Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Month: August 2008 (page 1 of 2)

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Women of Yesteryear

Women of Today

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Men of Today

How Bloggers Can Help Obama Win

A few nights ago in Denver, Hilary Clinton put aside her own ambitions for the sake of the party, and the country — and made a great speech supporting Obama’s nomination (I mean, what else is she going to do? But she did a good job.)

I’m a supporter of Obama. I was impressed with his speech. With the polls showing a close race, and a large percentage of independents undecided, I think politically-minded Democrats should take after Hilary, and think of the future election rather then themselves.

Here are some blogging tips to help Obama win —

1) While the Republicans are stereotyped as selfish businessmen only caring about links and ad revenues (oops, sorry, that’s bloggers themselves — I meant money and power), Democrats like to promote themselves as caring for the regular folk. Unfortunately, very few people believe this. Half of what I read from those in Denver, writing on Twitter, was about sightings of Ben Afleck, Sheryl Crow, network anchorpeople and wealthy tech executives at invitation only parties. Is this Blogher all over again with everyone Twittering about seeing Dooce in the elevator? Rule #1 — Avoid making being a Democrat like being a blogger listed on Alltop. This makes the regular Joe think Democrats are elitists who like to talk about the regular folk (Joe Biden takes Amtrak!), but in reality, only know regular folk as the cashiers at Whole Foods.

2) Much of the discussion online about Obama is the converted preaching to the converted. We know that you love Obama. We are not going to put you on “Don’t read this blog anymore because she is a Republican” list. WHY do you love him so much — besides the fact that you are a Democrat? How can you persuade you Independent friends to vote your way? Maybe you can help me persuade Sophia to vote for Obama. She is a registered Republican, but not crazy about McCain.

3) Avoid McCain jokes. “McCain is old” jokes (we all get old). “McCain is wealthy” jokes (and Democrats aren’t?). McCain is like “Hitler” jokes (I saw that on Twitter!) What’s the point? These joke are about amusing your fellow Democratic friends rather than changing history. These insider gags turn off independents, many who respect McCain.

4) “Vote for the Democrats because Bush sucked” is not enough to convince anyone to vote for Obama.

5) Towing the party line as a blogger is only important if you care more about your blogging career with the Huffington Post or some future job with some liberal magazine than ACTUALLY winning the election. Independents are smart. They know that Obama is somewhat inexperienced. You know he is somewhat inexperienced. So why bullshit? No one respects that, and it doesn’t win any Independents. Obama is a great speaker. He mentioned Martin Luther King. Big deal! You know what — I’m a pretty good speaker. When I was the valedictorian in my elementary school, I also mentioned Martin Luther King in my impassioned graduation address in front of the school assembly. Does that make me worthy of being President of the United States? Obama’s color is historic, but it is not enough. Independents will actually vote AGAINST him if the race issue is touted too much, not out of racism, but because most Independents are Independents because they are strong individualists who dislike labels such as Democrat, Republican, Black, and White. They want to know that Obama is a leader, not a symbol.

By the way, I liked Obama’s tie.

Update: Clearly the Republicans are trying to use some symbolism of their own — the choice of Sarah Palin as the VP.

WTC

The best views of the remains of the World Trade Center are not from the streets of lower Manhattan.  They are from the window of the PATH train as it snakes its way from the terminal en route to New Jersey.

The train winds right past the still empty hole, construction constantly delayed by conflict and confusion.  The area is filled with cranes and construction equipment, but it feels as somber as a memorial.  For about ten seconds, the train slides slowly by, as if the tracks were purposely built to give the passengers the best possible view.  The brief portion of the ride reminds me of the Universal Studios tram driving past the old Earthquake attraction, although the destruction here was not manufactured in a warehouse in Burbank.

From Wikipedia:

Soon after Flight 11 (first plane) hit the North Tower on 9/11, the PATH station was shut down by order from PATH’s deputy director, Victoria Cross Kelly, and Richie Moran who commanded the PATH system at the Journal Square Transportation Center.

With the station destroyed, service to Lower Manhattan was suspended for over two years.  Cleanup of the Exchange Place station was needed after the attacks. As well, the downtown Hudson tubes had been flooded, which destroyed the track infrastructure.  The Exchange Place station re-opened in June 2003. PATH service to Lower Manhattan was restored when a temporary station opened on November 23, 2003. The inaugural train was the same one that had been used for the evacuation.

The temporary PATH station was designed by Port Authority chief architect Robert I. Davidson and constructed at a cost of $323 million.  The station features a canopy entrance along Church Street and a 118-by-12 foot mosaic mural, “Iridescent Lightning,” by Giulio Candussio of the Scuola Mosaicisti del Friuli in Spilimbergo, Italy. The station is also adorned with opaque panel walls inscribed with inspirational quotes attesting to the greatness and resilience of New York City. These panels partially shield the World Trade Center site from view.

