ENGAYGED

by Keith Hoffman

Saul and I were rushing to leave for our trip to see my family in Indiana and Ohio.

We had planned to get out the door by 4pm on Tuesday after he was done teaching for the day and it was now 4:17.

In the next day and a half we were going to travel 725 miles from Saul’s driveway through New Jersey, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and Indiana finally and ultimately arriving at my brother Paul’s doorstep.

This battle of getting out the door on time was one Saul and I seemed to constantly wage as I was certain he was going to be the one to make us terribly late and then somehow he would cleverly turn the tables and suddenly be waiting for me. It was one of the most frustrating things in our relationship and paradoxically one of the things I would miss terribly if god forbid he weren’t in my life.

We had been to visit my family before but this time was different for three reasons:

1) It was the heart of summer instead of the dead of winter so there was much less chance of being caught in a blizzard;
2) We were driving 13 hours instead of flying a mere two hours;
3) Saul was coming home as my fiancé.

Saul had asked me marry him 3 ½ weeks earlier on July 9th at 4:30 i the afternoon. I had told him shortly after we started dating that he had to do the asking when the time came. These kinds of things can be confusing and up for grabs in the new gay marriage world so I decided early on to take the bull by the horns and not put myself in a position to be rejected.

Still I was surprised that Friday when I came home from a long day of work capped off by a sweaty subway ride to have Saul announce he wanted to tell me something.

I immediately assumed this was something bad.

“It’s something good,” he assured me knowing how my mind works.

“I have to pee,” I replied buying myself time .

What could this something good be? I wondered. Was he going to take that job he was offered teaching English in China for a year ? Was that what the mother f@#*ker considered something good??

Before I was barely zipped up Saul got on one knee in the middle of kitchen.

“What are you doing?!?!” I demanded with alarm.

“I know I want to spend the rest of my life with you….” He began. “Will you marry me?”

“What are you doing?!” I asked again which I’m sure made him wonder if he really wanted to tie himself to someone so dense that they couldn’t understand a simple question.

“Well?” he continued as he pulled two rings out of a box–one for each of us.

“Uh…okay.” I answered. It didn’t seem like the time to make waves. It was best to give this crazy person what he was demanding.

“But you can’t post this on Facebook yet!” I added firmly.

It wasn’t that I was against Saul in any way. I was simply not a big fan of change… or commitment for that matter. And this felt like a lot of both. I needed time to adjust before it became the world’s business.

Saul later told me he picked this time to ask me because we were scheduled to go skydiving the next day and he wanted me to know how he felt about me  in case one of us died.

And to answer your next question–No he did not ask that I make him beneficiary on my life insurance policy.

skydive

(This is not an actual picture of us skydiving but rather a clock we bought to commemorate our big leap)

By the time we were finally on our way to my brother’s I had a bit more time to try on this fiancé role. It still felt rather tight– not like those outfits with elastic bands I was much more fond of. But I was getting used to people asking when we were getting married (we don’t yet) or where (Paris? New York? New Hope, PA?) and was warming up to this idea of being committed…totally committed to one person. As I sloshed this idea around in my brain I began to notice that the frequency of my urges to open the door of my fast moving Mini Cooper and leap to my escape on the highway was starting to diminish ever so slightly.

Saul had met some of my family when we had visited the previous winter but a blizzard had kept us snowbound at my sister-in-law Minette’s most of the time so this trip was going to help fill in the missing branches of the family tree and help him understand my genetic insanity at a deeper level.

Visiting my family was a complicated and complex affair that took extensive planning. They didn’t gather in one place to make it easy for me like my friend Mark’s family. His family gets together every Christmas and even dresses according to a theme. A Very Star Wars Christmas where they were attired in different space outfits, A Very Ye Ol’ English Christmas where they donned the wardrobes of Kings and Fools. I believe one year they did A Very Jewish Christmas where they went to Miami and ate Chinese but I may be making that up. “Are there no black sheep in your family who refuse to dress in a theme?” I once asked incredulously. Or as another friend said as she looked at his holiday photos. “It’s a lot of hard work being in your family.”

My family was hard work but in a different way. Most of us had played the role of black sheep or fool at one time or other—often overlapping. We are nice people but a sensitive lot who as Saul has pointed out, can hold grievances over small slights for decades. Because of that we were barely ever all in one room together and certainly not wearing themed costumes. We did make exceptions for funerals about gathering  in one place but it seemed tacky to ask people dress up  in costume for such occasions.

THE MEMORIAL FOR UNCLE DANNY WILL BE HELD AT SHCLESSINGER FUNERAL HOME MONDAY AT 7AM. PLEASE COME AS YOUR FAVORITE ANGELA LANSBURY CHARACTER

By 11pm of the first day of my trip home with Saul I began to notice giraffes flying alongside my Mini and realized it might be time to stop driving for the day. We got off at the next exit in the town of Shanksville near the end of the Pennsylvania turnpike.

As we settled in for the night in a nondescript stucco-walled Quality Inn, Saul sat on the brown and orange bedspread reading from a brochure.

“Flight 93 crashed nearby. We should go to the memorial tomorrow since we are in town.”

Absolutely not! I wanted to say but remembered reading somewhere that a good partner is kind and receptive.

“When does it open?” I asked pretending to be considering the idea.

“Tomorrow at 10am”

“We have eight hours to go on this trip. Shouldn’t we just get on the road and get to my brother’s?” I asked as if I really meant it as a question.

“Sure…I just thought since we were here…” Saul trailed off with what I thought I detected was a hint of disappointment.

I suddenly felt like a mouse teetering on the edge of a glue trap. Was I allowed to say no? After all he was doing a huge thing by coming out to see my family. Did I owe him the honor of doing something he wanted? And was I horrible person for not wanting to see this memorial? I was sad for everyone who died on the plane but we still had a lot of miles ahead of us. The two of us missing dinner at my brother’s tomorrow wasn’t going to bring them back.

But this was a selfish thought and I was not a selfish person.

I took a deep cleansing calm breath before I spoke.

“You really want to see some monument that you didn’t even know existed until two minutes ago?? And now you are going to make me feel guilty even though I am only seeing my family for a very short time because we are scheduling around your work schedule?”

For some reason Saul didn’t hear this as open-hearted and generous as I meant it to be and we somehow spiraled into a heated debate.

Since I was too exhausted to storm out and abandon him in Shanksville,  we stuck to our rule of never going to bed angry. Still as I drifted off to sleep worrying about bedbugs nestling in the folds of my underwear, I couldn’t help but wonder if I could marry a man who illogically wanted to visit 911 memorials without any type of decent warning.

The next day went much more smoothly. We hit the road early (no we did not go to the memorial but I have learned not to describe that as saying “I won”). And I was reminded by lunch about the important things Saul and I had in common once we were finally in Ohio. We both understood the priority of finding the very first Skyline Chili on the  route.

skyline

Our first hurdle once we arrived at my brother’s house was Rose. Rose was the puppy I adopted in New York and raised until she was one year old. Rose was wonderful and sweet and loved to play with my older dog Sasha. Sasha enjoyed playing with Rose too, but she also every so often enjoyed attacking and trying to kill Rose without the slightest provocation.

Sasha had a very rough childhood. We met the day I opened my front door of the little house I rented in the neighborhood of Sivlerlake in Los Angeles. She was standing there staring up at me beat-up, exhausted and in heat. I related to her at that time in my life so I gave her the benefit of the doubt and eventually invited her in to live with me and my two cats. She was a wonderful dog except for this issue she seemed to have against puppies. And living in a small New York apartment is hard enough without breaking up a fight between two large muscular dogs at a moment’s notice. Sasha didn’t care if I was eating, entertaining, watching Dancing With the Stars or sleeping. I had to always be on the alert to run and wedge myself between the dogs holding them apart literally risking my life and limb in the process.

sleeping dogs
(Don’t be deceived–let them lie)

This went on for an entire year until I finally called my brother weeping.

“I can’t take this anymore,” I sobbed.

Paul was known to take in strays ever since he was a child.

He was also known to be a sucker for his little brother’s tears.

“Alright I will take her…” he replied.

That following Christmas I did the same drive I was now doing with Saul , but that time I was driving with one dog in the front seat and one in the back feeding them tranquilizers and praying to God that a fight wouldn’t break out between them.

So far this current ride was less stressful.

“Is Rose getting better with strangers?” I asked Paul on the phone on our way there.

“Yes, the only people she still has trouble with are men with beards. She HATES men with beards.”

beard
(My Fiancé)

Not surprisingly the first meeting between them did not go particularly well.

Rose barked and barked and barked at Saul. Besides the scary beard, it probably didn’t help matters that he most likely smelled alarmingly like Sasha who loved nothing better than to drape herself next to  him.

saul and sash(Sasha Draping)

Eventually Rose allowed Saul to pet her for a moment…but then she would bark and bark and bark some more.

This went on for hours and although Saul was wounded emotionally, he stuck with her and never gave up.

Finally Rose stopped barking—that is until Saul left the room to use the bathroom and returned a few moments later.

BARK…BARK…BARK…BARK…BARK… BEARDED STRANGER DANGER! BEARDED STRANGER DANGER!

It was just as if she had never seen him before.

Saul patiently kept forgiving her and petting her and letting her bark at him until the third day when he finally made a friend.

rose and saul(Rose confronting her phobia)

Well, at least until he used the bathroom again.

These charm skills of Saul’s were put to the test the very next day when we left Paul’s home to meet my cousins, aunts, nieces, nephews, aunts who were really cousins uncles who were really brothers–probably at least fifty relatives and suspected relatives in all. They are all wonderfully quirky people who I love dearly but I’ve also had an entire lifetime to get to know them. Saul on the other hand had one day to get up to speed. I watched him be the object of several inquisitions, navigate around some dicey politics, play a game of toss with complicated, constantly changing and seemingly pointless rules with some of my grandnieces, and remember what secrets needed to be kept from whom.

He handled it all with grace and aplomb.

cousins

(Saul and some of my suspected relatives)

Finally at the end of that long day, a few of us ended up at Minette’s to spend our last night in town. We were leaving early in the morning and wanted to spend time where we had so many fond snowbound memories.

One of my brothers stopped by. He is closest to my age and the person most genetically related to me who is still alive on this earth.

He doesn’t talk a lot–at least not to me or most of the immediate family. He is a lawyer and from what I hear from friends will try to out debate any judge who disagrees with him to the point of being disbarred. I don’t know why he has a hard time communicating with those of us closest to him but I know he loves me and I love him. I have come to accept the fact that he always makes sure to see me when I’m in town and will then do nothing more than exchange a polite yet awkward hello with me.

Saul, like many others, is fascinated by this dynamic. He watched my brother and I exchange nothing more than obligatory hellos during our last visit and I now saw him incredulously observing the same routine all over again.

As Minette and I chatted in one corner of her backyard patio I noticed out of the corner of my eye Saul standing up and walking towards where my brother was sitting looking at his phone.  I stopped in mid-sentence.

“So how did you decide to become a lawyer in your late 40’s?” Saul casually asked him. “I’m thinking of starting a new career myself”

My brother looked as uncomfortable as a cat after you’ve dressed it in a raincoat.

I thought about igniting myself on fire to distract everyone from this terrifying awkwardness but was too fascinated to move. It was like watching a lion about to eat a foolish fat British tourist who stupidly stepped out of her car on a safari with a ham sandwich in her hand. You know you should do something but the danger felt exhilarating.

“Don’t come to me for advice,” my brother answered a bit dismissively his eyes darting nervously from his phone to the intruder next to him. “I don’t want to be responsible for messing up your life.”

“You’re not going to mess up my life,” Saul responded kindly. “I just want to know how you did it. I’m able to make my own decisions.

I’m pretty sure my mouth was literally hanging open. Usually a person with good sense retreated long before this but Saul held his ground in unchartered territory.

And to my shock and amazement the two of them began having an actual conversation. I couldn’t hear what they were saying without trying to crawl up and hide under their chairs (which would be quite embarrassing if discovered) but I saw them actually talking and even maybe smiling a little bit? It was getting dark and I didn’t have a flashlight but I don’t think it was my imagination.

Later in the evening as a few more members of my family joined us, we started talking about my sister Julie. Even though her passing was almost seven years ago it is still and perhaps always will be a tender and painful family wound.

It seemed that since my sister was gone the rest of my family only saw each other when I was home, so these group discussions were extremely rare.

I often lamented to Saul that he would never get to meet my sister and no amount of photos or stories could encapsulate how special she truly was. And tonight he saw some of the rest of us grapple with this same issue–how we each had brought new people into our lives and dealt the painful frustration that they will never know Julie.
.
“She was the leader of our group…”
“She could really piss you off…”
“Oh my god she was so funny…”
“She adored those kids…”
“She got really drunk at the concert and got her head stuck in that fence…”

These were just snippets of a complex and lovely woman who Saul would never know.

But he did at the very least see that night that she was dearly loved by all of us. As my brother said, “She didn’t become special when she died. She was special when she was alive and we all knew it then.”

