the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Category: Life with Sophia (Page 1 of 27)

Ten Years of Citizen of the Month – A Dedication

It was March 2005, and my first two weeks of blogging.  No one was reading Citizen of the Month, my “blog” named after a award that I frequently won in grade school for being such a goody-two-shoes. And without any comments, the idea of writing a blog seemed like a waste of time.

Then, a woman named Mary commented on several posts, writing notes such as “great post” and “you are a talented writer.” I was so excited; I was connecting with a stranger through my writing! This type of immediate feedback more satisfying that writing scripts for soulless Hollywood.

But then I noticed an oddness in the “IP address” of this Mary person. It was the same IP address as mine — not similar, but exactly the same.

This was because “Mary” was my wife at the time, Sophia, encouraging me under a false alias, not wanting me to quit.

This is a dedication to my first ten years of blogging.

I started my blog on March 7, 2005, on my birthday.

There are so many people to thank. Citizen of the Month has been a personal journey of my last ten years, and I have made countless friends along the way, like Frodo meeting the dwarves and elves while heading to Mount Doom. But there is only one person who truly deserves a special dedication to my first ten years of blogging — and that is Sophia.

If Citizen of the Month were a novel, it would start with my marriage to Sophia, proceed to my on-and-off separation with Sophia, my on-and-off divorce from my Sophia, and finally to the aftermath of my marriage, from my chapter with Juli in New Zealand, to therapy, to my first stabs at online dating.  Even my topical posts were filled with secret messages and personal details.

Even when Sophia wasn’t present in the online story, she was somehow in the background, such as when she hacked into my blogger address book and secretly arranged a virtual birthday party for me (with Danny‘s help) in 2007.


My second decade of blogging will be a different story, one that I haven’t written yet, because I am not in complete control of the plot. My divorce is now further in the past and I live in another city. I haven’t been the greatest blogger of late, spreading myself thin on social media, but in my mind, everything I do online is a continuation of the personal journey that I started here on this space.

Thank you to everyone who ever stopped by, commented, or argued with me here on Citizen of the Month during the last ten years.  I promise to try to put the shine back on to my space.  Thanks to my mom, who has always been the most popular “character” on my blog, even back in 2005 when I got some laughs at her calling Citizen of the Month a “blodge.”   To Elan, who taught me everything.    To Martin, the best and most intelligent commenter that ever appeared on this blog.  Bon, Jana, Juli, Sizzle, Josette, Lotus, Megan, Pearl, Tamar, Sarah, Jenn — jeez, you know who you are.   Those names just came popping out and I apologize if I don’t mention you personally.  I even apologize again to  Liz from Mom 101 for calling her a Mussolini-type dictator for her “blogging with integrity” movement from years ago.

Throughout the years, I’ve always had an eccentric definition of a “blog.” I don’t see this space as writing or photography or a business. I’ve seen it as an extension of my life, as a living and breathing entity that expresses my inner soul, writing to myself, the wind, and sometimes just for Tanis, simply to annoy her.

And thank you, Sophia for always being supportive of my online life (except for the one time you called my favorite blogging friend, Veronica, on the phone and yelled at her for that one comment, but I promised I would never mention that), and for being my muse during the Golden Age years of my blog.

Now on to my second decade of blogging.

The Last Call


I haven’t spoken to Sophia in three months.

I have been reluctant to mention this to you, fearing you think I am hopelessly pining for us to get back together, which is not the case at all.  But I’m a sentimental fool, and I was still hoping for a different sort of ending to our long journey together, one where we could joke with each other about our new lives post-divorce, like two ex-lovers in a romantic comedy. Instead, we burned bridges.

I was depressed about this for a month, as if the past dozen years were a waste of my time, but as time crept on, I acknowledged that sometimes you need to learn, love, grow, and move on. By month three, I found myself spending more time worrying about a faraway woman in New Zealand than making peace with the past.

The first week after the blowout was intense. She blocked my phone number. She blocked my landline and my cell phone.  She blocked my mother’s cell phone.  My last attempt to fix things was one of pure desperation — walking down the block to the public phone outside the liquor store, a spot usually reserved for lonely late night phone card calls to foreign countries.

