I Am Too Sexy For My Shirt

Today the head of my company was in town from the UK.   It’s always a little nerve-wracking when she is in town.  I mean, she’s my top boss.  And the fact that she is based in the UK and only around the office about once a month only raises the stakes.  You have limited time to show her how smart, talented, likable, hardworking and endlessly employable you are–and how you are the last person that should be considered during the next round of layoffs.  It’s exhausting.

So, when I headed to the bathroom from my office the other day and turned the corner to discover her standing in the narrow hallway talking to another person, I hesitated for just a moment.  The only way to get to the bathroom would be to squeeze between them.  I mean,  my bathroom break wasn’t an emergency.  Maybe I could hold it another ten minutes or so until they moved on?   But no.  I’m an adult.  I decided to make my way through.

“Keith, have you seen Bohemian Rhapsody yet?”  she asked as I was in mid-squeeze.  I hadn’t but didn’t want to seem impolite so I told her it was on my list.  I was smart enough not to go into how my husband Saul and I have a hat with scraps of paper in it with names of movies that we pick from.   We call it our Pick From the Hat Movie Night.   That seemed like more information than she probably wanted.    So she and I started talking about Queen and Queen concerts.  Now, I have never been to any Queen concert, but, again, I didn’t want to seem rude or disinterested so I held forth on the topic as much as I could and nodded thoughtfully at what seemed like the correct times.  When she said that Freddie Mercury was one of a kind and impossible to really be captured by even a great actor, I thought about telling her that I thought Princess Diana was also one of a kind and that she was so hard to capture that she was the only character not played by an actor in the movie The Queen, but only appeared as herself in news footage.  Even though there was a chance to connect the group Queen with movie The Queen,  I stopped myself again.  What if my boss was an anti-monarchist or even worse, a monarchist who thought Princess Diana had almost toppled the monarchy?  That was all too dicey so I wrapped up the discussion with something like, “That Freddy Mercury.  Gone too soon huh?  AIDS is awful!” and made my way to the bathroom pretty satisfied with my performance.

I waked in the restroom practically whistling with self-satisfaction when I glanced in the mirror and discovered that the entire time I was talking to her my shirt had been unbuttoned down to my navel.   I looked like Richard, the sleazy upstairs womanizing neighbor in reruns of Threes Company.

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The only thing that saved me from drowning myself in the sink is that I could hardly wait to tell other people in the office what I fool I had made of myself because I knew it would make them laugh.

The story doesn’t end there.  When I was in the middle of telling my coworker, Sarah, the story–my boss came around the corner again.

“Why didn’t you tell me my shirt was buttoned down to my navel?” I asked.  (I find it best to call out one’s humiliating mistake before someone else does.)

“Oh, I didn’t notice,” she replied.

“Well,” I said.   “That’s even worse.”

Here’s another thing that happened this week:

A few days before open-chest incident, we got a company-wide email looking for “searchers” for the floor of my office building.  A “searcher” is a person who looks for people in case of a fire, and makes sure they get safely to the exit.  A man is assigned to look for the men, and a woman assigned to look for the women.  I assume this is to ensure someone doesn’t break into the restroom of the opposite sex during a fire just to sneak a peek.  That fact I’m gay kind of ruins this rule, but who am I to make waves?

I have been a searcher before.  I resent the responsibility, but like the attention.  I replied all to the email saying.  “I have always enjoyed being a male searcher and would love to do it again.”  A few minutes later my direct supervisor sent me an email: “Are you SURE you took that sexual harassment course??”

Luckily, she was joking or I might be hiring  Matt Lauer right now instead of writing this blog.

I guess my point is:  MY GOD!   WE NEED HUMOR!

I’m blessed that finding the humor is one of things that comes naturally to me.   It seems it doesn’t to everyone.  Our president seems to have zero sense of humor.  Well, he does joke about “blood coming out of her whatever” and makes hilarious fun of disabled people so I guess he is funny.  Just not laugh-out-loud funny.  Or even really laugh-quietly-to-yourself funny.   Actually, he’s just a humorless, sexist, racist, narcissist.  But I digress.

Facebook, as we all know,  is challenging.  I do my BEST to only post funny political things now that I finally understand that those people who LOVE Trump will never be talked out of it.  Ever.  I have had to accept they those diehard people will go to their grave not realizing they have been conned by this man.   So, I try not to post angry, humorless, political rants, but sometimes I fail and then I usually delete them when I wake up the next morning feeling remorseful.

But the good thing about Facebook is connecting with people.  I found a girl on Facebook  named Melisa who i had had a high school crush on, and told her that I once called her my Junior year, but when she came to the phone I hung up.  (You kids can’t’ do that today.   You have to be much cleverer to ghost people.)   Melissa and I have since connected on Facebook and she even sent me a handmade Welcome Sign for the front of my house.  What I adore about her even from afar is her kindness and especially her sense of humor.  I don’t know if we will ever actually meet, but I can tell by reading about her life one funny Facebook post at a time that the world is a better place because of her.

And that’s true for the all the people in my life.  My friends near and far are people I can laugh with.   My relationship with my husband, Saul, is like one long shared joke.   Okay, that didn’t come out quite right, but hopefully you understand.

So, my challenge for everyone is to end your day before you go to sleep each night by thinking about something that made you laugh.  Obviously, I am trusting anyone reading this to understand I don’t mean laughing in a mocking, mean way.  Think about something you read, or something someone said or a moment  you made a fool of yourself.   (I have coffee every workday with my friend Sara and there is always one laugh to be found in that).  Think of that moment and be grateful   We are sure seeing that anger hasn’t been really accomplishing things, so maybe focusing on the humor of being alive is worth a shot.     We can at least try, right?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:   Keith Hoffman has been known to dress provocatively and hunt for men in the restroom.   He has written a book entitled The Weird Thing Is….  There are some funny parts in it.

