Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Veronica’s Letters

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Most people don’t know they are crazy until they sit down for an intervention with themselves.

My friend, Veronica is a artsy-craftsy woman. She creates gorgeous birthday cards using ink and collage. On Facebook, she is a member of a group named, “Save the Post Office,” which advocates for old-school letter writing by hand. For those who might not know what that means, it includes licking stamps, sticking them on store-bought envelopes, then sending the letter, non-electronically, person to person, like Ben Franklin might have once done, through the United States Post Office, something many of us haven’t done since 1992.

Veronica and I met in 2005, during the early days of personal blogging. She stopped writing her blog a few years ago, but recently she said that she missed sharing her personal stories. Social media just didn’t do it for her. She had an idea. She would write personal letters to her friends, scribed by hand, as if she was sent back in a time machine to her teenage years. One of those friends turned out to be me.

I did not know Veronica had included me in this experiment, but I certainly wasn’t surprised when I received her letter in the mail. She enjoys pushing herself creatively, someone who will take the time to write you a personal letter rather than take the easy route of pushing a button on Facebook Messenger.

I opened the mailbox that day at noon. Inside the box were the usual suspects — bills, a New Yorker magazine, and a coupon from Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Stuck in between the pages of the magazine was Veronica’s letter, my name hand-written on the envelope in a non-perfect cursive; it made me smile. I had a phone call to make, so I decided to open the letter in the evening, when I could give it my attention.

At 8PM I went to my desk and picked up the letter. It was time to read it. But when I tried to open it, I froze. Something was preventing me from opening the envelope, by why? What was there to fear? To avoid the discomfort, I opened Facebook on my laptop, but when I saw the glowing green light of Veronica in Messenger, I worried that she would ask me about the letter, so I shut off the computer. I grabbed the envelope and took it with me to bed, but when I started to tear it open, my mind filled with movie images from the past.

There was the Army messenger handing over the grim letter to the young woman, now a widow, at her front door. The lover awakening to a goodbye letter on the bed, signifying the end of a relationship. The suburban man’s suicide letter left after being fired from the company, being too ashamed to face his family.

Why did these melodramatic scenes pop into my head? Did I know they bore no connection to Veronica’s letter? Of course I did.

I waited until the next morning to open the envelope, when I had a renewed sense of reality. Veronica’s letter was personal, but contained nothing she couldn’t write publicly about on Facebook. She said her kids were growing up, getting married and going to college, and this was creating changes in her life as well. Nothing scandalous or scary.

That day, another letter arrived. Veronica’s letter-writing experiment was going to continue all week.

I found it easier to open the second handwritten letter. When I unfolded it, I immediately noticed that Veronica did some editing, crossing out a sentence with her pen, then scribbling her new thought sideways, in the margin. This raised the stakes in her letter-writing. The imperfections of the second letter was reminiscent of the notes you might pass in homeroom during elementary school. And again, I froze, for a different reason that the day before. Seeing Veronica’s edits, and touching the same paper that she once held in her hand was too visceral, like I could feel her pen still vibrating on the page. It felt too intimate, like I had walked into the bathroom while she was there, and I froze in a combination of curiosity and shame.

Yes. I know what you are thinking. Crazy. I was beginning to think so myself.

My letter reading improved as the week went on, until I received the seventh and last letter, which I couldn’t open for another four days.

Let me make sure you understand all this. None of these letters were intense or extremely personal. These letter were not sent to torment me, but as a creative exercise for herself. I know this because after reading the last letter, I finally called her on the phone.

“Veronica, I want to talk to you. It’s a little weird and personal….” I said, telling her my tale of the five handwritten letters. And as I proceeded, I gained the ability to step away and analyze my craziness. Maybe this is the true power of storytelling. You begin to understand yourself.

My hangup was about intimacy. Intimacy and anxiety in the digital age. For eleven years, a large bulk of my socializing has been mediated through electronic means — laptops, tablets, and phones, blogging, Facebook, instagram — to the point where I never hold a hand-written letter in my hands or speak to a friend on the telephone. My conversations are on IM or email, outlets without physical contact. Even Skype is a two-dimensional representation of reality. Since my divorce, I’ve had two romantic relationships, both based online, but the major background to our romantic tales doesn’t primarily take place in romantic cities like New York or Paris, but behind the lighted screens of our laptops, hundreds and thousands of miles apart.

Yes, I meet friends and lovers in person, but I wonder if my online existence has become so habitual that I have grown uncomfortable with the intimacy of something as innocent as a handwritten letter. I have grown so comfortable chatting with a thousand people at a time on social media, that sitting with a personal letter written just for me freaks me out. That is crazy. The truth is I felt myself unable to handle the intimacy of reading the letters, the lack of control. Would I have to write back? What if I connect too deeply? What if I don’t know what to say, or she says something that makes me cry? What if she is telling me that she is getting a divorce or has some mysterious disease? Can I just press the like button? Have I forgotten what it’s like to have a real friend? And what does this say about my relationships with others? Romantic ones.

