the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Tag: figure skating

Figure-Skating Fans of Orange County

On Wednesday, I noticed in the newspaper that “Smuckers Stars on Ice” was playing at the Staples Center on Thursday, for one night.

“Hey, “Stars on Ice” is at Staples tomorrow,” I said to Sophia.

This comment was supposed to be a random piece of information, like “the weather is nice” or “Los Angeles has decided to ban the sale of Arizona brand iced-tea.”

But it was too late, and I was smacking myself in the head a second later.

“Oh yeah? We should go!”

Sophia is a big fan of figure-skating.  Over the years, we have attended two National Championships and one World Championship.  I immediately back-pedaled after mentioning the event.

“I didn’t mean we should actually go to it.  You know how these  Stars on Ice shows from TV.  They’re like the Ice Capades.   For kids.”

“But Shen and Zhao are there!”

Shen and Zhao are the Gold Medal -winning Pairs team from the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.   In 2003,  we went to Washington D.C.  and we saw them win their second World Championship.  Although figure skating competitions can be very tedious,  their performance at the World Championship was the single most exciting live sporting event that I had ever seen.    While practicing their quadruple salchow,  Shen landed badly and injured her landing foot and ankle.  She required several treatments to numb the foot entirely so that she should compete.   The pair performed a brilliant long program that earned them several perfect 6.0’s for both technical merits and presentation.  The crowd was on their feet, giving a standing ovation for what seemed like two weeks.

Even with Shen and Zhao in attendance at Stars on Ice, I had no interest in going to see it.  I convinced Sophia that we were too busy to go.

I had dodged the bullet.

The next day and a half passed without any mention of axles or Sasha Cohen.  On Friday, At 4:30PM (and mind you, the show is at 7:30 in another county), Sophia came upstairs, as I was taking a shower, preparing for a quiet Twitter evening with my iPhone.

“”Stars on Ice” is in ANAHEIM tonight, and I found a ticket broker that can get us tenth row seats!”

I tried to come up with every excuse in the book, from it being too late to appealing to her snobbery:

“Do you really want to see Shen and Zhao in ORANGE COUNTY?”

It didn’t work.  Soon, we were on our way to the Honda Arena on Katella Blvd. in Anaheim.  Sophia was driving her Prius.

An hour later, we found ourselves parked outside a retirement home on Katella Blvd. in the city of Orange.  The location had the exact same address as the Honda Arena, but it was in Orange, not Anaheim.

“Where are we?” asked Sophia.

“Not the Honda Arena. It’s not my fault.  You must have put it in the GPS wrong.”

“Don’t be so defensive. The Prius GPS always goes crazy in Orange County.”

“You must have put it in the GPS wrong.”

“OK then. Let’s do it right this time.”

Sophia put the correct address in her GPS again, and it told us we were seventeen miles away from the Honda Arena. Rush hour traffic, very little time left, but Sophia can drive fast, believe you me.

Seventeen miles later, we ended up exactly where we started.

“Well, maybe it’s listed as the Arrowhead Pond, the old name.”

“I’m not running around Orange County anymore.  Call the Honda Arena.”

“The Honda Arena?”

“Yes, and ask them for directions.”

“It’s an ARENA.  It’s not a Chinese restaurant.  No one is ever going to answer and give us directions.”

“Sure they will.  Call the box office.”

Stubborn Sophia. I took out my iPhone and instead of calling, found the Honda Arena in the Maps app.

“OK, I found it.”

“No.  I don’t want to just go without knowing the exact intersection.  I WANT you to call the Honda Arena.”

You see where this discussion was going?  It was like 1995 all over again, in the era before Onstar and GPS, when men and women fought over asking directions.   I once wrote a post saying that GPS should win the Nobel Prize for creating peace with married couples driving in their cars all over the world.

Snickering, I called the Honda Arena.  They answered immediately and gave me perfect directions. We were three miles away. Humble pie… We finally figured out our way to the arena.  Sophia mumbled something about writing a nasty letter to Toyota about their crappy navigation in Orange County.

Because of our navigation mishap, we arrived at the Honda Arena with only ten minutes to spare.

(Three Orange County babes in front of the scary Anaheim Ducks sculpture)

Parking was twenty-five dollars.   I hate paying full price for anything, but not in this case. BUT, Sophia likes a challenge.

“Let’s drive around to see if we can find something cheaper.”

I didn’t want Sophia to miss the beginning of the show, because I knew that would upset her, and I like to play it safe, so I suggested we just park the car for twenty-five dollars.

“Just give me five minutes,” said Sophia.

I was about to call her stubborn, again, but within ten seconds, she came across an ATT installation plant parking lot. An attendant was standing near a huge sign reading “Arena Parking — $10.”  We paid the attendant and laughed at our good luck.

Sophia shook her head, as if saying, “That’s exactly your problem.  Always playing it safe.”   Or at least I interpreted it that way.  

