the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Month: June 2005 (Page 1 of 5)

Just Like Dad

My father is as old-fashioned as they come.   When he visits me here in Los Angeles, he wears a suit and tie – even in the summer.   He has never used an ATM at a bank, thinking it will eat up his money.   How long has that new-fangled ATM machine been with us?  It must be over twenty years by now, released to the masses before people even knew what a “PC” or “Mac” were.   I’m sure they have worked out the kinks by now.  When I was a child, I used to be embarrassed going to McDonald’s with my father, as he would just stand there and stare at the board, totally confused by all the meal choices and sizes.  It was like he was stuck in another time period.

Part of growing up is understanding your father.  Part of growing up is becoming just like your father.

I went with Sophia to see Batman Begins.  I was rushing her because I’m one those types that hates to miss the trailers.  I like to be in the theater early to get a good seat.  I also believe that part of the modern-day movie experience is figuring out those movie star scramblers before anyone else in the audience calls it out, ruining it for the rest of us. 

S-K-N-A-H  M-O-T

Tom Hanks!   

There was a long line at the ticket booth at the Pacific Theater in Manhattan Beach.  

The guy behind the glass window announced, “No waiting at the kiosks!”

“Let’s go to the kiosks.” I told Sophia, not really sure what I was getting myself into.

Now many of you might laugh at this, but I have never used one of these machines to buy my movie ticket before.  Neither had Sophia.     Now, remember, I’m as computer literate as they come.  I’ve been using a computer since the days of Wordstar and Mosaic.

Do I put in my Visa first?

I don’t know.

It’s not doing anything. 

Maybe you put it in afterwards. 

Ok, I’m pressing this.  We want to see Batman Begins. 

What theater?

How many theaters is it in?


The one starting in five minutes.

It doesn’t say when it starts.

Yes it does.  Here, theater three.  I’m pressing it. 

Oh, look.  You can buy popcorn here, too.

We’re gonna miss the trailers.

Just get some popcorn.

It says — do you want a combination?


Why do you need a combination?  Jeez, that’s expensive.

Because you ordered a large everything.

It didn’t give me a choice.

Go back.

I can’t.   Oh, no.  I have to start over again!

Finally, I ordered the tickets, a medium popcorn, and a small drink.   We went to the concession stand.  There was another long line.  I was confused again.

What do we do now?

I don’t know.  We already paid.  Give them your receipt, I guess.

What receipt?

The receipt from the kiosk for the popcorn.

Don’t you have it….?

I don’t have it.  You have it.  What’s wrong with you?

Dad, I finally understand.

The Body Woman


My most popular post is titled “Too Skinny” – about the too skinny Lindsay Lohan and Nicole Richie.  Weight and body issues are an important subject for many women, particularly young women who look up to these actresses and feel ashamed of their own bodies.     The average dress size of the American woman is size 14.  Women are beautiful in all sizes.  Luckily, there are advocates who can speak to women about the importance of being comfortable with their own body – someone like Oprah.   Did you know that only three women were on the Discovery Channel’s list of the Top 25 Greatest Americans:  Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, and… Oprah Winfrey?!  (TV Guide, June 26, 2005)

I spoke to my friend, Brenda, also known as New York City’s #1 Oprah Fan.  I was surprised to learn that Brenda’s not Oprah’s #1 Fan anymore.

"When Oprah was fat, all she talked about was being happy with who you are.  Once she got thinner, she changed her tune.  Now, she’s like a recovering alcoholic, berating people for being fat.   If only you exercised more, ate less, did everything right.   That, and have a personal trainer and chef at your disposal!"

OK, so maybe Oprah is no longer an advocate for women on this subject.   Surely there are others who take the fashion industry to task for only designing clothes for very skinny women.  Take Cathy Horne, the New York Times fashion critic.  She used to weigh 190 pounds.   Oh, but then she started to feel like a phony.  How could she write about fashion if she was couldn’t — oh my god — fit into the designer clothes she reviewed?

Unlike art or music or other fields that receive critical appraisal, fashion is visually as well physically expressive. It necessarily involves the body. And I had been using only my brain to evaluate clothes. Because I had little personal experience with the physical side of fashion: the fit, the movement, indeed the pleasure that it can give.

What led me to think about this and to question, at least retrospectively, my fitness for the job was that in the last eight months, after a decade of slowly inching downward, I have lost about 30 pounds and now weigh 137. For the first time since my early 20’s, I can wear a size 8. People in the industry have noticed and complimented me on the change. But the picture wouldn’t be clarified until I went to see Andy Port, a friend and editor at The Times Magazine, to ask if she thought there was an article in any of this.