I placed four quarters into the slot. I wiped the receiver with my t-shirt, concerned about exotic germs. I dialed Sophia’s home number. And nothing. I lost all of my money. The phone was rigged the phone so the coins became stuck in the slot. I battered the phone with my fist, like a bully.  The phone laughed at me.

“Fuck it,” I said, taking it as a sign not to call her again.

Not everything has to be tied up together neatly like a fictional story.  Sometimes the tale just ends, without a moral.

One Thing a Day #2 – The Laundry

Boiler Room

Wise men say, “Don’t air your dirty laundry,” so I’m not going to do that. But that doesn’t mean I can’t tell you about the clean, but still very wet laundry that was spinning in the dryer in the garage when Sophia and I had our last fight in the house.

“I’ll take the Shuttle to the airport,” I said, grabbing the soggy clothes in mid-rotation and throwing them into my suitcase.

I walked to the laundromat by the post office, wheeling my luggage in like I was entering the marble lobby of the Four Seasons. A homeless man was washing himself in the sink. A grumpy African-American woman was reading Jet magazine; Fantasia was on the cover. I remembered when Sophia and I watched Fantasia win American Idol. How long ago was that? 2004?! Nine years ago!

I opened the suitcase on the cleanest linoleum counter, and tossed the damp clothes into the commercial drier. My brightly colored shorts and t-shirts — direct from summertime in New Zealand — created a colorful kaleidoscope as they spun, but they would do little to keep me warm during the cold gray wintery life of New York City.

In the front pocket of the suitcase was a New Zealand Paua shell that Juli gave me to take home. It was wrapped in a red towel. I carefully peeled the flaps of the flannel towel open, like a onion, or like a woman, to make sure that it was still in one piece.

Sophia called. We talked. We calmed down. She drove me to LAX. At the American Airlines terminal, I gave her my house key. In New Zealand, Juli gave me her house key, and I took it — a promise to return. And here I was, giving my other house key back to Sophia.

It was not the way I imagined leaving the house for the last time, wheeling out my wet clothes in a suitcase.

Feeling Divorced


In 2005, I separated from my wife.

But it wasn’t a real separation because we still saw each other every day.

In 2010, we decided that it was time to file for divorce.

But her father-in-law became sick, so we had to help care for him, and then her mother died from all the stress, right before her stepfather died, so we never had a chance to get a divorce.

In 2011, we did file for divorce with California.

But we filed it incorrectly, and it got them returned to us, and we didn’t touch the paperwork for another eight months.

In 2012, we re-filed the paperwork.   And finally, we were divorced.  We got the notice in the mail.

But it didn’t feel like divorce.  I was still living in the same house for half of the year, and we shared all expenses.   And we were still arguing about the same issues.  It was as if we had tossed away all of the good parts of marriage, only to keep the negatives.  We treated the divorce notice as irrelevant,  as valid as Monopoly money.  It didn’t matter what California said.  We would keep working at this forever.

In 2013, I met another woman online and I traveled to New Zealand to see her.

But even during this budding international romance, I still never FELT completely divorced.  And Juli, the woman in New Zealand, told me so.  I hid from my ex-wife when she called me on the phone.  It was if I felt uncomfortable making a new life for myself without her approval.  I was tied to her, if not like husband and wife, at least like “brother and sister.” It was not healthy, and my ex and I, who once loved each other dearly, were beginning to hate each other.

My last month in Los Angeles was a traumatic one.  I turned in my key.  I removed myself from the phone “family plan.”  I moved my books into storage.  It was tense and awful month, especially coming immediately after the most beautiful one in New Zealand.

Today, I spoke on the phone with my ex-wife about some lingering issues. She is beginning to have her own life.  Her own hobbies and friends.   We argued about some money, of course,  just for old time’s sake, but it didn’t feel the same.  There have been so many changes down the road, that we are different people than when we first got married, wearing that tuxedo and white dress.  We are not husband and wife. We are not brother and sister. I’m not sure we are even friends. Not yet.  For now, it seemed more like a conversation between ex-business partners.

