the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Month: July 2011

The Music Conference

As a professional musician, I am excited about attending this music conference next week in San Diego. It gives me a chance to meet my peers.

A friend is going for the first time. She is excited about meeting a certain rockstar, and can’t stop talking about her. I shrugged when she mentioned the rockstar’s name. I’ve never been much into her music. Her songs are OK, but she’s too commercial for my taste.

I do like pop music. I even downloaded the latest song by a popular boy band. But I don’t use fame or money as a deciding factor in what artist to buy on iTunes.

I’m a fan of indie bands, some unknown. One of my faves is a band that only plays small clubs in Brooklyn.

I listen to different music depending on my mood. When I get angry, I blast this guy from Spokane who is keeping Punk alive. During one concert in Phoenix, he smashed his guitar on his head and vomited on the audience. He is wild!

I seem to best relate to the folksy female singer-songwriters who create introspective songs about motherhood and marriage. Some of my own songs have that “sensitive guy” quality. My hipster friends find this type of music overly-precious, as if you need to commit suicide to be a real artist, but I find honest storytelling so much better than the manufactured corporate rock you hear on the radio.

Sadly, the music industry has become all about money. Even this music conference I’m attending has changed throughout the years. The conference is less about the music than the product placement. All the big record companies and talent agencies show up, and much of the community spirit has been shattered by envy and jealousy.

When I started playing music, I promised myself that I would never sell out to the “man,” but it is getting harder and harder to resist the corporate sponsorship that has infected the music industry.

All I know is that when I read someone talking about a “rockstar” online, I tend to shrug.

I like country music. I like rap. I like Barry Manilow. If you go to a music conference just to talk to the rockstars, that tells me that you’re not really into the music.

In the Limo

“Do we tip the driver?” I asked Sophia. We were in the backseat of a limo, part of the fleet from one of the most famous of Los Angeles livery services.

“I’m not sure. I suppose so.” she answered, sipping her champagne. “We certainly don’t want to be called cheap for the next six years, like we have been on that old post about splitting a salad at Olive Garden.”

We both laughed, and ate more of the caviar, included with our VIP package.   I still get angry comments on that post at least once a week from waiters at Olive Garden, calling us cheapskates.  Even at our lowest points in our marriage, Sophia and I could take a breather to read the latest bitter response to the post and chuckle together.  It was our form of marital therapy.

“It’s my favorite post,” I said.

“Me too.”

We were relaxing in the limo, dressed in our finest clothes.  I was wearing a rented tuxedo. Sophia wore a pearl necklace. The idea was to feel like a modern-day Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn, on our way to the court to file our paperwork for divorce.  We were sophisticated, urbane, shelling out the witticisms like in a Noel Coward play.

Wait a minute.  Didn’t we file for divorce already? If you remember last season in this long-going series, I left town to go to New York City. Final shot: The signed paperwork sitting on the coffee table as I closed the door in the background.

New season.   Surprise.  It was all a trick, as clever a gimmick as finding out on “Dallas” that it was all a dream.

Somehow the paperwork got lost or misplaced so we need to do it all over again.   What I will do just for blog fodder.

But it is all good.   Better to file the papers in STYLE, like we always wanted to do. We would go to court via limo, and then head out to a swanky nightclub for 300 of our closest friends for the ultimate LA party of the year.

“Would you enjoy some music while you relax in the back?” asked the livery driver.

“Sure,” said Sophia.

The driver played some Barry White, which somehow seemed so wrong that it was right.

But the low sultry voice of Barry White was quickly drowned out as we approached the downtown courthouse. Waiting for us on the steps was the full USC Trojan Marching band playing our wedding song.  It cost me a fortune to rent them.

Sophia laughed.

“Perfect, Neil.  This is going to be the best filing for divorce in the history of Divorce!”

“I made an appointment so we don’t have to wait.” I mentioned to Sophia.  “All we have to do is hand the piece of paper in, pay a fee, and the process has started.”

“I’m sure your blog readers will be relieved,” she added.  “This neurotic plotline has been going on for so long. It’s time for a new story twist.”

We had it all arranged, as precisely as a movie heist.   We would approach the clerk in the courthouse.   I would hold the right side of the filing paper, and Sophia the left side —  and hand it in together.  Like a team!

Because marriage is all about teamwork.

“Do you have the paperwork?”  asked Sophia.

“I think you put it in your purse.”

“No. You said you were going to take it yourself.”

“Not true.   I distinctly remember asking YOU if I should take it, and YOU said that YOU would put it in your purse so I wouldn’t have to fold it in eights in order to put into my shirt pocket.”

“Why would I care if you folded it in eights or not?”

“I don’t know.  Maybe because you are a perfectionist.  That’s what you said!”

The limo was parked directly in front of the downtown Los Angeles court.  The USC Trojan marching band was playing our wedding song, our first dance, for the fifth time in a row.  The livery driver was getting impatient.

“We can always get another piece of paper in the courthouse.” I suggested.

