Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Tag: New Zealand

21st Century Romance


Neil:  So, what do you think?

J:  I, uh, like the idea.

Neil:  You don’t like it. I can hear it in your voice.

J:   No, it is a clever idea. It might even work.

Neil:  So, what’s the problem?

J:   I’m just not sure it’s the WAY I visualized you coming back. I thought it would be more romantic.

Neil:  This IS romantic. This is 21st Century romance!

J:  Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but is it really THAT romantic if Air New Zealand only sends you back because you promised to put their hashtags on your Instagram photos?

Neil:  We’re not just offering them hashtags on Instagram.  We’re offering them Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.  We’re offering them to be part of a real life love story. Imagine the campaign “New Zealand is for Lovers!”

J:   I think the State of Virginia already has that one copyrighted.

Neil:  How about, “When in Love, Fly Kiwi!”

J:   Yeah, but the name of the airline is Air New Zealand, not Kiwi.”

Neil:  I’m sure they’ll figure it out. They have a big marketing department.

J:   So, let me understand it — you want us to email Air New Zealand and offer them that we we will hashtag everything we do while we travel around the South Island if only they sponsor it?

Neil:  Well, we have to offer them more than that.   We need to tell them that we will convince all of our readers that THEY should come to New Zealand and find love THEMSELVES — while flying Air New Zealand, of course — the airline of Romance.

J:  But what does this have to do about us?

Neil:  This is all about us!

J:  It makes me feel as if you are only coming back to see me if you get a free ticket.

Neil:   A ticket is $2000!

J:  Well, I suppose this IS who you are.  I think the first post I ever read of yours was about you taking Sophia out to dinner to the Olive Garden, using a coupon.

Neil:  That’s being frugal.

J:   Maybe I’m just worried about what happens if this plan falls through?   Will you still come back to see me as soon as possible?

Neil:   Of course I will.  Soon.   But maybe not as soon as if we were sponsored by Air New Zealand.

J:  That’s not a very romantic thing to say.  Imagine telling your blog readers that’s how you feel.  They all peg you as super sweet.

Neil:  Screw them.   And, believe me,  they LOVE to get free stuff.  You should see them pushing each other and grabbing things at BlogHer.

J:  But imagine this is one of your screenplays. Wouldn’t you want the hero of the story to return to his love interest, no matter what, even if he was so poor that he couldn’t afford a ticket? Wouldn’t he find a way, legal or illegal,  because if he didn’t see her soon, he would die from heartbreak?

Neil:  Exactly, that’s how I feel!  If this was a screenplay, the clever hero — a George Clooney type — would come up with this amazing social media campaign, and get an airline to sponsor him to see her again! Happy ending!

J:  And then what — at the very end of the movie, one of the pilots would do the wedding ceremony at the airport terminal?

Neil:   That’s not a bad idea. Let’s put that down.

J:   I don’t like this idea.  It’s like exploiting our relationship.  Not everything has to be sold through “social media.”  I’d rather you were so desperate to come here, that you became a stowaway on a ocean liner.

Neil:   Sure, I would rather do that too.   But do you know how difficult it is to be a stowaway on an ocean liner nowadays? It just doesn’t happen anymore. They have security, and besides, I don’t like cruising. Too much food.

J:  OK, write to Air New Zealand.  Let’s see what happens.   I’m just happy you want to see me again.  Do you want me to help you write the letter?  I used to work in marketing.

Neil:   Sure. But I’m not ready yet for that.   First, I need to get myself prepared. I read a tutorial on pitching to a brand, and there are a number of steps involved. I have to create a media kit, gather my daily page views on my blog from Google Analytics and Quantcast, chart my daily influence on Twitter, create a Facebook page, map out my Facebook statistics in order to show reader engagement, and lastly, convince all of my friends to give me a +New Zealand on Klout to cement my role as a leadership role on this subject in my community.

J:  That sounds like a pain in the ass. Are you sure it’s worth all that trouble just for trip to New Zealand?

Neil:   Hmm, maybe you’re right. Let me go to the Princess Cruises forum and research “How to Become a Stowaway.”

