the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Something Symbolic

photo by Sophia

After we attended the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, Sophia, my mother, and I went to a New Year’s Day get-together at the home of an acquaintance who lived in Rancho Palos Verdes.  This is a hilly and exclusive part of LA where people have houses that look over the Pacific Ocean.

I was standing on their patio, late afternoon, watching the sun begin to set over the water, when Jay, a friend of a friend, came onto the patio.

“It looks like it might be clear enough for a green flash.” he said.

He explained that as the sun set in the water, there was sometimes an optical light trick that looked like a green flash.

I was very excited to hear him talk about this. As I’ve mentioned previously on this blog, one of my favorite movies is the French director Erich Rohmer’s “Le Rayon Vert.”  In the film, the main character’s waiting for this green “ray” during a sunset is central to the story.  I thought this “green flash” was a fictional invention, not a real happening that I could experience myself!

Jay wasn’t patient enough to wait, but I stood there, eager for the flash to occur. To see this green flash would surely be something, especially on January 1st.  It would be symbolic of a New Year that holds something special in store, maybe even mystical. And what could be more mystical than a spark of light seen only for a second during sunset.  Even that crazy Kabbalah can’t promise THAT!

Being a sentimental type, I’m always searching for something symbolic to happen on New Year’s Eve.  Unfortunately, it never comes.  Maybe that’s why I’ve never been a big fan of New Year’s celebrations.  New Year’s parties are always a disappointment.  Everyone is always working so hard to be jovial.  And the next day, life is always the same as it was in the previous year, except now you have a hangover.  Even watching the “New Year’s ball” coming down in Times Square is a let-down.   I live in California.  Why am I cheering for an event that happened three hours earlier in another state?

So, you can imagine how excited I was to see this green flash.  This could be the New Year’s symbol I have been waiting for — something that will help push my 2007 in the right direction.

The Rose Parade was supposed to be the big event jump-starting my 2007, but it wasn’t.

I woke up on New Year’s Day at 5AM, full of energy.

As for the parade…

It was, well… interesting to attend, but it is one of those things you do once, and never do again.  What a pain in the ass!  It took us over two hours to drive from South Pasadena to our pre-paid parking in Pasadena.  A million people were crammed into Colorado Boulevard. We had great seats, right across from the Norton Simon Museum, but everyone was so tight-packed in the bleachers that you couldn’t even move your ams in order to take a photo.

A half hour into the parade, a stone-face couple, both around 65, forced their way into our row. Stone-Faced Husband demanded that I get up, because I was sitting in his seat. I told him that he might be mistaken, and I got up to check my ticket. As I stood, the Stone-Faced Husband grabbed his wife’s hand, and slid into my seat, almost pushing me over the edge.

“I paid 85 dollars for this seat and no one is taking it!” he yelled.

When I saw that Sophia was about to punch him in the nose, I stepped in. I looked at my ticket and told him that BOTH of us had seats side-by-side. They were just positioned impossibly tight together. I crammed my way in, purposely making the guy feel as uncomfortable as possible. I was pissed at the guy’s obnoxious attitude. He tried to explain away his rudeness.

“Parking was atrocious. They made me miss a half hour of the parade. And then I thought you took my seat –”

“Screw you, sir.” I said.

I don’t think I have ever said that to anyone in my life, certainly not someone of retirement age.

Some of the floats were fantastic, but once you’re at the parade, you realize the whole event is now catered to TV.  All the celebrities and singers perform in front of the camera, and then seem to take a coffee break for the rest of the route.  I half expected Grand Marshall George Lucas to wave for the cameras and then a few feet later, jump into a limo and head over to some sound-editing room in Burbank, letting the guy in the Darth Vader costume take over his duties for the rest of the parade.

Since we were sitting near the cameras, some “protesters” held a sign on the other side of Colorado Boulevard that read “IMPEACH.” I found this annoying, both because they were infringing on my enjoyment and because they were such lazy protesters. As they held their banner up for the cameras, they ate food and cheered for the floats. In today’s world, crazy Islamic radicals blow themselves up for Allah, but our protesters eat breakfast burritos while watching the Tournament of Roses Parade.

