Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Tag: life (page 3 of 7)

Sucking Candy

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I already told this story on Twitter, but I don’t think anyone believed me, so I’ll tell it again.

Sophia’s mother asked me to pick up two things from her supermarket:  mayonnaise and these sugar-free Werther’s candies that she likes to have while watching TV.  I drove over and stopped at the supermarket near her home.  I was unfamiliar with the layout of the store and I was in a rush.  I had an appointment later that day.  I approached a supermarket employee who was stocking boxes.  He was a young, friendly-faced, college-aged kid.

“Where can I find mayonnaise?” I asked him.

“Aisle four!  I’ll show you.”  he replied, in that cheerful California “have a nice day” supermarket voice that you would never hear in New York. 

He guided me over to the condiment section, where I found my “Best Foods” Mayonnaise.  (side note:  In New York, it is Hellman’s Mayonnaise.  In California, it is Best Foods Mayonnaise.  In New York, it is Arnold’s Bread.  In California, it is Orowheat.  In New York, it is Edy’s Ice Cream.  In California, it is Dreyer’s ice cream.  I have this personal conspiracy theory that the names were changed for the West Coast so they seem less “Jewish.” — but that’s another post)

After grabbing the mayonnaise, I thanked the stock boy.

“One more thing,” I asked.  “Do you know where I can find “sucking candies?”

He giggled nervously.  We were alone in the condiment aisle.

“What do you mean?”  He asked.

“Sucking candies!”

“Uh… the candies are in front by the register.”

“No, I don’t mean like the M&Ms.  I mean the candies you suck on.  The… HARD candies.”

He turned red faced.  At the same time, he seemed VERY intrigued.  I’m not exactly sure what was going on, but it seemed as if I had hit upon some new “code” that has replaced the hitting of feet in the bathroom stall.   He looked up and smiled, shyly.

“I’ll find it myself.”  I quickly said, stumbling over a shopping cart as I went searching for the hard candies.

A few minutes later, I was in line, ready to check out with my mayonnaise and sucking candies.  I saw the stock boy looking my way.  I held up the package of Werthers that I bought, hoping that he got the message.  He GOT the message alright, but I’m not sure WHAT that message was.  He waved good-bye to me, a wisp of hopefulness in his eyes.

When I got back home, I logged onto Twitter.

“Does anyone use the term “sucking candies?”

I was surprised that nobody had ever used the term before.  My entire family calls them “sucking candies.”  “Good and Plenty” is candy.  A Hershey’s Bar is  chocolate.  A Werther’s is “sucking candy.”  Where did this term come from and why was I the only one using it?

Last night, Ninja Poodles sent me a message.  She noticed this on Margalit‘s Twitter. 

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Yeah!  I’m not alone.

Since both Margalit and I are Jewish, I wonder if “sucking candy” is a Jewish term that was changed for the West Coast.

The Slummification of Kissena Boulevard

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This is where I grew up and where my mother still lives. It may not look like much, but it is one of the nicer apartment buildings in my Queens neighborhood. My grandmother lived a few blocks away, in a lower-income apartment. When I was in elementary school and my mother went back to work, I went to my grandparents after school. My grandmother made an excellent tuna fish sandwich, with chopped celery and dill.

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My father was a physical therapist at a city hospital and my mother still works in publishing, so they never made that much money. They worked hard to put me through two very expensive private colleges, just so I could obtain two completely useless degrees — a B.A. in English and an M.F.A. in Film. I was totally spoiled by them.

I had an excellent childhood growing up in the Flushing/Kew Garden Hills area of Queens. The public school was good, the public library was two blocks away, and the neighborhood was incredibly diverse — blacks, Jews, Puerto Ricans, Indians, Chinese. I’m still good friends with guys from the neighborhood who I’ve known all my life. They’re the first people I see every time I fly into New York.

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I am so diverse — here I am with my Jewish childhood friend Barry at the Blue Bay Diner in Bayside last week, which looks exactly the same inside as it did when I was in high school.

When I was a child, Queens felt isolated from the excitement of Manhattan, but it was close enough to travel to by subway. (…ok, first you take a bus to get to the subway) My parents took me to museums and concerts all the time, so I was able to participate in the “high culture” of the city. We also lived near Queens College, which had a symphony orchestra. I spent many weekends in the audience with my parents, falling asleep to Schubert.

Although the stores in my neighborhood weren’t very fancy (still no Starbucks!), you could get everything you needed just by walking down the block. There were grocers, a bakery, a Radio Shack, a cleaners, a pharmacy etc. This was perfect for my parents, who didn’t drive a car. It also created entertainment for me. After school, my friend, Rob, and I could pass several hours just stopping in the Kissena Boulevard shops, or reading the comic books in the stationary store.

