Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Month: August 2011

What Mario Lopez Taught Me About The Five Emotional Stages Of Divorce

Just because I haven’t been writing a lot on my blog doesn’t mean I haven’t been online. Ever since Sophia and I filed for divorce, I’ve been receiving advice from online friends near and far about how to proceed with my life.  Some of this advice has been as wise as that of Buddha, while other tidbits have been pure idiocy.

I should take up yoga.
I should keep my distance from Sophia.
I should have rebound sex with women born no later than the Clinton Administration.
I should take up French cooking.
I should write a book.
I should travel.
I should date nice girls.
I should not date at all.
I should run in a half marathon.
I should go to “Burning Man.”
I should get a tattoo.
I should start a blog for divorcing men.
I should start binge drinking  (another serious suggestion, proof that I have some really bad friends).

To complicate matters, I have my own internal voices putting THEIR two cents into the hat, and as usual — my head, my heart, and my dick are not on the same page.

This morning I had breakfast with Danny from Jew Eat Yet.  He has been a great blogging friend since 2005, a super-intelligent guy, with a broad range of knowledge.  I knew any advice that HE would give me would be something worth listening to in earnest, unlike some of my OTHER readers.

As we ate what is considered “The Best Pancakes in LA” (at Du-Pars), I talked about my hopes and fear, and some of the issues still remaining with Sophia.   Danny rubbed his chin, like a clever rabbi, and told me how divorce is like a death.  He explained that  I would need to go through a transition period of grief, namely the Five Emotional Stages of Divorce: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.

I found myself unable to relate to what he was saying.

“You must still be in the denial stage,” he noted. “It’ll come to you.  Give it time and you will understand.”

Our conversation has been so weighty, and the pancakes so heavy in our stomachs, that we decided to take a little walk.   As we strolled over to the Grove shopping center next to the Farmer’s Market, we discussed the new fall TV season.   It was a relief to talk about nonsense.

We noticed a crowd gathering in the center square adjacent to the Barnes and Noble bookstore.   We went over to take a look.   It was TV personality Mario Lopez doing a remote for the show EXTRA, interviewing a few special guests, including the infamous Snooki from Jersey Shore.

Danny and I stood there for twenty minutes, watching the crew — the high strung producer, the bored sound man, the unionized grips eating donuts.  Mario Lopez seemed to be a seasoned professional.  The director would give him one quick rehearsal for each segment, and then he would jump right in.

As I admired Mario Lopez’s TV skills, I thought about my faltering Instagram photography.  In New York, I was taking fun photos of NYC life, but in Los Angeles, my photos have been  stale.   There are few opportunities for a spontaneous photo in a city where you are always driving in your car.

But here was an opportunity to redeem myself.   What could be more LA than a photo of Mario Lopez, with his perfect hair, teeth, and body?

I took dozens of Mario Lopez photos from different angles, searching for the ideal Mario Lopez instagram shot.  And as I melted there under the hot LA sun, I had a revelation.  It was as if God himself was sending me a message through the expressive facial gesturing of TV personality Mario Lopez.  When I looked at Mario Lopez speaking into his microphone, I was understanding what Danny had said earlier about divorce.   It was his face… Mario Lopez’s Hollywood chiseled face.   His facial expressions were like elements in a Powerpoint Presentation on The Five Emotional Stages of Divorce: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.


Denial


Anger


Bargaining


Depression


Acceptance.

I understand.  And now I must move on to the next stage.   Thank you Mario Lopez.

Medical Insurance

I hope you don’t mind these smaller throw-away posts. They are not great writing, but little diary entries for my sanity. Maybe they will get me off of Twitter.

Over the winter in New York I developed this cough that wouldn’t go away.  My mother kept on insisting I see a doctor, but since I had an HMO in California, I could only see my primary doctor 3000 miles away in Los Angeles.  Considering that I was paying for health insurance out of pocket, it seemed like an incredible waste of money, but I am too much of a nervous-nelly to go without insurance.

I called my insurance company in California asking for advice on seeing a doctor in New York, and they told me that I was covered in New York only if I went to the emergency room or an urgent care center.

