the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Brokeback Birthday


This weekend, we went away for Sophia’s birthday.  My plan was to come up with a theme weekend:  "A Weekend of Trying New Things." 

On Friday, we would drive to the Santa Barbara area.  

On Saturday, Sophia, a big fan of figure skating, would learn to ice skate at a rink in nearby Oxnard, California. 

On Sunday, Sophia would learn to ride a horse at a ranch in the Santa Barbara hills.

On Saturday morning, we arrived at the ice skating rink for our lesson with our instructor, Frederick.   Most of his students are usually children, so he seemed excited to meet two adults, who would challenge him. 

"Finally!" he must have thought, "I can finally teach some adults sophisticated skating techniques!"

What he didn’t expect was that both Sophia and I would fall on our asses the minute we touched the ice.  And neither of us knew how to stand up, so he needed to lift us both.  It quickly became clear that Frederick was not going to be teaching us any triple lutzes.  For the next half hour, he guided us slowly — very slowly — around the perimeter of the rink, as we gripped the railing for dear life with every muscle of our fingers.  Every couple of minutes, Frederick would ask, "Seems like you had enough.  Should we quit now?"  I’d nod yes, but Sophia was determined to make it all around the rink, even if it meant not finishing until the closing ceremony of the 2010 Winter Olympics. 

Midway during our crawl around the rink, I noticed that Sophia wasn’t behind me anymore.  I looked back and saw that a terrified Sophia was being blocked by a six-year-old girl.  She was hanging onto the railing just like we were, but going in the opposite direction.   There was a standstill.  Each looked at the other, both in fear of letting go.  Who would cave in first?  Not Sophia.  The kid let her pass.

After the skating lesson, I limped to the car, traumatized by that horrifying experience.  Sophia looked like she was in a daze and her jeans were all wet from falling.  So, I was very surprised when Sophia said:

 "That was fun.  Let’s try this again in Los Angeles!"

The next day, we drove into the hills of Santa Barbara to a ranch.   Sophia was very nervous about going on a horse.  Victor, our cowboy/guide said he would let her ride Herman, a "nice" horse.  After the first five minutes, Sophia was feeling very unsettled, I heard her mumble that she’s "ready to go back right now," but she kept on.  I was given Hershey.  Victor said Hershey was "interesting."  I’m wasn’t sure what he meant by that.  When you say that about a person, you usually mean that he’s "weird."

As we rode the mountain trail on our horses, there was beautiful scenery all around us.  We even looked over the Pacific Ocean.   Some of the trails were very close to the edge, and I noticed that Hershey enjoyed walking VERY CLOSE to the edge, so close that rocks would start to fall down the hill.  I began to wonder if "interesting" meant that Hershey was suicidal.  When Sophia saw that I was having trouble controlling my horse, she called out to the guide for help, despite me telling her not to say anything.

"What’s the problem, Cowboy?" asked Victor the Cowboy.

"Nothing… nothing… everything’s great." I said.  "Just talking with Hershey."

"That’s good.  Real good.  Because he’s REAL interesting."

What was I supposed to say?  The truth?  Victor just called me Cowboy.  I couldn’t look like a wuss and complain about this old lazy (and depressed) horse.  And what cowboy has a woman speak up for him?  It just doesn’t happen.

"If he causes you any problems," said Victor, "just whip him in the back."

Whip the horse?  Is Victor crazy?  Surely, Hershey will like me better if I treat him with love and respect.

Of course, Hershey returned his love with a big "fuck you, city boy" by walking so close to the edge of the mountain that leaves, branches, and pine needles constantly smacked me right in the face.

But no, I never whipped him.  Stupid ass horse.

When we got back to the ranch, I was ecstatic that it was over. I was already in pain from the ice skating the day before.  Now, after getting off the horse, I couldn’t even feel my groin.   Sophia said she too was in pain, could barely walk and smelled like a horse.  Finally, something we could agree on.   Horses suck.   But no —

"But it was great!  Much too short though," said Sophia.  "Let’s do this again in Los Angeles.  This and ice skating!"

Maybe next year.


  1. New York Moments

    What about her birthday screamed “masochism!” to you?

  2. Pearl

    And you try to be so smooooooooooooth!

    What nice planning, though, for Sophia’s birthday.

    Okay, Neil, mine’s coming up in September…you can start throwing around the ideas just about now.

  3. MA

    What a great birthday. I would love to do something like that.

  4. Elisabeth

    This is the day for reading about people’s attempts at miscellaneous sports. First, Chantel with scuba diving, and then you and Sophia with ice skating and horseback riding.

    I suck at skating, and am afraid of horses. I am not sure what sport I’d like to try on my birthday – definitely NOT skydiving!

    And, BTW, Neil, congratulations on being such a fine social director. Sounds like it was a well-planned and fun weekend after all.

  5. DawnKelly

    Oh Neil~

    Horses are like big labs—they will respect you if you establish your alpha-ness and they def smell your fear.

    Ice skating and horses, both like to keep you on your arse if your not careful!

  6. danielle

    It may have been painful, but I’m sure that you got bonus points for creativity…. That was much more original and memorable than a bouquet with a teddy bear.