 

 

 

JULIE

Below is an excerpt from my book.  This is definitely not all my book is about, but 10 years later it is still healing to write about this day that so utterly changed the course of my life.  Some things have been altered to be understood as a standalone story.

SEPTEMBER 5, 2008 

“She knew I loved her, right?” my big brother Greg asked as we rushed down the hall.   “I assume you guys know I love you.”

“Yes, she knew,” I said.

The truth was I wasn’t always sure Greg loved me since he wasn’t really what you would call emotionally demonstrative.  It felt good to hear him say it.

We were coming from our sister Julie’s hospital room where she had been in a coma after having an aneurysm a week earlier.  We were running to the waiting room to tell our oldest brother Dave that we were about to take Julie off life support.   Julie was a month shy of her 52nd birthday.

My blackberry buzzed with a text message.   I’m getting on the plane now.

I had forgotten my ex-boyfriend Steve was heading to Cincinnati for his pre-planned yearly birthday trip to see my sister.   Even though we were long broken up, he and my sister were still best friends.

We’ll see you soon I texted back.  I slipped the phone back into my pocket.   I was pretty certain he wouldn’t make it in time to see Julie.

We returned to my big sister’s room a few minutes later and it was packed to capacity.  Friends and family had heard the news and shown up.   It felt like a party was being held in the sacred ward of dying people.  I was proud Julie has so many people who loved her dearly, but I had mixed feelings.  Shouldn’t a deathbed be by invitation only?

The immediate family-me, my brothers, Mother, Julie’s husband Stu and her sister-in-law Minette—huddled around the doctors and gave the okay to take her off life support.

“How long will she live once you take her off?” Greg asked.

“Not long.   Probably a few hours at most.”

We thanked the doctor as he walked out of the room but I wasn’t sure for what.

I spotted my Aunt Jody and Uncle Dick in the crowd.  Aunt Jody had lost two brothers including my father so she understood what I was going through.   She grabbed me and held me close.   I sat down next to Uncle Dick.   We sat staring ahead.

“I was working on my putt stroke last week. It’s all based on rhythm and cadence regardless of the length of the putt.”

He was talking to me about golf.  I knew nothing about golf.  I found golf boring.  I wanted to remind him there was a dying sister in the middle of the room.  I supposed he was trying keep my mind off of what was happening as if that was possible.

The nurse walked in and the room instantly became quiet.  We all looked at her expectantly.  She kept her head down as she went to Julie’s bed.  She unhooked my sister from the respirator and other machines.  She was serious and professional.  I think I had expected her to be apologetic.

I had made so many jokes in my lifetime about “pulling the plug” that I was actually surprised she didn’t literally bend over and pull a plug out of a socket.

The entire room seemed to be holding their breath but nothing dramatic happened.   She just laid in front of us still breathing.

Maybe she isn’t going to die after all?   Maybe the doctors who were wrong so many times this week were wrong about her dying today.  Maybe she could still wake up and be totally normal.  We’d buy her all kinds of cool scarfs to wear like Rhoda Morgenstern until her hair grew back where they had operated trying to save her.

“It will take a little bit of time for her body to shut down,” the nurse informed us before walking out.

I decided I didn’t like her.

We all watched and waited.

In this suspended moment of time I felt a rush of pride in my family.

We were a family.

My three brothers and I had a collective history that we shared yet viewed though our own perspectives.  But when life became bigger than our own individual egos—when life literally became life and death—the invisible thread that connected us—that would always connect us—pulled us together as one.   We came together to make sure that our sister died with dignity.

Julie’s breathing seemed to slow down.   I couldn’t tell if she was even breathing anymore but didn’t want to ask or prove myself right.  I just stood there watching over her like everyone else.  It had only been a few minutes but the nurse already returned.  She looked at a monitor next to her bed.

Without looking up she told us.

“She’s passed.”

She turned off the rest of the equipment and a collective wail erupted in the packed room.  I sobbed and hugged someone.   Then I hugged and cried on someone else.   Everyone held and comforted one another as our grief spilled out all over the room.   We were messy and we were loud.  I saw a wet blur of sad faces all around me.   In the middle of everything I saw my brother Paul standing next to Mother and her holding his hand.   The expression on their sad faces made me feel helpless and drowning.  Minette began to wretch and dry heave.  I noted to myself that I would have to tease her about it later.

Time passed.   It was sometime late on a Friday afternoon.

People slowly began to filter out.

My sister’s body laid in the bed with my mother sitting in her wheelchair next to it holding her hand.  I was relieved that the struggle was over for my sister.

I texted Steve.   Julie died.  I’m sorry.

I texted a friend.  Julie died.  Please let everyone know.

Paul finally wheeled Mother out and I was left alone with my sister’s body.

I bent over and kissed her hands, her arms, her check and her forehead.

“I love you so much Julie.”

I was aware that kissing my sister now that she was dead didn’t feel as strange as it would have if she were alive.  If she were alive, she would look over at me and ask me what the fuck I was doing.

I walked to the doorway and turned around one more time.  This was the last time I would ever be able to look at her and I didn’t want it to ever end.

I walked past the hospital staff as they went busily about their work without looking up even though they must have heard our keening and sobbing.  Death was part of their everyday—even my sister’s death.

I sat in the back seat on the drive home holding the picture of Julie and me in New York that had been on the table next to her hospital bed.  At the stop light, I looked out and saw an ugly woman in the driver’s seat of the car next to us.

Why didn’t she die instead of my beautiful sister?

I ran ahead up the stairs of my mother’s house and turned on the oxygen tank as my mother made her arduous climb behind me.    She sat on the couch and attached the tube to her nose.  I sat in a chair near her.  My brother Paul and went into another room.

