Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Month: September 2009 (page 2 of 3)

Can I Break My Promise?

We were on the couch, kissing and undressing, when I suggested we go into the bedroom.

“I don’t know.  I’m not sure I feel the same way about you anymore?” she said.

I pulled back, suddenly feeling very alone, like a lonely sailor on a clipper ship on a dark New England shore.

“I need you,” I said, as I reached out to her breasts, the two precious, flickering lighthouses that could save me from my solitude.  “And I thought everything was going so well?”

“It was.” she replied,” her blue eyes showing a restrained affection.   “I once found you so…manly…”

She nervously took out a cigarette from her purse.  I wanted to tell her to quit, just like Schmutzie had done recently, but I didn’t want to make waves.

“And now I’m not “manly” to you anymore?” I asked, my voice trembling.

“It all happened on September 17th.   In the beginning of the month, you promised to blog every day in September, and then, on that infamous day, you said you just couldn’t go on.  You couldn’t handle the pressure.  You broke your promise.”

“I hated blogging every day.  It made me feel so unfunny and self-absorbed and selfish and stupid.  There was even this blogger who sent me an email, complimenting me, saying she wished she could be as productive!  And instead of saying thank you, I sent her a sarcastic email back.  “You want to write every day?  It is easy.  You just ignore all the other bloggers out there, all your friends, and never read their posts, and never comment and act like you are the only voice important in the world, and then you will be able to post every day.”

“That was a bit assholely of you.”

“Yeah, I’ve been a jerk all week.  Sweetney wrote this interesting post that drove me crazy, where she shares her affection for Kanye West after the VMA awards.  She wrote that we must separate the art from the artist, and even said, “I’m a person who has long stated that I would rather be friends with an interesting asshole than a boring nice person.”

“So, do you disagree with that?”

“No, but it got me thinking a few days before the Jewish High Holidays about what is important to me in life.  It made me wonder if I should just be a jerk to the world and only care about myself, because when it comes down to it, people are judging you on your final product and not on how you act in the world.  Theoretically, if I push an old woman down a flight or stairs and then write a fantastic blog post about it, I might even get to win a award for it!”

“You really are losing it.   Just relax.   Blogging is just a silly hobby.  Worry about your REAL work, the stuff that PAYS YOU MONEY, not this shit.  You’re being manipulated by those who ARE making money through blogging to make you think that BLOGGING  is super-important.”

“This is what happens when you blog every day.”

“I still don’t see what the big deal is about blogging every day.  It isn’t nuclear science.  Just put up a video or a photo.”

“Don’t you get it.  No one wants to think about themselves all the time.  And by blogging every day, it is like going into therapy every day.   It is uncomfortable.  It drives you insane.  And then there are distractions all around you, all the time.  Mamatulip wrote a post two days ago where she complained about her inability to get any writing done when her family is around.  Just to cause her more grief, I wrote this nerdy comment on her blog —

I once read this book about being creative and writing — I think it was called The War of Art, but I am not certain, and the thesis was a bit scary — the ones who are going to most frustrate you and hold you back from any creative endeavor are going to be those closest to you – your spouse, your kids, and your best friends, and that you almost had to view them as “the enemy” to get anything done. It made sense because those are the ones who are dependent and love you, and the most fearful of you taking too much time for yourself. I think this author would probably tell you that during those afternoons alone, you need to throw the phone out the window.”

“So are you saying that if you really want to accomplish anything, you have to be an asshole to everyone and ignore your family?” asked the beautiful woman on my couch.

“Have you ever seen a movie about a brilliant musician, artist, or writer who hasn’t cheated on his spouse, ignored his children, chopped off his ear, or committed suicide?”

“No offense, but you are not writing a symphony here.  You are writing a stupid blog about your mother and your penis.  Get over yourself.  No one really cares about you.  No one knows you.”

“You mean Redneck Mommy doesn’t really want to do me?”

“No.”

“What about you?” I said, with a sly smile.  “I thought that’s why you came over and we were making out?”

“Yeah, I was going to f*ck you, but things changed when you decided to quit blogging every day in September.”

“What’s the difference?  I’m still the same person!”

“Don’t you get it?  For a woman, sexy is in the mind.  You were very sexy when you were blogging every day, like you were a Homeric hero on a journey, just like you described yourself in your first post this month.   But once you quit, eh.”

“I’m not quitting blogging.  Just blogging once a day…”

“I’m sorry.  It’s all in the mind.  It’s like now I visualize you kissing my special spot, and then suddenly getting all bored after you get a hair up your nose, and saying, “Can we move on already?”  I want someone who I know can go the extra mile, not a quitter.”