“Maybe I shouldn’t write you again,” she said at the end of our conversation, laughing. “I didn’t realize it would affect you so much!”

But I hope she does. Or even better — maybe I should write back.

Writing for Self, Writing for Reader

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This is a post about writing online. It is written for myself, just to clarify something in my own mind, but I’ll share it with you anyway because if you also write online, maybe you have had similar thoughts.

Yesterday, I posted about the trip I took with Jana to Walt Disney World.  I titled it, “Walt Disney World: World of Laughter and Tears.” Clever, huh? Originally, I named it  “Walt Disney World: A World of Laughter, a World of Tears,” which  better matches the lyrics of “It’s a Small World,” but when I googled the title, I saw it was already taken by TEN OTHER writers!

Still, I liked the post.   When I started out writing it, I had three objectives, and I satisfied all of them.

1) Show off some new photos of Walt Disney World since I didn’t feel comfortable posting a million of them on Instagram where I would be mistaken for one of those dreaded Parent Bloggers.

2) Prove to my friend Danny that I could effectively mock the Disney ethos AND kiss Disney’s ass at the same time, just in case I ever want free tickets to some social media event there.

3) Prove to my friend Tanis that yes, I could go away for the weekend with a bright and attractive woman, and not have her break up with me.

Mission Accomplished to all three.

But did I really prove anything? And is this real writing?   What type of writer am I?   The stakes are so low.  It’s almost childish.

Recently, I had bookmarked this article titled “6 Simple Ways to Get More People to Read Your MEDIUM Posts.” (via Medium).  I read it yesterday while travelling in the subway.   The writer had very strong opinions about online writing.

You have to SELL your ideas in Medium, and the best way you can do that is to make it about people. Don’t say “I did this and that”. SAY, “You can experience this and that.” … why?… Because the viewer wants to learn something FOR himself. Not about you..

Let’s say you really want to tell a personal story about yourself and your horrible experience at a night club.

Don’t say, “I went there, I did this, and this happened, and then this happened…”

Start with something like,

“Don’t make the same mistake I did when you go to a NIGHT CLUB.”

See how that changed everything? ..The prospective? To other people?..

You can ALWAYS make any personal story about others if you told them what they can learn from the experience and how they can take caution so they don’t end up doing the same thing you did.

By the way, It could be a HAPPY story too.

But don’t write, “I went to Disneyland and did this and this and that, and it was amazing.”

No, you should start with something like,

“Here’s how YOU can maximize your trip to Disneyland with these simple (but essential) tricks.

I looked back over my last post. Immediately I notice that I failed to even write the traditional “I went to Disneyland and did this and this and that, and it was amazing” post.  My post is a slight of hand, nonsense to fill the space until I have enough nerve to say publicly that I had a nice time with Jana.

Now, let’s imagine I come home from Walt Disney World, but with a different perspective, one of professional writing. The first question I would ask myself if “Now that I’m home from my trip with Jana, how can I best use my writing and/or photography skills to make at least a measly $100 by sharing something about my experience?” I know.   $100.   But better than nothing, right?

Now to make some money out of this, I would need to pitch some story idea to an outside website or publication. Which one? And what is the pitch?

Of course, the story is already there, hidden in the middle of the post, when I write this sentence —

 “Can romance be found at a Disney theme park, a location crowded with crying children, stressed out parents, and senior citizens aggressively driving their rent-a-scooters like the extras in a Mad Max film?”

That’s it. That’s the story. Everything else is the piece is irrelevant to a reader looking for content.  This becomes a post about me using my experience to HELP OTHER PEOPLE decide if they should go with their girlfriend to Walt Disney World. That is a successful pitch for a travel or dating site, no?

Now is the bigger question.   Do I want to help others to “maximize the romance of going to Walt Disney World?”  Do I want to write this post?  Not really.

But that’s another problem.

 

Walt Disney World: World of Laughter and Tears

Walt Disney World
Main Street

Every man should visit a Disney park five times during his lifetime.

The first time is when he is a child, so he can appreciate the magic of this amazing fantasy world through the eyes of a young person.

It's a Small World
It’s a Small World

The second trip is years later, with high school or college buddies, done as a lark during spring break. This is a rite of passage between childhood and adulthood because what once caught your imagination now becomes an object of sarcasm and scorn. Everything Disney must be ridiculed and mocked as childish and commercial. The only reason for being there is to score some over-priced beers at the Germany pavilion at Epcot and then vomiting behind the PeopleMover as a sign of a triumph over your childhood.

