Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Month: July 2008 (page 1 of 3)

Need a Week Off the Internet

Since I seem to be having a mild nervous breakdown online ranting about everything under the sun, there is only one solution: get offline for a week!

I have never had any guest posters before on my blog. But you are in luck. I have arranged for FIVE of the finest and most popular bloggers to take my place on Citizen of the Month next week, all of them extremely well-respected and well-loved for their wit and wisdom. I am truly honored to have them replace me here at my home.

Starting at 1PM EST (10AM PST) today – THIS MEANS #1 WILL BE  THE FIRST PERSON TO COMMENT AT 1PM, NOT THE FIRST COMMENT IN THE MORNING — July 31st, the first five people FROM THAT POINT — new readers included — who write this comment — “I want to guest post on Citizen of the Month” will have the opportunity to write guest posts here next week.

But beware: I will be choosing your topic.

How We Are Doing

Many of you have emailed lately asking, “How are you and Sophia doing being apart?”   I am so glad that you asked.   Although being apart is difficult, it also gives us the opportunity for change — so both of us jumped on the express train to personal transformation.


Sophia has decided to go “LA” blond.


I have decided to become a “NY” raving lunatic who drools all over himself in the subway.

Rivulets

I’m sitting across the table from my Aunt Heloise and her friend Mabel at Jax Cafe. Casually, while Heloise tells me about the $40 she won at Mah Jonng, Mabel grabs 30 or so packets of sugar and Equal from the table and puts them in her purse. A few seconds later, when she reaches for the packet of maple syrup, our hands meet. I slide the packet closer to me, and look around to see if anyone has noticed, but everyone except the dark-eyed girl at the counter – looking like a runaway with her Army jacket and ripped up duffel bag – is absorbed in waffles or conversation. I look at the runaway and she glares back at me. For some reason, her glare makes my chest feel suddenly heavy and tight. I quickly look away.

“It can cause epileptic seizures, you know,” Mabel suddenly says.

“What can?”

“Mah Jong. I read it somewhere.”

I ask for the check, signaling the end to my Friday morning mitzvah. I put them in a cab headed towards Rye, and head back towards my apartment in Queens. At 11:00 a.m. it’s already been a long day. The humidity sticks to my lungs and I feel out of breath and bone tired by the time I reach my third floor walk up.

I can also feel the sharp edges of some unwelcome thing creeping in, something I never want and never feel comfortable with. I think about taking an ice cold shower to snap me out of it, but my body heads toward the unmade Murphy bed. I peel off my damp clothes and lay down. Instead of relaxing, my body tenses. My neck becomes a steel spike that drives into the back of my head. My arms and back go rigid, and my teeth start to grind.

After a few minutes, I decide it’s the fucking music. It’s the pounding bass from the assholes in 4C. The longer I think about it, the angrier I get. I’ve asked them a dozen times to turn down the volume or move their speakers. I’ve asked them nicely, respectfully. I even left them a note that said thank you in advance.

The anger makes me sweat. Rivulets of sweat begin running down my forehead, into my hair, down my cheeks, and into my blistering hot neck. I bolt from the bed and run to the shared wall, where my clammy fists start pounding “God damnit you stupid motherfuckers how many times do I have to ask you mother fucking assholes turn the fucking music down.” I wait for my torrent to take effect, leaning with my ear pressed against the wall so I can hear what they say.

Instead of repentance, I hear the tinny sound of laughter. His laughter, low and rumbling, and hers high-pitched, tastes like blood in my mouth.

I drag my stereo cabinet across the room, plug it in, turn my speakers around, and blast Aerosmith. Big 10 inch. Over and over again. In between plays, I can still hear the pounding bass of unrecognizable music. The more I hear it, the madder I get. I want to kill somebody.

Eduardo comes knocking just as I’m searching for a song that has a stronger drum beat. I answer the door wild-eyed and naked, and realize that I wouldn’t mind if he was afraid of me – if he looked shocked, or backed away from the door slowly – but he’s been a super too long. “Call it a truce, Daniel. They’ve turned theirs off, so now it’s your turn. And the next time you have a problem, come to me, eh?”

