the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Month: June 2007 (Page 2 of 3)

The Pigeon on the Patio


My father loved the back patio we have in Redondo Beach.  Whenever he would visit, the first thing he would do was to go outside and sit on the patio.  He would carry his transistor radio, turned to the classical music station, and read the “Calendar” section of the LA Times to see “what theater was in town.”   After my father passed away, our patio hit on hard times.  It began to take on the look of some abandoned exterior from a gothic novel set in Savannah.  Even when our interior was spotless, the patio was always in disarray, with spider webs on our unused flower pots.  We bought a grill, but never used it.  Our umbrella turned black from the foggy beach air.   Our ficus trees died.   The only life to ever be found on our patio was this annoying grey cat, a neighborhood scavenger, who one night at 3AM, knocked over our last two remaining ceramic planters, shattering them and waking up half the neighborhood.

After Sophia heard that she didn’t need any more surgery, she decided to take up a life-affirming hobby — fixing up the patio.  Sophia loves flowers – cut flowers, plants, potted flowers.  She was so over the moon when some of you sent her flowers.  She said that having beatiful flowers to look at will bring her joy and help her heal.  So we cleaned up all the leaves and hosed down the walls.  We spent several hundred dollars at Home Depot, buying pots, flowers, soil, and Miracle Gro.  The nice thing about Home Depot is that the “garden guy” actually knows about his subject, which is different from the experience you get from the imbeciles at electronics stores like Best Buy.  At Home Depot, Sophia and I learned about perennials and annuals, and which flowers do better in the sun and in the shade. 

As we toiled on the patio, re-potting our new flowers, my image of gardening forever changed.  I used to visualize it as a hobby for a retired woman.  Now, I see it as workout more draining than using the elliptical trainer at 24 Hour Fitness.    Just carrying those heavy pots and bags of soil are enough to build your biceps.   No wonder why men who “work in the field” are so muscular.  Gardening is hot, sweaty, and dirty work, completely different than my typical day of sitting at my computer, drinking diet Snapple with my pinkie raised.  One regret:  I wish I had never read the side of the soil bag:  “contains worm crap, bat droppings, and chicken manure.”  Ugh.  From now on I double-wash all my fruits and vegetables, including the packages which say “pre-washed.” 

As the sweat soaked my Izod polo shirt, which apparently is a bad sartorial choice for gardening, I thought of my father, and how much he loved this patio.  It was also Father’s Day.  I remembered how my father always got short-changed on Father’s Day because June 19th was also his birthday.  The two “holidays” got merged into one, and he usually got one gift.

Even though he died almost two years ago, I don’t think the information has settled in… yet.   I don’t walk around “missing him,” as much as I thought I would, mostly because I act as if he’s still around.   By saying he’s “still around,” I don’t mean he’s “still with us” in a spiritual way.  I mean that he was such a “character,” that I still can vividly hear and see him in my mind’s eye.  Sophia, my mother, and I still talk about him all the time, even making fun of his quirks, as if he’s sitting in the next room.

“I just paid eleven dollars for a movie,” I recently told my mother.  “Imagine what Dad would say!”  And we would laugh, because we knew EXACTLY what he would say.

I’m sure in several years from now, when his image and voice become less distinct, I’ll “miss him” more in the traditional sense.  For now, it still feels like he’s around. 

Sophia and I worked on the patio for several hours during Father’s Day.  As we were re-potting the foxgloves, Sophia and I noticed a tiny black bird, hiding behind the tree in the far corner of the patio.   He crouched  in the darkness, hardly moving.  Every few minutes he let out a little faint chirp and rustled some leaves.  We wondered whether it was hurt, unable to fly, or just abandoned by his mother. We discussed at length whether it was a hated crow or a hated pigeon, and decided it had to be a pigeon.

We continued on with our gardening, giving very little thought to the bird.  Neither of us are animal people.  Neither of us ever owned a pet.  We figured that it was safe enough for the bird while we were on the patio.   As for later, that’s HIS problem.  After dark, the nasty neighborhood cat would come out, looking for food.  We assumed that if the bird was injured, he would eventually be eaten. 

