the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Ozymandias and PB&J


I’m not a particular religious or spiritual person, but I do notice connections between events, people, and ideas that lead me to believe that there is some unifying force, sort of a Six Degrees of Life.   I usually have no idea what the connections mean, if anything, but I get a calming sense in my body when things make sense in the world, and God isn’t just randomly throwing dice onto the Yahtzee board.

Like many of us, I have reconnected with some old schoolmates on Facebook.  Yesterday morning, I had a brief chat with a girl from elementary school.  Well, when I say “girl,” I still visualize her as one, still with pigtails, when she is really a married attorney with two children.  We joked about this poem we forced to memorize in sixth grade – Ozymandias by Percy Shelley.

“I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

At the time, it seemed a completely useless exercise in rote learning.  None of us, at that age, had any idea what this boring poem meant, but we were required to stand, one at a time, like in one of those movies about some prep school in England, and recite it out loud.  I remember practicing this stupid poem in front of my mother for hours.

My schoolmate and I were surprised that we still remembered some of the lines, particularly the opening.

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

In high school, I encountered this famous poem again in Mrs. Waters’ class.  Now I could better understood the meaning, even if I still didn’t care — about how even the mighty eventually fade into dust, with Ozymandias being another name for Ramesses the Great, Pharaoh of the nineteenth dynasty of ancient Egypt.

Yesterday, during lunch, I took a walk, still laughing about my early morning conversation with an old friend.   When I say “old friend,” I think I liked her a lot more than she liked me, and I used to doodle her name on the back of my notebook and she probably never thought about me, but that’s all in the past now.  I think.

Anyway, as I’m walking along Kissena Boulevard, I passed a parked car.  An couple in their late sixties were putting shopping bags into their trunk from the supermarket.   Hey — the woman was my former kindergarten teacher, now retired!  We chatted, and I told her that I had just spoken to another classmate who was in her class.  We talked about Facebook and email.  My former kindergarten teacher is learning more about the internet herself.

Here’s a photo I took (I know you see more of her chest than her face.  You can read WHATEVER you want into that)


After my falafel lunch, I encountered some kids returning from private school.   I forgot!  It is mid-August.  It is time for school again for some kids!  I know different schools start earlier and later, depending on the state and whether it is public or private.    But here they were — friendly looking kids with their new notebooks and pencils.

Since I had just eaten lunch, I suddenly had memories of school lunches — of metal lunch boxes promoting  the hottest TV shows (the first example of branding — are there American Idol lunch boxes?  Top Chef?) and the atrocious hot lunches we were served in the school cafeteria, filled with mystery meat and served by what seemed like angry prison guards.  School lunch was a blast, because we were always making fun about the awful nutritional level of the meals, but enjoyed it anyway.

Like many of you, my mother packed a PB&J sandwich almost every day in my lunchbox.  It was the STANDARD.


When I returned to my computer after lunch, I went on Twitter, with school lunches dancing in my head.  I asked all the mothers online if they still are mostly giving their kids peanut and jelly sandwiches for lunch.  I was surprised by the response — a unanimous cry of “no” — showing how out of it I am regarding children.  While I certainly knew about peanut allergies in kids, I didn’t realize how rampant it is today in the states.  I thought it was McDonald’s just trying not to get sued by separating the peanuts from the ice cream sundae, as told to by their smart lawyers.  But apparently, peanut butter is banned from most schools, like an obscene book.  At first I joked about the extremism of “peanut haters,” but then a few parents told me of the horror stories of their kids just touching a peanut butter jar and getting dangerously sick.

I had no idea this was such a serious matter.  I wonder why peanut allergies have become so rampant nowadays?

But this post is not really about peanut allergies.  It is about connections.  I started the day talking with a classmate about the poem Ozymandias.  We joked about it, much like we did when we learned geometry.  Why do we need to learn this?  What relevance will it ever have in our lives?

