the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Tag: West Hollywood

What’s Up, Cedars-Sinai?

It’s been hectic.   My mother came to town.  We prepared for the first seder. I fought a cold.  My mother cooked a wonderful brisket, matzoh ball soup, kugel, etc.  We went over to the home of Fanya and Vartan, Sophia’s mother and step-father.   After the meal, Fanya had pains in her heart.   It was hurting her so much, that we called 911.   An ambulance came and she he was brought to the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s emergency room.  We sat in the waiting room for hours.  Tomorrow, Fanya is going to get an angioplasty on her heart and liver.   Wish her good luck!

Now for some bitching about the hospital:

Cedars-Sinai is a world-famous hospital.  Its proximity to Beverly Hills has made it famous as the “hospital for the stars.”  This is where Hollywood celebrities have their babies.   Frank Sinatra died at Cedars-Sinai.  Movie producers have their names on hospital wings.  So, why do Sophia’s parents always get poor service at Cedars-Sinai Hospital?  

Because of the language barrier.   

They are an older couple who can only speak Russian.  Now, I’m all for immigrants learning English, but after a certain age, it is just too difficult a task.  Sophia often works in court as an interpreter, where every defendant who needs it is guaranteed BY LAW to have a language interpreter, and from what I understand, it is the same with every hospital patient.   Cedars-Sinai says that they have interpreters on staff.  So, why are so rarely used?

I was sitting in Fanya’s ICU hospital room this morning.  Sophia left to get some paperwork for her mom.  I noticed that the reading on the EKG monitor was at zero.  I told this to the nurse, a grouchy woman who looked like she came from another country herself. 

“Don’t move your right arm!” she told Fanya.  “It makes the monitor shut off.”

“She doesn’t understand what you are saying,” I said.  “She doesn’t speak English.”

“NO ARM UP!” the nurse yelled at Fanya, lying there with tubes stuck inside her arms, as if that was going to solve the problem.

“Don’t you have a Russian interpreter on call or on the phone?” I asked.

“She’s not here now.  Don’t you know Russian?”

“No, and I don’t think it is my job to be translating for the hospital.  When will there be a interpreter?”

“Let me go see.”

She left and I never saw her again.

The entire day has been one mistake after another.   Fanya is a slight woman.  She had lost 25 pounds in the last 6 months.  She was put on a restricted calorie diet!  The staff didn’t bring Fanya any food until 3:30 PM because they “thought” there was an order not to give her food.  Then she never got dinner.  After Sophia spoke to 5 people, they eventually brought her, a diabetic, four juices and Melba toast with cheese, at 10 PM. They gave her pills for diabetes with orange juice!   This is just poor medicine, but had Fanya been able to communicate – she would have been able to point their mistakes out, before they made her drink sugary juice with a pill to lower her blood sugar!  It is scary enough to be in a hospital.  It must be terrifying for a patient to be there and not understand the language of the staff, and Sophia can’t be there 24 hours a day.    Sophia told the nurses they can call her anytime to help with the Russian, but no one ever called.  God help the person who has to go into the hospital without having a family or friends to speak up for her!

When Fanya first came to the hospital, a male nurse was trying to figure out what was wrong with another Russian patient, a disheveled elderly man who was sobbing.   The nurse was poking the man in different places on his shoulder trying to figure out what pained him.

“Baleet?  Baleet?” the male nurse asked, using the only Russian word he knew, meaning “pain.”

Eventually, Sophia asked if she could help.   She spoke to the guy in Russian and learned that he wasn’t in physical pain, but emotional pain.  His grandson had just died, so he drank himself into a stupor, and his family didn’t know what to do with him, so they drove him at the hospital.  With three Russian families in the emergency room, wouldn’t it make sense to have an interpreter readily available?

Cedars-Sinai built a a major new building last year.  It cost millions of dollars.  The medical center has the best equipment, which must cost a fortune.   But would it really cost that much more to have a few more interpreters?   The hospital doesn’t need to have an interpreter for every language on duty 24/7, but Cedars-Sinai is smack in the middle of the major Russian and Persian communities of West Hollywood and Beverly Hills.  Many of these are elderly people who don’t speak the English, and they end up getting less than mediocre medical care in a supposedly top-notch hospital.  There are Spanish interpreters in most city hospitals.  There are Korean-speaking interpreters in mid-city hospitals.   Why is Cedars-Sinai so stingy with their interpreters?  Have a donor put his name on the interpreters’ uniforms if it would help get more money!

