the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Tag: urban living

It’s International Women’s Day!


I’m honored to know that my Blogiversary falls on the same day as International Women’s Day. 

Did you know it was International Women’s Day?  It’s actually a pretty big holiday around the world.  Sophia celebrates it.  It’s a holiday with a unique history.

In its various incarnations, ranging from a communist holiday to a U.N.-sponsored event, International Women’s Day has been celebrated for almost 90 years.

Inspired by an American commemoration of working women, the German socialist Klara Zetkin organized International Women’s Day (IWD) in 1911. On March 19, socialists from Germany, Austria, Denmark and other European countries held strikes and marches. Russian revolutionary and feminist Aleksandra Kollontai, who helped organize the event, described it as "one seething trembling sea of women."

(photo by kerry alaric cheeseboro)

I love the diversity of women out there.   On a typical day reading my blogroll, I meet intellectual professors, devoted mothers, knitters, widows, shoe-crazed fashionistas, nymphomaniacs, poets, breast cancer survivors, teachers, and overworked career-women.

Today, I’d like to pay tribute to a special type of woman — one who can actually FIX THINGS with her hands.  

Now I know many women go weak in the knees when they meet a solid man who’s good with his hands.  I’m talking about the type of man who can build a house by himself, fix a leaky roof, or replace an engine in a car. 

I am not that man.  I grew up in an apartment building where we called the "super" whenever there was a problem.  My father could fix absolutely NOTHING.  And I’m not much better.  I call the AAA to change my tire.

For me, there is nothing sexier than a woman who can do the dirty work for me!

On Friday night, I was doing some chores in the house.  I decided to clean out my refrigerator.  I found an open can of kidney beans that had been sitting there for three weeks.   I dumped it into the garbage disposal.  By the next day, my kitchen sink was completely clogged from all the beans.  And Mario, the maintenance guy, wasn’t back until Monday! 

So, what was a guy like me to do?  Find a handy woman!  I looked over my blogroll.  I remembered that Anne Arkham, a blogger from Chicago, had written on her blog that she was very good at fixing things. 

I sent her an email. (these are the contents of actual emails!)

Neil to Anne:  My sink is clogged with old kidney beans I threw in the garbage disposal. Drano doesn’t work. Can you come over and replace the pipes?

Anne to Neil:  Hmmm. . . are both sides clogged or just the side with the disposal?

Neil to Anne:  Both sides are clogged!

Anne to Neil:  Try a plunger – a toilet plunger – preferably a clean one.  Like, brand new. Otherwise no one will eat at your house or kiss you ever again. 

OK, easy enough.  I tried using a toilet plunger.  It only made the water rise higher. And suddenly my eyes started burning.  I read the back of the Drano container.  It read, "Do not use with plunger or dangerous gases could be released."

I went to sleep, distraught.  The next day, I asked Anne for more help.  She quickly emailed me back.

Anne to Neil:  There’s an apparatus called a plumber’s snake that might work. It’s basically a long metal coil that you push down your drain and crank around  to stir things up. Plumber’s snakes are cheap – like $10 – and you can get them at any hardware store. They sell them in various lengths. The short one will work fine, but you’ll be happier if you buy one with a handle that’s easy to turn. Also, before you buy one, notice how big the opening is on your drain, and then, at the store, check out the diameter of the snake coil. Make sure you can get the thing through your drain opening. Get down on the floor and open up your pipes. Unscrew the sink trap (the u-shaped section of pipe) and clean it out. This sounds scary, but it’s not. If you can’t unscrew the joint by hand, you’ll have to get a wrench, but that’s not scary either. Go to the hardware store and tell them what’s going on. They’ll be helpful, and they won’t make fun of you. Make sure you have a bucket or something underneath the area when you start unscrewing, though, cause water’s going to come out. If you think you found the clog when you opened the trap, that’s cool. Otherwise it couldn’t hurt to run the plumber’s snake through the pipes around it. Just thread the thing in and crank it around.

Neil to Anne:  Open my fucking pipes — are you kidding?  But I’ll try the snake…

Anne to Neil:  You big baby. It’s not hard. Do a google search for "clogged kitchen sink"or something like that. And, really, what’s the worst that could happen?  You’d get a kickass blog entry out of it at the very least.

I started to panic.  Anne is a very pretty woman.  And she can fix things.  The perfect woman.  And here she’s setting me up to a challenge.   Sort of like the princess making the knight kill the dragon before he can win her hand.  I paced up and down the room, unable to email her back.  I avoided her for the rest of the day, thinking she would just forget the whole conversation.   But on Sunday, she sent me another email.

