Ready For My Close Up!

How a Zoom Acting Class Helped Me Find a New Role in Quarantine

Voting for the Tony Awards started this month, even though there haven’t been live shows on Broadway for over a year. That plucky, against-all-odds  attitude of theatre is why I’ve had a life-long love affair with it. And it’s the reason I’m taking my own unlikely stab back at it during this stage of my life.

I almost chickened out. As I sat in Zoom’s virtual waiting room, I debated pressing the END button. 

I could make my escape and give up this folly of a midlife crisis before anyone saw my face. 

The truth is I’m getting too old for a midlife crisis, but lately I’ve realized they come in stages. My latest happened a few months ago as I got ready to celebrate my second birthday in quarantine. Nothing like a plague to sharpen the realization you are mortal. 

The result was I was sitting in front of my computer about to take my first acting class since college almost four decades earlier. 

Ever since I was a little boy, I have dreamed of being an actor. In high school, I starred as the romantic lead in several plays which gave me my only experience in adolescence of kissing girls.

Romance!
Passion!
Lust?

When it came time to pick a college major, my mom allowed me to choose Theatre. She believed her children should make their own choices even if it meant they most likely would spend their life waiting tables. 

I was quickly cast as the young lover Lysander in Midsummer’s Nights’ Dream giving me my only experience of kissing a girl at Miami University.  But my collegiate competition was fierce, and it was clear others were more talented than I was. I decided if I couldn’t be the best then I shouldn’t pursue a career in this highly competitive field. I focused instead on directing and eventually moved behind the scenes to television production soon after I graduated. 

But I never forgot those heady days on the boards. In my thirties, I bragged on a first date I had starred as Tom Sawyer in high school. The guy just looked sad that I thought this fact might impress him. (I was very good!).

Tackling an Iconic Role While Looking Cute in Overalls

In the years since, I’ve attended over a hundred Broadway plays and often wept while watching the Tony’s lamenting the life I left behind. 

I stayed involved in theatre after I moved to LA writing and directing plays. I eventually thought of acting as a whim of my youth. But something changed during this last year of Covid and quarantine. The shift began during several Zoom reunion meetings with old college theatre pals. As we reminisced over stories: “Remember when you fell into the orchestra pit and the trombone player tossed you back up onstage, I was reminded of the passion that had never quite left my soul. 

In December a friend asked me to play the Innkeeper in a virtual nativity play for kids. By the time I told Mary she could give birth in the manger, the theatre bug had bit me so hard it hurt. 

No Room at the Inn!

“I think I might take an acting class,” I said to my husband Saul. He wasn’t surprised since I had been taking zoom classes all year such How to Get Your Book Noticed by Agents and Pilates for Beginners in an effort to keep improving myself.  He liked they distracted me from trying to improve him. 

The very next morning I received a random email from a local theatre offering acting classes on the internet. I decided if the universe had listened to me, I needed to listen to the universe. The class started the following day. I thought about it overnight and signed up in the morning.

But as I sat in the waiting room, I began to get cold feet. I had gone to enough Writer’s Workshops to know you can tell in the first ten seconds whether or not it’s going to be good. You either have a gifted teacher and very committed students, or someone leading the group for the money and a class full of bored, slightly sociopathic misfits. Once you are in, you are trapped unless you pretend you have to use the bathroom and make your escape. 

As faces began popping up on my computer screen, I nervously scoped the room. Everyone seemed fairly normal. One woman around my age told the class she had been a ballerina and then a paralegal but wanted “the last third of my life to be creative.” The rest had similar stories and their motivations for taking the class weren’t so different from mine. The teacher seemed good too. After I introduced myself, she remarked I would probably work more than anyone else in the class.

“Really?” I said hoping they couldn’t tell I was blushing. 

“Yes,” she replied. “Casting agents are always looking for older men.” 

Ouch. I mean I guess I was aware I wasn’t an ingenue anymore, but still…

“Yeah, you got that John Malkovich vibe!” a kid in his early twenties called out. 

“Yes!” everyone else chimed in excitedly. “You do!!”

John Malkovich?

 Sure, he’s a good actor, but he’s never been one of People Magazine’s Sexiest Men Alive. I don’t think he even had made it into their “Sexy at Any Age” section. 

This was a far cry from several years ago when a guy tried to pick me up at a bar and said I looked like a young Harrison Ford.

“Why didn’t you ever tell me I looked like a young Harrison Ford?” I asked a friend later. 

“Because you don’t?” he replied. 

I had always assumed he was jealous but now wasn’t so sure. 

But as the class got under way, I was able to shake her comment off. I was nervous but plunged in. 

When I had to play a scene where the only dialogue between my partner and I was: 

YOU?

 NO

 WAIT

DON’T GO

BYE

I was in heaven. 

 I’m certain it would have made most of my friends roll their eyes, but I loved every minute. 

When the class finished, Saul noted a joyfulness in me he hadn’t seen in months. I wondered myself why I felt so happy. 