“Are you saying that if I quit blogging for the entire month of September I will be sending the message to others that I will be lousy in bed?”

“I’m not sure I can ever have an orgasm with a quitter.”

“WTF!”

“Yes.  Women are weird.  We think that way.”

“Can’t you just fake it?”

“Sure.  An once you quit blogging every day, all your female blogging friends are going to say, “Oh, Neil, it is fine if you want to quit.  We understand.”  We have a mothering instinct.  We want our sons to try their best, but if they strike out during little league, it doesn’t matter.”

“So, why not the same for me?”

“Because we’re not your mother, asshole.  You already have your mother IN Queens to coddle you.  If you want to be with a real woman, you better be prepared to finish the job!”

“But I will.  I promise I won’t give up!  I’ll never give up.”

She started to close her unbuttoned blouse.

“No!”

“I’m sorry.  Stop reading the phony crap in Cosmo and let me tell you what REAL-LIVE WOMEN talk about in the locker room.  Rule #1 —

If a Man succeeds, he gets a blowjob like no other
But a Man gets zilch if he quits before Rosh Hashana”

“That doesn’t really rhyme, and it is rather insulting to men… and Rosh Hashana.”

“Woman’s prerogative.”

“What kind of double standard is that?  Why do I have to perform like a solider in the Foreign Legion just to prove my worth, my manhood? Why can’t I quit, or fail, or give up — and still get laid?”

“Ooh, Project Runway is on!” she said, turning on the TV.

+++

I can’t quit doing this — blogging every day in September — can I?

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Editor’s note:  This was truly an anxiety-producing post.   I had to go to take a nap immediately after I published it.  I’m not sure why yet.   It’s probably about my own shame I would feel if I quit doing something as unimportant as a month of blog posts.  Why would I react so strongly over something so silly?

Even more troubling — do I feel I am not worthy enough to be in a normal relationship until I prove something?

Fall is a time of introspection.

Shana Tovah to my Jewish friends!   A happy, healthy, and joyous New Year.

Geeky and Cool

photo-2

If you would see the family “caricature” drawn years ago on a vacation in Cape Cod, still hanging on my mother’s wall of family shame, you might say, “Boy, Neil, you must have been a geeky teenager!”  Looking at myself back then, I would say you were probably be right.  Yet, I would still have the problem of identity that I was discussing yesterday on my blog.  Was I really a geek?  How do I give you, the reader, a fuller picture of reality?  Or even more importantly, how do I see myself honestly without spending thousands of dollars in therapy?

Despite my goofy caricature, I did not walk around at the time thinking, “I am a geek.”  I went around thinking I was smart.  I was shy with girls, but at the same time, I knew my time was coming.   Basically, I was a neurotic mess, but sexy in my own mind.

Movies and TV shows rarely portray nerds and geeks realistically.  A few years a go, I wrote a post about the TV reality show “Beauty and the Geek.”  In this show, a male geek is teamed with a beauty queen so they can “learn” from each other and win the competition against other teams.  As expected, the beauties meet the unsocialized guys with the broken glasses and unzippered pants and go “yuch,” while the geeks drool over the perfect blond cheerleaders.

Eh, I never bought it.   If these guys were really geeks, they would be comparing knowledge of Battlestar Gallactica triva, not wasting their time on these dopey women.   Some of these women were so dumb, picked that way for entertainment value, that I couldn’t understand why these guys would be remotely interested in them.  Yeah, yeah, men care about the boobs, but as a certified geek, I know that we also have high standards.   We fantasized about the hot girl in high school, but she was also the one running for class president!   No nerd or geek ever wanted to go out with a cheerleader!  We made fun of you.  Pop culture is so one dimensional, thinking that “hot blondes with boobs” trumps all, that the geeky writers who work on these shows forget their OWN experiences as geeky high school students.  Maybe the geeky writers are so desperate to portray themselves as the nice guy underdogs, that they forget that nerds and geeks can be assholes, too, mocking the pretty girl who doesn’t know the name of the vice president.

My high school was a NYC public school, vastly different than the suburban schools you see most movies.  As in any school, there were cool kids, but I don’t recall it being extremely clear-cut who was “in” and who was “out.”  There were athletes, there were druggies, there were criminals-in-training, there were math geniuses.  The “coolness” was segmented, which is probably too complicated to deal with a true to life movie script.  It is the same way that people say that “blogging is like high school.”   Of course it is — if you just hang out with the mommybloggers or the daddybloggers or the BlogHer bloggers, or the African-American bloggers, etc.   Outside of each niche and the set in stone hierarchy, no one might even know you exist.  I know when I was working on the yearbook in high school, I felt like I ran the school.  So did those working on the school newspaper.  So did those on the basketball team.

