the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Category: Products (Page 2 of 5)

The 99 Cent Shoelaces

Welcome, readers.  Today is another example of a post gone wrong.

To set up the story, we need to go back in time, back to a brisk morning many years ago in Queens, New York, when Neilochka was born.  After a few months of baby shoes, Neil’s mother bought him a pair of baby sneakers, and he was smitten with the smell and feel of this canvas footwear.  For years and years, whenever you looked at his feet, he was wearing a pair of sneakers… or nothing at all.

The year is now 2007.  For the last year and half, Neil has been wearing a size eleven New Balance 713.  He has been wearing these sneakers practically every single day.  They’re not the best sneakers, but he has grown attached to them. 

On Tuesday, Sophia and Neil are flying to New York to spend some time with Neil’s mother, Elaine, a good-natured woman with gray hair, known for her hearty laugh and her excellent brisket.   Sophia and Neil will be in New York for 2 1/2 weeks.  Whenever they travel to New York in the winter, there is always a bit of tension before they go.  Neil wants to know why Sophia needs to take so much luggage.  Sophia gets worried about being cold in the street, but hot in the over-heated New York stores and subways.  Remember, they are both wimpy Californians.  It is an “effort” for them to walk a block to the supermarket, especially if there is a forecast for a drizzle. Scary!

As Neil and Sophia packed their gloves and hats and scarfs and turtlenecks, Sophia looked at Neil’s New Balance 713s and said, “Those sneakers look like shit.”

“No, they don’t.” Neil said in protest.  “They’re just a little lived-in.”

“The white shoelaces are all black, and they are shredded.”

That was true.

“Simple.” said Neil “I’ll go to the 99 Cent Only Store and buy some new shoelaces.”

Of he went to the 99 Cent Store.  He could have gone to Macy’s or Target, like Sophia told him to, or countless other stores, but as a man who loves a bargain, why pay more than 99 cents for white shoelaces?

Neil quickly found the shoelaces in aisle five of the 99 cent store, next to the polyester dress socks.  There were two displays of “Athletic” shoelaces.   One display consisted of packages of white athletic shoelaces.  The other, of the same “Coachman” brand,  was identical, except for the addition of a special “bonus pack.”  Along with the pair of white shoelaces, this package included ONE wrapped black shoelace.

I’ve already mentioned that Neil liked a bargain.  Why would he buy the first package, when he could get the “bonus pack” for free?

As he drove home, he started to chuckle.  Something struck him as very very funny about these black shoelaces.  He laughed as hard as he did when he found the typo in the New Yorker.  When Sophia met him at the door, he was still laughing.

“What’s so funny?” she asked.

“I have a great blog post for today.  Look at this.” he said.  He opened the 99 Cent Store bag and showed her the shoelace package.  “They give you a pair of white shoelaces, and then they throw in an extra bonus of a black shoelace.  But think about it.  What the hell are you supposed to do with ONE black shoelace?  Just tie one shoe?  Ha Ha Ha!”


Neil explained how he went back and bought another package of the shoelaces, just so he could have a pair of black shoelaces.  Still laughing, he ran upstairs and hunched over the keyboard, pounding out his latest humor masterpiece, wondering how many women will fantasize about having sex with him after they read his latest hilarious post about the bizarre package with one black shoelace.

Sophia entered.

“Whatever it is, not now.” Neil said.  “I’m in the groove.”

“Maybe you should ungroove for a second because I opened the package — and you were wrong.   It isn’t a pair of white shoelaces and one black shoelace.  It is two pairs of very poor quality white shoelaces and one pair of equally bad black shoelaces.  There are TWO black shoelaces, not one.  You’re such a dumbbell”.

“Oh.”  he said, Neil’s spirit falling like a weight.  “So that means my whole blog post is dead.”

“Well,  you could lie.”

“Lie?  On a blog?  Never?  Would Dooce lie?  Of course not!”