Anything to get on TV.

Another major distraction was a skywriter who started writing a mysterious message in the sky that became a major conversation in the stands. This was another infringement of my space. I would have paid good money to have the the Stealth bombers that started the parade, fly back and shoot him down.

The skywriter started his message with a “W.”

“What is he writing?” someone in the bleachers asked.

“It must be about the parade!” answered the girl behind me who kept on kicking my back.

The next letter looked like “I.”

“W — I –”

“It must be “Will you marry me?!” screamed some geeky guy in a Michigan sweater.

“Ooh! That is so romantic.” said the kicking girl.

“Can we all just focus on the parade?” I wanted to scream, but didn’t.

But the “I” was not an “I.” The skywriter continued until it became an “H.”

“W — H –??” asked the visitor from Michigan.

After two bands and two floats passed by, the mysterious message was revealed. It was “Who will she choose?”

“Who will she choose?”  What does that mean?” asked the Stone-Faced Senior who tried to steal my seat earlier. I decided to forgive and forget, and talk with him.

“I think this a promotion for “Desperate Housewives,” I said. “ABC’s booth is right next to us, and someone from Desperate Housewives is doing the announcing. I think it means WHICH GUY will the Teri Hatcher character pick?”

“I love that show!” said the kicking girl.

All in all, the Rose Parade is much, much better in your underwear, while sitting in bed.  At least there, you can Tivo past the commercials.

Clearly, the parade was not the symbolic moment I was looking for.  If something was going to prove to me that 2007 was going to be a special year, it was going to be the magical green flash over the Pacific Ocean.

I was alone on the patio as the sun set. Everyone else was in the house, listening to the host tell tales of his boating adventures.  He owned a small boat and loved to go fishing. He even owned several spear guns that he used to catch fish. When Sophia learned that he kept the spear guns in the house, she asked if she could see them. The host took out the spear guns and was showing it off to all the guests.

Sophia came out onto the patio.

“Neil, you need to come inside and see this. He has all this fancy fishing equipment.”

“In a minute,” I answered. The sun was getting lower and lower. I was trying to concentrate. Supposedly, this green flash only occurs for a brief moment.

My mother came onto the patio and said I should come inside with everyone else.

“I will. In a little bit.” I said.

Sophia came out again. She thought I might appear rude to the hosts by ignoring them.

“I’ll be there. I promise.”

I went back, focusing on the sunset. The sun sunk as low as it could, and then… there was a pause, as if time stood still, and then the sun… disappeared. There was no green ray or flash or anything.

So much for my symbolic New Year’s event.

I looked inside through patio window and saw everyone talking to the host about his boating and fishing, subjects that have little interest for me.  My mother was even taking a photo of Sophia holding a spear gun.

I never did see any green flash, but when I thought about it, I was glad I didn’t cave into the peer pressure of going inside. Sophia called for me. My mother called for me. The hosts were looking for me.  Normally, I would have stopped whatever I was doing, but this time I kept to my guns.  I waited for the green flash, like the character in a favorite movie, just because it was important to me.

And that was symbolic.


  1. Mist 1

    Off topic:

    I nominated you for a bloggie award.

  2. liz elayne

    “just because it was important to me”
    (that was my favorite part of the whole story)

    (oh and i also liked the part where you said “screw you” to the guy because it sounds like he deserved it just a bit)

  3. sgazzetti

    I was really rooting for you to see the elusive green flash, both for your need for something symbolic and because I’ve always wanted to see it myself and thought I might get some vicarious green flash action. I hope the sight of Sophia holding a spear gun was a decent consolation prize.

  4. Lux Lisbon

    That was really lovely.

  5. Neil

    Oh sure, Mist1, now that are you officially ranked funnier on Bloglaughs than both me AND Dooce, you want to throw me a bone. OK, admit you — you’ve already had a sit-down brunch with Dooce, haven’t you?

  6. Bice

    I used to wait for the green hornet but then he was cancelled and I never saw him again.

  7. V-Grrrl

    Great post. Great insights. The harbinger of a great year.