Jersey City, New Jersey is a growing community directly across the river.  Many of the big financial corporations have offices here, some moving after 9/11, others because the rents are cheaper. 

I am in Jersey City to meet some friends at a riverside restaurant with great views of Manhattan.  The five guys at the table next to us talk loudly about stock options.  The view of the skyline is stunning.  It always amused me that the way to see the grand skyscrapers of Manhattan is to go to Brooklyn or Queens or… New Jersey.

As the sun set, the metal and windows of these towering office structures reflect the light, as if haughty and dismissive of God himself.  “Your Sun is bright, but our steel and glass buildings will make it shine even MORE beautifully.”

The stubborn edifices put on a show, as if to outdo the Sun.  They change colors, like a proud peacock.  Depending on the angle of the sun, the skyline turns purple, then orange, then red, then yellow, then green.  The hubris of these metalic structures has no bounds.  Even when the Sun goes dark, the skyline remains lit by the human invention of electrical light. 

Man is powerful.

On the way back to New York, the PATH train present us with a repeat view of the remains of the Twin Towers, now at night, now lit by the same man-made lighting that made the city seem so majestic from New Jersey, only here the brightness illuminates only destruction. 

Man is powerful, but not always good.


(via tribecatom)

Meeting Mother Kramer

Hi, my name is ACG. My blog is Anonymous City Girl. I live in Philadelphia. On Sunday, I had plans to come into New York. I had a brunch date with some guy I met on Jdate. I wanted to make a weekend out of it, but I wasn’t sure where to stay. I certainly didn’t feel comfortable staying over at my date’s place. After all, I’m not that type of girl. Or at least I’m not that type of girl since March.

I was chatting with Neil about my trip, when he said, “If you want, you can stay the night in Queens with us!” I immediately said yes. I figured Neil was safe. After all, he lived with his mother, and I’ve always had questions about his sexual orientation. I’m not even convinced that the “photo” of Sophia on Flickr is really his wife. I’ve seen that same photo in an advertisement for a penile enhancement pill in my brother’s Maxim magazine.

Neil picked me up in Chinatown (I used the Chinatown bus from Philly). We had a great lunch at some cafe in the Village, and then we took the subway into Queens. In Forest Hills, we went to the movies and had some dessert at a bakery. Then it was time to head into Flushing — I was excited to see Neil’s apartment in Flushing. While New York City has many famous sites — the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, the Statue of Liberty, I have little interest in visiting those tourist traps. They “mean” nothing to me. But imagine the thrill as I gazed at some of the actual locations that I knew so vividly from reading my favorite blog, Citizen of the Month! There, right in front of me, was the famous supermarket where a car crashed into a window two weeks ago and Neil was there to take eyewitness photos. I saw the pizzeria which has the photo of Fran Drescher. I stood in awe, taking multiple photos, of the ACTUAL McDonald’s where Neil goes in the morning for his cup of coffee! I could almost see him, scribbling away at his latest post on the back of a napkin. And who can ever forget his wondrous stories of this McDonald’s — the customer who called the cashier a “bitch” after she gave him change of a dollar in nickels or the inept franchise manager who is so stingy she only gives one ketchup packet to each customer.

But what most captured my imagination was being able to meet Neil’s mother — in person.

“It feels like I already know her from reading your wonderful blog,” I told Neil as we went up the elevator. “What should I call her? Elaine? Mrs. Kramer.”

“No! Never call her that,” he said sternly. “You must call her Mother Kramer. And you must never look her directly in the eyes when you address her.”

His warning seemed odd, especially after we rang the doorbell, and it was opened by a kind-looking woman with an open face and white curly hair.

“Hello, Mother,” said Neil, meekly, and he hugged his mother. I thought the hug went on a little too long for a mother and son, as Mother Kramer pulled her thin son excessively close to her large bosom. There was an intimacy to the embrace that made me uncomfortable.

Since Neil seemed distracted, I decided to introduce myself.

“Hello, Mother Kramer. My name is ACG.”

She ignored me, and slowly closed the door, locking it with a chain.

The rest of the night went relatively smoothly, mostly because I was left alone in Neil’s old bedroom. I was not offered any food or drink, and I did not see Mother Kramer again. Neil’s room was comfortable, although it seemed strange that so little had changed throughout the years. When I moved out of my childhood room, my parents quickly tossed out my furniture and turned the space into a “entertainment room.” Neil’s mother kept his room looking like a shrine. An old Aerosmith poster sat unevenly on the wall, the edges fraying and the scotch tape yellow. A trophy for “Third Place, Queens County Spelling Bee” sat prominently on the dresser. Hanging from the doorknob was a pair of Neil’s first baby shoes. Every report card from the 1st Grade to 6th Grade was lined up on one of the shelves of the bookcase, stacked like dominos, next to what seems to be every Curious George book ever published. In the corner of the room was Neil’s actual baby crib, displayed like a relic at a museum. As the air-conditioning blew its cold air, the old wood crib would rock slowly, as did the mobile of Muppet characters hanging from the ceiling, which played a Muzak version of “Seasons in the Sun.” I shut the air-conditioning, despite the heat, because the ghostly sounds were freaking me out.

