the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Tag: retirement

My Mother’s Bad Yoga Instructor

Danny from “Jew Eat Yet” asked me a question, and since it was a lengthy one, I will paraphrase it for you, “What the hell are YOU, a full-blooded American male, going to a blogging conference for WOMEN?”

The answer is simple. I don’t think in terms of gender. We are all individuals with passions that are unrelated to our chromosomes. This does not mean there aren’t difference between the sexes. Anyone man who has ever spent a weekend with a weepy, irrational, hysterical, overemotional woman who needs more “hug time” knows exactly what I am talking about. Also, as a believer in the literal truth of the Bible, man is always first. We were on Earth first, so it is natural that we should be the dominant sex.

As ordained by religion and the natural order, women must follow two ironclad rules in their relationships with men —

1) Women must always have an orgasm, or at least fake it well enough for the man to feel he did a job well done, so he can go to sleep feeling like he is “the Man,” and brag to his friends at work the next day.

2) Women must ALWAYS take care of men when they get sick, and expect nothing in return. Men can build skyscrapers and blow up cities, but they are not trained to care for themselves when the dreaded cold-bug hits.

It has been a sad week in Queens. For the last two days, I – a man – have been home alone with a cold, and it should shame women worldwide. My previous two caretakers, Sophia and my mother, were both unavailable, enjoying the sun in Redondo Beach, CA and Boca Raton, FL.

“I’m sick, Sophia,” I said on the phone.

“Sorry, Neilochka. I got a Russian Dialect coaching job with “Heroes” and have to make it to the studio. Bye-Bye!”

I tried my mother.

“Mom, I’m sick.”

“Make yourself some soup.”

“What do you mean — “make” the soup?”

“I can’t talk now. I’m playing mah jongg, and then I have my yoga class, and then there is a show at the center with ABBA imitators! Take care of yourself. Bye!”

Clearly, these two should have their “women licences” revoked. But I will have the last laugh, because God is a MAN, and he works in mysterious ways.

Anyway, since I am trying to promote myself as an EXPERT storyteller, I figure I should tell you some sort of story, so I don’t undermine my own brand name.

Here is a story that my mother told me about her weekly yoga class that takes place at the clubhouse in her retirement village. Please note — this is my mother’s story, not mine, so don’t judge the quality of the tale by your usual high standards.

My mother’s yoga class meets in the clubhouse. There are about 25 women, from ages sixty to eighty. The instructor is a young yoga instructor in her twenties who has a regular gig at a studio. Although she has modified her sessions to be more appropriate for seniors, she doesn’t seem to be very comfortable with older people. In fact, she makes the common mistake of treating seniors like they are children in grade school.

Some of the women have cellphones, such as my mother, and the instructor makes everyone put their phones on a table in the front of the room, turned off, so the ringing doesn’t ruin the meditative mood of yoga. The instructor considers the atmosphere of the room so essential that she has told the class that if a student’s phone rings, “she will have to leave and not return to the class for the rest of the year.”

“That’s pretty harsh,” I told my mother.

“She’s very serious about her yoga,” answered my mother. “She knows a lot.”

I have no idea how my mother can judge this instructor as “knowing a lot” since my mother has no experience with yoga at all, but I didn’t say anything, and let my mother continue with her story.

Last week, while the class was doing some relaxing yoga position, and gentle music was playing, one of the phones on the table started to ring and vibrate. The tall, skinny yoga instructor jumped up, her bones shaking with anger.

“Who’s phone is that ringing?” she asked, pointing a long finger at a flip Nokia sitting on the table.

No one answered. The women in the class, sitting in the dimly-lighted room, looked side to side, waiting for the culprit to come forward, but no one volunteered. Was the owner of the ringing phone afraid of being booted from class? Were the others covering her ass? Would the seniors stand in solidarity, announcing that the phone belonged to “them all” and that they would not be intimidated by this jerk?

If this was a cartoon, steam would be rising from the yoga instructor’s head (which is not a very good sign about yoga’s effectiveness in making you a calmer person).

“Do none of you have the dignity to step forward and tell the truth? Surely ONE of you must know who OWNS that phone?”

The instructor flipped on all the lights to glare into each woman’s eyes, searching for the truth like Jack Bauer involved in an interrogation.

“If none of you have the moral fiber to come forward and be a real person – I am cancelling today’s class. All of you. Leave. Class is cancelled today!”

The women started to leave. An Orthodox Jewish woman, the oldest in the class, picked up the flip Nokia. Everyone turned to her. The instructor shoved her face within inches of the culprit.

“What is wrong with you? Why didn’t you admit that this was your phone ringing?”

“Huh? I can’t hear very well…” she answered.

Her phone started ringing again.

“My son just gave it to my this weekend. I don’t even know how to turn it off!”

My mother, who just figured out to turn off her own phone, showed the woman how to press the button to turn the phone off, and then the rest of the class left yoga for the day.

