the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Month: January 2009 (Page 2 of 2)

Very Vague Dispatch from L.A. – #6

Today, I went to a cafe for lunch, hoping to cheer myself up. I ordered a chinese chicken salad and coffee.

This cafe has a cute gimmick. They print a scrambled word on the bottom of the “special menu” each day. If the customer can unscramble it, he can win a free dessert. Most patrons don’t bother playing. Some spend their entire meal scribbling on their napkin, trying to decipher it. I took one glance at the scrambled letters — and immediately saw that it spelled “unpreparedness.”

“Is the answer — unpreparedness?” I asked.

“Yes,” said the waiter, but he seemed uneasy with me.

“Did you hear the answer from another customer?” he asked.

“No, I just figured it out. I’m usually not that good at this, but I figured the root was “ness.” And maybe my mind is so unscrambled already with stuff going on in my life, that it was easy for me.”

“Did someone leave the answer on the menu?”

“No, I just figured it out!”

“In one second?!”

At this point, the patrons to either side of me where eavesdropping, and shaking their heads at my immorality, as if they had just encountered Bernie Madoff stopping off for a quick bite before going to prison.

“So, you really figured it out?” the waiter asked again.

He clearly thought I was a fraud, much like the policeman thought of the young Indian winner of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” in “Slumdog Millionaire.”

With no proof of my deception, the waiter was forced to give me a brownie at the end of the meal.

It was a minor victory.

Very Vague Dispatch from L.A. — #4

Possible Position Soon Available:   Rebound Woman

Wanted:   Attractive,  educated, and good-humored woman who wears glasses, but takes them off in a sexy manner, who enjoys watching Flight of the Conchords and classic James Stewart movies, being felt up while baking cookies (no oatmeal cookie lovers need apply, large nipples preferable), and angry sex against the living room wall with a depressed, unpaid blogger until he overcomes the hurt of his recent past involvement and dumps you as you become emotionally involved with him, destroying your sense of self-worth and identity, and leaving you in debt, but giving you the satisfaction of knowing that you have helped another person move on to a more realistic and fulfilling relationship.

No benefits.

Very Vague Dispatch from L.A. – #3

I found this actual “Depression Test” online.    Here are my answers, and the result.

Q: Do you feel sad or irritable?  Yes.

Q: Have you lost interest in activities once enjoyed?  Yes.

Q: Have you experienced changes in weight or appetite?  No.

Q: Have you experienced changes in sleeping pattern?  No.

Q: Do you have feelings of guilt?  Yes.

Q: Are you unable to concentrate, remember things, or make decisions?  No.

Q: Have you experienced fatigue or loss of energy?  Yes.

Q: Have you experienced restlessness or decreased activity noticed by others?  Yes.

Q: Do you feel hopeless, or worthless?  No.

Q: Have you had thoughts of suicide or death?  No.  (who would write Citizen of the Month?  Some hack?)

You answered 5 items out of 10 “Yes”.   According to The National Mental Health Association, there is a 50% chance that you may be suffering from clinical depression and a 50% chance that you are not suffering from clinical depression.    Hopefully, this test has helped you clarify your concerns.

Yes, thank you!   I was having a few concerns about being depressed today, especially after this little incident while shopping with Sophia, where I started to hyperventilate and feel trapped while searching for “Euro-size” pillow shams in Bed, Bath, and Beyond, as if the linens themselves were masked men in 300 thread count bandanas surrounding me, hovering and ominous, the danger imminent.   And then I got very sleepy.   So, I went back home to take this depression test.   It is good to know that I am only 50% depressed, although the last two questions seem a bit extreme.    Hopeless?  Worthless?  Suicide?   As bad as things get, I can always look at online photos of women in their underwear.    How hopeless can you be when you have that?

“Last” – The Conclusion

“Last” – Part One

Part Two

William looked for his keys in the usual places, under the couch, on the kitchen table, in the side pocket of the red cardigan sweater that he wore during his long walks on Sunday dusk at the beach, where he was always the last person on Earth to watch the sun set on another weekend.

It was 11:45 PM.  Time was speeding towards the New Year, and William had no car keys.  Was God sending William a message?  Was it preordained that he would always be the last?  William laughed to himself.  Even if he found the car keys, he knew what would happen next.   The car wouldn’t start!  The battery would be dead.  There would be no gas.  It was his destiny.  He could not break out of his status quo. There was no one to offer him a friendly hand or a kind word.  There was only… himself, Willam Z. Zweig, a simple man who always came in last, an outsider with curly brown hair, now with a wisp of grey, ten fingers imperfect from his  habit of nail-biting, and two large feet.  William looked down at these feet and for the first time in his life, acknowledged them as his dear friends.  William could depend on them for help.  He could run!

