On the Bus #16 Jesus, Kindness and Coffee

I was walking through a very crowded Port Authority today and had the sudden thought that every single person in the very packed terminal would be dead one day including me. These are the kinds of thoughts I get from time to time.

I think about what I want to be remembered for. I hope I’m remembered for the book I’m slaving away on every day but also hope that, like my sister, I’m remembered for my humor and kindness. My sister is also remembered for the time she got drunk in a concert and got her head stuck in a fence, and for the time she was out mowing her lawn and didn’t realize her tube top had fallen below her boobs. I think the men in her neighborhood remember her most for that.

I know what you are thinking. My goodness, Keith. Another blog about kindness? Sorry. It’s either that or another blog about Trump.

A high school friend of mine related a very moving story to me the other day. She is a reader of this blog so I will protect her identity and give her an assumed named. I will call her Gladiola.

(Speaking of kindness my bus crush is back in the seat next to me  and just blessed me when I sneezed. I was very moved.)

Anyway, Gladiola got pregnant in high school at a time when that was a very big deal. No one got pregnant in our high school and she was not one of those girls from the wrong side of the tracks.  She wrote me last week and told me a story that I didn’t remember at all.

She said that on the day everyone found out about her condition, kids were gossiping and pointing and saying things about her behind her back. It was the darkest day of her life. Then she told me that in the last period of the day in speech class, I sat in the desk in front of her,  turned all the way around and faced her and said, “So what is new with Gladiola today?”.

She said me treating her like nothing happened saved her day.

I was so moved when I read that message. Since I had no memory of doing it and it was almost like I was reading about someone else. My memories of high school tend to be more about things like this big kid named Bob tying my belt loop to my chair/desk combo so when I stood up at the end of class the desk and chair came with me and I collapsed to the floor with the  furniture on top of me and the laughter of my classmates surrounding me.

I was surprised and relieved to discover that as a kid I was thoughtful enough to look out for a friend and not judge. And it was generous of Gladiola to share that story with me. I’m sure it’s not a day she loves to think about.  But now that story is a bond wewill forever have together (unless she reads this and sues me for libel or defamation of character.) By the way, Gladiola is a really amazing person and pretty much looks like the coolest grandmother in the world , so all those people who judged her in high school were way off the mark.

A heard another story this week about kindness.

A man in my recovery group we will call Ebenezer was standing outside his first meeting years ago  trying to decide if he should come back again or just keep on drinking himself to death. He wanted to smoke but his hands were shaking so badly he couldn’t light his cigarette. A woman came up and gently took his matches and cigarette.  She lit it and handed it back to him. He decided in that moment he would be back the next day. You never know how those little things can make a big difference.

I am far from perfect. Someone approached me when I went out for coffee today and tried to shake my hand and I knew he was about to launch into some kind of spiel asking for money. I felt my personal space being invaded and blurted out “I just want coffee! I just want coffee!” before getting up and walking away.  I felt horrible and guilty about it afterward. If he was Jesus in disguise, I am screwed.

I’m also really, really bad when people ask me to pick something up for them while I’m out running an errand. Like today if someone would have said “Can you get me a non-fat caramel latte while you are out getting  coffee with disguised Jesus?”, I would not only have said no but would have mostly likely secretly felt enraged that they had asked me. My friend Sara figured out this was because my big brother Greg used to demand I get him Doritos throughout my formative teen and preteen years. And he didn’t just do this when I was running out to the store. I could be watching TV or taking a bath and he would constantly harangue me with “Get me Doritos” “Get me Doritos” “Get me Doritos” over and over and over in an incessant monotone chant until I would finally snap and walk to the damn store to get him his damn Doritos. Even though I know this is why I hate getting people things now that I’m an adult, I don’t yet seem to be capable of change or movement forward on that issue.

But other than that, I do my damndest. My Aunt Jody and my previously mentioned sister are my role models. Aunty Jody is the nicest, holiest person I know. If I don’t make it to heaven because I was not gracious to that man in the coffee shop today, I know once she is there herself, she will put in a good word for me. There is a guy at my bus stop every morning who always wants to talk to me. He has an annoying voice and is not someone who would ever be a candidate for Bus Crush2. All I want to do in the morning at the bus stop is read my book. I’m reading about the making of the Broadway Sondheim 1971 play Follies right now which is every theatre geek’s dream book. But this annoying man wants to talk about the weather or if the bus is late, or how much he hates his job or my banana (my morning snack, you perverts). I was very annoyed until I told my Aunt Jody and she replied, “Maybe God put you there because that guy needs someone to listen to him.” Ever since then I stop reading and talk to him. It’s not as bad as I thought.

Two stories about my sister Julie:

!) She would tip people in parking lot booths “Are you supposed to tip them?” I asked the first time I saw her do this. “I don’t know but they have to stand in that booth all day smelling exhaust fumes, so why not?” was her reply.

2) She was vice president of a cemetery in Cincinnati and I once heard her demanding that her boss give a woman a free burial for her child. The woman had left her baby in the back seat of a hot car because she had picked up pastries for a staff meeting that morning and was off her routine and forgot. The entire city in my hometown seemed to hate her for leaving her baby in a hot car and accidentally  killing her own child. What kind of Mother does that? But Julie had compassion. “She has to live with that,” she told me. “And she has another child to raise so she can’t even kill herself.”

That’s why she is my role model.

I saw a post today asking for three words that express happiness. The words people used were things like God is Good, God loves me, Christ has delivered etc. That world they are from is such a foreign world to me. To me happiness is about connecting to each other here on earth. (My three words would either be STARRING TYNE DALY or BEA ARTHUR RESURRECTED. I guess the second one is a little bit religious).

My husband Saul and I have a friend Jen from my work who I got to know through a writing group I started in the office. She is shy and would admit herself that she is a bit of a curmudgeon. Last weekend she was in a writing competition up in Vermont about six hours away and asked us to come the night when they announced the winner.

Jen did two big things in Saul’s and my lives. She told us about the writer Mary Karr doing a workshop in Greece two years ago. We decided to go and it was a life-changing experience. My writing changed and got better from the workshop. She also told us about the bed and breakfast in New Hope called Porches on the Towpath that Saul and I began staying at before we moved here. Saul and I ended up loving the place so much that we got married there. But l hemmed and hawed about going to Vermont to support Jen,  and didn’t commit until we literally were pulling out of the driveway last Friday afternoon. “Okay you can text her now and say yes,’ I announced.

The drive was beautiful but the best thing was Jen ended up winning. We were thrilled to be there for her as no one else was able to make the long trip Who doesn’t need someone to cheer and hug them when they win a big prize?  I’m sure even Meryl Steep still wants someone to congratulate her.

So, when I’m gone remember me for something kind I did for you, or that time I made you laugh. At the very least  remember me for my boyish good looks. Just try to forget about the time I didn’t get you Doritos.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Keith Hoffman often worries that a cleverly disguised Jesus is out to get him. He lives in New Hope PA.

On the Bus #15 My Controversial Facebook Post

I am trapped in a huge swirling whirlwind of controversy! Well at least in my Facebook world which really isn’t that huge. (If anyone can help me expand my social media imprint please call, write or text.)

So, the other day I had just had It. I was so sick of reading the news and reading Facebook and being downhearted or offended or blown away by the hypocrisy I see every five minutes on my phone.