We all want to be the sun in our own universe.   When I worked on a TV show, every niche of the production team believe himself the true creative force.  The network executives who bought the show considered it their own.  The writers felt that the words were based out of personal experience.  The actors ignored the writers and acted like the dialogue flew out of their mouths through osmosis.  The advertisers saw the show as a vehicle to sell their products.

The mind is powerful, and distorts reality, usually putting yourself in the starring role.  So, yes, I was geeky back then, as can be seen in that caricature, but despite what anyone might have thought at the time, I considered myself quite cool, even if I was still trying to figure out how to ask a girl out on a date, something that has never quite been resolved.

The question remains:  what is the real reality — how I view myself now, how you might view me, or how I actually viewed myself at the time?

My Own Worst Character

Is there any worse feeling online than being dropped from someone’s blogroll, unfriended on Facebook, or unfollowed on Twitter, and you have no idea why this has occurred and you are not sure if you said something wrong, or if you are now officially “dead to this person,” and you don’t know if it is proper etiquette to ask the person why or just leave it alone?

I sometimes get unfollowed on Twitter for saying something stupid about mommybloggers or the “hotness” of a woman’s avatar.  I know this information now because I downloaded this iphone app called “Birdbrain,” which alerts me when I am unfollowed.  It is a mean-spirited and relentlessly annoying iphone app.  Opening this app each day is akin to dragging yourself through the city square in 18th Century Paris for a beheading.

Since I am a humorous type of guy, I wrote this comment on Twitter today, “The next person who unfollows me, will get a stern phone call… from my mother!”

I received this witty response from another blogger, “I’m almost tempted to unfollow you today just so I can chat with your mother.  Your mother is so sassy!”

This reply gave me pause.  This woman on Twitter was being nice and complimenting me on my mother but how does she know — or even assume — that my mother is SASSY?

Of course, the answer is that I have portrayed my mother as sassy in my blog and tweets.  This made me angry at myself, and my own failure as a writer.  After so many posts about my mother, is this what my artistry has produced? — that she is sassy?  Have I used my mother to create a character from “The Golden Girls?”   The insides of my stomach tightened and I had to turn off my laptop.   I was upset not because I might have characterized her incorrectly, but because I can do better.

It is so easy to forget the power of our words.  My writing may not have the ability to bring the Maytag Company to her knees, like Dooce’s, but I have the ability to create images in your mind about others  Is my mother sassy?  Well, maybe to YOU she might be, particularly if you have a prim and proper matriarch as a Mom, but that is not the first word that would come out of my mouth in describing her.  I see “sassy” as closer to Esther Rolle in Good Times.

Is there anything more difficult than capturing the personality of someone close to you — in words?  When it is a fictional characters, cliches can often be enough.  But your own mother?   She is sassy.  She is shy.  She is efficient.  She is an  unorganized mess.  She is too complicated to make into a clear-cut fictional character.  I can only give you a “taste” of her.

I have done an equally poor job in conveying the personality of Sophia.   Probably my least developed online character is “myself.”   The job of the writer is to focus on the narrative and delete unessential elements  in order to tell a story.  I am  envious of all those who are writing memoirs about their lives, and are able to focus on a specific chapter of their life — overcoming a divorce, raising a child, or a road trip across the country.   I get so lost in my own head, that I am not even sure how to describe my true character.  I can be funny, and serious.  I am neurotic, and confident. How am I supposed to tell you who I am, when I am full  of contradictions to myself?

My biggest frustration with online life is the way it is both so extremely intimate, and at the same time, superficial in how we present ourselves, and interact with each other.

I met quite a few bloggers at BlogHer.  Most bloggers were exactly as I pictured them from reading their blog.  Others were different, as if the blog persona was in the deep recesses of the brain and only came out during the writing, like a Devil taking over the body.  Some never said a word to me, and I didn’t speak to them.  Most clearly emphasized only one element of their persona online — their parenting or their business side — and it was difficult to understand the real person behind the monitor.

However you view me, or my mother, or anyone I write about, you would be completely right.  And wrong.  And that is a frustrating thought.    In the future, I am going to try harder to capture my real world and my own character on paper.   Or is it ultimately impossible to bring the reality — in all its three-dimensional glory — into words?

Car Stolen

Hyundai
Santa Fe
gone away
to East L.A.
where Jose
will chop away
and ship next day
to Monterrey.

What can I say?
You’re on your way
to those who pay
for parts Hyundai.

I hope and pray
You’ll be OK
Good-bye Hyundai
my Santa Fe!

