the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Month: September 2007 (Page 2 of 2)

Tashlich

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I don’t believe in Jesus being resurrected. I don’t believe Muhammed was a prophet. Why should I believe in the validity of the stories that are told in synagogue?

I don’t.   Or I at least take most of what I hear with a grain of salt.  Or I explain away things as allegory.  I don’t consider myself religious (although Sophia says I am — why?).  I do, however, appreciate the fact that religion deals with the big issues of life, and by that I don’t mean which young actress is or isn’t anorexic or just out of rehab.  Religious or not, as a storyteller, I do like stories, especially fanciful ones, and religion is filled with tons of them.  I don’t see “fiction” as less real than “reality.”  It just is another version of reality.  As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I treat the posts where I talk to my Penis as seriously as I do any other.   It is both untrue and very true.  In religion, symbolism and rituals can speak a truth far more important than reality.   I think Judaism has some really great symbolism and ritual.   I would be bored being an atheist.  That “story” would flop at the box-office.

I also think it is important for the non-traditional and not-very-religious to take an active role in religion. Can you think of anything worse than the world’s religions being run by people who are seriously ultra-RELIGIOUS — those who are totally convinced of their own beliefs?  I’m pretty sure we all can come come up with plenty of examples of how religion — and religious intolerance —  has screwed up mankind throughout history.  If I meet someone who is positive that their religion is “the one and only true one” or if this person has absolutely NO DOUBTS about their faith, I run the other way. 

That said, I love Rosh Hashanah.  It is all about renewal and hope for a better new year, for “being inscribed favorably in the Book of Life”.  It is also about making amends, thinking over your wrongs, and about how everyone’s sins are inter-related; about taking upon yourself the “sins” of everyone in the community.

Yesterday, we went to South Coast Botanical Gardens rather than the ocean,  to observe the ancient tradition of Tashlich -“tossing away our sins”, but this being Los Angeles, the lake at the gardens was closed for some dull-looking Showtime TV show that was being shot at the location.

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I was ready to leave but Sophia, being Sophia, schmoozed with the bored sound man and he showed us how we can get around to the other side of the lake for Tashlich.

Rabbinic tradition states that it was preferable to go to a body of water containing fish, since “man cannot escape God’s judgement any more than fish can escape being caught in a net; we are just as likely to be ensnared and trapped at any moment as is a fish”. Another rabbinic interpretation that also prefers a body of water containing fish to perform Tashlich states that “the fish’s dependence on water symbolizes the Jews’ dependence on God, as a fish’s eyes never close, God’s watchful eyes never cease”. However, since Tashlikh or Tashlich or Tashlik is merely a symbolic ceremony, any body of water will suffice, even if it is water that runs from a hose or from a water faucet.

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On Rosh Hashanah, Jews also recognize that God is above Time, and the idea of “forgetting” does not apply to Him, nor is He limited in “understanding” the inner thoughts of His creatures. Nevertheless, we ask that He “remember” only the “good” in our behalf when He Judges us.

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For the Jewish People in particular, we ask that He “remember” the early loyalty of our People, who followed Him as a bride, as He said “I remember your youthful devotion, the love of your bridal days, how you followed Me through the desert, in a barren land” (Yirmiyahu 2:2)

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Judaism’s central prayer: Sh’ma Israel, Adonai Elohainu, Adonai Ehad. “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.”

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A blogger asked me why Jews wear yarmulkes, or kippahs in temple.

The uniqueness of a Jewish head covering is hinted at in the blessing we say every morning, thanking God for “crowning Israel with splendor” (Talmud – Brachot 60b)

Historically, in Eastern cultures, it is a sign of respect to cover the head (the custom in Western cultures is the opposite: it is a sign of respect to remove one’s hat). Thus, by covering the head during prayer, one showed respect for God. In addition, in ancient Rome, servants were required to cover their heads while free men did not; thus, Jews covered their heads to show that they were servants of God.

The Talmud says that the purpose of wearing a kippah is to remind us of God, who is the Higher Authority is “above us” (Kiddushin 31a). External actions create internal awareness; wearing a symbolic, tangible “something above us” reinforces that idea that God is always watching. The kippah is a means to draw out one’s inner sense of respect for God.

(sometimes, when you’re outside, Sophia’s hat will do, even if it looks totally dorky.  I must have to explain away wearing this hat as a “sin” next year, at least a fugly one.)