I had never gone to an urgent care center, but I read up on it and learned that it was a place where you could walk in and see a doctor for a non-emergency medical problem.

I found a urgent care center nearby in Queens that was associated with a major hospital. After waiting an hour in the hallway (the waiting room was filled), I was called in to see the frazzled doctor, who seemed exhausted jumping from one patient to another like a frog in a white coat.  I told him about my persistent cough, and he looked inside my mouth.  He noted that there was no infection in my throat.

“You have a bad cough,” he said, giving his professional opinion.

He prescribed a stronger cough medicine, one with codeine.

If you followed me on Twitter at the time, you might remember me making several jokes about me taking this codeine cough medicine and ultimately seeing Jesus in my tea cup.

Two weeks later, the cough disappeared.

This morning,  my mother called me from New York.  She was upset.   She just received a letter from the urgent care center.  The entire fee was paid by the insurance company.

“That’s great,” I said.  “So why do you sound so angry?”

“Do you know how much your visit cost the insurance company? A thousand dollars! Six hundred for seeing the doctor and four hundred for the presciption!”

“Jesus. What a rip-off.  But at least WE don’t have to pay for it.”

“What do you mean we don’t pay for it. We DO pay for it. That’s why your medical insurance is a thousand dollars a month!”

She was right.   Why was this five minute visit to a doctor costing the insurance company a thousand dollars?   And why was the insurance company paying such an outrageous amount?

I mentioned this to a friend in the medical field, and he said that it is unlikely that the insurance company paid this amount for my measly visit. The urgent care might have asked for a  thousand dollars, but the insurance company paid a reduced amount.

“So, if they didn’t pay that amount, why did the urgent care center send me a receipt saying that the insurance company paid them a thousand dollars for my visit?” I asked.

“So you don’t leave your insurance company,” he said.  “It’s all a shell game.”

Giving Birth to Myself

I want to be politically correct with my large female readership and say right off the bat that as a man I will never fully know what it feels like to give birth to another human being. But, to be devil’s advocate, let’s imagine that I DO KNOW.  And I am giving birth… to myself.  To a  new version of Neil.  The man who is not married to Sophia.

You will notice that I didn’t used the word divorced. Divorce has connotations of loss to me, as if I lost my wallet.  I will not walk around with the self identity of a divorced man.  I will be a man who learned important life lessons during his first marriage, a man now better able to love.

But this person is yet to be born.  He is inside me, growing.  And as most woman know, giving birth is a bizarre combination of pain, blood, joy, and medication. And it takes time.

But soon.

Irreconcilable Differences

On the night before BlogHer, Sophia and I filled out the paperwork.  There were four forms to complete.   It was more complicated than I thought, forgetting for a moment that filing for divorce is a serious legal matter and not an episode of “The Marriage Ref.”  The moment was friendly, but tense, not unlike the times we attempted to complete the NY Times Sunday crossword puzzle together.

Filing for divorce.   We peeked into my blog archives and discovered that we have been “separated” for six years, coming back and leaving each other more times than Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.  It was time.

We enjoyed a quick nice laugh when we came across the options you could choose as the reason for the divorce —

A) Irreconsolible differences.

B) Reasons of insanity.

Yes, I want a divorce because my SPOUSE IS CRAZY!

The next day, I put my luggage in the car, ready to go to San Diego.  But before I left LA, I drove to the courthouse.  I stood in a long line outside the court, hanging with my peers, the gang members and rapists of the City of Los Angeles.  Apparently, getting a divorce puts you in the same line as an armed robber.    I got patted down by a burly police officer after going through the metal detective, proving that ending a marriage requires a symbolic ceremony as traditional as breaking the glass under the chuppah in the beginning.

The clerk at civil court clerk’s office was an androgynous woman with short blonde hair in the style of Annie Lenox, circa 1985.  Filing for divorce is as glamorous as going to CVS pharmacy to pick up some Q-tips.  I handed the clerk the forms and paid my $390.

The only setback was that I couldn’t hand in Sophia’s papers on the same day as I did mine.  She had to be “served” by a third party, much as they do on “Law and Order.” Oh yeah, and another $390.  You would think with such a high divorce rate in California, the state wouldn’t be bankrupt.