Stars on Ice was… above average.  Not great, but not as terrible as how it was reviewed by my blogging friend Vicki when she saw it in Washington D.C.    Some of the stars  performed at a competition level — Sasha Cohen, Michael Weiss, and Shen and Zhao — while others, most notably Evan Lysecek, seemed to phone it in, waving a lot to his new fans from “Dancing with the Stars.”

And where was Johnny Weir?  I heard rumors that he might have been deemed too “different” for mainstream America.  Is that true?  (If I had known this about Johnny Weir, I wouldn’t have gone at all!)

The weirdest part of the evening was when Sophia convinced me to take a promotional photo in front of a cardboard cut-out of the figure-skaters, because she thought it would be hilarious.

As the crowds left the arena and headed to the overpriced parking lots, Sophia and I whistled happily and crossed the street, reveling in our fifteen dollars saved by smartly parking in the back of the ATT plant.    Upon our arrival at the lot, we were surprised at its relative emptiness.  We were the only passenger car in the parking lot, now filled with huge ATT trucks. The attendant who took our money was nowhere to be seen, and the “Arena Parking – $10” sign was gone, revealing the message that was hidden on the sign behind it —

We figured it out.  This was just some guy who covered the ATT parking lot sign with his — not related to the lot at all –  and then disappeared after he made a few bucks from suckers like us.

“We were lucky we didn’t get towed. But then again, that would have been some blog post.” said Sophia.

Still, with fifteen dollars saved in parking, despite being scammed, it was time to spend our extra dough.

“Frozen yogurt!” said Sophia.

“We can go to Yogurtland when we get near home.”

But Sophia seemed disappointed.  She wanted adventure.  She wanted me to take out my iPhone and find an “interesting” frozen yogurt store on Yelp as we drove down the 405.

A few minutes later, it was Mission Accomplished.  We found a unique frozen yogurt store.   Not only did the frozen yogurt store have nightly karaoke, they also sold CLAM CHOWDER!

“Why do you sell clam chowder?” the ever-friendly Sophia asked the Korean woman behind the counter.

“In the winter, frozen yogurt was selling poorly because it was too cold outside, so we decided to also sell bowls of clam chowder.”

Not everything needs to make sense.

Brokeback Birthday


This weekend, we went away for Sophia’s birthday.  My plan was to come up with a theme weekend:  "A Weekend of Trying New Things." 

On Friday, we would drive to the Santa Barbara area.  

On Saturday, Sophia, a big fan of figure skating, would learn to ice skate at a rink in nearby Oxnard, California. 

On Sunday, Sophia would learn to ride a horse at a ranch in the Santa Barbara hills.

On Saturday morning, we arrived at the ice skating rink for our lesson with our instructor, Frederick.   Most of his students are usually children, so he seemed excited to meet two adults, who would challenge him. 

"Finally!" he must have thought, "I can finally teach some adults sophisticated skating techniques!"

What he didn’t expect was that both Sophia and I would fall on our asses the minute we touched the ice.  And neither of us knew how to stand up, so he needed to lift us both.  It quickly became clear that Frederick was not going to be teaching us any triple lutzes.  For the next half hour, he guided us slowly — very slowly — around the perimeter of the rink, as we gripped the railing for dear life with every muscle of our fingers.  Every couple of minutes, Frederick would ask, "Seems like you had enough.  Should we quit now?"  I’d nod yes, but Sophia was determined to make it all around the rink, even if it meant not finishing until the closing ceremony of the 2010 Winter Olympics. 

Midway during our crawl around the rink, I noticed that Sophia wasn’t behind me anymore.  I looked back and saw that a terrified Sophia was being blocked by a six-year-old girl.  She was hanging onto the railing just like we were, but going in the opposite direction.   There was a standstill.  Each looked at the other, both in fear of letting go.  Who would cave in first?  Not Sophia.  The kid let her pass.

After the skating lesson, I limped to the car, traumatized by that horrifying experience.  Sophia looked like she was in a daze and her jeans were all wet from falling.  So, I was very surprised when Sophia said:

 "That was fun.  Let’s try this again in Los Angeles!"

The next day, we drove into the hills of Santa Barbara to a ranch.   Sophia was very nervous about going on a horse.  Victor, our cowboy/guide said he would let her ride Herman, a "nice" horse.  After the first five minutes, Sophia was feeling very unsettled, I heard her mumble that she’s "ready to go back right now," but she kept on.  I was given Hershey.  Victor said Hershey was "interesting."  I’m wasn’t sure what he meant by that.  When you say that about a person, you usually mean that he’s "weird."

As we rode the mountain trail on our horses, there was beautiful scenery all around us.  We even looked over the Pacific Ocean.   Some of the trails were very close to the edge, and I noticed that Hershey enjoyed walking VERY CLOSE to the edge, so close that rocks would start to fall down the hill.  I began to wonder if "interesting" meant that Hershey was suicidal.  When Sophia saw that I was having trouble controlling my horse, she called out to the guide for help, despite me telling her not to say anything.

"What’s the problem, Cowboy?" asked Victor the Cowboy.

"Nothing… nothing… everything’s great." I said.  "Just talking with Hershey."