I opened the door to get some fresh air, and I could hear Neil and his mother arguing in the kitchen, or rather Neil being berated by the domineering woman.

“Who is that girl?” she demanded.

“She’s just a friend.”

“They never want to be JUST friends.”

“She’s just a blogger. I don’t even know her that well.”

“That’s exactly what you said about Sophia, and look what happened?! Do your really want another gold-digging floozy sinking her claws into you?”

“But Sophia… and ACG… are not like that!”

“All women are like that. I tried to warn you about Sophia, but you didn’t listen. All women want you, Neil. Don’t you see. You are special. You are very special. You are my one and only. They all want to take you AWAY FROM ME!”

“Mother, I love you. No one can ever…”

“You want me to move to Florida, don’t you? Then you’ll take this apartment and make it your own. Bring in some sleazy hootchie mama to suck you dry. I saw the way you were looking at ACG’s cleavage!”

“Shh, Mother. Keep it quiet. She’ll hear.”

“Did she give birth to you, raise you, wipe your little heinie when you were little? Did she ever make you Kraft Macaroni and Cheese from the box?”

“No.”

“Of course not. She doesn’t love you. No woman can love you like I do. These sluts just want you for your body. To use you for their sordid, sinful, sexual desires. But only I really care for you. Are you hungry?”

“A little.”

“Sit down, Neil. How would you like me to make you some Kraft Macaroni and Cheese right now? Or some Chunky Soup? Would you like that Neil?”

“Yes, Mother.”

It was at this point that I quietly shut the door and the lights, and tried to go to sleep, unsure how much of the “truth” behind Neilochka I should reveal to his readers.

Truth Quotient: 12% — ACG did stay over Saturday night.  My mother did make me Kraft Macaroni and Cheese last week.   All women do want me.

(sorry, ACG.  But I said I was gonna write it!)

My Fake Memory of Ingrid

I can’t truly explain why some bloggers just capture your imagination.  It’s a little bit like dating, where you are both testing each other, sensing if there is any chemistry.   Ingrid writes “Ice Cream is Nice Cream,” and I think we both are… a little eccentric, so I am intrigued by her.   Her post today was typically oddball:

Post a fictional memory of you and me. Anything you like, but it has to be fake.

I think I have found a soulmate.

My Fake Memory of Ingrid

Ingrid, even though you told me never to tell our story, I’m going to assume that your latest blog post was directed at me — that you finally want me to openly talk about our prior relationship. Surely, you realize that I am referring to that summer in 1987 when we were both talking film classes at the University of London. Those were special days, happy days.  Unlike today, our friendship wasn’t based on superficial twitters or blog comments, but from the real intimacy and physical passion that only comes from young love.

At the time, I thought we could make a “go” of our relationship, and that we would both follow our dream of opening the first “authentic” falafel cafe in Lima, Peru, but alas, it wasn’t to be.

I remember “that night” so clearly; it is as if I can almost touch it with my fingers — August 21, 1987. You went out to buy some chips at the local pub while I relaxed in your flat, watching cricket on the BBC. Little did I know that the pub was burned down that previous night by an angry Irish dentist who lost his lease to his Indian-born landlord, and that you were returning back to your flat earlier than expected.  And then you walked in, that gorgeous smile leading the way, and I saw the shock and dismay on your face.  With Culture Club blasting from the speakers, you stood there, staring at me parading around your flat,  wearing your bra, panties, and those red pumps that you loved so much, the ones that we bought at Harrod’s together during that rainy night, after the Kubrick film festival.

After I returned your underwear and shoes, and dressed into my clothes, you took me aside and said that our relationship could never work. You said that you loved me, but that you wanted a man to care for you, one that you could feel proud to call “your one and only.” And that you could never bring a cross-dresser back to your conservative parents in Ottawa.

That night, I didn’t sleep a wink. The next day, I rushed to class, my eyes bloodshot, my face unshaven, hoping to apologize to you, to fall to my knees and beg you to reconsider.  I even thought up a creative, if desperate, excuse to win you back — I would tell you that my wearing your underwear and f**k me pumps was all an elaborate “art project” for my “performance art” class.

I hoped, I prayed to God, despite my atheism, that you would believe my lie, and that we could one day live one of those Hollywood ending that we loved so much on the silver screen.  But you were nowhere to be found. You had packed and left London. You did not leave an address.

For years, I searched for you. I had no idea that you had moved to Amsterdam, changed you name, and became a stripper in the city’s infamous red light district, even though once, when I was in the city on business in 2001, I received a sleazy flier handed to me at Centraal Station which showed a buxom woman in a bikini, her legs seductively open, who looked very much like you — but I could not believe for a second that you, a product of St. Mary’s Catholic School for Women would ever choose this type of demeaning lifestyle.