  8. mckay

    reading w/o my glasses is pretty fun. i thought you were standing on the piano (not the patio) and a girl was kissing your back (not kicking).

    as for the green flash, i grew up in a house with a pacific ocean view and my mom loved to talk about the green flash. i never saw it, until i think i figured it out.

    when you stare at the sunset for a long time, waiting for the flash, the brightness of the sun imprints on your eye (like seeing a greenish spot – the negative, if you will – after a camera flash)…try looking at a lit lightbulb for a second and then look away – your eye sees the greenish “flash”. it’s not so romantic an explanation, but it’s how i think the flash concept works. like your acquaintance said, it’s an optical light trick, not an event. i felt cheated that i never saw the event. i wanted something magical, like the aurora borealis.

    i completely understand you wanting to take that time for something special and symbolic. even though you didn’t see the flash, i think you attained your symbolism for the first day of 2007. hope your year is full of wonderful sunsets.


  9. Think Frustrated

    Neil, I’ll come out there an throw a clump of grass at you, real fast-like. It will probably look like a green flash.

    “Screw you, sir.” I love how you still respect your elders, even while telling them to screw themselves. Ha.

  10. Blitz Krieg

    Rumour here at work is sometimes in March people see a green flash. Oh, I’ve heard many talk about seeing it and then buying a new car or house. One year I was promised a good view of the green flash only to end up like you Neil, standing on the patio of life trying to find the true meaning of the green flash. For me, maybe this year I’ll open my eyes.

  11. Karl

    Neil, you rock. Stick to your guns, dude, and don’t let anybody walk over you. This is your year!

  12. Dagny

    Maybe next year…

  13. Becky

    Neil, what a beautifully written and poignant post. As someone who has learned, like you, to stick to her guns about what is important to her, I can tell you you’re not in for a smooth journey. But you have many friends who will walk it with you and a great sense of how to tell the story, which also helps.
    Congratulations on this first step.

  14. Danny

    I wondered what it would be like to actually be there and now I know that I’d rather be watching the parade on TV. Some of the floats were cool but to be honest, I’d take the over-commercialized Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade any day. Maybe that’s because it occurs at the very beginning of the season and by New Year’s Day I am so over the holiday hoopla.

    Stone-faced man would have infuriated me, too, but how was it sitting next to him after telling him to go screw himself? Did he respond? Did you feel guilty at all?

    I saw the same “Who Will She Choose?” message as I was driving in my neighborhood and it was a dangerous distraction to everybody on the ground. If it were about any TV show, I’d guess “Lost.” Isn’t Kate still waffling between Sawyer and the doctor guy?

    I’ve never even heard of the green flash, but I grew up in Chicago. We did have a dyed green Chicago River every St. Patrick’s Day.

  15. Megan

    I see a new Neil emerging for 2007; one who doesn’t let anyone push him around. “Screw you, sir.” That’s priceless!

    I’m sorry you didn’t see the flash, but I think the tide has turned for you. As I said to another friend, 2007 will be a kick-ass year for all of us who got our asses kicked in 2006.

  16. wendy

    I tried to forewarn you Neil. The parade is much more bearable on Orange Grove Blvd, with a Ramos Gin Fizz..or a bloody Mary.

    I’m a girl thats always looking for signs. My resolution this year, is to stop looking so hard, and start seeing. Little things.

    Like this AM, at 6:37, the sun dawned in CO, a bright fushia sky, over marshmallow mounds of snow. If I was dreaming (instead of driving), I would swear I was somewhere “other worldly”.

    But I am, right where I am.

    I hope you see that spark someday.

  17. paperback writer

    Nice post, Neil.

  18. EEK

    It’s nice that you can still anticipate the possibility of seeing it at some point in the future if you keep looking for it. It’s good to start a new year with a hopeful attitude.

    Cheers to you in 2007.

  19. Scary Fairy

    You probably don’t need some newcomer to the Neil bandwagon saying how great in every way this post is, but – too bad. It is. Great. (Isn’t that weird, how our need to say something trumps … just about everything else?)