When he said he was worried people would forget about her,  Saul immediately assured him, “‘Keith talks about her all the time. He even has a section of his block on his way home every night that is his special meeting place to say hi to her.” (I don’t’ care if it sounds crazy. I do.)

As the night grew later and more sentimental, my brother expressed how he consoles himself knowing that he really tried to take charge and make the best decisions for Julie at the hospital that last week of her life. And Saul assured him again, “That is what Keith always tells me you did.”

“Thank you,” my brother replied. “Thank you for not taking that away from me.”

And I saw in that moment the healing Saul was bringing to my family.

And I realized that Saul was becoming part of my family…

And that my family was making room for him.

And that is when I knew that this was what I was saying yes to—not some romantic version of being engaged that I saw on the movies and You Tube (thank you Saul for knowing me well enough to know not to organize a flash mob at Home Depot when you popped the question).

I was saying yes t his man who was able to engage with a dog who judged him harshly by his appearances; who engaged with my family from youngest to oldest and from quietest to loudest— and who was asking to engage with me as together we faced each day of life sometimes filled with crushing blows and defeats but also new and fun adventures (except for that damn memorial).

And as we embarked on our long journey home I knew that by saying yes to Saul I was saying yes to me.

engayged

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

KEITH HOFFMAN  DOES NOT YET KNOW THE TIME OR PLACE OF HIS WEDDING.

UPDATE:  Just as I was finishing this blog I spent a day with Saul and his sister and her family on the beach in Fire Island and lost my ring in the ocean.   (FYI:   It is futile to look for a ring lost in the ocean.) Luckily Saul and I vowed early on that if one of us lost our rings,  it didn’t mean anything bad and it simply was a chance to recommit.  So I bought another ring and we recommitted in front of Bank of America on 7th Avenue and 39th Street on September 1st at 3:30 pm  with these words:

When you gave me a ring we committed to taking a big leap into the unknown.

And now this ring replaces one lost in in the unknown.

This ring is a reminder that with every loss is renewal

And with every ending…a beginning.

Now I ask will you stick with me…

and stick with you…

and stick with us…

As we continue to explore the mystery of life together?

 

7 and 39

(He said maybe!)

ENGAYGED

by Keith Hoffman

Saul and I were rushing to leave for our trip to see my family in Indiana and Ohio.

We had planned to get out the door by 4pm on Tuesday after he was done teaching for the day and it was now 4:17.

In the next day and a half we were going to travel 725 miles from Saul’s driveway through New Jersey, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and Indiana finally and ultimately arriving at my brother Paul’s doorstep.

This battle of getting out the door on time was one Saul and I seemed to constantly wage as I was certain he was going to be the one to make us terribly late and then somehow he would cleverly turn the tables and suddenly be waiting for me. It was one of the most frustrating things in our relationship and paradoxically one of the things I would miss terribly if god forbid he weren’t in my life.

We had been to visit my family before but this time was different for three reasons:

1) It was the heart of summer instead of the dead of winter so there was much less chance of being caught in a blizzard;
2) We were driving 13 hours instead of flying a mere two hours;
3) Saul was coming home as my fiancé.

Saul had asked me marry him 3 ½ weeks earlier on July 9th at 4:30 i the afternoon. I had told him shortly after we started dating that he had to do the asking when the time came. These kinds of things can be confusing and up for grabs in the new gay marriage world so I decided early on to take the bull by the horns and not put myself in a position to be rejected.

Still I was surprised that Friday when I came home from a long day of work capped off by a sweaty subway ride to have Saul announce he wanted to tell me something.

I immediately assumed this was something bad.

“It’s something good,” he assured me knowing how my mind works.

“I have to pee,” I replied buying myself time .

What could this something good be? I wondered. Was he going to take that job he was offered teaching English in China for a year ? Was that what the mother f@#*ker considered something good??

Before I was barely zipped up Saul got on one knee in the middle of kitchen.

“What are you doing?!?!” I demanded with alarm.

“I know I want to spend the rest of my life with you….” He began. “Will you marry me?”

“What are you doing?!” I asked again which I’m sure made him wonder if he really wanted to tie himself to someone so dense that they couldn’t understand a simple question.

“Well?” he continued as he pulled two rings out of a box–one for each of us.

“Uh…okay.” I answered. It didn’t seem like the time to make waves. It was best to give this crazy person what he was demanding.

“But you can’t post this on Facebook yet!” I added firmly.

It wasn’t that I was against Saul in any way. I was simply not a big fan of change… or commitment for that matter. And this felt like a lot of both. I needed time to adjust before it became the world’s business.

Saul later told me he picked this time to ask me because we were scheduled to go skydiving the next day and he wanted me to know how he felt about me  in case one of us died.

And to answer your next question–No he did not ask that I make him beneficiary on my life insurance policy.

skydive

(This is not an actual picture of us skydiving but rather a clock we bought to commemorate our big leap)

By the time we were finally on our way to my brother’s I had a bit more time to try on this fiancé role. It still felt rather tight– not like those outfits with elastic bands I was much more fond of. But I was getting used to people asking when we were getting married (we don’t yet) or where (Paris? New York? New Hope, PA?) and was warming up to this idea of being committed…totally committed to one person. As I sloshed this idea around in my brain I began to notice that the frequency of my urges to open the door of my fast moving Mini Cooper and leap to my escape on the highway was starting to diminish ever so slightly.

Saul had met some of my family when we had visited the previous winter but a blizzard had kept us snowbound at my sister-in-law Minette’s most of the time so this trip was going to help fill in the missing branches of the family tree and help him understand my genetic insanity at a deeper level.

Visiting my family was a complicated and complex affair that took extensive planning. They didn’t gather in one place to make it easy for me like my friend Mark’s family. His family gets together every Christmas and even dresses according to a theme. A Very Star Wars Christmas where they were attired in different space outfits, A Very Ye Ol’ English Christmas where they donned the wardrobes of Kings and Fools. I believe one year they did A Very Jewish Christmas where they went to Miami and ate Chinese but I may be making that up. “Are there no black sheep in your family who refuse to dress in a theme?” I once asked incredulously. Or as another friend said as she looked at his holiday photos. “It’s a lot of hard work being in your family.”

My family was hard work but in a different way. Most of us had played the role of black sheep or fool at one time or other—often overlapping. We are nice people but a sensitive lot who as Saul has pointed out, can hold grievances over small slights for decades. Because of that we were barely ever all in one room together and certainly not wearing themed costumes. We did make exceptions for funerals about gathering  in one place but it seemed tacky to ask people dress up  in costume for such occasions.

THE MEMORIAL FOR UNCLE DANNY WILL BE HELD AT SHCLESSINGER FUNERAL HOME MONDAY AT 7AM. PLEASE COME AS YOUR FAVORITE ANGELA LANSBURY CHARACTER

By 11pm of the first day of my trip home with Saul I began to notice giraffes flying alongside my Mini and realized it might be time to stop driving for the day. We got off at the next exit in the town of Shanksville near the end of the Pennsylvania turnpike.

As we settled in for the night in a nondescript stucco-walled Quality Inn, Saul sat on the brown and orange bedspread reading from a brochure.

“Flight 93 crashed nearby. We should go to the memorial tomorrow since we are in town.”

Absolutely not! I wanted to say but remembered reading somewhere that a good partner is kind and receptive.

“When does it open?” I asked pretending to be considering the idea.

“Tomorrow at 10am”

“We have eight hours to go on this trip. Shouldn’t we just get on the road and get to my brother’s?” I asked as if I really meant it as a question.

“Sure…I just thought since we were here…” Saul trailed off with what I thought I detected was a hint of disappointment.

I suddenly felt like a mouse teetering on the edge of a glue trap. Was I allowed to say no? After all he was doing a huge thing by coming out to see my family. Did I owe him the honor of doing something he wanted? And was I horrible person for not wanting to see this memorial? I was sad for everyone who died on the plane but we still had a lot of miles ahead of us. The two of us missing dinner at my brother’s tomorrow wasn’t going to bring them back.

But this was a selfish thought and I was not a selfish person.

I took a deep cleansing calm breath before I spoke.

“You really want to see some monument that you didn’t even know existed until two minutes ago?? And now you are going to make me feel guilty even though I am only seeing my family for a very short time because we are scheduling around your work schedule?”

For some reason Saul didn’t hear this as open-hearted and generous as I meant it to be and we somehow spiraled into a heated debate.

Since I was too exhausted to storm out and abandon him in Shanksville,  we stuck to our rule of never going to bed angry. Still as I drifted off to sleep worrying about bedbugs nestling in the folds of my underwear, I couldn’t help but wonder if I could marry a man who illogically wanted to visit 911 memorials without any type of decent warning.

The next day went much more smoothly. We hit the road early (no we did not go to the memorial but I have learned not to describe that as saying “I won”). And I was reminded by lunch about the important things Saul and I had in common once we were finally in Ohio. We both understood the priority of finding the very first Skyline Chili on the  route.

skyline

Our first hurdle once we arrived at my brother’s house was Rose. Rose was the puppy I adopted in New York and raised until she was one year old. Rose was wonderful and sweet and loved to play with my older dog Sasha. Sasha enjoyed playing with Rose too, but she also every so often enjoyed attacking and trying to kill Rose without the slightest provocation.

Sasha had a very rough childhood. We met the day I opened my front door of the little house I rented in the neighborhood of Sivlerlake in Los Angeles. She was standing there staring up at me beat-up, exhausted and in heat. I related to her at that time in my life so I gave her the benefit of the doubt and eventually invited her in to live with me and my two cats. She was a wonderful dog except for this issue she seemed to have against puppies. And living in a small New York apartment is hard enough without breaking up a fight between two large muscular dogs at a moment’s notice. Sasha didn’t care if I was eating, entertaining, watching Dancing With the Stars or sleeping. I had to always be on the alert to run and wedge myself between the dogs holding them apart literally risking my life and limb in the process.

sleeping dogs
(Don’t be deceived–let them lie)

This went on for an entire year until I finally called my brother weeping.

“I can’t take this anymore,” I sobbed.

Paul was known to take in strays ever since he was a child.

He was also known to be a sucker for his little brother’s tears.

“Alright I will take her…” he replied.

That following Christmas I did the same drive I was now doing with Saul , but that time I was driving with one dog in the front seat and one in the back feeding them tranquilizers and praying to God that a fight wouldn’t break out between them.

So far this current ride was less stressful.

“Is Rose getting better with strangers?” I asked Paul on the phone on our way there.

“Yes, the only people she still has trouble with are men with beards. She HATES men with beards.”

beard
(My Fiancé)

Not surprisingly the first meeting between them did not go particularly well.

Rose barked and barked and barked at Saul. Besides the scary beard, it probably didn’t help matters that he most likely smelled alarmingly like Sasha who loved nothing better than to drape herself next to  him.

saul and sash(Sasha Draping)

Eventually Rose allowed Saul to pet her for a moment…but then she would bark and bark and bark some more.

This went on for hours and although Saul was wounded emotionally, he stuck with her and never gave up.

Finally Rose stopped barking—that is until Saul left the room to use the bathroom and returned a few moments later.

BARK…BARK…BARK…BARK…BARK… BEARDED STRANGER DANGER! BEARDED STRANGER DANGER!

It was just as if she had never seen him before.

Saul patiently kept forgiving her and petting her and letting her bark at him until the third day when he finally made a friend.

rose and saul(Rose confronting her phobia)

Well, at least until he used the bathroom again.

These charm skills of Saul’s were put to the test the very next day when we left Paul’s home to meet my cousins, aunts, nieces, nephews, aunts who were really cousins uncles who were really brothers–probably at least fifty relatives and suspected relatives in all. They are all wonderfully quirky people who I love dearly but I’ve also had an entire lifetime to get to know them. Saul on the other hand had one day to get up to speed. I watched him be the object of several inquisitions, navigate around some dicey politics, play a game of toss with complicated, constantly changing and seemingly pointless rules with some of my grandnieces, and remember what secrets needed to be kept from whom.

He handled it all with grace and aplomb.

cousins

(Saul and some of my suspected relatives)

Finally at the end of that long day, a few of us ended up at Minette’s to spend our last night in town. We were leaving early in the morning and wanted to spend time where we had so many fond snowbound memories.

One of my brothers stopped by. He is closest to my age and the person most genetically related to me who is still alive on this earth.

He doesn’t talk a lot–at least not to me or most of the immediate family. He is a lawyer and from what I hear from friends will try to out debate any judge who disagrees with him to the point of being disbarred. I don’t know why he has a hard time communicating with those of us closest to him but I know he loves me and I love him. I have come to accept the fact that he always makes sure to see me when I’m in town and will then do nothing more than exchange a polite yet awkward hello with me.

Saul, like many others, is fascinated by this dynamic. He watched my brother and I exchange nothing more than obligatory hellos during our last visit and I now saw him incredulously observing the same routine all over again.

As Minette and I chatted in one corner of her backyard patio I noticed out of the corner of my eye Saul standing up and walking towards where my brother was sitting looking at his phone.  I stopped in mid-sentence.

“So how did you decide to become a lawyer in your late 40’s?” Saul casually asked him. “I’m thinking of starting a new career myself”

My brother looked as uncomfortable as a cat after you’ve dressed it in a raincoat.