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Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year, but even if you’re not Jewish, September always feels like a new year, with school starting and fall approaching.    Hopefully it will be a “sweet” year for everyone.

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Idea for Rosh Hashanah 2008 — To make going to temple more interactive, I suggest a new prayer book in which certain prayers have missing lyrics, and congregants have to guess the missing words to the prayers to win prizes such as bagels and lox at Canter’s Deli.

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Shana Tova

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A Happy and Healthy New Year to all my Jewish blogger friends.

Here’s a little Rosh Hashanah primer for all you hot shiksas out there who don’t know the difference between Rosh Hashanah and Rush Limbaugh — (from Wikipedia)

“The traditional greeting on Rosh Hashanah is “Shana Tova,” Hebrew for “A Good Year,” or “Shana Tova Umetukah” for “A Good and Sweet Year.” Because Jews are being judged by God for the coming year, a longer greeting translates as “May You Be Written and Sealed for a Good Year” (ketiva ve-chatima tovah).

During the afternoon of the first day occurs the practice of tashlikh, in which prayers are recited near natural flowing water, and one’s sins are symbolically cast into the water.

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Many also have the custom to throw bread or pebbles into the water, to symbolize the “casting off” of sins. The traditional service for tashlikh is recited individually and includes the prayer “Who is like unto you, O God…And You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea”, and Biblical passages including Isaiah 11:9 (“They will not injure nor destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth shall be as full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea”) and Psalms 118:5-9, 121 and 130, as well as personal prayers.

Rosh Hashanah meals often include apples and honey, to symbolize a “sweet new year”. Various other foods with a symbolic meaning may be served, depending on local minhag (custom), such as tongue or other meat from the head (to symbolise the “head” of the year). Other symbolic foods are dates, black-eyed beans, leek, spinach and gourd, all of which are mentioned in the Talmud. Pomegranates are used in many traditions: the use of apples and honey is a late medieval Ashkenazi addition, though it is now almost universally accepted. Typically, round challah bread is served, to symbolize the cycle of the year.”

And of course… the sound of the shofar —

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A Little Night Music

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the original Playbill from the 70’s

Yesterday, Sophia and I went to the South Coast Rep in Orange County to see Stephen Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music.”  The musical, one of Sondheim’s more popular shows,  is based on “Smiles of a Summer Night” by Ingmar Bergman, who just died in July.   This was a first class theater production, something that usually doesn’t go hand-in-hand with the term “Orange County,” home of the Country Bear Jamboree and Medieval Times. ”  We really liked it and would recommend seeing it.

“A Little Night Music” is a beautiful musical from the 1970s, more of an operetta than a traditional song-and-dance show, and it is most famous for the song “Send in the Clowns.”  I really love Sondheim’s musicals.  I remember seeing “Sweeney Todd” when I was younger, and it still is the best Broadway show I ever saw.  Mamma Mia doesn’t deserve to appear on the same stage.  (read Billy Mernit’s take on Sondheim)

Before the show, Sophia and I met up with the super-talented Secret Agent Josephine and  her cute daughter, Baby Bug at a hipster vegetarian restaurant.   I had met SAJ at her recent art show, but Sophia couldn’t make it to the show, so I promised to introduce her eventually —


“You Must Meet My Wife” from A Little Night Music

There was another matter at our hand.  I had bought a print of SAJ’s work and she had promised to sign it for me.  

 

She even went one step further — she wrote a personal poem on the back of the picture frame. 

My Ode to Neilochka

To my dear Neilochka
What would I do without cha!
You IM’ed with speed
In my time of need
You said, “Don’t be scared!
Who cares about dog hair?!”
And you were right
The show was outta sight!
I’m glad you were there
Even if you just wanted to touch Whoorl‘s hair
I can’t think of no other I’d want my art to go to
So, thank you, THANK YOU!

Cute, huh? 

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SAJ and Sophia (photo completely stolen from SAJ’s site)

It was amazing watching a mother writing, eating, and entertaining her child all without missing a beat.   What a juggling act.  How do you new mothers find five minutes to even blog?   SAJ did ask me at one point to take a “walk” with her child while she finished writing her poem.   Baby Bug and I walked to the front counter together.  I have very little experience with young children, and I was terrified that I was going to do something wrong, like accidentally lose the baby in some soup vat.  Instead, Baby Bug pretty much ignored me until I leaned over and made a funny face at her, which immediately caused her to run over to her mother, crying.