“Well then, I guess you need to come up with something else.”

Neil struggled for a while, but couldn’t come up with anything quite as good as the hilarious tale of the single black shoelace.  He procrastinated and found some busywork.  Neil even decided to lace up his New Balance 713s with the new white shoelaces.   As you can see, not only were the 99 cent shoelaces of poor quality, but Neil screwed up in another way — they were shoelaces for CHILDREN, and barely laced half of the sneaker.


Neil didn’t really find this turn of events very funny.  In fact, he thought it was quite sad.  Since he bought two packages of the shoelaces, he now had six pairs of useless shoelaces, four pairs of white and two pairs of black ones.  Still, a blog post is a blog post, and this is what he was stuck with. 

My Cyber Clone


Blogging, Facebook, Twitter, E-mail.  Sometimes your online life can be so overwhelming. The biggest productivity killer of them all is IM.  How many conversations can you have in one day with people you hardly know?   I know my productivity has soared since I found the solution — MyCyberTwin.

MyCyberTwin is a website that allows you to quickly create compelling virtual personalities called CyberTwins. These virtual beings live and breathe on the web and chat to your friends, family, colleagues or customers on your behalf.

Creating your very own CyberTwin is easy. All you have to do is register and then give your CyberTwin some ideas of things you want it to chat about. If you feed your CyberTwin content from your own IM conversations, email or blog, it will actually learn to talk and be just like you! It will be your digital personality and represent YOU online.

Basically, you give the site information, and your cybertwin starts to chat with others just like YOU would, learning to react more and more like YOU as time goes on.  It begins to mimic exactly how you respond on IM, so it becomes your voice while you do more important things, like play Scrabble online.

Here’s a transcript of my IM conversations this morning.   Notice that when my online “clone” encountered an unusual situation, it was able to “re-adjust” the script to fit the new scenario.


Bob:  “Hey, Neilochka.  What’s up?”

Neil Clone:  “Hello there.  Are you a man or a woman?”

Bob:  “Ha Ha.  You are funny.  I’m a man, of course!”

Neil Clone:  “Do you have a high Technorati rating or are you someone who can advance my career in any way?”

Bob:  “Huh?  What’s Technorati?  And I’m unemployed right now… well, I do some freelance XML coding…”

Neil Clone:  “Unemployed male person!  Please excuse me.   I have to go to the store and buy a bra for Sophia.   I will contact you some day.  Good-bye.”


Nancy:  “Hi, Neil.  Loved your last post!”

Neil Clone:  “Hello there.  Are you a man or a woman?”

Nancy:  “Ha Ha.  You are funny.   You know what I am.”

Neil Clone:  “From the quick-pace of your type-stroke, I am 87% positive that you are a female.”

Nancy:  “Yes, I am!  I am woman, hear me roar!”

Neil Clone:   “Woman with pop culture reference.  78% chance you are college-educated.   69% that you will have sex by second date.  What are you wearing, person of female gender?

Nancy:  “A business suit.  I’m taking a lunch break at the office.”

Neil Clone:  “I love your blog.   You are the prettiest blogger in the blogosphere.   I am a Pisces.   We should f**k right now.   We can do it online.”

Nancy:  “Neil, that is a completely inappropriate and disrespectful.  Can’t you at least wait until I get back home and my husband and the kids are asleep?”

Neil Clone:  “You want me.  You want my…  please hold on, there is another incoming Instant Message.”


Neil’s Mother:  “Neil?  Are you there?”

Neil Clone:  “Hello there.  Are you a man or a woman?”

Neil’s Mother:  “What?!   I’m your mother.”

Neil Clone:  “Mother?  Mother is a woman.   What are you wearing, hot momma?”

Neil’s Mother:   “Are you meshugguna?”