The biggest thing that makes my blood boil is unfairness. I think it comes from playing lots and lots of board games with my family whether it was Monopoly, Password, Masterpiece, or Mystery Date. (Mystery Date was really a game only me and my sister played. You went on a date and you were either  paired with a blonde guy in a tuxedo, a surfer dude or a rough looking dud. I loved the dud. I just knew I could change him for the better. And he was so dangerous and scruffy looking).

(Oh sorry, you are probably wondering how the bus is today. Well it’s a brand new  bus which should be exiting news,  but the back seat is only a two-seater instead of the preferred three-seater so there is someone right next to me. And worst of all, he’s  not my bus crush. I don’t think I have a crush on my  bus crush anymore. I looked him up on Facebook and he seems somewhat racist and a bad speller.)

When my family played games and had a question about a rule, we looked it up on the box  lid or in the printed-out directions that came with the game. Sometimes the rule was a bit vague and we would have to decide amongst ourselves, and would have long heated debates until we came to a conclusion. It was drilled into us that one  never ever broke a rule. That was a source of great pride.

When I got older and played with friends, I found that the rest of the world didn’t feel this way. People bent the rules or interpreted them their own way to their own benefit or even jokingly ignored them. Without fail, my reaction to this was furiousness. I found myself screaming and yelling at people which is not a personality trait people look for in a game night guest.

Here is what finally cured me of this.
One day I got into a fight with a friend while playing Scattagories and she left my house almost in tears. I felt awful. The next day I went to her house to apologize just as she was getting home from the doctor’s office where she found out she had cancer. Of course it was awful and terrible. I dearly loved her and the cancer was serious. A year later she was at the end of her life and we had long since made up, but I always felt guilty. One of the last things I said to her was that I was sorry I yelled at her about Scattagories. “It was really awful,” she replied. You can believe that cured me of game-fighting.

Still, I hate unfairness. I still resent that guy who pulled in front of my car and caused me to have an accident and then jumped out in his full-length  fur coat and announced I was making him late for an event. Then he told the insurance people that it was all my fault and he shouldn’t have to pay the deductible. I still seethe thinking about it.

(The stranger next to me on the bus just fell asleep with his head on my shoulder. You all don’t realize what I go through to get this blog out to you. It’s almost unfair.)

Saul knows how I react when he unfairly accuses me of something. Let me tell you about Saul. He is a lovely, charming man unless you pick a fight with him. Then he is in it to win it and will say pretty much anything to be the victor. Sometimes what he says is so outrageously unfair I almost am stunned by his creativity.

So, the other day I was sick of the hypocrisy on Facebook and, in my opinion, the blind defense of that crude narcissist in the oval office. Many people I know have deleted those old high school friends who feel differently than they do about religion and politics, but I think it is good to keep the dialogue open. But I’ve been getting discouraged lately. I see lots of posts about Jesus from the very same people who support Trump and his attack-and-bully manner of governing. One woman who praises God with every other post made a DACA “dreamer” joke—a joke about innocent children. I wish I could explain the feeling I get when I read these posts. I mean, really did Jesus ever use any child as a butt of a joke? Admittedly, Jesus doesn’t really seem like he was much of a joke-teller but still…

So, the other day I saw the report about Trump joking that Pence wants all the gay to hang. I am not a victim. I’ve been through a lot. But sometimes it just gets tiring. I was called names in school for not being masculine enough and never ever once did anyone reach out in my defense. In the 80’s AIDS was killing young innocent friends in their 20’s like my sweet friend David at a time when people didn’t know how to protect themselves. But many people didn’t care. Because wasn’t there something shameful about men having sex with men? And I took on that shame. At that point, I wouldn’t have even dreamed of being able to marry. It was just accepted that that was too much to ask because…really…isn’t being gay less than? My mother told me that if my father was alive he wouldn’t have accepted me. We actually fought about it. I never understood why she felt she had to win that argument. Give your son a break and lie a little sometimes.

At this age I’m getting sick of it being okay to make a gay joke. People are killed in other countries (and sometimes this country) for being gay. And I honestly feel that many of the religious people who want to be my friend at least on Facebook would never stand up for me if my right to marry my husband was taken away. (Even though Saul is a tough adversary in a fight, I do like being married to him.)

Again, I’m scrappy and I’m not saying poor me. I like being gay. If I wasn’t  gay I wouldn’t have gotten to see so many Broadway plays or truly appreciated women like  Elaine Stritch or Angela Lansbury or Beatrice Arthur.

And I assure you I didn’t choose this as some sort of lifestyle. The last thing I wanted in high school was to be different. I so wanted to be like all the other boys but instead I had a mad crush on my government teacher.

So  I posted this:
“To all my Christian friends. Thank you for all your support and outrage you expressed to me as your friend over this. Oh, wait you didn’t. Because you’re hypocrites. Sorry to interrupt you from worrying about who stands or kneels at football game. Much more important.”

Okay okay. I generalized Christians just like so many people generalize gays as overly emotional men who love musical theatre and strong older women actresses.

I almost took down the post but Saul encouraged me to keep it up. Saul has no issues putting up provocative posts. I think it’s that same gene that makes him unbelievably unfair in fights.

And then suddenly I got huge responses from people and I have to admit it was kind of uncomfortable. Lots of people cheered. One yelled Fake News! (I HATE the fake news thing. It’s so very convenient when you don’t like what you are hearing.) Some Christian reached out to me privately expressing their support and their hurt about the post.

I had a jumble of feelings and still do. I most definitely know some really great Christians. One officiated my marriage. Others live their lives quietly and don’t post overtly about their private faith or just do it in a quiet and humble way. I love my friend Jill from high school and Sheryl from high school and so many others who are good people who I would never mean to hurt ever. Oh, and Jackson–You are the best, my man! The best! I’m am honored and humbled to be friends to you and Jeannie.

So, no. I don’t hate Christians. I hate hypocrisy. And I think Jesus did too.

And Jesus got angry at hypocrisy especially in the name of religion and I think it’s okay finally at this point in my life to get angry too. I can’t help but wonder what Jesus would be like on Facebook

I protested in the 80’s but I wasn’t in front lines with those who fought for medicine for the men who were dying of AIDS. I did some marches for the right to marry but didn’t get my hands that dirty. I am just too damn afraid of offending and hurting.

But isn’t enough enough? Aren’t I responsible for confronting bigotry and hate and ignorance? Will I be judged at the end my life for not making a fuss or for making big change?  Were people who fought slavery afraid of offending?

My niece Jesse is my role model. She is a mom who works with drug addicts and, man, she doesn’t take shit from anyone. Maybe her guncle (that’s a gay uncle) can learn a thing or two from her

The gay rights movement was started in 1969 by some tough old drag queens who were tired of being harassed by the police

The civil rights movement was started in part by Rosa Parks who had had enough of the back of the bus (although it really isn’t so bad back here as long as it’s your choice—just speaking from experience)

They changed history.

So, I guess I’m starting to wonder if it’s more important to fight for what’s right than to be looked at as a nice guy.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Keith Hoffman is not taking your BS anymore!  He has two cats.

On the Bus #14 Bus Crash!

I was almost in a terrible bus accident on Monday.

Some city bus tried to get ahead of my bus on the interstate. It slammed into our side mirror and made the bus careen off the road as it tilted dangerously to the side.

It was quite dramatic. The entire bus screamed. I’ve noticed that when I have something scary happen while I am driving by myself in my car, I don’t scream. I get very quiet and focused. But when something scary happens on a bus, you scream. In a crowd, people are more apt to scream—a theatre, a roller coaster, a crashing bus—it makes it more of a shared experience, I guess.