Anne to Neil:  I just checked the trap under my kitchen sink. It’s easily removable without a wrench. You just look for the U-shaped part, and unscrew the top and bottom with your bare hands, empty it, and screw it back in. ANYBODY could do it.

The clock was ticking.  I knew I had to answer.  I bit my lip and emailed her back, trying to use some humor to defuse the tension.

Neil to Anne:  If i get my new boxer-briefs dirty, I’m blaming you.  I actually stayed at Sophia’s last night, just to avoid having to do it — and there’s no handyman until tomorrow.  Let’s see how brave I am after the Oscars when I go home.

Anne to Neil:  Yeah, well, during the commercials, or during Susan Sarandon’s political commentary, or Michael Moore’s political commentary, or sometime like that, open the cupboard under Sophia’s kitchen sink and look at her pipes.  They’re not scary, I promise.  Just remember to have a bucket under the area, because water will come out.  It’s supposed to come out.  You haven’t broken anything.  Just scoop out the festering kidney beans, and screw it back in.

That night, I begged Sophia to let me stay another night  — anything to avoid looking at my kitchen sink.  In the middle of the night, Sophia woke me up.  I was having nightmares in bed.   I was on a mountain top in Scotland, dressed like a knight in armor — in one hand a plunger and the other a pipe wrench.   And then there was a loud rumble as the monster approached — a  collection of festering kidney beans walking towards me.  I took a deep breath.

"I must do this for the fair maiden Anne — and for women everywhere.  I must prove that I am a man!"

The next morning, I tucked myself into a brand new pair of boxer-briefs and decided to face the dragon  — my sink.  I drove home and parked in the garage.  I sat in the car for a few minutes, thinking to myself:

"You know, if I accidentally bump into Mario on the way upstairs, I might as well just ask him to fix it.  After all, it’s his job.  I wouldn’t want to insult him.  I mean, that wouldn’t be cheating on my part.  I still got the sink unclogged.  I’m sure Anne will still be impressed with me."

I took the elevator to the first floor, where I usually see Mario doing some maintenance work.  But no Mario. 

"You know, I really could use some exercise.  Maybe if I walk around a bit, outside to the pool.  Maybe  I’ll just happen to meet Mario."

As I head for the pool, I pass the manager’s office.  The manager — this grouchy, gruff-faced British woman, is at her desk.  (previous appearance here)

Neil:  Excuse me.  Have you seen Mario?

Manager:  Who are you?

Neil:  I’m staying at Phil’s place.

Note to readers:  I’m subletting from a friend.   In exchange for my cheap(ish) rent, I’m not allowed to use the pool or the exercise room.

Manager:  I thought you were gone a long time ago!

Uh-oh.  Did I just do the stupidest thing in the world?

Here’s my last email to Anne:

Neil to Anne:  I came home this morning, all ready to do what you told me, then I decided to cop out and find the maintenance man.  But I couldn’t find him, so I put my head into the manager’s office and asked if she saw him.  To make a long story short, the manager didn’t know I was staying in this apartment (even though I’ve been here over a year) and said it was an illegal sublet  and now we’re waiting to see if I’m going to get kicked out.  And she wouldn’t even allow Mario to fix my sink!   All because of some kidney beans in a pipe.  I should have listened to you. The moral of the story:  always listen to Anne Arkham.  

And to women in general.

Now, I’m back at Sophia’s, waiting for Phil to talk to the manager — and to see if I get kicked out.   And the sink is still clogged, four days later.

So, on this special Blogiversary edition of "Citizen of the Month" — I’d like to thank all the strong women out there, from Anne Arkham to the female soldiers in Iraq. 


Hell, I’ll even wish a Happy International Women’s Day to that bitchy manager in my apartment building.

Neilochka Leaves His Apartment


Now that I’ve written for Blogebrity for a full three days, I think I’ve earned the right to call myself a “blogging expert.”  (media outlets – please contact my agent, Sophia Lansky, for more information). 

As a blogging expert, let me share with you one of my astute professional observations about the blogosphere:

Most bloggers are just plain weird.  Social outcasts.  Losers.  Anti-social nutcases.  I mean, who else sits all day in front of a computer at work, then comes home to sit at their computer all night to blog?   What other morons reveal the intimate details of their lives to strangers who are crazier than they are?  What other perverts post semi-naked photos of themselves on a weekly basis for HNT?  On the last survey of my readership, I counted 1/3 as alcoholics, 1/3 on anti-depressants, and 1/3 as having bi-polar disorder. 