I thought about igniting myself on fire to distract everyone from this terrifying awkwardness but was too fascinated to move. It was like watching a lion about to eat a foolish fat British tourist who stupidly stepped out of her car on a safari with a ham sandwich in her hand. You know you should do something but the danger felt exhilarating.

“Don’t come to me for advice,” my brother answered a bit dismissively his eyes darting nervously from his phone to the intruder next to him. “I don’t want to be responsible for messing up your life.”

“You’re not going to mess up my life,” Saul responded kindly. “I just want to know how you did it. I’m able to make my own decisions.

I’m pretty sure my mouth was literally hanging open. Usually a person with good sense retreated long before this but Saul held his ground in unchartered territory.

And to my shock and amazement the two of them began having an actual conversation. I couldn’t hear what they were saying without trying to crawl up and hide under their chairs (which would be quite embarrassing if discovered) but I saw them actually talking and even maybe smiling a little bit? It was getting dark and I didn’t have a flashlight but I don’t think it was my imagination.

Later in the evening as a few more members of my family joined us, we started talking about my sister Julie. Even though her passing was almost seven years ago it is still and perhaps always will be a tender and painful family wound.

It seemed that since my sister was gone the rest of my family only saw each other when I was home, so these group discussions were extremely rare.

I often lamented to Saul that he would never get to meet my sister and no amount of photos or stories could encapsulate how special she truly was. And tonight he saw some of the rest of us grapple with this same issue–how we each had brought new people into our lives and dealt the painful frustration that they will never know Julie.
.
“She was the leader of our group…”
“She could really piss you off…”
“Oh my god she was so funny…”
“She adored those kids…”
“She got really drunk at the concert and got her head stuck in that fence…”

These were just snippets of a complex and lovely woman who Saul would never know.

But he did at the very least see that night that she was dearly loved by all of us. As my brother said, “She didn’t become special when she died. She was special when she was alive and we all knew it then.”

When he said he was worried people would forget about her,  Saul immediately assured him, “‘Keith talks about her all the time. He even has a section of his block on his way home every night that is his special meeting place to say hi to her.” (I don’t’ care if it sounds crazy. I do.)

As the night grew later and more sentimental, my brother expressed how he consoles himself knowing that he really tried to take charge and make the best decisions for Julie at the hospital that last week of her life. And Saul assured him again, “That is what Keith always tells me you did.”

“Thank you,” my brother replied. “Thank you for not taking that away from me.”

And I saw in that moment the healing Saul was bringing to my family.

And I realized that Saul was becoming part of my family…

And that my family was making room for him.

And that is when I knew that this was what I was saying yes to—not some romantic version of being engaged that I saw on the movies and You Tube (thank you Saul for knowing me well enough to know not to organize a flash mob at Home Depot when you popped the question).

I was saying yes t his man who was able to engage with a dog who judged him harshly by his appearances; who engaged with my family from youngest to oldest and from quietest to loudest— and who was asking to engage with me as together we faced each day of life sometimes filled with crushing blows and defeats but also new and fun adventures (except for that damn memorial).

And as we embarked on our long journey home I knew that by saying yes to Saul I was saying yes to me.

engayged

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

KEITH HOFFMAN  DOES NOT YET KNOW THE TIME OR PLACE OF HIS WEDDING.

UPDATE:  Just as I was finishing this blog I spent a day with Saul and his sister and her family on the beach in Fire Island and lost my ring in the ocean.   (FYI:   It is futile to look for a ring lost in the ocean.) Luckily Saul and I vowed early on that if one of us lost our rings,  it didn’t mean anything bad and it simply was a chance to recommit.  So I bought another ring and we recommitted in front of Bank of America on 7th Avenue and 39th Street on September 1st at 3:30 pm  with these words:

When you gave me a ring we committed to taking a big leap into the unknown.

And now this ring replaces one lost in in the unknown.

This ring is a reminder that with every loss is renewal

And with every ending…a beginning.

Now I ask will you stick with me…

and stick with you…

and stick with us…

As we continue to explore the mystery of life together?

 

7 and 39

(He said maybe!)

THE OFFICIANT ROLLS HIS EYES

By Keith Hoffman

It was one of the biggest events of my life….

My wedding day…

Okay well actually it was not my wedding exactly.

I was only the officiant–the guy who marries the couple.

It really was a day about the bride and groom I suppose.

But as I stood in front of a well-dressed crowd that was looking at me with an expectation that I was going to lead two people through a hugely important life changing event, I had to think back to how it all began.

officient1

(Thinking Back to How It All Began)

The bride and I met soon after I moved to New York five and a half years earlier.

You would think you would remember the first meeting of someone who is about to become an integral part of your life but those first days in a brand new city were pretty much a blur for me.

The initial month of the job was utterly exhausting mainly because I couldn’t really show my true personality. I had to pretend I was cheerful, good humored, normal and worth the investment of these kind people who hired me Besides there was some clause in my hiring agreement that basically said they could ship me back across the country to Los Angeles in a return box no questions asked if things didn’t work out.

So I pretended I was normal–which used up every single ounce of energy I had.

The first time I realized Sara (the aforementioned bride) might be someone I could let into my life a little deeper was the day I slammed face first into a large pane of glass next to the revolving doors in the lobby of my office building. I’d like to say I just bumped into the glass but no…let me reiterate….I slammed into it. It made a thud that echoed throughout the lobby so loudly that the security guard looked up from his newspaper.

“Be careful,” he warned obviously a little too late.

confusing(A lot of Confusing Glass)

I was mortified.

The weird thing about doing something so terribly embarrassing is that on one hand you hope and pray no one saw you but on the other hand you have an urgent need to tell someone…anyone…what an idiotic thing you just did—somehow it lessons the shame.

So I took a chance and timidly walked into Sara’s office ten minutes later.

“I just slammed into the glass in the downstairs lobby” I confessed.

She looked at me for a moment.

“I am so glad you work here.”

And with that response a great friendship was born.

officient2(One Half of a Great Friendship)

Sara and I were both single when we met and shuffled through a lot of cads in the dating world on our search for a couple of good guys. She gave me good dating advice such as,  “They don’t owe you anything on the first few dates” reminding me not to get upset if someone didn’t call or text me back in the early stages –something that sadly happened more often than I’d like to remember.

She met me for coffee before a particularly nerve-wracking date to coach me, and met me for coffee after a particularly devastating date to pick up the pieces of my hurting heart.

We even spent a Valentines together after a vow a few months earlier to have dinner together if we were both still single on that fateful day. I misunderstood and thought we had agreed to have a baby together–which lead to some awkward confusion right before our sushi arrived.

officiant3(Not the Mother of My Child)

Eventually Sara met a great guy and fell in love. I thought that might change our relationship but then her boyfriend Eric became my friend too.

OFFICIANT4

(Any GuyWho’ll Wear a Tiara for My Birthday is Ok By Me)

And he was more than happy for me to do things with Sara he didn’t want to do such as shop for shoes or attend Broadway musicals.

officiant5(Curtain Up!)

And then they asked me to officiate their wedding.

There seemed to be two reasons why I got this very important gig:

1) I had experience hosting TV shows
2) They thought I was less likely to cry throughout the ceremony like many of their other very sensitive friends

I suppose the first reason made sense although asking probing and insightful questions to Bigfoot experts in front of a camera didn’t exactly mean I was qualified to help two people commit their entire lives to each other.

officiant6(Justice of the Squatch)

The second reason was purely and simply a mistaken belief on their part as I’ve been known to weep over the fate of depressed people in Prozac commercials.

But once I snagged it, I took my job as officiant very seriously.

The creative part was fun. Having to get certified as a minister and representative of the state of New York was more challenging. I hate filling out forms. When I was on unemployment I resented the three minutes it took every two weeks to shade in the boxes saying I had looked for and was available for work in order to collect my money. Those government people are not dumb. My resentment motivated me to get a job.

I think forms are terrible things. There is always a chance to miss a signature or forget a box. Forms are very demanding of a part of my brain that seems not to have developed properly.

Some people can’t play music. Some people can’t fill out forms.

I can do neither.

Luckily Sara helped me. I became a minister by email (feeling somewhat superior to my good friend Leanne who spent years at a seminary school) and went to the courthouse to become registered to marry people in New York. Despite having enough on her plate getting ready for her big day, Sara was by my side every step of the way making sure every box was checked and every necessary line was signed.

officiant7 officiant8(Man of the Cloth?)

But there was a price to pay in giving her so much involvement and power.

Sara had definite ideas about what she wanted and especially what she didn’t want at her wedding—no racist provocative jokes to make people think about the entitlement of the oppressors …no bawdy blue humor to titillate and amuse…no topical political jabs or go-for-the juggler speeches about gay marriage. I thought the ceremony was starting to sound rather bland but she insisted on no surprises.

I mean….what was left to talk about?

I met Eric and Sara at our favorite restaurant to hear what they wanted. Sara gave me a copy of someone else’s wedding ceremony that she had attended and liked that I used as a starting point. This was when I fully realized what they were looking for. This wasn’t some run-of-the-mill cookie cutter ceremony—these two wanted it personalized with amusing yarns and touching anecdotes.

So I winged it asked them questions about the beginning of their relationship….when they first met and where…what they thought about each other…at what moment did they know this was the one? Each of them gave their own specific and intimate details together and separately. I gathered all this important information in a notebook I bought for the occasion, thanked them, left the restaurant and promptly lost it.

“Where could it have gone?” I wondered desperately as I frantically searched for it a few days later I was mortified. Clearly I was a terrible officiant. How could I tell them I lost everything we had painstakingly gone over detail by detail and would have to do the entire questioning all over again? I supposed I could wing it and make up some facts about each of them but I was pretty sure they would catch on halfway through the wedding

I had to face it. I was going to ruin the most important day of their lives.

Just as I was about to tell them and accept that I most likely would be demoted from officiant to bathroom attendant, my boyfriend Saul called to tell me he had found it in his apartment.

Phew.

I was so happy and relieved I would have married him then and there if he had asked me (well…if he had asked me down on one knee, with a tasteful ring and dowry).

I kept the notebook safe after that and worked on the document on and off for weeks at a time. I deleted and added sections such as “How I met Sara” “How I met Eric” “What in Christ’s name is a Chuppa?” At one point I had quotes from everyone from Paul Newman to Michael J Fox and the ceremony clocked in at an hour and seven minutes.

“No” was Sara’s replay when I told her this.

“But it’s an hour and seven minutes of amazing material!”

“No.”

This idea that a wedding need to be short was a new idea to me. I had grown up attending Catholic weddings that involved hours and hours of kneeling and standing and sitting and singing and doing the sign of the cross and genuflecting and taking communion. And that was just the appetizer for the real thing. In Catholic weddings you had to be strong and you had know how to endure.

But I whittled and added back in and then whittled some more until finally I had all the details ironed out and shared it with my boyfriend Saul.

“Too much you” he said matter-of-factly when I finished at a respectable 35 minutes. “One story about you is fine,” he continued. “Three and a half is overkill.”

“But they amazing stories!” I replied.

I was reminded of when I had to pick out childhood pictures for my sister’s memorial and handed a huge stack to her good friend for the slide show that would be playing throughout the ceremony.

“Um…most of these are pictures of you…”

“What are you talking about? She’s right there in the background! And besides they are amazing pictures of me. Look how cute I look in this one!”

It seemed like everyone was trying to keep me down.

officiant9

(My Favorite Picture of My Sister’s Hand)

As the wedding day approached I wrote and rewrote and practiced out loud and in my head several times a day. I bought an outfit that said I’m in charge but approachably handsome and ordered a nice 3 Ring Binder from Amazon Prime. I wrote down each of their friends’ names who were participating in the service phonetically. I had discovered that these two seemed to have no interest in friends with simple names like Mary, Sue, Jim or Bob. They liked friends with foreign exotic sounding names that were impossible to pronounce or, if they did  have simple names the accent would be on a surprising syllable–Not simply Jimmy and Melissa but JimME and MeLISSa.

It’s no wonder that when the day finally arrived and I was jittery and anxious. Sara Facedtimed from the hotel where she was getting ready and was somehow way more relaxed than me. “You’ll be great,” she assured me but how the hell did she know? Her only concern was the weather but I realized in that moment I was just like the weather—a big factor in this being the perfect day.

Oy.

********

Sara stood at the end of the aisle with her mother and brother on each side of her.

Although I had seen her in the dress more than once I was awestruck by her beauty.

And I was overwhelmed with emotion.

My friend…my beautiful friend…was getting married…by me!

As she walked towards us I heard Eric next to me sigh and laugh, as he too must have saw how beautiful she was. Although he said no words I could only guess he was thinking “Yay!”

 

walk(Yay)

Then I started to panic.

I was about to totally lose it.

I feared I would swoon and have to be held up by the best man as I wept into the bridesmaids’ collective bosoms.

I told myself I had to pull myself together!

And just like that..I did. The tears instantly dissipated and I was calm, cool and composed.

After a lifetime of being ruled by my emotions I discovered in this moment that I had total control over them all this time.