At this point, you might think us as uncaring people, but we had plenty of reasons to feel unsympathetic towards pigeons.  Several weeks ago, pigeons created a nest on our roof.  Every morning at 4:00 AM,  these ugly pigeons were squarking outside our bedroom window, waking us up, even when Sophia needed her rest after the surgeries.  Then, to make things worse, they would take a crap on our cars, and on what was left of our patio.  We assumed that this tiny bird was the spawn of these nasty intruders.  He was as ugly as his mother, with the same beady, unfriendly eyes.

While Sophia and I didn’t care about this little, lonely pigeon, I knew someone who would care — my father.   He would be extremely upset about this scared bird.   My father was the type of guy who got tears in his eyes when he would see homeless women (and only women) begging on the street.  Before you start oohing and aahing over his kind heart, I should make it clear that my father wouldn’t actually DO anything for this poor pigeon if he was around, but he would have certainly felt the bird’s pain.

I am my father’s son, so I naturally felt bad for the little bird.  But what could I do?  And so what if the cat eats the bird.  That’s the natural order of things.  For a while, I was able to ignore the faint chirping of the baby pigeon, and the way it shook with fear, hiding in the corner of our patio, knowing that his end was near.  But soon, I realized that I’m not just my father’s son.  I’m my own man.  And I’m stronger than he was.  I could go one step better than he ever could.  I put down my package of soil, wiping my dirty hands on my Izod shirt.

“I need to stop gardening for a while,” I told Sophia. 

“Already?  But we have so much to do!”

Yes.  It was time to make my father proud.

“I’m going to save this baby pigeon from the cat!”


Here Comes the Sun


After Sophia’s second surgery, there was still some DCIS seen in the tissue taken from her breast.  Her doctors were undecided on what to do next.  The pathology report seemed to indicate that Sophia should either have a third surgery or radiation.  Sophia’s oncologist wasn’t sure about the prognosis.  Sophia’s oncologist and surgeon went to a special weekly meeting of Cedars Sinai pathologists, and other cancer specialists, where they apparently discuss borderline and difficult cases, like something they might do on “House.”

We waited and waited. This morning we got their decision —

NO surgery and NO radiation.

The DCIS is of low invasive-ness, and there doesn’t seem to be any immediate danger.

NO surgery and NO radiation.

Here Comes the Sun!

…well, hopefully. That’s no surgery and no radiation…  for now.

The doctors still want Sophia to take a BRCA gene test.  The BRCA gene test does NOT test for cancer, but rather for a cancer gene.  Having the gene tremendously raises your chances of having breast cancer and some other cancers in the future.  Sophia does not have a family history of any cancer, but she has three of the other indicators:

1) Breast cancer before the age of 50
2) Being of Eastern European Jewish descent
3) Getting cancer again, especially a different type

As of now, we’re not even sure of the next step.   When the gene is present — the recommendation is to have a double mastectomy.  A lot of women who never had cancer, but find that they carry the BRCA gene, have a double mastectomy and even a hysterectomy,  just as a preventative measure.  Many chose to not even take the test because they don’t want to do anything based on a strong “possibility,” and they don’t want to be worried for the rest of their life about breast cancer if the gene is found.

But let’s take it one day at a time. For now, it is good news.

NO more surgery and NO radiation!

Can you feel the relief coming off my words? I mulled over the next sentence for several minutes, wondering if it is true:

The last month or so has been the worst of my life.

That’s a pretty strong statement. Surely, there must have been a worse month. How about when I was studying for finals? Breaking up with a girlfriend? The death of a family member? No, even the passing of my father was more sad than stressful.

I cannot remember a time as stressful. I think my hair turned grey overnight. All the uncertainty was awful. Yes, I did sleep on the floor next to Sophia, for a night and a half.  I did care for her.  But I was frequently a shitty and resentful caretaker.

“Why can’t Sophia be calmer about things?” I would ask myself.

She cried too much. She was always in pain. She is still in pain.

“How am I supposed to accomplish anything with her acting like this… always being in pain?!” I said to myself, self-pitying. “When my mother had surgery once, she came home that night and made dinner!”

Sophia had trouble adjusting to one of her new medications. It made her so hyper, she couldn’t sleep for days.  Is it my imagination, or do some medications just make you sick in new ways, so you have to take a second medication to cure your new ailments?

I’ve been depressed for weeks, the only joy coming from the sweet sounds of ABBA.  I felt upset about Sophia.  I felt upset about myself.  I felt guilty for being upset about myself when I was supposed to be upset about Sophia.  I avoided talking to friends in New York, or to my mother.  A few nights ago, Sophia and I had a nasty fight, calling each other names.  I don’t even remember the cause of it.  It was terrible.  I was pissed, and then I felt like a monster for being pissed at someone in pain.