The one upside of a deadly bus crash is that you wouldn’t die alone After this near fatal incident, my Bus Crush (see previous blog BIRDS OF A FEATHER where my Bus Crush is introduced) looked at me in shock and said. “Keith, we almost died!” I told him we would have to promise to save each other if there was ever a real fiery crash and he said “Keith, I’ve got your back.” My Bus Crush seems to start every sentence addressed to me with “Keith…” Maybe it’s a trick he learned about how to remember names. Maybe he likes saying my name. I probably think about it too much. If he knew how much I thought about it, he would probably say “Keith, stop thinking about it so much.”

Anyway, I’m glad he vowed to rescue me. He seems like a man of his word and since I’m older with a bum shoulder, I most likely will need help escaping from a fiery crash.

After texting Saul that I almost died in a crash just to remind him not to take me for granted I told him we need to get our will and other such things in order. Now that we are married and on the cusp of buying a house, things will get complicated when one of us dies. I would like to hope it’s me who dies first because I hate dealing with things like wills and stuff but it’s so hard to predict those kinds of things.

A good friend of ours named Amy Pickard started a business called Good to Go which goes over every single thing you may want or need dealt with when you die. And she makes it fun and pleasant. She doesn’t just deal with wills and who gets your crow statue collection (I want them donated to a school named in my honor—Keith Hoffman High) but also what songs you want at your memorial and who is in charge of throwing away that secret box in the back of your closet full of things you wouldn’t want your parents or children to see. We have scheduled a skype appointment with her this coming Friday and I will tell you more about it then. I will give her a shameless plug tough because she is a really cool chick doing a really cool thing.


It’s not the most fun thing to think about losing your loved one or them losing you. I’m sure if I go first, I will worry mightily about Saul and be very distracted with my heavenly duties while watching over him making sure he eats well, exercises, doesn’t isolate, or eat too much sugar. I will have to send him a lot of signs to remind him of these things. Basically, I will haunt him.

One of the toughest thing about having pets like cats and dogs is that there is a very good likelihood you will see them through the end of their lives. They are luckier than most other animals. I produced a series called Last Alaskans that took place in the remotest part of that state and one of the men who lived there said animals don’t die easy deaths in the wild. They don’t just quietly die of old age. I had never thought of that. I’m pretty sure wild animals don’t have memorials or look for signs of their dearly departed squirrel Aunt Sassy after she was run over by a speeding Toyota. I assume animals live in the moment. Our cats freak out when we toss them outside the bedroom in the middle of the night after they’ve decided to start obsessively licking our faces with their devilish sandpaper tongues. They are distraught and depressed until the minute I open the door in the morning. Then their world is back to normal.

I, on the other hand, would think about being shut out all night for the rest of the day or week or maybe year. And I would worry about the next time I may be locked out again. The cats don’t. They move on from the ordeal and then lick our faces at 3AM the next night all over again.

It’s hard to live each day as if it were your last but ride taking a dangerous bus four hours every day helps.

How would I live today if it were my last?

  • I would tell Saul I loved him.
  • I would tell him not to isolate, believe in his art, eat right and stay out of trouble or I will send him signs from beyond that are painful
  • I would regret I couldn’t eat one more Skyline chili dog in Cincinnati
  • I would text my dearest friends and say, ‘I’m dying today and I love you but don’t have time to talk”
  • I would try to write one last blog. I feel like it could be pretty deep, profound yet funny.
  • I would tell my bus crush I regret not seeing where this might have gone.
  • I would listen to Storms by Stevie Nicks
  • I would pet the cats.
    I would tell my mom and sister and dad to start lining up to greet me at the end of the white light tunnel because I will very much feel abandoned if they are not there
  • I would make Saul vow to publish my book posthumously and make sure he would feel guilty if he didn’t even though it will be a pain in the ass to do
  • I would post on Facebook that Donald Trump is the worst president ever.
  • I would regret all the books I never got to read
  • I would hold my husband’s hand a lot
  • I would ride my bike

Except for the bus crush scenario I pretty much do versions of these things most days anyway.

Things I wouldn’t do if I knew it were my last day alive:

  • Sex (I think I’d be too anxious and cranky)
  • Keep track of my Weight Watchers points
  • Yell at people (no strike that–I would still yell at litterbugs)
  • Call my brother, Paul. I hate when he gets sad and it would be hard to avoid mentioning it was my last day
  • Worry about the future
  • Brush my teeth (sorry Saul—it may make all that hand-holding challenging.)

So, since I don’t know if I will actually make it home safe on this bus how should I approach my day?

Saul and I have a code word (not a safe word—get your minds out of the gutter). It’s Fire Pit. (Okay it’s actually two code words)

When we first started dating, we traveled to Phoenicia in upstate New York near Woodstock for our very first romantic weekend. I rented the place we were staying at and was very much trying to impress Saul. When we opened the door, it was a fluorescently lit tile room with stucco walls and a tiny TV that was about the size of my hand. Worst of all it had bunk beds. Bunk beds are not romantic no matter how many top or bottom bunk jokes you make. I am not always great at looking at the details when ordering things online. I am often disappointed when I open an Amazon package.

The room was awful

In fact, the entire first day was awful. We were trying our best but couldn’t seem to find our grove and our first weekend was looking like it would be a disaster.

“Let’s go on a walk,” I suggested that night.

We walked out in the damp air (yes, it was raining too) and climbed an incline to see what was on top. We came upon a fire pit and were presently surprised. There was some dry wood so we lit it up and sat by it and warmed up our body and souls. We leaned against each other and held hands. This was the romance we were looking for and it was all the sweeter because it hadn’t come easily.

“We have to remember this moments,” Saul suggested. “Whenever things are feeling rough, we have to remind each that you never know where the fire pits might be.”

We do remember and we do often remind each other to look for fire pits today.

So, whether this is your last day or your 5000th to last day I just want to remind you all to look for your version of your fire pit today.

Happy Friday the 13th!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR—Keith Hoffman would like his ashes spread over Tyne Daly

On the Bus #13–Birds of a Feather

I had brunch with Saul’s (and now my) niece and nephew last Sunday at a place called Community. I liked the name of the restaurant and it got me thinking.

(Oh, just to catch you up–I am on the bus and I’m next to my favorite bus companion—no nose-picker to bedevil me today. This guy and I share a bond. “No one understands the three-seater next to the bathroom is the best seat on the bus” he proclaimed the other day. How could I not love him? Besides, he is handsome. I have what is known in my transit world as a bus crush. Bus crushes are usually pretty harmless. I would like to think he has a bus crush on me and is sad on days I don’t ride the bus  praying I will leap on at the last minute–but that is probably not the case. He probably has a girlfriend. But he did ask to borrow my charger case for his phone a few weeks ago which in my book is a gesture of courtship. My bus crush even talked on his phone for about 15 minutes one evening and I didn’t mind. He was coaching one of his buddies on how to get a job. He seemed very helpful. He had a cold and kept coughing on the very same ride but I didn’t mind that either. I worried about his health. Saul knows about my bus crush. Saul doesn’t seem to get too nervous about any of my crushes. He just rolls his eyes and sighs. I don’t think Saul realizes that I could be a sexual threat if I wanted to be. I could be too if I wasn’t so tired from riding the bus.)

Where was I? Oh yes, community… I think about it a lot now that we moved to New Hope. Saul and I think we are the best thing that has happened to New Hope in a long time. We may be incorrect but it’s what gets us up and out of bed in the morning

During these times when that guy in the White House seems more interested in dividing rather than uniting us, and mass shootings and catastrophes are the order of the day, community feels pretty vital.

