.

At home I have a hard time staying as calm especially as my husband Saul and I try to buy a house. (I’m also anxious about the man who has been in the bus bathroom I’m sitting next to  for over 15 minutes.) But back to house-hunting. It’s so romantic at the beginning. It’s like a first date where everything about the person is perfect—especially the things you don’t know and can fill in with your imagination.  Houses are the same.

We could have our breakfast and read the paper in this adorable little nook!

It doesn’t matter that no one actually reads newspapers anymore. That is what one does in a nook.

But then you actually have to make an offer on a house. And you have to start thinking about homeowner’s insurance and taxes and flood insurance.

(The man came out of the bathroom and is now sitting next to me picking his nose! Why does God hate me? I try to be a good person. Maybe God does hate gay people. I want to explain to this man that he is not invisible just because he decided he is. I made that mistake once at a writer’s retreat when I walked out on my balcony naked more than once to hang up my bathing suit. I told myself the people at the pool below me including the acclaimed memoirist Mary Karr couldn’t see me. When I was down at the pool the next day and saw my fully-clothedhusband on the same balcony I realized I could see every detail of him. When Mary told me I had a “nice piece” later that day in class, I didn’t know if she was referring to my writing or something else.)

Sorry this man is making it hard to focus. I have to keep my head constantly turned away from him.

So…Saul and I made an offer on a house the other night. It was a tense night. We had to sign papers with lots of clauses. Right before our realtor came over I opened a drawer in a cabinet and the shelf beneath it collapsed sending cat food flying across the kitchen floor. Saul accused me of doing it on purpose. I gently explained to him that that was an irrational thought and perhaps he is simply nervous about making such a big commitment and projecting his anxiety on to me.

Okay, that’s not really what I said. I think I might have told him he is a terrible person for even suggesting I did it on purpose-possibly the worst husband in the world and I couldn’t possibly live with him in a new house or our current one, and that maybe it was best we part ways. Like I said, I get anxious. A week before our wedding I stormed out of our apartment in my bare feet wearing no glasses in the middle of the night and stumbled around Brooklyn for a half hour until Saul came and found me and walked me home.

(The man next to me still has his finger up his nose  I dream of the day when he is not next to me. I think I will have PTSD by the end of this bus ride.)

So, we made the offer and it was a very good offer but the owners came back and basically said. “Nope.” I mean, I hate haggling. I would much prefer seeing a price tag and paying what it says but I’m told that’s the game you have to play.

But before we made n counter offer Saul decided to use the time to do some sleuthing. Here is the difference between Saul and me. I am optimistic and Saul prepares for the worst. Somehow it works out in the balance. So, Saul did some research and found out the quote the sellers had on flood insurance (on a house that is very unlikely to flood) was way lower than what it actually might be.

He Facetimed me at work. I was sitting with a coworker when I pressed ANSWER to immediately hear I NEED TO TALK TO YOU NOW! NOW! I NEED TO TALK TO YOU NOW! I half expected to look down at my screen and see his beard on fire. It wasn’t.  Instead, he told me his discovery about the insurance and now we are left with having to make a decision again.

(Okay I couldn’t take it. I pretended I was getting off on an earlier stop and faked the creepy nose picker out. I am now sitting several rows away from him. I hope he finds what he is looking for.)

So now Saul and I are in limbo. We are at a crossroads. Who will blink first? Do we offer more? Do they offer less or do we just walk away? And do we even want to live in this damn town we moved to? And why am I married to a man who yells about a bunch of cat food cans falling on the kitchen floor? Why am I alive? Why buy when North Korea is going to blow us up?

See…that is catastrophic thinking.

At times like these I remember my favorite Zen story. I’m not exactly Zen. I don’t understand the stories about polishing the mirror and then discovering you are the mirror and that there actually is no mirror. Those stories are annoying.

But here’s one story I do like:

A man is being chased by tigers. He comes to the edge of a cliff and has no choice but to jump. He jumps,  grabs a branch and hangs on for dear life but then notices a bunch of tigers waiting for him below. I think there may be termites eating the branch he is hanging onto or a beaver or something. The point is he is screwed. As he hangs on the branch with tigers above, tigers below and beavers and termites gnawing away, he notices a strawberry on the branch

He eats it.

“How delicious!”

I love this story. I don’t love strawberries but I still get the point. It reminds me of a scene in the movie Crimes of the Heart where Sissy Spacek is going to kill herself and sticks her head in the oven. After about 10 seconds with her head still in the oven she reaches up and grabs a hand full of popcorn in the bowl on the stove and eats it while she is waiting for the gas to do its trick.

I need to remember that no matter how difficult and stressful life seems…there are always delicious moments. They, of course, are harder to find I am sure if you are in a hurricane or facing health issues, but I think they are there too.

So, today I will remember to look for the delicious moments in life as I stress about moving and disgusting bus mates.

And until next week, I hope you find a few strawberries among the tigers.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Keith Hoffman is worried.

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Keith Hoffman lives with his artist husband, dog and two cats in the small town Lambertville, New Jersey 72 miles outside of New York City. He has completed a memoir entitled The Summer My Sister Grew Sideburns.

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