Oh the awkward moments I could have avoided if I had only known this earlier in my lifetime. Friends, coworkers, loved ones and fellow subway riders could have avoided seeing my ugly crying face.

But that was just the first of several things I learned that day:

OTHER TIPS I LEARNED OFFICIATING

TRY TO REMEMBER: IT’S NOT A COMPETITION

I had the audience in the palm of my hand.

They were laughing in all the right places, nodding in agreement at the pithy wise things I said that helped them understand love and marriage in a deeper more meaningful way, and gently weeping when I touched on one universal truth after another.

Then I introduced the bride’s brother to do a reading. I thought of this section, as the “non-Keith” part of the wedding so hadn’t really paid it much heed.

Before I knew it, this brother was reading from the Velveteen Rabbit.

He was weeping.

The bride was weeping.

The entire audience was suddenly crying their hearts out! This over a piece that’s wasn’t even written specifically for the ceremony?!” I thought to myself, “I could have gone out and bought books to read from too and saved myself the trouble of writing!”

Okay, I’ll admit…as I looked over the crowd of Sara and Eric’s closest friends and loved ones with tears running down their collective cheeks, I may have rolled my eyes just ever so slightly.

But no one saw.

The tissues they were using to dab their eyes blocked their vision.

Velveteen-Rabbit-Artwork

(Who Doesn’t Love a Mopey Rabbit at a Wedding??)

Oh and don’t even get me started on the applause that erupted after the prayers recited in Hebrew by some of their friends later on. Excuse me for doing my part of the ceremony in boring old and apparently unimpressive English.

PICK GOOD SUBJECTS

Eric and Sara were nice people—polite and well groomed. It made my job easier. It would have been a lot harder if I were marrying Charlie Manson to some prison groupie for instance–more publicity but a tougher audience.

officiant10

(Orange is the New White?)

OPEN MY HEART

When I confided to a friend that I was nervous before the ceremony he gave me this good advice:

A wedding is a heart-opening ceremony. All you have to do is approach it with an open heart.

It’s good advice for a lot of things in life and except for the Velveteen Rabbit debacle I did pretty well.

officiant11(Open Heart Matrimony)

And finally…

MAIL THE MAIRRAIGE CERTIFICATE WITHIN FIVE DAYS OF THE CEREMONY

Remember how I hate forms? The only thing I hate worse than forms has to buy a stamp and mail in the aforementioned forms. (You can see why unemployment was just not doing it for me). Poor Sara and Eric didn’t know how big of a chance they were taking with the document that actually certified their union. It had every chance of getting lost somewhere behind my desk between my unfinished application to be part “Jimmy Carter’s Volunteers of America” and my unmailed fan letter to Betty White congratulating her on being named TV’s Next Hot Ingénue.

Maybe I didn’t get the biggest tears or the loudest applause but I mailed in that damn form and I did it on time.

officiant13(Proof)

That’s something that dumb stuffed worn down rabbit couldn’t do no matter how much he was loved.

officient12

Anyway I guess this is my way of saying to them —  thanks for making me old and shabby and real.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Keith Hoffman is available for weddings, funerals and ceremonies girls’ first periods.

aboutauthor

THE OFFICIANT ROLLS HIS EYES

By Keith Hoffman

It was one of the biggest events of my life….

My wedding day…

Okay well actually it was not my wedding exactly.

I was only the officiant–the guy who marries the couple.

It really was a day about the bride and groom I suppose.

But as I stood in front of a well-dressed crowd that was looking at me with an expectation that I was going to lead two people through a hugely important life changing event, I had to think back to how it all began.

officient1

(Thinking Back to How It All Began)

The bride and I met soon after I moved to New York five and a half years earlier.

You would think you would remember the first meeting of someone who is about to become an integral part of your life but those first days in a brand new city were pretty much a blur for me.

The initial month of the job was utterly exhausting mainly because I couldn’t really show my true personality. I had to pretend I was cheerful, good humored, normal and worth the investment of these kind people who hired me Besides there was some clause in my hiring agreement that basically said they could ship me back across the country to Los Angeles in a return box no questions asked if things didn’t work out.

So I pretended I was normal–which used up every single ounce of energy I had.

The first time I realized Sara (the aforementioned bride) might be someone I could let into my life a little deeper was the day I slammed face first into a large pane of glass next to the revolving doors in the lobby of my office building. I’d like to say I just bumped into the glass but no…let me reiterate….I slammed into it. It made a thud that echoed throughout the lobby so loudly that the security guard looked up from his newspaper.

“Be careful,” he warned obviously a little too late.

confusing(A lot of Confusing Glass)

I was mortified.

The weird thing about doing something so terribly embarrassing is that on one hand you hope and pray no one saw you but on the other hand you have an urgent need to tell someone…anyone…what an idiotic thing you just did—somehow it lessons the shame.

So I took a chance and timidly walked into Sara’s office ten minutes later.

“I just slammed into the glass in the downstairs lobby” I confessed.

She looked at me for a moment.

“I am so glad you work here.”

And with that response a great friendship was born.

officient2(One Half of a Great Friendship)

Sara and I were both single when we met and shuffled through a lot of cads in the dating world on our search for a couple of good guys. She gave me good dating advice such as,  “They don’t owe you anything on the first few dates” reminding me not to get upset if someone didn’t call or text me back in the early stages –something that sadly happened more often than I’d like to remember.

She met me for coffee before a particularly nerve-wracking date to coach me, and met me for coffee after a particularly devastating date to pick up the pieces of my hurting heart.

We even spent a Valentines together after a vow a few months earlier to have dinner together if we were both still single on that fateful day. I misunderstood and thought we had agreed to have a baby together–which lead to some awkward confusion right before our sushi arrived.

officiant3(Not the Mother of My Child)

Eventually Sara met a great guy and fell in love. I thought that might change our relationship but then her boyfriend Eric became my friend too.

OFFICIANT4

(Any GuyWho’ll Wear a Tiara for My Birthday is Ok By Me)

And he was more than happy for me to do things with Sara he didn’t want to do such as shop for shoes or attend Broadway musicals.

officiant5(Curtain Up!)

And then they asked me to officiate their wedding.

There seemed to be two reasons why I got this very important gig:

1) I had experience hosting TV shows
2) They thought I was less likely to cry throughout the ceremony like many of their other very sensitive friends

I suppose the first reason made sense although asking probing and insightful questions to Bigfoot experts in front of a camera didn’t exactly mean I was qualified to help two people commit their entire lives to each other.

officiant6(Justice of the Squatch)

The second reason was purely and simply a mistaken belief on their part as I’ve been known to weep over the fate of depressed people in Prozac commercials.

But once I snagged it, I took my job as officiant very seriously.

The creative part was fun. Having to get certified as a minister and representative of the state of New York was more challenging. I hate filling out forms. When I was on unemployment I resented the three minutes it took every two weeks to shade in the boxes saying I had looked for and was available for work in order to collect my money. Those government people are not dumb. My resentment motivated me to get a job.

I think forms are terrible things. There is always a chance to miss a signature or forget a box. Forms are very demanding of a part of my brain that seems not to have developed properly.

Some people can’t play music. Some people can’t fill out forms.

I can do neither.

Luckily Sara helped me. I became a minister by email (feeling somewhat superior to my good friend Leanne who spent years at a seminary school) and went to the courthouse to become registered to marry people in New York. Despite having enough on her plate getting ready for her big day, Sara was by my side every step of the way making sure every box was checked and every necessary line was signed.

officiant7 officiant8(Man of the Cloth?)

But there was a price to pay in giving her so much involvement and power.

Sara had definite ideas about what she wanted and especially what she didn’t want at her wedding—no racist provocative jokes to make people think about the entitlement of the oppressors …no bawdy blue humor to titillate and amuse…no topical political jabs or go-for-the juggler speeches about gay marriage. I thought the ceremony was starting to sound rather bland but she insisted on no surprises.

I mean….what was left to talk about?

I met Eric and Sara at our favorite restaurant to hear what they wanted. Sara gave me a copy of someone else’s wedding ceremony that she had attended and liked that I used as a starting point. This was when I fully realized what they were looking for. This wasn’t some run-of-the-mill cookie cutter ceremony—these two wanted it personalized with amusing yarns and touching anecdotes.

So I winged it asked them questions about the beginning of their relationship….when they first met and where…what they thought about each other…at what moment did they know this was the one? Each of them gave their own specific and intimate details together and separately. I gathered all this important information in a notebook I bought for the occasion, thanked them, left the restaurant and promptly lost it.

“Where could it have gone?” I wondered desperately as I frantically searched for it a few days later I was mortified. Clearly I was a terrible officiant. How could I tell them I lost everything we had painstakingly gone over detail by detail and would have to do the entire questioning all over again? I supposed I could wing it and make up some facts about each of them but I was pretty sure they would catch on halfway through the wedding

I had to face it. I was going to ruin the most important day of their lives.

Just as I was about to tell them and accept that I most likely would be demoted from officiant to bathroom attendant, my boyfriend Saul called to tell me he had found it in his apartment.

Phew.

I was so happy and relieved I would have married him then and there if he had asked me (well…if he had asked me down on one knee, with a tasteful ring and dowry).

I kept the notebook safe after that and worked on the document on and off for weeks at a time. I deleted and added sections such as “How I met Sara” “How I met Eric” “What in Christ’s name is a Chuppa?” At one point I had quotes from everyone from Paul Newman to Michael J Fox and the ceremony clocked in at an hour and seven minutes.

“No” was Sara’s replay when I told her this.

“But it’s an hour and seven minutes of amazing material!”

“No.”

This idea that a wedding need to be short was a new idea to me. I had grown up attending Catholic weddings that involved hours and hours of kneeling and standing and sitting and singing and doing the sign of the cross and genuflecting and taking communion. And that was just the appetizer for the real thing. In Catholic weddings you had to be strong and you had know how to endure.

But I whittled and added back in and then whittled some more until finally I had all the details ironed out and shared it with my boyfriend Saul.

“Too much you” he said matter-of-factly when I finished at a respectable 35 minutes. “One story about you is fine,” he continued. “Three and a half is overkill.”

“But they amazing stories!” I replied.

I was reminded of when I had to pick out childhood pictures for my sister’s memorial and handed a huge stack to her good friend for the slide show that would be playing throughout the ceremony.

“Um…most of these are pictures of you…”

“What are you talking about? She’s right there in the background! And besides they are amazing pictures of me. Look how cute I look in this one!”

It seemed like everyone was trying to keep me down.

officiant9

(My Favorite Picture of My Sister’s Hand)

As the wedding day approached I wrote and rewrote and practiced out loud and in my head several times a day. I bought an outfit that said I’m in charge but approachably handsome and ordered a nice 3 Ring Binder from Amazon Prime. I wrote down each of their friends’ names who were participating in the service phonetically. I had discovered that these two seemed to have no interest in friends with simple names like Mary, Sue, Jim or Bob. They liked friends with foreign exotic sounding names that were impossible to pronounce or, if they did  have simple names the accent would be on a surprising syllable–Not simply Jimmy and Melissa but JimME and MeLISSa.

It’s no wonder that when the day finally arrived and I was jittery and anxious. Sara Facedtimed from the hotel where she was getting ready and was somehow way more relaxed than me. “You’ll be great,” she assured me but how the hell did she know? Her only concern was the weather but I realized in that moment I was just like the weather—a big factor in this being the perfect day.

Oy.

********

Sara stood at the end of the aisle with her mother and brother on each side of her.

Although I had seen her in the dress more than once I was awestruck by her beauty.

And I was overwhelmed with emotion.

My friend…my beautiful friend…was getting married…by me!

As she walked towards us I heard Eric next to me sigh and laugh, as he too must have saw how beautiful she was. Although he said no words I could only guess he was thinking “Yay!”

 

walk(Yay)

Then I started to panic.

I was about to totally lose it.

I feared I would swoon and have to be held up by the best man as I wept into the bridesmaids’ collective bosoms.

I told myself I had to pull myself together!

And just like that..I did. The tears instantly dissipated and I was calm, cool and composed.

After a lifetime of being ruled by my emotions I discovered in this moment that I had total control over them all this time.

Oh the awkward moments I could have avoided if I had only known this earlier in my lifetime. Friends, coworkers, loved ones and fellow subway riders could have avoided seeing my ugly crying face.

But that was just the first of several things I learned that day:

OTHER TIPS I LEARNED OFFICIATING

TRY TO REMEMBER: IT’S NOT A COMPETITION

I had the audience in the palm of my hand.

They were laughing in all the right places, nodding in agreement at the pithy wise things I said that helped them understand love and marriage in a deeper more meaningful way, and gently weeping when I touched on one universal truth after another.

Then I introduced the bride’s brother to do a reading. I thought of this section, as the “non-Keith” part of the wedding so hadn’t really paid it much heed.

Before I knew it, this brother was reading from the Velveteen Rabbit.

He was weeping.

The bride was weeping.

The entire audience was suddenly crying their hearts out! This over a piece that’s wasn’t even written specifically for the ceremony?!” I thought to myself, “I could have gone out and bought books to read from too and saved myself the trouble of writing!”