Then I thought about this last year and how, like so many of us, I’ve spent it continuously pushing rocks up steep hills. I’ve been exerting tremendous energy trying to move things forward in a time of inertia and stagnation. I had been doing my job at full capacity without going into an office; trying to get my book published when people only want to read about Covid and Trump; and keeping our marriage vital while spending every second of every day together. 

It was such bliss to finally do something simply for fun. I didn’t have to achieve anything. The world was not anxiously awaiting my comeback. Simply doing it was the prize. 

But there was still another perk I didn’t see coming. 

A few days after my first class, I was assigned my first scene by email from the Broadway play, The Inheritance. I was going to ask which part I would be playing but realized it was obviously the much older man. I related much more to the kid in his twenties. 

But as I started rehearsing with my partner, I slowly began to embrace the part. And something miraculous happened. 

Working in television, I work hard to stay relevant. Sometimes I feel ashamed and embarrassed simply for getting older. It’s like I’ve somehow failed. But as I tapped into and embraced those “mature” aspects of myself in this scene, there was a sense of liberation. I was becoming my true self by playing someone else. 

I have no idea what will become of this class. Maybe it will just be a fun lark or possibly I’ll start getting involved in community theatre.

Or perhaps one day you’ll hear my acceptance speech on the Tonys—maybe not for Hamlet but perhaps his murderous, calculating uncle? 

Game on John Malkovich. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Keith Hoffman is a writer and actor. His special skills are first-person narrative and speaking in a cockney accent. 

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On the Road Again

How I Stayed Alive (and a Little Bit Sane) on my Cross-Country Covid Trip

My husband’s and my mission was clear.   We had to make it 2,623 miles from New Jersey to California in a Mini Cooper packed with two months of our stuff and an anxious cattle dog while avoiding contact with all other human beings.    

Just like everyone else, Saul and I have spent the majority of the last year inside the same four walls.  We’ve been lucky.  I’ve been able to work from home and keep my job, so we’re both grateful.  But we were beginning to go slightly mad.   My only time outside the house was my weekly trip to the grocery store wearing two masks.

Fresh Pick Indeed!

When we got an offer to rent a friend’s house in Palm Springs, we surprised ourselves by saying yes.  But how in the world would be get there?  

We knew we couldn’t fly.   I’ve tried to teach Saul not to “emotionally engage” with maskless people but have failed disastrously.  If a fellow airline passenger pulled their face covering even a centimeter below their nose, I’m pretty sure the ensuing commotion started by my husband would bring the entire plane crashing to a fiery end. 

So, we plotted our course across country from one Airbnb to the next.  Saul triple-checked to make sure each place had “contactless check-in” so we could arrive on the West Coast without coming within six feet of anyone on the continent.  

“We’ll be like Francis McDormand in Nomad Land!” I said excitedly.  I had not seen the movie yet, but the trailer looked dreamy and romantic.  What could possibly go wrong?  

DAY ONE:  LAMBERTVILLE, NEW JERSEY TO SALT FORK NATIONAL STATE PARK, OHIO

The first thing I had to do was pull Saul away from our two orange cats, Luke and Finn, who are the center of his universe.   

They Complete Him…

We had considered taking them with us but were fairly certain cats hate road trips.  We asked our friend Jamie, who they adore, to stay with them   

“What if they forget us?” Saul said sadly as I gently shoved him out the front door. 

“It’s only two months,” I reassured him.  “They won’t forget us.”

Spoiler Alert:  From the many videos, pictures and Facetime calls with our cats being affectionate with Jamie—it’s quite clear they have completely forgotten us. 

The weather on the road was awful.   There were no glamourous road trip shots to be taken for Instagram but that was just as well.   No one likes “Life is an amazing adventure!” pictures during a plague.  It’s important to be able to read the room.  

Wish You Were Here!

Our first stop was a remote cabin in a state park in Ohio that I knew about from producing a series called Finding Bigfoot.   Apparently, it was overrun with Sasquatches, but as long as they stayed socially distanced, I didn’t care.  

Saul was grouchy from missing the cats, driving in bad weather and the long first day.   I didn’t intuit this.   It’s hard not to notice a cranky husband when you are stuck in a Mini Cooper with him for ten hours.    I tried to cheer him by offering to help unpack the car, but when the cabin door slammed shut behind me with the door key locked inside with our dog Alife, I noted his mood turned even darker.  After we waited a very long hour outside in the bitter cold someone finally showed with a replacement key.    

That evening I learned that saying to your husband “Boy, you would never make it as a pioneer crossing the country in a covered wagon” isn’t something that is taken well in times of stress. 

Day Two: Salt Fork State Park, Ohio to Villa Ridge, Missouri

This was the worst of the weather. The temperature stubbornly stayed at exactly 22 degrees.   

22 Degrees

We started listening to the audiobook Diana:  Her True Story about Princess Diana.  Even though I knew better, I found myself hoping somehow things would end well for her.  