+++

Two nights ago, Sophia called me from Los Angeles.  Someone broke into our cars in our driveway and ransacked them.  She called the police, who said there was little they could do.  Our insurance card and checkbook were stolen, but we decided that this theft wasn’t the end of the world, even though Sophia felt a bit shaken, especially now that she is living alone.  We figured the matter was closed.  Last night, they returned, broke into our Hyundai SUV, disabled the alarm, and stole the car.  Sophia called the police again, who told her not to be hopeful about seeing the car again.

Marketing Idea

coke

Prologue —

I deleted this post on Friday, five minutes after I published it, thinking it stupid, but of course, I forgot that the minute you hit the publish button, off it flies onto the top perch of the Google Reader, so there is no hiding it… ever.

The following  post, as bad as it is, actually went through several re-writes, and took a long time, because I had no real point in writing it other than to vent about this Lunchables hashtag that was cluttering my Twitter feed that night.   A whole group of  women were involved in some sort of sponsored conversation, complete with a giveaway of a Flip Camera, the requirement for winning the camera being that you had to “retweet” some message about Lunchables, slamming the web with advertising.

Normally, whenever someone complains about this type of thing of commericalism, the retort is always:  you can always unfollow the person or change the channel on the TV.  Unfortunately, social media makes this difficult because companies are actually using our own friends to sell things to us.    Social media professionals know that we aren’t going to “unfollow” our friends for trying to win a free Flip camera, so we are a captive audience for free advertising out of politeness and peer pressure.  I don’t blame those who participate in this giveaway as much as the companies and PR companies who KNOW this and create these types of viral campaigns, cleverly sneaking their marketing onto  my personal space.  They know that if I unfollowed every person who used their Twitter account for this type of viral promotion, I would have very few friends on Twitter.

So, since I felt a bit cranky as I scanned over these annoying Lunchables tweets, much like I am tonight with these crazy tweets about the good work of Nestle’s “family” of products — http://twitter.com/#search?q=%23nestlefamily, I fought back in my own passive aggressive way.  I tried to come up with a ridiculous version of this type of marketing campaign in the real world, as an example of how annoying this could be in a three dimensional world.

After I re-read the post and saw something profoundly wrong with it.   Rather than it sounding sarcastic and satirical, it actually sounded like a decent idea, and I feared that someone would actually steal this idea and call it “The Neilochka Scheme,” much like Ponzi is forever be remembered for his infamous “Ponzi scheme.”  And that would really suck.  So, I deleted the post.

But since it is out there already — here is the last version that I posted on Friday.

+++

Imagine there is a big Yankee – Red Sox game on Sunday at Yankee Stadium.  Coca-Cola takes out an advertisement in the Daily News saying, “Wear a Coke t-shirt to the Yankee game on Sunday, and one lucky winner will win a Mercedes Benz and free Coke for a year!”  For the price of one ad in the newspaper, one car, and a couple hundred cases of Coke, the company could make a big splash — all for 1/1000th the cost of a commercial!  Hundreds would show up wearing a Coke t-shirt in a customer-led marketing campaign, and the crowd would be a sea of Coke red.  I’m not sure they would even need the permission of the Yankees to do this since they aren’t requiring any of their resources.

Why don’t companies ever do this?  Wouldn’t this be the real life equivalent of how companies require  bloggers to write a post about a product in order to enter a giveaway or to tweet the company’s product hundreds of times on Twitter like was done during tonight’s “Lunchables” promotion on Twitter before they can win a FlipCam or free tickets to Disney on Ice?

I find the potential of this idea somewhat scary, but I see how it could work.

+++

There was more to the post, but I chopped it as much as that Sham-Wow guy does with his vegetables with that chopping gizmo on TV, not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings, which only made the post make less sense in the final version.  Besides, I felt hypocritical.   Wasn’t I asked to do the exact same thing when I wrote for that Brita “green lifestyle” blog, asking people to write a “earth day post” so they could get some prize?

And wouldn’t I use any marketing tool that I had at my disposal if I wanted to promote something of my own, or a book of a fellow blogger,  like Kate’s new pirate book, or a friend’s new Etsy shop?  Is there any real difference to doing shout-outs for a friend, and getting a whole group of people to promote some unnecessary corporate product by offering them a prize for helping you advertising a brand they don’t really care about?   I guess the real question is, would anyone be shouting out good things about Lunchables if  the initial brand enthusiast wasn’t getting freebies and the others weren’t in a drawing for a Flip cameras?

We all do a lot of promoting online, but I feel that it is more sincere when we  pimp someone or something because we like the person or the project, or respect the person, or hell — want to get into that person’s pants!   At least that is an honest emotion, even if a bit sleazy.   But human.   And potentially better tasting than Lunchables.