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PeopleMover

The third excursion is after graduation, now as a male adult, his youth behind him, holding hands with a date, a lover, or girlfriend. This is his attempt to transform the Disney experience, once a symbol of childhood and teenage angst, into one of maturity and romance.  More on this later.

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Italy, Epcot

The fourth visit is mid-life, with your wife and kids, hoping to see the joy in the bright faces of your children, so as to remember your own  sense of awe at first stepping into the Magic Kingdom. Of course, now as an adult, you will also other thoughts, such as how this family trip, with travel, hotel, food, park admission, and food on the Disney property, is costing you more than a down payment on a new Prius, but once you overcome this urge to worry, this visit can be the most beautiful, depending on the behavior and brat-level of your offspring.

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Morocco, Epcot

The fifth and final trip should be in old age, during the twilight years, preferably on your own. While standing in the middle of Disney’s old-fashioned, Norman-Rockwell type Main Street, you thank God for allowing you to visit a Disney property five times in your lifetime. Many come to Disney as a last wish as sick children, and never get to see it again. You were one of the lucky ones who got to experience Disney through all five stages of life.

Electrical Parade
Electrical Parade

And then, after counting your blessings, and with the Main Street trolley clanging by, as it does so efficiently ever few minutes, you should curse Walt Disney for every myth that he planted in your weak brain.  It was Walt Disney who ruined your life.  Your Prince or Princess never did come, did he? You never met a sexy mermaid or a talking lion, true?   And the only time you saw a real mouse, he wasn’t cute with big ears, but a disease-ridden pest, and you smashed it dead with a golf club on the linoleum of your kitchen. No, Mr. Disney, during your entire life, all you peddled was fakery, like the Morocco’s cheap façade at Epcot, and you profited from it. And now, after counting your blessing and cursing the memory of Disney, there is nothing left for you to do on Earth but to die,  facing Cinderella’s Castle, right in front of Goofy’s Souvenir Shop, and as you fall to the ground and take your last breath, you realize that even in death, you were conned by Walt Disney, who has cleverly frozen himself in a secret room in Burbank, California, so one day, in a true Tomorrowland, he will return to life, the richest man on Earth, laughing at your for his ultimate con job, a prank that even a Cruella Deville couldn’t imagine.

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Japan, Epcot

But, anyway, back to my recent trip to Walt Disney World with Jana. It was my “third category trip” to a Disney property, the “romantic trip.” While I had been to Disneyland while living in Los Angeles, it was my first time back at Walt Disney World since I went there in the late 1970s with my parents, before Epcot had not even been built!

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Walt Disney World, late 1970s

I know the question you are asking yourself. Can romance be found at a Disney theme park, a location crowded with crying children, stressed out parents, and senior citizens aggressively driving their rent-a-scooters like the extras in a Mad Max film?

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Walt Disney World, today

It’s not easy, especially if you are running around to go on rides you haven’t been on in decades, catching the buses back and forth to your hotel, and running races at 5AM (Jana was involved in a charity race).

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Princess Race Finish Line Bleachers, Walt Disney World

Surely, by nightfall,  even under the fake romantic moon in the Disney sky, most couples are less “Lady and the Tramp” slurping pasta together at a Italian bistro than Sleepy and Grumpy, wanting to hit the sack.  That is mostly true.   But yes, romance CAN be found at a Disney property, in small doses, but only if you go with the right woman who can magically turn the most cynical of men into believing in fairydust.

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Jana, Adventureland

So, thumbs up, Walt Disney World.   I prefer Disneyland in California, it being smaller and more a part of the the actual city of Anaheim, but I had a good time. And I didn’t expect to enjoy it.  Next time I need to come with kids.   Anyone’s kids.

And please, don’t ever tear down the corny Country Bear Jamboree, no matter how few people still visit it.

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Walt Disney World, Main Street

The Other Side of Kissena Boulevard

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Since neither of my parents drove a car, they moved to a neighborhood in Flushing, Queens where it was easy to walk to stores to shop.   The two block strip of Kissena Boulevard near their apartment building was home to a vibrant melange of shops that catered to the needs of the lower and middle-class neighborhood that circled around it – two “five and ten cents” stores, a pizzeria, a Chinese restaurant, a kosher deli, a bakery, a butcher, a fish store, a stationery store selling newspapers and comic books, a supermarket, a clothing store, a shoe store, a pharmacy, a cleaners, a barber shop — all the basic staples that any family would need. Behind these stores was a large parking lot which catered to the shoppers visiting from other neighborhoods, but the action happened on Kissena Boulevard herself.

