the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Month: July 2006 (Page 2 of 3)

Her Real Name


I was IMing with — let’s call her BlogGirl. We were talking about nothing in particular.

“Blogging… Crocs… my husband snores… Sophia… blah blah blah.”

“OK, I’m going to sleep, BlogGirl,” I said. “Or is it Vivian?” I added as I looked at the profile name on her blog.

“Actually, my real name is Beth.”

“Oh… hi, Beth. Nice to meet you.”

In the past year, I’ve emailed and IMed with bloggers around the world. I’ve discussed topics as diverse as death and dildos. But this was the single-most intimate moment with another blogger that I’ve ever had.

I had been blogging with BlogGirl for a year and I didn’t know her name.

Does anyone else want to tell me their real name?   If you email me it, I promise to delete it immediately and completely forget it by tomorrow.

Oh, and my real name is Neil.


A Year Ago on Citizen of the Month: Hip and Unhip Cartoon Icons

A Croc of a Post


My blog editor burst into my office, fear on her face.

“Are you trying to destroy your blog?” screamed Sophia. “The blog we’ve been working so hard to build into an empire?!”

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

“Look at your last couple of posts.  First you encouraged women to write pornographic comments on your posts.”

“Big deal. So we lost a couple of prudes.”

“Then you practically called all your French-born readers a bunch of anti-Semites.”

“Yeah, they can stick some Freedom Fries up their ***!”

“You need to start writing some positive feel-good material.”

“I wrote yesterday about how wonderful you were in your gig on NBC’s “Windfall.”

“And look what happened? Your site crashed for half the day. No one read the post for twelve hours!”

“I’m sure those who missed it are going to go back and read it today.”

“Whom are you kidding? NO ONE ever goes back and reads a day-old post.”

As a former amateur child magician, I am always prepared with a trick.

“Uh… say… uh… hey… how about we go buy you some new shoes?” I said with a smile.


“Yes. Some Crocs.”


“Yes, I hear that they are the most comfortable shoes around. All the women are talking about it.”

“Since when do you know about women’s shoes?”

“Come on, let’s go buy a pair!”


(And they say you never learn anything by reading blogs)

At the pool. (via giddygoon)
At her wedding. (via ashlover)
On male soldier in Afghanistan (via violinsoldier)


A Year Ago On Citizen of the Month: Sue Me

A Very Brief Windfall


Last Thursday Sophia appeared in her first of two episodes of NBC’s “Windfall,” playing a Russian interpreter. I was all excited about the big day. I invited some friends over for a screening party.

After snacking on some wine, cheese, and dessert, we sat down to watch the show. Everyone clapped as the show started. During the opening credits, the group talked about how old Luke Perry got and tried to remember if Jason Gedrick once dated Julia Roberts.

Sophia’s scene came within the first ten minutes of the show. Without going into too many details, there is a Russian lowlife who is accused of killing one of the winners of the Windfall lottery. Sophia plays his court interpreter. The scene began. A few seconds later, the scene ended.

“That’s it?” asked Sophia. “They cut my two and a half page scene to fifteen seconds!”

We told Sophia she was very good. She actually was very good, stealing the spotlight in her brief moment on screen. But Sophia’s mind was still focused elsewhere.

“And there was something else I think I noticed…” she said.

Sophia used her DVR to rewind back to the scene.

“My god, look at that, for half the scene, my face is covered by the NBC logo! Maybe it’s just as well.”

We couldn’t help but laugh. The life of a Hollywood actress!

We reminded Sophia that she is in an upcoming episode, hopefully one with more lines left uncut. Actually, Sophia didn’t want me to tell my readers in advance about her TV appearance because she was upset about the way they made her look for the part. They had dressed her in a dowdy outfit with bad makeup and hair, as if she just got off the boat from Siberia. Sophia hated the fact that they thought being a foreigner or someone over size 4 meant you walk around wearing a potato sack.

“I know a part is a part, and I don’t mind at all being made ugly if it’s necessary, but here?” she asked. Don’t they know?… Court interpreters are always the sharpest looking people in the courtroom!”

Despite it all, we ate and drank and celebrated. Even if you’re on a network show for a few seconds, it’s a big thing. Sophia started relaxing — that is until her mother called.