I only felt embarrassed about “Queens” once I went to Columbia, and met rich kids from the Upper East Side, Beverly Hills, Boston, etc. They had actually gone skiing in Aspen and visited museums in Florence. All of a sudden, Kissena Boulevard was very small time. I began to feel ashamed of my background, like a Jennifer Beals in Flashdance, moving from the steelmill to the hoity-toity ballet studio. It felt as if the entire borough of Manhattan looked down on Queens. The only reason to visit Queens was to go to the airports or see a sporting event. There was even talk about building a new stadium in Manhattan, so there would even be less reason to travel to Queens. Queens was the home of misfits, from Archie Bunker to Ugly Betty. During snowstorms, Manhattan was quickly shoveled by the plows since it is the center of the business and tourism worlds. Queens was always plowed last. Queens had her big moment in 1963-64 when the World’s Fair was in Flushing Meadows Park, but then most of the fair buildings was just left behind to decay.

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“Sorry, we don’t have enough money in the budget to fix the NYS Pavilion.” – Mayor Michael Bloomberg

Eventually, I learned to embrace my Queens neighborhood. There was a cool mix of people on the street, and it felt more “New York authentic” than many of the streets of Manhattan. Today, “Sesame Street” reminds me of Queens, not Manhattan. Big Bird could never afford Manhattan. Sadly, whenever Sophia comes with me to visit my mother, I’m always disappointed that she can’t see the area in the same positive way I do.

“It looks like a slum,” she said recently, as we walked down Kissena Boulevard. This hurt my feelings, especially because, in my heart, despite my romantic view of the neighborhood, I believed the same. At one time, the street was lively, with all sorts of shops and ethnic food. Gene Simmons, who grew up nearby, even named his group KISS, after Kissena Boulevard. Now, the neighborhood has deteriorated almost beyond recognition.

Half of the stores on the block are gated and closed — some stores have been empty for five years! Can’t the management company find any tenants? What happened to the bakery, the pharmacy, the seafood store, the stationery store, the women’s clothing store? Surely some business can make a profit here? People are afraid to walk outside at night because everything looks so abandoned. Why has this happened?

Perhaps the answer can be found on the website of the management company, Pelcorp. On the site, they advertise the entire block, not as available individual stores catering to a community, but only as a 240,000 sq. ft. shopping center. There had been rumors that the landlord isn’t renting out the stores because it’s interested in selling the entire block to a big-box entity like Kmart. This might explain why no stores never seem to be rented, despite having “For Rent” signs plastered on the gates of shuttered stores. Is the management company waiting for the opportunity to unload the entire property at once?

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A view of Kissena Boulevard at noon, a far cry from what this busy street used to look like.

The management company has every right to sell the entire complex if they want to, but should they be allowed to thrust the entire neighborhood into a downward spiral? Who wants to live in an area where more than half the stores have been closed for years?

It is pretty sad state of affairs. I remember how The Garden Bakery made the best onion rolls I’ve ever tasted. There was “Sweet Donut,” a little coffee shop/donut store. Dr. Sakow, the friendly optometrist, fitted me with my first pair of dorky eyeglasses in the third grade. All of these stores are now gone, with no replacements.

Even if the management company does want to sell the entire property, shouldn’t they at least be responsible for its upkeep? What about all the garbage and graffiti everywhere? Why should I be embarrassed to show my wife the “old neighborhood?” Why should my mother have to walk past the junk in the parking lot? People still LIVE in the neighborhood.

At one time, the landlord/management company was a local one, headed by a New York builder. He was always seen around the area because he also created middle-income housing across the street. After his passing, his son took over the real estate property, and it didn’t surprise me at all that his management company is based in Palm Beach, Florida! Out of sight, out of mind.

From their website:

Our President, Prescott Lester, is the fourth generation of Builder Developers. He is responsible for building and developing nearly 3,000 residential units in Palm Beach County, Florida. Projects included Lakes of Laguna in West Palm Beach with 2,204 residential units and Cascade Lakes in Boynton Beach having 556 dwelling units.

Mr. Lester’s Greatgrandfather began building in Brooklyn, New York around the turn of the century. He was followed by his son David Minkin who became one of New York City’s Master Builders. Mr. Lester assisted and succeeds his great uncle, David Minkin, in running the family’s building, management and brokerage operations.

Here is a promotional photo of the late David Minkin, Prescott Lester, and former NY Mets (yeah, Queens!) pitching great Tom Seaver, who has apparently sold his New York baby boomer appeal for some hard cash.

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Despite a history of New York building, the fourth generation of builders now “specializes in the marketing and sale of luxury properties in Palm Beach County. This includes waterfront, country club, and other estate properties.”

The Kissena Boulevard holdings, one of their four retail holdings still in New York, must be their least attractive holding, compared to their shiny new malls in Florida. No wonder they seem so disinterested in the upkeep of Kissena Boulevard!