I know Cedars-Sinai would rather be known as the “hospital of the stars” and promote all the A-list actors who go there after drug rehab.    I understand that UCLA Medical Center is stealing some of the “celebrity cache” from Cedars since it is located in the less immigrant friendly, more upscale Westside (oh no, Britney had her baby there!).  The truth is Cedars-Sinai is now more of a “city hospital,” which means catering to the immigrant community.  Sure, it must be an annoyance for the busy, overworked staff to deal with foreign-speaking patients (unless, of course, the patient is a member of some Royal family),  but shouldn’t effective communication be an essential part of medical care?

Update:  Fanya is doing better.  More complaining about Cedars.

The Russian Market


I feel a little guilty bringing up some marital issues yesterday with Sophia, but I guess it is not a “true blog” unless you get in trouble with a family member over something. The truth is, none of us are perfect, and in most things, I couldn’t ask for a more supportive woman for a wife or a friend. I haven’t been the best of husbands financially, and Sophia has always stood by me in whatever I do (or haven’t done).

Sophia has been especially encouraging in my writing. A few days ago, I called Sophia and told her that it might be time to start writing something creative BESIDES my blog — something where I can actually make some money.

“That’s great,” she said. “I was waiting for you to say that. What are you going to write?”

“I don’t know yet.”

“Why don’t you call your agent and see what’s going on?”

“Are you kidding? I haven’t spoken to him in two years. He probably thinks I moved to Tibet and became a monk or moved to Encino and became an accountant.”

“Eh, he wasn’t good for you anyway. What about that meeting you once had with that young literary agent at CAA [Creative Artists Agency]?”

“That was over a year ago. And we never even talked about the script. All he talked about was HIM. About how he was a big shot with “Young Executives for the Environment” or something like that, and how we have to save the oceans from pollution.”

“Well, put him on your contact list anyway.”

“OK, I’ll sit down on Sunday and start thinking of some idea…”

“Oh, well, before you do that… I volunteered you to drive my mother and her friend Maya to the Russian market on Santa Monica Boulevard.”

This wasn’t too bad of a request. I like going to the Russian market in the Russian-part of West Hollywood. I like seeing all the cans of exotic foods and the different types of cheeses. Fruits and vegetables are usually half the price of the regular supermarket, although they frequently look like the “rejects.”

Neither Fanya (Sophia’s mother) or Maya can speak much English, so it is always an adventure going out with them alone. My Russian vocabulary consists of “hello,” “goodbye,” “thank you,” and “this is tasty,” but the women get such a kick out of hearing me pronounce these incorrectly, that it is very easy to make them laugh.

The trip from their apartment building to the market usually takes ten minutes, but Sunday was different. Melrose Avenue was blocked off because of the annual AIDS walk. It took me forty-five minutes to get to our destination. Maya, a flamboyant woman, was sitting next to me in the passenger seat, chewing my ear off in Russian. I have a feeling she was once a real beauty back in Moscow, because she loves attention. She always dresses in flashy, zebra-striped outfits that are a size too small for her body. Even though it was a beautiful day on Sunday, she wore a small mink stole to protect her from the non-existent “Fall breeze.”

We finally made it to the Odessa Market. Fanya bought meats, cheeses, and vegetables. Maya bought vodka and a carton of Marlboros.

On the way home, I tried to take a shortcut, which was a terrible idea, and we got trapped in the middle of the AIDS walk. A police officer was blocking traffic, allowing the walkers to pass by. We were stuck there for what seemed like ten minutes, and I had a helluva time trying to explain to Maya what a AIDS march is all about.

The walkers were segmented into groups, each being from a different sponsoring company, and the first walker of each group carried a little sign signifying what company they worked for, much like they do with the national flags in the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics.

As we waited in the car — I saw the sign of CAA talent agency pass in front of me, and a huge contingent of employees following behind. I’m not sure — maybe it is because Maya looked so flamboyant — but it seemed as if every member of this group was looking directly at us as they passed by.

One walker even looked familiar.

Yes, it was that agent that I met with — the crazy one into environmentalist causes! The one I was just talking about with Sophia a few days earlier! The one who I was thinking of contacting and jumpstarting my career!

I smiled at him, but the look he returned was not a friendly one. It was more of a glare… almost of disgust.  Uh-oh.  Suddenly I realized why — I was there in Sophia’s gas-guzzling SUV rather than participating in the AIDS walk, while sitting next to a woman wearing a piece of FUR around her neck and holding a carton of CIGARETTES on her lap?