We fell asleep in the middle of the afternoon.

What else was there to do?

 

A few hours later I woke up from a deep sleep.  Steve had arrived and gathered with others down the block at Julie’s house.  I asked Mother if it was okay to head down.

“Of course, honey.” She looked older than I’d ever seen her.

I walked into the door of Julie’s house that wasn’t Julie’s house anymore.   Steve was petting her cat and dog.   How would her pets understand that she is never coming back?

“Do you have pot?” I asked Paul.  He didn’t

“I know Julie has to have some somewhere.”  I said.

I looked through her house including the drawers in the back of her closet.   There were packets of Nicorette gum everywhere.  Julie hadn’t smoked for years but was addicted to Nicorette gum.   I wondered if that was what gave her an aneurysm.  I found letters and cards and wondered how much you had to respect the privacy of someone who was dead.   I found a half-written list and realized that death is a snapshot of where your life stopped.  Not everyone gets a neat ending.

Finally, I found a plastic bag full of weed.  I grabbed Julie’s pipe and packed it full.  I sat on her bed like I had so many times before with her and inhaled deeply.  I waited for the feeling of being high that blessedly would numb the pain.  I felt nothing.  I inhaled deeply again and then again.   Nothing.  I wondered if the pot was weak or if I was already too numb to get high.    I inhaled one more time as Paul walked into the bedroom

“What are you doing?”

“I found some pot but it’s not very strong.”

Paul took the plastic bag from me and sniffed it.

“This is catnip.”

I look at him stunned.  We both busted out laughing.

I gave up on getting high but was angry at my sister for not sending me relief from beyond.

I went downstairs and found myself becoming the official greeter as more people showed up at the house.

I stood in the kitchen and hugged Minette.

“That’s weird” she said looking over her shoulder

“What?”

“Her grocery list on her whiteboard.  “Cotton…Lemonade…Garbage Bags…Dog Treats…I didn’t know Julie drank Lemonade.”

“She doesn’t.  I do.  She made that list for me when I was visiting her last week.  I told her I was craving lemonade so she picked it up from the store.”

Another friend of Julie’s walked in and hugged me.

“Wow.  Julie drank lemonade?” he said looking over my shoulder at the whiteboard.  “I’ve never seen her drink lemonade.”

This continued throughout the afternoon.   I was amused that people seemed to think they had discovered some dark secret my sister had been hiding.

I sat down on the front porch with Steve who was still petting Julie’s poor cat. A car pulled up and a neighbor from across the street jumped out and ran over to us.

“How is Julie?  I heard she went into the hospital the other day!”

Without missing a beat of petting the cat, Steve calmly answered, “She’s dead.”

I never realized that someone could react to hearing bad news like they had been physically knocked backwards but that that was what I saw this woman do.   She must have expected us to say Julie would be back tomorrow and was not ready for this.   Even though my sister was the one who died, I stood up and hugged and comforted her.

“Julie was so wonderful,” she said to me.  “She was a real hoot.”

As she almost stumbled back to the car I glared at Steve.

“You might want to work on your technique at delivering bad news.  You might have started with a little warning like ‘Oh the news isn’t good…’”

Minette came out and sat next to me.

“I wonder why this happened to her.  She was so healthy.”  I said leaning my head on her shoulder.  I had been annoyed all week by people who didn’t know her asking if Julie was overweight or sickly as if they wanted to find a rational explanation for this irrational event.

A thought came to me with a sharp shock.   “Do you think it runs in the family?”

“I looked it up,” Minette offered helpfully.   “They say you don’t have to worry unless a second sibling dies from one too.”

“Um…you have to worry if you’re the second sibling,” I said.

“Right…I hadn’t thought of that.”

I stood up and suddenly didn’t want to be there anymore.

Before I slipped out the back door, I grabbed Julie’s whiteboard with the lemonade list off the side of her cabinet and brought it with me.   I liked that it had her handwriting.  I liked that she was thinking about me when she wrote it.

I walked down the block to join Mother.    My phone rang.

“Hi, is this Mr.  Hoffman?”

I stopped walking.  “Yes.  Yes.”

“Mr. Hoffman, we have a special offer just for you that I’d like to tell you about…” the male voice said.

For some reason, I didn’t just hang up.   It wasn’t this guy’s fault his timing was so bad.

“Yea…um…my sister died this afternoon…”

“Oh, I’m so sorry.  I’m sorry,” he said kindly.

“That’s okay,” I said once again comforting a total stranger.  “But I can’t really talk…”

“Of course…”

As I was about to hang up the phone I heard his voice again.

“Mr. Hoffman…I just wanted to let you know that my sister died two years ago.”

“She did?   How is your family now?” I asked.  I wasn’t sure why I was talking to this person except that he sounded so kind.  The truth was that I couldn’t fathom that my family could ever be put back together after this horrible day.   We had to be broken beyond repair.

“It was a rough first year but we are okay now,” he said.   “In fact, we are even closer now.”

“You are?”

“Yea, we really are.”

“Thank you.   Thank you so much.  Thank you.”

From this random call on the darkest day of my life I got my first tiny glimmer of hope.

I hung up and walked up the stairs to my mother’s house.  She had the TV on.  Paul came in right behind me.  None of us said much to each other.

We watched a DVD of Arrested Development and somehow managed to laugh a few times.

Around midnight we turned off the TV and hugged each other goodnight.

We had made it to the end of the first day.

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INFESTED!

After my husband Saul and I bought a house, we decided to really splurge and have our backyard landscaped.

That sentence is not something I ever expected to write but my life has changed in the past five years.   When describing my life, words like husband and house and landscaped have replaced words like sex, drugs and Broadway show tunes.  Well that’s not true.  Nothing has replaced Broadway show tunes.