I lost touch with you — until last year, when I saw your familiar face on Facebook. I “poked” you. You “poked” me back, poking me in that special way that only you could, and I knew it was you. I looked at your profile photo. The face had aged a little. There were a few wrinkles around the eyes. There was a sadness to your expression, as if you had seen it all, and you probably had, jumping from one lover’s bed to another, sleeping with horny German men just to pay the bills, each one leaving you behind in the same way, your naked body stretched out on the bed, the rumpled, dirty sheets hanging to the dusty floor, like a surrender flag during World War One. But even though you had become a broken woman,  a whore for an American cigarette, the eyes were the same.  The eyes that I had gazed into a long long time ago.  The eyes of the girl from the summer cinema class at the University of London.

Run! He’s Writing a Poem

Two bloggers friends have been screwing around with my head lately — Jane Devin and Dana Guthrie Martin.  Both of them are what they used to call “writers.”  They do not write screenplays where some guy’s penis gets caught in the trunk of a Toyota Prius.  They write pieces they truly care about.  They love language and ideas and that type of shit.  They are passionate and honest in what they say. 

I hate everything they stand for. 

From now on, whenever I write an “emotional” post which bores you to death, I want you to blame these two bloggers for their negative influences.  Remember when I used to be funny.  How many of you are excited to see Woody Allen’s latest unfunny movie? 

At one time, I wanted to be the next Dooce.  Now, I’m deleting half of my followers from Twitter and Flickr.  It’s not you.  It’s me.  I’m a Pisces.  Astrology books say that I am a sensitive soul who can only deal with two or three close friends.  It’s not that I don’t care.  I actually DO care what type of sandwich you had for lunch.

How do you people read so many blog posts in one day?  I read some tech blogger bragging about being able to read 100 posts daily in his Google Reader.   Is he a robot?  I read two or three decent posts, and I’m drained.

I understand that there is a social dynamic to blogging.  Everyone wants to be loved and admired, but let’s be honest — most of us would be plain miserable being an A-list blogger.  Yes, I think for the first time in my blogging career, I actually feel sympathy for Dooce.  It must be hard to deal with 1000 commenters, and strangers thinking they “love” you.   I never want to hear any ONE of you ever saying that you “love” me, unless, of course, we first have sex, then it is a given.  You might like me.  You might find my jokes mildly amusing.  But EVEN I’m not sure I love myself!  Love Dooce instead.

I sometimes find it difficult to deal with getting thirty comments a day.  I mean I like the comments, but I also know that YOU are writers, too, and you deserve love and attention, so I feel like a jerk if I don’t immediately go to your blog and write a comment back.   I know I sound like an asshole complaining when you’re a blogger who only getting two comments, but who’s to say that it is better to have thirty comments than two comments?  Is it better to sleep around with strangers in bars every night or have one loving wife at home waiting for you?   If I ran the blogosphere, I would limit comments to thirty maximum per post. That is enough to stroke any ego.  OK, I’m going to be RADICAL here.  If you see that I already have thirty comments, do everyone a favor and go put a comment on a blog with less comments.  You can always send me an email or a message on Twitter later telling me that you liked the post.  Or just send me a photo of your bra.

Do any really BIG bloggers read Citizen of the Month?  I mean YOU Dooce, Pioneer Woman, Stephanie Klein, etc. (no, not you Bloggess… not yet)?  Does anyone know them personally?  I would love to talk to you — even interview you for this blog.  I wouldn’t ask you about writing or your blog.  I would be curious on how you deal emotionally with other bloggers?  How difficult is it?  Does it drain your energy?  Why do you even continue when you could be writing in other venues?  And most importantly… do any of us really want to follow in your footsteps?  Or is that what success is all about — having to deal with a lot of strangers?

These are all selfish questions.  Maybe I’m not emotionally fit to be an A-lister, even if my writing got to that level.  I sort of like being the bohemian, spouting socialist slogans like “everyone is interesting” and not caring about anyone’s reaction when I inappropriately flirt with some hot mommyblogger.

“Oh, that’s just Neilochka!  He’s harmless.  He’s not an A-lister or anything like that.”

Of course, I would be bullshitting you if I said I didn’t care about success.   It would be cool to make a great living through wriitng.  It would be fun to give a keynote address at some blogging conference, the audience oohing and aahing to my every word.  Of course, I would quickly run out afterwards so I wouldn’t have to talk to any of you. 

And talk about opportunities for getting laid!

But then, sometimes, I think about going small with this blog… or starting all over again, like the first “real writer” I got to know online.   I could then focus more on my writing than worrying about all this nonsense.  But why in the world would I do that?   If I wanted fewer readers, I could just do it the old-fashioned way — by publishing poetry!