I found it funny that some bloggers wrote to me, saying that illness can bring a couple closer together.  I’d like to take exception to that rule.  Laughter.  Sex.  Pizza.  Vacation.  Those bring couples together.  Health issues do NOT bring people closer together.  Maybe health issues can help you appreciate each other more, but if I had a choice, I’d rather go to Disneyland.

When I was growing up, my Pollyannish mother always used this cliche, “If you have your health, you have EVERYTHING.”  It used to bug the shit out of me when she said this, because it seemed like such a “loser” attitude.  “Well, duh!” I thought.  “But what about having a lot of money, a good job, and a hot wife? Is that chopped liver?”

Well, maybe she’s smarter than I thought.  That’s why she got the job as a mother.

This morning, Sophia called me from the bedroom.  From the sound of her voice, I assumed she was pissed at something.  Probably me.

“What?! What do you want?” I yelled.

“Come here.”

I reluctantly dragged myself over to her. I was surprised to see her looking happy.

“Jump up and down,” she said.

“What for?” I protested.

“Just do it.”

I jumped up and down.

“Dr. Karlan just called.  No surgery. No radiation.”

I jumped up and down again.  Finally, some good news.


Recipe for a Food Blogger


Is it my imagination or are the”food bloggers” very sexy?  Maybe it has something to do with the sensuality of food.   Food and wine are definitely connected to sex.  What man hasn’t dreamed of taking Nigella Lawson  or Rachel Ray on the oven while she’s just wearing an apron and high heels?  Or maybe it is the fact that these cooks use all sorts of exotic ingredients in their dishes   My mother’s “secret ingredient” in her one good dish, brisket — was ketchup.

Two weeks ago, I asked for some simple recipes for a man to cook, and I received so many wonderful items in my email.  Thank you.   Some of the recipes were too complicated for my skill level at the moment, but I appreciate the thought.  A few of the dishes sounded so delicious, that I decided to pass the information on to others more worthy of making the delicacy, especially one particularly beautiful blogger.  I’ll be honest, I hoped to win some brownie points with this glamorous woman, praying that she’d flirt with me, or at least make me some biscuits.

However, dear readers, make note of this important information, in case you ever decide to use Microsoft Word.   While this popular software application has many fine points, the spell checker does NOT catch all  errors, including when you want to say “add fines “herbes,”” but mistakenly re-type it as “add fines “herpes.””

Oh yeah, she WANTS me now!

Things Every Man Should Do Before He Dies — #6 Buy a Drink for a Woman in a Bar


I have never bought a woman a drink in a bar. I’m not much of a drinker, so that is hurdle #1. I also grew up believing in feminism. Why should I buy a woman a drink? Let her buy me a drink! This is from a man who once called for an end to the condescending concept called “Ladies’ Night.”

All my life, I’ve seen countless movies and TV shows where a guy buys a drink for an attractive woman. Sometimes, he’s sitting halfway across the bar. He’ll call the waitress over and say “Buy that lovely lady over there a glass of merlot (or a cranberry vodka or something exotic with an umbrella) … and say it is from me.” Once the attractive lady gets the drink, the guy raises his glass to her, and she raises her glass back, usually with an appreciative smile.

Now let’s say I’m in a fancy bar, maybe even in the lounge where they are having that LA Bloggers’ reading. I see a pretty woman, I buy her a drink, and we raise our glasses in an “air-toast.” What is the next move? Is the raising of her glass a universal gesture meaning “You’re one lucky fellow.” Or is it, “Thanks for the drink, sucker. You just wish you could see me naked.” Do some women accept the drink, then quickly disappear forever, laughing at you during the cab ride home?

Imagine I make it to step #2. I go over to the woman who I bought the drink for, and we start chatting. I quickly learn that she is dull or “a theater actress” or a follower of “The Secret.” Is it impolite to ask her for a refund for the drink? Or is buying the drink for a stranger in a bar a little bit like playing the slot machine in Vegas? You might win the jackpot, but changes are you’re going to lose your money and your dignity.

Male readers — Have you ever bought a drink for a woman you didn’t know in a bar? Did anything ever come of it?