I left the court feeling good.   The process was only half completed, so the full impact of the action hadn’t yet hit.  Why worry? I wasn’t officially filed yet.  Or divorced.  If a meteor slammed into earth that day, I would die a married man.

I enjoyed BlogHer, only mentioning the filing for divorce with a few close friends.  It didn’t seem appropriate to make a public announcement during the Keynote Speech.

When I returned from San Diego, we asked a friend to “serve” Sophia, so the process would all be official.   It was felt rather silly, as if we were playing Charades.  So “legal.”   The legal divorce was less a concern than the emotional fallout.  We had gone through a lot during our marriage — happiness, sex, laughter, anger, stress, illness, and the death of three of our parents. Clearly there was a bond. We gave it a good shot — six years after the initial separation — but we had changed over the years.  We didn’t fit together anymore.   We had become brother and sister, not husband and wife. And that is no way to live your life.

On Monday morning, we had breakfast.   Sophia asked me to go to recycling center on the way back from the court, proving that a husband’s chores never end, even to the final moment.  There was a huge collection of soda and beer bottles sitting in the garage. My first instinct was to ask her why she didn’t do this herself, but I shut myself up.   Why go there?  It was the petty little snips that had done the most harm over the years.

“Sure,” I said to my wife, the person I shared so much with for so many years. “I’ll bring in the recycling stuff after I go to the court.”

I returned to court, waiting in line with a new set of gang-bangers.  The androgynous court clerk was absent, which made me sad.  I was hoping for the comfort of repetition.

The new clerk was a smiling black woman in a bright red dress. She smiled as she took Sophia’s response form and charged me another $390 dollars.

She stamped the form, and it was done.   I hoped for an uplifting good-bye, something like, “That’s it! Have a great rest of your life filled with love and happiness.”

But no.

“Next!” she announced.

I went to the car. I was feeling pretty good, even relieved.  I could now go on with the rest my life.   Even date other women!

It was time.

And then I threw up on the parking lot floor.

After that, I drove over to deliver the cans and bottles to the recycling center.

BlogHer ’11 Recap

This year, my experience with the BlogHer conference was all about the individual conversations and connections.  Held in beautiful, sunny San Diego, the conference was as mellow and inviting as the host city.   The weekend gave me an opportunity to meet up with some of my closest friends, and bond with a few of my personal idols of the blogosphere.

++++

In the Lobby, by Starbucks, Thursday Night

I am sitting at a table, drinking coffee.  My head is tiled down, my face reflected on my iPhone screen.  I am on Twitter, avoiding real people.

An attractive, confident woman approaches, her hand outstretched.

“Hi there, just wanted to say hello.  Love your instagram photos.”

“Hi. uh, do we know each other?”

“I’m Ree.”

“Ree?”

“The Pioneer Woman.”

I stand up, being polite.

“Oh, wow.  The Pioneer Woman,” I say.   “You’re big….”

I pause for a moment, slowing down my thought process.

“…I don’t mean big in size.  I mean big in popularity,  It would be stupid to call a woman “big” at a woman’s conference, knowing how body image problems is such an issue nowadays. Even though, quite frankly, I like a woman with a little meat on her. Some curves.  Again, I’m not saying you are too thin. You are naturally thin. You look great.”

It was time to change the topic of the conversation.

“Oh, my friend Diane invited me for dinner recently and she tried out one of your recipes from your blog!”

“Which recipe?”

“I don’t remember.  But she didn’t have any rice in the house, so she substituted Ritz crackers, and it came out awful.  But of course, that isn’t your fault.”

“No.

Another awkward pause.   She extends her hand again.

“Uh, well, it was great meeting you, Neil.”

“Yes.  See you at your session.  I’m looking forward to it.”

“It is over already.”

“Oh.  OK, take care.”

+++++

Outside the Lobby, by the Valet, Thursday Night

I pass by “The Bloggess,” one of the funniest women online.  She is sitting on a bench, her suitcase standing in front of her.  I seem a whole lot more excited to see her, than vice versa.

“Hey, it’s Jenny, the famous Bloggess!”