For better or for worse, for sickness or for health, eight years after our “separation” and two and a half years after we first filed the paperwork, I finally felt divorced — that is, emotionally.   And I don’t say that cruelly.  It is necessary.


Facebook Chat from last week with my blogging friend, Jill, mother of three.


Neil:  Hi, Jill.

Jill:  Hey, Neil! What’s up?

Neil:   Can I talk to you about personal stuff?

Jill:  Sure.

Neil:  Sophia and I got our papers back from the court today. We are officially divorced. We went out to Yogurtland for some peanut butter frozen yogurt. And that’s that.

Jill:  Wow.

Neil:  I haven’t told anyone. Not my friends. Not my mother. But I need to tell someone. And I saw you on Facebook chat.

Jill:  Wow. That’s some news.

Neil:  I know. Bombshell. Biggest personal news ever.

Jill:  But to be honest. I thought you were already divorced.

Neil:  No, we were just separated.

Jill:  I see.

Neil:  I know.  My personal life is confusing.

Jill:  Are you absolutely sure that you and Sophia weren’t divorced already?

Neil:  No.  No divorce.

Jill:  I could have sworn you were already divorced.   I’ve been reading your blog for a long time.

Neil:  No, just separated.

Jill:  Separated.   So all this time — for the last seven years — you’ve been separated?

Neil:  Something like that. On and off.  Even though we lived together.

Jill:  Wait a minute. I thought you live in New York now.

Neil:  No, now I’m in Los Angeles again.

Jill:  With Sophia?

Neil:  With Sophia.

Jill:  So you live together now?

Neil:  For now.

Jill:  Call me crazy, but I could have sworn I remember you writing a post saying you got divorced and then you threw up outside the court?

Neil:  No, that was when I filed the papers. That’s when I threw up.

Jill:  You’re right. It’s all very confusing. But maybe it’s for the best.

Neil:  Sure. It’s still sad.

Jill:  I can imagine. I’m not really sure what to say.

Neil:  Maybe you can give me one of your famous vitual {{hugs}} that you always give online to people in need.

Jill:  You want me to give you virtual {{hugs}}?

Neil:  Well, I am feeling a little sad.

Jill:  Hmm. I’m not sure I feel comfortable giving you {{hugs}}.

Neil:  Why not?

Jill:  I’m a married woman. And you’re a divorced man.

Neil:  But you’ve given me {{hugs}} before! Remember when I accidently deleted all those instagram photos! You gave me {{hugs}} then.

Jill:  Yeah, never with a man who JUST got divorced. I know how men get after they are divorced. I don’t want to lead you on or for you to think I’m available to you with my {{hugs}}.

Neil:  I don’t want to date you. I just want one of your comforting internet {{hugs}}!

Jill:  Just the {{hugs}}? That’s all? Are you sure that’s all you want. Nothing more?

Neil:  I’m depressed. I just experience one of the most dramatic moments of my life! You’re the first person I’ve talked to all day. You’re my lifeline.

Jill:  Oh wait. My husband just walked in. He’s crying over the news.

Neil:  Over my divorce?

Jill:  No, they just traded Jeremy Lin to the Houston Rockets. Let me ask him if I can give you {{hugs}}.

Jill’s Husband:  Hello.

Neil:  Jill?

Jill’s Husband:  No, this is Jill’s husband.

Neil:  Hi.

Jill’s Husband:  Don’t hi me.  Are you trying to f**k my wife?

Neil:  What?!

Jill’s Husband:  Just answer. Are you trying to f**k my wife?

Neil:  I have no interest in your wife. She’s just a friend. I’m just trying to get a little ol’ internet {{hugs}} from her?

Jill’s Husband:  Internet {{hugs}}? What is that, hipster slang for a blowjob?

Neil:  No! It’s just a virtual {{hugs}}.  You know, with the brackets standing in as as the arms doing the hug.   An emoticon.

Jill’s Husband:  What are you talking about?  Has Jill given you these {{hugs}} before?

Neil:  Jill gives {{hugs}} to everyone. She is a freaking {{hugs}} machine. It means nothing.

Jill’s Husband:  So you don’t want to f**k her?

Neil:  No!

