Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

The Blog – Engage!

Captain’s Log, 1.31.2019

The situation at Space Station Facebook continues to deteriorate. Various factions have built armed encampments and leadership is weak. Admiral Zuckerberg and his cohorts at HQ refuse to fight attacks on privacy. Residents are followed by corporate-owned robots. Free speech is limited, overseen by self-appointed political watchdogs. What was once a resistance has been severely broken by infighting. Many have disembarked to other colonies, or returned to Earth, but I will not abandon all that we have worked for on our beloved Space Station. We can, once again, make it into the jewel of the Federation. But I am realistic about the future. That is why today, I have re-energized the warp core of my former satellite, the U.S.S. Citizen. While it has been abandoned for over a year, it still maintains a Class-M position  in the  solar system, even with much of it’s infrastructure crumbling. It will require hours of engineering to retrofit and fix the thrusters. If you are receiving this transmission on Space Station Facebook, it means the updates proceeded with no problem. This begins a new era in my career with the Federation. My plan is to transport back and forth between these two ships. I reiterate – I have not given up on our beloved Spaceship, even with the enemy’s constant threats of attack. The propaganda and hate must end, and a new treaty of engagement must be signed by all parties, what I like to call The New Alliance. For now, the security and safety of my friends and colleagues are my highest priority, and the reemergence of my former tiny satellite, a mere speck of a home compared to the planet-sized Spaceship, is essential.  Only the future can tell whether this old and weary space will one day prove useful as an escape and a safe sanctuary for all.  Godspeed.

The Twelfth Annual Christmahanukwanzaakah Online Holiday Concert

Happy Christmahanukwanzaakah!   Welcome to the 12th annual holiday concert!

What a crazy and upsetting year for America.   I don’t even know where to begin.   But let’s remember that throughout history, even  in the toughest times, people have found time to step away and find the joy in life.    Friendship and music.   That’s what this concert is all about.   If you enjoy the concert, and if you so choose, this year we are asking you to donate to RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization.

Peace, love, empathy, and justice.   Whatever your religion.  Whether you believe or not.   Whatever.

Thank you to all the participants.  

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Adeste Fidelis by Kizz Robinson and Sarah Stopek

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“Simple Gifts” is a Shaker song composed in 1848 by Elder Joseph Brackett by Eileen Chong

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Hanukkah in Santa Monica by Ellen Bloom

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Christmas at Denny’s by Brian Thomas and Ty Thomas

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Yuletide Aquarius by Danny Miller

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The Wassail Song by Alejna Brugos

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From My Window by Lea Grover

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Happy Holidays by Tamar Jacobson

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Hippo Hanukkah by Sophia Lansky

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Roy Moore Campaign Song by Noel Katz

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Last Christmas by Marty Long and Kevin Long

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I Believe in You and O Holy Night by Cindy Louise Allen

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Christmas is All Around by Elizabeth Flora Ross

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You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch by Karl Erikson

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2,000 Miles by Linda Roy

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Silver Bells by Michelle Kosboth

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Christmas Lights by Genie Alisa

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Vintage Trains, NYC 2017

20 Minutes on IM #4: With Sarah

You may notice that I start projects here, and then lose interest in them (note: I’m still on day 4 of my gratitude-post-a-day from six months ago),  One of these experimental blog projects was started and abandoned three and a half years ago – I called it “20 Minutes on IM.”    The idea was to IM with a friend on Facebook Messenger for a pre-arranged twenty minutes,  and then post the conversation online.   I was interested in crossing the boundary between public and private, which, even during the Obama administration,  was an outdated  and dangerous concept.    Now, it just seems crazy.

A month ago, I decided to pick up with this interactive experiment where I left off, and have an IM conversation with Sarah Gilbert.  We arranged for a time, and I told her that everything we say was going to be made public.  Everything.  Sarah naively agreed.

In reading over the exchange, one element stands out for me, and it has to do with my own sexism.  Even though Sarah is an avid cyclist, is there any reason for me to mention her “strong thighs” not just once, but twice! In the scheme of things, it is pretty mild, and Sarah took no offense, but this just proves the ramifications of the #metoo movement.   Even men who aren’t predators are starting to look at themselves – and how they treat women – in a new way.

Neil
Hello, Sarah

Sarah Gilbert
Hi Neil! It’s fun to talk to you formally…

Neil
we used to talk all the time on here, remember….

Sarah Gilbert
I remember the days. It’s hard to keep up with my love life without a lot of conversation

Neil
it has been making me feel sad lately that I am losing touch with people back from blogging days because there is nothing holding us together anymore.