The street is where the teenage Fran Drescher would grab a slice of pizza, or Gene Simmons would leave his job at the butcher before practicing with his band “Kiss,” named, of course, after Kissena Boulevard.  On Sunday morning, I would stroll with my father to the Garden Bakery to buy their famed onion rolls, freshly baked, a Sunday morning staple as important as the New York Times. During the week, after school, I would head to Wainrite’s, checking out the latest K-tel records in their tiny “Record Section.” If not for the diversity of the neighborhood, black, white, Asian, and Puerto Rican, you would think you were visiting small town Main Street.

During the 1970s, crime and homelessness grew in the outer boroughs, and by the 1980s, the Golden Age of Kissena Boulevard had come to an end.  One by one, each store closed, until only the pizzeria, Valentino’s, Fran Drescher’s favorite hangout, was left thriving. The owner of the shopping area went from being local landlord to a company headquartered in Palm Beach, Florida. The rumor was that the owner wanted to demolish the whole complex and bring in a Target or Kmart. The ample parking lot behind the stores became the big selling point for the future development, not the needs of the neighborhood.

The big plans never blossomed, and the facade of the two block structure started to deteriorate. The awnings became havens for pigeons. Graffiti covered the locked metal shutters of forgotten enterprises, prisons of past commerce. I left the neighborhood and went to college, grad school, and California.

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The famous Garden Bakery in 2008, closed for thirty years.

“Any rumors about Kissena Boulevard?” I would ask my mother when I would speak to her on the phone from Los Angeles.

“Nope. Still waiting.”

By 2008, the Garden Bakery and many of the other stores had been empty shells for 30 years. A whole new generation grew up seeing the two blocks as nothing more than a corroding antiquity from ancient times. That year,  I wrote a blog  post titled, “The Slummification of Kissena Boulevard,” where I talked about the decline of the street’s shopping district. I couldn’t understand the logic behind all these stores left empty. The neighborhood wasn’t fancy, but it wasn’t impoverished. Surely a Dunkin’ Donuts franchise would do OK. Was it possible that a landlord could make more money NOT renting the property, under some sort of tax loophole reminiscent of “The Producers?”  To this day,  I still get comments on that post from people who used to live in the neighborhood.

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Kissena Boulevard, 2008.

I’m glad to say that a lot has changed since then. Not long after I wrote that post, there was movement on the street, and workmen began making repairs to the infrastructure. Rather than the structure being demolished, it was strengthened, and smaller storefronts were consolidated. While no Target or Kmart ever moved in, new stores DID arrive. Today, 95% of the original Kissena Boulevard shopping area is back in use, the centerpieces being a supermarket, a National Wholesale Liquidators, and an established electronics/computer store.  I enjoy each store and shop there often.

One aspect of this neighborhood revival disappoints me, and that is the suburban mentality that is foisted on our urban folk.   While the once empty parking lot is now busy with shoppers filling up the trunks with purchases,  Kissena Boulevard is still a ghost town.   All entrances that were once directly on Kissena Boulevard have been locked, boarded over, or bricked over.   The only way to enter the stores is through the parking lot.  It feels as if the stores have open arms to visitors driving in from other parts of Queens, while sending a message of distrust to the actual residents of the neighborhood.

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Liquidators from the parking lot, 2016.

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Liquidators from Kissena Boulevard, with locked entrance.

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Liquidators from Kissena Boulevard, with no entrance.

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Electronics Store from parking lot, 2016.

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Electronics store from Kissena Boulevard, with locked entrance.

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Supermarket from parking lot, 2016.

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Supermarket from Kissena Boulevard, with no entrance.

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Supermarket from Kissena Boulevard, with bricked in former entrance.

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Supermarket from Kissena Boulevard, with locked doors.  Dirty recycling bins are on the street.

Now to be fair to these establishments, I’m the only one I know who seems to care about this issue.   I mentioned it to my mother and a few of her friends and they supported the stores!

“If they had an entrance in the front AND the back, they would have to hire more security!” said one woman.

“There would be so much shoplifting, the stores would go out of business.”

“We should be happy that we have stores back!” said my mother.

Apparently no one trusts the neighborhood, even the people who live here.

I don’t buy it.   It is not our problem  to worry about a store hiring more security.   If a store is going to move into a neighborhood, they have an obligation to add beauty to the neighborhood, not throw up a two block wall to alienate those who live here.  The stores are a great addition to the local economy, but Kissena Boulevard remains as dark and uninviting as it has for the last thirty years.  Only Valentino’s pizzeria continues to face the street, catering to the locals, not those visiting by car.

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Valentino’s on Kissena Boulevard, the one constant since the 1950s.

