the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

48 Rolls

Are there winner and losers in this world?  The importance of success in life weighs me down, like a ship’s anchor.   Is it all a matter of fate?   Or attitude?  Or is it choice?  Do I always make the wrong choices?   The loser’s choices?  Can I change my ship’s direction, from losing to winning?  And how?

On Tuesday, I had two offers to attend different networking parties in Manhattan.   It would have been a good opportunity to meet some editors and publishers.   But I already had plans.   I went to a NY Mets game with an old friend.  I had fun with my friend, but was it the “winning” choice?   Probably not.   No networking possibilities.  No new connections.

I grew up in Flushing, Queens, so it was natural for me to grow up being a Mets fan, despite them being famous for their losing.    In elementary school, all my friends were Mets fans.  But as the years ticked off, my friends would switch sides and root for the Yankees, the “winning” New York team.   I clearly remember when Russell T arrived in class wearing a Yankees jacket and cap!

“Hey, Russell, what the hell are you doing?!”

“I’m done with the Mets.   I’m for the Yankees now.   They’re winners!”

It was Russell’s first step to a winning philosophy.   Russell was the Tony Robbins of Parsons Junior High School.

“Think about it…?” he asked.  “Why hang out with loser friends or follow a loser’s team?   I’m choosing “winning.””

At the time, I saw him as a sell-out , but perhaps he was the smart one.   It didn’t surprise me when I recently found Russell on Facebook that he wasn’t 300 pounds and divorced four times like I had hoped — but a freaking ultra-successful partner in a law firm married to a former Miss Connecticut!


My father had some issues with winning and losing.   The first time we went to Las Vegas as a family on a summer vacation, we played the slot machines together, my parents and I, sitting around the machine as a family unit.  I remember how fun it was to pull down the lever.  My father “allotted”  us each $25 dollars each to play with, which lasted about an hour.   In the elevator going to our hotel room, we encountered a sharp-looking guy who had just finished playing black-jack.   He had slick-backed hair and looked like a gambler you would see in old movies.

“How did you do?” asked my father.

“Pretty good,” replied Mr. Slick, flicking a chip with his finger.   “And you?”

“We were LOSERS!” said my father, proudly.

It might seem odd that my father was so confident in his response, but in his mind, he was bragging to the other guy.   Sure, the gambler might have won today, but my father was smart enough to know that the casino always wins.   He also wanted to teach me an important lesson — don’t strive for the unattainable.    If you know your limits, you will be happier.  He had zero belief that we could ever hit the jackpot in a casino, so only fools would try.  To this day, I don’t gamble when I go to Las Vegas.  I eat and go to see the latest show by Cirque de Soleil.   Gambling is a waste of time.   I can hear my father in my head.  Why waste your money if chances are that you are going to lose?


I was over at my mother’s home yesterday in Queens.  She was playing cards with her friend, Laura, a seventy-ish, white haired woman who lives on the third floor of the same apartment building.    Apparently, my mother, unlike my late father, does gamble, at least with pennies and nickels.  As my mother dealt the cars, she asked me to go over to Walgreens to pick up a few items.  She handed me the sales circular that we received in the mail.  She  had circled what she wanted — laundry detergent, toothpaste and a 24-roll package of toilet paper.  It was a good buy for the toilet paper.

“It’s for one of the good brands!” she said.

“That’s a good price for the toilet paper,” said Laura.  “Would you mind getting me one, too?”

“Sure,” I said.

I walked the three blocks down Kissena Boulevard, entered Walgreens, and bought the items.  After the salesgirl rang up the items, she slid the two 24-roll packages of toilet paper towards me.

“Sorry,” she said, “but we don’t have bags that are big enough for these.”

“So, I’m supposed to take it outside like this?”

“You still want it?”  she shrugged.

It annoyed me that Walgreens would offer a sale on 24-roll packages of toilet paper, and then not supply the store with large enough plastic bags.   This is going too far, even for the Green movement.  If I was still living in Los Angeles, I would just throw the packages into the trunk of my car.  Here, I had to walk home.