Mom’s Retirement from Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

After my mother graduated high school, she started working at Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, a publishing house in New York City.  She worked for the same company until yesterday, when she retired from her job.  It was an exciting, but emotional moment for her and for all those who worked with her over the years.

Farrar, Straus and Giroux was founded by Roger W. Straus. The firm is renowned for its international list of literary fiction, nonfiction, poetry and children’s books. Farrar, Straus and Giroux authors have won extraordinary acclaim over the years, including numerous National Book Awards, Pulitzer Prizes, and twenty-one Nobel Prizes in literature. Nobel Prize-winners include Knut Hamsun, Hermann Hesse, T. S. Eliot, Pär Lagerkvist, François Mauriac, Juan Ramón Jiménez, Salvatore Quasimodo, Nelly Sachs, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Pablo Neruda, Eugenio Montale, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Czeslaw Milosz, Elias Canetti, William Golding, Wole Soyinka, Joseph Brodsky, Camilo José Cela, Nadine Gordimer, Derek Walcott, and Seamus Heaney.

My mother  started her job wearing cool glasses. 

My mother is in back, smiling.

My mother in her newer glasses.  Check out the “typewriter.”

The late Roger Straus, the founder of the FSG, and Jonathan Gallasi, current editor-in-chief and president of FSG.

My mother’s retirement brunch at the office.   Her hip glasses are on her head.

Now, she’s on to new adventures.

Mom, Don’t Forget to Wear Your Hat


At some point in every adult’s life, the "child" begins to worry about his parents.  This is a passage of life because before that, it was the parents who mostly worried about the child.  For some, this happens at an early age.  A parent could be sick, unattentive, or die early, making the child mature early. 

This was not my case.   My parents never wanted me to worry.  Instead they were the ones who constantly worried about me.

Today, there’s a blizzard in New York.  Tomorrow, my mother will schlep from Queens into Manhattan to go to work.  I called her tonight and told her "to dress warm" tomorrow — knowing she had a bout with pneumonia last year.  It reminded me of when I was a kid and she used to make me wear a hat. 

Are our roles reversing?

She enjoys working downtown, but at some point, she might want to retire.  Would she enjoy being in the nice weather during the winter?  She recently visited her friend Shirley in Florida. Shirley lives in one of those "retirement villages" in Boca Raton.  My mother says she "wasn’t crazy about Florida," mostly because it made her feel older than she actually feels inside.

My mother brought up an example:

"Shirley and I went to the clubhouse for "Movie Night."  They were showing "Bull Durham."  Halfway through the movie there was a fire alarm.  Everyone got up to exit the clubhouse, but there were so many older residents with walkers and canes, that it took everyone twenty minutes to exit the clubhouse.  It ended up being a false alarm — but we skipped the rest of the movie, not wanting to wait another twenty minutes while everyone sat down again."

After she retires, the logical next step would be for her to move out here  — maybe during the winter months — assuming I’m still living in Los Angeles.  After all, I’m the only child.  But where would she live?  My mother doesn’t know how to drive, despite having a New York State driver’s license, which is the funniest thing in the universe to me.  My mother said that if she moves here, she’ll take a refresher course in driving.  Little does she know that if she is going to drive around Los Angeles, that’s the time when I move somewhere else.

All in all, my mother seems to be doing pretty well since my father’s passing.  Although she says it is "too quiet" at night, she’s been going out to concerts and movies on weekends.  In May, she’s even going with two women friends on a bus trip through Spain and Portugal.  That’s something she could have never dragged my father to do.

I’m still such a kid myself — still unsettled with work and marriage.  I wish I could be more of help to her, instead of it always being the other way around.  But, let’s see — at least I have my blog to entertain her with during the day!   I know she reads it every day, because I see her in the stats — she is my most consistent reader.

Although, this weekend, we did have a little mother-son discussion about my blog:

"Neil, one of my friends who I play Mahjong with reads your blodge and she wanted me to tell you something important."

"Is this Suzanne we’re talking about?"

"Yes, how did you know?"

"Because she’s your only friend who would know how to find a blog online.  What did she say?"

"She said she likes the blodge  a lot.."

"Blog!  Blog!"

"OK, blodge… but she has one small complaint.  There’s too much of "that thing.""

"What "thing?""

"That "thing" you talk about too much."

"What are you talking about, Mom?"

"That "thing" you talk to."

"Oh… that "thing.""

"Yes.  She said to just "cut it out."   I mean, not the "thing."   Don’t cut off the "thing."  She meant to "cut it out" of the blodge… to stop talking about the "thing," not  to cut your "thing" itself, G-d forbid."

"I understand, Mom.  You didn’t raise an idiot."  

"And I agree…"

"About what?  Oh…"

"I… um… who in the world talks to their "thing?""


"So, anyway…"

"Uh…well, uh…so, Mom, (changing the subject)… are you watching the Olympics…?"

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