the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

The Toothbrush


Sometimes I feel a little frustrated with blogging, mostly because of you, my dear reader.  While I enjoy our interaction, try as I might, I still don’t feel I really know you.  Mathematically speaking, am I being too generous in saying that you only get to see about 15% of a person by reading their blog?

People are complicated in general.  It’s hard enough knowing yourself, so knowing someone else is especially difficult.  For all my time with Sophia, I suspect I only know 25% of her.  She’s always doing things that are surprising to me.   Last night, we played Texas Hold ’em poker with some friends, and she bluffed with a two of diamonds and three of spades.  That just wasn’t her!  It was shocking.

I love my mother, but having never seen her in her wild single days in Coney Island, I suspect I’ve only seen 35% of her true self. 

I don’t understand myself at all, especially with all my self-deception, so I gather I only know 60% of myself.

As a "writer," I’m supposed to understand characterization, but in truth, people are way too mysterious.  My interest in the human psyche started at an early age. 

When I was a kid, I remember my parents being involved in a  Jewish social group that met at our apartment every month.  There were about twenty members of this group.  On this night, my parents would let me stay up late.  Sometimes, I would come out in my pajamas and play a song on my clarinet,  or do a magic trick (I was a budding magician who did shows at childrens’ parties).  After doing a trick, Abe, a hefty optomotrist, would give me a quarter "tip."

I bring up this monthly event because something odd happened in my apartment every single month — something that became legendary in my household.  After all the guests left, we would find that one of the toothbrushes in the bathroom was missing, and we would then find it sitting in the bathroom hamper with the laundry.

The first time it happened, we assumed it was some weird accident.  But every month it would be the same — a toothbrush in the hamper after all the guests left.

My mother suggested that we hide all the toothbrushes, but my father, being an overly nice guy, didn’t want the culprit to know we were onto him — and make him feel bad.   My father worked in a hospital and was very understanding of all sorts of neurotic people.

One night, a year and 12 discarded toothbrushes later, my mother had had enough.  She gave me a secret assignment, something I wasn’t supposed to tell my father.  I would watch TV in my parents’ bedroom during the evening.  With the bedroom door slightly ajar, one could get a perfect view of the bathroom.  Each time someone went into the bathroom, I should make a note of the person, then run in to check the status of the toothbrushes as soon as they left.

I was on toothbrush patrol all night,  and I must have run into the bathroom at least 10 times for an examination, each time with my father’s handkerchief covering my face, protecting me from any smell and making me feel like a real sleuth. 

Then came the big moment.  

Abe had just left the bathroom.  As he passed from view, I ran inside — and there was the proof —  my father’s toothbrush was gone!  I opened the hamper and laundry scattered all over the floor.  On top of one of my t-shirts, was the toothbrush!

I rushed into the kitchen and told my mother.  It was Abe!  She said we should talk about it with my father later. 

After everyone left, I told my father about my investigative reporting.  He was not surprised, but insisted that we never bring it up and embarrass Abe.  The next day, my father and I went to our local dime store and bought a 12-pack of toothbrushes, enough to keep Abe happy for a year of throwing toothbrushes into the hamper.

My parents were friends with Abe for many years.  His weird toothbrush fetish was never brought up.  Why did Abe do this?  Did he have a bad experience with a dentist when he was a child?  Did he want us to launder the toothbrush?  And why only one?  Would he have remained friends with my parents if they confronted him? 

Did they ever really know more than 2% of the real Abe?

People are complicated and mysterious. 


  1. Spirit Of Owl

    Maybe he thought, “This is hilarious, it’s completely freaking them out!”

    I’ve read a couple of dozen blog posts of yours, each covering an infinitesimal fraction of who you are, but like everyone else, I… extrapolate! 🙂

    Feeling any better, by the way? 😉

  2. Lauren

    wow. There’s quirky and then there’s quirky. Do some more sleuthing, magician Neil – solve the toothbrush mystery for us!

  3. Rabbit

    I think the real mystery is what Abe did with the toothbrush BEFORE tossing it into the hamper.

    Then again, maybe we’re better off not knowing.

  4. jenny

    But didn’t you ever wonder what he was doing to the other toothbrushes? I suspect that the one in the hamper was the only one you were supposed to keep…

  5. Melissa

    You leave your toothbrush in the open air? You know all your butt fumes get all over it and then you stick it in your mouth… ew.

    Shut it, leave my issues alone.

  6. Elisabeth

    This post touches upon so many topics – how much we know ourselves and others (not well, according to you, it seems), our quirks and those of others, understanding and tolerating weird human behavior (a trait that characterizes your father), toothbrushes (I have a bit of a fetish with those, but not like Abe’s), and the strange things that people do in other people’s bathrooms.

    To this day, I never ever open other people’s bathroom cabinets, because I would hate people to open mine. I never leave overly “intimate” things in full view of anyone in my bathroom cabinets, because I just do not trust that people will resist the temptation to open their doors and to peek inside.