Ha Ha.  I can just see the faces of some of you.  Oh no!  He’s going to publish some poetry!

Luckily, I didn’t write it myself.  Dana started something called the Poetry Collaborative.  Under this system, two people write a poem together via email or IM.  It’s more of an experiment than anything else, because we took turns writing lines.  My victim/collaborator was the talented Christine Swint of Maria Cristina Poesia.

Here is our poem… wait, let me give some of you the chance to click over to a better blog… OK, for those left behind —

when clouds cover the moon

by Neil and Christine

My hands are orchids,
but in anger they provoke

violet bruises. Livid
birds screech in a dovecote,

wings beating against bamboo.
Their black judgment must abide,

suspended in time, like an ant in amber
or Papa when he’s high–

his gnarled hands turn a crank
that voice! that voice! it’s mine–

not a magpie’s, nor a mountebank’s,
piercing the nighttime.

I wish for whispers, willows,
a sunrise tomorrow.

How I Became a Writer as a Fifth Grader

When I was attending elementary school, my neighborhood in Queens was going through “changes,” which was a code word for the “welfare housing” that opened down the block. There was constant talk of drugs and violence in school, and those who could afford it, started sending their kids to private schools. In order to keep the “good kids” at the public schools, local schools started academically advanced classes, where kids like me were pushed, isolated from the drug pushers in the classes down the hall. While this didn’t prevent my friends from being called “honkys” or “Oreos” at the basketball court, at least we received a decent education during school hours.

While I remember my teachers as being a hundred years old, they were probably thirty. Most of them were into the philosophy of education, having gone to teacher’s college, and were interested in “opening up” the educational experience for a new generation, especially for “advanced kids” like us.

I have no recollection how this all started, but somewhere in the third or fourth grade, our teachers allowed us to present our English and Social Studies reports orally – and in small groups working together. We were also allowed to bring objects, photos, even music that might enhance our oral reports, giving the reports a feeling of a multi-media presentation. These teachers were ahead of their time understanding the next generation – maybe the arrival of Sesame Street had made them appreciate the importance of visual stimulation to capture a young person’s mind.

This is where I became a writer.

I had no interest in personal expression. Much like I started blogging for the practical reason of flirting with mommybloggers, my goal in school was to use writing to create a entertaining smoke screen.  The problem needing solving: five of us had to do a joint report on some dull, serious topic (remember – we actually had to go to a library and do research back then!)   So, being an advanced student, I quickly realized that if I wrote some entertaining script that had nothing really to do with the subject — but captured the teacher’s imagination – we could sing and dance our way to an A+, and the teacher would never notice that we copied the reports out of the World Book the night before.

A tradition was born. For several years, I was the king of the “sharings.” These stories – done during our oral presentations, were more like one-act plays, usually movie parodies (I was into Mad Magazine) – and as time went on, they became increasingly elaborate, spectacles as complicated as the Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremonies.  These plays had songs and dancing and even “shootings” happening in the middle of the classroom.   I cannot believe that any teacher would let an elementary school kid do this today.  The school system would get sued by a parent.   Maybe, at the time I was there, the local public school was so happy to have any students that weren’t drug dealers, that they just let us do whatever the hell we wanted.

These sharings always took place in some imaginary locale created right in the classroom — there were scenes in discos and Vietnam.   My friend Rob and I once dressed up like Minutemen in Boston for a sharing on “The American Revolution,” tap-dancing while singing “Muskets and Defense” to the tune of ‘”Jingle Bells.”

This tradition continued up to high school, until it was time to study for the SAT — then all of a sudden everything got serious. At Columbia, writing term papers were a bore. You were never allowed to sing and dance while handing in the paper, even when it was for a dramatist like Shakespeare, who would have appreciated the effort.  Instead of having fun doing sharings, I sat by myself in the library and made up bullshitty “psychological literary analysis” stuff about Edmund Spenser’s sixteenth century snooze-fest “The Faerie Queen” instead.

These early dramatic works of mine were thought lost for the ages, but through some miracle, my father looked down on me this weekend from heaven and whispered in my ear, “Look in the back of my closet.” Hidden behind a slide projector was a folder which contained nostalgic stuff from my elementary school years that we hadn’t noticed before, including all of my famed elementary school “Citizen of the Month” certificates. Also included in the file was a five page “script” for one of these elementary school sharings.

I really don’t remember too many of the details about this sharing, but from looking at the “cast list,” I assume this is from the fifth grade. Our assignment apparently was to research totalitarian regimes of the Twentieth Century (pretty heavy for fifth grade!)  And what better way to explore this important historical and political theme of the horrors of the Twentieth Century than a light-hearted movie “parody” of the 1970’s classic movie “The Sting?!”