I talked to a few people in my mother’s building and they are very unhappy with the way Kissena Boulevard looks. Some say they would even move away, if they could afford it. The shopping area is pretty disgraceful, and much of the blame must go to the management company. They have played a major role in making the area look like a slum. Of course, since Pelcorp is in Palm Beach, and the executives don’t get to come to Queens very often, I’ve included some photographs of Kissena Boulevard for Prescott Lester and his partners to see.

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The Pharmacy, now closed, the letters falling from the sign

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The Laudromat, closed

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The shoe store, closed

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The graffiti along the “Wholesale Liquidators” wall

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The garbage along the wall, opposite the closed shoe store

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The kosher deli, closed

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The Rainbow Women’s Clothing Store, closed

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The pharmacy, closed, is now a haven for pigeons

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The Bakery, closed for years

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The fish market, closed

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Ugly graffiti and disrepair along the property walls

The Third Annual “Thank Your First Commenter Day”

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Much like the Pilgrims thanked the Indians after they had their first decent meal in the New World, I like to use Thanksgiving, not only as an excuse to stuff myself with turkey, but as an opportunity to thank the first blogger who ever commented on this blog.  This individual is the one who transformed Citizen of the Month from a dopey journal where I write about nonsense to a… uh, dopey “blog” where I write about nonsense and others read it!

I can’t believe that I’ve been blogging for three years already, and I’m up to thanking my THIRD commenter. THREE YEARS?! Three years without getting a penny from blogging! Three years without feeling up one female blogger! What the hell am I doing this for?! But like those hardy Pilgrims, I continue on and face my demons, doing the hard work to build something worthwhile, never asking for thanks, just knowing that one day my ancestors will be in the Social Register, discriminating against YOU at the country clubs in Connecticut.

Oh, right. And for the comments. I love my commenters!

My first commenter with Terry Finley. It was a short relationship. After his one comment, we lost touch, and he abandoned his blog. Still, we always remember our first, don’t we?… unless it was really, really bad. But Terry was pretty nice. Here was his comment:

Nice blog. Thank you.

Our health is really important.

Check out my blog.

Terry Finley

My blogging career was underway.

My SECOND commenter was The Reluctant Optimist (well, actually he was called something else at the time, but then he changed his name, worrying that his frequent posts about big-breasted women might sabatoge his work with the United States Military. He is very special to me, especially since he is a MALE reader who still reads this blog.

This is what I wrote about him last year:

At first glance, TRO and I have little in common. He is a Southerner, a former Air Force Officer who served with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. But blogging can make strange bedfellows, and despite our differences in political views at times, we immediately bonded over our love for buxom brunettes. Now, THAT is what the true meaning of the blogosphere is all about. So, thank you TRO!

(TRO — Loved that recent photo of Selma Hayek (you’re never gonna get a date if you spell her name as Hyack. What an actress!)

Surprisingly, his first comment shows no evidence of our future friendship (or does it?):

Two problems with your post.

One, this was not hard news. It wasn’t news at all. Evidently it was fiction.

Secondly, an inflammatory story like this can cause violence — especially in the middle-east where violence is inflamed quite easily. Comparing it to the questionable effects of a video game is faulty logic at best and disingenuous at worst.

And the Arab “street” believes it because they keep hearing it from the liberal anti-American media as well as their own anti-American outlets.

That’s why blogging is so great. It always surprises you!

This year, I will thank my THIRD COMMENTER – Richard Heft.  This is a unique situation, because Richard is actually a “real life” person, someone who knew me B.B. –“before blogging.”   He was good friends with Sophia before she met me, and then we became friends.  I only  have a few real-life friends who ever come to my blog.   Although Richard doesn’t have a blog himself, he comes by every once in a while, showing off his brains and wit. Naturally, his first comment was about some esoteric foreign movies.

One of the problems with concepts like the YMDB is that you really need two lists: my list of “Favorite” films (which always starts with ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN) bears no resemblance to my list of “Best” films ever made (which starts with TOKYO STORY, SUNRISE, OR CHILDREN OF PARADISE, depending on the phases of the moon).

I’ve never seen THE GREEN RAY (I assume it’s a French adaptation of the Green Lantern comic book; what else COULD it be?), but I’ve always filed LIFE & DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP under “mammoth but minor.” It’s basically a long (long!) propaganda film, with memorable performances by Livesey and Walbrook, but I’ve never felt the urge to watch it a second time. For WWII-era Michael Powell movies, I much prefer A CANTERBURY TALE and THE 49TH PARALLEL.

And for you and Dinah to hook up, Neal, you’re going to have to brush up your Mizoguchi and hone your Ozu.

Thank you, Richard, for being my third commenter and a good friend, even if no one understood what we were talking about during that post! And “Dinah” ended up being Communicatrix, but that’s another story.