The Key


If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll notice that I haven’t uploaded a single photos in the last two weeks. It’s as if I’ve lost interest in photography. After shooting 3,000 photos over the last two years, I’ve discovered the most beautiful image in the face of one woman, and there’s no reason to look at anything else.

Juli and I speak late at night, when our time zones align, and after her son is asleep. We have conversations like whether or not we should change our Facebook relationship status. We decided against it; it serves us no purpose other than adding pressure. Last night, we searched the internet for the most current definition of “boyfriend” and “girlfriend,” to see if we would quality, but sadly, we did not. Labels always fail me, just like the do in blogging. I never quite fit in.

Readers of this blog are a sappy bunch, and I know you enjoy a good love story, especially before Valentine’s Day, but I’m going to disappoint you. I’m not jumping on a plane and moving to New Zealand just yet. I realize that this is what happens in the movies, but let’s be real– the filmmakers never show you what happens after the plane takes off and the credits roll. I have a mother and friends in the United States. I know very few people in New Zealand.

“Do you believe in soulmates?” she asked me.

We both were unsure. We both were married, in love with other people. This can only mean one thing — there is no such thing as one “soulmate.” A person can have many soulmates in life. The idea of a soulmate is another myth perpetuated by sappy movies.

There is also the delicate issue of her son. I’m more understanding now about the issues surrounding a single mom. To “date” a single mom means — in many ways — dating her child. It is a package deal. I enjoyed playing with Juli’s son. We played Battleship, flew kites, went camping. Juli was very careful that her son knew that I was just a visiting friend, and that HE always came first.

I will return to New Zealand, at least for another visit. This year. But when? It is painful to talk to her on Skype and be separated by wireless data. But a flight to New Zealand is expensive. I need to search for a few more freelance gigs.

Thousands of miles away, in New Zealand, there is a house with a beautiful wooden door. It is a strong and colorful door, lit by the sun, emboldened by the salty sea air. I have the key that opens this door.

“Take it,” she told me at the airport terminal before I left, gently placing it into my right hand.

I keep this key with me all the time now — in my front pocket, in my back pocket, in my shirt pocket — only taking it out before sleep, where I place it on my night stand, next to her photo, and then I dream.



My trip to New Zealand was all about water.   Without water, we would all die of thirst.   But don’t try to grab it with the tense hand; it will laugh at you with disdain. It is a chameleon that takes many forms and shapes, always moving. Only a fool tries to control it.  Water runs fast.  Water can calm — the gentle brook, and then belittle you with a ocean’s tsunami, swallowing you whole.  Water is sex and religion.   Sweet wetness and holy baptism.  Water is risk.   Water is mysterious and powerful, like a woman.

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The Blurry Photo of J

Call me old-fashioned, but I was convinced that she would be the first to crack. Blokes like myself believe women are the sentimental creatures, so I was surprised that, on my arrival at LAX, the first text I received from her read simply, “Going camping with my son for two days.”

Camping in NZ also means “non internet access,” so this also meant that our communication channels were down. So, on this historic day when President Obama was sworn in as President, barriers fell throughout the land. We now have our first two-term African-American President. Gay rights were mentioned in an inaugural speech. And — for the first time ever, smashing centuries of gender roles — a man cracked first, turning to his blog, sentimentality in his heart, while the woman went camping in the wild, a pocketknife in her purse. Who’s the weaker sex? My heart sinks faster than that US Navy landing craft that was swamped by a wave near Paekakariki, NZ ’s during that infamous tragedy in June 1943.

J and I first went camping after Christmas. Her son stayed with his father. I had not gone camping since I was twelve years old. As an adult, I found it fun, but exhausting. One of my Facebook friends touted camping as “sexy.” Uh, no. But if you get your kicks sleeping in cramped tents without bathrooms, who am I to question your alternative lifestyle?

I’m surprised that I enjoyed it as much as I did. The scenery certainly helped. It was amazing to wake up in the morning and look at greenery so lush you felt like you just rented a room in the Hobbit’s Shire.

Still, after a week sleeping on an air mattress, I suggested (well, insisted) that we spend two nights in a motel in Napier, a Hawkes’ Bay town famous for its art deco architecture.

