Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Month: October 2010

The Old Parsons Tree in Flushing: A True Halloween Story

If you visit my apartment building in Flushing, you would notice an oddly shaped garden apartment right across the street, sitting on a tiny, rectangular plot of land.  The architecture of the building makes no logical sense at first; you have to accept that Mrs. Vanello, who owned the liquor store on Kissena Blvd for twenty years, also owned this property, and despite the wishes of the community-at-large, wanted to build her home there.  The original plans called for a normal, rectangular-shaped building, but the untamed plot of land, which we liked to ironically call “The Forest,” contained an important part of local history — a tree dating from the Revolutionary War.

This tree represented an important part of my childhood. Until several years ago, this tiny plot was completely covered with ungroomed, tentacle-like weeds and plants surrounding the large ancient tree, bowing before it, like it was a deity.

When I would walk to elementary school with my friends Rob and Barry, we would trade stories about the tree on “The Forest,” bit and pieces of rumor and gossip about the true meaning of the oldest living member of our community.  Our parents rarely talked to us about the tree, just that it was a relic of the Revolutionary War.  We were never sure if they were ignorant of the history, or hiding it from us, like a parent avoiding talking about the birds and the bees.

While the tales we heard in school differed depending on which grade we were in at the time, the facts were similar to what we finally discovered by a simple visit to the archives at the Queens College Library, which we visited for a high school report on the Tree (remember, Google didn’t exist yet when I was in high school, so we had to go to a real library).

During the Revolutionary War, there was the Battle of Long Island.  The Flushing area where I currently live was primarily farmland owned by the Parsons family.  Alexander Parsons lived alone with his daughter and was an ultra-religious man, not caring whether his loyalties went to the British or the colonists.  He just cared about hard work and the Bible.

In is younger days, Alexander Parsons was a rabble-rouser, frequently traveling to Brooklyn with his famous cider packed on each side of his saddle, but after the death of his wife, Betsy, his heart grew cold, and he became a hermit.

One night, a group of British soldiers knocked on his door, asking for food and shelter.  His daughter, Sarah, cooked them dinner while Parsons entertained the guests by reading passages from the New Testament.  As he recited the section of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, he noticed that the soldiers were more interested in his daughter, with — as Parsons imagined — lurid fantasies of mounting her instead.  Parsons was disgusted at the sinful glances, and after dinner, Parsons said that he had to rise early, and quickly shuttled the soldiers to the stables where they would fnd their “beds” of hay. After the soldiers were comfortable, Parsons went the extra step and locked his daughter in the broom closet.

All night, Parsons was awake, a stoic patriarchal sentinel, refusing to release his daughter from the closet, ignoring her knocks and teary cries.  He was certain that SHE had been a part of this indecent exchange with the British soldiers. Did she shoot a lustful glance at one of the soldiers to attract him?  Perhaps she was intrigued by the powerful commanding officer with the large mustache, strong posture, and attention-getting uniform that snuggly fitted his masculine body?  Is it possible that she willing to lie with all of them at once, to give her body freely, wantonly, insulting the image of her perfect late mother, who remained a virgin until her wedding day?  And what about the soldiers in the stables? Could he trust them — these men filled with vigor and violence, like stallions eager for battle? What if they rammed through the door in the middle of the night, and demanded to take her at all costs, using force to satisfy their animal urges?

Parsons own mind drove him insane that night, and as the soldiers slept soundly, exhausted from travel, Parsons walked into the stable with his sharp meat knife, and slit the necks of each soldier.

Parsons returned to his house, knife still in hand and opened the closet door.  His daughter saw the blood dripping down the knife handle onto her father’s worn, bony hands.

“What have you done?!” she screamed.

“I have sent those sinners to HELL!”

“Why? Why? I don’t understand?  Why did you lock me up?  Why did you kill those soldiers”

“I know what you wanted to do with those men.”

Parsons eyes were as blood-red as the knife, as he continued screaming, spittle flying from his mouth.

“My own flesh and blood is like a female serpent luring her prey.  That’s why they looked at you like that.  Wanting to rip off your clothes, to reveal your tender full breasts, to steal your precious womanhood from inside your fiery furnace of decadence!”

Parsons grabbed the arm of his daughter.

“Stop it!  You’re hurting me!” she screamed.

He dragged her outside into the dark, cold night where wolves were already howling, smelling blood.

But Parsons did not use his knife.  He carried her to the largest tree on his property, and hung his own daughter with a sturdy rope.

The next day, British troops approached, searching for three of their men.  They found their bodies in the stable, their heads rolled several feet away, maggots and rats and possoms eating the eyes and brains of their fallen comrades.

Sarah Parsons was hanging from her father’s tree, her eyes still open, a horrified gaze affixed until her last seconds of life, her slanted mouth still forming her father’s name in vain.

