the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Month: May 2005 (Page 1 of 5)

A Night without a Phone Call

I was having a nice quiet evening.  No one called all night.  I avoided looking at the computer for the first time all week.  I listened to some music and read a little.  Then, I realized why I wasn’t getting any calls.  I had unhooked the phone to connect the phone cord to the Tivo.  I had left my cell phone in my car. 

When I went down to the car, I saw that I had over twenty messages on my cell phone.  Sophia and my mother were about to call the police, thinking I might have been kidnapped or killed.  They had sent numerous emails, even postings on my blog.  When I called each of them up, they yelled at me, calling me irresponsible for not having my phone on and with me.   When I laughed about the whole situation, Sophia hung up on me. 

Remember the old days, before cell phones, when no one went crazy if they couldn’t reach you?

It was a quiet night quiet evening.   Apologies to anyone who tried to call.

Miss Universe

(photo via AP)

With nothing else on TV, Sophia and I watched Miss Universe on NBC tonight.   Were these really the best and most beautiful women in the world… I mean universe?  The worst one was Miss USA, who reminded us of one of the nicer waitresses at the Norm’s Coffee Shop on Hawthorne Boulevard.

We were rooting for the classy-looking Miss Venezuela, until she got stuck having to open her mouth.  Granted, out of final five, she received the most difficult question, something like, "What is your country’s biggest problem and what can you do to help?"  Her response, something about "we need to help each other" was a instant comedy classic, and probably lost her the competition. 

The winner, Miss Canada Natalie Glebova, was a real smoothie, even trying to win favor from the Thai audience by thanking them in Thai and bowing.  With Russia falling apart, it seems that half of their beauties now live in other countries.  Both Miss Israel and Miss Canada were Russian. 

The show. a Donald Trump production, didn’t mention any of the controversy surrounding the pageant

Photographs of bikini-clad contestants posing in front of Bangkok’s famed "Wat Arun," or "Temple of the Dawn," caused outrage among religious traditionalists who said they were an affront to Buddhism.

Indonesia’s first Miss Universe hopeful in nine years also sparked a storm back home in the world’s most populous Muslim nation with her decision to take part in the swimsuit part of the competition.

Even though 25-year-old law student Artika Sari Devi opted to wear a one-piece swimsuit rather than the skimpier two-piece bikinis favored by most contestants, conservatives reacted with anger, branding the pageant "pornography."

The show was way too boring to be pornographic.  Even the swimsuit section was laughable.  I felt bad for the girls as they struggled to walk gracefully in their white bikinis and high heels.  Miss Peru almost slipped and fell on her butt.  After that, I was rooting for her, much in the way that American Idol fans were rooting for the terrible Scott Savol to win, but unfortunately, Miss Peru didn’t make the top five.  That’s the way Machu Picchu crumbles.

Donald Trump must have made a deal with the Thai tourism board, forcing him to promote the hell out of the country, particularly important to the Thais after the terrible tsunamis.  The show spent as much time being a travelogue of beautiful Bangkok as it was of the beauty pageant.

I’ve been to Bangkok, or as it is really called, Krungtheep Mahanakon Bovorn Rattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilokpop Noparatratchatathani Burirom Udomratchanivetmahasatan Amornpiman Avatarnsatit Sakkathattiyaavisnukarmprasit (no joke, see here). 

My trip was several years ago.  I went with my friend, Rob, who was working in Hong Kong at the time. I don’t remember much of the tourist stuff we did, but I do remember our visit one night to Patpong, the red-light district.  

I remember Patpong as being very active.  There were street vendors of all sorts and hawkers calling us over to their establishments.  After walking up and down the street for a half hour, we decided to follow a bunch of German tourists into this one club.   We sat at the bar.  In front of us was a stage.  A naked girl came out onto the stage and started doing amazing things with ping pong balls.  You’ll just have to imagine it.  

After we ordered a couple of Singha beers, two "hostesses" sat down next to us.   It was clear that they wanted us to buy them drinks.  The bartender poured them some watered-down soda in a small glass and then charged us the full price. 

The girls looked like they were fourteen years old.   I had no idea what I was supposed to do.   Was I supposed to make conversation with "my" girl?   Here I was, two feet away from a naked woman doing things with ping pong balls that I was sure I would never see again, and I now was required to talk to this fourteen year old girl as if she were my date?  And worse, pay for her overpriced drinks!
After a few minutes, I figured I had to say something to her.  After all, I didn’t want her to feel bad, or worse, get yelled at for not doing a good job.  I turned to the girl and actually said the following sentence:

"So, how long have you lived in Bangkok?"

"Do you like me?"  she answered, as the bartender poured her a second "drink."  

After that, I didn’t talk to her for the next fifteen minutes.  Then, she put her hand on my leg.   That really freaked me out.

"No, no, no…," I said.

Meanwhile, Rob was on his third beer, and getting a little drunk.  He took some money out to tip the Ping Pong girl.  Another hostess saw this and within a second, Rob had two girls sitting with him, each asking him to buy them drinks. 