Our room in Napier — at the appropriately named Art Deco Motel — was nothing fancy; it was a motel room that looked out into a parking lot. But after a week camping, it felt like the Four Seasons. We each took a long hot shower. It was the best shower of my life. J prepared lunch in the motel kitchenette, using leftovers in the cooler or the “chilly bin” as called by the Kiwis. J was wearing a towel from the bathroom, but as she fried up some eggs, the white cotton towel slipped off, sliding to the carpeted floor.

I took a photo of her with my iPhone.

In the photo, J was in the shadows, the light in the background flowing in from the large window leading to the patio. I fiddled around with some apps on my iphone until the subject was anonymous. I created a blurry photo of a naked, curvy, beautiful woman standing in front of a burst of light.

“Can I put this on Instagram?” I asked.

“Sure,” she said. “It’s your artwork.”

Wow. My artwork?! How can you not fall for a woman who considers your dopey and salacious photo of her losing her towel while frying some eggs as “artwork?”

The next day, she changed my mind.

“I forgot about my mother.” she said. She’s looking at your instagram feed.”

It’s a fine line between sharing and keeping things private.

“Can you take it down before she sees it?” she asked.

I deleted it from Instagram. And Flickr. And Facebook.

I’m in Los Angeles now. For now. It’s too bad that I can’t reach J. I want to tell her about my night in Melbourne, Australia. I met two Aussie bloggers and we went to a famous local restaurant.

Melbourne is a world-class city with culture and excitement. There are hipsters drinking coffee in converted warehouse districts. The Kapiti Coast of New Zealand — where J lives — is sleepyville. Bars close early. Local excitement is a sheep shearing and bringing home some fish and chips. But never have I seen so much greenery. And as a Pisces, I am drawn to the oceans and rivers and lakes. And then, there is J herself. She is in New Zealand.

I slide my finger along the screen of my iphone, touching the blurred photo of J. The one from the motel. The one that I deleted. It is a tame photo. J is shadowy and heavily filtered. But I understand why she asked me to delete it from public view. I know and adore every curve of her body, even in the dark. And that is very obvious to anyone looking at this blurry photo, despite my attempts to hide it.

Summer Love

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Back when I attended my Jewish sleep-away camp, the summer ended with a big dance. It was on the last weekend of August, right before we all went back to our predictable middle-class lives in Queens, Brooklyn, Westchester, New Jersey, and Long Island, where we would focus on our schoolwork and prepare ourselves for a scholarship to a fancy college.  Fall, Winter, and Spring were times of seriousness.  It was only during the summer that we allowed ourselves to paddle a canoe or initiate”panty raids” on the girls’ bunks.

Having a dance as a camp season finale made no sense to a ten year old boy who had no interest in dancing, or the opposite sex.   The girls danced by themselves while the boys got sugar drunk on Dixie cups of purple punch.

One year,  on my seventh year as a camper, I asked Tammy to the dance, but just my luck — she ended up in the infirmity with the flu, so I spent most of the evening standing outside her window chatting with her about science fiction movies, until one of the nurses shooed me away.  I took off to the social hall, relieved to not have missed the final dance.  After so many years at this camp, the “last song” of the summer had grown in meaning to me.  It was always the same — “See You in September,” originally sung by the Tempos in 1959, but this was the latter version, covered by The Happenings in 1966.  The sappy song must have been a tradition for an earlier generation, because all of the counselors and older staff members would grab a partner and do a “slow dance.”

It never occurred to me as a camper that this “last dance” was not for the campers at all, but for the staff — many who were returning back to school or work, and had experienced summer love for the first time.

Summer love creates all sorts of complications.   Some counselors already had boyfriends and girlfriends back at home.  Some of the staff members were international visitors from faraway places like Ireland.   And not even Jewish.

So how did these summer romances turn out?   Most of them fizzled out.  Some tried to reproduce the lake-side romance in the Catskills back in Brooklyn, but it didn’t have the same vibe on Ocean Parkway.   The city can be romantic and mysterious, but it has a different soundtrack, more funky than mellow.

Tammy, the girl who was supposed to be my date for the final dance, ended up dating one of the counselors — a college boy — much to the dismay of her parents.   They are a summer romance success story, married for decades with children who now go to sleep-away camp.