Who was your first commenter? Or second? If you want to thank your first commenter for Thanksgiving, it’s easy. Just go all the way back into your archives and there he or she is — waiting for you!

Other thankful bloggers:  Kapgar, Danny, Ascender, Elisabeth, Otir (thankful in French, which is sexy), 180/360, Nance, and Not Fainthearted.

P.S. —

My father loved watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. At the end, he would call me over, yelling all excitedly, “It’s Santa Claus!” I don’t understand why this middle-aged Jewish man loved Santa Claus so much. At the hospital he worked in, he dressed up as Santa Claus during every Christmas and went to the children’s ward to give gifts. He was the scrawniest Santa Claus ever, in his thick Woody Allen-type glasses.

Thanksgiving means the start of the Holiday Season, not only because Macy’s wants to sells me stuff, but because that’s how I remember it. I remember the enthusiasm of my father… and we didn’t even celebrate Christmas!

So, coming up LATER THIS WEEK — two announcements about upcoming events:

1) The First Blogger Holiday Arts and Crafts Sale (bloggers — sell your artwork, doo-dads, and knitted hats AS GIFTS — at the biggest promotional blog post ever! Right here on Citizen of the Month!)

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And, of course… The 2007 Blogger Christmahanukwanzaakah Online Holiday Concert (can we make it even more fabulous than last year?!) I’ll try to improve on last year’s lame Hanukkah “Latkes song.” Take out those instruments and get ready to sing!

(Sign up will begin shortly. Kyran is already practicing her Jingle Bells)

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Jamelah, 2006 Christmahanukwanzaakah Concert Poster Girl

A Year Ago on Citizen of the Month: A Charlie Brown Blog Post (for Ninja Poodles)

Little Artie

Therapy has had two opposite effects.   It has motivated me to be more productive and organized, hence my post two days ago on how to be better organized.  Thank you!    Therapy has also made me incredibly self-absorbed, which is perfect for procrastination.   I never knew I could be so interesting to myself!   So, rather than working today, I spent most of the day mulling my own existence.  

First, let me ask you something.  I don’t know about your therapist, but my one hour session is really fifty minutes, because “Barbara” needs ten minutes to write her notes.   Does your therapist do the same?  I like Barbara a lot, but this business practice sounds a bit like the plumber charging you labor costs for his time filling out the paperwork.    Maybe I’m just grumpy because fifty minutes is not enough for me.  I’ve even started to skip the pleasantries of talking about the weather for a couple of minutes because I can feel the clock ticking.   When I walk out of therapy after such short sessions, I feel unfulfilled, as if I just went to a beautiful, naked Thai masseuse who rubbed by entire body in sensual oil, then told me to “get the hell out” so she could watch “Oprah.”  After my session today, I was in such a crazed mood to talk… to talk about myself.  Unfortunately, for many of you on my email list, there is the little invention called IM.  Please accept my apologies — all twenty of you — who I IMed with today while you were in the office.  At first, I was polite, meekly saying, “Hi there! How are you?” and then when you answered, I knew I had you trapped. 

“So, I just got back from therapy and it was very interesting.  I’m beginning to realize that I…. and that I… and… is the best for me… and… more sex… more for me… what I want… me…me…me…oh, right, your grandmother is dying… I remember when my grandmother was dying… me… me… and I was fourteen… and there I was, with my penis… me… aren’t I interesting?   What?  You have a job? … when I grow up, I want to be…”

I use Trillian for my IM messages, because the application can work on Gmail, Yahoo, MSN, and AOL simultaneously, so I had the entire world covered today.  Is it my imagination — or is everyone  on my IM list “invisible” tonight?   Oh, well, maybe everyone is just watching TV.   I can’t imagine that you would “hide” from me.

Barbara is a traditional therapist and she believes in all that crap about everything stemming from your childhood.   OK, I shouldn’t say “crap.”  I actually believe it too, but I am using humor as a “defense mechanism.”  How do you like them apples?  Defense-mechanism!   Don’t I sound self-actualized?  I know my stuff! 

When I look through my blog, I see themes that are played over and over.   I don’t mean that I use the same stories over and over again.  I do that, too, hoping most of the readers from 2005 have disappeared by now.  I mean that many of my posts have a certain world view that relates to my own neuroses.  One of them has to do with gender issues in my marriage.    Over and over, we’ve seen that Sophia is outwardly the strong one, while I sit at home, listening to ABBA.   Who wants a wimpy husband?  Gender roles affect our home, our family, and our relationship.  

Since these issues didn’t play much of a role in my life until I married Sophia, I saw it as a “marital” problem, but Barbara is helping me realize that you can’t really fix a couple; you can only fix yourself.   The seeds of my behavior were planted in me way before I had met Sophia.  I learned about gender roles and marriage from my own parents.  My confusion over a “man’s role” in society were already bouncing around my head as a child, my brain crowded with images of Clint Eastwood and James Bond battling it out with sweater-wearing Bill Cosby.