Sarah Gilbert
We don’t feel the compulsion to go to the conferences as much anymore…

Neil
it really feels like after you graduated college and you move on

Sarah Gilbert
…and the conversation has shifted.  It’s fun to think about all the ways we have transitioned in storytelling though.

Neil
yep. Also life happens. It is hard to keep up.

Sarah Gilbert
I want to talk about the secret single mom group but… you know the rules. Lots of conversations have had to be forced private.

Neil
Now of everyone I met online, you have probably had the most…. uh adventurous and chaotic last five years….without getting into too many details, there was divorce…. and some trouble there, and then relationship and some trouble there….

Sarah Gilbert
Yes! With the exception of overseas travelers, I’m pretty much tops in rambunctiousness.

Neil
hey, sounds like my life.  but at least you know how to have fun doing it.

Sarah Gilbert
Yes. I won’t get into the details here but let’s just say polyamory has been a wonderful horrible gorgeous painful adventure.

Neil
i am on record as advising you against it.

Sarah Gilbert
And my divorce was pretty much just the horrible painful part. I hear you and probably won’t follow your advice. ??

Neil
but during all this chaos you sort of changed focus from just writing to exploring your love of bicycles…you are so Portland. I think of you whenever I watch Portlandia.

Sarah Gilbert
Right. I’ve been storytelling a lot but found a whole new venue. Offline in the most extreme way. I even now am leading Portlandia tours!

Neil
there was an article lately that was a bit critical of the image of Portland and Oregon, saying that it is also a hotbed for white nationalism….. how do you feel about that…not as super liberal as we think…

Sarah Gilbert
Oh man. There is so much to say there. We’re a hotbed for everything

Neil
first you were working for a tour company? do you even own a car?

Sarah Gilbert
Well… I just bought a vehicle, but it’s for a tour company I’m starting

Neil
you have ridden bikes everyone ever since your kids were little

Sarah Gilbert
I haven’t had a personal vehicle since 2006!

Neil
don’t tell me it is a gas guzzzling SUV

Sarah Gilbert
Yes! My middle kid was a baby then.  No it’s a diesel Mercedes sprinter.  To carry lots of tour guests and their bikes ?? I worked for a bike tour company for three years….

Neil
maybe i will get yelled at for being sexist. but you have the strongest leg and thing muscles in your photos.

Sarah Gilbert
…really early on I started planning how I’d like to do it on my own.  Oh don’t worry about ME yelling at you.  I show off my legs on purpose ??

Neil
i kinda always visualized you as a dorky writier loner type…. do you actually enjoy dealing with the public? i mean customers….

Sarah Gilbert
Yes! I’m kind of an extrovert in some ways.  I love to talk

Neil
I’m doing my first photo shoot for a client and I’m wondering if I will really enjoy dealing with people as much as the photography itself.

Sarah Gilbert
It’s hard sometimes. People are not all ideal.

Neil
so first you worked for a company and now you are deciding to go on your own? I have to admit. You are the epitome of Just Do It. Isn’t Nike in Oregon?

Sarah Gilbert
Yes. I started the business as soon as the divorce finally finished with the asset but.  Haha yes.

Neil
remember when I told you to start a magazine…. and two days later yous started a magazine

Sarah Gilbert
Right outside the city.  I did!

Neil
you wanted to start a bike company so you freaking did it.  do you have competitors in this ?

Sarah Gilbert
I did! Ironically I started working for a driving tour company so I wouldn’t violate my noncompete

Neil
I forget the name. I’m sure it is named after a greek myth of something

Sarah Gilbert
Yep. Several other companies.  It’s called Cordilleran Tours.

Neil
is it a greek myth?

Sarah Gilbert
It’s named after mountain ranges (cordillera in Spanish) and the Cordilleran ice sheet that shaped everything in the Pacific Northwest.

Neil
so how does it work? People come to town, and how the heck do they know you exist?  you have to be an outdoors person to start riding in the mountains

Sarah Gilbert
The idea is that we can start here in portland and the mountains I love and then expand around the cordillera. We’re not going to be biking straight up mountains…

Neil
if i visited could I physically do this? how many miles do you go?  so you supply the bikes….?

Sarah Gilbert
…but the niche is, a little more active than normal.  Yes

Neil
so where do you go? hood river? the falls?

Sarah Gilbert
You’ve got to understand that normal tourists can often not walk up 1/3 of a mile to waterfalls. So this is just a bit more adventurous. 8-12 miles on bikes. 4-8 miles hiking.

