the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

The Two Sisters


After writing a post about me finding my fifth grade diary, someone told me about Cringe, a monthly reading series held at a Brooklyn bar.

On the first Wednesday of each month, brave souls come forward and read aloud from their teenage diaries, journals, notes, letters, poems, abandoned rock operas, and other general representations of the crushing misery of their humiliating adolescence.

Leahpeah had organized something like this in Los Angeles, but Cringe is the big momma of this genre.  It is hosted by Sarah Brown, a popular New York blogger, and there is even a Cringe book being published. 

(via Que Sera Sera)

My plan for tonight was simple.  I would attend this reading, my diary in my knapsack.  At a certain point, I would volunteer to read.  I would stand in front of the Brooklyn hipsters and wow them with my elementary school wit.  A literary agent would be sitting in the front row and ask me to write “The Penis Monologues,” which would become a huge bestseller, and I would become so famous that men all over the world would stop calling their members “Dicks” or “Johnsons,” but rather will all call them “Neilochkas.”  Millions of women would be screaming for “Neilochka” each night.

But life has a funny way of changing a person’s plans —

Sophia’s father loved marriage.  He loved it so much, he was married five times.  From everything I heard, he was a nice and exciting guy, but difficult to live with.  Sophia’s parents divorced when she was young.  Recently, Sophia learned that she had an older half-sister who lived in Brooklyn.  The woman, Anya, was born to Sophia’s father and his very first wife, twenty years before he married Sophia’s mother, Fanya.  Anya… Fanya…the whole story is more complicated than Crime and Punishment, or All My Children.

Sophia decided that today was the perfect day to meet her half-sister.  We would meet Anya in a restaurant for an early dinner, and then Sophia and I would take off to Cringe.

We picked Anya up and headed to Spoon, a Russian restaurant in Brighton Beach. 


It was a very joyous meeting, which was surprising, because there was a lot of tension before the actual get-together.  It was almost canceled because at first Anya refused to have Sophia come up to her apartment to pick her up, and Sophia was somewhat upset and confused as to why wouldn’t her long-lost sister want to invite her into her home.  Once Sophia understood that Anya was insecure about how her Americanized new relative might judge her modest home, she wasn’t feeling hurt any longer and laid Anya’s worries to rest.  Both women were also nervous about what this meeting meant.  For all their life, they knew nothing of each other.  Are they instant “sisters” now or still relative strangers with little in common?



The jury is still out about where this relationship goes, but Sophia and Anya seemed to bond well.  We all had a lot of fun together.  Anya’s English was decent enough so I could talk with her, and I impressed her by singing the one Russian song that Sophia taught me.  Since we were on Anya’s territory, she insisted that she pick up the tab to the restaurant, and proceeded to order enough food and drink for fifteen people. 





What I look like when I start to get drunk. 

After the huge meal, Anya invited us back to her home for dessert, and to meet the rest of her family. 

At first, I wanted to say no, since this would mean we would miss Cringe, since it was already getting late.  Then I realized that this meet-up was so much more interesting and authentic than reading from a diary to a bunch of strangers.  A diary is all about connecting to the past — but only through words.  Here, the past was coming together in the present…in actuality!  Two women from the same father, both testing the waters to see if this vague family bond matters in any tangible way.  Who needs Brooklyn hipsters laughing at old diaries when I could witness real life?!


At Anya’s house, there was more food, dessert, and more drinking.

Putin may be bringing Russia back into the Cold War, but no one can doubt that Russians know how to party!

To the half-sisters!

P.S. — After all that, when we got home, we saw that the Cringe reading was cancelled tonight. 


  1. Dagny

    The universe works in strange ways. At least, that’s what I like to think. I am so glad to see that Sophia was able to connect with her half-sister. If you ever have children, they will thank you. Because my mother’s older half-sister treats me like a complete princess. Well, all of my relatives on the Atlantic seaboard do that. Much to my mother’s chagrin. And so maybe NP can hope for the same kind of treatment…

  2. Dagny

    Oops. It just occurred to me that NP was probably hoping for twin sisters…

  3. Sarah Brown

    I’m glad we didn’t miss you, then!

  4. Geeky Tai-Tai

    Let me just say that Sophia is GORGEOUS in this photo. She and her sister must’ve gotten those high cheekbones from their dad, huh? Honestly, I can only dream. It seems a lot of us with German ancestry tend to have “flat” faces. Alrighty then, I’ve got a flat face, but not a flat chest. I can accept that.