I take a shower, but make it hot. I want to get lost in the steam. I want to feel drunk tired and disoriented from the heat. I want to wash away the unwelcome thing.

Instead, I notice the beads of water falling down the shower stall. The rivulets of water running down my arms.

Without bothering to dry off, I turn off the water, and make my way back to bed. There’s no sky outside that I can see, but there is a brick apartment building. I see the first crack of lightning reflected in someone else’s window. On a hot July afternoon in New York, it begins to rain.

“There were rivulets of rain on the window. . . ” – That’s how Helen, in her soft New Zealand accent, began her story, remembering herself as a fourteen year old schoolgirl, watching the rain while listening to Depeche Mode and doing homework.

We had just finished making love, and it was the kind of love that transcended the passage of time and the limits of bodies. In her dark room we wondered what day it was – was it the night before, or had a new night fallen unaware? We didn’t know, and we really didn’t care. There were icy cold bottles of Coca-Cola in the fridge, love songs on the radio, and candles that flickered warmly on the night stand. At some point, we had showered together, and the smell of Jasmine soap lingered on our skin.

I held her in the crook of my arm, and was amazed at how well she fit. As if she’d always been there, or belonged there – as if she had been a part of me that had been missing and suddenly returned.

It didn’t start this way when we met five months prior at the airport and then shared a cab. There was chemistry, but it was stilted. She was a little reserved, I was a little defensive. The ice broke on our fourth date, for no particular reason other than the particular shine of the moon on a February night, and the way our bodies pressed together under the street lamps in front of her apartment building.

We melded that night, as if neither reserve nor defenses had ever existed. By June, despite my 35 years as a bachelor, I was secretly imagining a comfortable life in the suburbs, with a loving wife and two curly-haired, doe-eyed children.

And then came the story. It tumbled out like a bad dream, to be told quickly, but never forgotten. The rivulets of rain that fell. The absent mother and the stepfather who would not hear no. The loss of innocence and the run from home. The streets that burned the soles of her feet, and the danger behind the slick smiles and promises of protection.

I held her, watching the rain of tears run down her cheeks and feeling my own. I held her, and then thought it was too tightly, so I loosened my grip.

“I am not him,” I said, as much for her assurance as my own, “I am not them, those men in the street. I’m sorry, Helen, so sorry. . .”. I didn’t know what else to say.

Later, she reached for me in the depth of sleep, and her hand suddenly felt alien to me. Like a fragile, tender thing that I might accidentally break. Like the slender, pleading hand of a fourteen year old child.

In the morning, her dark eyes met my own. “I think you should go,” she said, coldly.

“We can get past this, Helen.”

“It will never be the same. I don’t want it to be the same. It was all based on lies. Our love is just a lie.”

“It’s not a lie! I love you. What happened was not your fault, please, give us some time. . .”.

She glared past me, into some distant darkness. “Just go,” she said, “I want to be alone.”

Rivulets of rain run down my window on a hot July afternoon. I pick my damp clothes off the floor and run like a mad man towards the subway station to look for the dark-eyed girl.

The Circle of Life: My Final Mention of BlogHer in 2008

 

The month began with me making plans to go to BlogHer with my free JCPenney/Dockers flight.   It turned out that JCPenney/Dockers found it easier to abandon their promotion, ruining hundreds of hard-working people’s vacations than commit to their deal.  JCPenney never returned my phone calls, and I ended up not going to Blogher. 

As I watched all the happy people in San Francisco wearing McDonald’s bags and eating cheeseburgers, I sat at my laptop and turned bitter.  I started ranting uncontrollably on my blog about this and that.  I stopped shaving and showering and eating.  Eventually, my own mother kicked me out onto the street, calling me a loser who can’t even get into the business or technology section of the New York Times.