Neil
but oregon gets a lot of sports people

Sarah Gilbert
Hiking

Neil
i mean people who enjoy outdoors

Sarah Gilbert
We have a lot who live here…

Neil
not just sitting in museums

Sarah Gilbert
…but tourists are tourists. And yes we will supply bikes

Neil
not saying you are anti-intellectual.

Sarah Gilbert
🙂

Neil
just enjoy strong thighs and good books

Sarah Gilbert
I’m pretty fucking intellectual
😉

Neil
i saw you have a donut tour? i like that one.

Sarah Gilbert
Right! It’s called “beyond voodoo”

Neil
maybe you can do a tour with Powell Books as promotion

Sarah Gilbert
Because egregiously, voodoo Donuts is the most visited tourist attraction in portland

Neil
so first go for donuts and coffee

Sarah Gilbert
I like it. And then books. Well my meditative garden tour is a good example of something that takes a regular tourist attraction and then makes the experience a little deeper.  More spiritual

Neil
do u meditate now?

Sarah Gilbert
I go to the local gardens… Chinese and Japanese… and lead guided meditations

Neil
i think you never get depressed because you are always doing stuff….

Sarah Gilbert
Placing the history of the people and places in context with our own experience of them.  It’s true!

Neil
that’s my problem.

Sarah Gilbert
And yes. I meditate both on my own every night and in the midst of my workday. I take tourists to these beautiful places. And then steal away for five minutes to mediate

Neil
so how are you getting clients, or customers?

Sarah Gilbert
Meditate

Neil
do you have money to advertise yet?

Sarah Gilbert
Well the initial plan is to get listed on TripAdvisor. I really don’t have funds for a lot…

Neil
do they do it for free? i use tripadvisor

Sarah Gilbert
…we’ve found social marketing and relationships are the best

Neil
who is we? you have a partner?

Sarah Gilbert
I guess mostly me ??  Ok this is the complicated part. My boyfriend and I have talked about it for years…

Neil
you realize you have writing material staring at you from your own life….

Sarah Gilbert
…and there was this horrible upheaval in our life.

Neil
are you still talking now?

Sarah Gilbert
Well, he left. Yes.  And he still wants to work for me

Neil
or is this have to be cut out?

Sarah Gilbert
It’s complicated. I don’t know!

Neil
OK, we will talk about this later….

Sarah Gilbert
Ha

Neil
you already know my opinion.

Sarah Gilbert
But anyway, my various beautiful lovely people in my life will contribute in some way

Neil
do you have any time to write? I know that is important to you? maybe by focusing on this you are opening avenues for writing too

Sarah Gilbert
I have a lot of beloved tour guides in my world

Neil
by just defocusing on writing

Sarah Gilbert
I am working on juggling that now. One of my major outlets is these conversations I have with place. Via Instagram posts. I have an ongoing conversation with the Columbia Gorge. I call her Lady Gorge or Ms. Gorge.  Sometimes I am speaking to my lover(s).

Neil
i want to ask you something important before we bring up you new business again because time is running out.

Sarah Gilbert
But sometimes it’s to the divine self. Ok

Neil
you’re not ready for dating again, are you?

Sarah Gilbert
That is important. I don’t know. I’ve never been single this long

Neil
is it possible to find someone more…. conventional.

Sarah Gilbert
Six weeks now.  Haha no.  I’ll likely go more unconventional than ever

Neil
You’ve never done online dating stuff. You always meet in real life, right?

Sarah Gilbert
I have done online dating briefly. But mostly I only date people who already love me

Neil
I don’t even understand that

Sarah Gilbert
Sometimes it’s through social media. People fall in love.  And then I’m here.  It’s magic.  My last three major relationships were that.

Neil
I want to date again locally. but i get too distracted…. so trying to focus on work stuff…. not sure it is working though

Sarah Gilbert
People who knew me in some way and loved me.  so I’m connected to so many people. Like you.  And I’m super open. Like you.

Neil
anyway, time running out on this experiment and I have to be cruel. In case someone is visiting portland and wants to go on a tour…. how can they reach you?

Sarah Gilbert
People know when I’m available and start asking

Neil
cruel in meaning cutting us off.

Sarah Gilbert
Cordillerantours.com. 🙂  And you can reach out to me directly.  I LOVE doing custom tours. One of the reasons I started the business was to do really cool custom tours

Neil
oh crap we have so much we can talk about. we didn’t even bring up Trump. anyway, we can do that privately. Kinda missed talking to you. Sad that I have to do an experiment with you as an excuse.