Sophia’s Mom: “They certainly didn’t do you any favors by how they made you look. And you were only on a few seconds?! Why didn’t you tell me that earlier?”

Sophia: “What’s the difference?”

Sophia’s Mom: “Then I wouldn’t have told all my friends to watch it!”

I’m not sure what is worse for a woman — working in Hollywood or talking with her mother!

A Year Ago in Citizen of the Month: Five is a Crowd

Happy Bastille Day!


I’ve always had a love for things French, from Rabelais to my favorite movie director, Eric Rohmer. I have a few blogging friends in Paris, and I love to read about their beautiful city. But sometimes I wonder — has there ever been a positive thing said about Israel by a French leader? And why not?

I support Israel’s current bombardment of Lebanon, although I’m sad that civilians are being injured and killed. But why is Jacques Chirac always the first out of the gate to call Israel’s offensive as “totally disproportionate”?

Bachar El Assad and Jacques Chirac

“One could ask if today there is not a sort of will to destroy Lebanon, its equipment, its roads, its communication,” Chirac said during an interview.

What would he do if Spain went into France tonight and kidnapped some French soliders? Wouldn’t the French people want to take action? Was the storming of Normandy by the Allies a “totally disproportionate” action? Or was the Nazi presence acceptable? Was the storming of the Bastille disproportionate?

France has a long history in the Middle East, including past colonies in Morocco, Lebanon, Algeria and Tunisia. Millions of Arabs murdered by French soldiers in the past. Maybe that explains French guilt over the Arab world. Does it also explain why Chirac was the only western head of state at Syrian despot Hafez el Assad`s funeral?

These two men had a long relationship. After being pressed by Jewish groups, Chirac finally questioned Assad about former Nazi Alois Brunner, who was living in Syria. Brunner, a top Nazi operative, is believed responsible for the deaths of more than 100,000 Jews deported to death camps between 1942 and 1945. He once was commandant of the squalid French transit camp at Drancy. Assad’s simple answer to Chirac’s question: he would “examine the issue.” I guess that was good enough.

President Giscard d’Estaing provided asylum to Ayatollah Khomeini who resided in Neauphle le Chateau near Paris and, on 1 February 1979, arrived in Teheran on a special Air France flight. Two generations earlier, France extended similar hospitality to the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, a close friend of Heinrich Himmler and enthusiastic advocate of the “Final Solution.” Although the French government was obligated to detain this war criminal and bring him to law, they lodged him in a villa in the fashionable Paris suburb of Rambouillet.

General de Gaulle was well-known for using the phrase: “le peuple juif, sûr de lui meme et dominateur” (the Jewish people, self-confident and domineering). De Gaulle was an admirer of Charles Maurras, a monarchist-nationalist-Catholic thinker and politician with strong anti-Semitic feelings.

According to the Canadian historian Henry Weinberg, “De Gaulle implicitly characterized the Israelis as arrogant, expansionist war hawks who seek every opportunity to achieve their imperialistic aims, as militarists spoiling for a fight. He also ‘invited’ the Jews to keep a low profile, implying that Israel’s right to live in security was linked to the ‘humility’ of its political behavior.

Which basically meant that Jews were OK, as long as they remained wimpy. You know, like the nice non-aggressive ones who agreed to go onto the friendly trains to Germany.

A Year Ago on Citizen of the Month: Life is a Cabaret

What do You Mean by That?

Three online conversations I had yesterday with other bloggers:


Neil:  I see you’re going to BlogHer.  Do men go to BlogHer?

Chantel:  Definitely.  You should come.  You can blog live about it. 

Neil:  I don’t know.  It undercuts the whole reason for BlogHer if men go to it.  Besides, it would feel a little wussy going to it, with all that girl stuff.

Chantel:  No, I think you’ll fit right in.

Neil:  Huh?  What do you mean by that?


Femme:  Don’t color it, Neil. A man’s gray is sexy!  Grey hair looks distinguished on a man.   Of course, most men don’t find it attractive on a woman.

Neil:  Actually, I think it looks pretty good on a woman, too.

Femme:  Well, you’re not a regular man.

Neil:  Huh?  What do you mean by that?