+++

May this be proof that not every post ends up being good.

Too Close For Comfort

One of the first rules every writer learns is that a good character does not speak “on the nose.”  When a person says something verbally, the true message and emotion can be quite different from what the person says.  I have a highly trained ear for these types of surreptitious messages.  When some of you, particularly the mommybloggers, were commenting  on my last post about this nation’s health care problems, I could tell that, despite your well-expressed ideas, you were sending  me another, more important, message,

“Neil, I wish you would dive between my quivering thighs right now.”

I understand and appreciate that sentiment.  It is one of the reasons I keep blogging, despite not making a penny from this endeavor.   This is my salary for blogging.  I would hate to do anything that would ruin this special relationship I have with some of my female readers.

Blogging requires TOTAL honesty, and I need to be truthful about my life, despite whatever consequences it may have on my relationships with those of the opposite sex.

Fact:  You do realize that I am currently LIVING with my MOTHER, don’t you?  Yes, just like that crazy guy down the block from your house  or Norman Bates in Psycho.  There is an epic story to be told of why I am here in Queens with my mother, but it would require an entire novel, one filled with intrigue, Russian women, Hollywood parties, intellectual New Yorkers, and Chinese gangs.  Unfortunately, I have not yet finished my “book proposal” or befriended the right people.

In the past, I wrote about my mother quite often, but then a kindly male blogger friend sent me a caring email, the gist of the message being,

“Dude, stop writing about living with your mother if you ever want to get LAID again.  Take it from me, no half-decent babe wants to suck your c*ck if she knows your mother made you your dinner last night, even if she does make the best pot roast in the East Coast!  When I lived with my mother after I was fired from my job for jacking off in the executive bathroom, I never told one woman that I was actually living with my mother.  I’m not an idiot.  We would always go f*ck at her place, and I would use the excuse that we couldn’t go to my place because I was taking care of my hermit brother who had some rare illness that made him go bonkers if he saw even one strand of a woman’s hair.  This worked out so well, because sometimes women, being all emotional and shit, would f*ck me twice in one night because they were so touched by me caring for my sicko family member.”

Thank you, dear male blogging friend, for your sage advice.  I know you are right, but I take my role as WRITER seriously.  I blog with integrity.  I disclose how many freebies I get when I post my positive review of the latest Lunchables snack, so I must admit that I am living with my wonderful mother.

But things are getting to the breaking point with my mother.  Within two days of her returning from her European cruise, we have see each other… well, undressed.  The world didn’t end when this happened, and no Freudian nightmare was unleashed, but it was a sign from Heaven that it might be time to make a move.

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It was two days ago.  My mother took a shower, and there was water flooding out of the bathroom and into the hallway.  We figured it was a one time event, with the shower curtain not being closed all the way.

Later that day, I took a shower, and there was water flooding again!  We could not figure out the problem, so I suggested we handle this scientifically.  Perhaps there was a leak.  I went into the shower, a towel around my waist, while my mother stood on the other side of the shower curtain.  I took off my towel, hung it on the towel rack, and turned on the water.  Tra la la, I sang some Beatles song as I showered.

Suddenly, my mother’s voice yelled out, “My god, the entire hallway is getting flooded.

I grabbed the towel from the rack, and rushed out.  Water WAS leaking out of the bathroom, creating a mess.  I ripped the towel from my waist and threw it onto the floor, desperately trying to soak up the water.

“What are you doing?” asked me mother.  “You’re naked!”

“I’m trying to stop the flooding.  What do you want me to do?  Roll in the water with my towel on?”

My mother averted her eyes as I bent down to soak up the water.  I wasn’t sure what the big deal was for her.  She had seen me naked before.   But wait — maybe not since CHILDHOOD.   Was there some unspoken tension for a grown man to appear naked in front of his mother?

Later on, I discovered what might have troubled her, and it had very little to do with her seeing my private parts.

“You’re getting so much hair on your back!” she said as she watched Bones, her favorite new show.

So, that was it.  She was not turned on by seeing a hunky young man in his prime.  She was feeling old seeing her cute little baby now with back hair and gray hairs sprouting on his chest!

Just in case you are interested.  the flooding in the shower was my mother’s fault.   The super came up and asked her if she had adjusted the shower head.  She said she is tall and adjusted the head upwards so it would hit her entire body.  This angle was good for me as well, since I am also tall.  Apparently, we had adjusted the shower head at an angle too high, so the water was shooting over the top of the curtain and out under the bathroom door into the hallway.

Problem solved.

+++

The next part of this story will sound fake, because it will seem like too much of a coincidence, but it is absolutely true.  Remember, I vowed to always be truthful, right?