Neil Clone:  “Something is wrong with circuitry.  Overheating.   Red flag!  Red flag!  Flirting with actual birth Mother.  Self-destruction mode on.  10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1-”


Barbra Streisand Ain’t No Cheap Date


According to the BBC:

Barbra Streisand’s concert in Rome next month should be cancelled because of excessively high ticket prices, consumer groups in Italy have said.

The Adusbef and Codacons groups urged the city and the Italian Olympic Committee to deny Streisand use of the Stadio Flaminio on 15 June.

Prices, ranging from 150 euros (£100) to more than 900 euros (£600), were “absurd and shameful”, the groups said.

Streisand’s Rome concert will kick off her European tour.

The consumer groups said that the use of the stadium for such an “immoral deal” is “shameful for a civilized country.”

Of course — now on sale — Italian designed Rene Caovilla Beaded Slingbacks –  only $1,250 at Bergdorf Goodman! 


Where’s our consumer groups?

(And I’m sure Barbra owns a pair)

(And my second gay post in a week!  At least it wasn’t about ABBA)

(Elsewhere — my latest post on Poetry Thursday — a somewhat uncomfortable piece about anger)

(In other music news, Sophia Lansky votes for Blake twenty times, calling American Idol a farce and starting a conspiracy theory that the producers picked a final song they knew that Jordin could sing well and Blake would suck at)

(And that was the best song in a nationwide American Idol contest?  My song about latkes at the Christmahanukwanzaakah Online Holiday Concert concert was better)

A Year Ago on Citizen of the Month:  The Buddy System

Make Believe

The Boyfriend Trouser — for the woman who doen’t have a boyfriend, but wants to make believe she does.

The Nike Cap — For the couch potato who doesn’t play golf like Tiger Woods, but wants to make believe he does.

The Leather Jacket — for the person who isn’t tough, but wants to make believe he is.

Friendster — for the person who doesn’t have any friends, but wants to make believe she does.

Technorati — for the person who isn’t important, but wants to make believe he is.

A Year Ago in Citizen of the Month: Man and Woman: Morning

Nominee for 2007 Nobel Peace Prize



I received an email today asking if Sophia and I got along during our road trip.  And the answer is, “Yes.”  This is very surprising because we usually have our worst fights while on the road.  All the new stimuli can create a lot of tension.  So, what was different this time?  Did therapy help?  Prozac?  “The Secret?”


It is something I would like to nominate for the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

For generations, there has been war.  Each time a man and woman get together to travel to a new destination, the fragile harmony is always broken by bickering and verbal insults.

“Why don’t you ask for directions?” the woman asks, her voice shrill with nagging.

“I have a c**k, woman!” the hot-headed male responds.  “It will point me in the right direction.”

“It certainly had a lot of trouble pointing anywhere last night!” she answers, throwing the first grenade, signalling a readiness to use weapons of mass destruction on the male’s Achilles heel — his ego.  

Soon, the male brings up the female’s “weight,” which means only one thing —  all-out war. 

How many divorces have occurred over asking directions?   Throughout history, this event has occurred over and over again — on camels, on horse and buggies, on Volkswagen Bugs (I punch you).  The Trojan War — started over bad directions.   Henry VIII killed his third wife for constantly bringing up a right turn he made in London once when he was supposed to go left.

But now — FINALLY — there is peace and love on our modern highways and freeways.   There is fraternity among the sexes.   The automobile has become a friendly place again.  There is less fighting over directions, and more lovemaking in the backseat — all because of one invention.

The Future Winner of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize — GPS Navigation!


How can you argue over a robot chick with a pleasant voice who knows how to go EVERYWHERE? 

A Year Ago on Citizen of the Month:  Really Extreme Makeover:  Home Edition

The Secret


“Thou shalt not covet your neighbor’s house” spoke God, and a lightening bolt hit the table and ingrained the tenth commandment in stone for eternity. Moses, his hair turned white from being in the presence of God, shook in fear.