I won’t feel bad if you don’t read script. I was in fifth grade at the time. I’m mostly publishing it for my childhood friend Rob, who played the Paul Newman role. He should get a kick out of this. When I first discovered the script I was excited.  At last, I had proof of my genius.  Why was some dopey Hollywood producer telling me that my script doesn’t work yet.  Who the f**k is he?!  Doesn’t he know who I am?  I am like Mozart – I was writing brilliant scripts in the fifth grade.

But then, I read the script. Ooh boy, it is awful… and it makes no sense at all. NONE. How in the world did our teachers let us get away with this crap?!

Note: In the movie, the Paul Newman character is named Henry Gondorff. For some reason, I name him “Alfred Dreyfus,” the French Jewish artillery officer tried and convicted in 1894 on baseless charges of treason. Why? I have NO IDEA!

The following is copied verbatim:

The Sting 2

Johnny Hooker – Neil
Alfred Dreyfus – Rob
Alexander Slavsky (the Communist leader) – James
Snyder – Scott
Harold Mane (Snyder’s assistant) – Bobby

Music from “The Sting.”

Hooker runs in breathless.

Hooker:  They killed Luther, my best friend, the person who taught me how to be a con artist. That STUPID Communist organization. (to you) Hi, I’m Johnny Hooker. The place takes place during the Deppression. The Communists have all the money, especially the Communist organization that killed Luther. AND I’m going to get them back, but How? I’m going to put on the biggest con and get all their money. I’ll need a pro to teach me how, but who? I remember Luther once told me about someone, Alfred Dreyfus. I’ll go to him!

Exit. Carnival music. Hooker and Dreyfus enter.

Hooker:  So this is your hideout, a fun house, no one would look here.

Dreyfus:  It is a good hideout. Now, Hooker, you didn’t come here for a friendly visit, why did you come?

Hooker:  Well, you know Luther was killed by the Communists, I’m going to get them back by putting on such a big con that I’ll get all their money. I want you to teach me the big con.

Dreyfus:  Well, first you have to go to the Communist organization… (makes believe he’s still talking to Hooker as they walk out)

Hooker enters.

Hooker:  Now, I’m suspose to go to the Communist organization. Uh-oh, there’s Snyder and his assistant, Harold Mane!

Snyder catches Hooker, pushes him to the wall and bangs his head.

Manes:  We got you now, you can’t escape.

Hooker punches Snyder in the stomach and then the neck and runs out.  Hooker enters again.

Hooker:  So this is the Communist organization!

Slavsky enters.

Slavsky: You wanted me.

Hooker: Who are you?

Slavsky: I’m Alexander Slavsky, head of this organization.

Hooker:  My name is Johnny Hooker and I want to join your organization. I also want to get rid of someone.

Slavsky:  Who?

Hooker:  Alfred Dreyfus.

Slavsky: Any member of our organization can apply for someone to be killed. But how would you like him to be killed?

Hooker: Any way.

Slavsky: Oh, wait a minute, we’re having a Communist meeting today, will decide there.

Hooker: Wait, Dreyfus is just outside. He thinks I’m getting a drink of water. We better capture him.

Slavsky exits and enters with Dreyfus.

Dreyfus: Get off of me!

As Dreyfus goes in, he picks nose to Hooker. Hooker does back. They all sit. Snyder and Manes come and sit.

Hooker: Snyder and Manes, your Communists!

Snyder: We joined to apply to kill you, Hooker.

Manes: Let’s kill Hooker now!

Slavsky: One killing at a time. First, the Dreyfus case. Now for the question “how to kill him.” I say put him in a concentration camp, the Nazi Germany way!

Snyder: I agree!

Manes: Why don’t you kill him the Cuban or Spanish way!

Hooker: Put him in a labor camp, the Russian way!

Dreyfus: Why don’t you just give me hard labor like the Chinese?

Slavsky: I have an idea. Each person will tell about their punishment and then will choose. First me and Snyder will tell about ours.

(Nazi Germany report)

Manes: I’ll tell about my punishment.

(Cuba and Spain report)

Hooker: I’ll go next.

(Soviet Union report)

Dreyfus: Could a prisoner tell about a punishment?

Slavsky: You could, but it will probably not be used because it’s the prisoner’s choice.

(China report)

Snyder: Okay. Hands up everyone! I know that Dreyfus and Hooker are putting on a con. Hooker, you have to leave, thanks for telling!

Dreyfus: You squealed!

Dreyfus shoots Hooker. Manes shoots Dreyfus.

Snyder: Okay, let’s go Slavsky!

Slavsky: But my money is there!

Snyder: What’s more important, your money or your life?  Manes, take care of the dead bodies, I’ll take Slavsky to headquarters.

Snyder and Slavsky exit.

Manes: Okay guys, their gone, you can get up now.

Hooker and Dreyfus get up.

Dreyfus: Well, kid, you put on your first con.

Manes: The money’s over in the chest.

Hooker: Give it to charity. I’d only lose it in gambling.  At least we gave them the sting!