The day after the shower incident, I was watching Obama’s speech on TV when our President’s charisma influenced me to go into the kitchen and make a grilled cheese sandwich.  My mother was getting ready to go play mah jongg with her friends at a neighbor’s apartment.  As I passed by the hallway en route to the kitchen, there was my mother — topless, putting on her bra!

“Oops,” she said, covering herself up.

“Why are you getting dressed here?” I asked.

“I was in a rush.  And I didn’t like my other bra.”

I was embarrassed for both of us, but in all honesty, it wasn’t THAT big a deal.  And maybe there SHOULD be a Playboy/AARP edition.  Just saying.

“Now we’re even,” I said to her as I passed, referring to how she saw me naked the previous day.

Tales of Health Insurance

73807521

For the last day, I have been reading a lot of the blog posts and tweets about Obama’s health plan, and I came away with a few thoughts:

1)  I am not learning much information from these blog posts and tweets.

2)  People who write exclusively about politics seem to get angry very easily.

3)  Political writers treat public policy as a team sport (my side shoots, scores!)

4)  Too many bloggers have one eye on the prize, and the other eye on “their prize,” whether it be a mention in The Huffington Post or Fox News, which is cool, but doesn’t really have much to do with health care.

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But this is not a post about politics or health care.  It is a post about stories.

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After the speech, I had one question on my mind, the same as many Americans — How is all this going to affect ME?!

Sophia and I are both freelancers, and we shell out $1000 a month for a mediocre HMO.  We have discussed changing our plan, but Sophia has a pre-existing condition.  We’re going to have to do something soon, because my plan is useless to me in New York City unless there is an emergency since all my doctors are in a “network” in Los Angeles.  We are lucky to have health insurance, but we pay for it in a huge way, and I would like to have more options.

With this question on my mind, I went on Twitter and asked, “Sophia and I pay $1000 dollars a month for health insurance — what do you pay?”

Some answered my tweet, all with different stories.  Some had great insurance plans from a spouse’s company, and were concerned about how changes would affect the quality.   One woman said she and her husband, being young and healthy, chose to use their money as a down payment for a house, rather than pay for health insurance.   Another woman said her sister went into debt because of a long illness.  One man was rejected by all but one insurance companies because his son was autistic, and is force to spend $2,000 a month for his family.  Most of those who answered are not in a dire financial situation (after all, we were all on Twitter with our expensive iPhones!), but we are as concerned about the state of our health care, both the quality and the cost, as anyone else, rich or poor.

Politicians love to use these types of personal stories to bolster their intimacy of their speeches.  Great orators since ancient Greece have trotted out a “true” tale of poor Hermes (or Jacques or Joe) who has no drachmas (or francs or dollars), but under their plan, if elected, will be provided with plentiful gyros (or croissants or Egg McMuffins) in every urn (or vase or pot).

Stories sell the political point.

The 140 character “stories” on Twitter were special to me because they were told for no political gain.  I had no idea of the political persuasion of anyone.  They were just life stories, and it is difficult to fight with a story.  You can disagree with a person’s choice, but it is their story to tell, and you can’t dismiss that.

I was most moralistic with the blogger who put a down payment on a house rather than buy health insurance.  As the son of an anxious father who took out extended warranties on RADIOS at electronics stores “just in case” it breaks, I do not have gambling in my blood.  How could they take such a risk, especially with their health?!  Then again, how “smart” have I been for paying $12,000 a year for the ability to go once a year to my doctor for a cholesterol test?  Who can judge another without being in their shoes, or first hearing their story?

The point is I learned more about our health care crisis by listening to your stories, than reading the angry rantings of political pundits.  All of us have stories about bad doctors, life-saving hospitals, uncaring nurses, brilliant physicians, Blue Cross customer service, the good and bad magazines in the waiting rooms, malpractice suits, and even the time your own family cheated Medicare!

Politics is important, but in this case, storytelling shoots, Wins!

The Lovely Sound of Dammit

I don’t like singling out specific bloggers on their birthday, because so many people have a special meaning for me, and I would feel obligated to write a post for every single person on his or her birthday, and then this blog would get pretty tedious, right?

But Dammit, it’s my blog. Sometimes you just have to go with your gut. Because someone has proven to be super extra special.

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Happy birthday, Maggie of Okay, Fine, Dammit and Violence Unsilenced. You have single-handedly turned the word Dammit into a term of beauty and compassion!