  7. Kevin

    I’ve gotta say, there’s nothing like reading about a horse’s internal monologue and knowing that he’s saying “fuck you, city boy.”

    Things that make you go hmmmmmm…

  8. The Daily Rant

    Wow – what an interesting way to spend a birthday. And I don’t mean “interesting” in the “weird” way. As usual, a great read. Even though you probably can’t move today, your birthday theme was definitely a fun one!

  9. cruisin-mom

    Neil, what kind of New Yorker doesn’t know how to ice skate?
    That’s cool that Hershey spoke to you like that. I rode a horse years ago in Santa Barbara named Mr. Ed, and you know, that damn horse didn’t say a word to me.
    Glad you had fun Sophia!

  10. Tatyana

    And what did you do in Santa Barbara on Friday?

    Horses: one and only time I succumbed to peer pressure and rode a horse (not in the sense that I only succumbed to peer pressure once, but all other times it was not about the horses), it was a glorious end-of-summer Wisconsin morning and my horse’sname was Maverick. And he was one.

    2 hrs later, my face swollen from mosqito bites and my opposite parts- from accidental gallop I was told I sent my Maverick into, stinking from horse doodoo he stopped for (no initiative on my part) and suddenly aware of multiple muscle anatomy of my thights, I came back right in time for lunch. The *whatever*wurst was excellent, as never since.

    I’d do it again anytime.

  11. Edgy Mama

    Love the horse-riding description, though I kept waiting for Hershey to drop a big pile of chocolate over the edge of the cliff.

    Why do you think you wanted to do things that would make you lose feeling in your groin this weekend, Neil?

  12. Bre

    That sounds like a ridiculous amount of fun for just one weekend! My friends and I haven’t done anything creative for birthdays in a long while…. unless by creative you mean going out to the bar and wearing tiaras.

  13. Wendy

    Around here, they give the kids “walkers” to learn to skate – then you look like the folks at the geriatric center except on ice! It’s a riot…

    Sounds like the weekend was a great time – except for the pain, the cold…. and the horses. No really, what a wonderful weekend. Clearly, Sophia had a great time & that was your goal, right?

  14. Leesa

    Sounds fun to me! My horses act like big dogs though, so very easy to ride:)
    Happy belated birthday Sophia!
    Oh and I have a pond you can skate on, but no railings…hehe.

  15. The Retropolitan

    Next time, you should take her to a shooting range. Just be sure no one slips you some “interesting” bullets.

  16. Trix

    Neil, believe it or not, I was a competitive figure skater for 10 years. I would be MORE than happy to give Sophia lessons. We’d have to figure out the whole cross-country issue, though…

  17. Sandra

    I think the key, next year, might be padding…

  18. Neil

    Leesa — No way! I’ve seen movies of what happens when you skate on those “ponds.”

    Retropolitan — Actually, some of her “Republican friends” have invited Sophia to go shooting.

    Trix — Who are you rooting for — Sasha Cohen or Irina Slutskaya?

    Sandra — We were wondering why no one has invented padded saddles yet. It seems so obvious.

    Tatyana — One more “new thing” we did is we had dinner at this old converted stagecoach where they served “game.” So, we ate venison and rabbit, which was a bit disgusting, because I kept on visualizing a cute little bunny rabbit.

  19. Pants

    If someone took me ice skating and horse back riding in one weekend I’d think they were trying to hurt me. Or at least my bottom.

  20. Rabbit

    When I read, “I began to wonder if ‘interesting’ meant that Hershey was suicidal,” I completely lost it. I’m sure it was not at all amusing for you, but I can’t stop laughing.

  21. cherchezlafemme

    Ooh! I am with Sophia. Skating and horse riding! Sounds wonderful. As for Hershey, horses generally do that. They walk either very close to the cliff or right smack against the mountains. Maybe they have personal space issues. But I have been told on good authority (meaning every guide) that they are very sure footed so there you go. Don’t know if it helps though.

  22. Eve

    Neil those are perfect date ideas. You should do a blog on “Ideas for First Dates”.

  23. Tatyana

    Was Hershey Jewish?

  24. Neil

    Eve — thank you for the compliment, but I’m going to disagree with you here. I can’t think of worse first dates. Maybe I’m just used to prissy women (I’m prissy myself) — but I’m not sure too many women would appreciate being all bruised at the end of the date. It also seems unlikely I’m getting to “second base” when I smell like horse shit.

    Tatyana — I’m not sure if he was Jewish, but he was definitely neurotic.

  25. Nance

    Neil, was Sophia maybe banking on the two of you being way too sore and tired for…later on? Not sure of the extent of your separation and its…er…parameters, but maybe her enthusiasm for continuing these activities in LA were sort of, well, never mind. Sigh.

  26. Jacynth

    Ha! Love it. This reminds me of my first attempt at ice skating. I was seven, at a bday party and convinced I could do what Peggy Flemming did. I attempted a triple something or other, fell, and cracked my knee cap. That wasn’t fun. Good for you for trying two things! Yes, horses can be awnry but they are super cool. I say you try again!