All I could think about Rob losing all our money, then the two of us getting beaten up by the bartender in a dark alley. 

After the next drink, I dragged Rob out of the bar.  He was pissed at me for being so wimpy and we had our first fight of the trip.  In retrospect, maybe I was a little too wimpy.  Oh, well.

I wish I could say that I kept up my relationship with my hostess girl, writing her letter and emails.  An even better story is that one day I accidentally bumped into her at a Starbucks in Costa Mesa.  She’s now married and moved to California. 

In reality, my "One Night in Bangkok" story ends pretty flat.   Rob and I flew back to Hong Kong the next day.  And I’ve never been back to Bangkok.

Congratulations, Miss Canada on winning Miss Universe in Bangkok!

Banner Days

What is the most important piece of Los Angeles architecture or urban design in the last ten years?  I thought about this after leaving the exhibit about architect Renzo Piano at LACMA

Most critics would probably say Frank Gehry’s Disney Hall.  But how much does this amazingly cool building really enhance the day to day life of the average Angeleno?  Not much.  It’s not something like the Empire State Building or Sears Tower, which citizens can see from miles away.  And downtown is just not that central for most of us.

As I left the museum, I saw what I think is the most important piece of LA "design" created in the last ten years — the banners that hang on light poles on the major streets all over the city.


Let’s face it, this is a driving city and Los Angeles is a hodgepodge of architectural styles.  I remember when I first came to town, I thought that this was one ugly-looking place.  Then suddenly, around ten years ago, these banners started showing up.  They were usually about classy cultural events, like exhibits or concerts.  More importantly, they gave the wide streets a visual unity.  While you were driving, you would see rows of banners all the way down for several blocks.  Suddenly Wilshire and Pico and Olympic and Santa Monica Boulevards weren’t as ugly anymore. 

Sure, it would be nice if the streets had rows of redwood trees, or shiny new skyscrapers, but at least now when I’m stuck in traffic on Pico, I can look up and be comforted by the fact that the Geffen Playhouse has a new production of a play with Jason Alexander, even if you couldn’t drag me to see it.

Hollywood Cemetery Nights

Last week, Nanette at Say it, Don’t Spray it wrote about the weekly showing of old movies at, of all places, a Hollywood cemetery.  That just sounded so weird that I had to go tonight (with Sophia, the wife I’m separated from for a year and a half, but that’s a story for another day)  to watch Alfred Hitchcock’s "North by Northwest."

First, we made the stop at Trader Joe’s and bought enough food to feed a family of eight (that is if they mostly ate California rolls, dolmas, hummus, and strawberry danishes).  Traffic was a mess (Hollywood Forever cemetery is at Gower and Santa Monica Blvd.), so we ended up parking on a side street.

Nanette mentioned that her fiance, Brent, might kill her for telling too many people about this event on her site.  Now I understand why.  It was crowded!

Even though it got a little cold and we spilled our wine, it was a lot of fun and everyone next to us was very friendly.  Part of me thinks it is a little disrespectful to show movies at a cemetery, but hey, it’s LA, and supposedly a good part of the money goes to renovating some of the artwork at Hollywood Forever cemetery.

Information about upcoming movies can be found here.

(the crowd gathers)


(Cary Grant)

Adventures in Male Bonding

This is an embarrassing story that I vowed never to tell. 

When I was a kid, my friend and I found this really old “nudie” magazine in the garbage.   The magazine must have been published pre-Playboy because the photos were supposedly a behind-the-scenes look at a “nudist colony.”  Maybe the only way to legally show these photos back then was under the guise of “sociology.”  I don’t know whatever happened to that magazine, but the images of the bosomy naked women playing volleyball have been seared into my memory.

That’s not the embarrassing part.  My friend and I then concocted a game which we called “Nudist Colony.”  (Mr. “I Now Work for Big Company” Friend, you know who you are!).  

The object of “Nudist Colony” was to never touch the floor of my room.  You could jump from the bed to the top of the dresser.  You could slide across the room using the desk chair and hop onto the desk.   You just couldn’t touch the carpet, or else you had to take off a piece of clothing.  The first person to be naked lost the game.   Weird?   Gay?   Not really.  That was “Nudist Colony,” and I remember it being a lot of fun. 

As an adult, I frequently miss male companionship.  After a certain age, men become socialized into becoming “men,” whatever that means, and male friendship becomes associated with work and sports.  Sometimes, I’m envious of all the close, emotionally-connected friends that most women seem to have.

I’m not suggesting to return to that fake male-bonding that was a joke ten years ago, when guys would sit around a campfire and bang drums.  I just wish that it was easier for guys to talk to each other, particularly in times of need.  Statistics show that after a stressful event, like a divorce, the man is hit the hardest.  Typically, a wife is the husband’s closest friend, while women tend to have other female friends for emotional support, ala "Desperate Housewives."  