Women readers — Do you always accept a drink from a man in a bar, even if he looks like a total loser?

Despite my reservations over the whole “buying a drink for a woman in a bar” activity, it is an accomplishment every man should have under his belt, along with smoking a Cuban cigar, driving a Lamborghini, having a foursome with at least one Asian woman, climbing Mount Everest, and shaking Roger Clemon’s hand. For that reason —

Welcome to “Citizen” Virtual Bar and Grill

You’re a woman sitting at the bar, alone, feeling a little drunk from the one beer you’re drinking. It was a tough day at work. Suddenly, the waitress comes over to you with a martini.

“It’s from HIM,” she says.

You look over at a nearby table and you see ME, smiling at you, toasting you with my bottle of Samuel Adams.

OK — What do I do next?

And how long do you wait for me to come over there? If it takes me longer than twenty minutes to approach you, do you just say “forget him” and end up doing the hunky bartender in the stock room instead?

A Year Ago on Citizen of the Month: Comedy and Modern Science

Will Paris Hilton Be at LA Bloggers Live?


Is there anything more boring than a blogger? 

Think about it.  Professional writers are dull to begin with.  They sit around all day WRITING. 

Bloggers are even worse because they don’t just write — they are so needy for attention that they WORK FOR NOTHING.  On the social strata, they are several notches lower than the guy who cleans the toilets at LAX.  At least he gets PAID for his work!

Question.  What is MORE painful than reading a blog post on your laptop? 

Answer:  HEARING a blog read out loud at some “hip” lounge!

Of course,  I don’t mean being read by Helen Mirren.  I mean READ by the BLOGGER HIMSELF!  As if a blogger can actually read OR TALK.   In fact, if he were able to talk, would he really be blogging?

Leahpeah has started something called LA BLOGGERS LIVE!   Insanity.  And I don’t even care if Leah is a FOD (Friend of Dooce).  I’m going to say it again.  ONE DUMB IDEA.  Who cares about bloggers?    Especially those phony, fake-boobed Scientology-loving, Kabbalah-string wearing, bad screenplay-writing residents of Los Angeles, the city with the most-unhealthy air in the country, home to Paris Hilton and the worst season of “The Apprentice?”

From the LA Bloggers Live site:

How many times have you wished you could hear your favorite bloggers read live? Bloggers Live! is a combination of Los Angeles bloggers getting together once per month to read a selection of their entries live. Anyone who blogs is encouraged to join the group and sign up to read. Anyone who reads them, blogger or not, is invited to come and listen.

I can’t think of anything more pretentious than “reading” your blog to an audience.  Only a truly narcissistic fool would do something like that. 

So far, the list of those reading on Thursday June 28th at 6:30pm at the Tangier Lounge.($4 cover charge at the door) includes:

Erin from Queen of Spain

Joe from Artlung

Lynda from One Day at a Time

Deezee from Confessional Highway

Neil from Citizen of the Month

Jenn from Aka Jesais

Sign up if you want to  read or come to listen.

Neil’s Penis:  “Will I get to read, too?”

Neil:  “Sorry. Only bloggers.”

The Nicest Man in New York City


My mother called today and scolded me for being so “negative” on my blog.

“I can’t handle it, it makes me anxious,” she said, sounding very familiar, since I said the same thing to Sophia when she crying because of her pain.

“Write about positive things.  People like happy stories about people who do good things.” 

Now she was sounding like one of the Hollywood executives who want to re-do “Citizen Kane” and have it end with an elderly Kane gleefully sledding down a snowy hill  on “Rosebud,” all of his happy, laughing grandchilden in tow.

“I have a positive story.” my mother continued.  “You should write about that.”

My mother is a very nice woman, and can even make a good brisket, but a storyteller she ain’t.  But since this blog has been such a downer lately, I’m going to turn over the reigns of “Citizen of the Month” to my mother and present to you (lights and the roar of the MGM lion):


I’ve titled it “The Nicest Man in New York City.”

Mom, take it away!

“I was on the Q65 bus in Queens when a man came onto the bus at Kissena Boulevard.   He seemed confused about where to go.  He asked some woman…  but the confused man, a very nice man, only spoke French.  No one knew what he was saying.  Some college student, this Chinese girl, said she took French in high school, but could only understand that he “didn’t know where to get the Express Bus.”  Suddenly, the bus driver said, “I know French!”  He was from Haiti, and a very nice man.  He explained to the French man… in French… how to get to the Express Bus.  Even more… when the bus driver got to the right stop, he waited until the French man got off the bus and stood in the exact location on the street to catch the Express bus.”