  20. Doug

    I saw a green flash on the Gulf Coast in Clearwater, Florida. It was very weird and thrilling to see the sky turn green for that brief moment. It didn’t really occur until shortly after the sun was completely below the horizon.

  21. better safe than sorry

    i used to spend summer up north looking for the northern lights only to find out they are almost impossible to see during the summer months. i think it’s what you make of the moment, or moments, that make them special.

  22. buzzgirl

    That was really great. Happy New Year!

    I can’t wait to tell the next retiree who pisses me off “Screw you, sir!”

  23. Churlita

    It looks like some of Sophia’s spunk is wearing off on you. I like the new and improved for 2007 Neil, complete with steel rod backbone.

  24. Ellen Bloom

    Neil! Happy New Year. Maybe you should look for rainbows instead of green flashes. I see rainbows all the time from my office in Santa Monica.
    By the way, if you watch the Rose Parade on KTLA, there are NO commercials during the parade broadcast.

  25. Pearl

    Neil, you definitely march to the tune of your own drummer… Good for you!

  26. Neil

    Proof that I wasn’t making up the skywriter:

    From Gawker


    Tip from the extremely glamorous EEK

  27. sara lee

    Nice…”just because it was important to me”… Very Nice!

  28. deezee

    bravo for honoring your own needs and desires!

  29. ms. sizzle

    i love that. you chose you! this is definitely going to be a good year for you.

    i love your sentimentality. it’s incredibly endearing. 🙂

  30. Nance

    Neil, just for you, I googled like hell and found a bunch of stuff on The Green Flash phenomenon. Here’s one:
    It has a link to other articles. The string search term I put in google was
    green flash gulf Florida. A lot of articles came up, and one even had a photo although it was from a Finland sighting. Way to assert yourself in the new year, Neil. Neil Kramer in ‘007: Licensed to Kill.

  31. teahouseblossom

    The correct grammar would have been “WHOM will she choose?”

    I once lived on Colorado Blvd for a summer in Pasadena. Good times.

  32. claire

    Very nicely written, Neil. I liked this one a lot.

    Also, a friend of mine once told me that you can pay $5 or something to see the floats after the parade. No celebs but you can check them out up close at a reasonable time of day. Always sounded like the way to do it to me…

  33. Leslie

    You popped in Blissville once and asked in there was such a thing as a Recovering People Pleaser. This post proves that you are now one.

  34. Neil

    Teahouseblossom — Sophia told me that immediately!  The two of you win the Most Grammatically Corrrect Awards!

    And thanks for the link, Nance.

  35. Non-Highlighted Heather


    Only if you enjoy looking at them close up with about a bajillion other people. We tried that one year,it sounded like such a good idea. I don’t know what looked more wilted, 2 day old Rose Parade floats or the people trying to shove their way up close to get a look at them.

  36. Crankster

    A beautiful post, and a great way to start the new year.

    Happy New Year!

  37. laurie

    This was my favorite post of yours EVER. Happy New Year.

  38. Two Roads

    A new found inner strength. Good work and happy new year!

  39. Edgy Mama

    I’ve never seen a green flash either. But that doesn’t mean I’ll stop looking.

    Happy New Year, Neilochka!

  40. Brooke

    I like that you stuck to your guns. Good job.

  41. Mist 1

    Brunch was fabulous.

  42. Caron

    Sometimes we discover as much in the searching as the finding. Happy searching in 2007.

  43. cruisin-mom

    awww, tear in eye, Neil.

  44. chantel

    I loved, loved, loved this post. Even though our search for mysticism in our lives doesn’t pan out we still find out something about ourselves. It lies in you!!
    Happy 2007

  45. Atomic Bombshell

    Thank you for partaking in my pain… I live ON the Rose Parade route. 🙁

  46. kat

    I also saw “Who will she choose” and it was EXTREMELY distracting as a driver. But also curious. Who is she? Did she choose? And if she did… well who did she choose? Maybe the skywriter will supply an update!

  47. SFGary

    My flash of light was a red one on NY morning accompanied by a pounding headache, it turned out to be a bad hangover.

  48. communicatrix

    Of course, this is my favorite post of yours, ever.

    We’ll always have Rohmer…

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