Day Three: Villa Ridge, Missouri to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

We had to make a last-minute change the day before we were to arrive in Oklahoma.  Our Airbnb cancelled due to inclement weather, so we had to scramble to find a new one at the last minute.   We finally located a house outside of Oklahoma City that looked extremely quaint in the online photo.   

Here is the thing I learned from my terrible bout with Zillow addiction last year.   Houses can look great in a picture when they are shot at an angle that doesn’t include the toxic dump or crack cocaine den five feet away from its front door. 

We first knew we were in trouble when we turned onto the street and saw all the boarded-up windows.   It seemed to be the only road the city had not removed snow from, probably because the snowplow operator correctly feared for his life.   We were relieved to find our house was at least the only one not covered with graffiti.  

“Maybe it’s cute inside?” I suggested.  

We were greeted by an overwhelming smell of Glade Plug-In Air Freshener.   I tried not to dry heave as I raced around unplugging them.   We had been warned the faucets needed to stay open so pipes wouldn’t freeze, but didn’t quite realize that meant hearing persistent echoing dripping from every part of house including what sounded like a rushing stream behind a door with a large DO NOT ENTER sign.   

There was another locked room in the house where I thought I heard shuffling and became convinced several people were being held captive.  I checked the backyard with Alife and found our fence leaning against an old building with several broken windows.  The only thing that made me feel relatively safe was that Alife suffers from extreme Stranger Danger.  It’s an exhausting, complicated process introducing new friends into our home as a result, but it does make him an excellent guard dog.  

The three of us found ourselves up the next morning at the crack of dawn.  Saul and I had never packed the car so quickly.  As we sped away, Saul read on his phone we were in the county with the highest crime rate in Oklahoma.  

I couldn’t wait to get as far away as possible.  This state was nothing like the Rogers and Hammerstein musical named after it. 

Day Four:  Oklahoma City, Oklahoma to Albuquerque, New Mexico

Finally, no snow.   The temperature even inched above 22 degrees. 

Princess Diana had separated from Charles and was finally beginning to love herself.   

Alfie got to see the Rio Grande.

Someone should write a Broadway musical about New Mexico.  

Day Five:   Albuquerque, New Mexico to Snowflake, Arizona

Saul rented us a cool cabin in the middle of nowhere.   There seem to be no real forests in Arizona, so it basically was in the middle of nothingness.  It was the kind of place that is cozy but a little murder-ish.  Twice in the middle of the night a car slowly crept past our place on the only desolate road for several miles.   At 4:00 AM, Alfie needed to go outside.  I stood with him in pitch dark where the only sound in the dead quiet was an owl ominously hooting.  Alfie’s ears pricked up and he looked like he about to charge after something in the blackness beyond.  “Whatever it is out there Alfie, it will probably kill you,” I whispered to him.     He put his tail between his legs and followed me back inside.  Alfie’s a smart dog.   

Day Six:   Snowflake, Arizona to Palm Springs, California

We were almost to our destination–but first we were stopping at Saul’s mom in Sun City West, Arizona for a backyard visit.  As we entered her well-tailored community, I suddenly felt the strong urge to pee.   For Covid safety we weren’t going inside his mom’s house, and it didn’t seem polite to relieve myself on a neighbor’s lawn.  Luckily, we had brought Traveljohns. They had been recommended by a friend, so we’d ordered several on Amazon. You could do your business and discreetly dispose of them without anyone being the wiser.  They are perfect for covid. 

Unless they spring a leak.

It was like a water balloon with a tiny hole spraying all over the entire car.  Saul frantically drove seeming annoyed as if I were intentionally trying to sabotage the visit.  I desperately held the defective TravelJohn out the window as I tried to avoid being the target of its spray.   It was not the most calming way to prepare to see my mother-in-law.

A few minutes later, a found plastic bag solved our dilemma.  We arrived at Saul’s mom’s and the visit went well considering I was extremely self-conscious about the slowly drying spots on my jeans and t-shirt as a result of the TravelJohn debacle.  For once I was grateful for masks and social distancing.   

********

When we safely arrived in Palm Springs later that night, I breathed a sigh of relief.  

As we unpacked, I thought back to our first night in that cabin in Ohio when I truly wondered if we would make it to the end of the trip. Right after we had gotten the replacement key for our cabin, we had received alerts on our phones about yet another snowstorm heading our way.    We were far from the highway and concerned about getting stuck, or worse.   We called the only local restaurant for miles and asked the pizza lady about our chances of getting out safely in the morning.     

“Oh, I’ve been travelling these roads for years,” she replied matter-of-factly.   “Sometimes things get treacherous, but if you don’t panic, you’ll figure it out.  Most the time it’s not as bad as you think it’s gonna be,” she added.  “And if you do land in a ditch and are still alive, you’ll eventually get out one way or another.”  

Saul and I looked at each other and smiled.   It was very good advice–both for our road trip and for life.

