Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

The Hand

hand

Befriend the man who gives a hand, not shows his hand.

OK, I made that up. But it’s not terrible.

Welcome to my new blog template. At least for now. I suppose if enough people hate it, I will change it. I’m not married to it yet. This is my third blog template in eleven years.

Now for the bigger question — what to do with this blog? I’m human. I crave attention and validation. And I can get more interaction from most of you by posting on Facebook or Instagram. What makes this site special? A person might read one of my posts about kitchen sponges on Facebook because it is shoved at them on their newsfeed, but who in their right mind is going to click on a link to read the same material on my blog?

You will just say, “Talk to my Hand.”

Please do not take this as criticism of you, dear reader, but myself. A REAL writer will write whether there is an audience for his work or not.

“Then why not just submit your writing to other sites instead and make $ online?”

That’s a good question, internal voice! Which publication would be keen to publish articles about kitchen sponges?

Fictional Characters of New York #47

guitar

It’s a decent gig playing guitar on Rector Street. Although the Wall Street guys downtown are born assholes, programmed to crush their competition, they tip well, especially when the NASDAQ is up. Music is universal, no matter your income. During two years of standing on this corner, music has covered my rent and helped me pay back some debt I incurred at Julliard. The street has also been good for my soul. The constant chaos of lower Manhattan has softened the pain of losing Gina’s soft skin next to another man at night. A year later, there was still a hole in my heart. I had loved her more than all the music in the world.

The market fell a hundred points today, so I started to pack it up early, at 6PM.

“Don’t leave yet,” he said, approaching me from around the corner. He was one of my regulars. I nicknamed him “GQ” because he was always dressed in an imported Italian suit, pressed shirt, and fine leather shoes. His eyes that were the color of thousand dollar bills.

“Play it for me,” he said to me. “Play me the song.”

“I’m already packing up,” I replied, not wanting to go through this game again.

“Play it for me. Like only you can.”

“I don’t think it is a good idea to…”

GQ opened his wallet, drew out several hundred bills, and shoved it into my hands. My body was repulsed, wanting to return it, but my mind reminded me of my financial need.

I grabbed my guitar and strummed the opening chords to Bruno Mars’ “Just the Way You Are.”

“Oh, her eyes, her eyes make the stars look like they’re not shining
Her hair, her hair falls perfectly without her trying
She’s so beautiful
And I tell her everyday.”

As I sang the song, I thought about GQ’s cruelty. “Just the Way You Are,” was OUR song. It was playing on the radio on the night I met Gina. And he knew that.   Winning Gina wasn’t enough for him.  He would pay me to sing to the victor, the ultimate humiliation, because on Wall Street, you are programmed to crush your competition.

Fictional Characters of New York #46

old man

“Help me to the window,” said the old man to his aide. “I want to show you something.”

The old man put his face to the window, like a kid looking into a candy store.

“You see those two buildings on Fifth Avenue. I own them. I own forty-seven properties in Manhattan, twenty properties in Brooklyn, and twelve properties in Queens. I practically own the city.”

“Your legacy is clear, sir.    We will remember you as one of the greatest men the city has ever produced.”

The old man laughed.

“What do you know about Boss Tweed?”

“Who?”

“He ran the city in the late nineteenth century. Today, he is nothing more than an obscure answer on Jeopardy. No one will remember me.”

The crowd below had gathered in strength.  This morning, even the scared New York Times had weakly endorsed the rabble-rousers of the Occupy Real Estate Movement.  The angry mob marched down Fifth Avenue with their signs and banners and angry voices calling for an end to all private property. Ground Zero was the old man’s apartment tower, the third largest building in the city, where apartments started at $20 million dollars.   Last week, the old man’s organization installed bulletproof windows in his penthouse, in case one of the armed protesters hijacked a helicopter.

“Where are you from?” the old man asked his aide. “For all the time you’ve been here, I’ve never asked you about your family.”

“I’m from Staten Island, sir.”