But life has a funny way of turning things around!  Yes, it is the circle of life.  The two strands of the story have intertwined. The higher forces have found a way to unify. I now know the truth — the world is like it FOR A REASON.  While they too busy to answer my calls or compensating their disappointed customers, JCPenney has found time to give 20 BlogHer members each a $500 gift card  so these “BlogHer Reviewers” can shop the new Linden St. home furnishings line at JCPenney and write about it on their blogs. 

JCPenney and BlogHer — together at last!   …in the the circle of life!

More on the business of mommyblogging.

I Have a Dick, Just Like the Writers of Techcrunch

My head was spinning from all the posts, and twitters, and comments over the weekend about the BlogHer article  in the Style section of the New York Times.  Most of the discussions were similar:

“Why do male bloggers get into the Business and Technology section while women bloggers are relegated to the Style page?”

There were numerous mentions of the patriarchial society, about how men are taken seriously and how women are belittled as mere mommybloggers.  Some women said that they were proud of their “girl” interests — it enabled them to start online businesses and to be courted by companies.  But — these women naturally wanted to be taken as seriously as the male bloggers who get into the Wall Street Journal.

I agree.  I’m all for an equal playing field.   Yea, women!   Is there any blogger out there who loves women more than me?  But many of the comments that I read — particularly by women — made me depressed.

First of all, I live in this patriarchal society, just like everyone else.  I have to deal with the stereotypes — the fact that technology, business, and politics are considered serious and manly pursuits.  How many self-deprecating jokes did I have to make on Twitter this weekend to hide the fact that I loved “Mamma Mia?”  While mommybloggers set up successful online networks, I have to explain to my male friends what I do as a blogger.  If I didn’t make up some practical reason — “hey, maybe I’ll get laid by one of the hot ones” — they would think I am wasting my time.

“How much money do you make on your blog” asked a friend recently.

“Uh, nothing.”

Weird looks of disdain.   I can’t even say I got even a free wii, like so many of you.

The patriarchal society affects me.

My readership is 90% women.  Why?  Because most men don’t give a crap about what my mother made for dinner last night.  Men read and write blogs about technology and business and politics.  These are the worthy pursuits for men.   To most men — there are the professionals and there are the hobbyists.  This is a clearcut hieararchy as tightly controlled as who gets into Guy Kawasaki’s private party at BlogHer.

What I found surprising this weekend was that so many women seem to think the same way.

Every time I saw a female blogger write the expression “male blogger” this weekend, it was a code name for “tech” or “political” bloggers like Techcrunch or Daily Kos.  It was as if these female bloggers had the exact same viewpoint about male blogging as the New York Times.  While “Female Blogging” represented a wide range of views, from writing about shoes, knitting, to talking politics, “male blogging” was still dressed in a suit and tie.   I read the term “male bloggers” countless times, not once described in a way that includes me.

Come on ladies, I know you are trying to win some power for yourself, but don’t use rhetoric that diminishes me.  Don’t say “male bloggers” when you really mean male tech bloggers or male business bloggers.

I am a male blogger.

Give men the freedom to expand their horizons in the same way you want for yourselves.

Dinner at the Kramers

My mother is hip for a long-time AARP member.  She still works a full-time job, commuting into Manhattan by subway.  She likes sex in the City, American Idol, and reading my blog.  Granted, she couldn’t tell you the name of a song by Justin Timberlake, but she has seeen him on “The View.” 

The one aspect about her that is completely old school is her view of “dinner.”  She is stubbornly holding onto the idea that dinner is some sort of special family time, like in TV shows from an earlier era.

When I was a child, dinners in the Kramer family were as close to Ozzie and Harriet as we ever became.  I tossed this lifestyle away after I left home.  Post college, dinner was a sandwich or a frozen burrito.  When I got married, Sophia classed things up, but since we didn’t have kids, dinner never really became the traditional family time.  We ate dinner while watching that day’s “All My Children.”   Dinner was frequently take-out Chinese food, and we usually rushed through the meal.  On the nights when Sophia cooked her delicious, but elaborate meals, I frequently spent more time dreading doing the dishes than eating my meal.