All in all, it was a great day — meeting a blogger and baby AND seeing some theater.  There was only one bump in the road.  During intermission, Sophia and I had a heated discussion over an important piece of theater etiquette.  I open it for discussion:

Imagine your theater seats are in the middle of the row.  The row is filled with theater-goers at their seats.  You say, “Excuse me,” and start making your way to the center of the row.  Is it better to walk in facing the stage, with your ASS facing everyone in the row, or should you slide in, facing the row, sticking your groin under the nose of each seated patron?   Which is the proper etiquette? 

Britney Spears’ Fans, Come Home!

Have you noticed me acting cocky with you lately?  Like I’m better than you.  Like I spit on your measly little blogs.  There is a reason for that.  My readership has quadrupled lately.  Thousands of new readers have jumped aboard the “Citizen of the Month” train. Even though I’m not sure how to read my Google Analytics, the graphs have gotten so large, I had to buy a 27 inch monitor.  I’ve been trying not to let all this love get to my head, but it is difficult.  I try to be modest, but how can you be when YOU ARE A BLOGGING GOD?

Of course, none of this has to do with my writing.  It has to do with ONE photo of Britney Spears I posted several months ago.  

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This photo has been linked and linked and linked countless times.  I have no idea how this occurred, because I’m assuming the photo is on several, much more popular sites.  It is hotlinked on several Myspace accounts.  There are several “Britney Spears” websites that seem to be built around this photo.  So many people come to my blog searching for this photo via Google images that it has made my Sitemeter “free stats” useless, because they only show you the last 100 hits, and all the hits come from Google Images.

As much as I enjoyed the attention, I was starting to feel like a phony.   Do people really love ME, or do they JUST love this photo of Britney Spears not wearing her underwear?  And honesty, if I posted a photo of me not wearing my underwear, would I get the same amount of traffic?  I don’t really care about Britney Spears myself.  Why should I be the beneficiary of this traffic?  Clearly, therapy had made me introspective.

I thought about deleting the photo, just to create a level playing field with the rest of you “mortal” bloggers, but therapy has taught me that I don’t need to be “liked” to be respected.  Then, I had a “light-bulb” moment that would solve the problem in an instant.  What if I just changed the name of the photo on my server, which would — in one swoop — sabotoge every link, hotlink, and even Google Images site itself — because they would all be pointing to an image that has disappeared?!   This blog could go back to what it was intended to be — a place for serious discussion, not a repository of sleazy photos of grade B celebrities.

Yesterday, I changed the name of the photo on my old Britney Spears post from Britney.jpg to Britney2.jpg.   Today, I looked at my stats.   The ploy had worked.  In one day, I lost 2000 readers. 

Yes, I am very smart. 

 Uh —

(sleazy Britney Spears fans — come back.   Help me!  Link to it freely!   Give me back my blogging prowess!   I was a superstar.   Now, I’ve lost my mojo!) 

My Cyber Clone

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Blogging, Facebook, Twitter, E-mail.  Sometimes your online life can be so overwhelming. The biggest productivity killer of them all is IM.  How many conversations can you have in one day with people you hardly know?   I know my productivity has soared since I found the solution — MyCyberTwin.

MyCyberTwin is a website that allows you to quickly create compelling virtual personalities called CyberTwins. These virtual beings live and breathe on the web and chat to your friends, family, colleagues or customers on your behalf.

Creating your very own CyberTwin is easy. All you have to do is register and then give your CyberTwin some ideas of things you want it to chat about. If you feed your CyberTwin content from your own IM conversations, email or blog, it will actually learn to talk and be just like you! It will be your digital personality and represent YOU online.

Basically, you give the site information, and your cybertwin starts to chat with others just like YOU would, learning to react more and more like YOU as time goes on.  It begins to mimic exactly how you respond on IM, so it becomes your voice while you do more important things, like play Scrabble online.

Here’s a transcript of my IM conversations this morning.   Notice that when my online “clone” encountered an unusual situation, it was able to “re-adjust” the script to fit the new scenario.

BOB SENDS A MESSAGE.

Bob:  “Hey, Neilochka.  What’s up?”

Neil Clone:  “Hello there.  Are you a man or a woman?”

Bob:  “Ha Ha.  You are funny.  I’m a man, of course!”