  5. V-Grrrl

    Anya, Fanya–is there an Uncle Vanya?

    Just wondering….that was the first play I ever attended.

    Neil, I love your long-hair and five o’clock shadow. Sophia looks gorgeous. And Anya is a model of generosity and hospitality.

  6. Noel

    A lot of us didn’t know Cringe was canceled, showed up anyway. A guy named Peter wowed us with his elementary school wit. A literary agent sitting in the front row signed him and says he’s going to become so famous that men all over the world would stop calling their members “Dicks” or “Johnsons,” but rather will all call them “Peters.” Millions of women will be screaming for “Peter” each night. And some men, too.

  7. tiddleywink

    The same cheekbones and beautifully arched eyebrows. I agree that Sophia looks stunning in your group photo. She’s glowing!

  8. Finn

    God has a way of working things out, doesn’t he/she?

    I love, love, love Sophia’s hair like that. She looks gorgeous.

  9. Not Fainthearted

    “…both testing the waters to see if this vague family bond matters in any tangible way.”

    This line made me gasp with the deep truth of it. Does a vague family bond mean anything? Is it the blood or the time together that really matters?

    As did this one:

    “Who needs Brooklyn hipsters laughing at old diaries when I could witness real life?!”

    (Soon, maybe, instead of witnessing real life you’ll feel like you’re living it?)

    As much as you make me laugh Neil, (and you DO make me laugh!) you throw in these stunningly written crystals of truth that bring me back for more.

    I’m glad the evening went so well for Sophia and Anya and Neil.

  10. kristen

    What a great tale. I have no doubt the Brooklyn coolio’s would have loved you, too bad it was cancelled. Thank you for the tip on Cringe.

    I had the privledge of going to a private party in Brighton Beach at one of the big party club/restaurants, can’t remember the name. It was a 1 year old b-day party and it could have been a wedding reception. The table displays, the women and their gowns…there were platters of the most amazing fishes that kept coming and each table had 2 bottles of cold vodka for the shots, not including the open bar. There was dancing and toasting and singing, it was the best party I’ve been too.

    I’m glad you and Sophia had a good time.

  11. sizzle

    how fun! that’s so wonderful sophia and her half-sister. love the drunk look on you. hee hee!

    (tell sophia i adore her new hairstyle- totally sassy!)

  12. psychomom

    I have six sisters and they are the best! Nothing like partying with the girls you animal.

  13. MammaLoves

    What an interesting night!

    Sophia…gorgeous!! Neilochka drinking…hmmmm.

  14. Erin Cooper

    Wow, what a wonderful adventure. 🙂 Shame about Cringe, but you can always start the west coast version and if I’m ever in your area, I’ll bring my most embarrassing poetry.

  15. Katie

    Yeah, you guys look great, but man, those pirohi look fantastic. I’m hungry.

  16. Inarticulate Fumblings

    I’m trying to think of a way to tell you that I love your style of writing and that I thought it was a really great story but this New Years diet has me focused on those pictures of what you ate.

  17. Danny

    Oh my God, Sophia has a SISTER? That’s an amazing story! (And I want to go to that Russian restaurant in Brighton Beach more than anything in the world.)

    You are so brave to go to that Cringe event and I’m sure you would have been great. Will they be rescheduling it before you leave?

  18. 180/360

    That was a lovely story! I had a similar situation happen to me when I was younger. I have 2 half sisters I had no idea about. I am now really close to one and not so close with the other. But it has been interesting discovering the similarities between the siblings or the characteristics that come from our father within each other.

  19. maribeth

    What a great story. How fun to meet new family!

  20. Deven

    Neilochka…probably the BEST blog article you’ve ever written! The balance of fabulous story, pictures of gorgeous food, and gems of insight I’ve read in a long time anywhere.

    Thank you for intermittent brilliance!

  21. Ellen Bloom

    Yummmmm….authentic Russian food! I haven’t had a decent plate of kasha & varnishkas since Grandma Ethel died in 1961! I want to go to Brighton Beach!

  22. Irina

    That sign sure looks familiar!

    Like a true local of Brighton Beach, haven’t tried that restaurant yet. By the way, Sophia looks great on that picture!

  23. gorillabuns

    my husband has a half brother he found out about when he was in college. while he thought he was the oldest, it turns out he’s not. it’s always interesting how the 1/2 brother interacts with the family, especially since he was given up for adoption.

  24. Nina

    I am so glad you clued me in about Cringe. I have a drawer full of diaries starting from when I was eight years old. Sometimes I think about throwing them out. Do people really do that? I can’t.

