the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Month: May 2013

The Five Day Man Cold: The Final Chapter

Let’s recap. This month has centered around my health. On May 1st, I switched health insurances from one in California to one in New York, a process way more complicated that I ever expected. I found a new primary doctor, and I went to him for a physical. His nurse took my blood for a lab test, and I almost fainted when I noticed the needle entering my arm. A week later, when the results came back from the lab, the doctor told me that I had high cholesterol and high sugar. He made me promise that I would stop eating too many “everything” bagels shmeared with cream cheese.

I listened to the doctor, trusting in his authority. But on the sixth day of my bagel fast, I found my body grow weak and my mind cloudy. Like an addict without a fix, my system went haywire. I collapsed onto my bed. Diagnosis: a man cold.

But this wasn’t a typical man cold. This was one that kept me in bed throughout the entire Memorial Day Weekend. Friday I was “under the weather.” Saturday, I had a sore throat and a runny nose. Sunday, I was coughing and crying for help. Monday, I could hardly move. Tuesday, I was crawling on the floor, like an wounded animal.

“Wait a minute,” you might wonder. “Can you really get a man cold from not eating a bagel for six days?”

I asked my new family doctor the same question, and he said, “no, that’s utter nonsense.” But let’s face it — even the most famous of medical scholars cannot honestly that science knows all the answers. Sometimes we need to go on simple faith. So I will continue to believe that the lack of bagels caused the man cold.

During my five day cold, I spend much of my time pondering the everyday importance of good health. One of my mother’s favorite aphorisms is, “If you have your health, you have everything,” and is there any wiser statement? Why doesn’t anyone ever post that in some fancy typography on Pinterest rather than another boring take on “Stay Calm and Carry On.”


Whether you are white or black, man or woman, gay or straight, there is one privilege that trumps them all — having good health.

I left the house today for the first time in five days. The outside world beckoned to me, filed with life and vibrancy. No one should stay inside for too long and miss all that it offered.


Even though I was still sneezing, I knew it was time to rejoin civilization. The sun warmed my body, and my soul. I felt the urge to celebrate. Why not treat myself with a bit of the forbidden fruit? — yes, an everything bagel shmeared with cream cheese.

I walked over to my local bagel shop and ordered an everything bagel with cream cheese and a small coffee.


“Regular coffee?” asked the guy behind the counter, the New York shorthand meaning sweet and with cream.”

“No. No sugar at all,” I replied. I wasn’t going to go hedonistically crazy and return to the unhealthy habits of the past. Even I had boundaries.

I crossed the street to the courtyard by the decrepit playground in the center of the hunched-over brown apartment buildings of the 1960s-era housing project, and sat down on one of the faded green wood benches, placing my cup of coffee and the paper bag containing my aromatic bagel on the bench, to my side.

I took a sip of my coffee. It needed sugar. But I would get used to it. I turned to my brown paper bag. The bagel inside was calling my name. But just then, there was a surprising distraction. A tiny squirrel jumped onto the adjacent bench a few feet away, and he stared at me with a bemused smile. I love New York. Even the squirrels are fearless in this town.


I reached into my pocket for my iPhone, hoping to get a photo for my new Tumblr blog, “Squirrels of New York,” a sure-shot concept for an inevitable book deal. The iPhone’s zooming capacity is weak, so I waited for the squirrel to take a step closer. And that’s when it happened. The squirrel pierced the quiet, jumped over my lap, grabbed my brown paper bag containing the everything bagel and started to run.

But my furry-tailed adversary was no match for a human being, even one handicapped with a five day man cold. I sped into action, and as I pursued him, the squirrel slid under the bench and ran towards a nearby tree, dragging the paper bag on the ground. But the excessive weight of the bagel, heavy with the fat-laden cream cheese, turned out to be a burden for the hapless creature. As I closed in, he had no choice but to climb up the tree to safety, leaving the booty behind to the rightful owner. This was one time in human history when right and might were on the same side.

I returned to the bench with my bagel bag and sat next to my unsugared cup of coffee. And my thoughts turned to God.

Was this squirrel attack a random act of nature, or was it a higher power sending me a message? Isn’t it possible that the squirrel stole my brown paper bag as a spiritual warning to me that I keep my promise to eat better and to care for my health?