Okay, I’ll admit…as I looked over the crowd of Sara and Eric’s closest friends and loved ones with tears running down their collective cheeks, I may have rolled my eyes just ever so slightly.

But no one saw.

The tissues they were using to dab their eyes blocked their vision.

Velveteen-Rabbit-Artwork

(Who Doesn’t Love a Mopey Rabbit at a Wedding??)

Oh and don’t even get me started on the applause that erupted after the prayers recited in Hebrew by some of their friends later on. Excuse me for doing my part of the ceremony in boring old and apparently unimpressive English.

PICK GOOD SUBJECTS

Eric and Sara were nice people—polite and well groomed. It made my job easier. It would have been a lot harder if I were marrying Charlie Manson to some prison groupie for instance–more publicity but a tougher audience.

officiant10

(Orange is the New White?)

OPEN MY HEART

When I confided to a friend that I was nervous before the ceremony he gave me this good advice:

A wedding is a heart-opening ceremony. All you have to do is approach it with an open heart.

It’s good advice for a lot of things in life and except for the Velveteen Rabbit debacle I did pretty well.

officiant11(Open Heart Matrimony)

And finally…

MAIL THE MAIRRAIGE CERTIFICATE WITHIN FIVE DAYS OF THE CEREMONY

Remember how I hate forms? The only thing I hate worse than forms has to buy a stamp and mail in the aforementioned forms. (You can see why unemployment was just not doing it for me). Poor Sara and Eric didn’t know how big of a chance they were taking with the document that actually certified their union. It had every chance of getting lost somewhere behind my desk between my unfinished application to be part “Jimmy Carter’s Volunteers of America” and my unmailed fan letter to Betty White congratulating her on being named TV’s Next Hot Ingénue.

Maybe I didn’t get the biggest tears or the loudest applause but I mailed in that damn form and I did it on time.

officiant13(Proof)

That’s something that dumb stuffed worn down rabbit couldn’t do no matter how much he was loved.

officient12

Anyway I guess this is my way of saying to them —  thanks for making me old and shabby and real.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Keith Hoffman is available for weddings, funerals and ceremonies girls’ first periods.

aboutauthor

CINCINNATI AND SAUL–WHEN THE BOYFRIEND MET THE FAMILY

or

HOW TO GAIN 10 EASY POUNDS IN ONLY 3 DAYS

by Keith Hoffman

My first hint that my trip home to Ohio was not going to go exactly as planned was a text from my cousin Jenny on my way to the airport.

“Hey Darling. We are expecting snow storm tonight and tomorrow. Snow then ice. Telling people not to travel. Mom cancelled meat tray.”

I naturally went into a full-blown panic.

She cancelled the meat tray?!

The meat tray party at my aunts was one of the major tent poles of my trip home to introduce my boyfriend to the family.

Without the meat tray party…well…. all was clearly lost.

How could this be? Only yesterday a beautiful red cardinal had landed at my window. My mom had loved cardinals when she was alive and it’s the Ohio state bird (it’s also the Indiana and Kentucky state bird—those Midwesterners could have pushed themselves a little harder on the state bird-naming issue ). This cardinal was clearly a sign from my mother that this trip home was was going to be perfect.

CINCARD

(A Visit From Mother? )

I believe in signs and needed this one. It wasn’t that I was afraid of bringing a boyfriend home. I am no spring chicken and my family has accepted my alternative lifestyle since the last century. I brought my now ex home (who for the purposes of this blog I will call “Steve”) early in the ‘90’s and Aunt “Steve” is still a beloved part of the family.

And yet first impressions are important on both sides so approaching this trip with utmost control and rigidity was key. There was no room for improvisation.

Just as I was about to demand that the taxi driver turn around immediately,  my boyfriend Saul calmed me down. He is used to my panicked irrational reactions. Even though we have been together less than a year some already describe him as long-suffering.

Saul convinced me to bravely soldier on with this trip–weather be damned!

When we got to Cincinnati we would make our own meat platter.

CINCINNATI…DAY 1—DEAD RELATIVES AND DEAD PRESIDENTS

Our first stop after we landed was of course Skyline Chili.

We Cincinnatians love our Skyline chili and we push it  to anyone who comes within a five-mile radius of our city like heroin,

Skyline Chili is like no other chili in the world. It has a secret recipe that involves cinnamon, it goes on top of spaghetti and it includes piles and piles of cheese. At Skyline you can order:

A Three Way: Chili and spaghetti with cheese;
A Four Way: Chili and spaghetti with cheese and onions; or
A Five Way: Chili and spaghetti with cheese and onions and beans

I don’t know if the Greek brothers who started Skyline back in 1949 meant to be so provocative or if they just were naive about American sexual lingo but it’s hard not to get titillated every time I order.

The times that I drive home from NYC I know exactly where the first Skyline Chili restaurant is once I get into southern Ohio. Since I have been gluten free for a few years now, I order the cheese conveys with onions and mustard at the drive-thru and finish by licking the bun while sitting in my car. (Perhaps now you can understand why I have been single for so many years before this).

Anyway I was nervous when Saul put on his plastic bib and bit into his first five way. ”Steve” hated Skyline. He just could not see why anyone could possibly like it. (I don’t think “Steve” and I ever recovered from that).

Luckily Saul liked his chili and finished the entire gigantic meal in one sitting

Yet one more sign there may be hope for us yet.

CINCHIL

(Who could Resist a Man in a Plastic Bib?)

Even before our chili was digested (which after all could take a few days) we hit the road in our rental car.

I had decided that if I had only one snow-free day in Cincinnati I would take Saul on a condensed tour of my childhood.

Now taking a tour of my childhood on a cold February day in Cincinnati may not be as fun as you might imagine. (“Steve” used to say they should make a Crayola crayon called Cincinnati Gray to describe the sky of my hometown in winter).

Here is a quick rundown of how how a tour of my childhood goes:

“This is house I lived in when my dad died suddenly when I was only seven”

“Here’s the spot on the playground of my grade school where I used to sit by myself lonely and full of shame while the other kids played Red Rover.”

“This is the home over the Ohio River where I spent some of the happiest years of my life…before it was destroyed by a landslide…”

“Here is the plot of land where my high school was before it was torn down to make room for this parking lot.”

“This is where my mom lived down the block from my sister before they both tragically died within mere months from each other.”

CINEIRICH CINTAYLOR

(From Left To Right:  Place I Last Saw My Father Alive;  Lot Where My Happy High School Memories Were Torn To Pieces By Bulldozers)

You can see why Saul had to take a nap in the front seat of my car at the hometown tomb of William Henry Harrison—whose main distinction as President was that he didn’t wear his coat at his inauguration and caught pneumonia and died after serving the shortest presidency on record. The fun and excitement must have been too much for the poor guy.

CINNAP

(A Captive Audience)

After visiting my aunt and uncle (I can forgive her cancelling the meat platter but I can never forget), we ended the day at my sister-in law Minette’s cozy house where she lived with her husband Jeff

Saul was thrown head first into my family –meeting my brother, my nephew, his wife and two children and other various and assorted relatives all in one sitting.

Meeting family is never the easiest thing in the world and the two of us are both lean towards the sensitive side so we devised a code word at the beginning of the trip in case one of us needed the other’s help in a social situation.

The word we came up with was PETUNIA.  PETUNIA could mean many things such as “I’m really tired can we leave soon?” or “rescue me from your boring uncle” or “This party is lame. Pretend you have a medical emergency so we can leave now!” (NOTE TO SELF: change code word before our next dinner party with someone who may have read this blog).

CINMINN

(One of the Family)

About three quarters of the way through the evening with my family,  Saul looked at me a bit plaintively and whispered PETUNIA. At first I was disappointed because I really thought he should have used the word in a complete sentence to achieve maximum effect but then thought better of criticizing him during his moment of need.

I quickly ascertained that he was exhausted from travelling and reliving the tragedies of my life so after a half hour we went to bed.

So far my family liked Saul and Saul liked chili.

Things were going swimmingly.

CINNPETUNIA

(Petunia)

CINCINNATI…DAY 2–Snow Day

It turns out they were wise to cancel the meat platter.

The snow was coming down in droves.

There was no getting out. There was no one coming to see me.

We were stuck at Minette”s.

*********

Let me tell you about Minette.

Minette is kind funny and generous and…well…I…if you are going to be snowbound somewhere in Cincinnati for the weekend, Minette’s is not a bad place to be stuck. Her only drawback is she that asks a lot of questions, which isn’t awful unless you are watching a movie with her.

“Why is he walking in that house??”
“I don’t know Minette. The movie started 30 seconds ago.”
“Oh okay. Who is that woman he said hello to?”

You get the picture.

I’m glad you like MInette,” I said to Saul later that day.

Is it possible not to like Minette?” was his reply.

********

So our formerly tightly wound scheduled day turned into a lazy lounging day of eating homemade chili (we really like chili in Cincinnati), homemade tomato soup, napping, more chili and tomato soup, more napping, walking in the snowy woods near the house, buying malts at UDF—(UDF malts are another Cincinnati tradition. They are as good as Skyline but with the added benefit of sugar—lots and lots of sugar. Even “Steve” couldn’t argue with UDF malts.).

min4 min3 min2 min CINSNOW4 CINSNOW2 CINSNOW

 (Frolicking in the Snow With Jeff and Minette) 

CINMALT

(Why Cincinnati Has Never Made the ‘Top Thinest City’ List)

After the malts we naturally had to take another nap. Sugar highs are exhausting.

Later we heroically mustered up the energy to watch two movies in Minette and Jeff’s basement on a large screen high def TV sprawled across two overstuffed comfy couches.

After a day like that I didn’t need to hear PETUNIA to know we needed a good nights sleep to recover from all that napping.

CINCINNATI…DAY 3–Get Me To The Church On Time

It was the last day of what was becoming our snowbound getaway and my brother Paul and his girlfriend Donna were able to make the trek across snowy roads to join us. We celebrated their arrival by changing out of our pajamas (a herculean task) and getting another UDF malt.

The streets had cleared up so we reluctantly left Jeff and Minette behind to tour the city even though facing life without them, and their food, entertainment, hospitality and soft bed seemed tragically bleak indeed.

I have to give this Saul guy credit in that he was actually excited to tour Cincinnati That is a rare quality to find in anyone.

We were determined to see the inside of churches before we left the city. We liked looking at churches when we travelled. It had become our “thing”. Some couples like key swapping parties. We liked exploring churches.

Luckily the downtown Catholic cathedra and the Jewish synagogue were right across from each other so we could kill two birds with one stone . First we tried the cathedral and excitedly tugged on the huge wooden doors only to find them locked This seemed inhospitable especially on a Sunday afternoon but the synagogue was right behind us and seemed even more grand and beautiful so we dashed across the street with our hopes high and ran up to the doors and….

Like everything else this weekend,  things weren’t turning out as we planned. In that moment I began to understand the term Rolling with the Punches which if you think about it is a pretty violent and unpleasant thing to have to do.

CINCINNATI…THE LAST HOUR

Paul, Donna, Saul and I wander around a tiny but beautiful church high atop a hill overlooking the beautiful Ohio River. We are the only four people in the church and can’t believe our luck.

In a last ditch effort we had driven to this quaint part of town called Mt. Adams before heading to the airport. I remembered this tiny but locally famous beautiful church from my childhood but surely it would be locked like all the other churches right?

But here we were…inside…the four of us alone. We had this magical little chapel all to ourselves.

We walked around in awe as the winter sun shone through the stained glass from above and candles flickered from corners warming the faces of the saints and virgins from below.

You don’t have to be religious to appreciate and bow to the beauty and grace of a place like this.

As I looked out the window down the frozen river below us, I remembered how I wanted to turn around in the taxi at the beginning of the trip. I was afraid as I saw my wonderful illusion of a perfectly controlled weekend tragically slip trough my tight clutches

I had to change plans, listen to my partner’s needs over my own (well…at least a few times) and although I missed seeing some of my cherished family this time around I got beautiful snow that I didn’t have to shovel, and lots of naps and food and love.

I had to wind and flow like that river to ultimately arrive to this sacred place I now stood with people I cherished.

Besides…as much as I love my family deeply–maybe in the end it’s better they be introduced in small doses.
river

(Coming Up  With Profound River Metaphors in Mt Adams)

THE TRIP HOME–SIGN, SIGN,  EVERYWHERE A SIGN…

If you know me you know I like my signs.

Like I said, the day before my trip I saw a cardinal outside my window.

On the very last day as I was loading my suitcase into the rental car I saw four cardinal’s outside Minette’s window

And on the plane ride home when I asked for club soda or seltzer, the flight attendant told me they were all out.

“The only thing I can offer you is Fresca.”

My mom loved Fresca.

She adored Fresca.

She lived for Fresca until the day she died.

Think what you will but I know she was reminding me that letting go was the way to go.

I ordered two Fresca’s and settled in for the ride.

fresca-tastes-great-in-cans_billboard-ad

(A Sign)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Keith Hoffman is busy trying to control his life.