"Oh, definitely," Andy said. "Especially given your job and the way the fashion industry views weight." She added, on the verge of a shriek, "I mean, just think how many times a designer, after getting a bad review from you, said, ‘That big fat bitch!’ "

Now, Cathy Horne is a happy and fulfilled woman.  It was the fat that was holding her back from being the ultimate fashion journalist.   As a writer, I can absolutely relate.    To better write this post about weight and women, I have gained 30 pounds and undergone a sex change operation.  

If there is going to be a strong advocate for women being happy with their own bodies, it must come from the feminist movement.  I remember how my Aunt Tilly used to go on marches with Bella Abzug and complain about the male dominated society.  What I didn’t know was that the Bella Abzug is as old school as Run-DMC. 

The representatives of the “third wave” of American feminism are Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards, writers of the well-received Manifesta:  Young Women, Feminism and the Future.  Baumgardner and Richards are popular speakers on college campuses.  They separate themselves from older feminists by saying its OK to dress pretty and flirt with boys.  On their own website, they give another reason for their popularity.

Jennifer and Amy agreed to visit the class. What a night. One student said afterwards, "It was wonderful how they didn’t look like feminists."

(photo by Ali Price)

I’m sure my Aunt Tilly would be the first to admit that Bella Abzug and Betty Friedan weren’t lookers.  And look how thin Jennifer and Amy are!  They look great!

Amy Richards also has an advice column titled “Ask Amy” on a feminist website.  Finally, we found a person who can help young women overcome their body issues.

Many years ago I used to get so many emails from girls saying: "I’m ugly, I’m fat, I hate my body." and I kind of towed the feminist line for a long time, which was: (saccharine voice) "Oh, that’s not true! It doesn’t matter what you look like! It’s what’s inside! You are a beautiful person!" And then I realized- first of all, when I would write that back to people they would, like, never write me back, ’cause I think they could just see through the phoniness.

In other words, the new answer is  “We’re feminists, but you’re fat.”

A Geek Speaks

(Richard trying to look non-geeky with Mindi)

One of the summer’s more popular reality shows is "Beauty and the Geek."  Women seem to love it, because women love to change a man, whether it’s a geek to a hunk, or a jerk to a nice guy.    Television executives seem to instinctively understand this.   What’s more fun for a woman viewer than watching these geeky eggheads become cool dudes (with a little help from some women, of course)?

As a board member of JAGS (Jewish American Geek Society), my biggest problem with "Beauty and the Geek"  is the unrealistic portrayal of a geek.   You non-geeks of the world would love to think that deep down, all geeks want to be just like you ordinary mortals.  Put a little hair gel in our hair and we’re like every other guy on the corner, salivating over the bikini blond at the beach.  

Hogwash.   Geeks do not like the beach, especially without SPF 100.

The whole idea of geekiness is that you sublimate your sexual interests into something obscure, like physics or comic book collecting.   A real geek would easily trade one of these silly girls for a mint condition edition of Batman #5:  Batman meets the Joker.    There have been known instances where the libido of a male geek is brought into the open — after much assistance and therapy — but I doubt any red-blooded geek would be salivating over these dumb, poor-spelling girls for very long.  

Geekiness is something ingrained, like homosexuality, and cannot be changed with a "makeover."  A real geek would be bored very quickly.    Adam Mesh from "Average Joe" is average, but not a real geek.  Richard of "Beauty and the Geek"  is closer to being a real geek, but someone as annoying as him would not be allowed to vote at one of our board meetings.

Flushing, Queens

(the Unisphere in Flushing Meadows Park)

Have you ever been in some unfamiliar city or town and you meet someone from your hometown and you’re all excited?

“Hey, do you know Susie Weintraub?  How about Joel Ledger?   Did you used to eat at the Rusty Crab-ery on Pleasant Drive?”

I haven’t lived in Flushing, Queens for years, but I still feel guilty rooting for the Dodgers when the Mets have their home in Flushing Meadows Park.   And God Forbid someone from Flushing roots for the Yankees!

I was even excited when Billy Graham spoke last weekend in Flushing Meadows Park.  I don’t know what he said and I don’t really care, but Billy Graham was in Flushing!

On Kissena Blvd, near the apartment building where I grew up in, is Valentino’s Pizza.  They have great pizza there, worth the long trip from Manhattan.  OK, maybe not… but if you’re ever in the area, stop by.

(via Albert’s World)

Valentino’s was also a favorite of The Nanny’s Fran Drescher, who attended my junior high, Parsons Junior High, in the early 1970’s.


Simon and Garfunkle also attended Parsons Junior High in the 1950’s.



All these kids must have moved somewhere else because when I went to Parsons, the school had mostly black students.   It was still a great school, except for the time they showed “Roots” in class and my friend Barry and I had to run home from school.