At first, we were going to splurge and have a screened-in porch built, but after literally months of trying to get a contractor to return our texts, we decided to go with a landscaped yard instead.  We hired a reputable landscaping company and told them money was no object.  When they gave us a quote, we changed our minds and told them money was actually an object and asked them to please cut the estimate in half.  Who needs a log flume in their backyard anyway?

But still, we spent more money than I have ever have spent on anything in my life except the actual house.

We liked our landscaper.  His name is Rob.  He drew up beautiful plans and we were tickled pink with them.   We were going to have a Kentucky Coffee Tree and butterfly plants!  I didn’t actually know what either of these things were, but they sounded exciting and looked good in Rob’s rendering.   When someone at work asked what kind of tree they should plant in their yard, I told them with quite some authority.  “Oh, Kentucky Coffee Trees are the absolute best.”  But really, I was just going off of a sketch.

A few weeks and many thousands of dollars later, our yard was landscaped and it did look beautiful.  I mean, it wasn’t quite like the drawing.  The butterfly plants looked awfully fragile for a backyard with a new puppy, and the Kentucky Coffee tree looked…well…did you ever see A Charlie Brown Christmas?  That Christmas Tree looked positively robust compared to our Kentucky Coffee Tree.    It was scrawny with lots of dead branches.  It was actually so scrawny I think “lots” is an exaggeration as there weren’t many branches on it living or dead.  When a chickadee perched on it the first day I feared for its life as I wasn’t sure the tree could support it.

 

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Our landscaper assured us the tree would grow when we met him at the nursery a few days later.  As he told us this, we couldn’t help but notice we were surrounded by hundreds of lush trees

“Why didn’t you plant one of these other types of trees in our yard instead?” we asked.

“I thought you guys would want something more exotic” he replied.

“Um no,” I thought.   “We wanted something to block the ugly building behind our house.  Something that actually has leaves in the summer.”   But Rob assured me the tree would take root one day.   I just hope I live long enough.

As summer went on and the butterfly plants blossomed, our garden looked quite beautiful especially when bees and monarch butterflies came to visit by the busload.   If you didn’t look up, you barely remembered there were dead branches blowing in the breeze above you.

But a few weeks ago, Saul noticed something red on the butterfly plants.  Was it a fungus?  We looked them up on the internet and discovered to our horror they were aphids.  Red aphids!  And not just a few but I’m pretty sure millions of aphids covering every single plant

But along with the aphids were caterpillars and with another internet search we discovered they were monarch butterflies-in-waiting!   Would the aphids kill the caterpillars?   And was it possible to kills the aphids without killing the caterpillars?   After more googling, we found out that the aphids won’t kills the caterpillars and there is no way to get rid of the aphids without killing the caterpillars.

Saul valiantly started hacking away at the most infested  but would inadvertently find a stray caterpillar crawling on one of the hack-off branches.  They say that less than 10 percent of these caterpillars will make it to butterfly status, and he didn’t want to kill a single one.  That‘s why I love Saul.  He rescues caterpillars from a pile of hacked-off aphid-infested dead plants.  He doesn’t kill spiders or other bugs either.  Except for mosquitos.  He hates mosquitoes.

Then the next day we discovered little polka dot beetles on the butterfly plants.  They were much cuter than aphids.  Saul did another internet search and found out they were some type of evil beetle that burrows into the roots of and kills butterfly plants.  Now mind you, almost every inch of our yard is covered in these parasite-laden plants under the sickly tree.

Saul sent an angry email to our landscaper.  Saul enjoys being a bad cop.  I’m more of a “the yard is half full of aphids” kind of guy and Saul is more of “our yard is an absolute disaster” person.

Let me give you an example.   We took our dog Alfie to see the ocean for the first time last weekend, and a woman mentioned to us that she heard about a dog that had drank too much ocean water and died.

 

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I wanted to drown her.  You never put a negative idea into my husband’s brain.  It will percolate in there until a catastrophe is fully formed.    The entire way home from the ocean and the entire night he was convinced our dog was dying from drinking too much ocean water.   I tried to comfort and calm him by telling him he was insane and that I couldn’t stand living another day with his negativity but it didn’t seem to  help.

The next day we took Alfie (who was still alive and not murdered by the sea) for a walk on a trail that was not infested by aphids or beetles.  I took this time to speak to Saul about our relationship.  I love speaking to Saul about our relationship but he doesn’t always share this love.

ME:  So…to conclude… this is how I think we can improve or communication and support each other’s growth.  Do you understand what I’m saying?

SAUL:  No, I don’t understand what you are saying and I thought this was going to be a fun walk with no talking.      But..anyway… I hope you feel heard by me.

I didn’t feel heard in that particular moment, but decided not to press the subject.

But then the next day something magical happened.

Saul sent me a picture from the backyard.  Two brand new monarch butterflies were hanging on our back fence waiting for blood to pump in their wing so they could fly for the first time.

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I’ve written about this many times, but when my sister died, Monarch butterflies appeared to me everywhere.  I mean EVERYWHERE.  They even flew alongside my car on the busy 405 expressway in Los Angeles.   They gave me so much meaning and comfort, I eventually had one tattooed on my arm.

 

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So here we are, our garden full of parasites and dying trees but also full of beautiful butterflies who are on the very edge of extinction and need all the parasite- infested gardens they can get.   I mean, we have a responsibility.  Maybe some of those little guys need to fly somewhere to comfort a newly grieving brother.

I guess life might be boring if gardens were always perfect and oceans were never dangerous and sisters didn’t die and husbands always heard your VERY INSIGHTFUL relationship tips.

