the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Tag: packing

Books and Remembrances of Women Past

This was a difficult week. I started packing, initiating the process of leaving the house I have shared with Sophia for so many years. Sure, it’s only taken me six years to get this point of taking action, but I like to take my time.

Holy crap, I didn’t realize that I had accumulated so many books since college. I ended up with twenty boxes of books. And as for the question that V-grrrl snarkily asked me on Twitter, “Have you actually READ them all?” my answer is, “Have you worn ALL of the shoes in your closet?”

I recently bought a Kindle, and proudly announced to the world the end of the physical book. Who needs the physical book anymore? Let’s save the trees! Words are words, whether on paper or e-ink. But as I went through my books this week, in an attempt to weed out those that I wanted to give away, I reconnected with so many of these books, some which I haven’t looked at since college, as if they were old friends I just rediscovered on Facebook.

For me, the relationship of man and book has less to do with the content of the book, or even whether I bothered to read it. It is the living and breathing book itself. The physical book could light a memory that has nothing to do with the story, but about carrying the book in the subway in 1988, and the nodding agreement of the older gentleman carrying the same tome, and feeling as if I was in a private club.

As I prepared my moving boxes, my aim was to give away half of my old books, but after sorting through them, one by one, chatting to each about “old times,” I reduced my giveaway to only three boxes. There was no reason to hold on to “Tasty Oriental Dishes in Five Minutes? After really, after twelve years of owning SQL for Dummies, shouldn’t I just accept that I will always be a DUMMY with SQL?

As a self-diagnosed co-dependent, it didn’t surprise me to discover that many of the books in my collection, even the most unlikely of the bunch, are connected to different women from the past, imaginary and real girlfriends, unrequited love, lucky nights, and utter disasters.

The Whole PC Family Encyclopedia

Amy showed me how to use Compuserve, and then promptly flirted with me online. I was as slow to warming up to this modern form of sexual relationship as was my dial-up modem to connecting to the Internet. She soon found another guy to message, and we lost touch.

History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics

Do I remember anything about this book from college? No. Do I remember this Marxism course or the pretentious professor’s name? No. Do I remember my first experience with getting oral sex during that study session with Hannah after we talked about Marxist Dialectics? Yes. Will I ever read this book again? No. Will I ever give it away? Absolutely not. Never.

To Be a Jew

Michaela was religious. Because of her, I went bonkers and immediately decided to become a rabbi. I ended up going to film school in Los Angeles instead.  Mistake.

Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party

I wrote a play that was performed at a small theater. The play was awful, a ripoff of Harold Pinter’s style.  No one sleeps with the writer in Hollywood. Except Margaret.

Mad Libs

Shari was crazy, but her dirty word suggestions when we played Mad Libs made our short-lived friendship oh-so-worthwhile. I think she is now a Scientologist.

Selling Your Screenplay

Writing Class. Nothing ever happened with Karen. I just fantasized about her all the time in class and never wrote anything.  She is now very successful, married to a woman.

Erotic Arts

This is a very boring book about sexuality in the arts, but when Jamie came to visit for the weekend, I placed this book (along with some cheesy “Book of the Month Club” selection titled “Sensual Massage”) in the center of my bookcase, hoping that she would notice them while checking out my books (something I always do when I go visit someone) and say to me, “Ooh, what interesting books you have, Neil. How would you like to give me a sensual massage and then we fuck like wild beasts?” Sadly, we spent the night sitting on the couch, fully clothed, eating Pop Tarts, and watching a Twilight Zone marathon on TV.

Curious George

I met Sophia online. Our first conversation online was about our favorite books. She said hers was “The Little Prince.” I said, half-jokingly, that it was “Curious George.” This became a personal running gag for years. We even had a large Curious George doll sitting nearby at our wedding. Oddly, someone stole it during the reception.

Books are not about reading. They are about women.


The hardest part of packing up my in-law’s apartment is “the stuff.”  We always hear that “stuff” — material objects — is meaningless.  Yesterday, on Oprah, there was discussion about women who give up the trappings of the real world to become nuns.  They were happy to trade in their “stuff” for a meaningful relationship with Jesus.

I wish I could tell you that my “stuff” means nothing, but I’m not a nun, or a Buddhist. My “stuff” speaks to me.  They are the props to the stories of my life.  I have saved baseball cards, stamps, matchboxes from my honeymoon, sentimental objects that would have no meaning to you at all, but are more important to me than my $30,000 car.  I realize that the energy of this stuff is really in my head, my memories, and that these objects are inherently meaningless on their own, but life would be a lesser place if we didn’t create myths about our “stuff,” from national flags to Bibles to the old toys in Toy Story.

I made three piles of Vartan and Fanya’s stuff — to throw out, to give to Goodwill, and to take home.  But no one left behind a directory, or a glossary, telling me which object was important.  How is anyone supposed to know the stories behind the “stuff?”  I know  enough from watching Antique Roadshow on PBS to take the crystal vase home, but what about the cheapo Made-in-Japan glass bird sitting on the nightstand?  Was it a gift?  A shared moment between husband and wife?  A impulse buy during a vacation?  Did it have any specific meaning?  Why was it sitting so close to the bed?  Was it the object itself that was special or the image of the bird flying?  Was it an expression of Fanya’s need to escape something or somewhere?  To recapture youth?  Was in Vartan’s love for birds?  A childhood memory of the birds of Russia?

I just don’t know.   I put the bird in the pile for Goodwill.  Perhaps someone new, a young woman perhaps, shopping in Goodwill with her friends, will find meaning in it, buy it, and place it on her nightstand.  It will then be her “stuff.”

I found a lot of photos.    Here’s one of Sophia from when she was in school.  For some reason, it made me chuckle.

I found some of Vartan’s old medical equipment.

By the second day, I was becoming more ruthless in what I was giving away.   I decided that it was better that someone uses the items rather than it sitting in our garage.

I donated most of Vartan’s books.   I kept his copy of War and Peace.  It was a gift from one of his patients.  Sophia told me that doctors in the Soviet Union didn’t make any more money than day laborers, so many took bribes.  Vartan refused to take bribes, but he did accept books as gifts.

Inside the book was this inscription.

Sophia translated it for me.

Dear Doctor Vartan Ambartzumovich,

Thank you for so expertly performing surgery on our beloved mother. We hope that thanks to your light hand, our mom’s life shall be extended. We’re wishing you solid health and much success in your noble daily work.

Igor Matyushin, Sergey Matyushin, Tatyana Matyushina.
City of Odessa. 06.02.1976

Now, this was good “stuff” to take home.

Six Pieces of Luggage


Sophia was so nervous,
As we took our daily walk.

“I need to pack for Tuesday,
Cause I’m flying to New York.”

“Just grab something together .
It’s really no big deal.”

“Are you crazy?  I’m a woman!”
She turned upon her heel.

“I need a gown (for Broadway shows),
I need a coat (for August snows).
I need a bra (with the right cup),
I need a bra (that lifts me up).
I need cosmetics  (for sexy lips),
I need some hose (without the rips).
I need a dress (that’s girly and mod),
I need my laptop (and my iPod).
I need my shoes (my Kenneth Cole!)
I need my panties (the ones you haven’t stole!)
I need six bags to bring everything I ought.”
And I need YOU…


“…to drive to the airport!”


A Year Ago on Citizen of the Month:  What’s the Matter with Kids Today?

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