“My grandparents lived in South Russia, not South Carolina!” Barry yelled as we ran across Parsons Blvd, away from big Jake, this thug from our gym class, who was accusing our families of being slave owners.

I think a lot of the students from my generation left town also, because now the area is Chinese and Pakistani.

A few days ago, I was reading through the blog of some woman here in Los Angeles, when I noticed that in her post she wrote about being from Flushing.  All of a sudden, I got all happy.  I started talking to the monitor, as if the former Flushing Girl was in the room with me.

“Hey, me too!  Where did you live?  Where did you go to school?”  I said to the Samsung 19 inch SyncMaster.

I quickly typed out a rambling comment to her blog, telling her all about myself.  I felt we were bonding immediately, even though I was doing all of the writing.

So far, she hasn’t written back.  Either she thought I was a crackpot looking for a date or she really hated living in Flushing.

Or maybe it was what Flushing’s own Simon and Garfunkel were referring to when they wrote “The Sound of Silence.”

UPDATE:  Marissa, the Flushing girl, wrote back.  (see comments)

Fela Kuti

(AP Photo/Laurent Rebours)

After the Nigerian scam brouhaha, Sophia decided to relax with some music.   She got into this musician she heard on the radio, only to find out that he was also Nigerian!   His name was Fela Anikulapo Kuti, a talented and charismatic creator of Afrobeat.  Her favorite song was his anti-government song, "Authority Stealing."  I think Sophia just really liked the lyrics, thinking Fela Kuti was singing more about the fake Nigerian "bishop" than the Nigerian government:

You be thief!
I not be thief!
You be rouge!
I not be rouge!
You be stealer!
I not be stealer!
You be a robber!
I not be robber!

download "Authority Stealing"

(from Barclay Records "The King of Afrobeat:  The Anthology")

The Bishop from Nigeria


This week, someone tried to scam Sophia out of a lot of money. 

Two weeks ago, Sophia, who frequently works as a Russian and Hebrew interpreter, received this email:

Hello Sophia,

I am Bishop Tobi Joshua, an English speaking clergy from Nigeria.  I will be coming over to California, on vacation from 25th of June to the 5th of July 2005 for a 10 days vacation with my Russian wife, daughter and son of the ages of 3 and 5 respectively.  My wife Rev. Lora only speaks Russian and my native language because her mother comes from Nigeria.  She will require the services of a Russian interpreter, for 5 hours daily for 10 days because I will not always be with them on most occasions due to other church functions which I must attend. Please acknowledge if you can offer this service and give me a price quote. We will like to pay in advance of our visit so she can be assured of an interpreter during her shopping and sightseeing because this is her first visit to US. An early reply will be appreciated.

Remain Blessed,

His Lordship,
Bishop Tobi Joshua.

OK, I know that a hundred red flags are already going up for you, but remember that both Sophia and I are kindhearted people and naïve about the ways of the world.   Well, at least I am.  Besides, she does get jobs over the Internet.

"I’m going to charge him X.   If he accepts, then I’ll do it.”

Sophia emailed the Bishop back, making sure that she blessed him, his family, and everyone in his country at the end of the email.  After all, being a Jewish girl, she didn’t want to offend a clergyman of another faith.  To every flowery blessing of his ("May God bless you abundantly" etc.), she returned two of her own.  The Bishop wrote back, saying that his California sponsor agreed to the deal.  That night, Sophia and I went out to an African restaurant on Wilshire to celebrate.  It wasn’t very good.

Sophia cancelled some jobs and shopped for some clothes appropriate for a Bishop and his Reverend wife (Sophia has a certain fondness for sexy low-cut tops). The Bishop and Sophia corresponded daily.  A lot of blessings were exchanged.  Sophia even started to feel guilty that she hasn’t gone to Temple in so long.

A week before the family were supposed to arrive, Sophia received another email.  Bishop Tobi’s wife had a mild stroke.  They would be unable to come to Los Angeles after all.  

Are you one step ahead of us?

Bishop Tobi said the check was already in the mail.  He thought Sophia deserved half of the fee for all her trouble. 

“Cash it and send half back to me,” he emailed.

I tried to convince Sophia to give more than half back to the Bishop.   After all, he was a religious man.  Also, being one of those guilty liberal types, I was concerned that Tobi was a poor African.

Sophia, being a Republican, called me an idiot.   After all, she gave up other jobs to do this and bought all these dowdy clothes.  This is the one time where her politics were right.