Maybe there was a reason Eve ate that apple.  Maybe the Garden of Eden was boring in its perfection.   Maybe she wouldn’t have had time for the serpent if she had been busy trying to get rid of aphids.

If you help a butterfly out of a cocoon, it will surely die because it didn’t go through the struggle and maturation.

I am pretty sure we mature through our struggles.  We grow through our imperfect lives.

Yesterday, I climbed up that fragile little tree and sawed off the all its dead branches.

And I will patently wait for it to take root while the butterflies are learning to fly.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

KEITH HOFFMAN is an author who makes aphid jellies and jams in his spare time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

HOW TO GET SUED BY YOUR FAMILY

While I’m writing this blog, I am also writing a memoir.  I’ve been writing this memoir for many years.

At first it was simply about my childhood.   Whenever I told people the circumstances of my growing up, they would look at me with shock for a moment and then inevitably say, “You should write a book about that!”   Finally, I took them up on it.

When I was dating, I tried to avoid delving too much into the past on a first date.    It just led to too many questions and then the entire evening became about my weird family, and, although it passed the time, it didn’t usually lead to a second date or sex—not even pity sex.   One time, a very cute guy just looked at me with that shocked expression I was so familiar with and said, “I  can’t compete with that.”   Nothing makes you feel like damaged goods like that.

When I told my big sister I was writing a memoir,  we came up with the idea of writing it together.   She would write her version of an experience from our childhood in one chapter and I would write my version of the same experience in the next chapter.     It was going to be a funny, heartfelt novel that showed how personalized and selective memory could be, and win us a Pulitzer Prize and get us on Oprah.  At least that was what we decided the night we hatched the plan after getting really stoned together.

Even after we sobered up we thought it was a good idea, so I gave my sister all kinds of books on writing and was about to send her the first draft of what I had written when she pulled a fast one on me and died suddenly.   Well, actually she died after having an aneurysm and being in a coma for a week –so technically she went into a coma suddenly and then died after torturing her family for a grueling week.

The end result of that life-changing heartbreak was that obviously our award-winning Oprah Book Club pick was not going to get written.  Then to make that really bad year a gruesome year, my mom died five months later.   Now I had two huge life things to write about and losing the two most important women in my life moved to the front of the line.

Every single morning, I got up and wrote about my sweet, beautiful, funny sister and then I wrote about my strong, glamourous sometimes overbearing but always loving Mother who survived more than really anyone ever should have to survive.  I grieved every morning as I wrote, and I healed by putting their unfathomable deaths into a story.  By putting it on paper and giving it a beginning, middle and end, I could somehow process it better.

When I finished, I realized I had to braid both stories together.    That is what I’m finishing up now.

When you’ve been writing a book for so long, you never really think you will finish–but 3 writers’ groups and 4 writers’ retreats later, I am actually coming to the end of the last chapter.  In fact, if I died today (which I was worried I would.  I had my doctor’s checkup this afternoon and whenever I get a doctor’s checkup I’m sure I’m going to get bad news.  I mean, who else is going to tell you you are going to die except a doctor or a murderer?)  Anyway, if I died today, my husband Saul could publish my book.  Just to be clear if Saul ever asks—I’m not interested in Saul being happy and finding love after I’m gone.  I would like him to remain sad, and live alone and tend to the animals and promote my legacy.  For the life insurance he’ll get, I don’t think that is too much to ask.)

Finishing a memoir brings up other issues when your memoir is about family secrets.  Some of those family secrets are doozies too.  Some are so big I can’t blog about them. I can’t casually mention them here without repercussions.   I had to write the memoir all these years not thinking about that, but now I have to start thinking about it.   One of my brothers has known I was writing this book for a very long time.  He knows he is going to be a big topic of it.  I love my brother.  I love all my family and nothing in my book is written as revenge or is mean-spirited.  Every single word is written with love but still…there are secrets revealed.

My brother wants his story to be told but he also doesn’t want the boat of his life to be rocked.

I reminded him that no one reads books anyway and I have offered to change his name.  One of the leaders of my Tuesday night writer’s group suggests making someone you don’t want to be recognized in your book Japanese, but I don’t know if that is going to work here.

Then after Mom finished baking her apple pie she called us in from our game of stickball.  “Julie!  Keith!  Haruto! Time for fried chicken!”

I think people might get suspicious but, then again, in my family it would be one of the lesser surprises.

Of course, I can write anything I want about my sister and mom because they aren’t around to sue me anymore, but I’m not yet sure it’s worth killing my three brothers just to get published.

So, my brother Haruto and I are taking it a step at a time.   He will read the book before it ever gets published and hopefully he will see how lovingly and respectfully I tell his story because I really do admire him and his life.

My husband is an artist and paints people he thinks are beautiful.   In high school, I drew Loni Anderson from WKRP in Cincinnati because I thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world. But I really have no talent at that.  Anyone else I draw will end up looking like a sociopath’s mad scribblings.   Instead I write to honor, to show affection, to tease, to laugh with, to heal, to respect and to show adoration for the people I love.

Whenever I am in a writers group I feel like those of us in the room are carrying on the ancient custom of sitting around a fire and storytelling.  Of course, there isn’t an actual fire.  Sometimes there are pretzels but that’s about it.  I guess my point is that I hope by trying to tell the story of my family, I am honoring the humanity of us all.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

RIKU TAKAHASHI is a writer and memoirist.   He lives with his husband Hinata Yamamoto in Lambertville, New Jersey with their dog Kaito and theirs cats Asahi and Sora.      

 

 

THE LAME PUPPY

It’s been a while since I have written a blog.  A few people have told me they missed it.  One man who was trying to sell me extra security for my blog site on the phone told me he found my blog really fascinating.  I understand he is a salesman and may having been saying that so I would buy what he was selling, but I choose to believe him anyway.