“I was born in the Bronx. Morris Avenue. It was a nice place back then. We used to play stickball in the street. I kissed my first girl on Morris Avenue. Mary Lapazza was her name.  Of course, everyone I know from that time is dead by now.  Including Mary Lapazza.  “I’m going to make it big for you, Mary,” I once told her after she decided to go to the prom at Andrew Jackson High School prom with Arnie Weinstein instead of me.  “I’m going to make it big, and then you’ll come calling on me!””

The old man jerked unsteady on his cane.

“Would you like to sit down, sir?” asked the aide.

“No. I’d like you to go buy whatever property is now on 145 Morris Street in the Bronx. I don’t care how much it costs. I want you to buy it today. And then when you buy it for me, I want you to drive me over there, because for the rest of my life, that is where I am going to live.  And die.”

Fictional Characters of New York #45

mother and son

The hardest job in this motherhood gig is watching your son in pain, and knowing that only time will heal, not your motherly touch.

Brett was a boy on the cusp of being a man, and hugs from his mother were verboten. He had a hard year – problems in school, bad grades, bullying, his own romantic heartbreak, and, of course, my divorce with his father, which hit our family like a hurricane wave.

“Let’s go to Coney Island,” I said, trying to be cheery. “My grandmother used to take me there very summer. We can go to Nathan’s and have hot dogs.”

“I’m a vegetarian now,” he said.

“Right. I forgot. But who knows, maybe they now have Nathan’s veggie dogs.”

“I really doubt it.”

“Yeah, me too.”

We took the F train anyway, down to Stillwell Avenue, the last stop. The beach was empty. The Cyclone and Wonder Wheel still. The season had yet to begin.

We walked as far as the ocean, and my boy-man moped around the gray wet rocks at water’s edge.   The rocks sprouted green colored moss like Chia pets.

I looked at Brett with a woman’s wonder.  He was once a baby that grew inside my body.   How could any mother be an atheist?  She had witnessed a miracle.

My divorce had arrived suddenly, a winter break surprise.  Andrew sat me down at our favorite Italian restaurant in Chelsea, and over veal marsala, told me that was he seeing another women, from our synagogue of all places.

“I’m not in love with you anymore,” he said. “I mean I love you as a person. As someone who was my wife. Who gave me a child. But not romantically anymore. You know how it’s been. We hardly touch each other. And I need touching.”

Don’t we all. Don’t we all.

My sister suggested I join Tinder, but I have not time for that. I am a mother first.  And Brett needs me now.

“Brett, come here,” I said. “I want to give you a hug.”

“I’m fine, Mom. Leave me alone,” he said as he climbed to the top of the Coney Island rocks, as if he was effortlessly shedding his boyhood forever.

Fictional Characters of New York #44

couple

“Be careful with the wheelchair,” said Ruthie.

“I’ve been doing this for 25 years.  I know what I’m doing.” said Beth as she wheeled her older sister through the tiny kitchen and into the dinette, avoiding the tear in the faded yellow linoleum.

For breakfast, Beth made Ruthie scrambled eggs and an English muffin. Same as usual.

“After breakfast, I’ll go pick up your meds from Walgreen’s,” said Beth.

“Have you said hello to the new neighbors yet?” asked Ruthie.

“Why would I do that?  They have no interest in us.”

“Make them some brownies. Be neighborly. After all, we live in the same apartment building.”

“Do we?” asked Beth, sarcasm cracking in her voice. “We don’t even take the same elevator!”

Last year, half of the building went co-op, and a separate entrance and elevator were installed for the new tenants. The McGovern sisters were listed as rent-controlled, still using the decrepit elevator where the button for the seventh floor was perpetually popped-out upside down.

“Buy a brownie mix at the supermarket and make them some brownies. It’s the neighborly thing to do. Besides, you don’t have a real job. What do you do anyway?”

“Take care of you,” Beth mumbled to herself and headed for the front door. It was dark in the apartment because the rent controlled apartments faced the blank side wall of the bank next-door.

Outside, the Brooklyn sun was shining brightly and Beth had to shield her eyes, like a vampire who just left the darkness of an enclosed coffin. As she made her way towards Walgreen’s and the supermarket, she passed the two new neighbors, a young couple in love, carrying a shopping bag from Whole Foods.  They paid two million dollars to live in the building, which gave them the privilege of having a doorman and riding the silver elevator.  They were God’s children with lives as glowing as the stars.