My Fellow Students

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During the last few days, there has been a lot of controversy over Obama’s speech to our children, the purpose which is  to encourage them to stay in school and learn.   Was it right for a President to speak to schoolkids?   Was it indocrination?   Was he abusing his power as Commander in Chief.   As silly as these questions may sound to many of you, these are legitmate concerns.   I was surprised that so many of my “liberal” friends went into a meltdown over their fellow Americans speaking their minds.   The eggheads and granola-brains came out in force, insulting these for questioning an elected official in public, as if Stalin was still alive.  Some of these “nitpickers” were even labelled as “racists.”

I believe these nitpickers are right, and there is a problem with President Obama addressing our children, but my reason is different than the others.    I believe that Mr. Obama is an honest man, one who cares about our American youth getting a quality education, one who I VOTED for, but he is NOT the right person to be speaking to our children.

Why?  Because he went to elementary school school in Indonesia, avoiding the same traumatic experience that the rest of us had attending American elementary school as children.  He has as much right speaking the truth about our nation’s schools as I do speaking at BlogHer.   What does he know?   Has he ever had to compete with his fellow students to sell the most Scholastic books for some cheapo Radio Shack radio or go to a lame school trip to the Queens Botanical Gardens?  NO!

Who would do a better job speaking to our children?  I would!  I have the experience.  I earned it attending New York public school from kindergarten through 12th grade.  I loved school, with many fond memories.  If I could, I would go back RIGHT NOW, ambling along, carrying my looseleaf notebook with the Aerosmith sticker plastered on front.

I also have a quality that Obama does not.  I am not a politician, so I would not bullsh*t.  Kids can smell bullsh*t.  I would tell our children that yes, they must go to school and learn.  Yes, they will get nowhere in life without an education (They might get nowhere in life WITH an education, even a very expensive one, but I might skip that fact in the initial speech, since I am trying to be somewhat inspirational).

Our educational system can fill your mind with wondrous knowledge and ideas, but is that the full story?  No.  I would look our youth directly in the eyes and tell them what we already know — the years ahead will also be filled with endless boredom.  School in America is 45% learning, 35% sitting around homeroom taking roll call and throwing paper airplanes, and 20% fire drills, led by your “fire captain,” usually the geekiest kid in your class, the least helpful person if there ever was a REAL FIRE.

I would tell our youth that they must pay attention in English class, even though on Twitter, no one cares about grammar anymore!  LOL.

I would tell our youth that it is important to focus on math and science, not because I did, but because our country is a trillion dollars in debt and if we don’t start doing something innovative, the Chinese are going to take over our country by 2025.

I would tell our youth to learn Chinese, for obvious reasons.  Enough with the Spanish and French.  Let’s get serious, folks.  We’re not afraid of Spain or France anymore!  Let’s learn freakin’ Chinese!  I can order my burrito by pointing at the menu.  As for the French — who really gives a sh*t?

I would tell our youth that class attendance is extremely important.  It is a right AND a responsibility.  BUT… and this is a big theoretical BUT, if by chance there is a James Bond marathon on TBS that afternoon, and you sneak out of school early to watch it while your mother is at work, try to do it during the courses that the Board of Education makes you take solely because the teacher’s union can’t fire those teachers because of tenure.  We all know what classes I am talking about.  Wood shop.  Home Economics.  Typing.  Or those time-wasting assemblies where a children’s puppet theater performs a show on “Ethnic Diversity.”

I would tell our youth that there are classes which seem useless when you are young, but which prove important later in life — geometry and algebra, for instance.  When you are in eight grade learning you might ask, “Why do we need to know about parallelograms?”   Years later, when you are taking the audition test to get on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” and they ask, “What is a parallelogram?” you will understand the wisdom of your elders.

One personal note.  As a student, I hated gym.  I was not an athletic student.   Today, I believe that physical activity is essential to America.  We have become a bunch of fat slobs, when we should be epitomizing the Greek ideal of being strong in mind and body.  If I were the President of the United States, I would require all children to take gym class.  However, as a compromise to our youth, I would make the pummel horse illegal.  What insane, sadistic individual decided that it would be wise to have scrawny teenagers attempt to jump over one of these monstrosities?

I will never forget the look of fear on my friend, Barry’s face, as Mr. Kaufman, out dim-witted gym/auto shop teacher,  brought us over to the pommel hourse.  He explained how we would run up to the horse, grab the handles and jump over to the other side.  To demonstrate this, he asked Jake, already built like a boxer at age 12, to “show us how it is done.”  I am certain that Mr. Kaufman had never jumped the pummel horse himself.  So, there was NO WAY that Barry and I were EVER going lift our own weight over this thing and make it to the other side without falling SPLAT on our faces.  Luckily, Mr. Kaufman was so dumb that you could ask for a pass to the bathroom and disappear, and he would never remember.  I never did the pummel horse.