Over the last month, while most of you have been freezing during the winter months, I have been on Summer Vacation in New Zealand.  It is Summer here.   The kids are off from school.  The beaches are full.  Everyone is eating ice cream.

But Fall is close.   Today there was a “back to school” commercial on the “telly.”  School clothes at 40% at The Warehouse, New Zealand’s equivalent of Target.

With summer ending, there is a call to seriousness.   It’s time for me to return to the States.   The vacation is over.    I’ve found a summer love here in New Zealand.   I’ve had a life-changing experience.

Where does it go from here? I don’t know.  It is hard to carry a summer love into the Fall, especially when you live on different continents.   For now, I have a plane to catch tomorrow, and I want my last dance with Juli.

The Railway Station at Paekakariki

New Zealand

After lunch at her Mexican restaurant, Marianne dropped me off at the train station at Paekakariki.  I had an hour to kill before the train for Paraparaumu arrived, so I wandered around the tiny town’s Main Street, which took me all of ten minutes.


I walked over to the railway station, which while unassuming, consisting of a few wooden shacks on a 1/3 of a city block, is important to the city’s history.

In 1886 the Wellington and Manawatu Railway Company’s line from Wellington to Longburn was completed, and Paekakariki became an important stop on the journey. In 1908, the line was incorporated into the national network of the New Zealand Railways Department and became part of the North Island Main Trunk linking Wellington and Auckland, the North Island’s most important line.

During World War 2, Paekakariki also served as a major base for US Marines fighting in the Pacific, with over 20,000 Americans stationed here.

Paekakariki’s steep surrounding hills proved suitable terrain for marching and mortar practice, whilst its beaches were used to stage amphibian invasions. They were the scene of an unfortunate tragedy in June 1943 when a landing craft was swamped by a wave during a nighttime training exercise. Nine men drowned in the heavy surf according to official figures; local rumor put the toll higher. The incident was never reported at the time due to wartime censorship provisions.

I was reading about Paekakariki’s history on my iPhone, biding my time, when I noticed an open door in one of the side buildings.  I shyly walked over and looked into what seemed to be a dusty old used bookstore jam-filled with literature.  The location seemed so bizarre and incongruous.  While I can understand a Barnes and Noble at Grand Central Station, how could this used bookstore do any sort of business in the middle of nowhere, hidden in Paekakariki, population 1600, a town name which in Māori means “perching place of the kakariki (green parrot).”

Inside the bookstore, a man in his sixties, a Bohemian with long white hair, was standing on a ladder, struggling to hang a framed photo on the wall.

“Good.  You’re tall,” he said.  “You can help me.”

“Sure,” I said, and entered the shop. I climbed onto the ladder and tried to match up the wired back of the frame with the nail on the wall.

“A little to the right,” he directed me.   “To the left. Perfect.”

I climbed off the ladder and he pointed at the sepia-toned photo.  It was of some waterfall.  He told me it was an original photo taken by some famous New Zealand naturalist, the Ansel Adams of the country.

“Are you looking for a specific book today?” he asked, changing the subject.

“To tell you the truth, I’m just stumbling by. I was waiting for the train when I saw you were open. I was surprised to find such a cool bookstore in the middle of the train station.”

“Grand, isn’t it? Where are you from?”

“From the States. I was born in New York.”

“That’s one place I want to visit one day. You liking New Zealand?”

There was a spark in his voice. Many Kiwis seemed quite reserved, but the bookstore owner seemed impish and playful.

“It’s beautiful in New Zealand,” I answered.

“Listen, as a thank-you for hanging up my photo, I’m going to give you one of my books. What do you prefer? Fiction or poetry?”

Before I could answer, he had analyzed me.

“You seem like a fiction person. I’ll give you one of my novels.”

He grabbed one of his own books from a shelf. It was titled Unlevel Crossings. I learned more about my new acquaintance. His name was Michael O’Leary.

Michael O’Leary is a New Zealand publisher, poet, novelist, performer, and bookshop proprietor. He publishes under the imprint Earl of Seacliff Art Workshop, which he founded in 1984. He runs a bookshop, Kakariki Books, from the Paekakariki Railway Station.