About the Author:   Keith Hoffman is a writer, producer, and former spokesperson for TravelJohn

A Christmas Tree for a Charlie Brown Year

I love the Peanuts holiday special. As a boy, I never tired of watching those kids do their weird little dances to that iconic piano music. I wondered where Snoopy stored all the elaborate decorations in his tiny dog house. And I was always moved by Linus standing in the spotlight each year telling the story of the first Christmas. Even though Charles Schulz has been gone for twenty years, the lesson of Charlie Brown’s sad little tree lives on: Everything has beauty…maybe even this 2020 holiday.

Last night my husband Saul and I decorated our own Christmas tree. It was a welcome break from the other weekend chore we had been working on. We were finally getting our will together after putting it off for years. During a time with so much death in the news, it was harder to convince ourselves we were invincible and immortal.

But this year’s tree feels particularly special. After being cooped up inside since March, any change in our home environment is exhilarating. Putting out the bath mat we ordered from Amazon was our last big adventure.

And to me, this simple act of decorating feels comforting in an unprecedented and deeply unsettling time.

I follow a family tradition of buying one new ornament each year. And inevitably, there seems to be a corresponding tradition of at least one breaking.

This year Saul ordered a Santa Claus wearing a face mask, and it was the first ornament to be hung. Only a few minutes later, before the tree was even half-finished, I handed him a clear glass globe with a bright red ribbon inside I had bought in the 1980’s to commemorate the AIDS crisis that had decimated my community. It slipped from our hands and shattered in pieces on the floor. It seemed there was room for only one ornament commemorating a plague.

Letting Saul help me decorate was huge progress from when I was a kid and would throw a tantrum if I thought my older siblings were doing it wrong. I did have to teach my husband the proper way to hang ornaments, with larger ones on the bottom branches and smaller ones on top. I thought this rule was pretty obvious, but reminded myself he is half Jewish, so I let it slide.

As we finished, I stepped back and admired our handiwork. Some of the ornaments were passed down from my mom and have been in our family for generations. I used to stare at them as they reflected the twinkling lights. As a little boy, I was in awe trying to imagine some mysterious great grandparents I had never met bringing them over from Germany or Ireland. My mother has been dead over a decade, and these faded and chipped Christmas bells are as close to family heirlooms as I will ever have.

I reached over to touch the worn-out plush reindeer I had gotten for free with my McDonald’s Happy Meal right after I’d moved to New York City. I had only a tiny bare tree, with no money left to buy something to hang on it. McDonald’s saved the day, just like its cheap fast food had done so many times during those hungry, lean years.

Next to the reindeer was a small, cardboard stocking holding photos of my best friend’s two toddlers she had mailed to me one year. Those boys are now successful adults in their thirties who send me Christmas pictures from their iPhones.

There’s an elegant fairy in a glittery green gown I bought with my first boyfriend after we moved in together. I thought then we would spend the rest of our lives with each other.

Near the bottom is a large Sasquatch commemorating a TV series I produced called Finding Bigfoot that became a hit show. Nobody, especially me, saw that coming. Only a few years earlier I was working as a temp over the age of forty.

My favorite is an orange and blue miniature nativity scene inside a guitar I picked up at a roadside stand in Peru during a weeklong torrid fling I’d had with a handsome South American just before I met my husband. Saul always seems to hang that one in the back where it’s impossible to see.

Just a few feet away from the tree, I couldn’t help but notice the Estate Planning document sent by our lawyer sitting on our dining room table. Saul and I had spent the day focused on what to do about our house, money, and pets after we were gone, but now I worried what would happen to all these ornaments. We have no children to pass them on to. Maybe a nephew or niece will find some value in them, but they won’t ever have as much meaning to anyone else. They will never be as precious to them as they are to me.

This decorated Christmas tree is a symbol of my life.

Each ornament represents a chapter.

I reached over and held Saul’s hand, grateful to be healthy and safe this holiday season. Unlike Charlie Brown’s friends, we are growing older and staring at our own mortality.

The masked Santa sparkled before us in the lights.

Our story isn’t over yet.

One day that too will only represent a memory.

How to Stay Positive This Fall

Optimism for each day of the week

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“You are being tested, my darling, and being tested makes you stronger.” — Cora (Elizabeth McGovern)

Autumn…the crisp hint of winter in the air. As the year begins to wind down, we all begin to dream of the holidays to come.

But this year is different. This year can’t wind down fast enough.

Many of us are bracing for fall like we are leaning into a punch. Too many experts predict COVID will come back strong hand in hand with the flu, and politics will only get uglier and more overwhelming as tensions rise in a nation increasingly divided.

Negativity pops up on our phones 24/7 and it’s hard to keep up….taxes, debates, the Supreme Court. According to my husband Saul, we are about to enter a darkly dystopian phase of our country’s history that will make The Handmaid’s Tale look like a romantic comedy.

With the world seeming to spin out of control, every single thing that goes wrong in my own life feels amplified. My dog has had a debilitating limp since June which has resulted in several vet visits. I’ve had emergency trips to the dentist, an increasingly sore back and weird things going on with my vision.