Listen, I’m not that normal myself.  Despite my friendly personality online, I’m actually pretty shy.   I’m much more comfortable making virtual friends than real ones.   In fact, I’ve lived in my apartment building for a year and a half, and haven’t made one friend here.

One possible reason is that I’m subletting from my friend, Phil.   After I separated from Sophia, he let me use his apartment after he moved into his mother’s old place.  The management here was not very happy with the arrangement.  To “punish me,” they told Phil that I can never use the gym, the patio, or the swimming pool.   Several times, I’ve wanted to march into the manager’s office and say that this is unfair, but you guessed it – I’m too shy to do it. 

Last Saturday, there was a big party down the hall.  It seemed as everyone on my floor was invited, except for me.  I didn’t get angry at them.  I scolded myself:

“Enough of these unreal blogging friends.  It’s time for you to make some REAL friends.  Right here in the apartment building!”

But how?  Where would be the best place to meet the other tenants and show them how charming Neilochka can be? 

Of course.  The elevator.

I decided that on Tuesday, I would keep on taking the elevator up all day, meeting and befriending my neighbors.  I would take the elevator up with one neighbor, then walk down the stairs, wait for new tenants to show up, and take the elevator up again.

Here is a log of my day’s activities:

7 AM – 8 AM

No tenants come into the elevator.  The newspaper boy shows up, but he doesn’t really count.  Besides, he didn’t talk to me because he is still pissed that I canceled my Los Angeles Times subscription two months ago.

8 AM – 10AM

Return to the apartment, and take a little nap. 

10 AM – 10:30 AM

Do a little blogging.  IM with Pauly D, who promptly cuts me off when he gets a call from someone more important person than me.

11: 08 AM– 11:12 AM

My first tenant enters the elevator with me.  He is a Korean-American in a nice suit, around 40.

Neil:  “Hi.”


Neil:  “Did you have a nice Thanksgiving?”

Korean Man:  “Yes.”

I look up at the fluorescent lighting.  One of the grilles has been missing for over a year.

Neil:  “When are they ever going to fix that?  What would it cost them – five bucks?”

Silence.  The Korean man moves slightly farther away from me.  The elevator opens and he exits.

11:27 AM – 11:30 AM

I’m on the elevator with an elderly man.

Neil:  “Hello.”

Elderly Man:  “What?!”

He’s clearly hard of hearing.

Neil:  “Hello!”

Elderly Man:  “What?!”

I give up trying.

11:47 AM – 11:53 AM

I’m in the elevator with an attractive, yuppyish married couple in their mid-thirties.

Neil:  (pointing at the lighting grille)  When are they ever going to fix that?

Yuppie Guy:  You’re right.  It shouldn’t cost them more than five dollars.

Neil:  Right!  Right!  Five dollars!  Hey, I’m Neil Kramer, apartment 314!

Yuppie Guy:  Jack and Susan Neveroff.  Apartment 322..

Neil:  Nice to meet you.  How long have you been living here? 

Yuppie Guy:  A while.  But we’re moving next week.

Neil:  (disappointed)   Moving?

Yuppie Guy:  It’s like that grille up there.  This apartment building is a mess.   We bought our own house.  We’re tired of living like losers.

Yuppie Wife:  (elbowing her husband)   Jack…shh…

Yuppie Guy:  Oh, I’m sorry, pal.  I mean it is fine living here if you’re a student…

Neil:  I’m not a student.

Yuppie Guy:  Well, it’s different when you get married…

Neil:  I am married.  I’m separated.

Yuppie Guy:  Oh…

Uncomfortable silence.  The elevator opens and they quickly exit.

NOON – 1:00 PM

Lunch break.  Leftover Chinese food for lunch while watching “All My Children.”  I try to IM Pauly D again, but he makes believe he’s not there.

1:46 PM – 1:53 PM

A perky redhead enters the elevator carrying an “E! Entertainment” shoulder bag.

Neil:  “Do you work for E!?”

Redhead:  “Yes, I do!”

Neil:  “That’s great.  You can walk to work.”

Redhead:  “That’s why I moved in here.   I miss walking everywhere, like in New York.”

Neil:  “I’m from Queens!”

Redhead:  “Me too!”

Neil:  “He, do you know Jay at “E!”?

Redhead:  “Jay… hmmm…no…”

Neil:  “You know, maybe that’s not his real name.  I only know him from blogging.  He’s a blogger.  Sometimes bloggers don’t use their real names.”

Redhead:  “I know.  I have a blog.”