I was thinking about the communities in my life. I have writers group which is really just a way to bond with others in a field where you do most of your work in solitude (or next to your bus crush). Then there’s the office where you all have a shared goal. When I had to deal with addiction issues the main thing that helped me get myself together and stop was being part of a community of other people who had stopped. And now I try to help others stop too. I think the best thing about churches is that they give people a sense of community. I wish some of them didn’t try to force me to become part of their community or try to shove their believes down my throat, but I’m glad for them when they do good for themselves and others and try to look at them with a forgiving heart.

A lot of people think there is no community in New York City, but there is. In fact, New York is really a series of communities. When I lived in Brooklyn, I had my regulars on my block—the ladies at the Korean laundry who were always in awe of how much dog hair I had on my clothes; the  guy at the shoe repair,  the waitress at our favorite Turkish restaurant and the guy from Yemeni who ran the corner deli. And then I had a larger group of friends from all over the city who looked out for me  and buffered me when life got particularly rough.

But I have to admit it is different in a small town like New Hope. After we lived in New Hope just a few months, Saul and I went on vacation to Greece.  On the day we left, four people form town showed up to see us off. The weird thing is I didn’t mind. In NYC I may have thought they were casing the joint but in New Hope I truly felt like they would miss us when we were gone.   You can see why we have such a big head about our popularity the town.

(My bus crush is playing a video and it’s making a lot of noise but it’s okay. Maybe he forgot his headphones today. Everyone makes mistakes.)

Saul and I just had our first-year anniversary. Last year we saw a lot of egrets along the river on our wedding day.  We  looked up their meaning and symbolism on the internet. Egrets mean independence. We took that to mean we still  need to be individuals even though we were now joined in marriage.

But this second year we are focused on community.

We had a great of example of why community is important to us just this last Sunday. We had been planning a special anniversary dinner using a gift certificate at the restaurant where we had our wedding. We made the reservation and cleared our schedule for our very special dinner.

Then about three hours before dinner, we got a text from Masha,  the wife of Saul’s best friend Drue. Drue was Saul’s best man at our wedding and Saul’s was his at his wedding. I had also officiated Drue and  Masha’s wedding. The text read. “Hi, we are on our way back home from VA and were wondering if you are in New Hope today?”’

I hate spontaneity.

In my book spontaneity is up there with suffocating a person with a pillow.

Spontaneity is a threat.

Of course, they can’t come was my first thought. Let’s hide from them under the bed.  But Drue was coming back from burying his mom’s ashes and people really don’t just come through New Hope that often so…we decided to add two more people to the reservation for our romantic anniversary dinner. What’s a romantic anniversary dinner without a grieving son?

Then I got another text from Saul who was painting at his gallery down the block. He was concerned about our friend David who had just had brain surgery. David had come out of the surgery with flying colors a few weeks  earlier after being very concerned beforehand that he wouldn’t be himself when he got out of the OR. The town rallied around him before during and after and it was inspiring to see.  I assumed after everything came out okay, he would be thrilled to be alive but apparently, it really knocks you for a loop when you have your brain operated on and have to confront your own mortality head-on. Who knew? So, David had seemed a little down and Saul was worried. Should we invite him to our romantic dinner?  I  texted back. Why not? Saul replied. But don’t tell him it’s our anniversary dinner. He will think he is intruding and won’t come.  So I cheerfully lied to David (or at the very least witheld important information) and invited him to dinner.

(My bus buddy just pulled out a bag of cheerios and is crunching them loudly. I guess every relationship has its tests. I mean what’s a little crunching, right?)

That night we went to the restaurant and celebrated our anniversary.  David and Drue who had both gone through painful periods in their life where able to laugh with the rest of us.  It was the most fun intimate romantic dinner I had had in a long time.

(Oh my god. Bus buddy just started taking to me. I think he wants to sell me some software that translates languages or something—I don’t know exactly what he is talking about but I’m pretending to be interested. He also asked what I write about every day. I almost told him about my blog but then I would have to delete this post. If it disappears one day you will know he is my Facebook friend).

I had no regrets about our very crowded anniversary meal. Marriage is hard. Well, I guess I can’t speak to anyone else’s, but I think it’s great and wonderful but it takes a lot of work. Maybe calm and stoic people have easy marriages requiring tiny bits of maintenance but calm and stoic have never been used in the same sentence as Saul and Keith are…

During out wedding, my best friend Leanne who is a minister led the ceremony. She knows how much I love crows and produced two crow feathers as if by magic (trust me–the crowd gasped in amazement and applauded—I heartily recommend her for your next wedding or baptism.) She said the feathers were a reminder that Saul and I need to lift each other up in hard times. But sometimes one of us needs more lifting than the other and sometimes both of us need to be lifted up and don’t have the strength to help each other. That is when we count on our community to swoop in and catch us both. I love that Saul gets help sometimes on how to deal with me, and I suspect he likes that I have help with how to deal with him.

So have crowded intimate dinners every once in awhile.   Swoop in on people when they are down and let them swoop in on you when you are down.

Find your flock and fly.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR—Keith Hoffman wonders if his bus crush is secretly writing about him in a blog.

On the Bus #12 In Case of Emergency

In case of emergency, please stay calm.

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

Staying calm is not my strong suit.

Sometimes everything in life feels life an emergency.

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

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

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

But at home it is a different story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See…that is catastrophic thinking.

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

But here’s one story I do like:

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

He eats it.

“How delicious!”

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

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

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

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

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Keith Hoffman is worried.

On the Bus #11 Searching For Home

It’s very frantic on the bus today.

Well, actually the bus is pretty calm except for the middle-aged man wearing earphones singing loudly to whatever song he happens to be listening to. I mean, really? Does he not understand by his age that the entire bus can hear him singing You’re The Only Woman That I’m Dreaming Of off key? (Ambrosia? Seriously?)  Why don’t people have more shame?

I keep yelling NO! every time he feebly warbles out a random line from an 80’s song, but of course he can’t hear me.

Actually, just my head is frantic. Somehow this week with no build-up or warning,  my husband Saul and I decided we needed to buy a house.

Suddenly we are obsessed.

We are on a house-hunting bender. I’m starting to have blackout periods where I wake up clutching brochures about homes with charming gardens and adorable skylights.

No one warned me that once you started looking for a house and you are a couple prone to obsession that there is no way you can just casually look for a house. Houses are all  I think about now. Houses are all I want to talk about. I want to quit my job so I can focus solely on looking for the perfect house, but then I am pretty sure that would hurt my credit score which would mean I would be only eligible for a hovel or a tasteful cardboard box.

At first I was wary about buying a house for a few reasons.

One reason is that I wanted to wait until I was an adult. I do realize that this is a lot like the time I took my 20-year-old cat to the vet and she asked if I was feeding him senior cat food. “Not yet,” I replied. “What exactly are you waiting for?” she asked.

Clearly, I have some denial issues when it comes to aging.

I confided to a friend a few weeks ago about  the other reason I have some hesitation.

“I would really be entangled with Saul if we buy a house. It makes the relationship feel much more serious.”

“Um…you do realize you are married to him, right?”

Right. I keep forgetting this gay marriage is actually a real thing.

This entire house thing started with a seeming innocent  flyer Saul sent to me.

I looked at it and texted back, “I’ll call and make an appointment. Just for fun!”

This was last Friday.

I was so, so naïve last Friday.