Yesterday, it finally had some relevance.   Yesterday, I learned that the KING of school lunches, the PB&J, had fallen from his throne.  Like Ozymandias, Pharoahs, Presidents, Actors, Singers — all of us — never stay King forever…

Yesterday, was a day to connect random events to my school days.  I talked to an old classmate.  I met my old teacher.   And I remembered that school — or something more mysterious — had taught me to connect poetry to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

(This post is dedicated to Dana in honor of her birthday because she loves poetry. She writes at Read Write Poem and My Gorgeous Somewhere)


  1. churchpunkmom

    I love home schooling.. We eat PB&J on a very regular basis around here. 😉

  2. magpie

    I think I wouldn’t recognize my kindergarten teacher if I fell over her.

    My sixth grade teacher? Yup. Though she might be dead now – she was fading last I heard. I was in touch with her for years, long enough to get a wedding present and a baby gift from her…

  3. Aurelia

    The shame of it is that for anyone who isn’t severely allergic, peanut butter is healthy and cheap and easy to make into multiple meals. And if it’s natural peanut butter, it’s one of the best sources of cheap healthy protein for the poor and disadvantaged in our society.

    I saw that conversation on twitter and didn’t interject only because there are limitations to twitter and I didn’t want to get misinterpreted.

    But this study pretty much debunks a lot of myths about why kids are so allergic these days.

    The second one is a plain language version of the study.

    Simply put, babies in Israel eat peanut products earlier and have almost no peanut allergies. They have the same vaccinations and many of the exposures to cleaning products and chemicals and conveniences of modern life as those in the UK, but they just start early. The feed their kids whatever and don’t worry about precise food schedules, and the kids are fine.

    For kids in the US, Canada, and the UK who are already allergic, it’s too late and we do have to be protective and considerate of them and so I don’t send PBJ sandwiches. But I serve them for after school snacks or on weekends at my house.

    So that throne may see a reversal in a few years, and as for geometry and his buddy physics, may I introduce you to my friend, the boomerang?

    What goes around, comes around. heh.

  4. jess

    As a mom to a peanut allergic child in canada i can tell you that peanut butter is not banned in elementary school here, but there are some laws being passed on the east coast after a girl died trying to get to her locker and epipen.

    i love facebook for it’s connections. it’s fun to re-introduce old friends into your life.

    i remember memorizing shel silverstein poems.

  5. The Mother Tongue

    I love the way you connected all these dots here, Neil. 🙂

    Incidentally, Ozymandias is #3 on my list of Lit That Freaked Me Out in high school. #1 is Sophie’s Choice; #2 is “The Snows of Kilimajaro”.

  6. The Mother Tongue

    KilimaNjaro, I say.

  7. Jack

    Peanut Butter is a staple of my diet. Love it, love it, love it.

  8. ballerinatoes

    I liked this post. I have only recently been convinced to get on Face Book and one of my earliest childhood friends found me. We’ve exchanged some very found memories of those times. “Snapshots” as Miss Britt coined them.

    Also, as a kid I hated PB&J’s. Thank God my Mom wasn’t one of those who forced us to eat things we just couldn’t abide. Funny thing, now? I love PB&j’s! Go figure.

  9. mommymae

    we sent pb&j to school with the girls today. some schools ban it, some have a peanut free table & some don’t do anything.

  10. Dana

    Aaaaaw. That’s so nice that you dedicated your post to me. I am a little birthday “happy” (i.e., inebriated) right now, so I can’t really read. I’ll come back and read the post tomorrow. 🙂

  11. flutter

    I want the world’s biggest spoonful of peanut butter, right this minute.

  12. Annie

    I love this post :-). It may in fact be my favorite.

  13. muskrat

    As I told you on twitter, I bring my lunch every day, and when no one’s been to the grocery store in a while, that usually means PB&J. Our toddler brings it with her to preschool, too. So, in our clan, it’s not out of style at all. We’re retro like that.

  14. Cara

    I didn’t discover a love of peanut butter until I was an adult, but now I can’t imagine life without it. I could eat it by the spoonful. Actually, I do.

    Your kindergarten teacher must have made on heck of an impression on you for you to have remembered her so many years later. I wish I’d had more teachers like that.