When I was at USC Film School, my final thesis film was a broad comedy called “Little Artie.”  It was just a little funny film, but when I mentioned the plot-line to Barbara, she was surprised that the story foreshadowed my relationship with Sophia — and I hadn’t even met her yet.   It feels pretentious analyzing my “work” as if I am Ingmar Bergman, but I’m surprised how unaware I was of the similarities. 

Is this how little I know myself?

Little Artie:

Artie and Elaine are a married couple.  They have a little dog named Little Artie, and they treat him as their child, like many pet-owners do when they don’t have children.

Note:  While it seemed funny at the time, it now seems a bit odd that I named the two characters, Artie and Elaine, since my parents’ REAL names are… Artie and Elaine!  And who would be Little Artie then?

In the story, Artie works as a curator at an art gallery.  He is peace-loving , cultured “liberal.”   Elaine is training to be a black belt in karate.  She is more conservative and believes in self-defense, and is more aggressive in the bedroom.   They get along great, except for differing opinions on how to “raise” their dog, Little Artie.   Artie wants him to be a loving pet, while Elaine wants him to be stronger, able to take care of the family if there is danger.   Later, while they are at work, their home is burglarized and the dog stands there watching all the furniture disappear.  When they come home and see their empty home, Artie and Elaine have a big fight.  Elaine insists that Little Artie go to “guard dog school” to get him into shape, while Artie refuses to allow this.  The argument gets intense and they file for divorce.  The question remains — who gets the dog?  At this point, the dog runs into the dog house in the backyard and refuses to come out for either of them.   The couple goes to court and the judge rules that whoever can get him out of the doghouse first can keep him.  And then there is some crazy comedy!  Well, except for the parts that fell flat.  There’s some new “lovers,” and a karate fight finale (I used a real fight coordinator) between Artie’s two rival women at an art gallery opening.  At the end, Artie and Elaine learn to compromise — Little Artie needs to be both strong AND sensitive.

Anyway, that’s therapy — week seven.
 

Dear Michael

Dear Michael,

Last night, on Dancing with the Stars, the final dance was a ridiculous group number to the classic song, Rockin’ Robin.   This song has been around forever, and has been released by several different artists, but without a doubt, my favorite version is yours, back from the early days. It captures your youthful energy, years before you became the King of Pop.   You were a star, even as a child.   And what an amazing child you were!   What talent.   I actually remember the days of the Jacksons, and those white spacesuits you would wear in your TV specials.

After “Dancing with the Stars,” I thought about you.   I watched a couple of your old videos on YouTube.   I love the Afro from the seventies! Everyone knew you were a brilliant singer and dancer back then, but no one expected your fame to shoot through the roof in the eighties.   I can’t think of any musical career like yours.   Is there anyone anywhere in the world who has never danced to a song on “Thriller?” (My favorite album is still “Off the Wall”)

I remember once being in Thailand, being driven in a tuk-tuk by a driver playing “Billie Jean” on the radio.

You were a role model to me, a symbol of a what could happen when you are talented.   You took your childhood talent and ran with it, eventually reaching the pinnacle of fame. You were the King of Pop!

And then you just went bonkers.   You seemed miserable.   You became the butt of jokes.   All my life, I was under the illusion that artistic success, fame, and fortune were the goals of life — and this would bring happiness to the one who attains it.   What went wrong with you?   Why were you fooling around with your face so much?   Who cares if you are gay/straight?   Didn’t anyone tell you that your obsession with young boys was unhealthy?   If I can find a good therapist in Los Angeles, couldn’t you?   It should have been as easy for you as… like your own song goes… ABC.

I hope you get your act together.   Maybe one day, you can go on tour again, maybe a couple of weeks in Las Vegas.   It would be a sellout.   I would go, unless it is really really expensive.   If so, I would just watch it on HBO a few months later.

If you don’t want to heal yourself for yourself, do it for me.   It makes me feel sad to think that you’re miserable.   If the King of Pop can’t be happy with everything he has, what hope is there for any of us?!

Postcard from the Road

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(from our hotel room in Fort Bragg)

Travelling can be stressful at times, so I’m glad Sophia and I decided ahead of time to enjoy ourselves, and to laugh off any bumps in the road. Napa is pretty, but not our glass of wine. How many wineries can a person visit? How many wineries can one visit and still safely drive those windy country roads? And how many restaurants can serve fifteen dollar organic chicken sandwiches?

Our favorite wine country town was Healdsburg. It is quaint, but not sickingly touristy. Santa Rosa is cool also, mostly because Charles Schultz lived there, and there are sculptures of Charlie Brown and Snoopy all over the place.