“And wait in line again? No way!  Why don’t you just come back tomorrow and hand it in yourself.”

“Because we are supposed to be doing this together.”

“Stop being so co-dependent.”

“We’re a team!  A team to the end.  Like the USC Trojans   Even though we are separated for years!”

“How can we be a team if you are always forgetting the paperwork back at home. So irresponsible?”

“Me? Irresponsible? This whole thing would be over by now if you had just handed it in a year ago like you were supposed to do!”

“F*ck it.” said Sophia. “Let’s just do this another day. I’m walking over to Chinatown and having some lunch.”

“OK, I’m hungry too.   But I’m doing this by next week.”

Sophia and I left the limo, the marching band repeating the refrain of Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen, our wedding song.  I guess I would have to pay them overtime, just like I did the swing band at the wedding reception.   As we walked to Chinatown, we gently stepped to the music, still remembering the swing dance lessons we took before the wedding, so many years before.

The limo driver rolled down his window and spit on the floor.

“Assholes,” he snarled. “They didn’t even tip me.  Cheapskates.”

Truth Quotient — 2%

This Week’s Favorite NYC Photos – Week Five

Thanks for letting me share with you these NYC photos over the last two months.

Next Thursday, I’m flying out to Los Angeles to take care of a few things left unsettled.  In the beginning of August, I will attend BlogHer.   After that, I’m seriously debating finding a place in Los Angeles, thinking it would be the best step, career-wise.  But I’m still not sure yet.

And if that is the case, I’ll be missing the tall skyscrapers at sunset, the subway cars screeching around the gritty tracks of Queens, and the thin uptown women in the polka dot dresses crossing the wide city streets in their fashionable shoes.

My Visit to the Bachmann’s Therapy Office

I’ve been feeling a little depressed lately, so last week, I decided to go see a therapist.  I read about a new therapy office that recently opened, and it was getting a lot of publicity, so I decided to take the bus over there for a meet-and-greet.

The waiting room was well-appointed, although the magazine selection was rather odd – Highlights for Homeschooled Christian Children, Modern Church Decor, Good Housekeeping, and issues of Playboys from 1968.

After a brief wait, I was called in, where I sat in a hard leather chair across from the therapist, a dapper young gentleman in his early thirties.  His name was Dr. Josephs. We exchanged a few pleasantries.

Now, I should tell you that at the time of this visit, I didn’t know much about this “Bachmann & Associates” clinic (read more here), other than it being a therapy office owned by presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann and her husband Marcus.  I hadn’t been listening to the news much, too busy trying to decipher the new Google+ social media app.  But it didn’t take me long to realize that this clinic had a unique method of therapy —

“So, tell me, Neil,” said the kind-faced Dr. Josephs, “What seems to be bothering you?”

“I feel out of lately.” I replied, rather sadly. “Like I’m not my true self.  I can’t motivate myself.  I just want to sit in bed all day, mope, and eat Doritos.”

“You realize that God created our eyes so we can enjoy the bodies of beautiful women.”

“Huh?  Well, uh, yeah.  I guess so.  Anyway, I’m very confused about the direction of my life…”

“I assume you like women and their bodies, no?  Like in photographs of beautiful women?”

“Wait a minute.  Have you been looking at my instagram photos?”

“I see.  Do you also like taking photos of men?”

“Sometimes.  But anyway, I like to say I am a “writer,” but what does that really mean if I don’t feel successful…”

“Perhaps your feelings of depression come from your inner self’s own disgust at your abomination with your photographs.”

“Oh man, not again. I’m not going to ask for permission every time I take every photo!”

“Have you read the Bible? The Christian Bible?”

I’ve read the Bible. But I’m not really sure what this has to do with my depression. And I’m Jewish.  Maybe that has something to do with the guilty feelings about my marriage…”

“You’re Jewish?! And you take photos of men masturbating!”

“What are you talking about? I never said I take pictures of men masturbating.  I’m talking about my marriage and the anxiety over my future…”

“But you do think about men when you masturbate? Right? Young. hunky men, with hairless chests and arms of steel?”

“Is this what they call cognitive therapy?”

“Do you find any men attractive?”

“Well, I don’t know.  I used to think Denzel Washington was attractive.  And Mel Gibson, before… you know, he turned out to be a jerk.”

“Attractive as in you would love to feel their bodies next to yours?”

“Nah.  Just that they were in good shape.  Made me want to do push-ups.”

“Have you ever slept with a black man?”

“I’ve never slept with any man.”


“OK, once in college, I shared a bed in Las Vegas with a friend because there were five of us in the room and it was disgusting because he farted all night.”

“Homosexuality is a crime against nature. You must stop being gay. You must be cured. Stop it! Stop it! Stop being gay!”

“I’m not gay!”

“Praise the Lord. My therapy worked. That will be $300. Please pay on the way out. Thank you.”

It is a week later. While the methods of therapy at this clinic were untraditional, I do feel a lot more happier, so I can definitely recommend Bachmann and Associates for all of your therapy needs.