I took my items and went into the street, a 24-roll package of toilet paper under each arm.  It was the longest three block in my life.  No one wants to be seen walking down the city street carrying 48 rolls of toilet paper.  It destroys all street cred.  I could see the stares, both from strangers and residents of my apartment building.

“How often does that Neil take a crap?!” I could hear them muttering.

I made it into my apartment building, and sighed with relief.  As I walked to the elevator, I faced my last obstacle.  It was the sexy single black mother with the short black hair and the beautiful eyes, who had recently moved into the apartment on sixth floor.  I had always wanted to say hello to her — and here I was — holding 48 rolls of toilet paper.


That word was immediately flickering on my forehead, like a neon sign.

I tried to make myself feel better by finding humor in the situation, much as my father might have done.

“Just my luck!” I said to myself.  “For months I’ve been waiting to talk to this woman — and now, here I am, the ultimate sucker, holding 48 rolls of toilet paper.  Funny.”

But it wasn’t really funny.   I wasn’t put on this earth so I could come up with funny stories about my life and write them in a blog which makes me no money.   THAT is being a loser.   I am living my life for ME.  I was going to TRANSFORM this LOSER moment into a WINNER moment.

I took a deep breath and turned towards the woman, the gigantic toilet paper packages gripped in my hands.

“Hi there,” I said smiling.  “There’s a big sale at Walgreens!  Can you believe they didn’t have any plastic bags for these.”

I rose the toilet paper packages into the air, like dumbbells.

“Not good,” she said, shaking her head.

“You should go to Walgreens yourself and buy one.  This is a good brand.”

“I know.  I use that toilet paper brand too.”

Wow.  We both use the same toilet paper.   We were bonding!  I continued on with this intriguing conversation.

“I buy a lot of off-brands products at the supermarket,” I said.  Like for paper towels and dishwashing liquid.  But I think it is important that when you buy toilet paper, you buy the best!”

“I agree.  I’ll go to Walgreens later and buy myself a package.”

“Good for you.   Although you’re going to have to take the walk of shame home, carrying the toilet paper without a bag.”

“Well, you did it… and you survived.”

By this time, we were in the elevator, and it had just stopped on the first floor.  This was my floor.

“Have a nice night,” I said, as I stepped off.

“Thanks.  You, too,” she replied, smiling.

This was not a great story.  But as I walked into my apartment, carrying 48 rolls of toilet paper, I felt like a winner.


  1. Marie

    I learned (not soon enough) that, for the most part, nobody gives a crap (yeah) about what you’re carrying, especially strangers on the street. And if they do, who cares?

    Although, yes, Walgreens should have bigger bags, but I’m pretty sure they’re idiots, considering my own encounters with them.

    More importantly, when did you develop street cred?

  2. carma

    I get very excited about sales on toilet paper – especially when it goes down to 12 rolls for $4.99 – that truly is like hitting the jackpot! Not like getting a comment from Dooce on my blog though. I’m afraid those odds are even worse than the Vegas odds.

  3. sarah g

    Friends are always more important than networking. When you’re 90, don’t you want to look back and remember that game with your friend whom you’ve known so long? Rather than “glad i networked a little”.

    Also? Sometimes you have to lose some to win some, and sometimes in order to win big; you have to go all in. Take that for relationships and gambling.

  4. Marinka

    I thoroughly enjoyed this. How many rolls are left?

  5. linda

    sexy, with the short black hair, beautiful eyes AND still talks to you even though you’re carrying 48 rolls of TP! Sounds like a WINNER to me!

  6. Neil

    Marinka — It’s only been one day?! What do you think?

  7. Heather

    I think sometimes you worry far too much about what everyone thinks about you. Seriously, you are what people aspire to. You’re THE writer. The rest of us are just wanna be’s!
    You’re totally a winner.

  8. Dana

    You’re clearly lucky and a winner, Neil. First, you did something special for a couple of older ladies. Second, because if you’d been a loser and unlucky, you’d have been caught in a torrential downpour with 48 rolls of sopping mess. That’s maybe the way Woody Allen would have framed it.