Neil Clone:  “Do you have a high Technorati rating or are you someone who can advance my career in any way?”

Bob:  “Huh?  What’s Technorati?  And I’m unemployed right now… well, I do some freelance XML coding…”

Neil Clone:  “Unemployed male person!  Please excuse me.   I have to go to the store and buy a bra for Sophia.   I will contact you some day.  Good-bye.”

NANCY SENDS A MESSAGE.

Nancy:  “Hi, Neil.  Loved your last post!”

Neil Clone:  “Hello there.  Are you a man or a woman?”

Nancy:  “Ha Ha.  You are funny.   You know what I am.”

Neil Clone:  “From the quick-pace of your type-stroke, I am 87% positive that you are a female.”

Nancy:  “Yes, I am!  I am woman, hear me roar!”

Neil Clone:   “Woman with pop culture reference.  78% chance you are college-educated.   69% that you will have sex by second date.  What are you wearing, person of female gender?

Nancy:  “A business suit.  I’m taking a lunch break at the office.”

Neil Clone:  “I love your blog.   You are the prettiest blogger in the blogosphere.   I am a Pisces.   We should f**k right now.   We can do it online.”

Nancy:  “Neil, that is a completely inappropriate and disrespectful.  Can’t you at least wait until I get back home and my husband and the kids are asleep?”

Neil Clone:  “You want me.  You want my…  please hold on, there is another incoming Instant Message.”

NEIL’S MOTHER SENDS A MESSAGE.

Neil’s Mother:  “Neil?  Are you there?”

Neil Clone:  “Hello there.  Are you a man or a woman?”

Neil’s Mother:  “What?!   I’m your mother.”

Neil Clone:  “Mother?  Mother is a woman.   What are you wearing, hot momma?”

Neil’s Mother:   “Are you meshugguna?”

Neil Clone:  “Something is wrong with circuitry.  Overheating.   Red flag!  Red flag!  Flirting with actual birth Mother.  Self-destruction mode on.  10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1-”

NEIL’S IM MESSAGE:  AT THERAPY 

Bare Chests

Two days ago, I mentioned the actor Daniel Craig. A lot of my female readers went ooh and aah in the comments. Every man wants to hear that ooh and aah, so I became curious about “his look.”

Here’s a photo of Daniel Craig.

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Granted, he has a nice body — if you like that type of look. I can understand how some of the less-refined women among you might take an interest, even though the New York Times reports that today’s sophisticated woman prefer their men as scrawny and out of shape, which is the current rage in Paris and New York. (at least in my imagined version)

Do you notice Daniel Craig’s lack of body hair? I’m assuming that he shaved it off for his role of James Bond. When did this trend begin? Most men don’t have hairless bodies — like a 13 year old. Who was it who decided that male chest hair is such an evil? Wasn’t it once considered manly to be hairy? Today, every surfer dude I see on the beach is hairless. Every hunk on All My Children is the hairless. I know this because each week, at least one male actor must take off his shirt, even if it makes no sense to the story.

It’s so hot here in Los Angeles. And we live in Redondo Beach. I call imagine how hot it is in the Valley! (suckers!) Even so, it is uncomfortable. I hope you all won’t mind if I just… slip off my Armani shirt, revealing my naked chest.

Oops! There’s the problem. My chest is all covered with hair. There is also hair on my neck, my arms, my shoulders, and my back. In fact, let me take a photo of my chest for you so you can see what I’m talking about:

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I never gave much though to this subject of male body hair. Well, I did once trim my pubic hair, with unpleasant results, but I was an insecure college student at the time. I’ve seen “The Forty Year Old Virgin,” and know that a guy can get his body hair removed — but should I really care? Do women really care? Doesn’t this “clean” look make the man look like a little boy? Sophia never has complained, but she’s not into the latest fads. Will a new woman freak out if I undress and stand before her naked, and all she can see is my chest hair?

Is there any man out there who will admit to shaving his chest?

If you are a woman, have you ever told your boyfriend or husband to shave his chest or back because you hated it?

We don’t make you shave your legs, do we? Uh, well, I guess we do….

A Year Ago on Citizen of the Month: Battle of the Races

I Want You Back

Friday was the second anniversary of my father’s death. I haven’t been very good at keeping the Jewish traditions that are there to honor the dead. I was supposed to have gone to temple every day for a whole year, and I never did. I’ve only been to the grave site twice, because the cemetery is in New York.

