My Grand Reopening

I had an epiphany watching Ru Paul’s Drag Race last week.    

Don’t roll your eyes.   Well, whatever…roll your eyes if you want.  It’s not like I can see you.  

For years I scoffed at people who watched the series thinking they were vapid and silly until pandemic boredom finally convinced me and my husband Saul to check it out.  We started with the sixth season because we figured they had all the kinks worked out by then, and became so hooked we went back and watched every single season which takes about two years if you watch one episode a day.

Basically, I would describe it as a variety series like the old Carol Burnett Show performed by people who grew up feeling like freaks and outsiders until they matured into gifted artist who found power in their oddness. They discovered their true self in drag.     Trust me… it’s fun, funny, emotional, uplifting and kind of deep. And it got us through the pandemic with a few shreds of our sanity intact.  

On the episode of my epiphany, a drag queen was talking about how they had stopped believing in themselves for a while until they finally realized it was up to them to use what unique talents they had to embrace life again.  

“That’s me!”  I exclaimed to Saul.  “I mean without the wig, make up and contour dress…but I understand now!  It’s up to me to find the joy in life again!”

Let me backtrack….

A little over a year ago, to get out of our Covid funk, Saul and I drove across country with our dog Alfie (leaving our cats safe at home with our very good friend, Jamie) to rent a house in Palm Springs for two months.   I have always loved Palm Springs and the healing energy that seems to exude from every desert rock.  And on top of that, it is also the epicenter for middle-aged eccentric gay men.  I had found my tribe!   With a population that tilts towards the elderly side, I also felt young.  When I walked through the door of the local coffee hangout, I actually turned heads again.  Most those heads had hearing aids attached, but I’ll take whatever attention I can get. 

“I’m not leaving!”  I said to Saul.  We already have the dog and the car here.  We just need to get the cats and a few of our things.”  

The only thing we didn’t really think through was that we moved here in the middle of a pandemic.  

It can be quite a struggle to find a community when theatre is shut down and you can only eat outside at restaurants in 115-degree weather. You can’t make new friends at the office when the office is a few feet from your living room.   You can’t run into someone nice in town when your face is half-covered with a mask and you’re screaming STEP SIX FEET AWAY FROM ME OR I’M CALLING THE POLICE!”   

Very slowly…without even noticing…I fell into an isolated funk.     It was so slow I didn’t even realize it was happening until watching that Ru Paul episode.

“I’ve become disconnected from the world.” I said to my husband.

“You’re connected to me,” he sweetly replied.

The first response I wanted to make: “Oh my god.  I’m so sick of being connected to only you that I want to crawl out of my own skin” might have been taken the wrong way, so instead I said something like, “That’s wonderful dear, and I’m so lucky to have you, dear, but it’s healthy to feel connected to a community too.”   Being married means you have to think on your feet. 

A month ago, Saul and I visited New York —our first time back to the area since we moved.    As I prepared to go into my NYC office to see coworkers, some who I hadn’t seen in person for over two years, I looked in the mirror and took a deep breath.  I knew I needed to show up and be my best self.   I couldn’t very well schlump in with a bad mood after all this time.    And then I realized I hadn’t felt this way in a long time.  I knew right then it was good for my soul to be required to shine for others.   

I needed to become part of a community again.  But how?

A large part of Palm Springs culture involves large pool parties where people wear as little clothing as possible. Unfortunately, these are not the events I would choose for myself to “shine” at unless you count the sun reflecting off of my pale Irish skin.  

First of all, I hate small talk.  I’m terrible at it especially when I’m nervous which I usually am.  They say to ask people about themselves at occasions like these but I absolutely hate when people I’ve just met ask me questions about my life. I claim up as if I’m a spy holding government secrets. I don’t know why. I guess it has something to do with stranger danger. If they ask me an innocent question like what I do for a living, I’ll respond with a vague answer like “I work for a network” and then I’ll scowl at them daring them to probe deeper until they usually pretend they see someone at the other side of the party and–to my relief– wander off. Really I’m lousy at it.

Second of all, I wish I was one of those people who didn’t care what anyone thought of my body because I believed beauty comes from withinbut I’m much more realistic.  The guy with washboard abs wins those party every time.  I’ve even tried to to present myself as a sexy chubby bear-type but it only seems upset people and make them sad and depressed

So instead, I came up with a list:



Saul and I volunteered at  a soup kitchen in NYC and made wonderful friends with people who we never would have come in contact with in our everyday lives.  I am much better getting to know people when we have a common task.

“That would be a good way to get connected here,” Saul suggested.   

I thought for a moment.  “I’ve always wanted to get involved in hospice,” I said.  

Saul was a little doubtful.  “I’m not sure that’s the best way develop long-term friendships.”   

He may have a point, but I was inspired to do something like this years ago by Princess Diana. I was transfixed by her when she would visit people in hospital rooms. She was so kind and you could tell she really saw people and she listened to them. I thought to myself if I can do that for someone in need then I will have done something good in my lifetime. And besides, if the connections I make aren’t long-term…they are still connections.  How could I not feel a deeper sense of belonging to this world?

Hopefully I will be able to keep from scowling at people in my care if they ask me what I do for a living.


EVERYONE seems to play pickleball out here.  I had never heard of it until I came to Palm Springs, but since we arrived all I hear is PICKLEBALL, PICKLEBALL, PICKLEBALL. PICKLEBALL this and PICKLEBALL that.   

My curiosity is peaked.     

And it seems to involve physical exertion so maybe I could develop some late-in-life washboard abs.

I have other things on the Connectivity List…Take Yoga Classes, Learn Square Dancing, Join a Cult (one that is not too weird or makes me have a lot of kids), but I’ve decided to start with these two things and see how they go.  

In the last few weeks, Saul and I have taken two Pickleball lessons, and I sat for a two hour interview  to be a hospice volunteer.  

Hospice and Pickleball is a strange combination, and they may both end up being false starts– but even taking these small actions has made me feel like part of the world again.

About the Author:   Keith Hoffman is a PICKLEBALL player who finds his inspiration in long walks in the desert, PICKLEBALL and drag queens.   He plays PICKLEBALL.

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.