My mother is not a good cook.  She is efficient, seemingly making a ten course meal in ten minutes.  Her food is unfussy, served on mismatched dishes, but in form and function, her dinners are as regimented as a Julia Child recipe.

My mother’s meals always start with a fruit appetizer.  If you ever went to a Catskills resort or a bar mitzvah in your childhood, you would know that every dinner starts with a grapefruit or some fruit.  My mother’s favorite is a piece of melon.

“Why do we need this for?” I asked tonight.

“You always start dinner with a piece of fruit.  It readies the palate.”

“No one eats fruit before dinner anymore.  This is dessert.”

“No, cake is dessert.  This is an appetizer.”

After the fruit appetizer, comes the salad — always served out of this old wooden bowl with wooden spoon and fork.  Why?  I hate NO IDEA.  The only other time I ever saw this wooden bowl was in some old-fashioned “steak place” in Los Angeles, which hasn’t changed its menu (other than the prices) since 1938.  In this restaurant, they even serve you that ancient “wedge of lettuce,” which is basically a slab of iceberg lettuce thrown on your plate. 

I never liked iceberg lettuce.  My mother would still be buying iceberg lettuce if I didn’t finally teach her the ways of other lettuce, like green leaf.  Now, she has joined the 21st Century and buys her lettuce in those Dole lettuce bags. Her salads are always the same:  lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and some sugary bottled dressing that was on sale, usually honey mustard or French dressing.

In the winter, there might be soup after the salad, but we skip that during the summer months.

The main entree always consists of meat, chicken, or fish and TWO vegetables.  Always TWO.  One vegetable is the “fun” carby one — potato, yam, or instant rice, and the second is  the green “good for you” type — peas and carrots, broccoli, string beans.  Other than potatoes and corn on the cob, I do not recall my mother ever serving a fresh vegetable. They are either of the canned or “frozen” variety, and they always come out as soggy and overcooked as the ones you get at Denny’s.  Still, it’s not worth trying to change her ways.  Who am I to talk?  I’ve been so lazy in the past, that my dinner was eating vegetables straight from the can.

I AM trying to change my mother’s portion control.  For some reason, she has never been a leftover keeper, other than saving over food during big events, like holiday dinners.  Maybe her mother was told by her mother to always finish her plate — whatever was on it.   So, whatever is cooked is served, and is eaten.  If she has a big can of peas that she bought on sale, a bucket-full-of-peas is plopped on the plate.  We each receive a piece of chicken that could be turned into 20 chicken McNuggets.”

“This is ridiculous.  We don’t need so much food.”

“So, don’t eat it.”

“You end up eating what is your plate.  It is human psychology.  I read a book that says when you go to a restaurant you should immediately bag half of the food to take home.  You’ll be just as satisfied eating half the food.”

“I don’t like taking home food.”

“Why not?

“It never tastes the same.”

“You always say the leftovers taste better the next day, like during Passover.”

“That’s different.  I know how to reheat the Jewish food.  I’m never going to cook the Chinese food as well as someone Chinese.”

There is no arguing with logic like that.

Sophia told me to buy my mother a microwave to reheat leftovers.  My mother was always afraid of microwaves because of the “radiation.”  I’m going to be honest — I never had a microwave for the same reason.  Fears are inherited.

After the main course in the Kramer household, it is time for dessert.  Dessert is one area which has changed over the times.  I’m frankly embarrassed to tell you what “dessert” used to be when I was a child.  It was literally served in three courses.  I’m not joking —

First there was some sort of fruit cup or applesauce.  I know this sounds almost unbelievable — especially since we BEGAN the meal with fruit, but this fruit was to “temper” the palate — to ready ourselves for the real dessert.  This was the only part of the meal where I was a bratty child who wouldn’t eat his food.  Unlike many children, I loved my soggy vegetables.  What utterly disgusted me were these sugary canned fruit cocktails that my father loved.  Holy Crap, did I hate that crap!  Canned peaches.  Canned plums.  Ugh. Luckily these were eventually phased out as my parents learned the word “cholesterol” and changed their menu to the equally unhealthy low-fat, but full of trans-fats and sugar products which were the rage fifteen years ago.