Since then we have looked at about 15 houses. Well, at least Saul has. He does “first looks” and then sets up meetings for me to see second-look-worthy houses the minute I’m off this damn bus. I never minded this bus ride until it became a deterrent to me looking at houses.

You learn a lot about houses, the town you live in, yourself, and your partner when you house hunt.

Suddenly you discover vaulted ceilings are very important to you even though you have never thought about them before in your life. “Well, I suppose I could do without them, but it would be a burden,” you hear yourself saying. If only the poor people in the slums of New Delhi or families who lost everything in the recent hurricanes had hardships such as these.

Never did I think I would be asking questions about sump pumps or Googling “Can Sump Pumps Breed Mosquitoes?” to allay the fears of your paranoid…I mean…concerned husband.

I will say one thing. Saul and I have been doing well in this new adventure. We listen to each other and don’t force the issue if one of us doesn’t like a place. Making decisions like this is a constant push and pull between two people.  It’s one more opportunity to learn to let go and to compromise.


This is especially admirable for me. I am an Aries. I want a new house by Friday. I want a new house. Now. Now. Now! Make offers on them all! I frantically scream at Saul on Facetime. We don’t want to lose any!

But he usually talks me down, and I then I have to learn to be patient all over again.

This house-hunting frenzy is our current landlord’s fault. If they had just let us have a Great Dane puppy we would have probably rented this cute place we are in until we died. You should know when you rent to a guy who works at Animal Planet he will want animals. Saul and I want a few dogs to go with our two cats. And if they only have one eye or no legs– even better. We like quirky people, places, and animals.

The most interesting thing I didn’t’ really expect from this week of looking for a new home is that Saul and I are defining ourselves as couple.

We definitely don’t want a cookie-cutter abode. We moved to New Hope (and I ride the bus for an hour and a half to and from NYC each day) because we love the kooky uniqueness of New Hope and its sister town across the river, Lambertville. We want a home that is funky and unusual where I can write and Saul can paint and we can have guests stay over in their own little cute room.

In a way, we have our own “brand”.  This house is not very Keith and Saul we find ourselves saying and we know what we mean.

The other day we found the cutest condo, and our agent urged us to make an offer. It was in a private community where many people suggested we look on a hill high above the town of New Hope.  The condo was very nice and smelled delicious. I’ve come to realize this is some sort of trick. Every house you look at seems to smell delicious. Who doesn’t want to live in a place that smells of cinnamon buns?

“Hurry before someone snatches up!” our realtor sternly yelled in my face snapping me out of my hot breakfast pastry fantasy. But Saul and I took a deep breath and said we needed to mull it over.

My very stylish lesbian cousin Melissa taught me at a young age not to buy clothes unless you tried them on and really, really loved them. Anything you aren’t sure about ends up hanging in the closet. Surely the same rule applies to houses.

So, Saul and I said we would wait until morning to make our decision. And we walked over to the house late that night at around 11pm. Here is a tip I will pass on to you. ALWAYS go look at the house you are considering at night before making your final decision. It tells you a lot. Is it noisy next store at 11pm? Are there big lights glaring in your potential backyard from the apartment complex behind your house? Does that charming home that borders your yard seem more like a crack den once the sun goes down?

We walked up the steep hill to the cute condo. It is a very steep hill. It’s a little bit how I imagine Mount Everest must be like to climb.  I would be climbing it on my walk home from the bus stop every evening. We walked around the condo. It was surrounded by other condos and parking lots full of cars.

I realized the charm on the inside didn’t reflect the charm on the outside especially at night.

I got a sinking feeling in my gut.  This community could be anywhere in the United States.

I didn’t say anything. Saul had loved the place and I hated to have to break his heart and tell him I couldn’t live there unless I wanted my soul to die a little every day.

“I don’t think we can move here,” Saul suddenly announced. This place is great for someone else but it’s not “Keith and Saul.”

“Oh, thank god!” I said almost crying with relief. “I hate it here! Let’s go home!”

We held hands as we walked down the steep hill.

Maybe I was entangled with the right guy after all.

Right in that moment, I had never felt more at home in my life.


On the Bus #10–Two Snowflakes in Oregon

Wednesday, September 13th

I’m back on the bus and am glad to be heading home from NYC to New Hope, PA.

I got off a plane last Monday night at midnight and got to sleep at 1:30 AM.  I got up at 5 AM to catch my 6:30 bus on Tuesday morning,  and then stayed all night in the city on Tuesday night. It will be nice to go home and reacquaint myself with my cats and my bed.

I don’t mind pushing myself. What I do mind is the people in the seats in front of me chatting loudly.   Why don’t people understand the bus rules?

When I was in Bruges,  Belgium a few years ago waiting in line at  The Basilica of the Holy Blood to see what is supposedly the blood of Christ contained in a little vial, there was an ancient woman who walked up and down the line whose job was to sternly shush people who talked. I fell in love with her and her power. I wanted to be her. Maybe if things don’t work out with my job, I could freelance as a bus rule enforcer.

Today, I’m a little rattled because I got a random instant message from someone I haven’t spoken with since high school.  The message read,  “STUPID, SNOWFLAKE, LIBERAL ELITIST”.

That was it. That was the full extent of the message. Not even a “Hi, how are you? Long time, no see. You are a stupid, liberal snowflake elitist and I like you better without a beard. Call me sometime so we can catch up!”

I guess he had some point to make and not a lot of time to make it?

It’s not that he was entirely wrong.

I am liberal.

And I don’t mix with other people on the bus so I also have to cop being an elitist.

I take umbrage to stupid though. I had the third highest GPA in my class behind Cathy Obermeyer and Randy Beck. Plus, I just used the word umbrage in a sentence. How stupid is that?

Now, I never understand why snowflake is supposed to be a derogatory term so maybe that makes me stupid? Don’t people love to catch snowflakes on their tongue and don’t they admire their uniqueness? Are they bad because they melt? Who would want snow around all the time?

Anyway, I had a crush back in high school on the guy who sent me this message so I guess it’s nice to know he is still thinking of me.

I was on a plane Monday night because I went to Oregon to visit my husband Saul’s father. I have spent a lot of time with Saul’s sister,  but only a brief dinner with his father and mother. They are long divorced so this visit was really the first in-depth time I have spent with either one of his parents.

You learn a lot when you meet your husband’s family. There are a lot of oh that’s why he does that! moments. That’s why he loves animals! That’s where he got his artistic talent! That’s why he yells at me when I stand too close to him when I brush my teeth.

I still don’t know why he clanks his bowl so loudly when he eats his Halo Top ice cream. Maybe a visit to his mother one day will  give me some elucidation (elucidation–see how SMART I am, Mr. High School Crush??)

There is something very wonderful seeing the home where the person you love grew up. One of Saul’s most wonderful traits is his childlike enthusiasm, so it wasn’t hard to imagine him as a curious little snake-loving boy playing in an ally and picking blackberries from the bushes growing along the fence, or hopefully planting a redwood tree that is now towering over the neighborhood. It was a visit to the innocence that he was and that deep down under that big beard, he always is. When you can see a person as an innocent child you get a glimpse into their truth.

The trip was going amazingly well until our second last day when a rather heated debate flared up between Saul and his stepmom at dinner. Anger and hurt quickly ignited into a wildfire like the ones that had been raging though Oregon causing heavy smoke to hang over our heads for most of the trip. I excused myself from the table as they both began turning to me to agree with the point they were trying to prove and I melted under the pressure like a snowflake. (Ah! I see what my old high school crush was talking about!)