Truth Quotient to Avoid Lawsuit:  5% (the instagram and the need for therapy)

Politically Correct Instagram Photography

“Hello, would you mind if I take a photo of you walking across the street in that sexy polka dot dress so I can put it on Istagram, a photo sharing app on the internet, so thousands of strangers can view it under the title “NYC Woman I Wish I Could Shag?”

“Sure. Sounds like an interesting project. And I am a patron of the arts. I even subscribe to the New Yorker.”

“Great. I just need for you to initial this contract on the dotted lines.  Please be aware that I reserve all rights to change the color of the photo, including the ability to transform the image into black and white purely for dramatic effect. But let me assure you that making this color choice is purely a creative decision, and has no bearing on whether YOU are black or white, because I do not base my “NYC Woman I Wish I Could Shag” photos on skin color, ethnicity, or native language.”

“Thank you for being so open to different cultures.”

“I believe it is my duty as an artist.  Now please put your initials here, allowing me to have exclusive rights to both the digital and print versions of your image as you walk across the street in your sexy polka dot dress, and the ability to reproduce this photo in various sizes. And by size, I mean the resolution of the image, and not YOUR size, because I strongly believe that a “NYC Woman I Wish I Could Shag” can be beautiful in any size from thin to curvy girl.”

“I wish there were more men like you who understood that women can be sexy in all shapes and sizes.”

“I believe it is artistic temperment that allows me to see beyond the cultural mores of the day.”

“You are terrific!”

“Thank you. Your support means a lot to me.  Now please check this box here, acknowledging to those viewing the photo that this image is completely spontaneous, and that you in no way changed your natural appearance or demeanor as you crossed the street as a “”NYC Woman I Wish I Could Shag,” despite you first signing a permission form, or accepting the one or two slight recommendations that were offered to you, such as the suggestion that you open up a second button on your blouse, a matter solely related to artistic effect, with little bearing on the true authenticity of the photograph.”

“Absolutely. Authenticity in artistic expression is soooo important to me. So, just two buttons?  I just wish I had wore a bra today!”

“Don’t worry about that.  I appreciate the authenticity.”

“Thank you!   I love the way you are approaching me with this photo you are about to take titled “NYC Woman I Wish I Could Shag.”  So many other men would take the photo secretly without even asking permission.  How rude and arrogant!”

“Perverts! Peeping Toms, I call them. Now, I just need your signature at the bottom of the contract, and then we can proceed with me taking your photo of you crossing the street in the polka dot dress as the “”NYC Woman I Wish I Could Shag.” But please note, that when I ask for your signature, any type of text-based symbol would suffice, because I aware that many in modern society have reading disorders or dyslexia, so I wouldn’t want to embarrass you or cause you discomfort by asking for your full signature.

“You are such a doll!  So considerate.   I wish all street photographers were like this!  Let’s take that photo and put it online!”

Storytelling and “Doing Good”

Blogging story of the day:  Big-time blogger goes to third-world country, writes post about what she saw, and others criticize her for being a wealthy white woman doing “poverty tourism.”

But this blogger is “doing good!” say her defenders.

I’ve now read ten posts on this topic, all focusing on how wrong it was for others to mock a person doing so much good. In two days, the personal blogging community went from caring only about “monetizing their blog” to  the importance of “doing good.”

In my opinion, you are getting the argument wrong.   The “doing good” is a red herring.   It has nothing to do with anything.   I’m not friends with any of the parties involved, so there is no one I want to defend.

I’m just interested in storytelling.

I believe writers should be able to tell their stories without others mocking them.   A person has the freedom to go to a Third World country and write about his or her experience.

If I went on this trip, I might talk about my allergies, the smog, and how the cab driver ripped me off.  I might even HATE visiting this chaotic country, and reveal I spent the entire week in my hotel room drinking mojitos   And you know something? — you still don’t have any right to mock me.   It’s my story, even it’s about a weekend in a upscale hotel in a Third World country.    Not an editorial on how you should live your life.

Of course, a person also has the right to criticize.   But only the issue, not the story.  The story is above the issue.   That’s what make stories last longer than the issues.   Because stories not about “doing good” or being right or following any political or artistic agenda.

They are about life.    Write your own stories.

Poverty Tourist

I don’t need to travel to Bangladesh to be a poverty tourist.   I am a poverty tourist everyday.   I travel down the block to learn about the pain and suffering and love and joy of others, so I can report back to you.   And to myself.

You can be a poverty tourist too.   Just walk outside.

Here’s are a few tips to help you while you take your journey.

Some people are easy to read.   They write it out for you, even shout it out for you.   Their hopes and dreams literally jump off their skin.

Others hide and express themselves in signals of smoke.   Don’t be fooled.    It is the quiet ones who are the most profound.

Don’t be distracted by those trying to manipulate you with words and images.    The truth is not there.

No matter what anyone says, we ALL have a story to tell.

We all need to be connected, to have personal ties.

No one wants to be alone. Even in a crowd.

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