That goes to show, students, that despite it all, and everything your teachers say, when it comes down to it, sometimes you need to trust your own instincts, and fight authority.

That is the American way.

Now, let’s go out there and kick the sh*t out of the Chinese!

On Health Care and Supermarkets

I received a compliment from a nice reader, saying that I encouraged debate on “political” issues.  She felt that her opinions were too hardcore and only attracted readers who agreed with her.  I told her that she nees to be who she is, because her style is just as important, maybe MORE important in getting things done in the REAL world.  In many way, my “encouraging debate” is a positive spin on “being wishy-washy.”  I tend to always look at the others side, which would make me a bad President, football coach, or union leader.

Leaders need “vision,” something as hard and rugged as the concrete of a New York City sidewalk, in order to inspire his follwers.  Leaders cannot be like Charlie Brown, debating whether or not to trust Lucy and kick the football.

This month’s big debate is over health care.  It is shameful that so many Americans live without health insurance.  Something needs to be done NOW.

The main argument against change is a fear of “socialized medicine.”  You hear the same questions being asked over and over again.  “How can we trust the government with managing our health care?  They screw everything up!  Have you ever gone to the DMV?”

Rebuttal:  There are examples of socialized medicine working successfully around the world.

Wishy-washy:  But every truth has two sides.

There is some truth that the government tends to make a mess of things.  Obama health-care supporters shouldn’t become so ideological that we brush this under the rug.  There has been a lot of discussion about “socialism” from both sides, and I sometimes wonder if people really know what they are talking about online.  No one wants to turn the United States into the Soviet Union.  On the other hand, I read someone on Twitter trying to persuade others to push for socialized medicine by asking, “What’s so wrong with socialism or Marxism anyway?!”

I can only assume that this passionate leftist is a sophomore at Columbia University, because it is something after a year of Contemporary Civilization classes.  I’m now an old fart who has sadly accepted the uncomfortable fact that most of us do when we leave the university and try to make a living — most people are lazy, selfish jerks who won’t do anything if there is no competition. Free enterprise is necessary.  And yes, so is some “socialism” to help those who need it.  We’ve all seen the good and the evil of both systems.  And yes, I include going to the DMV as one of the evils.

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If you look outside from my mother’s dining room window, you see a supermarket right downstairs.  We are over the parking lot.  When I was growing up, this store was Waldbaum’s.  It was a decent store.  I remember every can of the store’s own brand of vegetables had a photo of “Julia Waldbaum” plastered on the label, smiling at you.

Sometime in the 1980’s our neighborhood declined.  I have written in the past about how an entire city block went out of business.  The local bakery, an aromatic piece of heaven, where my grandfather would buy onion rolls and jelly donuts, has been shuttered and graffitied for over fifteen years!

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Despite the closing of these stores, there are three supermarkets within seven blocks of each other.  It is a crowded neighborhood, and people still need to eat.  As more immigrant families moved into the neighborhood, the three supermarkets seemed to care less about the quality and upkeep.  The first time Sophia came to visit, she thought that I lived in the “slums.”  Waldbaum’s changed into a Pathmark, and this supermarket was super sucky.  The vegetables were always rotting, and the cashiers were high school kids who really didn’t give a shit.  The management was so cheap that during day hours, there would be three counters open, and the lines would reach up to twenty people each, snaking into the cereal aisle, and blocking those who wanted to pass.  My mother still shopped at this supermarket, mostly because it was the closest, and the other two markets in the neighborhood were even worse.

Two months ago, this Pathmark closed and an Associated Supermaket took over the spot.  The owners spruced the place up, and even put in a wood floor.  The store was Korean-owned, and everyone, including the checkers are Korean, and the store runs as efficiently as a new Hyundai.  The vegetables are beautiful, and because fish is an essential part of the Asian diet, the fish department has doubled.  They have sushi, gyozas, and soba noodles!  You do not understand how revolutionary that is for this neighborhood!

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This new supermarket has had a domino effect throughout the neighborhood.  Everyone went there, despite the higher prices.  They had ten checkout lanes!  Organic foods!  A real deli!  And the help actually HELPED YOU!

Two weeks later, one of the other supermarkets in the area went out of business.  A new owner bought it and promised to make it better than ever.  Today, I walked by the third supermarket in the neighborhood.  They are closing until November for a complete renovations.

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My socialist aunt would hate to hear me say this, but “F**k Yeah, this is Pure Capitalism at Its Best!”  Without the competition, the neighborhood had three shitty, uncaring supermarkets.  Once, ONE stepped up the game, the others had to change for the better or die.  And that is good.

I’m still for health care reform, by the way.  You don’t treat people’s health like a supermarket.

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