  9. Staceylt

    I loved this. The mental picture of you walking down the street with 48 rolls of toilet tissue made me smile. I’m glad you spoke to the pretty woman.

  10. slouchy

    this made me smile.

  11. Stacey

    If I saw you with that much toilet paper, I’d just assume you own a cat.

  12. Jane

    A very good sign that she still talked to you while carrying your rolls of shame. A very good sign, indeed!

  13. Zoe Right

    I figure all of the insane crap I go through ought to be good for something if nothing more than entertaining people.

    However if going to the Mets made you happiest- you should do what makes you happy.

  14. Heather

    This reminds me of the you I heard at blogher, the passion for the crafting of a story. Sooner or later there’s a moment like that when you live in the city. Sort of glad I can cram my trunk full of Costco crap these days and sort of not. I really and truly gained a different perspective on the whole blogging/celebrity/being someone thing after NH.

  15. p-huong

    I feel half of your pain/humiliation. I had to walk home carrying a 12 roll package of toilet paper. Or actually a quarter of your pain. Mind you I had a longer walk and was carrying some fem products too.

  16. flutter

    if I had the opportunity to be with a friend that I’d had since grade school, or networking?

    networking would lose every single time.

  17. Mik

    Why am I picturing Stacey wiping her cats butt with toilet paper?
    Anyhoo, good for you for being a winner, maybe you should have offered to go with the lady and carry the tp home for her to save her the walk of shame.

  18. Quadelle

    Thanks for the laugh – and agreed on the winner status.

    I grew up with the same embarrassment / tentativeness around anything related to the bathroom. It took me years of living in Australia – where most toilets are in a separate room to the main bathroom – before I could follow Aus convention and casually ask where someone’s toilet was located. It felt crude just saying the word. Now? Meh.

  19. Middle-Aged-Woman

    I am calling BS on that conversation. Straight out of a Neil Simon play, that was! Or, should have been. Why didn’t you offer to go with her and carry it for her, saving her the pain of embarrassment? Neil, Neil, Neil. Think of all the street cred for walking down the avenue with an attractive woman!

  20. MammaLoves

    It is all about your attitude.

  21. MammaLoves

    And I think you put too much stock in these “networking” events. Make yourself happy. In the end, that’s all that matters.

  22. mamie

    i like the way you elevated the walk of shame. i had a really interesting conversation with my husband, he runs along the lines of introvert and i think his thoughts would have been parallel to yours on the whole toilet paper/loser thing….but i love how you just pushed through to make it a totally okay thing with the hot chick. i am going to have tim read this post because i think it will resonate after the conversation we just had.

    still rocking september, neil.

  23. AnnieH(the other Annie)

    Is this a quiz?? I love quizzes:>)
    Both choices–the Mets game & elevator discourse–were winners because you chose real life connections. Networking is an illusion. The players constantly change and it becomes a moving target. It’s exhausting. You, Neilochka, can be the calm in the eye…

  24. Chris

    I agree with Heather. “You’re THE writer. The rest of us are just wanna be’s!” I also liked your story very much, and I’ve personally taken far worse walks of shame.

  25. teahouseblossom

    Hahahaha. No shame in crapping a lot. As my dad would say, it’s a sign of good health.

    And maybe one day you and she will laugh about this story when you’re old friends!

  26. Fran

    It seems to me that to be “winners” we make the best choices we can, then make the most of those choices. “Losers” always second-guess their choices, or bemoan the outcome. It is only be hindsight that we gain perspective and if you’re always looking behind you’re likely to go off-course or crash into a solid object. So – winners also must focus on what’s next, not what’s been.

    I *love* how you made the most of a potentially awkward situation by recognizing that any awkwardness is perceived and conveyed. You overcame that! Way to recognize that everyone needs good toilet paper! And who doesn’t love a bargain?

  27. threeboys1mommy

    I don’t believe you actually spoke to her, Correction, I don’t believe she replied 😉

    You know at Target they make you a handle for the big packs of toilet paper with a strip of tape. You can carry the pack like a briefcase and not loose your swagger, or street cred as at were.

  28. V-Grrrl

    Loved this.

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