The couple walked past Beth as if she was invisible. Later that day, Beth made them brownies, which they never ate because of the gluten.

Fictional Characters of New York #43

fictional character

I’m a third generation New Yorker, but  I’ll be the last in my family to live here. My son has other plans.

“Lift me up so I can see the stars,” he said to me on Second Avenue at night, and I put him atop my shoulders like an Indian prince.

“It’s hard to see the stars here,” I told him. “Too many lights, too many tall buildings.”

He never took an interest in the Art Deco Chrysler Building or the majestic Brooklyn Bridge like I did at his age.  He is intrigued by loftier heights — space, the final frontier.

“One day, I’ll take you to Montana,” I said. “I went there with Grandma and Grandpa when I was your age.  When you look up, you won’t believe how many stars are in the sky.”

“But will you still lift me up so I can see the stars, even in Montana?”

“I’ll always lift you up to see the stars.”

“Even when you’re gone?” he asked.  The maturity of his question surprised me, as if he already understood the concept of death.

And I had no answer for him.  Luckily, he changed the subject at whim, as boys his age tend to do.”

“I don’t want to go to Montana,” he said.  “I’d rather go to Mars.”

“Mars, well, well! Daddy can’t lift you up all the way to Mars.   For that, you’ll need a super-duper rocket.  And you’ll probably have to go on your own because Daddy doesn’t like heights.”

“OK, I’m not afraid,” he said about his future journey in a rocket ship, a trip that he would someday take without me supporting him on my shoulders.

“Will you miss me up in space?” I asked.

“Nah, we can still Skype,” he said.

Tinderitis

I was watching Murder She Wrote with my mother. Jessica Fletcher was helping an old friend, a golf professional, who was falsely accused of murder. The local police thought it an open and closed case, but Jessica Fletcher steadily poked holes into the evidence. After all, the victim was shot by a bullet that entered the right side of the body, which means the shooter would have to have been left-handed, and the main suspect, her dear friend, the golf pro, was right-handed, and unable to be the killer. The only other suspect capable of the crime was the owner of the pro-shop, who WAS left-handed, and had a motive – she was once jilted by the deceased on her wedding day, and she had vowed revenge. The owner of the pro-shop was cornered; she confessed.

Case closed.

“Eureka,” I cried out loud to my mother. “I don’t masturbate too often!”

++++

Every male has one female friend who is the ONE WHERE IT NEVER HAPPENED. She could be a friend from college, from work, or a neighbor. She is the woman with whom the opportunity once arose to move to the physical, but for some reason, guilt, fear, shyness, or just common sense, the step is never taken. The moment of temptation usually happens on a night when there is drinking, and the light is just right, falling on her like a Rembrandt painting, and maybe an extra button is open on her blouse, and you look too long at the curve of her breasts, and the way her body breathes when she laughs drunk, and then she sets her gaze on you in a moment of lust and indecision thinking about whether she is making your cock hard, until the click-clack of a waiter clearing a martini glass breaks the connection, and all returns to normal, never to be mentioned again. But it never does go back to complete normal; the night is always there, just hidden, like a tattoo on the shoulder that was poorly removed. You remain friends, but an aggressiveness builds, mostly visible only in language, as words are the best way that humans suppress forever that unfortunate minute in time when you desired to fuck a platonic friend.

++++

I didn’t fall. I didn’t bump into any blunt or sharp objects. The only medical explanation for the pain in my arm was my three months using Tinder. At night, despite to end my loneliness, I would lie in bed, holding my tablet up in the air with my left hand, and swipe right and left on the dating site with my thumb, the direction of the movement depending on whether the woman in the photograph passed my criteria. She must smile. She must have a bio. No bikini shots. No mountain-climbers. After three months, I began to notice a pain in my shoulder. I went to an orthopedist. I even came up with a medical term for my condition — Tinderitis.   I thought I was uber-clever and shared my diagnosis with Facebook, hoping to get some LIKES.

++++

“I wouldn’t tell everyone on Facebook that you injured your shoulder through Tinder,” she said, later that day.

She was the ONE WHERE IT NEVER HAPPENED.

“Why not?”