"That’s good.  Real good.  Because he’s REAL interesting."

What was I supposed to say?  The truth?  Victor just called me Cowboy.  I couldn’t look like a wuss and complain about this old lazy (and depressed) horse.  And what cowboy has a woman speak up for him?  It just doesn’t happen.

"If he causes you any problems," said Victor, "just whip him in the back."

Whip the horse?  Is Victor crazy?  Surely, Hershey will like me better if I treat him with love and respect.

Of course, Hershey returned his love with a big "fuck you, city boy" by walking so close to the edge of the mountain that leaves, branches, and pine needles constantly smacked me right in the face.

But no, I never whipped him.  Stupid ass horse.

When we got back to the ranch, I was ecstatic that it was over. I was already in pain from the ice skating the day before.  Now, after getting off the horse, I couldn’t even feel my groin.   Sophia said she too was in pain, could barely walk and smelled like a horse.  Finally, something we could agree on.   Horses suck.   But no —

"But it was great!  Much too short though," said Sophia.  "Let’s do this again in Los Angeles.  This and ice skating!"

Maybe next year.

Sophia Made Me Gay


When I read online dating sites, I always see singles looking for someone with the exact similar interests.  Why?  When I meet someone, I want to meet someone with different interests.  I already have my interests.  Who wants to go out with himself, even if the sex is good? 

I like to learn new stuff.   When I first met Sophia, I used to laugh at two of her main interests —  now I’m totally into them on my own.   They are — and I can hear the gaydar going off all across America — "All My Children" and Professional Figure Skating.

Like most prime-time TV watchers, I always thought of soap operas as second-tier entertainment, produced to sell Tide Detergent to housewives.  I remember some girls watching "General Hospital," back in high school, but I never heard of a straight man watching a soap opera. 

As a writer, I also pooh-poohed the supposed absurd stories of soap operas, the ones they would parody on Saturday Night Live, of evil twins and amnesia and people coming back from "the dead."  But then I started watching it with Sophia.  She’s been watching All My Children for years.  And I started getting into it.  For seven years, we watched it every night.  And now that I’m on my own, I still Tivo it every day.  Most of my conversations with Sophia on the phone still begin with, "Did you see ‘All My Children’ today? 

Of course, I realize that most of the plotlines are silly and I’m usually laughing at the bad acting.  But that’s part of the fun.  I probaby could also develop a drinking game for guessing the exact moment when one character accidentally "overhears" some secret or walks into a room just at the most inopportune time.

All in all, the writing is pretty good and I would definitely recommend watching some soaps to my screenwriting friends.   There is a lot of skill used in keeping a viewer involved in a subplot for six months.  I think I also like the fact that everyone in Pine Valley seems to have had sex or been married to each other, and they are still friends.  If only life was so easy.

Currently, the big subplot is about the return of Dixie, Tad’s wife.  But is she Dixie or really Di Kirby, her half-sister, fooling everyone?  And will Babe, Dixie’s ex-daughter-in-law learn the truth and expose her, winning back the trust of J.R., Dixie’s son, and the heart of Jamie, Babe’s ex-boyfriend and brother of J.R.?   Got it?

It took a good deal more convincing to get me interested in Figure Skating.  Before Sophia, the only time I ever watched figure skating was during the Olympics, and other than Michelle Kwan and Dorothy Hamill, I couldn’t name another skater.  Sophia watched every championship on TV, but it usually bored me.  Then, one year, for her birthday, I took her to the week-long U.S. Championships in Salt Lake City.   It was pretty amazing seeing these athletes up close.  And Michelle Kwan was pretty beautiful to watch.  I learned about all the categories and levels of figure skating.  We sat with a group of women (groupies, more accurately) who travelled the world going from one competition to another, similar to Deadheads following the Grateful Dead.  They were fun and knowledgeable, although they sometimes made me feel uncomfortable when they talked about some 16 year old Junior Male Champion’s "nice ass."

After Salt Lake, we went to a few other championships, including those in Vancouver, Los Angeles, and Atlanta.  In 2003 we went to the World  Figure Skating Championship In Washington D.C., where we saw the best in the world.  Seeing the Chinese skating pair of Xue Shen and Honbo Zhao was one of the most thrilling sports moments I’d ever seen.  They got a ten minute standing ovation. 

Sophia, being Russian, especially enjoyed the artistry of the Russian skaters, particularly Evgeni Plushenko.

We tried to root for the Jewish skaters, but unfortunately former skating champion Michael Weiss is one of the least ilikeable skaters in America.    However, when at the World Champinship, we started seeing flags of different countries being displayed during the competition, Sophia (who lived in Israel for several years) dragged me all across Washington D.C. until we found what we were looking for in Union Station to support Israeli Ice Dancers Galit Chait and Sergei Sakhnovski:


All My Children?  Figure Skating?  I know… gay stuff.   I’m not even going to start telling you about my large CD collection of show tunes.   Thank God I have those  Dolce & Gabbana  pants from the last post, because no one would ever mistake me for being gay when I wear those.

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