  27. Trix

    C’mon! What kind of an American would I be if I didn’t root for the home team. Besides, that Irina girl looks like such a cranky bitch. Can’t cheer for that.

  28. sarah

    i’d be “interesting” too if i were named after a third-rate chocolate.

  29. Leesa

    Neil, deer and elk cross that pond, I think you’ll be okay 🙂
    And I’m rooting for Irina, definitely.

  30. Megan

    If you don’t want to go with Sophia next time, I totally will! I’ve always wanted to go horseback riding, and I’ve been around a rink a few times in my days. So, Sophia, I’m your girl if you ever want a little adventure!

  31. Mine is a Gin

    You should keep up the theme on another weekend away – how about Argentinian tango lessons & bungee jumping? 😉

  32. better safe than sorry

    i always assume everyone can do everything i can do, skating is a must from where i live. maybe you should give rollerblading a go and then try and make the switch, same concept.

  33. Serena

    Attempting to stop the tears of laughter at imagining the escapades of two people I’ve never met. Truly hilarious.

  34. ChickyBabe

    I was going to say what a romantic idea, but the word “ass” featured many times in the post in relation to pain, so I changed my mind!

  35. Neil

    Trix — Irina is a sweet girl who cares for her sick mother. Sasha is the bitchy one. And she’s way more sexier than the other anorexic skaters. By the way, Sophia thinks the whole Michelle Kwan leaving the Olympics was a fake. She never intended to skate but went there for the press right before she was announced to be Disney’s spokesperson.

    Sarah — Such a foodie answer.

    Megan — I thought people used horses to get around Riverside County.

    Better Safe — Someone did mention that it is easier to start out roller skating — which I guess we can try next at the beach. But that gives me bad flashbacks to last year when I tried to unsuccessfully teach Sophia how to ride a bicycle — but that’s a whole other blog post.

  36. moket

    Nice to hear that your ass had a nice weekend and all. We have BIG horses, and every time we go for the trail, I want to sing Billy Crystal’s version of “Rawhide” from City Slickers. Thank your lucky stars you don’t own a thoroughbred-If it were my horse, he would be peering over the edge, looking for the most adventurous way down(He likes to mess with me like that). I am working with a new mare this spring, and she is even more sadistic. Your Hershey sounds like a nice Quarterhorse-you should be thankfull. And go again-this time, you will know what to expect.

  37. Neil

    Yes, he was a Quarterhorse. How did you know? At the end of the trail, I wanted to show that I was cool with the other cowboys, so I asked: “So what breed is Hershey?”


    “Yeah, I thought so.”

  38. modigli

    What a great b-day weekend! I think it’s cute that you’re willing to put yourself in danger and practically commit equistria-cide for your woman. 🙂

  39. mysterygirl!

    Ah, birthdays. The day where you do all kinds of crazy stuff for someone you love.

  40. anne arkham

    I both ice skate and ride horses regularly. They don’t really get any easier with practice. Just a different kind of hard.

  41. LeftyGrrrl

    I once road a horse like Hershey. Except he had TWO GLASS EYES! I cannot believe that I am not dead.

  42. Me

    you’re a good man 🙂

  43. Fitèna

    Am with the last commenter, you’re a good man Neil!! Why ever did she leave you? Or is it the other way around? Hey, but you guys are so together… mmm… Is she real?


  44. Bill

    I would have commented earlier but I could think of nothing interesting to say. I still can’t.

    But, although I’ve not done it for ages, I LOVE skating. I use to skate on the Rideau Canal in Ottawa, “the world’s longest skating rink.” I’ve been on my ass on the ice more times than I can count.

    That’s pretty much all I have to contribute. (Horses … I like the idea of horse riding but I recall them from childhood as being extremely tall and rather indifferent to my presence.)

  45. 3rdtimesacharm( 3T )

    LMAO!!! Oh! Thank you for sharing yours and Sophia’s adventures with us!

    You will always remember her Birthday Weekend now.


  46. boxen

    this is gold. very funny!

  47. moket

    How did I know that he was a quarterhorse? Nobody in their right mind throws a green rider on a hot blood like a thoroughbred or even a saddlebred-too much liability, in general. Plus, a thoroughbred has what we call a “razorback”-trust me, I will never bareback my horse because I like my balls and my ability to have children too much. A “cooler” horse,like a morgan or a quarterhorse, are pretty reliable. It’s like the difference between owning a 1972 Ford LTD vs owning a Ferrari. Sure,you know that the LTD has a huge engine and if you coaxed it, it could go fast, but which would you put in the hands of a 17-year old kid with a brand new license?

    Take care, and I like this blog a lot!

  48. Peggy Archer

    Sounds like you had fun!

    Although I don’t have my own horses anymore, some friends and I still go riding – you two are welcome to come with us anytime (although we ride English, so there’s less saddle to hang onto)!!

    For rentals in Los Angeles, I’d recommend “Adventures on Horseback” in Malibu – they’ve got nice horses and they’re good with beginners.

  49. Neil

    Peggy — Thanks, I’ll pass that info about Malibu to Sophia. She can’t wait to ride again.

    But I’m impressed that you ride English –you’re a classy dame!

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