Sarah Gilbert
Yes. I’m game to changing this frequency ??

Neil
ok maybe i will come next spring and go on tour too

Sarah Gilbert
I missed you too.  Yes!

Neil
what do you do on winter?

Sarah Gilbert
I will make a special Neil tour

Neil
is is still ok to go out?

Sarah Gilbert
Work a little less. But yes

Neil
doesn’t get that cold,does it?

Sarah Gilbert
I probably work 30 hours a week in November.  Compared to 55 in August

Neil
well, listen, best of luck to you, and now I will go offline and scold you about your men.

Sarah Gilbert
With driving tours this summer I racked up crazy miles and hours. And women

Neil
Good bye Sarah!

Sarah Gilbert
I can’t wait.  Goodbye !

Neil
ha ha

Rainy Day at the Columbus Day Parade

I can’t believe I even have to preface this, but these photos are not an endorsement of the nasty Christopher Columbus, of the Spain’s Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, sponsors of Columbus and the monsters behind the Spanish Inquisition and other bloody crimes  in the name of Christianity, or the American government and their mistreatment of Native Americans, and certainly not any sarcastic comment about the many accomplishments of Italian-Americans in our country.  I was passing through midtown Manhattan.  There was a parade.  It was pouring.  And I like to shoot photos of people with umbrellas.  Fair enough?

My Toy Machine Gun

(no sound)

On my sixth birthday, my parents threw me a birthday party.  My extended family was invited to our apartment in Queens. It was one of the few times both sides of my family sitting in the same room at the same time. I remember little about the event except for two specific gifts that I received on that day, both which became legendary in my own mind.

The first gift was a Scrabble set. I immediately loved this board game, and quickly became obsessed with finding the best triple score words with the “X” tile.  Soon,  I was beating my mother in her own game.  I could draw a  line from that day i got the Scrabble set with my love of dictionaries, to becoming an English major in college, to wanting to write rather than go to law school.

The second memorable gift was so infamous that it became a running joke with my mother that has continued for decades.  It was a plastic toy machine gun that made realistic rat-a-tat sounds when you pressed the trigger, a gift from my aunt, the wife of my father’s youngest brother.

My aunt was blonde, gorgeous, educated, and worked as a psychiatrist.  She was the most accomplished person in the room. She was also the first non-Jew in our family, and simply unaware that I was nothing like Ralphie, dreaming of his bb gun in “A Christmas Story.”  My Jewish family from Brooklyn and the Bronx were very afraid of guns. Maybe it was a remnant of anti-Jewish pogroms back in Russia and Poland, or the Holocaust itself, but in my family, whenever you saw your neighbors with guns, you knew it was not a good sign for the Jewish people. My parents thanked my aunt for this “unique” birthday gift, but after the party, my mother hid the plastic toy gun somewhere in the house and told me that I couldn’t play with it.

Within a week, I discovered my mother’s hiding place (she naively hid it in my own closet!) but at this point, I was so into scrabble, I forgot about the gun.  Later that year, my mother threw the gun into the garbage. My fate was sealed — I was to become a man of triple score words and not a marksman. 

I thought of my toy machine gun this week because of the endless debate our country has over gun control. Three days ago, a killer brought over 30 rapid-fire guns into his hotel room at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas and shot concert-goers outside his window on the 32nd Floor. No one knows the motive.

I tell the story of my toy gun because I want to come clean with my gun-owning friends in the South and the West.   I know I perfectly fit the stereotype of someone who doesn’t understand the importance of gun culture, or how your identity is intimately connected with defending your family.   What right do I have to talk about guns?  My crazy mother wouldn’t even let me use a toy gun!

But you have your own biases.  You hide behind the NRA.  Deep in your heart you know that gun violence is a sickness in America, and that it isn’t normal to walk into a hotel with thirty high-powered rifles to mow down innocent people. But you are afraid that by admitting it, people like me will want to take all your guns away, and then you will be defenseless and weak. I get that.  I’ve told you my bias and where I come from, and I’m ready to hear your side of the story.    But I want to hear from YOU, not the NRA.

30 Days of Gratitude – Day 4 – Grateful for those I’ve Met Online

30 Days of Gratitude – Day Three – Grateful for Accepting Singing as Natural in Musicals

30 Days of Gratitude – Day Two – Grateful for Water

30 Days of Gratitude – Day One – Grateful for Being a Man

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