Bernie Sanders talks a lot about income inequality, but wealth and lack of wealth also affect self-image.   The rich learn to expect more from their neighborhoods.  I’ve been in some upscale towns in California where a homeowner can’t change the color of his roof without it passing some local ordinance.  I’ll tell you one thing.  No one living in Beverly Hills would accept a two block wall on Wilshire Boulevard, and if they did, it would be a very pretty wall, with footprints of movie stars.

The reaction from my mother and her friends:  Eh.

I might not have won them over with aesthetics, but I’m hoping someone out there is thinking about the safety of the community. There are some days when there are hundreds of cars going back and forth into this parking lot.  There are no lights or stop signs.    These stores cater to thousands of locals who walk to their shopping, and without entrances on Kissena Boulevard, they are forced to cut through through a busy parking lot.  There is an accident waiting to happen.

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Walking through the parking lot to go shopping.

I am very grateful that these fabulous stores are now in the neighborhood.  I just wish the owners turned away from the parking lot every once in a while and said hello to the street.

Top Twelve Things I Did in Atlanta This Weekend

I hear that writing one of these lists is an easy way to write a post.  So, here it goes — Top Twelve Things I Did in Atlanta This Weekend!

1)  Going with Jana to meet Miranda, her co-producer/co-director of Atlanta’s Listen to Your Mother show.

2)  Going with Jana to meet her friend, Karen, in a local TraderJoe’s,  which was a surprisingly good idea because we were able to taste the gnocchi from the guy in the chef’s hat who was giving away free samples.

3)  Going with Jana to eat BBQ ribs with Dadcation and his family, and getting sauce all over my beard.

bbq

4)  Going with Jana to a party at a bowling alley where I participated in my first game of laser-tag.   Considering I am a man of non-violence and pro-gun control,  I was pretty good at the game.  My biggest man-to-man combat was with this eleven year old boy.  He was quick with his trigger, but he lacked my intelligence.  Using cognitive therapy techniques that I picked up over the years, I was able to trick him into trusting me as an ally, when I promptly shot him in the back.

5) Sleeping with Loretta, Jana’s dog.   I loved this dog.   For some reason, Jana became petty and jealous when I asked her to sleep in the living room couch so I could snuggle with Loretta in her bed.   What’s the big deal?  I’ll never “get” women.

Loretta

6) Going to Ikea with Jana and her son, Henry.  By the way, just in case you were wondering, Atlanta’s IKEA looks EXACTLY like your IKEA.

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Ikea2

7) Forcing Jana to watch 4 hours of Gone with the Wind.  Can you believe she grew up in Georgia and NEVER saw the movie?!  This has to be rectified.  After the marathon screening, she said she wasn’t impressed.  “Scarlet is a selfish bitch,” she said.  Confused by her reaction, I brought in the big guns to explain to her why she was wrong. (thank you,  certified GWTW expert Danny on Facebook).

8) Driving on a country road somewhere in Northern Georgia and yelling, “Stop here for a photo!” every five minutes.

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9) Touring the quaint town of Madison, which we learned from the tourism office was spared the flames of Sherman’s March because:

a) Sherman had a West Point buddy who lived in town.
b) or Sherman had a mistress in town.
c) or a combination of both.

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10) Going on a tour of a pre-Civil War mansion.  Jana and I were the only guests, and our tour guide was a junior in high school. After the tour, Jana tried to fix him up with her niece in Florida. I took a lot of photos of the lighting fixtures and creepy dolls in the children’s room.

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11) Walking over a covered bridge, another first for me!

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12)  Just hanging out with Jana.

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What Do You Have to Lose?

A few years ago, when I went to New Zealand to meet Juli, it caused a stir amongst my online friends. It was as romantic and exotic a scenario as any romance novel. The green beauty of the Kiwi location added a Hollywood sheen to my adventure. I posted photos of Juli and I against the backdrops of lush woods, rocky beaches, and Maori villages built on volcanic ash. It was a wonderful trip. Strangers would send me private messages, a few of them like this:

“When I was a junior in college, I spent a year in Sweden. While there, I met Sven. He was the most beautiful man I ever met, and the best lover. For a year, I was in heaven; it was the greatest romance of my life. But after the year, I became practical and returned to my studies at Carnegie-Mellon, where I met my husband. I’m married now, with three children. And I’m very happy living in Pittsburgh. Let me emphasize that. I love my husband dearly and my children are the greatest gift. But sometimes, I wonder what would have happened if I had stayed in Sweden. I will never know, but you have the opportunity to live life to the fullest. Stay in New Zealand with Juli. Don’t come back to the States! Live! Live like I could never live with Sven!”

There was much disappointment when my relationship with Juli fizzled out, a casualty of the great distance between us. It was a Hollywood movie with a shitty ending. It was also my first taste of the fickleness of an audience. All the new readers and followers who were once begging me for a new chapter to my great romantic saga had abandoned my story to the remainders table of the internet.