“Uh, hello, Neil.”

I point at the suitcase.

“Where you going?”

“I’m going home early.  I’m exhausted after the People’s Party.”

“I can imagine.  Hey, when is the book coming out?  I’m so excited.”

“I’m not sure yet.”

“Why don’t you sent me an advanced copy?  I’d love to read it.”

Jenny pauses for a moment.

“My publisher decided not to send out advanced copies,” she says.

“You mean when the book comes out, you want me to BUY the book?  It’s going to be like $25 dollars in stores!”

“That’s how much books cost, Neil.”

“C’mon, Jenny.   Surely your old blogging friends will get a reader’s copy in the mail.”

“No, sorry.”

“Not even Laura?”

“Well, Laura read it already.  But she’s more of a real friend than a blogging friend.”

“What is this shit? I’m not going to pay $25 bucks on your book when I can read your blog for free.”

“The book is going to be very different than the blog.  It is about my real life.”

“I see.  So the plan was to put your shitty superficial material online, and then force us to buy your f*cking book?”

“Well, I do have a family to feed.”

“You’ve changed, Jenny.  You come off as a sweet cutesy Texan mom, but you are a fucking shark.  I bet Willian Shatner was part of your marketing plan all along.”

You know, f*ck you , little man.  I could destroy you in a second with my Twitter followers.

“Suck my c*ck, Jenny.”

“Yeah, I already saw your tiny c*ck in that photo you sent me last year. Don’t make me laugh.  Be happy I didn’t put it on Flickr.”

“Go to hell.”

++++

In the Hallway, Convention Center, Friday Afternoon

I sit on the floor, in the corner by the men’s room, hidden from view, playing on Twitter rather than talking to real people, as usual.

Tanis, the Redneck Mommy, notices me.  She is one of my favorites from Twitter.   She approaches, a smile on her face.

“Hi, Neil.”

I don’t bother to look up from my iPhone screen, trying to show my disapproval.

“Well, LOOK who’s coming to talk to me TWO DAYS after the conference has started.”

“I’ve been busy, Neil.”

“Oh yeah, BUSY chatting with Backpacking Dad.”

“You are such a passive aggressive asshole.  Maybe if you didn’t hide in the corner like a p*ssy”

“You know my Klout score is higher than his.”

“Not everything is about Klout scores,” she says.  “I’ve been friends with him a lot longer than you.”

“You know, I was just talking with Jenny the Bloggess, and we both agree that your blog has gone downhill. You used to be funny, but you’ve LOST IT.”

“Bullshit.  She would never say that.   And by the way, she showed me the photo of your tiny dick.  Pathetic.”

“Have a nice conference, fake “redneck” with your expensive iPad2 and expensive shoes!”

Tanis walks off.  After a moment, I tweet her with an apology.

++++

Expo, Convention Center, Saturday Afternoon

I reluctantly enter the expo center, crowded with companies selling products and women with overflowing swag bags.  It is chaotic and I feel an anxiety attack coming on.   I pass by the large booth sponsored by Hillcrest Farms lunch meats.  There is a staff of smiling young spokespeople manning the booth, all with the energetic look of  cheerleaders from a Midwestern high school.  A blonde young man of about 25, with the whitest of teeth, beckons me over to the booth.

“Hello, would you like to try a Hillcrest Farms sandwich, made of only the freshest ingredients?”

There are two silver trays on a display table, with signs reading turkey and ham.   There are only 4″ sandwiches on the ham tray.

“You only have ham?”

“The turkey is out.”

“Eh.  Don’t like ham.”

The spokesguy doesn’t give up easily.

“Our ham is USDA…” he continues.

“Nah, it is just a weird thing of mine,” I explain.  “I’m not kosher, but for some reason I don’t like the look of ham.  I’ll eat pork if it is hidden in a Chinese soup, or bacon, but ham just seems so goyish.”

“Goyish?”

“Not kosher.”

“Kosher what?”

“It’s a Jewish thing.”

The spokesguy cups his hands in joy.

“Ooh.  I’ve never met a Jew before.

“No?  Where are you from?” I ask.

“Boise.”

“Is that where Hillcrest Farms is located?”