There are a few reasons I haven’t blogged, but I guess the main one was that every time I started to, something would happen in the news and I would start writing an angry blog about the current president.   I’m fairly certain the last thing the world needs is another angry blog about the current president.  And the two people from my high school who voted for him and have yet to unfriend me are not going to be convinced otherwise by anything I write.  So I have a lot of half-finished blogs on my computer.  Maybe after I die from a stroke caused by the current president, they will be published posthumously like A Confederacy of Dunces.  Maybe like Van Gogh people will discover my great genius after I’m dead and feel guilty they never acknowledged it while I was alive.  That would be nice.

Anyway, the other blog topic that I keep starting and stopping is the puppy my husband and I rescued a couple months ago.

I’ve written about Alfie before   He is a Red Heeler but it is more commonly known as Totally Insane and Exhausting Dog.

I’m not sure what Saul and I talked about before we got Alfie, but now most of our conversations center around the consistency of Alife’s poop, or the last thing Alife tried to chew up, or what we will do with Alfie whenever we go somewhere for longer than two hours.

I know people go through this with children but the thing about getting a puppy is that it changes your life sooo drastically and sooo suddenly.  It is not gradual, like when you slowly dip your toe into a chilly pool.  Getting a puppy is more like being tossed into an ice hole and then being held underwater with a large spikey object for eternity.

Alfie has had a tough few months.  There’s the castration which I have blogged about before but really, I can’t emphasize enough that castration is not fun.   If I can help one person understand that castration is not fun I will not have died in vain.  (But if I do die make sure to publish those half-finished blog pieces so my genius is recognized.)

Next Alfie hurt his paw.  I’m sure when you read that you imagined he was galloping through a field after a deer or playing with another puppy and then taking a bad tumble.  No.  Alfie hurt his paw leaping off our bed to try to play with the cats (who, for the record, did not really want to play with him in the first place).   He landed on a soft shag carpet and suddenly was hopping on three legs for the rest of the day.  I am working on a show at Animal Planet about special needs animals.  One of them is a boxer with only two legs who can run full speed down a beach.

That is not the kind of dog Alfie is.

Alfie limps sadly across our kitchen sighing with resignation over the sad state of his life.  Alife will probably never be one of those heroic dogs like Lassie or Rin Tin Tin.  He probably would panic if I fell down a well and would need to go home and chew a squeaky toy to calm himself down.

Saul and I took our broken puppy to the vet.  We learned when you take a limping puppy to the vet they suddenly got hopped up on adrenaline and stop limping.  It’s  like when you take your car to the mechanic with a knocking sound and then it doesn’t knock for the mechanic.  Or it’s like that frog in the old Bugs Bunny cartoons that would only sing for the one guy and just croak for everyone else.

I didn’t need Alife to sing.

“LIMP!  LIMP!”   I screamed at him like a pageant mom, but he stubbornly walked normally down the hallway of the vet who looked at me like I had Munchausen’s by Proxy.  She gave us a few anti-inflammatory pills and the front desk sternly sent us home as if he were drug-seekers.  The minute Alfie was out of the car, he hobbled pathetically to the front door barely keeping upright.

The vet did suggest Alfie should completely rest except for taking a few steps outside to pee.  Have you tried to keep a Red Heeler puppy on bed rest?   Have you ever seen a Red Heeler have a puppy fit?    It is a lot like watching The Exorcist but scarier.   Alife would suddenly do figure 8’s around the house at the speed of light.  He was like a cartoon blur that whizzed around our legs and circled the alarmed cats.   He was able to do this effortlessly for five minutes straight but when he was done he would limp again.

For the next two weeks Alfie limped his way around the house.   Every time he seemed to get better, I would be fooled and take him for a long walk thinking this was good for his mental and physical health only for him to start limping again as we walked in the front door making me feel like some sort of monster.

We couldn’t deny it.  We had a lame puppy.

If he’s not limping, he’s having diarrhea, or chewing a hole in the bean bag chair or peeing on the couch (this was only once and we have THOROUGHLY cleaned the couch but we understand if you want to remain standing when you visit us.)

All my dogs have been somewhat broken.  Rusty didn’t love other dogs.  Lester went through a neighbor’s plate glass window, Sasha tried to kill a puppy I brought home.   They never seem to be the cute animals in the dog food commercial or on the internet or playing Puppy Bowl.

So what is the point of having these things?

Here is what I think.

If we go around thinking our puppy should be perfect we will be disappointed.  If we go around thinking we picked the wrong puppy (like instead of a Red Heeler maybe a sane dog) we will be disappointed.  Instead,  we have to figure out how to Love What Is.  It’s the same as with our parents or kids or husbands or jobs–nobody and nothing is going to live up to  our fantasy and most of our troubles come from trying to find that fantasy in reality.  So, I had shift my attitude and tell myself that Alife is mine and Saul’s to love.   Our job is to love this puppy within an inch of his life.    He is what the universe gave us.

And I think that by loving Alife I am reminded what love is all about.   It’s not about ego, but about compassion and understanding.  Maybe the current president doesn’t believe that.  He confuses us and tells us we will find happiness in power and control.  So maybe we need these broken puppies to teach us that lesson more than ever.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR—Keith Hoffman is wary of shag carpets and castration.

 

 

 

BALLS

We cut our sweet rescue dog’s balls off last Thursday.

It was awful.

We didn’t actually do the cutting ourselves, but after weeks of gaining Alfie’s trust and promising him we would never hurt him, we took him to a place he was barely familiar with, let them drag him to another room away from us.  Then he woke up in a cage sore and probably thinking he would never see us again.

“He’s very nervous,” the vet tech informed us when we came to pick him up.  “Yes, we are a nervous household,” I replied.