Jill’s Husband:  You don’t find her attractive?

Neil:  Of course she’s attractive. But she’s just a friend. A mom who I’ve met at BlogHer a couple of times.

Jill’s Husband:  OK, then. Fine. Here’s Jill.

Jill:  Hi, Neil. It’s me.   My husband said it was OK to give you {{hugs}}.

Neil:  Thanks.  So, he understands that we’re just friends.

Jill:  No, it wasn’t that.  When he heard that you’ve attended BlogHer a few times, he assumed you’re gay.

Neil:  Fine. Just do it already.

Jill:  {{hugs}}

Truth Quotient:  25%

Oscar Night 2012!

If you were on Twitter or Facebook this weekend, and you follow my updates, you know how important the Oscars are to me.  The watching of the Academy Awards is a ritual since childhood, when I watched the glamorous show with my grandmother and mother.  Who would think, that one day, I would be in LOS ANGELES on the night of the big event!

The night began with much anticipation, as I stood on the red carpet (or as it is usually called, the red bathmat in the bathroom).

The Oscars are an evening of surprises. There are always unexpected wins, and the audience never knows when a streaker will run past David Niven.   This year was no different.    A few hours before the telecast, Sophia told me that she invited her friend Leon over to watch the show with us.   I had no problem with that.   Leon is an interesting guy, an eccentric Russian who composes music, takes microphotos of insects, and can repair any electrical or computer device ever created.

Leon loves to work on projects.   And his main interest in coming over was not to see Meryl Streep’s dress.   No, he was coming over because Sophia told him that our old monstrous Panasonic projector TV hasn’t worked in three months.  As a replacement, we use a smaller TV that we had swiped from the kitchen.

“I can fix the Panasonic for you!” he told Sophia.

I was not happy to hear that Leon was coming over to fix our TV on Oscar night.

Sophia looked hurt when I told her this.  She explained that she specifically asked him over for ME tonight before the show, knowing how much I loved watching the Oscars.

“You don’t want to see all those fake actress breasts on a tiny teeny kitchen TV.  You want to see them BIGGER than life!”

Sophia had a point about the breasts.  And Leon WAS a genius.  Surely, if he came early enough, he could get the old Panasonic bigscreen ready for the big night!

Leon arrived carrying three Trader Joe’s shopping bags filled with electic meters, wires, soldering tools, and diagrams of the specs that he downloaded from the internet.  He spread out his weaponry, approaching his job as if he had just read “The Art of War,” and he chose himself as the general.

He barked out his orders.

“The clock is ticking.  Here’s what I need you to do.  The back of the TV needs to be vacuumed so I don’t breathe in the dust.  I need all the cables undone. And I want to drink a root beer with real sugar.”

I dusted and vacuumed the entire entertainment center and disconnected the five thousand cable octopus that connected the TV to the cable box, DVD player, and Wii. Sophia went to the store and bought Leon some root beer and ordered Thai food for later.

Leon went to work. He removed the motherboard from the TV.

“I need lights. Many lights” he shouted in Russian.

Leon sat at the kitchen table with the motherboard.  Sophia and I surrounded him with every standing lamp in the house.

He worked. He worked. He soldered.   Sophia took photos as he unhooked each component so he could later remember how to put it all back together.

I went on Twitter and learned that the Oscars had already started.  I found out who won as Best Supporting Actress.

“Damn. I know who won for Best Supporting Actress!” I said.

“Don’t tell us,” said Sophia. “Leon will be done soon, and we can all watch it together on the DVR.  On the big screen!  Big actress tits!”

“Excellent,” said Leon.  I wasn’t sure if he was talking about the prospect of seeing the cleavage or he was making some headway with the motherboard.

I went on Facebook and saw  Jenn Mattern mention that Cirque du Soleil was great on the show.    I placed the phone in my pocket to avoid reading anymore about the Academy Awards.  I imagined everyone in the world watching it, except for me, the show’s #1 fan.

Meanwhile, Leon hit a bump in the road.  He sat there, looking at the electronic city on the motherboard, dumbfounded.

“I need to eat!” he said, pushing himself from the table.