Neil:  Is that a photo of you in your last post?

Brooke:  Which one?

Neil:  The one that’s all blurry and you seem to not be wearing a top.

Brooke:  Ha Ha.  That’s my ex-boyfriend.

Neil:  Jeez.  I was getting turned on by your ex-boyfriend.

Brooke:  He is hot.

Neil:  I got totally confused with his long hair and his chest.

Brooke:  Yes, he had a bigger chest than I did.

Neil:  I guess I should stop trying to use Photoshop to try to unblur it.

Brooke:  You want to see the original?

Neil:  Uh… sure.

Brooke sends me the photo in an attachment.

Neil:  Wow, he has some bod!

Brooke:  I knew you’d think so.

Neil:  Huh?  What do you mean by that?

Brooke’s description of the exchange is much better.


A Year Ago on Citizen of the Month:  Parents Visit LA 

My Life In Haircuts


As a baby, my mother cut my hair.  I recently saw some of her “work” in photos I found in my father’s closet.  My feeling is that if my mother spent more time breast-feeding me rather than giving me awful haircuts, I would be less neurotic as an adult.

As a child, I got my hair cut at Joe’s Barbershop, which was a block from my apartment building.  This was a classic type of barbershop, of which few exist anymore.  Outside, there were the spiraling red and white stripes of the barber pole.  Joe was an Italian-American of some indeterminate age.  He cut all hair exactly the same.  He used a comb that he kept in a blue 10% formaldehyde solution.  When he was finished cutting your hair, he rubbed in some gooey gel that smelled of Brycream and Old Spice, an odor that I can still smell today.

Eventually, Joe’s Barbershop changed with the times.  Joe brought in his wife to cut hair with him, and he changed the name of the shop to Joe’s Unisex Barbershop.  All of the regulars immediately stopped going there.  The shop turned hands several times over the next few years — first to an orthodox Jewish man, then to two Russian women.  Today, Joe’s Barbershop is named Kabul Hair Stylists (I kid you not!)

In college, I met Freya.  She paid for tuition by being a part-time stylist.  She cut my hair for free.  She wasn’t a very good stylist, but she was a brilliant mathematician.   For years after college, I associated getting a haircut with oral sex.

When I arrived in Los Angeles, a friend introduced me to the “B Salon” on Melrose Avenue.  The haircut cost me fifty bucks!  It was shocking.  When I told my parents this on the phone, I could hear them falling out of their chairs.   But I kept going back to the B Salon, for one reason — “B” herself. 

“B” was absolutely beautiful.  She was always perfectly coiffed.  She served you coffee while you waited for her to finish with her last customer.  When she washed your hair, she would press her voluminous white breasts so close to your face that you would become woozy.  She flattered you with compliments.  She told you how great you looked.  She taught you that Flex Shampoo was for losers, and that you should buy her special pH-balanced twenty dollar shampoo from Australia. 

I always bought everything she told me that I should buy, from fancy brushes with special “bristles” to fruity-smelling conditioner.  I would have married her, but she always brought up her “husband” while rubbing her nipples against my neck.  The funny thing is that her husband’s name always seemed to change each time I went there.  Maybe she was just distracted with her hair-cutting.  She really liked me.  I know she did.

Marriage brings many changes to a man’s life, hair stylists included.  Sophia didn’t like me going to the B Salon.  It had nothing to do with my infatuation with “B.”  Sophia thought that was just amusing.  Sophia didn’t even mind the high cost of the haircut, although she did call me “a sucker for a woman with nice tits,” which wasn’t exactly breaking news.

Sophia’s biggest problem with the B Salon was that she found it a turn-off for a man to go to a fancy-shmancy hair stylist.  If they had invented the word “metrosexual” already, she would have called me that, and said it with disdain.  Sophia believed that a woman should get pampered in hair salons, and “men should be men.”  I never quite understood what she meant by this, but I hope she didn’t expect me to cut my hair with a switchblade.