Born in Auckland, he was educated at the Universities of Auckland and Otago. He wrote his master’s thesis on the history of small presses in New Zealand. He is the author of Alternative Small Press Publishing in New Zealand. He completed a PhD in women’s studies at Victoria University of Wellington on the ‘Social and Literary Constraints on Women Writers in New Zealand 1945 to 1970’.

O’Leary’s novels and poetry explore his Māori (Te Arawa)– Irish Catholic heritage. Under the Earl of Seacliff Art Workshop imprint he has published work by a range of writers, both alternative and mainstream, including: Raewyn Alexander, Colin Lloyd Amery, Sandra Bell, John Pule, Greg O’Brien, David Eggleton, and others.

O’Leary is a trustee for the Poetry Archive of New Zealand Aotearoa, a charitable trust dedicated to archiving, collecting and promoting New Zealand poetry.

“Thank you for the book,” I told the writer/publisher/bookstore owner. “I’ll read it on the plane home.”

The warning bell of the approaching train rang at the train crossing.

“What’s your name?” he asked, the clang of the metal wheels of the train from Wellington growing louder.


“Nice meeting you Neil. And what brings you to New Zealand in the first place? A woman?”

“How did you know?”

“It’s always a woman.”

I said goodbye. I rode the train back to Paraparaumu.  Juli picked me up and I took this photo of her for Instagram.


Call to Adventure

For years, I’ve been complaining about the superficial nature of online friendships, my boredom with trading quips about pop culture or the ubiquitous “liking” of each other’s drunken photos on Instagram?

Real friends look at each other. They interrupt each other as they speak. There are moment of silence. There are shared cups of coffee.

But there is a major obstacle to transforming many of favorite virtual friendships into real ones.



In the eighth grade, our class had a substitute English teacher. He was a strange guy, a former hippy and a black belt in karate. Rather than teaching us anything about grammar, he told us about the U.S. military-industrial complex and the importance of “bringing it down.” Most of us had no idea what he was talking about.

One afternoon, at the end of his class, the teacher took me aside.

“I notice you read a lot,” he said.

“Yeah, I like books,” I replied.

“I’m going to give you a book that will BLOW YOU AWAY. It is my favorite book.”


He handed me a hardcover copy of this bizarre fantasy novel that, on first glance, looked rather dumb. It involved imaginary characters in a world called Middle Earth. The book was called “The Hobbit.”

If you are a long-time reader of Citizen of the Month, you now understand why my grammar is stuck in the seventh grade. I never learned grammar in the eighth grade. I spent the year reading “The Lord of the Rings.”

The Hobbit follows Bilbo Baggins as he reluctantly takes a journey from safety into a world of dragons, adventure, war, and treasure.

The book taught me a lesson — everyone must take a journey into the unknown. It is the only way to gain maturity and wisdom. I learned this in the eighth grade, and promptly forgot the advice for decades, preferring to live in safety, like the home-loving Bilbo Baggins.

I fear adventure.  You never know what God has planned for you along the way — a storm, a romance, a shipwreck, or death by eating blowfish a an exotic restaurant. And if you dare raise your fist towards God, angrily shouting, “How could you do this to me?” He will just laugh at you and say, “Sorry, Charlie, but YOU planned your own trip. It was your choice. So get off my back.”

I fear choice.  But I’m trying to change.


Every year, on the New Year, there are celebrations around the world, ringing in the new year, starting with the first time zone, in New Zealand.   New Zealand is the beautiful, mystical country where they filmed The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings.

Next month, like Bilbo Baggins, I will be making a journey.  I will be travelling to New Zealand to visit my good online friend, Juli, and share a cup of coffee.

So, this year, the Seventh Annual Blogger Christmahanukwanzaakah Online Holiday Concert will be broadcast from NEW ZEALAND!

The concert sign-up sheet — later in the week.

Update:  Today, Juli tried to dissuade me from taking my big adventure with this dire warning.

“There are no bagels in New Zealand,” she said.

Ha!  Like that old trick would stop me.   I’m not a sucker.  I have a secret weapon called “Google.”  — Brooklyn Bread and Bagels, Wellington, New Zealand.