    Beautiful sisters!

  25. Atomic Bombshell

    Sophia is such a superstar.

  26. Neil

    You hear that, Sarah Brown of Cringe — I’m plugging you unintentionally! You owe me big. I want to be knighted as an honorary Brooklyn hipster.

  27. wendy


    you do look a titch tipsy my friend!

    I hope they will become good friends.

  28. molly

    um, that is a rad story. rad enough that i used rad, which i have not used since leaving california for brooklyn hipsterhood.

  29. cruisin-mom

    Oh my gosh…I have tears reading this…what an incredible, moving story. Sophia, you do look absolutely gorgeous. Neil, you look positively bombed. I’m Russian…perhaps I’m a long lost sister too (even have high cheek bones). Sophia, thanks for having Neil share this story.

  30. Neil

    Molly, you are way cooler than Brooklyn hipness. You are Bohemian!

    Cruisin — I’m not going to tell you how LITTLE I drank before I started singing those Russian songs and earned the nickname of “That Crazy American.”

  31. Pearl

    Neil, did the two sisters sneak glances at you while they spoke in Russian, then hide their giggles as best as they could?

    Yeah? I thought so…

    (They were just telling each other what a fine catch and specimen of a man you are, and then Sophia told Anya about your blog…)

  32. JohnB

    What a cool story. And yeah, I don’t get why this Sarah Brown is unhappy with you, Neil…
    “I’m glad we didn’t miss you, then!”
    Huh? What? You gave this Cringe a ton of publicity.

  33. churlita

    I do read and enjoy your posts, but when you put those photos of sophia up, all I can do is get distracted by how stunning she always looks.

  34. bookfraud

    what a great story. i laughed, i cried, my neilochka fell off. and it’s not like i’ve had a fantasy of being discovered.

    what is it about meeting russians for food? i remember one new year’s eve picking up a friend whose russian parents insisted i stay for dinner…which, three bottles of vodka later with many guests, turned into the new year. i think it was the only new year’s eve that i had a good time, and it wasn’t even planned.

  35. Kay Dennison

    What a great story!!!! Sophia looked lovely!!!!!!

  36. Sarah Brown

    If I see any Brooklyn hipsters, I will tell them to call you!

    And I’m not at all upset with Neil… did my double negatives sound that way? I really wish I had seen you at Cringe, but since Cringe was cancelled and you didn’t make it out anyway, no harm done. I am sorry to the other people that did come out and didn’t know it was cancelled. I hope you’ll come back in February!

  37. Sarcomical

    item 1: sophia looks GORGEOUS.
    item 2: you made me very hungry.
    item 3: you definitely chose the more amazing moment to participate in. even though Cringe does sound like fun.

  38. Los Angelista

    A lesser man would’ve gone ahead and bounced to Cringe. You get major props for putting family first.

  39. abigail road

    Mmmmm…now I’m craving perogies.

  40. teahouseblossom

    Wow, what an awesome evening!!

    I still haven’t made it out to Brighton Beach.

    I’m glad that your trip to NYC was so much fun. Next time we’ll actually get together!

  41. patry

    Sophia is glowing and the Russian food looks fabulous. (Are those pierogis?) Love to you both.

  42. Aimee Greeblemonkey

    Great post! Really, really great!

    And I love Sara Brown. She also turned the Internet on to the word “Birshon” – look it up in urban dictionary – I have a post on mine and she has a whole Flickr group of people’s Birshon pics. Freaking hilarious!

  43. Loralee

    Oh, God.

    Every time I open my high school diaries I feel like calling a crisis hot line and eating an entire package of chocolate covered oreos.


  44. sassy

    What a great story – I find in these sotuationswhere we’rereunitedwith a ‘long lost’something or other, it’s often difficult to just let it be what it is, without expecting more. Anyhoo, you’re right, that was surelty more fun than a Cringe reading. Besides, who needs Cringe when you can publish your fifth grade diaryfor the entire blogiverse to read !

  45. Pearl

    Glad you took the uniquer opportunity. Whether Cringe ended up cancelled or not, got to go with the hot iron. Looks like a great time…

  46. mary

    What a heartwarming story. 🙂 And Sophia’s hair looks so cute.
    I couldn’t read my HS diary, when my mom discovered it, she never gave it back. I wonder what ever happened to it…

  47. kanani

    They have the same eyes. They both look beautiful and happy. But who’s the guy in the middle?

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