I hate hurting something so innocent.  It goes against everything I am, but it’s just something you have to do sometimes.  Hopefully that is the last horrible thing I will have to do to poor Alfie until he’s old and I have to kill him.

I’m depressed.   My therapist says that most men are depressed the day after they cut their dog’s balls off, and there is something to that, but I don’t think that is all this is.

I hate for Alfie to think I am anything but kind to him.    Kindness.  It’s something I write about a lot in this blog.   Lately, I fear kindness is losing.

I have lost the ability to have any understanding of how people are not alarmed by the horribleness of what is happening in this country.   It feels absolutely hopeless and impossible to get some people to understand what is going on.

People are defending putting children in cages because those awful “others” are coming in here illegally.   I have a hard time believing their lives are affected in any way by the immigrant situation.  I don’t believe immigrants are taking their jobs or killing or raping them, but they seem to believe these people should be punished in the most inhumane way possible.

These are the people who vote on the abortion issue alone.  They care about the fetus but not about suffering children of the world.  Why?

The most puzzling to me are the churchgoers who feel this way.  Not all of them do, of course, but there are way too many who defend this angry, belittlingly, administration that blatantly lies in ways that can be proved. Where the hell did Jesus say to be strong and turn your back on the least fortunate?

There are the people who support children in cages in one post on Facebook while showing pictures of their own kids happy in the next post.

They mock me and call me a snowflake because I am deeply troubled about the lack of compassion I see.

They seem to think America is great because we are sealing our borders even though we want to kill each other and ourselves inside those very borders more and more.

I think understand why the suicide rate is going up.  We are surrounded by intolerance and it is addictive–even if it is directed towards ourselves.

I don’t know how to go home and face relatives who think this guy is good.  I always try to see the other side but I’m exhausted.

I don’t know how to get people to wake up.  I honestly in every cell in my body don’t see why it is not obvious to everyone what is happening.

I used to not be able to understand how half of this country thought slavery was okay.  I used to not be able to fathom how Hitler convinced people that Jews were bad animals and needed to be locked up.

I can understand now but I wish I couldn’t.

And now a new Supreme Court Justice is to be picked and I start to wonder if one day I will have my right to be married taken away.

I think about leaving this country that others are desperately trying to get in but where would I go and what would I do?  Can’t the people who love Trump start their own angry country called Trumpy or Trumpada or Trumpland and seal their borders and do whatever they want?

That isn’t probably going to happen so what do I do?

Last week, my husband Saul and I were fretting past the point of no return about whether our dogs suture was healing and were taking daily pictures of his penis which I worry will be found on our phones one day and we will be arrested.  Saul misheard something I said.  I said caring but he thought I said carror.

 “That is the perfect word for what we are going through,” Saul said.  “Carror—Terror from caring too much.”

That is what me and many people I know are going through on a national scale.  We care about human dignity, and complex thinking, and personal dignity.   And we are terrified that  it is slipping away sometimes slowly and sometimes shockingly quickly.

Someone told me Hillary lost because it was all moving too fast.  “The gay marriage and the transgender bathroom…it was too much too soon.”  But is all moving at just the right pace for babies in cages?

So, I am to take a cue from our first lady’s jacket and I’m going to care less.

I’m going to care less about hurting people who are hateful.  I’m going to care less about doing the right thing.  Sara Sanders will for sure be kicked out of anywhere I am in control of.   I am going to care less about the religious small-minded hypocrites who denied me the right to marry for the large majority of my life.  I’m going to care less about polite family reunions.   If you want to be part of my family you need to earn your spot and show your humanity to me.

Maybe hat will leave room in my heart to care more for the helpless and vulnerable.

The first night Alife came home from the vet he was scared and in pain and disoriented from the anesthesia.   I slept next to him in a sleeping bag on the kitchen floor all night and soothed him when he woke up crying.  “It’s all right to afraid,” I would whisper to him.   “It’s the middle of the night.  It’s the worst it will be.  Morning will be here before you know it.”  Alfie couldn’t see it so I had to see it for him.

Right now,  I don’t know if the night I feel I am in will ever end.   But I can’t and won’t let my carror paralyze me.   I will fight and I will care as passionately as I am able and I will hopefully see the glimmer of a new day.  What the hell else can I do?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR – KEITH HOFFMAN has picture of his dog’s healing penis available upon request.

PUPPY PORN PART 2: WHEN THINGS GET HARD

I’m quite cranky today.

My husband Saul and I got a puppy a week ago Saturday and he has totally taken over our lives.

Now I know some of you are saying, “Keith!  That’s great‼  You went on and on ad infinitum in one of your blogs about how much you wanted a puppy and how Saul kept you from getting one.  And now you have one!  You must be so happy!‼”

Those of you who are saying that are on my nerves right now.

Yes, I wanted a puppy and, yes, I knew it would be hard at first to make the big adjustment, but things don’t get less hard even if you know beforehand that they are going to be hard.   It just lacks the element of surprise.

As Dickens wrote, “It was the best times.  It was the worst of times.”   Getting a puppy and the French Revolution are not as dissimilar as one might think.

This disruption’s…I mean this puppy’s….name is Alfie.  We didn’t come up with that name.  His foster family did, but we like it.  If it was a girl, I would have preferred Lulu or Elaine, but Alfie decided he was the one who was going to come into our lives.  The only problem with this name is people are going to say to us, “What’s it all about, Alfie?”  for the next 15 years. And when they do, even though we will have heard it a million times before, they will think they are being clever and we will have to politely laugh.   I already have people saying, “Did you find him yet?” when I say I produce Finding Bigfoot, and Saul has people saying, “Better Call Saul” to him constantly.   We both ALWAYS have people asking, “Are you two brothers??”   So this just one more burden we will have to bear.