“But how will I get the chosen people to follow these commandments, Lord? I am but one small man. And the chosen people are a stiff-necked group of nudniks who are always arguing with one another. Couldn’t you have chosen a group that was more mellow, like the Amish? Surely the Israelites will not believe that I actually chatted with YOU.”

“Don’t worry, Moses. The answer is simple. Change them each $29.95 to learn the “secret” commandments and before you know it, you’ll be on Oprah and they’ll be standing on line to buy The Commandments on DVD.”

Recently, I’ve read a couple of bloggers talking about “The Secret,” some sort of new Age self-help book/video/audiotape/budding industry that was talked about on Oprah. Oprah speaks, people listen.

Now, I should admit that I have not seen this DVD or read the book, so I have very little to say about the content of this material. It might be inspirational. It might make me a changed man. But — the thing that annoys me about this “Secret” is the way it is being marketed. First of all, I was immediately turned off by their flashy, overproduced website. On the website, there is a lot of talk about “secret membership” and your choice of watching the video online for five bucks or buying the DVD for thirty dollars.

To me, the subtext says: inaccessibility. Why use Flash technology? Why do I have to download a special video codec from Vividas just to watch the trailer? And frankly — WHY should I pay for something so astounding? If this Secret really will change the world, shouldn’t this information be shouted out from rooftops everywhere? Shouldn’t it be freely spread throughout the world in order to make it a better place?

Rhonda Byrne

I’m not against someone making money. But the editor, Rhonda Byrne, former producer of “What’s Cooking” and “The World’s Greatest TV Commercials,” admits that she is just revealing a secret that has already been with us for centuries, albeit only for the elite.

The Secret is released to the world! This ground-breaking feature length movie presentation reveals The Great Secret of the universe. It has been passed throughout the ages, traveling through centuries… to reach you and humankind.

This is The Secret to everything – the secret to unlimited joy, health, money, relationships, love, youth: everything you have ever wanted.

In this astonishing program are ALL the resources you will ever need to understand and live The Secret. For the first time in history, the world’s leading scientists, authors, and philosophers will reveal The Secret that utterly transformed the lives of every person who ever knew it… Plato, Newton, Carnegie, Beethoven, Shakespeare, Einstein.

Now, if this is all true, then HOLY S**T, that is some cool stuff. Someone should be GIVING away this information for free. Don’t worry, Ms. Byrne. You will not starve for all your hard work if you give away this information for free. After everyone has unlimited happiness and money, I’m sure you will be handsomely rewarded. But to make people buy a DVD to learn this amazing secret is simply immoral. It is like Moses charging for the Ten Commandments. It is like Jonas Salk discovering the cure for polio and only sharing it with his friends.

What’s with this selfishness, Ms. Byrne? Shouldn’t this information be offered to poor people for free? What about those without internet access? Or those without DVD players? Shouldn’t the United Nations be in on this?

Of course, I am just taking what you say at FACE VALUE — that this information of the Secret with bring in a “New Era for Humankind.” I would hate to think that all this is just cheesy marketing gimmick used to package the idea of “mind over matter,” a concept that has been around since Philosophy 101 in college.

I also notice that you include Henry Ford on your list of great visionary leaders who knew “The Secret.”

Henry Ford

He certainly was an innovator, but considering that he was a nasty guy, an anti-Semite, and a Nazi sympathizer, I seriously doubt that “the Secret” alone will make this a better world.

A Year Ago on Citizen of the Month: Know Thyself… Very Little

Extremely Short Tales of Cell Phones


Story One — The Bar in Queens 

I left New York rather quickly last month, so I don’t think I publicly said how much I enjoyed seeing Sandra, Caitlin, Anonymous City Girl, Tatyana, and Claudette. 

One of the funniest meetings was with Caitlin and her boyfriend, Billy.  We planned to meet in a bar in Queens.  I arrived a few minutes early and was waiting by the jukebox in front.  Some pretty girl walked in and stared at me for a second and then just passed me by.  She sat at the bar.  I looked over at her and she looked my way, but then she turned away and ignored me.  She started a conversation with the guy sitting next to her at the bar.