Saul soon joined me a few minutes in our guest room and announced rather assertively, “You have to take my side on this!” I was grateful for the clear direction. I annoy friends by often trying to look at both sides of the issues. “Maybe people who deny climate change weren’t loved by their fathers” type thing.

But I took Saul’s direction and let him be upset. I realized I was mired deep in family dynamics that had been there way before I was a gleam in my husband’s eye so for once it was easy not to take the situation personally. Still, I felt trapped like that rock climber who got stuck wedged in a rock and had to saw off his arm to escape. I longed  to sneak out the guest room window and run through the desert until a helicopter found me or I died. (I had no idea until last week there was desert in Oregon which is probably why I was only third smartest in my high school class. I bet Cathy Obermeyer and Randy Beck knew that).

But I stuck with it and Saul stuck with it and I suggested he keep his side of the street clean which is always good advice if you ask me.

The  final meal was much better although there was still a bit of tension which I tried to break up with my nervous prattling. “My! This butter is delicious, isn’t it? It’s so buttery and delicious, right? Wow how about this weather?”

That little drama was flashy part of the trip. The moments I will remember most are the quiet ones. One day early on Saul asked his dad, “Was I a bad child?’ His dad paused and finally said, “You weren’t really a parent’s child.”

To me that wasn’t a cruel thing he was saying. It felt like a truly authentic moment between father and son. Saul is his own man and his own independent spirit and I suspect he always was and even after we are married a gazillion years always will be. I’m not sure his father would have admitted to being child’s parent either. But the two got thrown together in this life and did the best they knew how.

The other moment that stands out (besides the afternoon Saul and I climbed to the top of this impossibly high peak of some humongous rock called Smith Rock—it is not as innocuous as the name sounds. It is annoyingly steep, but Saul had mentioned that some muscle boyfriend he brought years earlier couldn’t make it to the top. You can bet I was going to get to that damn peak even if I died after getting there). Anyway, the other significant moment I remember was when Saul’s father told me a story about when he took Saul and his sister into the Amazon and they stayed with a local family  that lived quite humbly. On the day they left, Saul gave his Walkman to their delighted little girl. His dad’s eyes glistened as he told me this. “It was a perfect moment.”

I got what he was saying. In families and friendships and deep relationships we see each other at our best and our worst and we love and admire and judge and fight and forgive over and over and over. The relationships that withstand the test of time seemed to have these elastic bands that connects them. We can pull away and stretch it to the limit but  eventually we return to each other. As far as I can tell that band is made  of forgiveness.

Saul and I survived the steep rocks and rocky moments.

On the last night  of the trip we stood outside and looked at the stars. We weren’t able to see them any of the other nights because of the awful smoke from the fires, but on that last day the smoke cleared and the stars appeared as if by magic.   The entire sky was practically white.

I held my husband’s hand as we stared up.

I suspect sometimes we all wonder if we are a good child, a good friend, a good parent, a good spouse and talented at what we do. And we need those witnesses no matter how imperfect they may be–those friends and family members and spouses who have stuck with us through the fights and tears and the smoky days to remind us that deep down we are those generous, sensitive boys  or girls who planted trees or gave away our Walkmans–—that behind the smoke our stars are still shining.

I would love to say that at that very moment a snowflake fell from the sky but that would take artistic license to an unacceptable level.

I will say that instead of thinking of the guy from high school as the guy who sent me that hateful note, I will remember the cool boy I had an innocent  crush on.

Maybe some of that remembered innocence will heal both our hearts.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR–Keith Hoffman is a stupid, snowflake, liberal elitist.

On the Bus #9-Together Alone

It’s a melancholy ride on the bus today.

My thoughts are of Houston where I have many friends whose lives are in turmoil.  I grieve for the animals who were left stranded and who are the epitome of innocence, and feel disgust towards  those who deliberately abandoned their pets leaving them  chained up or  in kennels. They  are the opposite of innocence.  My friend Eddie said he would die before leaving his cat behind.  I know that is true.  I know my husband Saul would too.  That is a big reason I love him.  I’m also pretty sure who would win if Saul had to choose between me and the kittens  but I love him anyway.

I would also probably die with my  kittens but I would be resentful towards them.

A woman on the street this morning in NYC was asking for money to get out of town before the apocalypse.  That was the best reason I’ve heard in a long time.

I’m also melancholy on the bus because 9 years ago today, my sister Julie was in a coma after having an aneurism.  She died on September 5th, 2008.  I love my big sister but am annoyed she ruined Labor Day Weekend forever.

Everyone Else:   I’m going tubing this weekend and then to the beach!  What are you doing?? 

Me:  Sitting on the couch in the dark feeling sad.

 I suppose I should be grateful it wasn’t Christmas or my birthday when she died, but actually September 5th is  her favorite nephew’s birthday so the timing was pretty crappy.  When she greets me at the end of the tunnel of white light to show me around the hereafter,  I plan on being  a little cold and aloof with her at first so she’ll know I’m annoyed.

I was very, very close to my sister and her death was the most shocking thing that happened to me.  Ok, I take that back.  My dad dying of a heart attack (i.e. alcoholism) was a big shock to me too and gave me a lifelong fear of abandonment–so he might win.

When someone very close to you dies, you are thrown into a kind of grief club whether you want to be or not.   You realize right away that there are people who have been through what you went through and understand what you went through.  At least that is what happened to me.

The awful thing that started happening the week after Julie died is that I began rating people’s grief.

Oh,  your sister died?  My great great aunt died at 110 so I know how you feel!” 

 No.  No, you don’t.

The main way I knew  if people were in the grief club is if they know how to handle my grief.   Really, all they needed to do was nod their head sadly and let me be sad.  That’s how I knew  they understood.

A surprising number of good  people didn’t know what to do and would without fail change the subject awkwardly.

Me:   I’m sad because I’m missing my sister.”  

Them:  Aren’t  grapes delicious?

The week after Julie died, my mother refused to answer her phone.     In fact, on the way to my sister’s funeral, my mom announced assertively in the car that she wanted NO HUGS.  This was difficult because she was in a wheelchair and people were approaching her from all sides as I tried to run interference.  I was about to hang a sign around her neck with a circle and a slash with the word HUGS in the middle when  she finally relented and pretty much hugged every person at the very large funeral.

I don’t’ want to brag, but my sister’s funeral was SRO.

So anyway, that week I was designated as the unwilling phone answerer.  People who called with condolences said some pretty dumb things.

An old friend of my mothers told me it was “too bad” that Julie didn’t go to another hospital because she heard about someone who went to that other hospital and survived their aneurysm.

Thank you??

Another person—this one an ex-girlfriend of my brother’s–said she was sorry about my sister and then added  I just want you to know that  I know you are gay and I am okay with it.

 Again.  Thank you??!

People are stupid.  Well, no that’s not true.  Although I do question the intelligence of people who voted for a certain person I will not name and still think he is doing a good job.   But for a long time, I got really ,really mad at people who said dumb things about Julie dying or changed the subject.

But then one day I understood.   I realized that they didn’t know how to fix my grief.  They didn’t know how to make it okay.  And they felt helpless—just like so many of us do about Houston.  I began forgiving them when I realized that.   I mean, really what did I want?    Did I want someone they adored to die so they could understand me?

Nine years later I am not so sad.  The wound is here but as wise people told me at the time it doesn’t go away but it gets different.  The best I can say is that the horror and shock fade and the pain becomes sweeter as the good memories and the love shared become bigger than the pain of loss.