Pebbles and dust flew into the air as William raced down Itu Asau Road.  He could feel the shadow of the approaching New Year barreling towards him with every step.  The revelers of the world had long gone home from Times Square and Trafalgar Square, and the First Moment of 2009 was ready to call it a day in Samoa, like the overworked postman stumbling through his final stop on his daily rounds.

William race, controlling his breathing, maintaining his focus.   He need to pass his neighbor’s house so he would not be last.  Up ahead, he could see a glimmer of light.  It was the lantern that his neighbor, the cocoa exporter, kept on his front porch.  Pa’aga, a silver-haired life-long bachelor, an avid gardener of tomatoes, was sitting outside, in his favorite rattan chair, comfortably waiting for the arrival of the New Year.   William slowed his pace, not wanting to create any suspicion, hoping to walk past Pa’aga without even a conversation.  William pretended that he was taking a leisurely nighttime stroll, although his tense posture was a sure giveaway of something else.  As William passed the home of Pa’aga, William stepped on a twig and it cracked.  Pa’aga switched on a flashlight, the bright ray striking William in his sweaty and anxious face.

“Oh, it’s you William,” said the friendly Pa’aga.  “How are you, my neighbor?  Happy Almost New Year!”

“Happy Almost New Year to you,” replied William, still walking, not missing a beat.

“Where are you going at this hour?” asked Pa’aga, the ultra-curious intonation in his voice making William’s stomach turn.”

“Just taking a walk.”

“What a pleasant way to bring in the New Year.  I’ll join you.” he said.

William almost fainted from the tension.

It was 11:54.  William and Pa’aga were now walking side by side.  If William stepped up the pace, so did Pa’aga.  His neighbor’s breathing was erratic, as if the speed was too much for him, but he gave no indication of slowing.  William liked the good-natured Pa’aga, and had no problems with him.  In fact, Pa’aga has always been the most gracious neighbor, even coming over once to help capture a feisty lizard that had once made his way into William’s kitchen.  William’s only concern now was not to be the last… again.

Pa’aga was a talkative man, and as the two men strolled together in a perfectly even line, like soldiers marching in unison, they chatted, mostly about local gossip.  Did the local pastor really have an affair with the rugby coach’s wife?  Will coconut prices skyrocket after the bad summer?

William’s mind drifted.  He was younger than his Samoan neighbor and could probably outrun him, but Pa’aga was in good shape from years of physical labor in the fields, so William could not be assured of beating him in a foot race.  William thought of tripping Pa’aga; he would have the element of surprise on his side.  Pa’aga would stumble and fall on his face, while William would race towards the New Year, reaching it a split second before his friend.  While this plan seemed practical, this idea, and the very fact that he thought it, saddened William.  He was not a violent man, and pushing Pa’aga went against everything he believed in since childhood.  William’s darker self berated his moral stance,  stating quite forcefully that this inability to take the necessary action was William’s  biggest problem.  Was he afraid of doing “what it takes” in order NOT to be last?

“It’s 11:58.” said Pa’aga.  “It’s almost New Year’s.  Are you making any resolutions, my friend?”

William’s demeanor changed.  He heart was warmed by Pa’aga’s caring concern for his well-being, and his own icy scheming melted away.  William smiled at his neighbor.

“I would like to change some things in my life,” said William.  “I don’t know if I would call it a resolution, but I would like to take more action in my life.”

“I have been thinking the same about my own life.”

William nodded.  Perhaps the two neighbors, the Samoan and the outsider, were soulmates after all.  William came up with a new idea for the final moments of the year, one of compromise.  They would enter the New Year together, hand in hand, side by side, so NO one would be last.  They would face the future in unison, like musicians playing a duet, each guiding the other, helping him achieve his personal goals.

“I read a good book this year about taking action,” continued Pa’aga.  “It is called “Rich Samoan/Poor Samoan:  Stop Being a Loser.”  Have you read it?”

“No,” said William. “But I know it was a best-seller.”

“In the book, the author says that the world consists of winners and losers, and it is your action that determines your position in life…”

As he spoke those words, William noticed a gleam in Pa’aga’s eyes.  He had seen this look before in a few of the villagers after they drove into town and attended that free self-help seminar with the newly successful author of “Rich Samoan/Poor Samoan:  Stop Being a Loser.”  When they returned back to their farms and tiny homes, they all had this same look, as if they had gone through a major transformation. Their new gaze exuded power and confidence, but read icy and cold, something foreign to this tropical island.