Safari West in Santa Rosa was as overpriced as our arugula salad in Sonoma. They advertised themselves as an “African safari” experience, but for safety reasons, they don’t have any animals that could actually eat you. So, you travel around on a crowded jeep watching giraffes and antelopes sleeping, eating, shitting, and ignoring you. At least at Universal Studios, the Jaws shark comes out to attack you at least once!

The tour guide at Safari West recently wrote a children’s book about animals, and he seemed more interested in promoting it than giving us a tour, always saying that we could “pick up a copy in the gift shop.” This is embarrassing to admit, but I fell asleep on Sophia’s shoulder while riding a bumpy jeep on a “African” safari. Still, it was an entertaining and different experience, but not worth the sixty bucks a person.

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We liked this zebra the best. These electric zapcars are all over the place.

We had hoped to take a mud bath and massage in Calistoga. I was especially excited about posting a photo of myself with mud up to my neck, but we changed our mind when we actually saw the spa that we chose from some brochure we got at the hotel. Rather than it looking like an “Oasis,” it looked like a trailer behind a motel. When we went inside, Sophia asked the owner if we could see the mud bath before we paid, but the owner said we couldn’t — they were still “getting it ready.” Sophia asked to use the restroom, and like Nancy Drew, sneaked into the mud bath room. She immediately came out and told me that we should leave.

“It looks filthy.” she said. “They’re cleaning it up with dirty rags”

We were a little disappointed. I owe Sophia a mud bath.

Today, we drove from Napa to Mendocino. It was very interesting to see how the landscape changed from lush wineries to massive redwoods. Sophia was fascinated at her first look at these amazing trees. She even started to cry.

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“It’s like a fairy tale forest,” she said.

I didn’t have much time to be emotional, since the darkness of the tree cover and the curvy roads made driving a little scary.

Eventually, we made it to Mendocino. While Napa had an upscale wine lover/foodie vibe, the Northern California coast has maintained much of the hippy vibe of the 1960’s (although wealthier hippies). We stopped to buy some fruits at a food co-op. If Sophia was ever in political enemy territory, it was here. There were anti-war petitions hanging over the dairy aisle, and photos of Bush with X’s marking out his face. We especially enjoyed this sign posted by the front door, telling customers to shut off their cell phones.

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The views of the ocean are beautiful here. The oceanfront is rugged and… manly. In comparison, the beaches of Los Angeles are, as Ann Coulter might say, for faggots.

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We’re staying the night in Fort Bragg, which is one town over from Mendocino, and is known as the place where visitors who can’t afford Mendocino stay for the night. As I’m writing this, we’re in a small coffeehouse that serves organic coffee and we’re listening to a talent hippyish-looking singer doing a Joni Mitchell song. What could be more Northern Californian?

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Travelling is fun, but you’re never quite sure what’s going to happen next, especially when you’re travelling on a budget. We were concerned about our hotel in Fort Bragg because it looked a little Bates Motel-ish when we pulled in at night.

“I’m not staying here.” said Sophia. “There’s a homeless man standing right outside!”

Luckily, as we got closer, we saw it was just the sea captain.

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Better Late Than Never

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Five months ago, Sophia was in New York working and I was lonely.  To ease my pain, many of you sent me photos of your beds.  Deannie, the writer of “Home is Where the Heart Is” told me that she wanted to send me a photo, but she didn’t have her own bed.  She promised to send me a photo once she got her condo and bought a bed.

Yesterday, I received a photo of Deannie’s bed.  Nothing impresses me more than someone who keeps a promise.

From what I gather, this is actually the wrong bed that was delivered to her home, but she decided to keep in “instead of going through all the hassle of the exchange process.”

I, for one, like the bed.  It is very antique-looking, like something you might see in an old house in Vermont.  I especially like the elaborate headboard. 

Now, as the rabbis of yore used to do, I would like to recite the tradtional blessing for a new bed:

“Deannie, may this bed bring you much joy.  May you have many a restful night as you sleep soundly in this cozy and warm bed.  May you have pleasant dreams and wake up refreshed from your nights sleeping in this wonderful new bed.  And may you have many memorable nights @%#@** against the elaborate headboard.”

Update:  Next time I am alone, I won’t be needing your bed photos, thanks to my new sheet and pillow case combo.   (thanks, Dagny!)

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P.S. — I’m also doing my first “guest-blogging” stint at No Pasa Nada.   So, for one day you can call me Heather!

Dixie Martin: R.I.P.

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The continuing saga of how Neil met Sophia on the internet has been canceled today for a special bulletin:

Dixie Martin, beloved wife of Tad Martin and mother of J.R. Chandler, died today, January 29, 2007, in Pine Valley, after eating a poisoned peanut butter pancake intended for her daughter-in-law, Babe Chandler.