But the grief always  comes back  in a rush on Labor Day weekend and stings  a little bit more.  I am especially sad Saul will never know my wonderful sister.  No  matter how much I describe her, it’s like describing a kitten to someone who has never seen a kitten.  It’s impossible to do it justice.

It has soft fur and a teeny face and it mews and does this thing called purring and you just can’t help but love it!

My sister was nothing like a kitten but was just as lovable.  But if you didn’t know her, you’ll think I’m partial because I am  her little brother.  That’s the  frustrating part.

Before my mom died, she told me she was worried I would forget my sister.   She doesn’t have to worry about that.  She also gave me a picture of Julie holding my brother’s dog in her back yard to remember her by.   “This is the last picture ever taken of her.”

I wanted to tell her that technically it wasn’t the last picture ever taken of Julie .  It wasn’t even close.  Julie had a lot of pictures taken of her after this one but why quibble with a frail, ill grieving mother?

So, this weekend I will listen to Julie’s  favorite band Crowded House.  I will look at her pictures with Saul.

Julie  taught me to find laughter in pain and to be nice.  She would have reminded me to be nice to Saul a lot.  She would have told me to forgive him for clanking his spoon so  loudly when he eats  his Halo top ice cream. (It’s so loud!)  She would have been happy I wasn’t dating guys in their 20’s anymore.  She just thought it sounded exhausting.

I will think  of Julie and I will think of Houston and I will think of that lady who wants out of New York before the apocalypse.   I will think of the gentle humanity that connects us and not the cruelity and bullying that competes for our attention.

If reincarnation is true, this planet has to be an advanced course that we all decided to sign up for.

I’m pretty sure Julie graduated with honors.

Together Alone by Crowded House:


The not last picture of Julie that hangs next to my desk at home.




On the Bus #8 –Food on the Bus and Jesus in Your Heart

A well-meaning person told me yesterday that if I’m going to be writing a blog, I should be teaching something or offering some tips or some type of information. I was surprised by this comment (which felt an awful lot like thinly-veiled criticism.)

I thought it was clear that this blog offered a lot of very good advice about how to ride on a bus. Something that apparently, a lot of people need to know. Today’s lesson seems like it would be common sense but I find several commuters a week are totally ignorant of it.


Easy rule, right? Absolutely no gray areas. If you are hungry, sit down and eat and take the next bus. Or better yet, plan your day better. This rule applies to the subway too. This morning, I got a prime seat on the F train only to have a woman sit next to me and pull out a big, fat, sloppy, aromatic burrito. This was at 9AM and it wasn’t even a breakfast burrito. She had it out smack in the middle of the filthy subway and was stuffing it in her mouth with a large majority of it spilling out all over the napkin on her lap. I had a seat directly next to this carnage and noted a frenzied look of almost sexual ecstasy on her face as she swallowed each bite.

That was enough to pretty much ruin my day, but then on the bus tonight just moments ago a well-dressed woman plopped next to me and pulled out a noisy bag of some type of super extra crunchy vegetable chips. CRUMPLE CHOMP CRUMPLE CHOMP CRUMPLE CRUMPLE CHOMP.

In both instances, I stood up and moved, but I fear my withering glare did nothing to teach them a lesson. I’m assuming they are beyond help anyway. I mean, they are eating on public transportation for Christ sakes.

Maye I am a little tense this week because I am still recovering from my trip home to see my family in Ohio and Indiana

Don’t’ get me wrong. I had a great time but trips home are challenging even when they are good. Trudging through the emotional landscape with all its ghost and emotional booby traps is exhausting.

The first hurdle occurred when we stopped for chili at the Ohio/Indiana border. If you grew up in Cincinnati, the city’s distinctly special chili was usually the first thing you tasted after breast milk. It has cinnamon in it and is always topped with tons of grated cheese. I loved the Cheese Coney’s with onions but there were also three-ways (spaghetti, chili and cheese) four-ways (with beans or onions) and five-ways (with beans and onions). You can imagine how embarrassing it was when someone invited me to a five-way shortly after I moved to New York and I showed with a cheese grater.

As a young kid, I used to peek over the counter and watch the grown up high school boys expertly pull wieners out of the steamer and place them in a bun before ladling chili on top of them, then onions and finally a big glob of cheese. Those boys looked like they had the world on a string. I yearned for the day when I could make Cheese Coney’s at Skyline. I never achieved that goal and it’s one of the biggest regrets of my life. I was the head slicer at Roy Rogers Roast Beef in college but that’s like doing community theatre when you dream of being on Broadway.

Anyway, Skyline Chili is the best chili by far in the city and my husband Saul and I drove 642 miles thinking about it. Oh yes, I forgot to tell you, we drove. I have enough public transpiration in my regular life that I try to avoid it by all costs when on vacation. You are allowed to eat in the car FYI, but you should wait until you are married to the person you are eating next to. (See how many tips are in this blog??)

Where was I? So, the Skyline Chili we had been driving 642 miles to get to ended up having a private event and we were forced to go to Goldstar Chili down the street. Everyone in Cincinnati knows that Goldstar Chili is the inferior chili. The decision to go there was a rash one that we made when we were emotionally vulnerable, and we regretted it immediately. The chili was gray and the spaghetti in the four-way was limp. The bathroom was dirty and worst of all FOX NEWS WAS PLAYING ON THE TV OVER OUR BOOTH!

We realized we were in another world. Fox News would NEVER be on the TV in New York or New Hope. As I gamely chewed my coney, Mike Huckabee was above  Saul’s head talking about how Black Lives Matter was just as bad as Nazis. I wanted to throw up my chili for very many good reasons.

I looked around at the crowd at the chili parlor and saw that on one else was even slightly alarmed. I knew they all thought Trump was sane and that people like me and my husband were the crazy ones. As I swallowed the last bit of my wiener, I felt rather hopeless. It was starting to seem like this country will never be on the same page again. I began to fantasize about peacefully breaking into two countries.  They can have Trump, and we’ll find our own non-lying non-narcissist leader. If we want to join in the reality show tradition, maybe we’ll elect a judge from Dancing With the Stars. The only issues I can see is that it will be a pain to need a passport to travel from state to state and the consequences of Trump’s denial of Global Warming and his reckless attitude about Nuclear War will not be contained to only his states.

I keep trying to understand the other side even though it makes my husband annoyed. Trips home are challenging when you are married. We always have one whispered fight in the middle of night where we end the marriage and plot our contentious divorce.  We were fine by the morning when my sister-in-law makes us homemade egg dishes.

Sometimes I think Facebook is the cause of all the added tension in the country. It’s easy for the other side to think we libtards are running around convincing women to abort their babies even as they are about to go into labor. It’s easy for us to believe the entire rest of the country is full of Nazi’s and White Supremacist or high school friends who want me to accept Jesus into my heart. (This has been the goal of certain of my friends since I was a young Catholic. Catholics aren’t as uptight about Jesus being in your heart. We are like the Jews in that it’s more important to learn rituals and feel guilty about things you did or didn’t do. Neither Judaism or Catholicism seems intent on recruiting others into the fold either. It’s very hard to convert to either religion. In my family, religions who tried to convert me always seemed a little desperate and clingy.)

Saul likes to look at Facebook while he is riding with me in the car. Out of the blue he will say things like “Do you think Nazi’s should lose their job?” It’s a hard question. I think people who eat on public transportation should lose their jobs so why not Nazi’s too?