    OK, I am off to speculate about myself and others, including you.

  7. Brooke

    I wonder if he used it, and then put it there so you wouldn’t know? Or maybe it was his way of acting out his freakishness rather than collecting heads.

  8. Amanda

    i love this post. it’s one part ralphie from a christmas story (the jewish version) one part brighten beach memoirs, one part the wonder years.

  9. LisaBinDaCity

    Your Dad sounded very cool. What a nice guy! And I loved your Mom’s assigning you to be on “toothbrush watch.” You come from good people Neil…

  10. Nance

    I think Abe was just making sure he got his money’s worth. Maybe your performances just weren’t always up to par, Neil.

  11. Tuck

    Encyclopedia Brown would have been real proud of ya, Neil.

  12. Leesa

    This is very funny, what a way to freak people out. 🙂

  13. tmz_99

    I’d say far less then 15%. I think you’d get an insight of about 5-10% of how that person is overall, but you MAY get a slightly higer percentage (maybe even 15-20%) of how that person is on that day. (taken that humans are in constant flux and change continiously).

  14. AWE

    I had a guy that used to come over to watch football. As soon as he got there he started straightening the fringe on a oriental rug. But I wasn’t as nice as your family, I gave him hell. He still comes overs, I got rid of the rug.

  15. jamy

    My take away is that your dad was a kind, caring man. Your mom is curious and inventive. And they both treated you like a full human being at an early age. I think we actually learn a lot about you from this story.

    I think you learn a lot about me from what I write, though I’m a particulary open person. My friends who know me in real life may disagree, though.

  16. kris

    In all seriousness, this is precisely what scares me about getting close to people.

  17. Kelly

    How funny. It IS fascinating to think that each person inhabits his or her own little world, full and complete, including neuroses – little individual planets bumping into each other and finding nefarious uses for each other’s toothbrush… It’s strange, but nice, actually. Your parents DO sound wonderful, my word.

  18. cruisin-mom

    Neil, what a sweet story. Like a scene out of a movie…you have such a gift for making a story come to life.

  19. bettyonthebeach

    Amanda is so right ! I ws totally imagining it all as a Brighton Beach Memoirs scene – you with a hankerchief wrapped around your face like a bad guy from a spaghetti western…funny!
    Did you guys ever notice if Abe preferred a specific color? Have no idea why I thouught of that…

  20. Denise

    What a sweet story – thanks for sharing!

  21. anne arkham

    If you really want to piss someone off, you take their toothbrush and their camera, take a picture of their toothbrush up your butt, and then replace both items without a word so the host can discover the pictures at a later date.

  22. Sanora

    Here’s what I think…I think Abe was incredibly sensitive about his breath (he was an optometrist and had to get close to people as he switched the paddle over the eye) and about half way through the evening, he’d brush his teeth and throw it in the hamper thinking that a if he threw it in the trash, you’d find it and know that it was a guest using it; b if he threw it in the hamper, you might not find it at all until mom went to sort the laundry and then she’d go “eeeww, it’s been in with the dirty clothes, I’m going to throw it away, that Neil such a goofball for tossing his toothbrush in the hamper” or she’d say “huh, this must have been on the side of the sink and gone in with a hand-towel”.

    He probably even thought about whose was whose toothbrush, did he always take the same one – meaning, from the same position?.

    In any event, I do think everyone is right, it is a scene from a movie, or at least a short.

    And frankly, I’ve just scared myself by coming up with a perfectly common sense explanation for Abe. It’s like Scully on the X-Files….

  23. Serena

    I love this about people! It gives us a lifetime to get to know them. Conversely, my own mother won’t read my blog because she says there are things she just doesn’t want to know about me. Does she think I chronicle a life of prostitution on the Web?

  24. Pearl

    Great slice-of-life piece, Neil. If Colgate or Butler or any other toothbrush company were to run a contest about “toothbrush memories,” this would run away with the Gold Toothbrush Award.

  25. subgirl

    that’s bizarre. but clever detective-work.

  26. Wendy

    I don’t even know how I found you, but I really enjoyed the visit!

  27. darlin nikki

    woulda been fonny to somehow sabotage the brush, soak it in vinegar or something to that effect. ahh, what does that say about me? 🙂

  28. Carly

    How completely random. Shame you couldn’t set up a webcam to capture his toothbrush dementia.

  29. mernitman

    Great post, Neil. I’m reminded of one of the best titles for a novel I’ve ever seen, Martin Amis’s OTHER PEOPLE: A MYSTERY.

    Anne Arkham, you are one scary funny woman.

  30. Richard

    I’m with Sandra. Abe used the toothbrush to brush his teeth before going home, but he hid it in the hamper so that you wouldn’t find it UNTIL THE TOOTHBRUSH WAS DRY and all evidence that he had used the toothbrush was gone.