“No.  I don’t know where they are located.   Just got this job online at monster.com.   But it’s so cool meeting a Jewish person.”

“Thanks,” I sheepishly reply.

“I appreciate you because Jesus was Jewish too.”

“Yes, he was.  He probably wouldn’t eat Hillcrest Farms anything.”

“He wouldn’t?”

“No, Hillcrest Farms isn’t kosher.”

“You mean Jesus wouldn’t be promoting Hillcrest Farms?”

“Probably not.”

“Holy Lord of Lords.” cries the spokesguy.  “Should I quit?  What would Jesus do?”

“Well, take it easy.  This is just a job.  I’m sure Jesus will understand.  You have a family?”

“A wife and two kids.”

“So, you are doing good.,” trying to ease his guilt.  “You are helping your family.”

“I always heard that Jews are smart. Are you a rabbi?”

“No, just a blogger.”

The spokesguy looks down at the badge on my shirt to read my name.

“Bless you, uh, Citizen of the Month.  It was as if Jesus himself spoke through you.”

I notice that the other spokespeople are handing out bags filled with swag to the other attendees that are passing by.

“Can I have one of those Hillcrest Farms bags?”

“Oh, sorry. I was told I can only give our swag bags to moms who fit our demographic audience of 25-35.  But nice to meet you, Jewish man.”

++++

SeaView Room, Marriot Hotel, Aiming Low Party, Saturday Night

I’m on the patio with seven of the most prominent Daddy Bloggers.  We stand in a circle of brotherhood, each drinking a beer.  It is so great to finally bond with men.  I spend way too much time chatting with women online, and although I love my female friends, there are issues and choices that are unique to our gender.

A young female coupon blogger walks by, wearing high heels and short skirt.

Jake:  “She’s a 10.”

Sean:   “Nah.  Only a 7.5.”

Another woman passes, on her way to the Latina party.

Sean:   “Now SHE’S a 10.”

Afro-Dad:  “What?!”

Sean:  “I’m a Latino. I like big asses.”

I look over at the Latino woman.

Neil:   “Forget her. She’s crazy. I know. I once sent her a photo of my c*ck and she went nuts.”

Warren, a Mormon father of six,  is mesmerized by one of the HOT keynote speakers.

Warren:  “Man, can you imagine taking her on that Sabra Hummus sponsored appetizer table right now.”

Jake:   “So, any of you guys get lucky yet?”

We all look around, embarrassed with our lack of success.

Stephan:   “Not me. Brought the ball and chain along.  And my stupid step-kids.”

Stephan gives me a caring nod, and pats my arm in a paternal manner.

Stephan:  “Take my advice, Neil.  If you ever get remarried, don’t marry a chick with young kids.  It’ll ruin your life.”

Neil:   “C’mon, Stephan.  You’re a lucky man.  Susan has a great rack.”

Stephan:  “I’ll give you that.  But she’s like a helicopter, always hovering around. And she has a spidey-sense when it comes to me f*cking other women at work.  She just knows.”

Jake:  “Women know that shit.”

Warren:  “You see all the sex toys the women got from Eden’s Fantasies this year in their swag bags?  No wonder we ain’t getting lucky.”

Neil:  “Exactly.  Why bother with us when the women can just go to their rooms and use vibrators on each other.”

Sean:  “It’s a sad commentary on modern technology.   Some things ARE better old school.”

Jake:  “Damn right.  No vibrator, even the most technologically advanced, will ever replace our real life hard-ons!”

Neil:  “You said it, brother.  I love you guys.”

We all have a group hug.  I have finally found my “tribe.”

Austin Mom of Twins, well-know with all the men for her “Boobie-fest” October photos, goes to the bar for a drink.

Afro-Dad:   “Whoa.   There’s “Austin Mom of Twins.”  I’d like to hit her stat counter, if you know what I mean.”

Truth Quotient:  12%  (Honestly, it was a great experience, and loved speaking with so many intelligent, passionate, and funny women… and men.  Believe me, I’m not sure you want to read my heartfelt, overly-emotional authentic reaction to meeting so many cool people during the last few days, because it would just sound very corny).