One person remained true, carrying as much about my aftermath as my travels. It was Jana, a blogging friend from Atlanta. She was one of my first online friends who pushed me to go to New Zealand when I was reluctant to take a risk.

“What do you have to lose?” she asked.

She was still there after hearts were broken.

Now she asked a new question, “How are you doing?”

We bonded after that, becoming confidantes.

Last January, I decided it was time to start dating again. Always up for a trend, I signed up for Tinder. It was terrifying for me, but Jana was there again with good advice.

“What do you have to lose?” she asked.

Jana became my dating coach during my twelve online dates that I had in the winter and spring of 2015. Before the date, I would send her a photo of what I was going to wear. After the date, I would give her the play by play. There was one woman  I liked a lot, but there was a problem — her name was exactly the same as my ex-wife, first and last name. It was the weirdest coincidence in dating history.

“Should I tell her about my ex-wife’s name NOW or LATER?”

“You better tell her now because she’s going to be freaked out.”

And yes, she was freaked out, and I never heard from this woman again.

During this time, I also became a confidant to Jana’s issues, one of them being her separation with her husband. This made me nervous because I was worried that our conversations had triggered her marital problems. She assured me that they hadn’t; they had been growing apart.

One weekend, Jana came to New York City with her niece who was checking out colleges to attend in the fall. She was interested in Columbia, where I had attended school. I accompanied them on a tour and then we went out for pizza at a local college hangout. That night, Jana and I went to their hotel bar, where she introduced me to a drink called the Sidecar. We both became a little tipsy and kissed. It was awkward, because while Jana and her husband were now separated, they were not yet divorced. We let some time pass until the divorce came through. I visited Jana in Atlanta and she visited me in New York. Something was going on with us, but we weren’t sure how to define it. We weren’t even sure it we should change our Facebook relationship status as of yet. No one ever teaches you about dating after divorce. The whole concept of “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” sounds so high school.

After a wonderful weekend in New York, I freaked out and called off our budding relationship. Jana didn’t understand. I explained that I had already been involved in a long distance relationship before. Juli and I were also friends before we became romantic, and once you go too far, it is impossible to go back. After the distance proved insurmountable, our friendship never recovered. We rarely speak to each other anymore, even on social media. I didn’t want the same to happen to us. It was more important to me that we remain friends than start a relationship that was bound to have obstacles.

“What do you have to lose?” she asked.

“You,” I said.

That night, I thought about it some more. I had grown very close to Jana. We have fun together and I like her, like the kids say. So, my resolution for 2016 is to stop worrying so much and see where things lead. So, I am writing this as I take a flight to Atlanta to see Jana. Nothing to lose, only to gain. As for changing our Facebook relationship statuses, we’re taking it slow.

 

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The Tenth Annual Blogger Christmahanukwanzaakah Online Holiday Concert

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Welcome to the The 2015 Blogger Christmahanukwanzaakah Online Holiday Concert! It is my honor to be with you here for the TENTH year of this concert.

Ten years!  Can you believe it?  Who knew that so many bloggers were also such talented singers and musicians?  And some even brave enough to sing so poorly?  I’m proud that we kept this concert running for ten years, and embraced the concept of diversity long before it was a social media trend.

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Munich’s Traditional Gay Christmas Market photographed by Marty of Deutschland uber Elvis

It’s been a fun run.   I’ve met some cool people during these concerts.  One year we  attracted an audience large enough to fill Radio City Music Hall!  I even turned down two offers of concert monetization; it just seemed wrong.   Commerce and Commercialization have absolutely nothing to do with the Holiday Season, right?  I know it sounds corny  because it is such a cliche,  but the concert was always about the community.

Jeez, that did sound corny.

Eh, what the hell.  It’s the holidays.  Embrace the corny.   So, to paraphrase Tiny Tim in the politically-correct version of “A Christmas Carol” – “A Merry Christmahanukwanzaakah to us all; God bless us, every one!”

Here are a few of the performers from the last decade who brought a little bit of joy each year:

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Thanks again, and may we all be happy, healthy, and creatively productive in 2016!