Plus, I’m in the middle of trying to get my book represented which means dealing with lots of rejections. I had one agent recently tell me my novel should be exactly the kind of thing he loves, but he didn’t. I’m definitely not alone. My friends with kids tell stories of life spinning out of control that make me dizzy.

My mom used to say, everyone has their bag of rocks. Now we each have our personal bag along with a supersized 2020 sack of boulders. So I’ve come up with my own guide of very simple things to do every day of the week to keep my spirits up as we finish out a year determined to grind us down.

Monday: Virtually Nothing Day

Even though I work from home and don’t have to get on a bus anymore, Mondays are still hard. Saul and I call them Elaine Days. Elaine Stritch was a great Broadway actress (and Alec Baldwin’s mom on 30 Rock). She told a story about having to sing at the Hollywood Bowl right after she got sober. Her accompanist saw how nervous she was as she was about to go onstage and whispered, “You don’t have to knock ’em dead, Elaine, you just have to get through it.” Mondays are always Elaine days. You just have to get through them.

I recently watched the documentary The Social Dilemma on Netflix about how Facebook, Twitter, and other social media are actually changing the way our brains work and tearing our society apart. It’s a sobering watch and hard to argue with when I look at what is happening to our country.

So Monday I’m giving my brainwashing mechanism (aka my phone) a rest. Honestly, how many times do I need to get fooled into looking at Facebook thinking to myself, “I’ll just have a quick catch up with some old friends,” and then five minutes later I’m feeling despair and anger?

I miss the days of those WHICH DOWNTON ABBY CHARACTER ARE YOU? quizzes, even though now I know Facebook was just collecting information to control my mind.

Tuesday — Get Inside Myself

It happened without me noticing. Since I started working from my home I’m not taking brisk walks through New York City anymore. My dog has that pesky limp so long hikes with him are out of the question. Some days my only exercise is walking from my home office to the kitchen and bathroom. The rest of the day I sit hunched over my computer typing or staring into a screen at several other people hunched over their computers.

I’ve lost touch with my body.

Tuesdays are for moving. I’m committed to taking a brisk 30-minute walk involving at least a few hills. I like to walk in the evenings where I can usually catch glimpses inside homes. I’m not hoping to see someone naked — I have the internet for that. But I love to see little moments of everyday life — people watching TV, making dinner, or sitting at their desk hunched over a computer.

Sometimes my husband and I put on music for a half hour and just dance around the house. When it’s my turn to pick the music I like to choose Broadway showtunes and pretend I’m in the chorus of Godspell or My Fair Lady or Mame. If that doesn’t keep you optimistic then I don’t know what to tell you.

Wednesday — Get Outside Myself

On Wednesday, I’m committed to improving myself or someone else or both.

Currently I’m taking a Wednesday zoom class called How to Get Your Book Published. I do this because at heart I am a masochist. I’ve taken these types of classes before. They are usually hosted by people who tell you how impossible it is to get your book published. I used to take them because you never knew what friend or influential person you might meet before or after class, but now 2020 has ruined that. The one and only time I tried to connect by private Zoom chat I sent the message to the entire class. Luckily I hadn’t written something like “This class is for masochists.”

It’s probably better to do something like Saul is doing. He’s sending out postcards reminding people to vote. He figured this was safer than making phone calls since we are both pretty certain no matter how well he was trained he would inevitably end up telling people about the Dystopian future that lay ahead of them.

Thursday — A New Chapter

This is the day I read. Any book will do — as long as it has real pages where news and Twitter alerts can’t pop up. I don’t’ care if its Tolstoy, Dickens, or a Doris Day memoir (which is very good), there is something special about reading something where the only electronic element is coming from the lamp I’m sitting under.

Un-casual Fridays

I have a closet full of button-down shirts I have not worn since March. So Fridays I’m dressing up.

Of course that can mean a lot of things to a lot people. Some people may want to wear their favorite pajamas, t-shirt, or a fancy skirt with full make-up — whatever he/she/they love. Friday is the day to feel special.

Come to think of it. I may keep those button-downs in the closet and slip into one of the caftans I’ve become obsessed with. Social media apps have quickly figured out I am recently obsessed with caftans and offer me amazing deals on new ones! #socialdilemma

Classic Saturdays

Saul and I have two movie nights. Fridays is for movies after 1960 and Saturdays are for movies 1959 or earlier. We asked friends to name some favorite movies that we may not have heard of — that’s how we saw Dance Girl Dance where a young Lucille Ball plays a wise-cracking dance hall girl who does an amazing striptease number, or A Woman’s World starring Lauren Bacall about executives’ wives and how they need to behave to help further their husbands’ careers. (Apparently it’s a no-no to try to seduce your spouse’s boss to get him a promotion). It’s a nice escape to see a time where people socialized without masks or iPhones.

Sunday — Do One Kind Thing

I saw a video recently (I am clearly still hooked into social media) where a woman couldn’t pay for all her groceries and was about take diapers off her tab. A man standing behind her stepped up and paid the entire bill of $28.00 for her. We don’t always get golden opportunities like that, but if I do, I hope I step up.