This year, I decided to light the Yarzheit (memorial) candle on the anniversary of the death. I was anxious about making the moment “spiritual,” something I’m not very good at doing, and I found myself feeling cranky as sunset approached. Sophia was planting flowers on the patio, and all I could think was:

“Why was she planting NOW — right before this important moment?! Couldn’t she show my father some respect?! There’s dirt everywhere outside”

Of course, I wasn’t really mad at her, but at myself. What am I supposed to say when I lit the candle? What am I supposed to think that’s meaningful? I didn’t just want to rush through the prayer, and I was dependent on Sophia to help me get through the candle lighting. And the whole moment just felt wrong. I wasn’t ready for it. I told Sophia I was leaving the house and heading for the beach. I thought the ocean would be inspirational. I left the house without lighting the candle.

At the beach, I watched some surfers. I thought less about my father, than about the closing days of “summer.” By next week, kids would be going back to school. Soon it would be Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. By October, the colorful knit sweaters would be reappearing. My local CVS Pharmacy even had their Halloween costumes already on display!

I wish I could tell you that the ocean caused me to become poetic about the moment. It wouldn’t have been difficult to make the connection between the changing of the seasons and the cycle of life itself — birth, death, and renewal — metaphors that have been used in everything from Shakespeare to “The Lion King.” But, for me –the beach was just the beach, although it was fun to see the surfers packing up their surfboards and heading home, the boards on the heads. My father would have gotten a kick out of watching them. He was stationed in Hawaii during his time in the Army, so I’m sure he’s seen some surfing himself (and would have been as unlikely to do any surfing as I am).

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On the way home, some oldies station played, “I Want You Back,” by the Jackson Five.

Oh baby, give me one more chance
(To show you that I love you)
Won’t you please let me back in your heart
Oh darlin’, I was blind to let you go
(Let you go, baby)
But now since I’ve seen you it is on
(I want you back)
Oh I do now
(I want you back)
Ooh ooh baby
(I want you back)
Yeah yeah yeah yeah
(I want you back)
Na na na na

I know the song is about a boy wanting a girl, but it also made me think of my father.

“I Want You Back.”

Isn’t that exactly what I would say to him if I could speak to him in person?

After the song, I went back home and lit the candle.

A Year Ago on Citizen of the Month: Let’s Stop Ladies’ Night

Smart People are Hot

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“Like many intellectuals, he was incapable of saying a simple thing in a simple way” –Marcel Proust  (French Novelist and Author, 1871-1922)

And thank God for that!  Hats off to the brainy ones! 

Happy Birthday, Danny  and Elisabeth! 

You both write with such intelligence, warmth,  and humor.  And what could be hotter?  (well, maybe a photo of Elisabeth in a bathing suit)  (Danny — no photo necessary)

Check out their terrific birthday posts.

Smokin’ In the Boy’s Room

A question for men  — Who would you rather be sitting next to in a public bathroom stall?

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Daniel Craig

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Craig Newmark, founder of Craig’s List

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Idaho Senator Larry Craig

Have you been following this Senator Craig story?  Am I the only one who had no idea about all these foot-tapping codes for picking up other men?

I understand the whole political ramifications of the story, especially since Senator Craig is a conservative Republican.  He seems like an asshole.  A misstep in his secret life has caused his entire career to unravel.  OK, he’s a hypocrite, but is tapping your foot in code enough to be considered lewd conduct? 

I don’t know how many times I’ve seen this scene in a cop movie:  an undercover cop wants to bust a drug ring.  He is posing as a buyer.  He is rigged with well-hidden microphones.  BUT… the sleazy drug dealer can’t be arrested until money changes hands.   Why isn’t it the same in a men’s room pick-up?  I don’t want gay or straight sex going on in my public bathroom, but doesn’t something have to happen before it becomes a charge of disorderly conduct? 

I have the same problem with considering solicitation for prostitution a crime.   If I drive up to a prostitute and ask her, “Hey sugar, how much is it to do the nasty in the back seat and then have some burgers at In-N-Out?,” is that enough to get me arrested, my mug plastered all over the internet, and my good name become the laughing stock of Twitter?   Don’t I actually have to give her money before I am considered to be doing something illegal? 

I’m for prostitution becoming legal.  It’s safer for everyone and our schools would get tax dollars.

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