We ate our Thai food. Leon drank his root beer, and told us some jokes in Russian.

“Are you sure you can fix this TV?” I asked him.

He glared at me, sensing my doubt.

A few moments later, I took Sophia into the garage, wanting a second alone with her.

“Can’t we just watch the show on the small TV.” I pleaded.

“And hurt Leon’s feelings? He’s very sensitive.  He once didn’t speak to his brother for six years for saying one of his musical compositions sounded like a monster truck rally.  Don’t worry.  He’ll be done soon.”

I washed the dishes. I didn’t know what to do with myself.  Watching Leon fiddle with the motherboard was dulling my senses.   I fell asleep on the couch. I was awoken by a buzz from the iPhone sitting in my pocket. It was a pushed message from the New York Times telling me what just won as Best Picture.

“Sophia, I know who won…”

“Don’t tell me!”

Leon was still working on the motherboard, the bright light from the lamp pouring over his shoulder. He was drinking a root beer.

I went back to sleep.   The next morning, tools and computer parts littered the living room floor.  Leon was not there.

“He’s coming back this afternoon to finish up,” said Sophia.

I know who won Best Supporting Actress and Best Picture.   I know Cirque du Soleil did something interesting.   But don’t tell me anything else until I watch the show tonight. Or when Leon finishes with the TV.

The Perfect Couple

It was Sophia’s birthday on Saturday, and we went to LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art).   We had a great day together.

“Are you two getting back together?” a friend texted me.

“No,” I answered. “Just a fun day out for her birthday.”

“You just seem so perfect together.”

“Perfect?!  Ha.  We are far from it.”

Sophia and I love each other, but the perfect couple we’re not.   We never were.

We tried our best, but we both want something more from a partner, a love that boils over and makes us want to shout it out to the world.   Something a little bit closer to the perfection of a Perfect Couple.

Does this Perfect Couple exist?   Or is it an illusion, the relationship equivalent of the bikini model drinking a Coke?

But then, on Saturday evening, as we left the museum, Sophia and I encountered them. It was the Perfect Couple, right on Wilshire Blvd in Los Angeles.

If God was a chef, this couple would be his signature dish. They would be spiced with respect, love, and passion, and as they marinated in His blessings, happiness and joy would waft through His kitchen, out the window, and throughout the world.

And they were standing right in front of us.

“Take an instagram photo!” said Sophia, as we both stared, confronted with our own  inadequacies.

After taking a few photos of the Perfect Couple on Wilshire Blvd., we discovered that we had stumbled into someone else’s photo shoot, and this couple were models.

But the Perfect Couple is a standard that is hard to let go, even if it is a fantasy.

The Night Out

It was going to be our last Valentine’s Day “date night” as a married couple.  We were going to attend a special film screening.   Sophia’s former boss was unable to make it, so he gave the tickets to us.   The tickets would be waiting at the box-office in his name.

When we arrived at the arts center complex, the parking lot was jammed.  We followed the crowd into the main auditorium building, and waited on the line.  We approached the will-call window at the box office. The hipster attendant was wearing a fedora.

“I’m picking up two tickets.  The name should be for Roger Green,” said Sophia.

The attendent rifled through his tickets.

“I don’t see any tickets for Roger Green,” he said.

“It must be there,” said Sophia. “He left it at the box office under his name. Roger Green.”

The attendent clicked on the keyboard, the computer screen reflecting in his eyes.

“I don’t see any tickets for Roger Green.”

The other patrons on the line were getting antsy.

“Maybe he put it in your name,” I said.

Sophia gave me a glance that meant, “let me handle this.”

The attendant’s manager appeared.  She was an older woman in a business suit.

“Is there a problem?” she asked.

“There are supposed to be two tickets here left by Roger Green,” Sophia repeated.

“Maybe we should call Roger…” I started to say, until Sophia gave me the look again, and I stepped back.

The manager double-checked her list.

“I don’t see any tickets for Roger Green.”

Sophia took out her iPhone.

“OK, I’ll call Roger. But he’s not going to be happy to be bothered.  He’s a big donor to the arts center.”

The manager and the fedora-wearing attendant exchanged nervous looks.