Sophia set me up for an appointment with Boris, a friend of her parents.  I went to Boris’ apartment.  He was a man in his seventies, a professional barber in Russia, now retired and living in West Hollywood.  He was a real man’s man — solid as a rock.  He didn’t speak a word of English.   He guided me onto his patio, without saying a word.  He covered me with a towel and unravelled his scissors and a comb from a clean white linen napkin.   He proceeded to cut my hair with amazing skill and dexterity. Boris was a true master.  He was not the most creative stylist, but extremely efficient.  Sophia later told me that back in the former Soviet Union, Boris was once driven in to an Army base to cut the hair of a thousand soldiers sitting in the sun.  He rapidly worked on one soldier to the next, chopping and cutting, finishing the entire task in a few hours.

Boris charged me three dollars for a haircut.  I felt so guilty by this that I tried to pay him more.  But he would only take three dollars because that was what he charged.  And he was a man of honor.  I went to Boris for a few years, until a couple of weeks ago, when I cheated on him.

It was right before Sophia and I were heading out to New York.   I knew I was going to be meeting some fashionable NY bloggers, and I wanted to look my best.  I wanted my hair to look trendy.  But where should I bring my precious head of hair?  Boris was too “meat and potatoes.”  The B Salon was now seventy dollars a cut!  So, I compromised.  I went to Supercuts.

Now, I’ve been to Supercuts before.  I know it isn’t exactly a beacon of high fashion.  But I was impressed with the work of Andi, the twenty-something Korean-born stylist with wild, curly hair and the coolest highlights I’d ever seen.

“How can I cut your hair?” she asked me during our “consultation.”

“What do YOU think?”

She took out a copy of Us Magazine and showed me some celebrity photos.

“George Clooney?  Brad Pitt?”

I started to laugh.

“Do people really expect to look like George Clooney because you give them his haircut?”

She giggled.  I immediately liked her.  I trusted her with my hair.  This was going to be my new stylist.   After years of being unable to talk with Boris, I felt the tremendous need to open up to my new stylist, as if she were my long time confidant.  I told her all about my blogging, my marriage, my hopes and dreams.  She kept on cutting my hair.

I looked at the hair falling into my lap.  There were quite a few gray hairs.  I complained about getting older and my graying hair.

“I can take care of that” said Andi.

“You mean color it?”

“Yes.  Half hour, it’s done.”

I seriously thought about it. 

“Does it smell after you do it?” I asked.

“No, no smell.  Very easy.”

“What color would you make it?”

“The same.  Same brown”

“You think highlights would look good on me?”

“Yes!  Yes!”

“Do men get highlights?”

“Of course.  Look.  George Clooney!”

“Will it look natural on me?”

I visualized Ronald Reagan, and his fake black hair.

“No one will know.  Not even your hair dresser!”

Andi was funny.  And talented. 

“Let’s do it!  Let’s go for the coloring,”  I announced.

As Anne continued on with her cut, a fiftyish woman entered Supercuts, branch #5,965.  She had this awful-looking orange hair that made her look like a character from a freak show. 

“Hello, Andi,” she said to my stylist.  “It’s time for an upkeep!”

“So soon?” asked Andi. “It still looks so great, Yvonne.  I love that color on you.  Let me finish with his hair, then I’ll be with you.”

My face suddenly went pale.   I imagined meeting Amanda and Tatyana in New York, my hair all orange. 

Andi turned to me with a smile:  “Let me get the coloring materials from the back and then we’ll begin.”

I began to sweat.  What do I do?   Luckily, blogging saved the day!  I remembered reading a blog post earlier that day from one of those countless “dating blogger” in New York who kvetch about their miserable dating lives.  She had an interesting solution for when she was stuck in the middle of an intolerable date.

I quickly called Sophia with my cellphone.

“Hello?” she said.

“Sophia, this is very important.  I’m in Supercuts.” I whispered.  “Call me back in one minute and say there is an emergency!”

I made it out of there, my hair still safe, still a little grey.  Fifteen dollars.


A year ago in Citizen of the Month:  Some Old Time Religion


Mile High Games


In my single days, I loved flying cross-country.  Long flights allowed me to read entire novels in one sitting.  My airplane-reading days ended once I started flying with Sophia.

1)  She is afraid of flying.  She actually grabs my hand as we take off and asks me to pray with her.  I usually play along until she gets pissed at me for ‘rolling my eyes.’