There are other easy ways to be kind. I can call my aunt who was recently widowed. I can send a text to a friend letting them know I am thinking of them and love them. I can set up the coffee maker for the next morning even though that is my husband’s “job”. I can rub my dog’s belly while we sit in the middle of a field instead of rushing him through a walk. The list is endless and pretty easy.

These are my tips to stay sane. Hopefully some of these will work for you. Or maybe inspire you to come up with your own. These days I’m not sure we can wait for happiness to happen to us.

About the Author: Keith Hoffman is a writer in Lambertville, NJ. According to Facebook he is Lady Edith Crawley — the “plain” middle sister on Downton Abby.

Five Ways Trying to Get Published Is Exactly Like Dating

Finding Mr. Write?

old typewriter with a red rose

Finishing my book was easy. Well, not really. It took about twenty-five years, but it still doesn’t feel as challenging as trying to get it published. I’ve heard it all. 

These are tough times in publishing

These are changing times in publishing

No one publishes memoirs anymore

No one reads memoirs anymore

All those things may be true, but I also heard the same types of things when I was forty-five and single. 
No one in New York is looking to settle down. 
If you are over forty your chances for marriage are less than zero. 
Maybe you’re too overbearing.

That last gem was from my mom.

But I finally got married well over the age of forty, and I plan to get published by using the same five rules that helped me land a husband. I share them because I have a feeling they apply to any number of goals people might have.

1. It’s a Numbers Game

This was the best advice my friend Sara gave me when we were both single. I listened to her and did everything I could to meet guys. I registered for online dating. I went to a mixer where you could sign up for gay team sports (even though there’s not a single athletic bone in my entire body), and I went on speed dating events. I even paid a matchmaker a lot of money to set me up on three awkward dinners. In desperation he sent me on a gay group date — eight single guys at one dinner — as a time saver. I ruined my matrimonial chances at that one by accidentally splashing water on my crotch in the bathroom. When I walked back to the table I realized by the looks on the other seven guys’ faces that it appeared I’d had a terrible accident.

Now I’m putting the same effort into trying to get published. I’m writing any agents who I have any type of connection with no matter how remote. I’ve taken classes to get published, attended writers conferences, writers workshops and writers panel — anything with the word “writers” in front of it.

The only thing i won’t do anymore is pay an agent simply to hear my pitch. To me it feels like paying a prostitute for sex. Not that I’m against prostitutes. I loved Pretty Woman. But in both love and publishing, paying for something that should be free makes me feel desperate. Check back with me in couple years. I may have changed my mind in both those categories.

2. No one owes you anything at the beginning

More wise words from my friend Sara (who by the way is now married with two kids so she knew what she was talking about).

She would constantly remind me after one of those magical dates where the guy seemed sooo into me but then didn’t text me back — that even after two dates they didn’t really owe me a thing. (If a guy didn’t text me after a third date though, he was clearly a cad.)

Sometimes I preferred not hearing back. I once had a guy text me after a date to tell me he wasn’t interested. Then for some reason he called me two days later to confirm what he had texted. I wasn’t sure what he wanted from me? Absolution? “Oh it’s okay you find me unappealing! Please don’t feel bad. A lot of guys do!”

The majority of literary agents I send my work to don’t get back to me. It’s an accepted thing in the business. A lot of them tell you on their websites they simply won’t respond if they’re not interested. It must be wonderful to be so sought after. It’s the opposite feeling you get as a writer.

The problem is, when an agent doesn’t respond I’m forced to send the dreaded follow-up. I hate sending follow-ups to query letters (query letters are basically pitches you send out describing your book in one page). It feels like leaning into a punch. “Hi, so far you don’t seem very interested in representing my book, but could you please put that down in writing so I can really feel like a failure? Thanks! All the best, Keith.”

3. Show up for the ones that show up for you

Let me explain to you why I married my husband, Saul. After our first date he told me he would text me the next day and then he actually did. It’s that simple.

I recently sent out twenty query letters to agents. I got two very kind personal rejections (this sounds great, but NO ONE buys memoirs type thing), one rejection form letter and a lot of non-responses.

But then there was the agent who responded five minutes after I sent my query and she asked to see my book. When I followed up with her a month later she immediately wrote back that the big storm that had gone up the east coast had knocked out her electricity for several days and she needed more time. To be honest I was so not ready for an agent to write back to me like I was an actual person. I did some research to make certain she wasn’t crazy.

I don’t’ know if she will like my book once she finishes reading it, but — because she has been so great at responding — if there’s a fight for my book between her and several other agents (hey this is my fantasy), she will always be first in my heart. I might even consider marrying her if things don’t work out with Saul.

4. Have something to offer

A single friend once told me that for years he only had one nightstand by his bed but had recently bought one for the other side to let the universe know that he was making room for someone else in his life. I loved that idea, but since I lived in a tiny, cramped NYC apartment and didn’t have actual room for two nightstands I hoped the universe wouldn’t hold it against me.

