Lois Hofmann in her RV, singing Loretta Lynn’s “You Ain’t Woman Enough to Take My Man.”
Gather ‘round, my children. I want you to hear what a success story sounds like. It begins with a challenge; sometimes, that challenge is a crisis. “It was supposed to be a simple gall bladder removal,” says Clairemont resident Lois Hofmann. “The doctor lacerated my aorta in two spots. I developed PTSD. I went from 189 pounds to 89. I became very depressed, very confused. I almost died.” But she didn’t. “I started walking around the block. About a year later, I decided, ‘I’ve got to do something.’ I started singing online, because this app came up on my phone out of the blue.”
It was not an obvious choice, but she paid attention to her leanings. “I come from a family where everyone is tone deaf. I had to teach myself, and I never stick with anything, because I get bored. But I stuck with this.” Community was crucial. “I made friends on the Red Karaoke app. I didn’t have any followers, but I’d post my songs, and eventually, people started telling me what I needed to work on — constructive criticism. I’d practice, and when I posted it again, they’d be like, ‘Yeah!’” Still, every beginning is poor. “I was horrible. I used to float in the pool in the backyard and just sing and sing and sing. My husband and my stepson and his friend would be like, ‘Oh, no…’ But I started singing better, and I started feeling better. My lungs got stronger, my confidence went up. I asked for a mic for my birthday, and a speaker for Christmas.”
Practicing in the pool…it worked for DiCaprio in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood…
Success starts small. Confidence or no confidence, “I swore I’d never get up on front of people. But my husband and a friend convinced me to sign up for a karaoke contest at Peter D’s on Clairemont Mesa.” She performed Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” too quietly and Linda Ronstadt’s “Different Drum” just right. “The response was very good.” Until it wasn’t, and she had to push through pain. “For one contest, I dressed up in a homemade Little Mermaid costume and sang ‘Part Of Your World,’ and I had a heckler. He kept yelling, ‘You got nothing!’ I was the only one he heckled; it must have been the costume. I wanted to melt, but I didn’t. I figured, ‘He’s probably drunk, and you’re wearing a homemade Little Mermaid costume. Someone was bound to say something.’ I just kept going, and it got me over my fear of people.”
That led to her first paying gig. “I saw some people have a party in the park, and I said, ‘Do you want me to do some kids’ karaoke?’ I got a pizza. Another time, the people paid me $20 for the hour. Then, out of the blue, I got this red dress that looked like a Mrs. Claus dress, and I went to a tree lot, but they wouldn’t hire me. Then I went to the one on Clairemont Drive, and they said, ‘You need to go out to La Jolla. They would get a kick out of this.’ So I did. The guy hired me for an hour, and I got a tree I could give somebody.”
Success, however small, gave rise to an urge to help others share in it — even then, she looked down as well as up. “I wanted to volunteer my time. I figured, ‘I’m sure the elderly would love to sing.’” The audience played to her strengths. “I grew up listening to my parents’ albums; my father was afraid that if I listened to my brother’s albums, I’d go astray like he did. I got into Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra when I should have been into Ozzy Osbourne. So I hooked up with Brookdale in Carmel Valley, and they took me on a voluntary basis. Then they started paying me for it. I loved it there; I had a class of maybe seven twice a week, and we had a great time. We’d go back as far as the 1920s, ‘Red Sails in the Sunset,’ all that kind of stuff. We started with “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” and ended with “Happy Trails.” One resident had given up speaking due to his health. But he used to love karaoke, and when I started there, he sang for the first time in over nine months. He came to every class for a year; his speech improved and his voice got stronger. I was told he even smiled more often.”
The day after Hofmann’s Little Mermaid performance, someone placed a mermaid on a rock off Ocean Beach. She took it as a sign.
Eventually, the big time: VFW Post 7907 in Poway. “They were just starting to have karaoke, and Danielle, who ran it at Peter D’s, told me I should show up. Their sound system was the best, Bose speakers. It sounded good. I entered, and I made it to the finals with Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” and The Dixie Chicks’ “Traveling Soldier.” I’d think about when my dad was in Korea, and what if he didn’t come home, and that little girl that’s crying under the stands in the song, and I’d almost start crying. They’ve been so supportive — they let me come and practice, and they made me an auxiliary member.”
And then, after triumph…more challenges, because that’s how it goes. “I have PTSD from a medical experience, so this whole COVID thing kind of shut me down.” Singing “was my one thing, and I wasn’t singing, because I felt like I couldn’t focus. I had a migraine for two weeks; my blood pressure was 240 over 160. They were afraid I was going to have a cerebral hemorrhage. They gave me blood pressure medication and Klonopin as needed for the panic, and I was able to sing” — though not in front of people, of course. So she sets up in the RV out in front of her house — the one her family lived in after their place flooded — and she sings to herself. That’s where I find her, still taking Ariel’s part as she waits for the VFW to re-open: Wanderin’ free/ Wish I could be/ Part of that world.