And that was the story.

“That’s it?” I asked, laughing.  “That’s a nothing story.”

“Everyone thinks New Yorkers are so mean, but this proves differently, because the bus driver was so nice.”

I wasn’t in the mood for my mother’s Pollyannish ways, so I thought I’d trap her in her own story.

“And how did all the other passengers feel about the bus driver waiting around until this French guy found the right spot to catch the Express bus?  I’m sure they were annoyed and wanted to go already.” 

“No, not at all.  Everyone on the bus was very nice and cared about this French man.”


“Everyone.  So, why don’t you write about THIS?  It’s not a nothing story.  It’a nice story, about nice people.”

Prolly Cause You’re Being Needy


I end my worst week of blogging with a warning: ignore me. When I’m sane, it’s OK for me to ask you to send me a photo of your bed. When I’m crazed and needy and sort of horny after weeks of tension over Sophia’s surgery, DO NOT send me a photo of your bed, no matter how much I beg you for it.

Here are a couple of things I did today that should put me on some sort of “Do Not Blog With Him” list:

I started out the day emailing Jason, who lives in Nova Scotia, and telling him that I’m wearing a t-shirt that reads “Nova Scotia,” which my mother bought me years ago when she visited… Nova Scotia. Like he gives a crap. (Bonkers!)

I emailed two “anonymous” bloggers to ask them to send me photos of themselves since I was curious to see what they looked like. (Nuts!)

I emailed Heather Anne and told her that I want to know more about her, so I’m going to read her old archives. (Stalker!)

I wrote a bizarre and convoluted email to Pam, telling her why I thought BlogHer excluding men was like putting a nativity scene on public property during Christmas, and making Jews feeling left out. (Insanity!)

I stared at Heather B’s photo for twenty minutes, thinking, “Jeez, I would like SO date her!” (Pervert!)

I briefly IM-ed with Ms. Sizzle and Sarcastic Fringehead, asking them if they were “mad at me” because I haven’t read their blogs lately. Surprisingly, neither of them really noticed! (Insecure!)

I showed up at Thursday’s Stitch and Bitch meeting at the Farmer’s Market, hoping to run into Ellen Bloom, but she wasn’t there. The other knitters looked at me like I was some sort of serial killer. (Arrest him!)

Run, don’t walk from this blog. Run!

(but come back next week, when hopefully things will be back to normal)

Neil’s Penis: “I very much doubt that!”

The End of an Obsession

For several weeks now, I’ve received comfort from the music of ABBA, but now it is time to move on. In fact, several bloggers have emailed me saying that if I embed ONE MORE ABBA song, they would —

1) Delete me from their blogroll.


2) Start unflattering rumors about my Penis.

It is probably important for me to think of other things, mostly for my mental health. Can you believe that I even THOUGHT about flying out to London for the annual ABBA Picnic at St. James Park?

The London ABBA picnic has been taking place every July since 1999 and is a fantastic opportunity for ABBA fans from London and far beyond to meet up on a (hopefully sunny!) summer’s afternoon and discuss love, life, the universe and a certain Swedish foursome! ( If the weather is really bad, we will meet in the Hop Poles pub in Hammersmith)

Hey, English blogger-friends, like Rachel, Ariel, or Susannah — do one of you want to go instead of me and take some photos?

I don’t usually “fall in love” with celebrities, but I’ve really taken a liking to Frida (the brunette).


I’ve been daydreaming about her so much that I don’t even read blogs anymore.

Well, except for one.

For some mysterious reason, I am very drawn to Run Jen Run written by Jenny in Chicago.


She’s an OK writer, I guess, but that’s not the real reason I return to her blog over and over again…



Anyway, I’m sorry I inflicted so many ABBA songs on all of you:

Does Your Mother Know?

Mama Mia

Dancing Queen

Take a Chance (link in post’s comments)

Super Trouper

Ring Ring

I must have been depressed and listening to ABBA was like an S.O.S. cry for help.

Hey, that reminds me… (once more for old times’ sake)

A Year Ago on Citizen of the Month: Why Gay Marriage Should be Banned

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