I got what he was saying though. If you want something you need to have something to offer.

As a writer, that “something to offer” is easy…or at least more concrete: If someone asks to see your writing, have some writing to give them.

Years ago, I heard a story from the award-winning playwright Wendy Wasserstein about how her first play got produced. Her mother was asked by a friend how Wendy was doing, and she answered in despair, “She’s not a lawyer. She’s not married to a lawyer. And now she’s writing plays!” Her mom’s friend comforted her but also asked for one of Wendy’s plays to show to a director at Playwright Horizons. The rest is Pulitzer-Prize-winning history. Wendy’s lesson from that? When my mom’s friend asked for a play, I had a play ready to give her.

5. Wait for it…even if it’s taking too long

I spent years and years writing blogs about my disastrous dating life. I’m pretty sure most of my friends were disappointed when I finally got married. They had a lot of laughs reading about my misery.  After eighteen years of dating, i finally met the guy who would eventually become my husband. I had absolutely no clue when I got up that morning and got ready for yet one more coffee date with yet one more guy I met online that my life was about to change forever.

But during those eighteen years I kept trying. I took breaks from dating sometimes when it all got to be too much — but eventually I would get myself back out there.

I’m doing the same with getting published. I post stories on Medium even though some people tell me it’s a waste of my time. I go to workshops and conferences even though “nobody is reading memoirs”. I send query letters into the dark void as family members continue asking when I’m finally going to get that book published.

When I get discouraged, my friend Chris reminds me of what he calls the magic — that thing that happens I can’t control or might not even know is happening: Some stranger reads my blog and forwards it to a friend who is a publisher…a person I hold the door for in an elevator at one of those conferences has coffee with me and knows just the agent for my book.

Come to think of it maybe fishing is a better analogy for both love and publishing. You have to dip your heart and soul into the mysterious and murky unknown with the blind faith you’ll make the catch that changes your life.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Keith Hoffman is a writer in Lambertville, NJ. He currently lives with his husband who is still very good at returning texts.

How I Survived the Summer of 2020

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Alfie. Photo by the author.

I dislike February and August for similar reasons. They are both times of the year when seasons outstay their welcome.

Don’t get me wrong. I love seasons. That is why I moved from LA back to the east coast, and also why I get anxious for them to move on and give us some variety.

And this summer of 2020 without vacations, parties, plays, concerts, movies and restaurants — I will take any variety I can get.

In Hot Water

My husband Saul loves the ocean. I am not quite as enamored. I love playing in the waves but loathe the glare of the hot sun and the messiness of sand. If beaches were more like forests, I’d be all in.

Our backyard — otherwise known as this year’s vacation destination — is not large enough to contain a regular-sized pool, much less an ocean or sea, so Saul has made do with a dog pool he ordered from Amazon. Every morning he fills it up, lies in it during the hottest time of day and then empties it by watering our flowers in the evening. He loves it as much as I hate it. To me it’s like taking a hot bath in the middle of the Sahara.

Ironically, our dog Alfie hates the dog pool too. He loves swimming in a raging river or the turbulent ocean but is absolutely terrified of a two foot vinyl tub full of hose water.

Alfie at the ocean

Our Lame Dog

But Alfie has bigger things on his mind. About a month ago we noticed he had developed a limp.

We immediately beat ourselves up. What had we done to hurt him? He had always been our little athlete, but had we pushed him too far?

We took a video of him walking and sent it to the vet. In this time of Covid, vets are much more open to this type of communication and that’s lucky for Alfie. He hates vet visits. He’s a high-strung cattle dog and — much like my husband — very smart, very anxious, and very wary of strangers. After reviewing the video, the vet called and told us to put him on anti-inflammatory medication and glucosamine and keep him on bed rest for the next few weeks.

Having a cattle dog on bed rest is like having Linda Blair from The Exorcist as a house guest. Cattle dogs don’t like rest. Rest makes cattle dogs even more anxious. They want to be out protecting cattle from dingoes. During those two weeks of Alfie “resting”, I was often awakened at night by him compulsively licking my exposed knees.

His limp still wasn’t getting any better, so the vet suggested x-rays under sedation. Saul and I fought…I mean…Saul and I vigorously debated this for the next week. He didn’t want to stress Alfie. I wanted to find out what the issue was. Finally I won and Saul lost….I mean…we both came to a compromise and decided on x-rays.

Betrayal on the Blacktop

“I will drop him off by myself.” I assured my anxious husband. “These types of things don’t bother me.”

Per the vet’s orders, Alfie was heavily tranquilized before his appointment. This particular visit was going to be even harder because we couldn’t accompany him due to Covid protocol. Alfie peacefully dozed in his drugged-haze in the front seat until we pulled into the parking lot. Then his ears shot straight up and was wide awake. He turned to me with betrayed eyes.

I thought this was a walk!!!

“I never said that,” I answered out loud. “If you remember I asked if you wanted to go out. I specifically did not say the W word.”