2)  She cannot sit still for five minutes.  She hates being trapped in an airplane, especially when the person in front of her leans his seat back, giving her exactly three inches to move about.   It’s not long before she’s cranky and telling me stories about how she USED to travel in FIRST CLASS with some old boyfriend.

Why does American Airlines book the worst possible movies?  The minute I take out a book to read, I hear Sophia:

“How about we play some cards?” or “How about we do the crossword?” or “How about we take out the American Airlines magazine and circle how many states we’ve visited?”

During our recent flight from NY to LA, Sophia overheard two female flight attendants having a brief exchange as they passed by our seats, preparing to sell us our lunch.

“Are you going to play in the game tonight?” said one.

“You bet!” replied the other.

Sophia turned to me, somewhat excited.

“Did you hear that?”


“They’re playing some game when they get into LA.  Maybe it’s Texas Hold-em?”

“So what?”

(Note:  If you’re new here, Sophia’s latest obsession is watching Texas Hold-em tournaments on TV)

“Maybe I can get into these games.” she said.

“You’ve got to be kidding?!”

She wasn’t.  She rang for one of the flight attendants.  Mindy, a brunette flight attendant from Orange County, came over.

“Can I help you?” asked Mindy.

“Excuse me, ” said Sophia.  “This may sound like a weird question.  But I overheard that you girls play in some game in LA?  Would it be Texas Hold-em?”

“The game?!  Oh no!” she laughed.   “It’s defintiely not poker.  It’s a game we play here right on the flight.”

“Really?”  Sophia asked, her eyes light up.  “What is it?”

Mindy kneeled down next to her.

“I really shouldn’t be telling you this…” said Mindy, glancing over at me, suspiciously. 

Sophia told me to look the other way and cover my ears.   I cheated and listened in as Mindy “spilled the beans.”

“The game is something we girls play on long flights.  We imagine that we are stranded on an deserted island and have to pick just one passenger from the plane to procreate with.”

“Wow,” announced Sophia.  “What a great game!”

After the seat belt sign went off, Sophia jumped up, released from the prison of her seat, and strolled up and down the aisles.  Eventually, she returned, all smiles.

“So, is it me?”  I asked cockily.

Sophia didn’t answer.  Mindy stopped by.

“17C” said Sophia.

“Exactly.” agreed Mindy.

I looked at my seat number.  It read 25D.


A Year Ago on Citizen of the Month:  Sophia vs. Lavalife

Miko, Hot and Wet


I knew the moment we walked into the Torrance, CA restaurant, that there were going to be problems.

“Fast food sushi?” asked Sophia, a concerned look on her face.

“I heard good things about it.  $7.99 for eleven pieces of sushi and rolls?  Where else can you get that deal?”

“OK…OK… Cheapskate.”

We sat down and received our trays of sushi.   I started eating, hungrily.  Sophia reluctantly picked at her Spicy Tuna roll, examining the huge blob of rice.

“Did you notice that none of the workers who made the sushi were Japanese?” she asked.

“So?  What do you think — only Japanese people can make sushi?”


“Racist.  Eat.”

Sophia ate her roll.  She immediately made the International Women’s Symbol of Not Liking Something — that universal scrunching up the nose in disgust. 

“Oh, come on.  It isn’t that bad.”

“I’m not sure how clean this place is.”

“It looks clean to me,” I said matter-of-factly.

“They had this piece of TV last night about how dirty restaurants can be.  Did you know about this teenage boy who died from drinking water with ice because it was contaminated with e.coli?”

“Good thing we’re not drinking water with ice.” I answered.

“It’s because the employees didn’t wash their hands.  I didn’t see the sushi makers wearing gloves.” 

“I’m sure they wash their hands.  it’s the law.”

“Did you notice how the restroom keys are sitting right next to the soda machine?”

This discussion was beginning to ruin my appetite.

“You know, Sophia, I’m not going to listen to you anymore right now.  I’m enjoying my salmon.”

One of the sushi makers/employees passed by and headed into the bathroom.  He was a skinny blond guy in his early twenties with a haircut reminiscent of the “New Wave” era of 1982.

“Look, he’s going into the bathroom,” announced Sophia. 

“So what?”