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First Concert Poster, 2006, of Jamelah

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YouTube Preview ImageHoliday “Hamilton” performed  by Jenny of Oh Jenny Mae

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Second Concert Poster, 2007

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YouTube Preview ImageSilver Bells performed by Elizabeth Robinson  (Kizz) of  117 Hudson and Sara Stopek

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Third Concert Poster, 2008

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YouTube Preview ImageCool Yule performed by Elly Lonon of BugginWorld

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Fourth Concert Poster, 2009

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YouTube Preview ImageHoliday Imagining by Angela of Fluid Pudding

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Fifth Concert Poster, 2010

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YouTube Preview ImageLittle Toy Trains performed  by Marty Long of Marty Suttle Long

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Concert 6

Sixth Concert Poster, 2011

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YouTube Preview ImageWouldn’t it Be Loverly? performed by Danny Miller of Jew Eat Yet and his son, Charlie Miller

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Poster 7

Seventh Concert Poster, 2012

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YouTube Preview ImageAway in a Manger performed by Kristen Howerton of Rage Against the Minivan with Beer and Hymns members Chad Markley and Lauren Francis

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Concert 8

Eighth Concert Poster, 2013

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YouTube Preview ImageI Love New York at Christmas Time performed by Neil of Citizen of the Month and Jana of Jana’s Thinking Place

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Ninth Concert Poster, 2014

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YouTube Preview ImageIt’s The Time of Year performed by Noel Katz of There’s Gotta Be a Song, with help with his family.

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Concert 10

Tenth Concert Poster, 2015

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YouTube Preview ImageBring a Torch, Jeanette Isabel by Sister Becky Swanson and Delaney

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menorah

photo by Tabatha at So Tabulous

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YouTube Preview ImageNer Li performed by Tamar of Mining Nuggets

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pissing boy ornament photo by Veronica

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YouTube Preview ImageCan I Interest You in Hanukkah by Bonnie of Theoryblog at Crib Chronicles with Oscar and Posey

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photo by Alejna from Collecting Tokens

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YouTube Preview ImageAva Maria performed by Cindy Louise Allen

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joy

photo by Annette Kiesow

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YouTube Preview Image Jingle Bell Rock performed by Ellen Bloom, from the first concert in 2006

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Thank you for another year of online friendship, debate, drama, following, unfollowing, Tinder dating stories, laughter, and comfort during times of sadness.

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Here are the past blockbuster concerts —

2006  2007  2008  2009  2010  2011  2012 2013 2014

Fictional Characters of New York #51

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It was Friday afternoon and Sandy stood on the 125th subway platform with her daughter, Laila.    They were heading downtown; it was her ex-husband’s weekend with his daughter.   Sandy’s mind was elsewhere.   She was hoping to have a date tonight with the good-looking marketing executive she met on Tinder, but he had yet to return her text.

“How does Santa Claus get into our apartment building. We don’t have a chimney?” asked Laila.

Laila had been obsessing about the truth behind Santa Claus ever since she observed the one from the department store Santa  entering the men’s room behind the kitchen appliance section in Macy’s.

“In New York City, Santa Claus brings the toys in through the window.  He also has the key to every apartment.” her mother answered.

Normally Sandy hated to bring her daughter over to Luke’s apartment, she disapproved of his new girlfriend, Ellie, a twenty-eight year old Hungarian graduate student  with excessive cleavage.    This weekend, Sandy was glad for the time alone.   She could use her time to watch Hallmark movies in her underwear. Even if the Tinder guy didn’t get back to her this weekend, it will be enough to have the quiet in the apartment.

“And I always have my vibrator” she thought, a gift she bought for herself last Christmas.

Laila was still thinking about Santa Claus.

“So, Santa Claus flies into every single window in New York City? That would take him all night. And, uh, where does he park the reindeer?”

“He just does it. He’s Santa Claus.”

“Let’s get real. There is no Santa Claus, is there?” Laila asked, clicking her tongue.

Sandy’s heart skipped a beat. Her daughter was too young to reject the magic of childhood. Sandy felt like a failure as a mother, the type of parent to be scorned on the internet.

“Of course there’s a Santa Claus,” said Sandy. “I mean it’s not the guy at Macy’s. That is just an actor. But the real Santa Claus is out there, with his white beard, living in the North Pole. coming on Christmas to make children happy.”

“Mom, I think I need a second opinion.”

Laila saw an older black man sitting on the bench under the poster for the new Supergirl TV show.  He was reading the New York Times, about the latest terrorist attack in Europe.

“Excuse me, sir,” said Laila, and the man looked up from his newspaper.

“Yes?” he asked, glancing over at Sandy for her permission to talk to he daughter.

“Could you tell me if there is really a Santa Claus?” asked Laila

“Ah, Santa Claus,” said the man on the bench, crossing his legs.  “Are you having your doubts about Santa Claus?”

“Yes. My mother said there is a real Santa Claus. What do you think?”

“Hell no. It’s all made up nonsense. There is no Santa Claus. Only little children believe in that stuff.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Laila.

“I’m glad to help.” said the man.

Laila returned to her mother, who was checking Tinder.

“Did your date get back to you?” Laila asked her mother.

“Nah, he’s a loser.”

“Yeah.  Maybe this dating site is not the best place for you.”