The check arrived the next day, and finally we saw all those red flags that you’ve been screaming to us about.  The check was a cashier’s check from a legitimate Texas bank.  The envelope was postmarked from Switzerland.  There was no evidence of a Bishop Tobi Joshua on Google.  Friends told us that “Nigeria” is a hotbed of scams.  I searched for “Nigeria” and “interpreters” online and found that hundreds of interpreters had gotten a similar email, the only difference being that the Bishop’s wife was Chinese or German or French.  The scam is that the interpreter deposits the cashier’s check, returns back half, and then finds out the cashier’s check is fake.

After verifying that the check was fake, Sophia called the Secret Service.  Since “24” is our favorite show, we visualized some Jack Bauer type jumping in, ready for action, wanting all the information and studying every inch of the Swiss envelope and the fake check for fingerprints and clues.   Instead, the Los Angeles branch said there was nothing they can do, especially since Sophia never cashed the check and therefore wasn’t “a victim.” 


Sophia, being a woman of justice as well as a thrill-seeker, suggested that she help them do a sting operation.  The agent was totally uninterested.  He suggested that she call the Washington DC branch of the Secret Service.  When Sophia asked for the number, he said to just dial 411.

Washington’s branch of the Secret Service was more useless.   They told her that they get twenty phone calls a day from interpreters who have lost thousands of dollars.

“Exactly.  So, don’t you think we should do something about this?” Sophia asked.

The Secret Service agent suggested that Sophia email “the Bishop” and curse him out, telling him what she really thought about the scam. 

Very sophisticated. 

Instead, Sophia did one better.  She emailed “the Bishop,” telling him that since he must have a lot medical expenses for his sick wife’s treatment, she wasn’t going to charge him anything and was just going to rip up the check.  This way, she won’t have anything to send him back.  At least the crook will beat himself up, thinking he overplayed his hand.

Why was the Secret Service so inept?  I am beginning to understand why our government can’t stop illegal immigration or win a war in Iraq.

UPDATE from Sophia:

Today I received this E-Mail:

You can’t do that! Bank charges have been paid on the check and the money has to be refunded somehow. Tearing it up means the charges have been lost and apart from that it may take a longer time to get the refund on that check. You should have consulted me first.

Tobi Joshua…

This time I decided to take the Secret Service’s weird advice and wrote back to put an end to this charade:

Just Tobi, no Bishop anymore, no blessings?

Sorry I didn’t consult you, I consulted a higher authority instead- the US Secret Service , you asshole!

Update July 4, 2005:

Apparently, we were the only ones in America who didn’t know Nigeria is legendary for it’s email scams.

There’s even a brand new Nigerian scam targeting those desperate to be on a reality TV show.

Los Angeles Fashion News


Dov Charney and American Apparel are at it again, this time trying to sell old-school tube socks by dressing up (or down) porn star Lauren Phoenix in their new advertisements.


If you were born before the Reagan Administration, you’ll surely remember those cool tube socks, that is until kids started beating you up for wearing them.

In their next ad campaign, American Apparel is using porn star Rick Rockhard to sell their new line of early 1970’s tennis sweatbands.


Intellectual Gangs of Los Angeles

(still from West Side Story)

It seems that four years ago, USC history professor Steven J. Ross and LA Times Book Review editor Steve Wasserman attended a book awards reception in Los Angeles.

As Wasserman looked around the room, he said to Ross: “Wouldn’t it be great to bring these kinds of people together for conversations? All of these people are intellectuals who have interesting things to say but never get together because they have been Balkanized by geography.”

Discussions of Los Angeles’ intellectual community always seem to beg comparisons to New York’s scene: the Algonquin, the Bohemian bookstores, the Dorothy Parkers.  But where is Los Angeles’ intelligentsia?

That day, they decided to do something about it.

Ross and Wasserman formed the idea of launching bimonthly discussions with people from a diverse background to create an intellectual center for the Los Angeles area.

The group was called the Institute for the Humanities, and nicknamed the Geniuses.   Apparently, according to LA Observed, not everyone was happy about the formation of this group.  Several intellectuals were upset that they weren’t invited to join the Geniuses.  So another intellectual group was formed, calling themselves the Morons

What is this… high school?

They have potluck gatherings every five or six weeks in members’ homes to chat with guest speakers about "ideas, events, politics and books that have recently been in the news." Members named in the story include Kenneth Turan, Michael Kinsley, Eugene Volokh, Helen Mirren, Christopher Hitchens, Rob Long, Kim Masters, Taylor Hackford and Joe Morgenstern, but there are about forty others. What matters, says Bardach, is that you are a critical thinker.

Of course, I consider myself a critical thinker.  I am college educated.  I read James Joyce’s Ulysses from first page to last.  It took me three years, but I did it!  I am pissed as hell that I wasn’t invited to join either the Geniuses or the Morons.

Today, I am officially announcing the formation of a new intellectual salon in Los Angeles.  I call it the Hopelessly Brain Dead.

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