Walks out slowly as music plays.

The End

Almost Like Vienna

I’m beginning to accept a philosophy of life that combines equal parts idealism and cynicism  — everything good has the seeds of something bad and everything bad contains the potential for something good.  There are some problems with this new theory, so I won’t expound on it too much, because I might decide by next week that it is total hooey.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about — coming to New York and separating from Sophia is bad (and sad), but it has also has created some good.  I have gained some independence.  I don’t worry as much.  A few weeks ago, there was a problem on the E train.  Everyone had to disembark and wait for another train.  It was late at night.  It was hot.  It was crowded.  The wait was an HOUR!  Sophia would have just fainted, or glared at me all night for living in Queens, not Manhattan.  If Sophia was there, I would have gotten eanxious worrying about her discomfort, making things worse.  But since I was there by myself, I didn’t fret. I amused myself by taking artsy, but poorly-exposed photographs of the subway signs.  I had FUN.  I could only have had that experience alone.

I hear about this good/bad dichotomy all the time.  Having kids is the greatest joy in a person’s life.  Having kids is the biggest pain in the ass.  Working hard means I get well paid.  Getting well paid means I have to work hard.

One of the best things that has happened to me by coming to New York is a surprise — my bonding with my mother.  It is a good in a bad situation.  She is without her husband.  I am without my wife.  And for once, we are both “adults,” — or at least I pretend to be.   During this visit, we have become friends.  We went to the movies together.  We went to the theater.  We went to City Bakery and made fun of the skinny girls sitting next to us, picking at their fifteen dollar salads while we were eating our huge muffins.

Today, during lunch, my mother and I met Suzanne, a former workmate of my mother, at the Neue Galerie at 86th and Fifth.  The Neue Galerie is located in a former mansion of the Vanderbilts, and the museum is dedicated to German and Austrian Art. 

I’ve always liked German Expressionist art.  I especially love the work of Gustav Klimt. 


Gustav Klimt

Neue Galerie has one of his most famous works, the portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer.


Adele Bloch-Bauer by Gustav Klimt

I’m not sure my mother was crazy about some of the paintings in the museum.  Much of the German work from 1900-1930 is shocking, seedy, even ugly — as if these artists could see the festering amoralism of German culture of the time period.

 
Girl with Doll by Erich Heckel

“That girl looks like she is eight years old.” said my mother.

“I think she is eight years old.”

“Why would you paint a nude eight year old?  It makes me uncomfortable.”

“I think that’s what he was trying to do.”

“Who would want that in their house?”

“It’s probably worth thirty million dollars.”

“I still wouldn’t put it in my house.  Yuch.”

“You’re in a museum.  You’re not supposed to say “Yuch.””

“What should I say?”

“You should say, “Interesting,” but with a lilt to your voice to show your uncertainty.”

My mother walked over to a wall of Klimt’s sketches.

“I like this one better.” she said,

“Which one?”

“The sleeping nude.”

“I don’t think she’s sleeping.”

“It looks like she’s sleeping.”

“I don’t think she’s sleeping.”

“Oh.”


Reclining Nude Facing Right by Gustav Klimpt

After walking through the galleries, we went downstairs to have dessert at Cafe Sabarsky, a restaurant decorated to look like an authentic Viennese cafe.  At first, after seeing the menu, we almost left.  Desserts were eight dollars each and coffee (no refills) was six dollars.  We decided to splurge. 


Cafe Sabarsky


My mother and Suzanne


Cheesecake, Rum Cake, Apple Strudel

The desserts were pretty good (we shared a rum cake, cheesecake, and apple strudel), but not really worth the fifty bucks.  In fact, we were all a little disappointed that the food didn’t really live up to the high price. 

Suddenly, my mother noticed a Mr. Softee ice cream truck pull up on 86th Street, directly outside the cafe window.  Two museum employees ran outside to buy themselves ice cream cones for $1.50 each. 

“At least the people who work here are smart enough not to spend fifty dollars on dessert from the cafe!” said my mother.

We all laughed, because my mother, my new friend, is funny.

The Orthodox Jewish Guy Outside the Supermarket

I went down to Pathmark Supermarket to buy whole wheat hamburger buns and some bottles of Snapple.   In front of the entrance, was an Orthodox Jew handing out leaflets.  He was wearing a yarmulke and tzitzit, a traditional fringed garment worn under the clothing.  I’ve seen these guys before.   Some ultra-religious Jews go around and try to get less religious Jews to pay more attention to the various rituals of Judaism.  These men believe that the spreading of their religious fervor will hasten the arrival of the Messiah.

Usually, these Jews only bug other Jews.  They frequently ask passerbys, “Are you Jewish?” before they annoy the hell out of you.   I understand that they are on a mission, but sometimes I just want to walk to the supermarket without having to discuss religious issues.   The only time I’ve ever said that I WASN”T Jewish had nothing to do anti-Semitism.   It was to avoid one of these ultra-religious guys pestering me on the street about lighting the Shabbos candles.