“Because it’s ridiculous. No one believes that you injured yourself by swiping.”

“It makes sense. The pain happened three months after I started using Tinder.”

“Let me tell you what most people are REALLY thinking.”

“What are most people REALLY thinking?”

“That you injured your shoulder by masturbating too much.”

“What? No one is thinking that.”

“That’s what I thought when you first told me you hurt your shoulder.”

“What?!  How much masturbating do you think I do?”

“Well, I don’t know. You’re looking at all those women on Tinder and maybe you get off on it?”

“Do you REALLY think I am masturbating to the women I see on Tinder? Most of them look crazy to me. They scare me!”

“That never stopped men before from masturbating.”

“I don’t think you really understand men.”

“Oh, I do.”

“If you understood men so much, why aren’t you dating anyone?

“I don’t date because I know men too well.”

“Eh, bullshit. You hate being alone.”

“I LOVE being alone. Why does everyone think a woman needs a MAN for her to be happy?”

++++

The killer on Murder She Wrote was the left-handed owner of the pro-shop.

Jessica Fletcher had saved the day.

“Eureka,” I cried out loud to my mother. “I don’t masturbate too often!”

I called my friend to tell her the news. That I was right and she was wrong.   My injury happened to my LEFT shoulder. I swipe on Tinder with my LEFT hand. But I only masturbate with my RIGHT.

Case closed.

New Fulton Fish Market

The New Fulton Fish Market in the Bronx is second in size worldwide only to Tokyo’s Tsukiji wholesale seafood market. The market handles millions of pounds of seafood daily and annual sales exceed one billion dollars. Thank you Open House New York for the opportunity to see this vibrant market up close.

Fulton Fish Market

Fulton Fish Market

Fulton Fish Market

Fulton Fish Market

Fulton Fish Market

Fulton Fish Market

Fulton Fish Market

Fulton Fish Market

Fulton Fish Market

Fulton Fish Market

Fulton Fish Market

fulton fish market

fulton fish market

fulton fish market

Fulton Fish Market

Fulton Fish Market

Fulton Fish Market

Flushing, the Song

f2

Justin Giarrusso, a composer, recently wrote a choral piece about the five boroughs of New York City titled “Five Boroughs, One City.”   For the Queens section of the piece, he used a poem I wrote on Citizen of the Month in 2008 as his inspiration.

Yay, Queens!

The piece can be heard here

Flushing Poem

“Last stop! Last stop!”
Flushing, what a name!
Tiny women talking
Mandarin in the rain
Alone, I walk by
A mural, Chinese art
A cafe, a hooker
A rusty shopping cart
The downpour, the rushing
The garbage in the street
The yearning, the craving
The summer New York heat.

Fictional Characters of New York #42

macys2

“What makes a woman happy?” thought Victor, as he waited for his wife in the shoe section of Macy’s, where they were having a sale.

They were attending a matinee of “On the Town” that afternoon, but Cindy wanted to drive in early from New Jersey and park near Herald Square to go shopping.  Macy’s was decorated with a “spring bloom” theme, even though it was snowing outside in late March.

macys1

In August, Victor will be married to Cindy for ten years, but did he really know her?  Did he know her likes and loves?  He worked long hours on Wall Street to pay for the bills and to do the best for his family, especially Eric, his son, but his wife remained a mystery, besides her affection for Kate Spade bags.

Victor and Cindy rarely talked about anything other than Eric’s schoolwork.  She was worried that he was not advancing as quickly as some of the children of her friends.

“You want him to get into Harvard, don’t you?” she would ask.

“He’s nine years old.  It’s a little early to worry about Harvard.”

Is that what Cindy wanted now out of life — to spend the next ten years making sure Eric got into Harvard?   Is that what everything leading up to the present moment has been about?

The last time Victor had sex — real sex — was on his birthday, as if she was giving him a present.

macys3

We’re going to be late for the show,” said Victor.

“I just want to take a selfie with David and sent it to my sister!” she replied.   “it will be so funny!”

There was a fake statue of David in the lobby of Macy’s surrounded by flowers, and the tourists were eating it up.

macys4

Victor and Cindy went to Florence for their honeymoon.   It seemed like such a long time ago.

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