“Go follow him and see if he washes his hands.”

“I’m not going in there to spy on him,” I protested.

“You brought me to this dump.  If he washes his hands, then I’ll eat the sushi.”

I sighed, and headed for the men’s room.

I entered the men’s room.  Sushi Boy was in a stall.  I went to a urinal to pee.  After I was done, I stood around, my zipper undone, waiting for this guy to finish his business.  He was taking longer than I hoped.   I amused myself by reading some writing on the wall.

It read, “Miko, Hot and Wet.” 

I drifted off for a few moments, thinking of Miko:

“Who was she — this Miko?” I asked myself. 

I was pretty sure I knew what the author meant when he said “hot and wet,” but grammatically the phrase actually read as if Miko herself was “hot and wet.” Did she just come out of a sauna? 

“I wonder if Miko is really hot?”  I thought.   “Did she work here at one time?   I know three male Jewish friends who married Japanese women.  Maybe I should have married a Japanese woman. I bet you they don’t kvetch as much as Jewish women.  Well, actually that’s not true.  Karen Tanaka from college was a major pain in the ass.   Why didn’t I ask her out during sophomore year?  She was cute.  Why was I so scared of asking her out then?”

I shook my head in disappointment.  You can’t go back in time.

“I wonder if Sophia would leave the shower tonight, naked except for high heels and chopsticks in her hair?”

“Yeah, right!” I quickly answered myself.  “Like Sophia is ever going to bow down to me like a geisha girl!”

Suddenly, I realized I’ve been standing in front of the urinal with my fly down for five minutes — and it just seemed, weird. 

“Screw Mr. Sushi Boy.  He’s taking too long.”

I washed my hands and returned to the table.  Sophia looked up, wanting an answer.

“Forget it.  I’m not waiting for him any longer.” 

“OK, fine.  Since we’re sitting by the restroom, I heard you flush and turn on the sink.  So, we’ll be able to hear if he washes his hands right from here.”

Five more minutes passed.  We heard a flush coming from the men’s bathroom.  Two seconds later, Sushi Boy exits, his hands completely dry.  He heads back to make some more California Rolls.

Sophia and I looked down at our plates.

“Let’s get the hell out of here,” I said.

As we rushed out, I grabbed some packages of chopsticks.

“What do you need that for?” Sophia asked.

“Maybe later, you’ll want to wear them in your hair.” I suggested.


A Year Ago on Citizen of the Month:  My Menage  a Trois

My Father’s Closet


My father was a pack rat.  Without my mother’s influence, he would have been one of those guys who kept piles of newspapers from ten years ago.  He actually saved credit card receipts back from 1980.  He was overly-organized to the point where he should have probably gone to a therapist to discuss it.  He kept calendars to fill in events coming up two years into the future. 

“We’ll be coming to California to see you in December 2004, on a Monday” he would tell me in January 2002. 

It was very difficult for him to change plans.  This rigidity used to drive me crazy, and as a result, I rebelled and became the complete opposite.  I’m a sloppy, unorganized procrastinator.

In my parent’s bedroom, my father had HIS CLOSET.  It is where he kept all his personal stuff.  He had slides and Super-8 movies from before he was married, all sorts of memorabilia in old cigar boxes, and mysterious papers filed away.  Like many men of a certain generation, he never spoke about his life before marriage. 

Once, when my friend Rob and I were in elementary school, we bravely opened the CLOSET and discovered an old Playboy magazine tucked between two shelves. Wow, was that exciting.  We devoured each page until our eyes were popping out.  At 5:25 (my father always came home exactly at 5:30), we carefully placed the Playboy back in between two shelves — in the EXACT same spot.  Later, that night, my father asked me why I went into his closet.  I was stunned that he knew about our adventure.  Did we return the Playboy just a millimeter off, giving us away?  I never went into his CLOSET again while he was alive.

For the last week, Sophia and I helped my mother clean up the house.  Even though my father died in September, most of his clothes were still in the house.  We gathered up several huge bags of clothes for Goodwill to pick up.  We cleaned up my father’s odd collection of luggage, some from thirty years ago. 

During these days of E-bay, it is more difficult to throw things away. 