After the fruit cup, was the real dessert — maybe ice cream or chocolate Jello pudding.

So, the meal is over, right?  Nope. 

No dinner is complete without coffee or tea.  Yes, we had to have coffee after dinner, getting me hooked on caffeine at an early age.  I blame my mother for my need to go to Starbucks. 

Of course, we couldn’t just have coffee without something to “nosh” on — so we would have a few cookies with the coffee or tea.

Three course dessert! 

Gradually, my mother realized that this was insane, and our dessert was truncated.   Today, we usually grab a  non-sugar ice cream bar an hour after dinner.  No fruit cocktail, cookies, or even coffee.

The times they are a changing.

The Great Interview Experiment – Six Months Later

Six month ago, I was annoyed with the blogosphere.  Bloggers were talking about their blogrolls.  Who was on it.   Who was not on it.   Who was cool?   Who was being followed?   Some were busy promoting themselves or campaigning for meaningless blog awards.   I started blogging to get away from that sort of crap.   If I wanted to write in a competitive environment, I would write a book, a magazine article, or a screenplay — and get PAID for it.

Blogging was supposed to be something different.

To steal an idea from the recent BlogHer conference in San Francisco, the RADICAL part of blogging is that anyone can do it.  Blogging was not supposed to be for the winners of the world, but for every other nutcase who wanted to express himself, for every frustrated writer too lazy to write a book.   A place where I could write about anything, and no one could shut me up.   That is as revolutionary as Guttenberg’s Bible.

The Great Interview Experiment” was a simple idea.  One person would interview the next person in the comments, creating a chain.  The connections would be random.  A-list bloggers would be interviewed by a newbie who could hardly string two sentences together.  This would strip us all of any hierarchy.  We would be celebrating the medium and our common bond — blogging about our personal lives.   In the personal blogging world, we are all interesting, all worthy of being interviewed.  The experiment did not require any conference panels of blogging “rockstars,” private parties sponsored by websites isolating all the “top” blogs from the run-of-the-mill ones, or closing keynote speeches by bloggers that everyone has known for years.

This was the other side of blogging.  The one where everyone is on an equal playing field, and it didn’t matter who you knew, how many comments you had, or even how well you wrote.  And NO corporate sponsors.

Although the interviews have slowed to a drizzle, there are still new people doing it.  As for the rest of you…

Some have closed their blogs.  Some have changed the urls.  Some switched interview partners.  A good many of you never got interviewed or copped out on doing your interview.   I knew you would forget if I didn’t kvetch about it to you like a nagging mother!

If you still want to be interviewed, sign up HERE.  If you never got hold of your interviewer the first time, and you still want to be interviewed, just email me and I’ll find you a new blogger

I really appreciate everyone who has so far participated.  And there have been a lot!  I would be lying if I said I read every one of your interviews.  You’re all interesting, but not THAT INTERESTING.  I hope the experiment has helped you realize how much you have to offer in your own “brand” of storytelling and experience.

As I mentioned, six month have passed since the start of the “Great Interview Experiment.” Do I still feel the same idealistic way about the blogosphere? Somewhat. I’m idealistic, but I also understand human nature. I don’t believe most of us truly believe that “everyone is interesting,” Or maybe that’s not the point. We tend to want to interact with others who can “help” us. We want “rockstars” to emulate and “losers” to avoid. We feel the need to segregate and isolate, to box things into clear-cut packages like “mommyblogging” and “Alltop (Does anyone really “love this site” who isn’t also ON the site? Reminds me of Amway)” so we can better handle the chaos of the blogging world… as well as make friends and connections, attract attention, build our egos, and earn some money.

I’m guilty of all of these myself. After a while, you being to want something more out of blogging than just using it as self-therapy. But sometimes, I like to me to remember what excited me about blogging in the first place. It was after my fourth or fifth post — and some guy in Ohio came onto my blog and commented on my lame post about the TV show, “24.” It didn’t really matter what he said.