Pa’aga looked at his watch.

“It is almost the New Year, my friend.  10-9-8-7…”

At the count of seven, Pa’aga reached down and grabbed a fallen palm tree branch, then strongly whacked it against William’s knees.  William fell down in excruciating pain.

“I’m sorry,” said Pa’aga, “I’m a winner.”

Pa’aga walked several feet ahead of William.   William tried to stand up, but he couldn’t move.  He fell into the wet mud.  Pa’aga stared at his watch again.

“…3…2…1.  Happy New Year to me!”

Pa’aga paused for a split-second.

“And now, Happy New Year to you!  Even though you are last, William, I hope this is a healthy and happy year for you.”

Pa’aga helped William up, shook his hand in the friendly manner of most Samoans, and returned to his home.  William stood there, dead to his feelings.

New Year’s Eve had arrived in Samoa.  William was the last to celebrate, as usual.  This was his fate.  Distraught, William refused to return home.  He didn’t want to look at his face in the mirror, to sit alone in the last house on the last plot of land, in the most Western corner of the last island.  He shook off the pain and staggered into town.  If there ever was a night to go to Sammy’s, the local Tiki bar, and drink himself to a stupor, tonight was the night.

It took William an hour to get to Sammy’s bar.  Broken champagne bottles and confetti covered the parking lot. There had been a lot of partying going on earlier, and now most of the Samoan revelers were back home, safely tucked in bed with their loved one, content with their lot in life, and positive about their future.

William Z. Zweig entered the bar and sat at the counter.  He ordered a drink.  The only customer still there was Aysa, the woman who ran the village coffee shop.  She had dirty blond hair and attractive features, but there was a sadness to her posture.  She had just finished her fourth mojito.  William didn’t know Aysa very well.  He rarely went into coffee shops, since he was always the onew being served last.

Aysa ordered another drink.

“You sure?” asked the bartender.

“Bring it on.” she slurred.

Aysa was alone on this New Year’s Eve.  It wasn’t as if she didn’t have offers.  Men asked her out all the time.  Even the mayor’s brother, N’iao, had invited her to black-tie even at the town hall sponsored by the sugar industry.  But Aysa didn’t click with the local Samoan men.  She went on dates out of obligation, because she was hopeful.  She had needs, just like all women.  She wanted love, companionship, and sex, but the men she met were selfish.   They didn’t  listen to her needs, or care about her satisfaction.

“Better to just drink mojitos at Sammy’s on New Year’s Eve,” she told herself earlier in the day.  And now she regretted the decision.  The loneliness was overwhelming, and no amount of liquor could fill the emptiness within.

“Happy New Year” grumbled a sarcastic William to Aysa as he paid for his first drink.   He left the bartender a nice tip, figuring someone should be happy tonight.

“Yeah,” said Aysa.  “To you, too.  Happy New Year.”

As a man who was always last, William understood pain, and and he could feel Aysa’s unhappiness surrounding him, touching his skin.

“It’s a new year.  Time to start anew.  Did you have a bad year?”  asked William, trying to get her to open up, thinking this would help her move on to a fresh start.

“Yeah, bad.  Bad Choices.  Bad Men.  No love.  No comfort.  Selfish men who cared only about themselves.”

Aysa hadn’t had an orgasm in three years. Although she blamed the men in her life, she knew deep down that this was her own fault as well.  She didn’t know how to relax, even after a drink.

William bowed his head in shame.  It was as if Aysa saw right through him.  He was a selfish man like the others, only caring about his position in life.  His lastness had consumed his every thought, drove him from his childhood home, isolated him, and almost made him push Pa’aga onto the ground, going against his own very nature.

Aysa didn’t know William very well, but she had seem him around town, usually avoiding coming in to her coffee shop.   He seemed interesting, but eccentric.

“And what about you?” she asked.  “What are you doing alone on New Year’s eve in an empty Samoan bar?  What’s your problem?”

“My problem?”  William sighed.  “My problem is that I always come last.”

That night, Aysa had three orgasms.  William was in her bed, and came last.

“I love you, William Z. Zweig,” she said.

As the two lovers snuggled in Aysa’s thatch-covered home, William embraced his lastness, finally understanding God’s will and His plan for his future.  It was a Happy New Year.



William Zweig was always last.  In elementary school, his teachers always called his name last.

“…and finally… William Z. Zweig.  Last but not least,” said Miss Donavan, his second grade teacher, trying to give him a boost of moral.