“Here, take some candles. Light them on Friday night. Do you belong to a temple?  Come to our temple.  We even will feed you!”

They will feed you. I know their trick.   You go to their temple.  They feed you some good chicken soup, and then they OWN YOU!

What surprised me about this guy outside the supermarket was that he was not asking, “Are you Jewish?” to anyone.   He was handing out his leaflets and talking to every passerby, whether they were black or white or Latino or Asian.  Some of these shoppers quickly walked by, while others politely took one of his leaflets.

Was he trying to convert everyone to Judaism?

Three years ago, I wrote a post advocating Jews trying to convert other religions. I was being a little tongue in cheek.   At the time,  I felt that if other religions are always trying to convert you, why not return the favor?   In reality, conversion is a dirty word for most Jews because it brings up a sad history of forced conversion, mostly at the hands of Christians.   Even though I wrote that post, I don’t really feel comfortable with anyone trying to convert another person.

I wondered if this zealot outside my Queens supermarket felt safe trying to convert others to Judaism because we were in Queens, and there were many Jews in the neighborhood.   Maybe he felt safe in numbers, despite the fact that there was a mosque right across the street.

This made me angry.   If I were a Jew in a Christian neighborhood, I would hate having someone try to convert me outside my local supermarket.  I would feel as if I was being pressured to be “one of the majority.”  I’m not a hypocrite.    Why should a Jew try to convert others in our neighborhood?   Surely, the religions of others — whether it be Christianity, Islam, or Buddhism — is as worthy a religion.   This smug Jewish guy, passing out leaflets, was arrogant.  It didn’t matter if he was “part of my tribe.”

I walked into the supermarket, using a side door, just to avoid him.

After I finished my shopping, I looked through the store window, and saw my Jewish friend deep in conversation with a black mother and her son.  The mother took the flier, nodding in agreement.  Did he just sucker in another victim to leave her own religion behind?  My face grew red.  This idiot was giving the Jewish people a bad name.

I walked outside, waiting for him to hand me a flier and engage me in conversation.  I walked by and he completely ignored me.   What was up with that?!   Did he see that I was angry and was worried about a conflict?   Or could he tell that I was already Jewish so he didn’t need to convert me?   And how did he know I was Jewish?   Was he judging me on my Jewish nose like a racist would do?   Was this Jewish man stereotyping a fellow Jew?

Hell, I wanted him to try to convert me!   I wanted him to hand me one of those leaflets, so I can shove it back in his face and tell him that this is not the ways Jews should behave.  That it is a shame for him to stand there in his yarmulke and tzitzit and show such disregard for other cultures and other religions.

I did a 360 and entered the supermarket again, just so I could exit a second time and get one of those leaflets.  I quickly re-walked my steps, leaving the market as I did before, not even waiting for the electric door to fully open.  I walked past the ultra-religious Jewish guy, who was eagerly handing out his leaflets — and the asshole ignored me again.

That was enough for me.   Like Abraham, who would sacrifice Isaac, his son, because of God’s word, I knew that it was my moral obligation to confront my Jewish nemesis.  I stepped in front of him.

“May I have one of those leaflets.”

“Sure,” he said reluctantly.

He handed me one. I held it tightly in my hand, ready to start my diatribe against religious hypocrisy.  And then I read the piece of paper:

“Looking to sell your condo?  Call 718-555-1212.”

When I arrived home, I looked at myself in the mirror. My hair had gotten long again. I was unshaven. I was wearing an old t-shirt. Apparently, I was stereotyped by this guy as someone who can’t afford to own a condo.

A Year Ago on Citizen of the MonthTruth and Fiction

Bad Dialogue

The “love scene” from my latest screenplay, a romance titled “The Secret Affair of the Mommyblogger”:

The couple meet in his car, which is parked outside the “other” suburban Bed, Bath, and Beyond – the one the neighbors DON’T go to, because there is no Chipotle next door. The are immediately all over each other, the passion intense.

She: “I think we should put on the breaks.”

He: “And I think we should shift gears.”

She: “And I think I need an oil change.”

He: “And I think you turned on my ignition.”

She: “And I think you’ve just opened my glove compartment.”

He: “And I think I feel your airbags.”

She: “And I think we should go hybrid.”

He: “And I think your cupholder is convenient.”

She: “And I think I need a lube job,”

He: “And I think I’m going zero to sixty.”

She: “And I think we’re stuck in a fender bender.”

He: “And I think I’m overheating because of the steep incline.”

She: “And I think your timing belt needs adjusting.”

He: “And I think it is my internal combustion.”

She: “And I think you’re not watching the road signs.”

He: “And I think I blew a gasket.”

She: “And I think you stalled before I reached my destination. Hand me the GPS and I’ll get there myself. Then I need to pick up the kids from day camp.”

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