Alfie wasn’t listening. He seemed to be looking for a heavy object to smash through the back window to make his escape.

I called the front desk from my car, holding the phone tightly in case Alfie tried to grab it. “Alfie is here.”

“Did you give him his tranquilizers?”

“Yes, he’s quite tranquil,” I lied as I stepped out of the car with Alfie pulling strenuously on the leash in the direction of the McDonalds across the busy street.

When he saw the vet tech walk out the front door, Alfie immediately switched to his Emergency Plan B and laid as flat as he possibly could on the hot blacktop with his legs splayed in every direction. It was like those videos you see on TMZ where someone is having a freak-out in the middle of an airport or a Wendy’s. He clung to the smooth, flat surface with all his might. It reminded me of when he first went into the ocean and tried in vain to grab onto me when the first big wave came in. Not having opposable thumbs sucks.

He looked up at me in blind panic. He didn’t know why he was being punished. He couldn’t understand why I was abandoning him.

My heart broke but I had to keep pushing forward.

“C’mon Alfie, I begged, but he wouldn’t budge. He hunted lower to the blacktop if that was even possible. I tugged on his leash and smiled wealky at the vet tech even though she coudln’t see it under my mask. I looked down at Alife





I struggled to drag him to the entrance. I would have picked up all eighty-eight of his squirming pounds if I was ten years younger and wouldn’t be risking a heart attack. The tech finally took him from me and hauled him inside. When the glass door closed behind him with me on the other side, Alfie jerked his head around and looked out in shock. He kept focused on me until he was taken out of my sight. I walked back to my car and sat down.

Well that was done.

I broke down and wept.

Our Big-Hearted Pup

“I’ll pick him up,” Saul offered.

“Oh sure. So then you’re the rescuer and I’m the guy that abandoned him? Not a chance, pal. We are both going.”

The vet had called a few minutes earlier and recommended Alfie get a second opinion from an orthopedic surgeon about his left shoulder. It was somewhat frustrating that the outcome of Alfie’s vet visit was that he should do it all over again with another vet — but that wasn’t the worst of it.

“Also, something else concerns me.” she said as her tone became more serious. “His heart seems to be slightly enlarged. Are you feeding him grain-free food?

Saul’s face dropped. When we first got Alfie, he had diligently researched for weeks the best food to feed him. Since then we had paid a ridiculous amount to keep Alfie’s tummy filled with healthy GRAIN FREE food. Now we were finding out we were prepping him for a heart attack?

The doctor went on to inform us that if that was the cause of this issue (and the FDA suspects it is), it could be reversed by changing his diet.

We ran to the store and bought dog food packed with heart-shrinking grain before speeding to the vet to rescue our pup.

We called the front desk as I tore into the parking lot and then stood outside anxiously awaiting the first sight of him. I had to resist pounding on the lobby windows screaming GIVE HIM BACK! GIVE US BACK OUR ALFIE!!

Finally the door opened, and a very loopy disoriented dog stumbled out. His eyes adjusted to the sun and then he spotted us.

I’m pretty sure I detected a dirty look in my direction before he took turns leaping joyfully on each of us. All seemed to be forgiven even if this activity probably wasn’t doing his left shoulder any favors.

Alfie then beelined to the car. C’MON! MOVE IT! DON’T BE FOOLED BY THAT PLAIN LITTLE WOMAN. SHE’S THE ONE WHO SECRETLY DRUGGED ME.

We quickly thanked the tech as we followed after Alfie.

“How did he behave?” Saul yelled to her from the front seat, but she only waved at us acting like she didn’t hear the question.

“I’m not sure they see the best side of our dog,” I commented as we pulled out.

Shakespearean Tragedy

By the end of the short drive home, Alfie’s adrenaline had run out and he was barely conscious. He plopped on the couch and went to sleep for the rest of the night.

Saul and I looked down at him. We had an expensive orthopedic surgeon in the future, and knew we’d have at least two days of an insanely neurotic dog as an aftereffect of this vet visit.

“He’s a lot of trouble,” I said. “Can we fire him as our pet?”

“Maybe we can find his old ADOPT ME vest and drop him off at the place we got him,” Saul suggested.

But we were only joking. On better days Alfie enjoys our dark humor.

That night we slept with him in our arms. I couldn’t imagine the terror he had felt without us.  

I thought of my coworker who had to drag her screaming tantrum-throwing child into her first day of a new preschool while other parents looked on in horror. Or another friend who lived through the trauma of getting his hysterical child shots.

We all understand that heartbreak of betraying the innocent trust of a being you love with all your heart — of having to be the bad guy and know better than they do about what is good for them. To paraphrase Hamlet: sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind.

And I would add a little less poetically….It really sucks.

Update: The Orthopedic surgeon decided Alfie doesn’t need surgery. He put him on six weeks of steroids and limited activity. God help us all…

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: During his free time in the summer Keith Hoffman can often be found carrying his 88-pound dog up and down the three flights of stairs in his house or seeing how long he can steep in scalding pool water.

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.