This concern for William’s self-esteem ended quickly.   By the fifth grade, Mrs. Apple,  wanting to speed up the attendance  roll call, simply wrapped things up by saying, “…and finally… the last one is William Z. Zweig,” as if now his least-ness was an accepted fact among the school board.

The youngest of three boys, William was constantly picked on by his older brothers, Andy and Ben,  for being the last one to be born in the Zweig family.  William was always picked last in any playground games.  In Little League, he batted last for the last place team.  When William graduated from high school, the last in his graduating class, he left his hated childhood town, moving as far away as possible.  With his last dollar, he bought a small house in the Western portion of Samoa, a group of volcanic islands covered in lush tropical vegetation and surrounded by magnificent reefs. It was quiet and isolated, but fate is cruel, and despite the great effort he made to run away from his cursed life, William still remained last because of Samoa’s positioning just east of the International Dateline.  Each December 31, on New Year’s Eve, celebrations occurred throughout the world, from Sydney to London to New York, with Samoa being the last place in the world to celebrate New Year’s Eve.  Even worse, William lived in the last house on the last plot of land, in the most Western corner of the last island, making William Z. Zweig the very last person in the world to celebrate New Year’s every single year.

For the first few years in his new home, William accepted his miserable lot.   Samoan culture is centered around the principle of vāfealoa’i, the relationships between people.  Samoans make few distinctions between “first” and “last,” and William was accepted as a member of the community.   But with an influx of pop culture from America, Samoans abandoned their gentle customs and became as individualistic and self-centered as Westerners.  In fact, the two best-selling Samoan books of 2008 were both business-oriented, “Rich Samoan/Poor Samoan:  Stop Being a Loser,” and “Using the Art of Samoan War to Become #1 and Crush the Competition!”

Residents of Itu Asau, William’s village, were influenced by these books, and began to mock him as a loser, acting in a manner not unlike the residents of William’s childhood town.   Samoans grew superstitious about William,  as if his bad luck would rub off on them, and he was always served last — at the fruit stand, at the bank, and even at the post office.

William vowed to make a change in his life.  Ever year, right before New Year’s Eve, William would make the same resolution –  to stop being the “last,”  but every year, he inevitably caved in, stuck forever in inactivity, like a hapless goose stuck in the Saleaula Lava Fields once produced by the mighty Mt. Matavanu.

At 11:40 PM, on December 31st, William Z. Zweig was asleep.  He always went to sleep before midnight on this night.   New Year’s Eve was too depressing.  He was alone.  Even time was slow to arrive at William’s doorstep, as if he was a mere afterthought.  What was there to celebrate?  He was the last one.

But something different happened on this New Year’s Eve.  Perhaps it was the sound of a tropical bird calling for his mate, or a coconut falling in the near distance.   William awoke from his sleep.  He glanced at his old alarm clock.  In twenty minutes, the new year would arrive.

“I might as well make a resolution,” he said to himself.  “The same one I always make.  I vow not to be the last…”

William bowed his head in shame, mumbling the statement, knowing that whatever he said was meaningless, a phony vow never to be taken seriously.  A true New Year’s resolution requires action.

“I must take action.  I must take action.  I will take action.  I will take action.”

William repeated these “behavior statements”over and over again, just like his therapist, Amataga Poese Gildow Liuga, had recommended that he do during times of indecision.  William had just seen his doctor on Friday,  which was, as usual, the doctor’s last appointment of the week.

William berated himself for his failure of inaction over the years.

“When will I take this action?  When will I stop talking and just do it?   Why do I wait for the future to do anything?  Why do I always make a resolution for NEXT year?  What is wrong with THIS year?   Why can’t I do something RIGHT NOW?!”

William looked at his alarm clock.  It was 11:44 PM.  The second hand clicked away.  A cool breeze blew in through the window and grazed William’s sensitive face.  The clock sputtered, ready to spit out the arrival of 11:45 PM.  It was at that exact second that William decided to act.

Pa’aga Neri Lee Hang, the cocoa exporter, lived a quarter of a mile closer to town.   Every week, William drove by his home on his way to his food shopping.

William plotted the rest out carefully:

If he could drive his car PAST Pa’aga’s home tonight before midnight, William would officially be nearer the center of  town, closer east — and he would be able to celebrate New Year’s Eve a split-second BEFORE his neighbor.  Pa’aga would be the LAST ONE.   William’s curse would be broken!  A new era would begin.

William Z. Zweig would never be the last one again!

“Now where are my car keys?” he wondered, as he searched his living room.

(to be continued)

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