As a man of faith, I don’t discount that a message can come from above.

But today was a special day, and I had no time for lofty idealism. I pushed past my man-cold and even defeated a wily enemy who stole my property. I was a hero.

Yes, I ate that everything bagel spread with cream cheese. Yes, I finished my cup of coffee. And I went home, with my head held high. But next time, I will order a whole wheat bagel with low-fat cream cheese.

Do You Believe in True Love?

Do you believe in true love or is it the stuff of fiction?

Why are some so lucky, basking in the sun of happiness —

— while others are invisible to life’s greatest joy?

Who am I? Why am I? What am I?

How am I different than every other man?

I have dreams, passions, urges, wild thoughts.   But they scare me.

Perhaps it is safer to remain broken.   Incomplete. 

Or is no one in control of what happens to your heart?

The Problem with the Tray at McDonald’s

One childhood ritual of mine that continues to this day is my method of eating French fries at McDonald’s. I spill the fries onto the tray, rip open two of those jagged-edged ketchup packets (one is never enough) and squirt the tomato delicacy into the empty zone situated between the fries and the edge of the tray. As most of you probably know, when I say “the tray” I don’t mean that I eat directly off of the dirty, plastic, dark-brown McDonald’s tray. No, I throw the fries on the paper “placemat” that is slid on top of the tray by the McDonald’s employee before the arrival of the food. These placemats tend to be colorful advertisements on the front, extolling the fun and community-mindedness of Ronald McDonald, while the back contains the nutritional information, hidden from the customer’s view.

My French fry eating method has one major drawback. Since there are no waiters or busboys at McDonald’s, the customer is expected to do his civic duty and bus his own tray. Several garbage receptacles are provided with swinging doors, so a customer could open one of them by pushing it inward with his tray, avoiding hand contact, and then with a mere shake of the wrist, empty the tray into the darkness of the receptacle. The cheerful customer would then place his tray on top of one of the gray, fake-linoleum receptacles, adding it to a neatly arranged pile of identical trays, ready to be cleaned and reused.

While I am sure this clean-up system works efficiently at the McDonald’s Engineering Lab at Hamburger University, my ritual of spilling out the fries and ketchup onto the paper placemat exposes a major glitch. My placemat always sticks to the tray itself, and no amount of shaking, or banging the tray against the side of the receptacle can ever release it from its greasy prison.

This unfortunate problem requires me to make some hard decision when I visit McDonald’s. Should I stick my hand into the receptacle and manually pull the paper placemat off the tray, potentially splashing ketchup all over my hand, arm, or even my shirt? Or should I just pass the problem off to others, by tossing the tray, with the sticky, stained, paper placemat, right on the remaining pile of trays.

Over the years, many of my friends, having the same difficult with the receptacles (after copying my technique of eating French Fries) chose the second route of action, rationalizing it by insisting that they, “cleaned it off as best as they could.” I could never sink that low. My parents raised me to do better.

But recently, as in many stories, a change in direction came from an unlikely source, forever changing my relationship with the garbage receptacles at McDonald’s. Last week, after my yearly checkup, my doctor told me that I had high cholesterol and sugar levels, and that I should probably stop eating at McDonald’s. A mere day later, another event occurred, adding more fuel to the drama. The Dominican Diner down the block closed down, seized by the State of New York for the non-payment of taxes. The closure of the diner left McDonald’s as the only place within ten block to grab a quick and inexpensive cup of coffee.

McDonald’s or not? That is the question. My decision was — I compromised. This week, I visited McDonald’s four times, but only to order a cup of coffee – no food. No breakfast burrito. No hamburger. No chicken wrap. Not even French fries. I noticed that because I only ordered coffee, the cashier skipped the tray, and just handed me the coffee, right into my open hand – even if I intended to drink it at the restaurant.

This not only enhanced my health, but revolutionized my handling of the clean-up. After drinking the coffee, I now simply push open the garbage receptacle with the paper cup, and toss it away. No more fighting with the unruly paper placemat grabbing hold on to the tray for dear life. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even start to bring my own cup down to McDonald’s and avoid using the garbage receptacle at all.

Truth quotient: 100%. This is the type of story you get when the truth quotient is 100%.

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