“You’re right,” Sandy sighed. It’s so superficial. I’ll try Match.com next.”

“Good idea,” said Laila, caressing her mother’s arm.

“So, did you get your second opinion?” asked Sandy.  “What did the man have to say ?”

“He said that there IS a real Santa Claus who lives in the North Pole and flies out with his reindeer on Christmas to make children happy.”

“I told you!” said Sandy, relieved.

Come Ye and Sign Up for the 10TH and FINAL Annual Blogger Christmahanukwanzaakah Online Holiday Concert!

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Outraged over this year’s Starbucks red cups not being Christmasy enough?

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There is one institution that never fails to produce the holiday spirit — yes,  it is time for the official announcement of the Tenth Annual Blogger Christmahanukwanzaakah Online Holiday Concert, all new, all exciting for 2015!

The Last Concert.

TEN years!  Can you believe it?  This is going to be the blockbuster concert we have been waiting for!

Here are the past blockbuster concerts —

2006  2007  2008  2009  2010  2011  2012 2013  2014

This year’s concert will take place on Wednesday, December 16, 2015 right here on this blog.

It is time to hear YOU PERFORM!   YOU are the CONCERT.  That gives you about a month to work your magic.

Interested?  Sign up in the comment to perform.    Bloggers past, present, and future are all welcome.   It would be a special honor to have former performers return one more time.   Be part of this long-running tradition!

Concert FAQ:

1.  Create a video (or audio) file of you performing a holiday song.  If you need technical help, ask me.

2.  You must be performing in the audio or video.   Don’t cheat and have your cute kids doing all the work.

3.  You can sing, play an instrument, recite poetry, dance the Nutcracker, or write a symphony.

4.  Once completed, post the video on a place like YouTube and send me the link. Or just send me the file via Dropbox or email, and I will post it on YouTube.   Try to get me all files and links by Monday, December 14, 2015, two days before the concert!  That gives you plenty of time to be creative.

5.  If you are too wimpy to sing a song, send me a holiday photo for concert decoration.  It could be of your tree, menorah, or plain ol’ winter solstice if you are a heathen.

6.  The comment section is the sign-up sheet.    By signing up, we can see who is performing what, so we can avoid having ten versions of “Jingle Bells.”

7.  Most importantly — don’t be intimidated if you can’t sing.    We like to laugh at you.

Join us in the longest-running holiday concert online — The Blogger Christmahanukwanzaakah Online Holiday Concert, in it’s TENTH and FINAL blockbuster performance!

YouTube Preview ImageSkating by Vince Guaraldi performed by Angela Reiner Downing of Fluid Pudding

Fictional Characters of New York #50

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It started out innocently. A message on Twitter. A meeting in Central Park. Lunch at a kosher restaurant on 38th Street. I had never expected to see my brother, Avram, again. When he left the Yeshiva and moved to California, he was considered dead, and my older brother, Shimon, prohibited me from having any contact. Now Avram was married and back in town, living in Long Island with his wife and two children.

The first time I saw him in ten years was on a bench near the Great Lawn. He had suggested it as common meeting area, away from our different worlds. I was shocked to see my older brother without his scholarly beard, wearing a shirt that read “LA Dodgers.” It was as if I had never met him. He said that after many years of “hating religion,” as he put it, he was now attending a reform synagogue in Forest Hills. He wanted to reconnect with his family.

“You might as well go to a Catholic Church,” I said. “The reform Jews know nothing. They serve bagels and pork on Shabbat.”

“Well, it’s not that bad. No pork. But they do serve lobster at kid’s bar mitzvahs.”

I frowned, and Avram poked me, saying that he was joking. Avram always had a strange sense of humor.

“And you, Nahum,” he wondered. “Why are you not married yet?”

That was a touchy subject. The whole Rifka incident and the sad ending to their courtship.

“God will bring the One to me.” I said.

“God does nothing, unless you make it so.”

Avram was trying to egg me on, but he wasn’t saying anything so controversial that the Rabbis hadn’t  questioned themselves.

“Baruch Hashem,” I said..

Avram suggested that I spent this Shabbat in Long Island, so I could meet his wife and kids, but I told him it was impossible.

“I’ll meet you anyway on Friday.” he said. “Outside the Yeshiva.  In case you change your mind.”

I said that I wouldn’t.

During the week, my heart softened. The Torah reading that week spoke of family, of Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac. Was not Avram, despite his wrong path, still my brother?

On Friday afternoon, I approached the Yeshiva, and saw Avram waiting for me. He was smiling, confident of my choice to join him for the weekend. A few feet away, with his arms crossed, was my older brother, Shimon, silent and as stiff as Lot’s wife, waiting to argue against it.

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