IF I COULD SAVE TYNE IN  A BOTTLE–A Brave Story of Obsession

By Keith Hoffman

I have successfully stalked Tyne Daly for 35 years.

tyne-daly-cagney-lacey-1981

I am nothing if not loyal to my obsessions.

tyne and me

New York is a great place to live if you want to be close to celebrities.   In Los Angeles you may often see them but they are usually roped off at some fancy event or in a car next to you where you have to scream how much you love them from your window while nearly sideswiping them trying to keep up on the busy freeway.

In NYC they walk around as if they were regular people.

 MY TOP 5 CELEBRITY SIGHTINGS IN NYC

Mid 1980’s: I was newly arrived in the city fresh from my Midwest college and making my living working the register at a trendy housewares store where celebrities such as Richard Gere or Glen Close could often be spotted among the designer teapots and outrageously expensive toothbrush holders. One afternoon  Meryl Streep meandered in to buy some fancy version of Windex.  She was not quite as celebrated as she is now but with Deer Hunter, Sophie’s Choice and the French Lieutenants Woman under her belt she was no slouch either.   I was young and not nearly as sophisticated as I am now. When she approached my register our eyes locked meaningfully.  This was my first big celebrity encounter and I was determined to handle it with style, wit and élan.

“DIRTY WINDOWS HUH?” I shouted at her as she set the window cleaner on the counter.

Then I laughed maniacally at my own wit. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

I’m not sure why I found it funny. I’m not sure Ms. Streep did either.

Still I’d like to think that she looks back at that moment as fondly as I do.

Meryl-Streep-in-Julie--Ju-001

(Meryl Streep is Surprising Domestic!)

Late 80’sSean Penn is walking down the upper West Side and he’s holding someone’s hand. This is excitment enough until I suddenly realize whose hand he is most likely holding at this time in his life.   I literally trace down from his face to his shoulder to his elbow to his forearm to his hand over to the hand it was clasping. Madonna is attached to him in all her pop superstar glory.   Almost as amazing as the sighting was how the crowd on the sidewalk parted before them and then stood looking back in a dazed awe at what they had just witnessed. A friend once told me the same phenomenon happened when she saw Bill and Hillary walking down the street together. A power couple sighting apparently excites even the most jaded New Yorkers.

madonnaSean-donna? Ma-penn?

2003Phillip Seymour Hoffman is sitting on the curb nervously smoking outside the theatre of Long Days Journey Into Night–the play I was about to see him in that very evening.   “I’m going to see you in the play tonight! In only four hours!!” I yelled as I passed by. He smiled and waved shyly at me.

Sure we may be haunted by inner demons but we Hoffman’s are a friendly bunch.

seymour

(Taking A Bow in Long Days Journey (2nd from Left))

2010—I am sitting in a restaurant in the heart of Broadway approximately six feet from Angela Lansbury at the next table. I find it impossible to talk to my dinner companion since my brain can only focus on such thoughts as, “Angela Lansbury is inserting a fork with pasta into her mouth…Angela Lansbury is wiping red sauce from her chin…Angela Lansbury is trying to avoid my intense stare…”

The night got even better as the playwright Neil Simon and then Alec Baldwin both came to eat dinner at the very  same restaurant. And yes even though they sat at different tables, they all acknowledged and said hello each other.   I guess all famous people actually do know each other.

Angela Lansbury;Basil Rathbone

(Angela Has Always Enjoyed A Good Meal)

2013—I spot Susan Sarandon carrying her dry cleaning down West 10th street in Greenwich Village. I have that feeling of “do I know this person?” before realizing she is not a friend but just famous.   This moment is straight out of the “Stars Are Just Like Us” section of Us Magazine.

stars_like_us-01-best

(They Pick Up Drycleaning!)

Of course Tyne is not the only celebrity I’ve stalked. That would be too much pressure on both of us.   We have an open relationship.

 OTHER CELEBRITIES I STALK

 STEVIE NICKS—She is right up there neck and neck with Tyne because she is…well….Stevie Nicks.   I have also loved her since the early 80’s.  I have stuck with her through the cocaine addiction, the Kolonopin addiction and the overweight years.   I loved her when it was uncool to love her.   The only issue with Stevie is she is far less accessible than Tyne. The closest I have come to her is handing her flowers on stage from the audience and accosting her mother outside a concert telling her what a wonderful daughter she raised. (Yes, I knew what Stevie’s mother looked like—I do my research).

One of the more fun parts of loving Stevie Nicks is that fans love to dress up like her at concerts.   No one ever seems to dress up like Tyne at one of her plays.

stevie-nicks-pic

(Life Should Be Viewed Through a Tambourine More Often)

BEATRICE ARTHUR –Beside growing up pining to marry Maude and then later wanting to be one of the Golden Girls (like I suppose any typical red blooded adult male did) , I finally got to say hello to Bea only once after watching her perform her one-woman show shortly before her death.   Not long after I was in Florida at a gay writer’s conference when I heard Bea died.   To this day there is hardly a memory more tragic to me than seeing the grief-stricken, panicked faces of a sea of gay men as the news of her demise spread throughout the large convention room on closing night.

And yes, I realize I have a weird “strong woman” theme going on here indicating possible unresolved Mother issues….

bea arthur(Are you my Mother?)

HILLARY CLINTON – Whatever you think of her politics, hair or outfits, this woman is strong. You can knock her down but she will get right back up like Glen Close in Fatal Attraction or Kathy Bates in Misery.   The only problem with Hilary is any stalking of her is out of the question what with all those pesky Secret Service agents.

hillary

(What Does It Take To Get Some Alone Time With You, Hillary?)

“That is a lot on Keith’s plate,” you may be saying to yourself about now. “How does he manage successfully stalking without getting arrested?”

.4 SIMPLE TIPS ON HOW NOT TO BE A CREEPY STALKER

  •  Only approach your obsession at stage doors after a show.    Never interrupt them during a performance or while they are eating a meal…especially if the meal is breakfast in their own bed.
  •  Ask politely before grabbing them and taking a selfie.
  •  Do NOT push them in front of a taxi and then save their lives at the last minute so they will forever be in your debt.  It could go very badly.
  • Do NOT smell their hair without consent.

By now you are asking yourself….

 WHY IS TYNE DALY WORTHY OF OBSESSION?

Dumb question.

I’m sure you don’t have time to hear about ALL of her great TV and theatre roles so I’ll just name the two greatest:

Cagney and Lacey—As Mary Beth Lacey she was the mom and wife and cop who was tough and maternal both at home and at work and who Emmy winningly nursed her partner Christine Cagney through her alcoholic bottom.

023-cagney-and-lacey-theredlist(Put the Bottle Down!)

(Christine Cagney Hits Rock Bottom–Watch above link and try not to cry.  I dare you.)

Gypsy (Broadway)—She literally spit on me while savagely singing Everything’s Coming Up Roses as the infamous Mama Rose–the ultimate stage mother who turns her daughter into the stripper (a plot that eerily echoed my own life but that is another blog).

gypsy(From My Tyne Collection)

(Rose Turn–Watch This Tony winning Nervous Breakdown Scored to Music  and Try Not To Stand and Applaud At the End–I Dare You.)

And why has she lasted? Why Tyne and not Melanie Griffith or Loni Anderson who I had brief flings of obsession with?

Sure she has won a lot of awards–17 Emmy Nominations with 6 wins; 3 Tony Nominations with 1 win (so far)–but so has Meryl Streep , another great actress who I don’t I obsess over.

christy

Christy–Emmy Win

judging amy

Judging Amy–Emmy  Win

rabbit hole

Rabbit Hole-Tony Nomination

master class

Master Class–Unforgivable Tony Snub

And maybe that’s it—maybe unlike Meryl who everyone (except my mother) loves, I have found my own unique obsession.

Meryl Streep is for the masses.

barsanti-streep-doubt-splsh

(For the Masses)

Tyne is off the beaten track.

Tyne-Daly-Cabaret1-WTF2012-Photo-Steven-Koernig-2-150x150

(Another Shoe-Stopping Performance)

And finally….

MY TOP TYNE ENCOUNTER

I’ve seen her walking down the street with her daughters; I’ve met her countless times backstage (including the time she held my hand while she took off her make -up after Gypsy).   I’ve bought her a Bacardi at a bar…

But there is one encounter just a few years ago that reminded me just how weirdly and crazily and marvelously connected this universe actually is.

It was the day before I was flying to Seattle to host a TV show for the very first time in my life. I was nervous to say the very least. The last time I had preformed for anyone was when I danced a Scottish jig in a kilt in my college production of Brigadoon.

 (nope you are not seeing a video of that).

I was thrilled to have a chance to do something that was so different than anything I had ever done but how was I to know I would be any good?

That particular day I had left for work late (well, later than usual) because my dog had devoured an entire package of heartworm pills. (Apparently it doesn’t hurt them and I’m pretty sure she is immune to heartworms for the rest of her life).   Even though I was already incredibly behind schedule I took the subway that was a little more out of the way because I knew I’d get a seat. During my long ride into the city I nervously fretted and worried I was going to mess up the shoot the next day and waste people’s time–not to mention all that money they were spending to do it. My fretting was morphing into full-fledged panic by the time my subway arrived at my final stop.

I stepped out of the subway and made my way to the stairs when I practically ran into her.

Tyne Daly was standing on the subway platform reading a newspaper.

That was amazing enough but just to top it off she was wearing an outfit covered in orange butterflies.

Now that may seem like nothing to you but orange butterflies were the thing I saw EVERYWHERE after my sister died.

I saw so many orange butterflies I tattooed my right arm with an orange butterfly.

butterfly

I stood on the platform just inches away from Tyne…stunned

The odds that I was on that train platform at that unusual time of day –the same time that she was on that train platform in that part of the huge city after picking out an outfit covered in orange butterflies that morning…well if you were a guy who believes in signs….

Let’s just say I knew I was going to be all right the next day. It was like my sister sent me my favorite entertainer to let me know.

subway 2

subway 

(Yes, These Are Stalker Photos But Can You Blame Me???)

So what does this all mean?

Is Tyne Daly my spirit animal?

Can spirits influence TV and Broadway stars when they need to send messages from beyond?

I don’t know.

I do know that I have found joy in my life by finding my very own unique people, to love.

A few are famous.

Most  barely have an Emmy or an ounce of fame between them (and a few are near recluses) but those people  are the important people in my life.   They are my pack—my circle—who  actually know who I am and who  love me back dearly.

And  even though I may not write about all those  regular souls in my life  as much on Facebook  as I do   about Tyne. You can rest assured  I treasure  them every bit as much.

But every once in a while, is it so bad to find those  people who you admire from afar and who inspire you with their talent or strength   or bravery and who make this somewhat harrowing journey just a little bit  more fun?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Keith Hoffman  is checking his google alerts for the latest Tyne Daly news and seeing the very first preview of her  new Broadway musical   It Shoulda Been You  on March 18th. Please don’t call, text or email him on  that day after 7pm.

it should a been(I smell another Tony!)

 

WHY I SHOULD BE ON A LOT OF PEOPLE’S GRATITUDE LISTS

 ” It is better to give than to receive”

 In the spirit of those wise words I am making a list of why people should be thankful for what I have given them.

  LIST OF PEOPLE WHO NEED TO BE THANKFUL FOR ME

 MY DOG

Although not technically a person my dog should be thankful that I have stayed in the relationship even though she has definitely let herself go.   She also should be thankful that I am messy and drop a lot of food on the floor (which may account for why she has let herself go).

ungrateful sashaUngrateful bitch 

PEOPLE WHO WALK AROUND WITH HUGE GOLF UMBRELLAS ON THE CROWDED NYC STREETS WHILE TEXTING AND SMOKING AT THE SAME TIME

These people should be grateful I don’t murder them like I would like to.

 

TYNE DALY

Should be grateful that as a 64-year-old actress who has struggled with weight, she has a fan that adores her with as much fervor as a tween girl worships Nick Jonas. And she should stop looking afraid for her life every time I approach her.

photo 1-6

If you are such a great actress mask that fear in your eyes!

 

MY CAT

Should be grateful that I have kept her fed, healthy and somewhat groomed (except for that period when I was really depressed) for over 19 years.   Instead she resents me for constantly thwarting her  plots to take care of the “pit bull problem” in the house.  See MY DOG above.

photo-40Plotting

 

BIGFOOT

Should be grateful he has made a killing off of my fame and supposed existence.

photo 2-4Without me he’s nothing

 

PEOPLE IN THE SOUP KITCHEN WHERE I VOLUNTEER

Should be grateful that as somewhat of a celebrity I sometimes show up for photo ops.   People like getting their mashed potatoes scooped by famous people.   (See BIGFOOT above).

photo-41

How was I to know there was a photographer there?

 

PEOPLE AT SALAD BARS WHO STAND IN FRONT OF THE ONE FOOD I DESIRE FOR SEVERAL MINUTES TRYING TO DECIDE IF THEY WANT IT OR NOT

(See PEOPLE WHO WALK AROUND WITH HUGE GOLF UMBRELLAS ON THE CROWDED NYC STREETS WHILE TEXTING AND SMOKING above.)

 

BROADWAY

Should be grateful I have singlehandedly kept it solvent.