It all started three Saturdays ago.   We had decided during our trip to LA, we were ready for a puppy—or maybe I just finally broke Saul’s spirit.  A neighbor told us about rescue puppies up for adoption at our local pet store so we decided to check it out.   As we drove there, I joked about coming home that day with a puppy.   When we got out of the car, Saul looked at me very seriously and said,  “I see you are getting crazy about this and I want you to be clear that we are only looking.  We are not getting attached to any dog.”

I hated the word choice of crazy but I nodded demurely.  I also hate telling a story with a predictable ending, but I think we all know how this is one is going to end

Before the pet store door was even shut behind him, Saul was in love with Alife and had him on his lap.   He practically begged the adoption woman to let us have him.  Alfie is an Australian sheep herder and Pointer mix.  He is also known as a healer.   I like that he is a healer.  Who couldn’t use a little healing?

The adoption woman played it close to the vest and told us there were others who wanted Alfie.  She dismissively said they would call us after reviewing our application.

I got the call from the adoption agency the next day and was grilled for almost an hour.  I felt like Hillary Clinton during the Benghazi hearings.   I tried to keep my composure and answer each question–even the gotcha questions–clearly and honestly.

The lady asking the questions was nice, though but she knew she had what we wanted.  Here is an example of her yielding her considerable power:

Adoption Lady: “Maybe you could do an Animal Planet show about our organization.”

 Me:  Yes.

 Adoption Lady:  Maybe your husband could paint some dogs for us.

 ME:  Yes.   

I said yes but I really wanted to scream, “JUST GIVE ME THAT FUCKING PUPPY, LADY!”

We picked Alfie up the following Saturday

Look, Alfie is adorable but (and I imagine babies are like this?) having a new life in the house is very jarring the first few days.  Our friend Marjorie said a new puppy is like a two-year-old running around the house with scissors.

Alfie doesn’t have a clue what to do to keep himself alive. Alfie would be a terrible stray.  He is smart but he is not street smart.  He would live about 10 minutes on his own.

And then there are the two cats.  The cats were Saul’s biggest hurdle to getting a dog.  I explained to him that they would not be happy the first few days but they would adjust.  Saul seemed to hear me, but when they freaked out on Day 1 and moved themselves to the basement.   He worried they would never come upstairs again.

“Of course, they will come back upstairs,” I said but was secretly worried myself.

Our cats are brothers:  Luke who I am very close to and Finn who Saul is very close to.  The funny part is that Finn (Saul’s favorite) is more like me and Luke is more like Saul

Finn and I are just a tiny bit more easygoing.  He came upstairs pretty quickly and made strides adjusting to Alfie the first day.  Neither Finn nor I like sudden change but we tend to be optimistic and adjust once we get over the first hump.   Finn does like to attempt to escape over the fence  to the neighbor’s yard quite a lot though.  For all our seeming easy-goingness, Finn and I  still have a few commitment issues.  We are ready to abandon before we are abandoned.  Or maybe we just like it when people notice we are gone and come after us.

When Luke and Saul get overwhelmed they retreat to the farthest and darkest reaches of the house (Luke planted himself up on top of the air conditioning ducts in the basement) and alarm everyone around them.  Luke carried his feather toy downstairs with him.  Even though he was apoplectic with worry, he wasn’t going to deny himself the simple pleasure of a cat toy.  In Saul’s case, he would have shut himself in the bedroom with Murder She Wrote downloaded on his computer and a bowl of chocolate Halo Top ice cream.

But a week later, all five of us have made great progress.  The cats are upstairs and, although certainly not in love with Alfie, have come to tolerate him being alive.

And there are a few good things about Alfie.

Saul and I like to each name three things we are grateful for each morning so I will end today’s blog by listing three great things about Alfie.

  • TAKING CARE OF VULNERABLE LIVES IS GOOD FOR THE SOUL—Alfie was shipped up from a kill shelter in Oklahoma and was severely hydrated and infested with fleas.   Once he arrives cats were freaked out and thrown off balance.    Making sure all three feel safe and secure and confident is maybe the most satisfying thing I can think of.  It makes me happy.   Gays at my age didn’t even dream of having kids.  It was a rare thing to adopt when I was in my 20’s and 30’s.  Now that I’m too old to have a child without having a heart attack by the kid’s first prom, I feel obligated to help these vulnerable animals.   I always make sure Alfie has plenty of water and is never thirsty again.   Also, Saul and I are also going to see the Rogers and Hammerstein musical Oklahoma! when it plays in Brooklyn this coming year to learn about Alfie’s people.

 

  • ALFIE AND LUKE AND FINN MAKE ME LOVE MY HUSBAND EVEN MORE—Saul may have been reluctant, but even in reluctance he is determined (maybe even more determined than me) to make sure Alfie feels welcome and the cats still feel part of the family. He even made a very detailed schedule for Alfie to follow each day to give him structure and routine.   (I ignore the schedule  when I’m home but still admire it).   He takes the brunt of puppy-rearing from Monday to Thursday when I’m working in New York City until I take over on the weekends.  The difference is that I am 72 miles away when I’m gone, so Saul is basically going it alone with these little guys.    I love how much he cares.  He was going to come to NYC for an event with me last Thursday night but cancelled because he felt Alfie was going be alone at home for too long.   I was frustrated at first because I thought Alfie would be okay, but how can I not love a husband who errs on the side of compassion?

 

  • ALFIE = COMMITMENT—Within basically a year Saul and I got a mortgage, two cats and a puppy we together. It makes it a lot harder for me to wonder what is on the other side of the neighbor’s backyard fence.

And that is a good thing.

And a healing thing.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:   KEITH HOFFMAN HAS DOGGIE TREATS IN HIS POCKET AND IS EXCITED TO SEE YOU