“Should we toss away my father’s old-school hard-cased American Tourister suitcases?” I asked Sophia.  “People collect all sorts of nonsense on E-bay.  Maybe there’s a collector of American Tourister luggage out there willing to pay top dollar for our junk.”

At the end, we just tossed it. 

Eventually, the inevitable came up.

“Neil, why don’t you go through your father’s closet?” asked my mother.

So, I did.  I went into my father’s mysterious closet, the one I had feared for so mnay years. 

It was a highly emotional experience.  My father kept everything in this closet.  Photos of his family.  Photos of old girlfriends in bathing suits on the beach.  Paperwork from the shtetl my grandparents had lived in, in Europe.  ID tags from the Army.   College papers.  Slides and movies.  Odd artifacts from my grandparents — a framed photo of the Dionne Quintuplets, a signed painting of six-time presidential candidate for the Socialist Party of America, Norman Thomas, and old editions of the Yiddish newspaper, the Forward.  And boxes and boxes of stuff about me that I thought my mother had thrown away years ago.  Letters from sleep-away camp.   Parent-teacher notifications. My college acceptance to Columbia.  An audio recording of my bar mitzvah. 

I was most intrigued by his personal tchotkes, especially this pair of little glass boots that he kept in a cigar box.  They did not look like baby boots or army boots.  What the hell were they?  Sophia and my mother tried to convince me to throw them out, but I couldn’t.  My father obviously saved them for decades, but why?  Had he won them?  Was it an inside joke with an old buddy or girlfriend?  I know I have all sorts of important memorabilia in my “junk drawer” at home.  These items are special to me for various oddball reasons.  I imagined these boots as special to my father.

When my father died, I didn’t feel that things were “left unresolved.”  Going into the closet was my first experience of really MISSING him. 

I wanted to ask him why he kept certain things and not others. 

I wanted to ask him why he never shared these things with me. 

I wanted to ask him what these glass boots meant, if anything. 

The closet was a real treasure trove.  I barely had time to look through most of it.  

Last night, Sophia and I returned to Los Angeles.  I only took two items with me.  Both “spoke” to me in a unique way.   But rather than hide them in a closet like my father would do, I’ll rebel against Arthur Kramer and publish them on the internet.


This is a photo of my father and me.  I used to put on magic and puppet shows.  Here I am at a Jewish center, telling the story of Purim (the devil puppet on the left is supposedly the villain of Purim, Haman).


This a hand-written letter I wrote to the New York Times when I was twelve.  I have no recollection of writing this letter at all, but found it amusing (and with some bizarre sense of pride) that I wrote it:

Neil Kramer
Flushing, NY

To the Editors of the NY Times:

I’m sure the NY Times believes in freedom of speech but there was one thing I was shocked about.  In your June 27th “This Week in Review” section on the back page there was a full-sized “Jews for Jesus” ad.  If that is their belief, let it be, but to broadcast that all Jews should change their belief is outrageous, especially in the NY Times.

I know that the “This Week in Review Section” is used much by children and teenagers for current events.  Isn’t it true religion shouldn’t be mixed with schooling?  What if a gullible teenager reads this ad?

I’m sure many worthwhile organizations wanted to buy that space.  I hope you will have better discretion with your ads.


Neil Kramer

OK, maybe I should’ve kept that IN the closet.  But it made me laugh. 


A Year Ago on Citizen of the Month:  S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y Night

The Unveiling


Blogging is probably not going to make most of us rich or famous.  But it is a great way of meeting wonderful people.   When my father passed away in September, I shared the experience with my new blogger friends.   A few months later, I wrote about my dissatisfaction with my father’s traditional funeral service, feeling that he was more quirky and original than any rabbi’s eulogy could express. 

I think this may be the first time in the history of the blogosphere that bloggers helped influence what is engraved on the stone of a blogger’s late father.  

This week was my father’s “unveiling.”  At first my mother was a little shocked at seeing the empty side of the stone reserved for her.  I can imagine how weird that must have felt, even though she intends to hang around to nag me until she’s 120!  But all in all, my mother was very happy with the stone, especially with the addition of my father’s favorite way of saying good-bye, “Be of Good Cheer.”


A Year Ago on Citizen of the Month:  Just Like Dad

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