 

BIRDS

Should be grateful for me feeding them in my backyard every day.   Although I deeply apologize for those of you who lost loved ones to the neighbor’s evil cat.

 

PEOPLE MAGAZINE

Again not technically a person (although its name implies otherwise)—should be grateful for me reading every issue since it began in 1976 from cover to cover. And I will continue to do so until I die or magazines become extinct.

photo-43

I’m quite good at celebrity trivia 

 

RELATIVES

Should be grateful I’m not litigious.

 

MY FRIENDS AND COWORKERS

My old friends should be grateful we have maintained wonderful friendships through good and bad times, happiness and sadness, closeness and distance.   My new friends should be grateful for the surprise of never knowing when a new and wonderful person may pop up in your life and decide to stick around. My newish friend Sara should be grateful that I’m going to try my best to remember to get legally registered in the state of New York so I can have the honor of marrying her and her fiancé.  (Sara–please remind me to do that on Monday).

MY BOYFRIEND

Should be grateful for oh so many things.   1) For me learning it is not good to wake someone up from a nap yelling constructive criticism at them 2) For getting a screen for my back door so mosquitos stop attacking him while he is relaxing watching TV (who knew there were people who didn’t like that? 3) For providing him with a dog who loves to be petted and a cat who demands to be fed at all hours of the day (Hmmm…. I may need to make the cat sound more gratitude-inducing) 4) For me being smart enough after years and years of being single to recognize a very good thing when I see one.

ALL PEOPLE IN RELATIONSHIPS

Should be grateful I don’t secretly and jealously hate them anymore now that I’m not single.

photo-42Showoffs!

Now some of you may read this and say, “Hey, you should be grateful for all the things you listed.   Sure the people at the salad bar who take too long and the NY pedestrians with golf umbrellas should be killed or at least hurt  but that dog gives you comfort and love. And that cat gives you companionship. And those friends and the soup kitchen and Bigfoot and Tyne Daly and People Magazine are all part of the rich and beautiful patchwork of your life.   And that boyfriend accepts you for who you are even with all your mood swings, pettiness, old animals, and those two annoying loud clocks in your apartment that chime and make bird sounds every hour on the hour.”

“Maybe you’re right,” I’d say. “And who told you about the clocks?”

But I will think about what you said.

My boyfriend (see MY BOYFRIEND above) told me about a group of people he was lucky enough to have lunch with the other day. They weren’t middle class or rich or privileged or well…white people.   They didn’t have all the advantages that I and most of my friends have. But they were kind and they were humble and they were grateful for what they did have.

And when I hear that it reminds me that gratitude and humbleness and kindness is truly the only thing that has ever brought me happiness and joy in this lifetime.

So  for today at least I will be humbly grateful for everything and everyone on the above list.

After all, I suppose there are worse things in life than having to wait a little longer for my lunch or having to gently elbow someone in the ribs to get out of my way on a rainy day.

 Happy Thanksgiving!

 About the Author

 Keith Hoffman wears a sleek raincoat with a hood on stormy days and quickly makes food selections while in a crowded deli.

DATING IN THE TIME OF FACEBOOK

 by Keith Hoffmanphoto 1-5

Some of you might have missed the news that I’m in a relationship.

If you did–do not fear. Facebook has assured me that it will hunt you down in that remote jungle, send a drone to find you on that deserted island or miraculously wake you from that deep coma to deliver the good news.

Little did I know when I pressed that button in the ABOUT section of my profile, the news (complete with a Facebook-created photo montage) would be blasted electronically and aggressively to anyone who has ever had a device that needed to be charged.

I first became curious by the sheer number of responses I got. Loved ones, old school chums, and those Facebook friends you don’t really know how you know wrote to congratulate me. Relatives texted to say they couldn’t believe I was able to find love. Exes sent emails wondering if my dark heart had finally been transplanted. Women wept and gnashed their teeth and tore at their clothing.   My dog confronted me at the door: “Dude… you’re gay?!”

When I got to the office the next day people related stories as if this was a major historical event they had witnessed in their lifetime like the start of a war or an assasination. “I’ll never forget where I was when I heard Keith was in a relationship.”

I was deep in slumber until my phone and computer alerted me awake.” (This one was related to me with a bit of hostility)

“I was telling my wife our marriage was over until we read about you on our phone and realized love can indeed conquer all!”

“I was washing my clothes thinking it was just another ordinary day when….”

Some people casually remarked that this is a new feature on Facebook.   Mind you there was no warning…no “by pressing this button you agree to feel vulnerable on a national scale”.  Nope,  I lightly touched my finger on my screen and BOOM.

Now please don’t in any way get me wrong.

I really like this guy a lot. This is the first guy in 17 years that I’ve liked like this. This guy is a good guy. Any man who can still be in a good humor when I  accidentally rent a romantic getaway for two that turns out to be a tiny room crammed with four bunk beds and a card table is a man that makes my heart skip a beat. This is a man worth taking some risks for.

And yes we mutually decided to change our statuses—kind of like the old days when the jock gave his sweetheart his varsity jacket—sweet and romantic and fun.

And maybe some friends would check our pages and smile and wish us well.

But such an aggressively public announcement?

I know. I know what you are all thinking. I have tirelessly blogged about my sad searches for love through matchmakers, online dating and rock climbing so why would this be an issue?

I guess it comes down to what it means to me…and I believe  to him….to be IN A RELATIONSHIP.

It means we are going to focus on creating a space…a sacred space….a private space that is our own.  A space that feels safe and kind—so that our beat-up and bruised but still sweet and hopeful hearts can find rest and healing and trust with each other.

I’m  guessing this is not what Facebook had in mind.

But that’s okay.

Although I am sorry I may have awoken you from your nap,  I have no regrets.

I’m committed to go down the rapids with its dangerous rocks and its enveloping beauty and relish every single minute of it.

And hopefully you won’t be getting a message that KEITH IS SINGLE along with a photo montage of me looking sad and weepy any time in the near or far future.

 

About the Author:

Keith Hoffman is in a relationship.

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THE RAVENLUNATIC’S ADVENTURES IN DATING PART 3: THE MATCHMAKER

I had high hopes as I made my way though the bustling streets of New York City on my way to meet the professional matchmaker.

I loved Hello Dolly (although I think we can ALL agree Barbra Streisand was miscast in the movie version) so I anticipated some big brassy diva in a feathered hat singing to me about the joys of love in front of a chorus of dancing waiters.

hellodolly3

Matchmaking was so much more festive back in the day

Perhaps I should have felt ashamed and desperate that I had resorted to paying someone else to find my soul mate—a task that should really be my responsibility– but I was just being realistic.     People of a certain age have a harder time on the dating market.   When your OK Cupid bio includes phrases such as “hate when those annoying neighborhood kids play on my front lawn” and “they don’t sing ‘em like Judy and Doris anymore”, and your shirtless selfie is thought of as “brave”, you need to start getting little creative.

Some doubt crept in my brain when I entered the office–a nondescript and small space with none of the charm of a hat shop in Yonkers.

16

This is sadly NOT what I saw when the elevator doors opened. 

The matchmaker who I will refer to as “G” was nice enough. (I will refrain from revealing his name since he owes me one more match and I don’t want to piss him off so  that he sets me up on a coffee date with charming murderer in retaliation).

As G extolled the virtues of using his services instead of a depersonalized online dating site or…God forbid…kismet, I couldn’t help but feel that there was something very familiar about him.

Suddenly he stopped in mid-spiel.

“Did you live in New York in the 80’s?”

“Yes,” I replied not sure what this had to do with my attractibility but wiling to give him any ammunition he needed.

“And did you work out at the West Side Y on 63rd?”

“Um…yes…”

I began to wonder if this guy was a matchmaker or a psychic.

“We met there in our twenties.   You walked me home one night. I lived in the Ansonia Building on the Upper West Side.”

“Oh right.   The Ansonia.   In the West 70’s…”

And before that sentence was out of my mouth it all came flooding back:  The friendly meeting over squat thrusts….the walk home on that balmy summer night…me flirtatiously telling him I had always wanted to see an apartment in the Ansonia…that glass of wine….

I had had a fling with this very same matchmaker over twenty years earlier.

“Oh….”

I didn’t know how to fill the awkward silence.   Should I quietly leave?   Nothing says DAMANGED GOODS like a tramp from the 80’s.   I prayed I was on the top of my game during our illicit encounter or he would surely make a note in my profile.

Personality: Funnyish

Background: German Irish

Bedroom Technique: Lazy and easily distracted by the TV

08ansonia.span 

The site of my 80’s indiscretion

G smiled at me almost lasciviously.

“I remember what great shape you were in. Your body was amazing!”

“Why yes,” I replied uncomfortably. “And it hasn’t changed at all!”

I wished I had worn a kaftan to drape over the flaws of this clearly not 20-something body.

But after getting through that awkwardness,  G assured me he could find me a match.    For an exorbitant price I was going to be set up on three single dates and three group dates.

Like a young Jewish  girl  with her heart full of hope in Fiddler on the Roof I was ready for the Matchmaker to make me a match.

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Beatrice Arthur as the Matchmaker in the the original Broadway production of Fiddler  (no really…it is)

GROUP DATE # 1

A group date is not as lascivious as it sounds–like the lesbian party I was invited to on Gay Pride Weekend that my straight boxing trainer begged to attend with me, the title is way more salacious than the actual event.

A few days after my interview I was sent an email invitation to join seven other perfect strangers at a restaurant at 7 o’clock Tuesday evening.

The matchmaker had told me that I came off as very confident and self-assured.   Maybe that was what he said to everyone instead of “you are a hopeless bitter mess but I need your money to pay for my summer home.”. All I knew for sure was if he was being truthful he may have changed his opinion if he observed me walking to diner with a churning stomach and knotted intestines.

What if I had to use the restroom in the middle of meal??   Maybe I better do a preemptory stop beforehand in a hotel restroom.

In theory this was a great idea.

Then I washed my hands and accidentally splashed water all over my crotch.

It was 7:03 and dinner was at 7:00.

I somehow had to get my crotch under the hand dryer (stupid paper-saving hotel) while looking casual as people continually entered the busy bathroom.

At 7:09 I finally got the wet spot faded enough so that if I folded my hands over my crotch demurely and shifted my hips to the left while entering the dark restaurant letting the sun backlight me, I just might avoid the label of “the guy who peed his pants” in everyone’s report back to the matchmaker

As I sat down at the table with the rest of the guys, my fears that it would either be a table of inferior reptiles or superior supermodels were quickly put to rest.   It was a table of good looking but not intimidatingly so nice guys.

Things were looking up.

Conversation flowed easily and I felt I held my own as I peppered it with witty bon mots tossed from my side of the table (this is a skill I honed by growing up in a sarcastic family of five where you had to keep up with the cleverness or be chewed up and left behind in the dust) As the evening progressed I mentally checked off each guy’s datability as I scanned the circle from left to right…YES, YES, NO, MAYBE, NO, YES.   It was kind of fun—like a game—until I realized they must be playing the exact same game on me.

Surely I was on all of their YES lists right!?

Oh how sad that I would have to reject some of them.   I hoped they’d recover and eventually find love of their own.   Damn this curse of being funny and sexily charming.

Suddenly one of the guys (my number one YES) asked what each of our Chinese New Year signs were.   This seemed like an innocent “what’s your horoscope?” type ice breaker until I announced I didn’t know mine and was told the only way to find out was to reveal the year of my birth.

All eyes at the table peered at me intently   I could lie but what would be the point?   I believe that on a date you should be yourself warts and all. Why try to make yourself seem  better when you want someone who likes you as you are? These guys were lucky I hadn’t shown up in my long johns—the outfit they would be see me wearing the most if things worked out.

So I took a deep breath and blurted out the year I was born.

I’m pretty sure there were audible gasps.

Now look….it’s great when people tell you you don’t look your age and that they just cannot believe how old you are.   But by professing they can’t believe how old you are they are also saying they can’t believe how old you are. After the fifth or sixth “I can’t believe it” you start to think they are expecting an orderly in a white suit to approach the table and feed you Cream of Wheat while wiping your drool.

The only secret to my fairly presentable appearance at this advanced age is my mother insisting to her gay son that no matter what happens in life one simply must moisturize every day.   Whether I was depressed, terminally ill or a POW I must never forget the importance of Oil of Olay.

charlies-angels-1-300

You can bet these girls moisturized even in prison

Finally the table calmed down and I left dinner looking forward to the busy social dating calendar I was certain lay in the future.

####

Not a single one put me down as a match.

Not one.

Maybe I chewed with my mouth open?

Maybe I had body odor or bad breath?

Maybe I’m not as funny as I think…or too loud…or my crotch spot was noticed?

Or maybe I am too old.

The youngest in the group was in his late 30’s and the rest were in their 40’s but I had the gall to creep over that 50 mark.

It is an ultimate betrayal to many young people I know—getting old. It is a scary reminder that no matter how much we pretend we won’t…we are all going to die one day.

Not a sexy reminder on a group date.

But that’s okay. They are of course allowed to date someone their own age.   Maybe it’s just my issue with growing old.

On 4th of July weekend I was in the Pines area of Fire Island– not a place you would expect to find me.