“Listen, I’m sure it is just a computer glitch,” said the manager. “Take these two tickets and enjoy the show.”

She handed us two tickets, the best seats in the house.

Sophia and I entered the auditorium.  We really did have the best seats in the house.  But something seemed odd.  Instead of a movie screen, the stage was set up with furniture, decorated like a suburban living room. I glanced at the pamphlet that we were given by the usher.

We were in the wrong building of the arts center complex, and about to see a play.  The film screening was next door.

“What should we do?” I asked.

“We can’t leave now.” replied Sophia.  “It’s too embarrassing.”

And the play was really good.

And so, this was the last Valentine’s Day of our marriage.  It was much like our own marriage, an experience filled with laughter and confusion, of walking into the wrong theater, and making it work until the show was over.

What Mario Lopez Taught Me About The Five Emotional Stages Of Divorce

Just because I haven’t been writing a lot on my blog doesn’t mean I haven’t been online. Ever since Sophia and I filed for divorce, I’ve been receiving advice from online friends near and far about how to proceed with my life.  Some of this advice has been as wise as that of Buddha, while other tidbits have been pure idiocy.

I should take up yoga.
I should keep my distance from Sophia.
I should have rebound sex with women born no later than the Clinton Administration.
I should take up French cooking.
I should write a book.
I should travel.
I should date nice girls.
I should not date at all.
I should run in a half marathon.
I should go to “Burning Man.”
I should get a tattoo.
I should start a blog for divorcing men.
I should start binge drinking  (another serious suggestion, proof that I have some really bad friends).

To complicate matters, I have my own internal voices putting THEIR two cents into the hat, and as usual — my head, my heart, and my dick are not on the same page.

This morning I had breakfast with Danny from Jew Eat Yet.  He has been a great blogging friend since 2005, a super-intelligent guy, with a broad range of knowledge.  I knew any advice that HE would give me would be something worth listening to in earnest, unlike some of my OTHER readers.

As we ate what is considered “The Best Pancakes in LA” (at Du-Pars), I talked about my hopes and fear, and some of the issues still remaining with Sophia.   Danny rubbed his chin, like a clever rabbi, and told me how divorce is like a death.  He explained that  I would need to go through a transition period of grief, namely the Five Emotional Stages of Divorce: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.

I found myself unable to relate to what he was saying.

“You must still be in the denial stage,” he noted. “It’ll come to you.  Give it time and you will understand.”

Our conversation has been so weighty, and the pancakes so heavy in our stomachs, that we decided to take a little walk.   As we strolled over to the Grove shopping center next to the Farmer’s Market, we discussed the new fall TV season.   It was a relief to talk about nonsense.

We noticed a crowd gathering in the center square adjacent to the Barnes and Noble bookstore.   We went over to take a look.   It was TV personality Mario Lopez doing a remote for the show EXTRA, interviewing a few special guests, including the infamous Snooki from Jersey Shore.

Danny and I stood there for twenty minutes, watching the crew — the high strung producer, the bored sound man, the unionized grips eating donuts.  Mario Lopez seemed to be a seasoned professional.  The director would give him one quick rehearsal for each segment, and then he would jump right in.

As I admired Mario Lopez’s TV skills, I thought about my faltering Instagram photography.  In New York, I was taking fun photos of NYC life, but in Los Angeles, my photos have been  stale.   There are few opportunities for a spontaneous photo in a city where you are always driving in your car.

But here was an opportunity to redeem myself.   What could be more LA than a photo of Mario Lopez, with his perfect hair, teeth, and body?

I took dozens of Mario Lopez photos from different angles, searching for the ideal Mario Lopez instagram shot.  And as I melted there under the hot LA sun, I had a revelation.  It was as if God himself was sending me a message through the expressive facial gesturing of TV personality Mario Lopez.  When I looked at Mario Lopez speaking into his microphone, I was understanding what Danny had said earlier about divorce.   It was his face… Mario Lopez’s Hollywood chiseled face.   His facial expressions were like elements in a Powerpoint Presentation on The Five Emotional Stages of Divorce: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.






I understand.  And now I must move on to the next stage.   Thank you Mario Lopez.

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