I continued to wait for Caitlin and Billy. 

Every few minutes, I felt someone looking at me.  It was that girl at the bar.  I would look over at her and she would look away.  Now, the guy at the bar turned to me for a second, then turned away.

Was this Caitlin and Billy?  And why don’t they come over to me?  Isn’t it apparent that I am waiting for them by the front entrance?  It can’t be them.  Wouldn’t Caitlin and Billy come together?  Maybe this girl at the bar just thinks my overcoat looks funny and she is making fun of me?  Should I go over to them?  Will that dude who is talking to her think I am cutting in and kick my ass in the alley?

I came up with the perfect solution.  Caitlin had called me on my phone earlier, so I had her phone number stored in memory.  I’ll call her up and if this girl answers the phone, I’ll know it is her. If not, I’ll know that she hasn’t arrived yet.

I dialed Caitlin’s phone number.  A phone rang at the bar and the girl answered.

Caitlin:  Hello.

She looked my way.

Neil:  Hi, I think this is me and you are you.

Caitlin:  Oh, hi!

Neil:  What should we do now?  Should I go over there?

Caitlin:  Sure.  Thanks for calling!

Neil:  Anytime.  Nice speaking to you.  Bye!

Caitlin:  Bye-bye!

It was Caitlin… and Billy.  We sat down in the restaurant area to order some dinner.  We noticed that patrons at different tables were eating completely different types of food:  Chinese food, pizza, and even fried chicken.  “What a diverse menu!” I said.  It ended up being that since the bar didn’t serve food, they handed everyone a bunch of take-out menus, and patrons just got food delivered to their table from some outside restaurant.  So, I used my phone again and ordered some pizza.


Story Two — The Free Phone

Last year, I received a free Sprint phone and six months of service as part of the Sprint Ambassador Program for bloggers.  I wasn’t required to write about the phone on my blog but (wink wink).   Sophia was so jealous that she emailed them and convinced them to send HER a second phone since she was my blog editor.

Six months later, the gig was up.  Bloggers around the country said good-bye to their Sprint phones.  Sophia, of course, found it difficult to say goodbye.  She loved playing with all the applications.  She even used the GPS program she downloaded on the phone as she walked around New York.  She convinced me to write a suck-up post to Sprint so we could be participants in the new “phase” of the Sprint Ambassador program.  It didn’t work.  My days of free stuff for blogging came to an end, and I went back to paying for my measly phone service like the rest of you suckers.  It was my own fault.  I didn’t pimp them enough AND I never really gave them any feedback.  Honestly, I didn’t use any of the cool applications other than reading my blog comments on the phone.  On the other hand, Sophia downloaded music, played “Lemonade,” text messaged, watched TV, etc. and had an opinion on every single thing about the phone, including the size of the buttons, and emailed Sprint all the time, telling them how they could do it better.

So, guess which of us got a NEW phone for another six months for this Sprint Ambassador Program?  And which of us was refused as a participant for being a promotional dud?


Story Three — Stupid Commercial

I really hate that new Cingular ad where these two dudes have just downloaded The Clash’s “Rock the Casbah” on their phone and are singing it incorrectly as “Lock the Cashbox.”

At first it bothered me because they were mangling one of my favorite songs and making me feel old, but on second thought I just found it insulting to the intelligence of Cingular’s customers, such as myself.  Those idiots just DOWNLOADED a song titled “Rock the Casbah” and they can’t figure out what the refrain is?  Didn’t they have to look it up first to download it?

“Dude, I just downloaded “Rock the Casbah” but I can’t understand what these British guys are saying.  Is it “Lock the Cashbox?” 

The real idiots are the copywriters that created this one.

A Year Ago on Citizen of the Month:  CES: Day Two

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