First of all it is an island, which sounds to me like one big party you can’t easily leave.

Second of all it is loud, crowded and drunk  which are three things I spend most of my time trying to avoid.

And finally most of the boys on the island are barely clad with flat washboard stomachs.

I know I shouldn’t hate guys with washboard abs. I understand that it takes a lot of work and discipline to attain them , but it’s just not what I look for in a guy. I see bodies with zero percent body fat and think of all that gym time that could have been spent reading, or volunteering or calling your mom….so yes, I suppose I do judge them.

6a00d8341cdd0d53ef017ee9ab5322970d-320wiCall your mother!

My work is not to judge—I get it—and when I’m in that world I start to judge myself more than anyone.   These 50-something “abs” are never going to resemble a washboard unless I either dedicate every waking hour to this goal or do some creative shading with body paint.

I’m reminded of when my mother in her later years was for all intents and purposes immobile and she lamented over the fact that she could no longer go for walks with my sister and me. “You had your time….” I tried to helpfully tell her.      I guess my stomach had its time as well.

The frustration of these Fire Island gatherings is that if you don’t have the “perfect” body it is very hard to get anyone’s attention.   “I’m currently reading Shakespeare’s Henry the IV Part 2” is not going to get me lucky.

2a7ca9408119deef664bd20df06a2b79  Isn’t Dickens to die for?

So is this it?

Is my value diminished past the point of no return?

Deep in my heart I know the answer.

Aging is not failing.

It is sometimes scary but from what I can tell people who face their fears lead the most interesting lives.

And my value does come not my body.

And every damn lesson I have learned in life boils down to one thing: Let go.

And believe you me aging is just one big effing letting go.

I just saw Life As It Is about Roger Ebert (a beautiful film about life, love, movies and death).   Ebert met his wife at the age of 50. He told her he had spent half his life waiting for her and he wasn’t going to let her go.

A friend of mine met her husband in her late 40’s. She said she had seen what was out there during her long years of dating since the demise of her first marriage and wasn’t ever going to be wondering if there was anyone better.

I saw the groundedness in both of their relationship and knew that if I were to have one more love of my own it had to be that or nothing.

So maybe too old for some is just right for others.

And maybe the Native Americans were right about revering the wise elders.

native_american_elder

Is that a peace pipe in your pocket or are you happy to see me?

And possibly there is some silly man out there who will have the chutzpah to find me by hook, crook or matchmaker.

Until then I will enjoy being exactly where I am.

And of course moisturize every day.

 

SISTER MAURA AND THE SEVEN DWARFS: A True Story

by Keith Hoffman

There were a lot of secrets in my family.

Most conversations of my childhood started with phrases like, “Now don’t tell your brother this …” or “Grandma doesn’t need to know what just happened…”

In fact we had an entire range of secrets: little secrets like when my mom slipped me an extra $20 in my pocket when I went to the movies; medium secrets usually involving funny smelling smoke that would inevitably waft through the vents into my lonely bedroom from our family room below where my mom and older siblings hung out late at night (was that extra $20 some sort of guilt payoff?); and then the very big secrets like ….well…at least two of them are so big I am not supposed to reveal them while certain parties are still alive. Let’s just say if I can outlive  a couple more relatives there is a whopper of a blog to come.

After I grew up, my boyfriend Steve referred to my family as The Landmines, since he could never keep track of all the things he wasn’t allowed to say in front of whom which inevitably led to family drama every time he opened his mouth.

By that point I was a pro at artfully concealing the truth but in fifth grade I was still learning the ropes.

Luckily I dodged a lot of awkward conversations at school because I was so unpopular no one had the slightest curiosity to ask me any personal questions.

No one except for Miss Axe.

Miss Axe was my sixth-grade teacher. She was a stout woman with very short hair who had never married and most likely had a few secrets of her own.   She had taught my older siblings and often asked about them.  But as my family moved farther away from our Father Knows Best phase and closer to our Mother Smokes Pot period my responses to her queries became increasingly vague.

Yet the family secrets kept piling up and the chasm between me and what I perceived as the “normal” world felt like it was growing impossibly wide. A tiny hope began to grow inside my heart that Miss Axe could somehow build a bridge.

Although I already had a secret crush on her, I discovered just how incredibly kind Miss Axe  was after the “Sister Maura and the Seven Dwarfs” incident.

Of all the bitter and angry nuns who taught me throughout my Catholic school years, Sister Maura—a round, buck-toothed, bespeckled woman—was the bitterest and angriest. Her one redeeming quality was that, on most days, she preferred reminiscing about her childhood to teaching. She seemed to have loved her life before the convent, and I couldn’t understand why she had given it all up. I’m not sure she understood either, but she seemed to work through her confusion with frequent and energetic outbursts of uncontrolled rage aimed squarely at her students.

The only passion that made Sister Maura forget her miserable chaste life was her music.

Each spring, sixth graders from several schools participated in a citywide music concert that was the highlight of Sister Maura’s school year. Somehow I was one of the students that had been selected by the angry old nun to sing in the choir of an operatic version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

DebbieSingingNunNothing like Sister Maura

I was thrilled.

Those of us fortunate enough to be among The Chosen were excused from our regular classes three times a week to practice. I couldn’t help feeling special as part of the elite group that Sister Maura had handpicked to represent St. Jude Elementary School at a big downtown event.

I was hardly a singer but this was another secret that I seemed to be able to keep under wraps. Perhaps as a way of saying “I’m sorry for striking down your father with a heart attack at one of the most crucial periods in your childhood development,” God had miraculously helped me get through my singing audition on key. For once I wasn’t the last to be chosen for a team, and I strongly sensed that this was going to be a major turning point in my life.

A week before the concert, Sister Maura, obsessed with the perfection of her young choir, pretty much yanked us out of every class so she could have us all to herself. She was focused, driven, and perhaps even a wee bit demented.

As we valiantly sang through final rehearsals, I imagined the thrill of being up on stage in front of hundreds of people in the new white shirt and black tie my proud mother had bought for me.

We were in the middle of singing a particularly intricate part of the opera when, without warning, Sister Maura slammed both hands down. “WHO IS SINGING OFF-KEY?” she bellowed.

We sat in bewildered silence, wondering whether or not this question was rhetorical.

Meanwhile, Sister Maura seethed with homicidal rage.

She insisted we individually sing the line from the opera that had so affronted her sensitive ears.

One by one, we went down the row starting with Cindy Wilson.

Who is coming through the dark night now?”

Cindy looked at Sister Maura anxiously.

“Next!”

Who is coming through the dark night now?” Mindy Hofzinger belted out confidently.

“Next!”

Who is coming through the dark night now?”

As my turn came closer, I began sweating profusely and forgetting everything I had never known about singing.

Who is coming through the dark night now?”

There were only two kids left before me.

“Please, God let one of them sing off-key so we can end this torture. Please, God … ruin their lives instead of mine this time.”

It was around this point that I seemed to completely lose my hearing. As if viewing an eerie silent movie, I watched two classmates mouth the words to the song before they sat down, smiling in relief.

Now it was my turn.

Sister Maura narrowed her eyes and focused on me.

All heads turned expectantly.

Where were my spontaneous vomiting skills when I needed them?

I took a deep breath. “Don’t fail me God. Please?”

Who is coming through the dark night now?”

I looked at Sister Maura.

She looked at me.

I looked at her.

She looked at me.

More silence.

“Get out.”

Those were the first words I could hear again even though she had said them in a whispered hiss.

“Get out of this room. Get out of this choir. GET OUT OF MY SIGHT NOW!”

I wanted to say to that if she gave me another chance … that maybe if she worked with me a little after rehearsal …

She stood with her arm stretched out and her pudgy index finger pointing at the door.

“OUT! NOW!”

Attempting to appear dignified, I quietly placed my music book on my seat, held my chin up high, and began to walk out.

Although God had been kind enough to restore my hearing, He now seemed to have removed my ability to walk. I put one foot shakily in front of the other and tentatively made my way to the outside hall as if walking on narrow plank made of quicksand. I focused all my concentration on trying to remain upright until I began to wonder if I could speed up this painful process by getting on my hands and knees and crawling to the door.

Finally I made it to the hallway.

The metal door slammed behind me as I heard the muffled sounds of the piano starting up again.

Who is coming through the dark night now?”

********

I arrived at the classroom full of noisy non-singing losers and slunk back to my desk. As I sat silently among my happily chattering classmates, I thought about the moment when poor Sister Maura would find out that I had taken my own life by swallowing barbiturates, booze, and absinthe.

I knew I could rummage up the barbiturates and booze from my house but where exactly did one obtain absinthe?

Before I had a chance to map out my tragic plan in my head, the nun at the front of my classroom loudly declared she was sick and tired of all the talking and that perhaps if we wrote SILENCE IS GOLDEN five hundred times on a sheet of paper with No. 2 lead pencils we’d learn to keep our mouths shut.

As I wearily rummaged through my book bag and pulled out a chewed-up pencil, I decided then and there that I hated nuns and I definitely detested dwarves.

barsanti-streep-doubt-splsh

I mean really…what’s to love?

********

When Miss Axe heard about my unfortunate misadventures in choir, she offered to take me to the concert as her guest.

I was conflicted. I wanted to move on with my life and put Snow White and those creepy little people behind me, but no teacher had ever shown any interest in getting to know me outside the classroom. I was starved for attention and willing to attend the stupid opera to get it.

On the day of the concert, Miss Axe asked for my address and informed me she would pick me up at my house. After school, I impatiently waited for her on the front steps of my porch feeling excited and scared.

I was excited because a real-life teacher was actually coming to my home.

I was scared because a real-life teacher was actually coming to my home.

My first hurdle of the evening was to keep her from actually walking through the front door. No matter what, I told myself, she was to get no further than my driveway. If she wanted to use the bathroom, I would inform her we had lost it in the tornado a few years back.

Secrets were hard to keep if you let somebody in.

I sat on those front porch steps diligently keeping watch.

When she finally pulled into the driveway, I urgently screamed a goodbye through the screen door from over my shoulder, raced down the stairs, and nimbly leapt into her front seat.

Miss Axe seemed surprised at first but recovered with a friendly “Well, you look all dressed up!”

Drive! Drive!” I wanted to scream. I already knew my new clip-on tie looked dashing and had no time for pleasantries.

“We have some time. I thought I’d say …”

“Nobody’s home” I firmly explained cutting her off at the pass.

Miss Axe peered up at my front windows where the sounds of Neil Young blared out. Someone started singing along to “Southern Man.”

“Oh for God’s sake, woman! Step on the accelerator!”

I couldn’t actually say that so instead I muttered something about hoping we’d get a good seat at the concert. Miss Axe finally took the hint and reluctantly backed out of the driveway.

As we drove further from my family, I began to relax. Miss Axe and I talked about movies,  TV shows,  animals and my favorite subjects at school and she and actually seemed interested in what I had to say. A grownup that was not too wrapped up in grief, guilt, a pot fog, or a nun’s habit had finally found time to notice me. I felt interesting and important.

At the concert, I tried not to cringe—or heave—when I heard the curious dwarves operatically wonder, Who is coming through the dark night now? I wanted to heckle, “It’s Snow White, you goddamned morons!” but demonstrated maturity and restraint since I wasn’t sure if one could go to jail for heckling 5th graders.

 

800px-Snow_White_and_the_Seven_Dwarfs_1

If you think about it, the whole story is just creepy

On the way home, we stopped at White Castle and I could barely cease talking long enough to swallow down my five cheeseburgers. I had so many opinions about life that no one had heard since my preschool days when I shadowed my mother around as she did housework, and I was not going to let Miss Axe slip away without subjecting her to each and every one of them.

As we walked back to the car in the White Castle parking lot, Miss Axe placed her arm around my shoulder.

I wanted so desperately to hold her hand but feared that I was too old for such a childish action.

We headed toward home and I fell into an easy, exhausted quiet while listening to the hum of car engine. I had made it through the concert debacle and had come out with something much better than Sister’s Maura’s approval.

I was about to doze off when Miss Axe jarred my serenity with a seemingly innocent question.

“So, how are things at home?

I shifted into high alert. Up until this point I had kept things at surface level but now she was trying to slip past the perimeter.

“Great. Everything’s great!!” I said a little too enthusiastically.

“Has your family  been doing okay since your dad died?”

“I think so,” I replied lamely.

Had this woman learned her questioning techniques from the Spanish Inquisitors?

“Well, if you ever want to talk …”

I wanted to talk. I wanted blab everything. I wanted to ask her how to keep up with everything changing around me too  fast for me to keep up with. I wanted to know if she could help me know to not be an outsider in my own home. I wanted to tell Miss Axe about my feelings. More than anything, I wanted to ask her how I should feel. I’d had so many mixed-up emotions jumbled inside me pounding at my chest and stomach desperate to finally get out….

But I couldn’t.

I would be betraying my family.

And they were all I had.

“Okay,” I finally mumbled as I focused intently out the window.

We rode for the rest of the trip in a new kind of silence.

All my secrets were wrapped up tightly and safe.

And I felt more alone than I ever had in my entire.

 

NEXT: A secret revealed.