  31. JJ

    That may be the strangest story I’ve ever heard.

  32. better safe than sorry

    it’s funny, because while i write on my blog, i think i’m showing 100% of myself, because it’s all me, but then when i think about it, i do hold back because my kids have my link, so i guess realistically, it’s a much smaller percentage. how much of a person would you really want to know anyway, isn’t it better to not know what to expect, keeps life interesting.

  33. danielle

    Hmmm… I took you for an electric toothbrush sort of guy.

  34. claire

    I think the percentage of knowability probably varies widely between writers. And I’d bet that for many bloggers a reader could get a better sense of them than someone who met them in person.

    TMZ_99 has the right idea, I think. A blog gives you a sense of someone on a variety of particular days. The more you read of someone’s blog, the more you would increase your understanding of them (theoretically).

  35. Aviva

    seriously- is this a true story?

    you have the best blog i’ve ever read. and i enjoy procrastination at the blogging expense/pleasure of others.

  36. Neil

    Melissa — yes, I did see some story on the news about not keeping toothbrushes in the bathroom for obvious reasons…

    Sanora — I also think he probably used it. And it was always random. It was never always my father’s toothbrush or one of any particular color. But the throwing of it in the hamper is just strange. And it’s not like it could be mistaken for a garbage can. It is clearly a hamper with clothes.

    Claire — I think blogging can give us insights into each others’ minds. But I somehow still believe that character is action and that we’d learn more about each other in a half hour coffee break together than 6 months of reading blogs. Am I off here?

    Aviva — True.

  37. TWM

    I am soooooooooo relieved. I thought I was the only toothbrush fetish guy in the world. It’s like the weight of the world has been lifted off my shoulders. I haven’t felt this good since I found out all guys wear stockings and high heels and rub themselves with lime jello when they are alone.

    Oh wait, all guys don’t do that?


  38. bella

    Ok – way too deep to even think about. or just too weird. but then, people are weird. good luck with that study – cause you’ll probably come up with a lot more weird things..

  39. Bill

    Hmm … It worries me that I identify with Abe more than anyone else in this story.

    I think the thing to take from this story is this: don’t have a hamper in your bathroom. Too much temptation!

  40. Fitèna


    Who’s Abe?

    Wouldn’t it have been extra boring and uniteresting if we knew everything about everybody? I think its the mystery around everyone which attracts us to them…


  41. Heather B.

    THat’s freaking hilarious. I love your stories.

    Also, so true about only knowing a very small part of a person. No matter how well you think you know someone, I guess you can never know everything about one person. Which is what makes life interesting. Close friends of mine, have actually found out more about me through my blog than they knew from 10 years of knowing me. Sad, but true.

    Anyway, good post and it gives me some possible blog fodder for later (if I may go off of what you just wrote..?)

  42. better safe than sorry

    i think the biggest problem with reading someone’s blog, is you can’t actually get a feel for that person. the words i write, the way i try to express myself, might not be read or interpretted by you or anyone else who reads it, the way i meant it to be read. when you spend time with someone in person, half an hour on coffee break, you have a chance to look at the expression on their face, look into their eyes, actually hear their voice. you don’t get that with a blog, you only guess what that person sounds like, looks like or is even thinking. there is more of me in your blog than you, just by my reading it, because i decide for myself how i think you sound or look like or what your words mean to me. you actually have no say in it once it’s been written.

  43. Sandra

    Maybe he thought the toothbrush seemed cold in the open air?

  44. tuck

    A follow-up thought…it could have been worse…he could have stolen dirty panties from your family hamper. (hey, wasn’t that a scene out of a woody allen movie?)

  45. Neil

    Was it? The odd thing was that Abe wasn’t really a strange or weird guy in public. So, you never really know…

  46. Armaedes

    Well, yes, obviously you can never really know a person until you understand their toothbrush-laundering habits. Naturally.

  47. claire

    Hmm. The half hour coffee break sounds like a good experiment. You’d have to write up blog conclusions about the person prior to meeting and compare those with your coffee conclusions after the break. How much overlap would there be? How much would your blog preconceptions color her in person behavior? How much new information would you actually gain about her?

    As for myself, I still think you’d get a better idea of me from my blog. In life, people have often misread my intent from my tone of voice and expressions (no doubt some flaw of my own, but there it is). In writing, I have the opportunity to tell the whole anecdote/opinion/whatever without interruption and that helps preserve the tone.

  48. Jaime

    That’s definitely strange, but a funny story.

  49. jamie

    dear sir,

    my girlfriend and i were talking and she was brushing her teeth which caused me to wonder if people had toothbrush fetishes, which lead me to your site via a google search and we both enjoyed your story and writing style immensely.


  50. jungle jane

    Oh dear. If only Abe knew the truth about toothbrushes….

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