This was a shock to All My Children soap opera fans across the country. Some fans are so upset they are refusing to watch the show anymore. In fact, Sophia and Neil couldn’t stop talking about it all day. Even tonight’s episode of “24” seemed to pale in comparison to the drama of AMC killing off one of the show’s most popular characters.

The producers of AMC made a big splash when they brought actress Cady McClain back to the show after a four year absence. They had spent an enormous amount of time and money to woo her back. The return of Dixie created a slew of new storylines, since her character was repeatedly said to be “the heart” of Pine Valley. Tad and Dixie seemed destined to reunite as a couple — and even find their missing baby girl that unbeknownst to them, was now LIVING in Pine Valley after her parents were killed in a car accident! But one year into her contract, it’s death by peanut butter for Dixie. What happened?

Insiders know the real story. AMC producers, desperate for more viewers, tried to use the internet to drum up interest. They gave Dixie (Cady McClain) a blog to discuss her life as a soap opera star, in much the same way as other bloggers talk about their work and families.

With their ratings low, AMC also let go many of their long-standing characters, such as Brooke English (played by Julia Barr), who was with the show since 1976 and Dr. David Hayward (wonderfully played by Vincent Irizarry for the last ten years.) While the older actors were thrown to the street, the show hired a whole new group of dopey teenage actors. “Dixie” made a statement on her blog, saying it wasn’t a good idea to fire the show’s beloved older actors. The producers apparently didn’t like “Dixie” giving her opinion on her ABC blog, so to punish her — they promptly killed her off, making mincemeat of the storyline.

When someone says they were Dooced, people understand it to mean that someone was fired because of their blog. From now on, when someone is “killed off” because of their blog, I will use the term “Dixied.”

A Year Ago on Citizen of the Month: Fact-Finding Mission

I Love John Updike (Not Really About John Updike)

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This week was a milestone for me.  I submitted my Fame post as an op-ed at the Los Angeles Times. 

Will they ever actually print it?  Extremely doubtful. 

But it was the first time I ever submitted my writing anywhere (other than scriptwriting).  Deezee pushed me into it.  She literally emailed me three times to make sure I did it.  So, thanks Deezee, for being such a pushy bastard.

I’m sure I looked unprofessional in my query letter.  I wrote “Dear Editor” rather than using a specific editor’s name.  I didn’t know you were supposed to include a page count.  After I submitted the article, I found an informative article in Daily Kos about writing op-ed pieces.  I wish I had seen it before!  It is a must read if you want to write a piece.  Don’t look like an amateur nudnik like me!

I’m always reading blog posts from YOU that would be perfect for a op-ed piece, so I’m going to try to push some of you to submit your work. 

Deezee also advised me to take out certain words from my post, such as “penis” and “balls,” which I did.  Rather than saying “If John Stossel had any balls,” it now reads “If John Stossel had any guts.”  I know that totally destroyed the sentence.  I totally wimped out, but it’s all part of the game.

People who have met me in real life know that I am actually a polite guy who never curses.  I’m always surprised when I learn that a blogger who writes beautiful poetry can “curse like a sailor” in real life.  Maybe it is because I rarely use words like c**k, p***y, f**king, etc. in the real world, that I LOVE to use them on my blog.  But every once in a while now I might clean up a post, especially if I have a job interview that week. 

It would be a shame, though, to refrain myself from using these obscenities on my blog.  I liked to imagine that whenever I say tits or c**k in a post, that thousands of women around the world are getting so turned on that they having orgasms right at their work cubicles.  That is happening, right?

For some of you, this is the only sex you get all week, so I can’t just eliminate this sex talk.  It is a public service!   So, I’ve come up with a way to both talk about sex AND be PG-13 for the Los Angeles Times and prospective employers.  It is called USING CODE.  Talk having your cake and eating it, too!

From now on:

c**k = iPod
p***y = Toyota Prius
tits = John Updike
f**king = “Deal or No Deal”

So, for instance, imagine you’re reading the following post.  Can you decipher it?

A BLOG POST 

Happy New Year, fellow bloggers!  How was your Christmas and Hanukkah?   I had a great vacation.  And guess what — I got a iPod as a Hanukkah gift.   What a great toy.  I don’t think I’ve every had more fun playing with anything in my life.  I’ve been using my iPod constantly, plugging it in, buying all these accessories, and looking for friends to share my playlist with.   I love the way it fits right in your hand.  And I didn’t even get the mini one!  No way! 

Soon, I’m hoping to figure out a way to install my iPod right into the Toyota Prius.  Then I can listen to music as I’m driving to the store.   I love that Toyota Prius.   It’s so comfortable inside, I almost want to sleep in it!  Dude, that would be the ultimate!

Do you make any New Year’s Resolutions?  I promised myself to read more this year.  I’m a big fan of John Updike and I hope to read all of his books this year.    There’s nothing better than curling up in bed with a good book by John Updike, especially one of his 500 page novels. 

