the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

The Five Day Man Cold: The Final Chapter

Let’s recap. This month has centered around my health. On May 1st, I switched health insurances from one in California to one in New York, a process way more complicated that I ever expected. I found a new primary doctor, and I went to him for a physical. His nurse took my blood for a lab test, and I almost fainted when I noticed the needle entering my arm. A week later, when the results came back from the lab, the doctor told me that I had high cholesterol and high sugar. He made me promise that I would stop eating too many “everything” bagels shmeared with cream cheese.

I listened to the doctor, trusting in his authority. But on the sixth day of my bagel fast, I found my body grow weak and my mind cloudy. Like an addict without a fix, my system went haywire. I collapsed onto my bed. Diagnosis: a man cold.

But this wasn’t a typical man cold. This was one that kept me in bed throughout the entire Memorial Day Weekend. Friday I was “under the weather.” Saturday, I had a sore throat and a runny nose. Sunday, I was coughing and crying for help. Monday, I could hardly move. Tuesday, I was crawling on the floor, like an wounded animal.

“Wait a minute,” you might wonder. “Can you really get a man cold from not eating a bagel for six days?”

I asked my new family doctor the same question, and he said, “no, that’s utter nonsense.” But let’s face it — even the most famous of medical scholars cannot honestly that science knows all the answers. Sometimes we need to go on simple faith. So I will continue to believe that the lack of bagels caused the man cold.

During my five day cold, I spend much of my time pondering the everyday importance of good health. One of my mother’s favorite aphorisms is, “If you have your health, you have everything,” and is there any wiser statement? Why doesn’t anyone ever post that in some fancy typography on Pinterest rather than another boring take on “Stay Calm and Carry On.”


Whether you are white or black, man or woman, gay or straight, there is one privilege that trumps them all — having good health.

I left the house today for the first time in five days. The outside world beckoned to me, filed with life and vibrancy. No one should stay inside for too long and miss all that it offered.


Even though I was still sneezing, I knew it was time to rejoin civilization. The sun warmed my body, and my soul. I felt the urge to celebrate. Why not treat myself with a bit of the forbidden fruit? — yes, an everything bagel shmeared with cream cheese.

I walked over to my local bagel shop and ordered an everything bagel with cream cheese and a small coffee.


“Regular coffee?” asked the guy behind the counter, the New York shorthand meaning sweet and with cream.”

“No. No sugar at all,” I replied. I wasn’t going to go hedonistically crazy and return to the unhealthy habits of the past. Even I had boundaries.

I crossed the street to the courtyard by the decrepit playground in the center of the hunched-over brown apartment buildings of the 1960s-era housing project, and sat down on one of the faded green wood benches, placing my cup of coffee and the paper bag containing my aromatic bagel on the bench, to my side.

I took a sip of my coffee. It needed sugar. But I would get used to it. I turned to my brown paper bag. The bagel inside was calling my name. But just then, there was a surprising distraction. A tiny squirrel jumped onto the adjacent bench a few feet away, and he stared at me with a bemused smile. I love New York. Even the squirrels are fearless in this town.


I reached into my pocket for my iPhone, hoping to get a photo for my new Tumblr blog, “Squirrels of New York,” a sure-shot concept for an inevitable book deal. The iPhone’s zooming capacity is weak, so I waited for the squirrel to take a step closer. And that’s when it happened. The squirrel pierced the quiet, jumped over my lap, grabbed my brown paper bag containing the everything bagel and started to run.

But my furry-tailed adversary was no match for a human being, even one handicapped with a five day man cold. I sped into action, and as I pursued him, the squirrel slid under the bench and ran towards a nearby tree, dragging the paper bag on the ground. But the excessive weight of the bagel, heavy with the fat-laden cream cheese, turned out to be a burden for the hapless creature. As I closed in, he had no choice but to climb up the tree to safety, leaving the booty behind to the rightful owner. This was one time in human history when right and might were on the same side.

I returned to the bench with my bagel bag and sat next to my unsugared cup of coffee. And my thoughts turned to God.

Was this squirrel attack a random act of nature, or was it a higher power sending me a message? Isn’t it possible that the squirrel stole my brown paper bag as a spiritual warning to me that I keep my promise to eat better and to care for my health?

As a man of faith, I don’t discount that a message can come from above.

But today was a special day, and I had no time for lofty idealism. I pushed past my man-cold and even defeated a wily enemy who stole my property. I was a hero.

Yes, I ate that everything bagel spread with cream cheese. Yes, I finished my cup of coffee. And I went home, with my head held high. But next time, I will order a whole wheat bagel with low-fat cream cheese.


  1. V-Grrrl @ Compost Studios

    So funny! And great photos, esp. the aggressive squirrel.

  2. Mod Mom Beyond IndieDom

    That squirrel is probably gnawing on somebody’s bialy right now. Glad that you battled the man cold and won!

  3. alejna

    I really liked this post, Neil. One of the things I enjoy about reading your blog is that I never know going in what I am going to find. I did not expect to find a squirrel bandit here today. You totally made me laugh. And of course I always enjoy your photos.

    A word of advice, though. Stay away from the low fat cream cheese. It’s not worth it.

  4. Elizabeth Aquino

    Sometimes when I slack off yoga or exercise (nearly all the time) and then go back, I get sick almost immediately. I’ve always wondered about that and make up pseudo-scientific theories that my body is so used to battling the crap that’s put into it or the lack of exercise that it gets, that when something shakes it up, it breaks down. Anyway.

  5. Christie

    Now I’m dying for a bagel.

  6. K A B L O O E Y

    Four words to make your life an almost imperceptible amount better: whole wheat everything bagel. If you have to go whole wheat, you can still have it everything-ized. (Is too a word.)

  7. Jen

    Better off with whole fat cream cheese as the low fat version is bound to have sugar in it. Hope your man cold is better.

  8. Lilac

    Neil…not that I totally don’t believe your tale of the *Bandit Squirrel*…I do believe part of it…but not his running off with your bagel! NY Squirrels are NOT that aggressive…now, if you had been visiting San Francisco – why yes, this would be totally feasible…as our Furry Squirrelies have been known to jump right on one’s leg and scamper up one’s shoulder! Still….it’s a great story. (Cut back on the real Cream Cheese…then, when you do indulge, you can savour every bite!

    ♥ Lilac ♥

  9. Amy

    You got the MAN COLD from going to the new doctor and touching all the New York germs my friend. I pray you do not get Type 2 diabetes… then all bagels are out!!!

  10. magpie

    squirrels hate low fat cream cheese, so i think you’re good.

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