But when I spent the day at the family reunion, I was reminded of all the good people in the world who don’t go to rallies and spew hatred. I have a niece and sister-in-law who are nurses and tend to people at the lowest points in their life. I have another niece who works with drug addicts. I have a good friend who is a minister who works with hurting children. I have a cousin (who is also my godmother) who just went to help young girls involved with sex trafficking in Nepal as part of a mission with her church. My nephew is a vet who fought for our country. Another sister-in-law works with an organization that supports women who have been abused.  And people at the party voted for both candidates.

So, what are the lessons of this blog?

  1. People are more complex than Facebook would have you think. You know when you meet someone and think they are unfriendly or stuck up and then find out they are shy, or recently broken up or their mom committed suicide–and you realize they are not what you first thought? I think a lot of times Facebook is like that. We talk in headlines and have no chance to get into complexities. Personally I’m not yet convinced we can ever engage in a real conversation through social media.
  2. If you want to talk about religion at least start the sentence with “For me…” “For me praying to Jesus gave me solace” goes down a lot easier than being nagged to accept Jesus in my heart.  Anne Lamott, the Christian author, is really great at that concept. And I love my Facebook friends who talk about worshipping or their various churches without giving me advice I didn’t ask them for. (This rule may apply to politics too. “For me, Trump is a lying sociopath”.   Well, maybe not.
  3. There are a lot of good people in the world. My husband is currently with a dear friend and neighbor right now taking him to the doctor about a very scary issue and holding a space of love for him while being a second set of ears. This isn’t a flashy Facebook post but it is the kind of thing I believe the hugely vast majority of us do no matter what our faith or politics are. Sure, there are sick people who really do believe in White Supremacy or worse are subway-burrito-eaters, but I don’t want to lose focus on the love between us too.  It’s miraculous that this huge mass of people have made it this far on this crowded planet.   I think we need to be aware and to protest–don’t get me wrong. But I hope we all don’t forgot that resilience, intrigue laughter and friendship are part of the human condition too.




It’s Thursday evening and it’s nice to be back on the bus.

I have been in New York City two nights in row for my Tuesday Night Writers Group and a work event I had on Wednesday evening. Now I’m on my way back to my home in New Hope.

Because my Writers Group ends after the last bus leaves New York, I rent a room from a friend in Brooklyn on Tuesdays. This guy is the perfect friend to rent a room from because we know each other, but not so well that there is an obligation to chat every time I stay over. This was essentially the same thing I was looking for in a relationship for several years– to get my needs met without really having to discuss anything in depth.

Often on the nights I stay, I climb the stairs at 11pm after he is already in bed and sneak into my little room from its entrance in the outside hallway. Inside the room is tiny with a window, a few shelves and a mattress on the floor that pretty much takes up the entire room. I feel a little like Anne Boleyn being held captive in a Tower of London before her beheading but find it oddly comforting. In the morning, I often tiptoe out before he is awake. We can go weeks without exchanging a single word in person.

This morning he texted to me You are like a ghost

You’d think I grew up like Harry Potter or David Copperfield—an unwanted British orphan relegated to living in a closet. I do definitely identify with those lovable ragamuffins in my own way. I spent hours of my childhood in our dark attic to escape the chaos of my often out-of-control family. When you are the youngest of five and your hip mom prides herself in being able to expertly talk people down from bad acid trips, life can be a little overwhelming.

As a result, I am very good at and comfortable with sneaking around and leaving as little footprint as possible. I would have made a great spinster aunt living in my little doily-filled upstairs room. I also would have been an excellent Unabomber in a shed in the remote regions of Montana if circumstances had been different.

Maybe I like the sense of control I have in my room with the mattress. For that night, I am in a self-contained universe. I quietly read, I eat a piece of fruit and no one has any opinions about it.

I was thinking about this after an interesting thing happened on the bus a few days ago. A woman was talking loudly on her phone annoying the rest of us and causing me to fantasize about wrestling her into the aisle and strangling her to death in front of everyone when suddenly the bus driver exploded.


My mouth was hanging open as I watched this transpire. I was floored.

Until that moment, I thought he was just a bus driver—a common everyman whose main job was to keep to the bus schedule. But I realized with some awe that he had power over all of us. He was the ruler of our lives during that bus ride. He could make us do whatever he wanted us to do. I mean, if you think about it, he literally has our very lives in his hands. If the lady didn’t get off the phone he could have steered us into a brick wall in Weehawken, New Jersey causing the bus to explode into flames. That’s probably what I would have done.

I envied his power with all my heart.

My husband Saul thinks I’m very controlling.

This is funny because it’s true, but also because he’s really just upset that he has met his match.

Saul wishes he could control a lot things about me. He wishes I would grow a beard again. He is at odds with all my friends and coworkers who tell me I look much younger when I’m clean-shaven. So far they and the illusion of youth are winning

Saul also wishes I picked up my socks. I tell him if he can find a bearded sock–picker-upper who has all the wonderful qualities I have then by all means he should go for it. I will not stand in his way.

On the other hand, I wish Saul didn’t eat his Halo ice cream so nosily when we watch Gilmore Girl reruns at night. He aggressively clangs his spoon against the bowl as if he just might be able to dig deep enough into the ceramic dish to find a little more.

I also wish he didn’t write Facebook posts violently cursing people who voted for Trump. I try to explain that if fighting about politics on Facebook solved problems, we’d pretty much have everything solved right now. Plus, if my 89-year-old Trump-voting Aunt ever reactivates her Facebook account we might be taken out of her will. I helpfully suggest he mediate about peace instead, but he only glares daggers at me while hostilely typing an angry response to someone on his iPhone.

Knowing when to try to control and knowing when to let go seems to be a lifelong lesson. As my friend Leanne says, “I keep having to learn it over and over, and now getting old is the ultimate lesson in letting go”

It’s hard not to be jealous of a bus driver in a world where it feels like our President may start a nuclear war because he wants his poll numbers to go up or looks at backing down or apologizing as weakness. I’m pretty sure people voted for him because they thought he would control the country like that bus driver controls the bus. So far, it feels to me like our country is dangerously close to hitting that Weehawken wall.

People say the world is only getting worse but I don’t know if those who fought in the Civil War or perhaps the slaves brought to America or the Jews rounded up and taken to concentration camps would agree. Sure, nuclear war is a scary horrible thing, but so is being beaten to death by someone who supposedly your master, or dying of starvation after being operated from your family. I just hope that despite appearances, some days it’s maybe getting a little better? I mean, I got to get married to a man last year. And we did finally elect a woman pres…oh wait.

We all have our limits. The bus driver can’t control traffic and one day my Tuesday night landlord will want to move or use my little room for himself.

Helen Keller once said, Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing

I have my issues with Helen. She’s a little bit of a know-it-all and is kind of full of herself, but I do think she has a point. The other night in New York I was sitting on the corner of 44th and 9th watching the parade of people go by and seeing all the ways they struggle to remain human—all their vastly creative survival techniques on full display.

That’s all we are trying to do I think—find our little safe space in this world with a soft spot to lay our head.

So as I head home to New Hope, I will try to be more forgiving.

We need forgiveness desperately these days and it’s that much more precious when it’s that much harder to give. And boy, can it be hard to give some days. So maybe I won’t start big with forgiving the white extremist.  Maybe I’ll start small by forgiving Saul and his Halo Top ice-cream.


About the Author: Keith Hoffman is thinking about trying out a Fu Man Chu moustache as a compromise to his husband.

P.S. I’m heading to Ohio and Indiana to see my family on Tuesday. Thank God Saul has no political views and no one in my family voted for Trump! (This is funny because it’s not true).

See you in two weeks!