Neil:  “Yeah?  Me too!  Mine’s called “Citizen of the Month.”  It’s just nonsense and stuff.”

Redhead:  “Mine is a knitting blog.”

Neil:  “What’s it called?”

Redhead:  “I’d rather not.”

Neil:  “Why not?  I’ll check it out.

Redhead:  “I really like to stay anonymous.”

Neil:  “What am I going to do?  I just want to look at it?”

Redhead:  “I said no!”

Neil:  “You don’t have to go all crazy over it.”

Redhead:  “Look, I don’t want to talk about my blog with you anymore, OK?”

Neil:  “You know, I write for Blogebrity now.   I’m sure you’ve heard of it.”

Redhead:  “No.”

Neil:  “Well, I single-handedly could have made your blog the top knitting blog in the country… just like that!  But because you’re so stubborn and won’t tell me the stupid name of your blog…

Redhead:  “Fuck you, you stalker!”

The elevator opens.  As she exits:

Neil:  “You’re never gonna work in this blogosphere again!”

2:30 PM – 4:30 PM

I order a mojito at Nick’s Bar.  I’ve never had a drink in a bar during the afternoon in my life, but I decided to try one today.  Two drunks sit next to me.

5:03 PM – 5: 08 PM

I enter the elevator with a fiftyish, gruff-faced woman in a business suit.

Neil:  (a little tipsy)  “Hello.”

Gruff Face:  “Hello.  I don’t recall meeting you.”

Neil:  “Neil Kramer.”

Gruff Face:  “Neil Kramer…. Neil Kramer… what apartment are you in?”

Neil:  “Apartment 314”

Gruff Face:  "In Phil’s old place?"

Neil:  "Yes."

Gruff Face:  "So, you’re the one who’s in Phil’s place?!  I’m the manager here.  I think you know that I’m totally against you being here." 

Neil:  "Well…"

Gruff Face:  "Let me speak.  I don’t know who you are.  I don’t know if you are going to disturb the other tenants."

Neil:  "I’ve already been here a while."

Gruff Face:  "Then let me repeat the rules.  Since you are not a tenant, you cannot use the tenants’ patio, the tenants’ gym, or the tenants’ pool…"

Neil:  "I understand, but I wanted to talk…"

Gruff Face:   "There’s nothing to talk about."

The elevator opens.  I point to the grille on top.

Neil:  "You know, a lot of the tenants are complaining about this grille not being fixed."

Gruff Face:  "Who?  You?"

Neil:  "No…no…"

Gruff Face:  "Then who?  The married couple who’s moving?"

Neil:   "Uh, yes…"

Gruff Face:  "Well, they’re moving.  So, they can go to hell."

The manager exits the elevator.

5:30 PM – 9:00 PM

I return home and go back to blogging.  I make a vow never to leave my apartment again.

Today on Blogebrity:  ‘Tis the Season to Feel Anxious Over Your Blog (Brooke, Schuey, Dan, SAC)

The Isolation of Urban Life

(from Rear Window)

On Saturday night, I was sitting home doing my laundry.   I was alone.  Wanting some sort of social interaction,  I went online to play backgammon at the MSN Gaming Zone.   Not only do you get to chat as you play, but you sometimes get to play against fellow backgammon enthusiasts from faraway places such as Brazil and Turkey.  The world seems small when you’re playing against someone thousands of miles away (and who might not even speak your language). 

If you don’t know backgammon, when you land on an opponent’s piece, you get to kick it off the board.  The computer application makes a nifty CLICK sound when this occurs. 

As my game continues, I hear another CLICK sound.  What’s going on?  I check my speakers.  Nothing.  I hear another CLICK in the background, the exact same type of CLICK as that coming from my computer, but occurring at a different time.   I look towards the wall behind my couch. 

It’s coming from my next door neighbor’s apartment. 

My neighbor, some guy I sometimes say hello to in the elevator, was also playing backgammon at the MSN Gaming Zone.   We’ve only had one conversation that lasted more than thirty seconds.  It was about the pigeons that sometimes make a racket on our adjoining terraces.   Even though we were both on MSN Gaming Zone at the same time, we were not playing against each other (his CLICKS were not my pieces getting knocked off), but we were both home alone, playing backgammon on our computers. 

If I could hear him, he probably could hear me.  Did either of us think about knocking on the others door and asking if the other wanted to play backgammon face-to-face?  Or how about going out to a bar? 

I thought about it.  I’m sure he did, too.   But it was easier to continue playing backgammon with the guy from Brazil. 

Here’s another tale of the isolation of big city apartment living (from

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