“This is the coolest thing in the world.” I thought after reading his comment. “Some crazy guy actually gives a shit about what I said. I’m like Andy Rooney on 60 Minutes and I just got my first letter!”

After that, I was hooked on blogging.

I WAS IMPORTANT.

Here is an incomplete — and very inaccurate — list of everyone who has signed up during this time period, whether they did their interview or not. 

(I moved the list back to the original post since it was so long)

The links to the completed posts are here

P.S. — Do you think it is a good idea to get this interview experiment off of my blog and move it to a separate site?  If everyone would agree, we could also collect all the interviews and put them on this separate site so it is easier to read through them?  Then, I can plaster the site with corporate advertising and make a bundle off of you!

Sophia Says “Hi”

I do miss her.  Even if being apart is the best route.  I enjoy my “freedom,” but it can get lonely.  I enjoy looking at everyone’s BlogHer cleavage on Flickr, but it isn’t the same as touching the warmth and softness of the woman you love.  Only when there is love, does the energy flow into your hands from the female  bosom, making your blood dance wildly and your soul as bright as the sun.

Sophia sends regards, and photos.  She’s lost 15 pounds, a combination of wii-fit and a lack of stress.

Never Trust Men or Dockers

He was as dark and strong as a Bombay oak.  He said his name was Meneul.  We met in a small dive bar in the city, two lonely strangers looking for love.  We had a lot in common.  We both loved travel, men’s fashion, and Bollywood.  Before you can say Mahatma Gandhi, we found ourselves in a hotel room, our Nehru jackets lying together on the floor.  Neatly folded over the desk chair were the Dockers pants that I had bought for that free Dockers/JCPenney flight, the one I had hoped to use to go to BlogHer on July 16th.

We made love.  The passion was as strong as the current of the Ganges River in the Spring.

Later that night, Menuel and I stood in the lobby together.

“Will I ever see you again?” I asked.

“Of course you will,” he said in his calm, pleasant voice that served him so well in his successful career in customer service for TLC Marketing. 

“I’ll call you on Tuesday, July 22nd.”

Today is Wednesday, July 23rd.

Prayer

In the last post, I had a little fun with a BlogHer session titled “Is Mommyblogging Still a Radical Act?”  I found this amusing to watch the word “radical” exploited and mangled so all the air seeps out of it like a cheap balloon from the 99 cent only store.

I tend to avoid using the word “radical” unless something is RADICAL.

“Doctor, the patient is losing blood.  We’re going to have to do something RADICAL like taking off his leg so he can survive!

Radical rarely happens.  Or else it wouldn’t be RADICAL.  The French Revolution.  Radical.  Mommyblogging.  Eh.

Here’s something mildly radical.  I’m going to mention God on my blog.

If you read through my archives, you will notice that I have made fun of Jews, Christians, and Muslims.  I find religion funny.  It is funny.  It deals with impossible issues.  But I’m not so cocky as to dismiss the power of God. I may make jokes about God, but I wouldn’t tell them to Him right to His face.  While I have no knowledge of His true existence, I like to believe that there is some unifying force.  It’s good to be in awe of something more than Dooce.

Nothing annoys me more than when actors thank Jesus for winning an Oscar or when a team prays to God, asking to win the pennant.  This nonsense gives religion a bad name.  If your team wins, does that mean God hates the OTHER team?

I think it is entirely appropriate to ask for God’s help in times of bad health. God created man and life, and nothing hampers our enjoyment of life more then bad health.  Who wants to smell a flower, eat an apple, or have mind-blowing sex on the carpet while listening to Barry White on the CD player when you feel like crap?

Several of my blogging friends are having health issues.  This makes me feel bad.  I know how much stress this puts on you and your family.  I remember how supportive you were when Sophia was having surgery.

May God be merciful and heal those in need.  Please bring good health to your Children, so we may fully enjoy your World.  God, your true name is RADICAL.  I cover my eyes to say your name.   Send your strength to those in need.

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