  15. mamie

    happy to report that i am trying to bring the PBandJ back from its utter abandoned state in the desert. my boys are 2 and one eats it ravenously, the other looks at like it is cat shit. but neither have allergies, so it is a go to in this home.

    i like what your first paragraph brought forth and was thinking about something in a similar line of thought today. but i did not get too far with the whole thinking thing as i was trapped with above stated twins in a car for five hours.

    and i also do ponder on the whole explosion of allergies in current times. what is up with that? (hey, i just found a shelled peanut on the counter and ate it. how is that for connections?)

  16. Jill

    How does your kindergarten teacher feel about you stalking her?

  17. Gwen

    PB&J to Ozymandias? Clever. Now how many more steps will it take you to get back to Kevin Bacon?

  18. teahouseblossom

    Neil, all of these connections are beautiful and poetic!

    I still remember having to explicate Ozymandias in high school English.

  19. Middle-Aged-Woman

    In 9th grade, my history teacher, Mr. Conklin, found out my maiden name was Percival. He called me Percy for the rest of the year and made me bring in a copy of Ozymandias (by Percy Bysshe Shelley) and read it aloud to the class. we didn’t get it either. Although I did learn that Percy’s wife, Mary, was much more famous than he. For writing Frankenstein.

  20. Vicki

    Isn’t it amazing the things that stick around in our heads long after we are out of school? My grandpa frequently recites poems by Pushkin and Lermontov that he learned over 60 years ago in school. Me? The only thing I remember from my 8th grade French class:
    Lundi mardi fete
    Mercredi petetre
    Jeudi la Saint Nicholas
    Vendredi de ni travai Pas
    Samedi Petit Journei
    Dimanche un vas se promine
    (or something spelled similarly)

    On another note, I think way too many American kids are allergic to stuff (same case in Japan.) Why didn’t this happen 25 years ago in the United States and still doesn’t happen in other countries today? Maybe it’s because we all buy 99% antibacterial soap and carry hand sanitizer with us. It’s ridiculous. People shouldn’t be afraid of germs.

  21. Loukia

    Why are you not a published author yet?

  22. Denise

    Peanuts are not banned from my daughter’s school, but there is a “nut free” table! For the record, we prefer almond butter in our house and it’s definitely a staple.

  23. anymommy

    I remember memorizing Ozymandias too – also a lot of Robert Frost, The Road Less Traveled and the one about a snowy evening. Love the six degrees of life theme.

    And I love peanut butter, I’m with flutter, I’m going to stick a spoon of peanutbutter into chocolate chips now.

  24. Beautiful Wreck

    We are homeschooling. One reason we will be homeschooling our fourth child is due to allergies. Schools here are not peanut free. They have peanut free tables in the lunch room.

    I miss peanut butter M&Ms and sneak them and a Reese’s anytime I can.

    Now I want some.

  25. Rob O.

    Gwen, I love that game! Matthew Goode played Ozymandias in “Watchmen” which also starred Billy Crudup, who was in “Sleepers” with Kevin Bacon.

    Makes me sad that there’s been such a nasty knee-jerk reaction to peanuts, yet nary a twinge over routinely feeding children lots of much worse crap – like most of the high fructose corn syrup-addled fare that’s aimed squarely at little kids.

    And what of the chemical-laden McDonalds or Burger King chow? If you wanna give your child a strawberry shake, that’s cool, but please make sure it actually has strawberries and ice cream in the first 2 or 3 ingredients! Ditto for french fries – make sure they’re real potatoes that were peeled sometime in the past few hours, not the cardboard sugar-salt sticks that the big fast food chains offer.

    Neil, I wish I could bump into some of my old grade school teachers. Wherever you are, Mrs. Cooper, you’re thought of often and live fondly in my memories as a pivotal character in my early years.

  26. Haley-O

    Did you just quote Percy Shelley’s “Ozymandias”? God, I love you! 😉

  27. p-huong

    I’m eating peanuts as I write this. I’m actually shocked about the whole peanut allergy thing.

  28. p-huong

    PS I just noticed the little smiley face on the bottom of the page… cute!

  29. moi

    omg this is wierd lol 🙂
    the little smiley face at the botom is kwl :p

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