Why, why, why DIDN’T I take the Prius instead?!

When I got home, I crossed CAA off my contact list.

A Year Ago on Citizen of the Month: The Information Superhighway of Broken Dreams

Gay Pride Paree Hilton and Her Mother

(photo via A Socialite’s Life)

This weekend is the annual West Hollywood Gay Pride Parade, which is always a lot of fun.  And this year’s Grand Marshals are —  Paris Hilton and her mother, Kathy?  

Huh?  West Hollywood gays, are you out of your homosexual minds?

You mean there was no one available who actually did anything for the gay and lesbian community?  An advocate for gay marriage?  A doctor looking for the cure for AIDS?   Portia de Rossi

The official response:

“They are a very public mother and daughter team, and they know what it is like to be different — or what it is like when people don’t understand who they are,” said Rodney Scott, board president of the Christopher Street West, parade and festival organizer.

I see.  You mean "different" in that you both have more disposable income than the rest of us to buy expensive clothes, liquor, automobiles, and gay cruises (as seen in the official Gay Pride Parade advertising-packed glossy magazine I picked up at The Flower Tree on Santa Monica Blvd. while drinking a carrot juice)?

Sapphosexual: Been there, Done That

In last week’s New York Observer, Shazia Ahmad wrote about straight New York women meeting every Sunday evening at a friend’s apartment and watching Showtime’s The L Word.  Is the L word just the latest female bonding, apple-martini-in-hand, Upper-West-Side type show to watch over at Lisa’s apartment?  Ms. Ahmad thinks this strong curiosity about the show is more than just the demise of Sex in the City. 

Call them Sapphosexuals: straight women with a twinge of curiosity, a natural penchant for flirting with their female friends, and a high dose of emotional frustration with the city’s crop of narcissistic metrosexual males who perennially fail the Prince Charming test.  Why not date a woman?

As a male, I’m the first one to admit that men suck.  And they’re mostly ugly.  Who wouldn’t want to date a woman? 

A few years back, my relationship with a girlfriend went kaput.  Well, actually, she kaput-ed me.   I was angry and depressed.   But I had a life-changing moment.  I realized that I didn’t understand women and I never would. 


I would try to become gay. 

Hey, I like guys.  I’m comfortable with them.  I understand them.  They’re not as high-maintenance, not as emotional high-strung, they like fart jokes, and according to Harvard presidents, are  better in science

I was living in West Hollywood and gay life was all around me.  I asked my friends Sean and Jaipur to take me out on the town.  Sean and Jaipur had been together for six years and were as cool as cool could be.  They were going to be role models in my learning to be gay.   I was going to be their Eliza Doolittle.  (if you are a male and don’t know what I’m referring to, you are definitely not gay).

That night, we went to one Weho (West Hollywood) club after another.  I wasn’t ready to dance yet or talk to anyone, but I was slowly letting my head bop to the disco-like tunes.  Unfortunately, the waitress was really hot and was distracting me from becoming gay.  There was also something disgusting about sweaty men dancing.  Sweaty women dancing are sexy.  Sweaty men aren’t, no matter how tight the shirt or abs.

I had to constantly remind myself that I wanted no more part of this other, estrogen-crazed sex — WOMEN, despite any cleavage they may have.   Wasn’t it Helen who was the cause of Troy’s fall?   

It was nice being with guys — rational, fun guys.   Maybe some of these guys were a little more concerned about appearance than my usual male friends. I had never been around so many pastel-colored tank-tops before, but this was a few years before any "straight" guy would let any "Queer" guy throw out his old bowling shirts on TV.

And then something happened that destroyed for me all the glamour of me becoming gay.  Sean and Jaipur started arguing.  It seemed as if Jaipur had forgotten to be home earlier that day when the dishwasher repairman showed up.

"Just like you, Jaipur.  Always irresponsible."

"And what about you?  Didn’t you say you were going to mail that birthday gift to my mother?  When I got home, it was still on the table.   But I didn’t say anything to you to make you feel bad.   Did I?  Did I?"

"You’re saying it now."

"Damn right I’m saying it now."

As the conversation heated up, I realized that if you put two men together long enough they will start acting just like a straight couple.   It wasn’t worth becoming gay, if I can get the same crap from a woman.   

This is why I whole-heartedly support gay marriage.  I say spread the torture around.    

As for the Sapphosexual group at Lisa’s apartment on 78th and Broadway, dream on.  If you think life as two females is going to be fun, think about this — the sex might be interesting, but which one of you is gonna take out garbage?

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