Sometimes, when Sophia goes to her breast cancer support group at the Wellness Community, I go to the “friends and family” group.   The biggest complainers in this group are usually the wives of prostate cancer patients.  It’s usually, “My husband won’t talk about how his illness is affecting our sex life.”  Even worse, the prostate cancer group is always half-empty because men fear being seen by other men as being “less than a man.”  

Meanwhile, in the breast cancer group, Sophia tells me the women are much more open, sometimes even  flipping up their blouses and showing each other their scars and reconstructed breasts.

Here’s another embarrassing story from my past. 

One summer night, while at Camp Kinder-Ring, all the guys in Bunk 5 sat on their bunk-beds and passed around a ruler so we could each measure the size of our own dicks.  I remember it was a little confusing at first, because we weren’t sure where the penis actually started and ended.   Eventually, we figured it out, wrote up all our sizes on a ripped-out page from Mad Magazine, and stuck it on the bathroom wall.   Boy, those were the days of real male-bonding! 

I’m not saying I want to do that now  — let me say that before you permanently cross me off your blog list —  but it would be nice to expose myself emotionally to other men, at least every once in a while.

By the way, I wonder what happened to David M., the winner of our camp contest.  He is either now a porno star or making some woman very happy.

Television Season — Out!

Desperate Housewives, 24, Lost, and American Idol all ended this week, so my network television-viewing season is over.  Maybe I’ll now read more books or actually go outside. 

My report card:

Desperate Housewives:

It was inevitable that actor Roger Bart (Bree’s pharmacist friend) signed on as next season’s villain.   That will make for some interesting twists.  On the whole, Desperate Housewives was a fresh show that was somewhat over-rated.  I think it received media attention because the media likes shows about pretty women, especially when the shows have sexy titles.   The negative:  all of the characters were one-dimensional and there was an uneven mix of comedy, drama, and mystery wrapped in a phony suburban setting.  The positive:  It was a fun twist on the soap opera genre that will become better as the characters develop.  Teri Hatcher was also pretty adorable as Susan.  I liked her daughter, too.

Score:   A –


24 has been my favorite show for the last four seasons, but I must admit, it lost its focus this year.  One of the problems was that Jack Bauer was less interesting than half of the other characters, including Chloe, Edgar, Tony, Michelle, David Palmer, Novick, and even President Logan.  It’s nice that Kiefer Sutherland is so generous with his co-stars (especially when he is an executive producer), but he was upstaged in every episode.   His relationship with Audrey was fairly blah.  I hate to say this, but I missed his hapless daughter, Kim.

The Dina and Behrooz story was clearly the coolest subplot, but they were dropped in the middle of the story for the evil Mahrwan, a more traditional villain.  How many fans were waiting to find out that Dina wasn’t dead, but was the mastermind of the entire plot?  And Behrooz — what finally happened to him?  Luckily, I learned from Entertainment Weekly that the producers filmed a scene where Behrooz learned of his mother’s death,  but the scene was edited out.  Why?

Score:   B +

American Idol

This is my guilty pleasure.  Unfortunately, this was the dullest season yet, even though the singers were better than usual.  I think the format is getting a little tired.  None of the singers really stood out as a superstar.  Even Bo.   Vonzell had the best voice.  Constantine and Nadia were the most fun.   Carrie was too cutesy for me.  Kelly Clarkson, Ruben Studdard, Clay Aiken, and Fantasia all had a spark that no one had this year.  Even the "bad" singers weren’t as humorous as in the past.  Most annoying were the stock responses by the judges, with Randy’s "dawg," Paula’s smile, and Simon’s sarcasm.  The only one I liked better this year was Ryan Seacrest, who at least has fun hosting every week.  That said, the final episode was a lot of fun.  Carrie’s win was a surprise, and I enjoyed the idols singing with their "idols." 

Score:  B


Lost was the year’s biggest surprise.  The concept sounded incredibly stupid, sort of a dramatic Gilligan’s Island, but it was totally engrossing and mysterious throughout the year.  Watch it in reruns if you haven’t seen it.

Score:   A

Los Angeles Social Scene

I’ve been getting emails from L7, “a social and networking scene” in Los Angeles.  It might be of interest to  those looking for a new way to meet people in this “hard-to-meet-people” city.  I’ve never been to any of their events.  Have any of my LA readers?

From their website:

Our scene brings together young professionals from a cross-section of industries to experience what Los Angeles has to offer: cocktail networking or dinner parties, wine tasting, cultural events, adventure games, yacht parties and more. Many have told us our simple concept is exactly what they are looking for. “L7 brings together people, culture, aesthetics, music, restaurants and style without the usual LA attitude.”

L7 has an email list that supposedly consists of more than 13,000 people.

Here’s a photo from their last event at LACMA.

(photo via

Wouldn’t you like to meet them?  — Josh, a web designer from Pasadena… Jenn, a Warner Brothers P.R. assistant from West Hollywood… Tracey, an actress from Santa Monica… and Moira, a real estate attorney from Manhattan Beach.

OK, I made up all those names and their jobs, but they look like the cool Los Angeles people everyone wants to meet.

Except me.

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