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for the new season of “24” and “Lost.”  So far, I haven’t been impressed with the new TV season other than “Deal of No Deal.”  Has anyone been watching “Deal or No Deal?”  It seems to be on TV every night lately!  One of my blogger friends recently told me how she Tivo-es it and then watches 4-5 episodes a night with her boyfriend!  That made me feel old.  I haven’t watched that much TV in one night since I was in college!   In fact, sometimes I even zip past the commercials, and fall asleep in the middle of the show. 

I’m glad they renewed “Deal or No Deal.”  Hopefully, I will be watching it a lot more this year.  Usually. I’m watching it in the bedroom before going to sleep, but I think I’m going to change things around in 2007.  I’m going to watch it on the living room TV and even on the little TV in the kitchen!   This is a YEAR of CHANGE!   I’m going to try to watch it every chance I get, with or without Sophia!   Who knows, maybe I’ll even get the chance to watch the show with two friends at the same time!  I could throw a little “Deal of No Deal” party!  I can’t tell you HOW MUCH I love that show!  I wonder if you can download “Deal or No Deal” directly onto you iPod and watch it in your Toytota Prius? 

Anyway, I love you all!  I’m gonna go take a cold shower now.  Or maybe I’ll just relax and read some John Updike.

A Year Ago on Citizen of the Month:  Girls Gone Geeky

To Sleep, Perchance to Blog

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Nothing bugs me more than blogging “experts” pontificating on what a blog should or shouldn’t be about.  Sure, it might help them write a book on blogging or speak at a conference, but what does anyone know more than YOU about your own personal stuff?

In October, I complained about a blogging book with the title “No One Cares What You Had for Lunch: 100 Ideas for Your Blog.”  As a member of the LBADL (Lunch Bloggers Anti-Defamation League), I immediately wrote a post describing what I had for lunch.

Yesterday, I  read a post saying that bloggers should spend more time on their posts, in the hope of creating well-written essays like David Sedaris and selling themselves to magazine editors.   First of all, there already is a David Sedaris, so it seems hopeless to become another one.  Second of all, he is gay, and it is not worth becoming gay just to get published.  And honestly, the chances of your blog doing anything for your writing career are so slim, you might as well just have fun and experiment.

To prove my point, I’m attempted a live blogging experiment.  I went to sleep in the living room and put the alarm on for 3AM.  My goal was to ramble on about my dream, not giving a crap about whether it was interesting or not.

It is now 3AM.  The only problem is that the minute the alarm jarred me out of my gentle slumber, I immediately forgot what I was dreaming about.  This is pretty typical.  I never remember my dreams.  I’ve even tried keeping a pencil and pad by my bed, but by the time I reach for the pencil, the entire dream has disappeared like… well, like a dream.

Even though this blogging dream experiment was a complete failure, I’m glad I did it.  I could have wimped out.  I could have been afraid that some of you would say, “Oh my God, Neil’s post today was a complete mess that he wrote at 3AM.  I’m never reading this blog again!”

If anything, waking up at 3AM has inspired me to write a little bit about SLEEP itself.  

Did you ever notice that we love to write about food and sex, but hardly ever about sleep?   I don’t know about you, but sometimes, there is nothing better than a good night’s sleep.   Between Sophia and the whole car accident scare, and my mother in town, bugging me about getting a haircut, I’ve actually looked forward to just going to sleep the last couple of days.    

I did have a haircut today.  But not because of my mother.

“You look homeless,” my mother has told me over and over again for the last few days.   But I ignored her. 

Today I was in Ralph’s Supermarket, when a woman , around 30, started waving at me.  She was very attractive, but there was something odd about her.  Maybe it was all the chopsticks sticking in her hair.

“How are you?” she asked.

“Fine.”  I said meekly, unsure who she was.  She sensed that I was uncomfortable.

“I know you, right?”

“I don’t think so.  Maybe you mistake me for someone else.”

“Don’t you lecture at the Krishna Center?”

“I’m sorry.  You DO mistake me for someone else.”

I immediately left the supermarket and went for a haircut.

Jeez?  How did I get to talking about my haircut.  Wasn’t I just talking about SLEEP?  I think my mind is starting to play tricks on me, like those college students involved in sleep deprivation tests.

Boy, am I sleepy.  Why am I up at 3AM writing this stupid blog post?  To be honest, if I had the choice RIGHT NOW of being served a five course meal from the finest restaurant in New York, of having Kate Winslet walking in naked, climbing on top of me, and f**king until morning, or just going back to sleep — I would choose SLEEP. 

Now tell me sleep is NOT a worthy subject to write about.

Neil’s Penis:  I strongly disagree with the last statement of Neilochka’s ridiculous post, especially the Kate Winslet part.  I will now punish him by making it hard for him to go back to sleep.

A Year Ago on Citizen of the Month:  The Argument

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