Alexander Parsons was in the house, naked, flogging himself with a whip, his back bloody as each self-inflicted crack beat his skin again, bent over as he read from his favorite Bible verses, as if he was in a trance.  He never looked up from the Bible, even as he was carried away by the officers.  He was forever lost in time and place, awaiting to meet his Maker.

The British Military Tribunal found Alexander Parsons guilty of murder and hung him from the same tree as he had hung his daughter.

Fast forward to 2003.  Mrs. Vanello, the current owner of the property, wanted to build her home on the “The Forest” next to “The Hanging Tree.”  Local Queens Community Board #27, after a heated discussion, decided that the tree was an important historical landmark to the area, so she couldn’t chop down the tree.  Mrs. Vanello, a woman who doesn’t like to say no for an answer, build the home anyway — a triangular monstrosity that avoided the tree, letting it remain standing to the side of her driveway, like an ancient oddity.

Mrs. Vanello was not new to controversy.  The Community Board tried to close her liquor store because it was a blight on the neighborhood, serving the bums and the hoodlums.  She pulled her daughter out of high school because she was “dating” a Puerto Rican boy. Some hated her for her sense of privilege.  Her uncle was a big shot in Queens politics, who always protected her from local outrage.

About three months ago, there was a huge storm in New York City — a tornado even (remember that?!).  The epicenter was, of all places, my neighborhood in Queens.  Windows were broken.  Branches cracked.  But the biggest tragedy was after almost two and a half centuries of existence, the famous “Hanging Tree” fell blown over, like a mighty statue which finally turned to dust. It was the last piece of Revolutionary War history in our neighborhood.

As you can see from the included photos, the city still hasn’t taken away the remains of the tree.  The Community Board is dealing with the red tape on how to clean up a fallen landmark.

This morning, Halloween, there was a ring at the bell.  I cursed under my breath, thinking it was Trick or Treaters already making their rounds at 9AM.  Kids are so impatient today.  But it was not children in cute costumes; it was my next door neighbor, Lily.  She invited herself into my apartment.

“Call your mother,” she said.

My mother came from the bedroom, and Lily took us to the window by the dining room; it faced the Vanello house by the old Parsons Tree.  There were several cop cars in front of the Vanello property.  This was not unusual, because both Mrs. Vanello and her daughter, Angella, were tempestuous women who had loud arguments that inspired calls to 911.  You could sometimes hear the crashing of dishes from the Vanello place from up in my bedroom.

“This time it is serious,” said Lily.

Lily explained that both Mrs. Vanello and her daughter were both found hanging from their ceiling fan.  They are dead.  The scene was gruesome.

“Who?  Why?” asked my mother, trembling.

I was also in shock at the news.

“You know I’m not a superstitious woman,” said Lily, taking a deep breath.  “I am a science teacher at Stuyvesant High School, and an avowed atheist.”

My mother and I both nodded.  She was even the head of the Queens Atheism Club.

“But the rumor is that when the tree fell down, it unleashed the spirit of old Alexander Parsons.”

It was as if Lily’s hair was turning gray in front of me.

I was still skeptical.

“Are you saying the ghost of Alexander Parsons was the one who hanged Mrs. Vanello and her daughter?”

Down below, on the street, an ambulance had just arrived.  Two bodies were being wheeled out of the home, past the stump and the remains of the old Hanging Tree.

“Is it possible?” I thought to myself.  “Is it truly possible that there are ghosts among us, some good and some evil?”

I thought back to that report I did in high school.  I went into my closet to retrieve it.  My mother had kept all of my school report in a neat folder.  I was shocked at what I learned.
“Alexander Parsons was hung on October 31, 1777, on All Hallow’s Eve.  As the noose was put around his neck, he promised to some day return, when the time was right, and to take revenge on all LUSTFUL SINNERS EVERYWHERE!”

“I think he plans on striking again tonight!” said the terrified Lily.

“But WHO?  WHERE?” screamed my mother.

“No one knows,” answered Lily.  “But anyone hearing or even reading about this story about the old tree is in a great deal of danger.  It doesn’t matter where you live or how far away from Flushing or Queens.  It could be ANYONE who has ever lusted or had a sinful thought or had once gone onto a porn site with amateur videos where the brunette looks vaguely like someone you went to graduate school with several years ago.  Everyone is in danger of the Flushing Halloween Hangman!”

From the writer of such horrific Halloween tales as The Mommyblogger’s Demon Child (2009), Giving Head (2008), The Werewolf (2007), and The Joy of 666 (2006)!

The Event at the Plaza Hotel

A few weeks ago, blogging friend Marinka invited me to attend this mommyblogger-type PR event that was going to happen in the Oak Room at the famous Plaza Hotel in New York.   The event was a promotion for an international competition called the Product of the Year.  I looked it up online, and learned that it was an fairly new event in the United States, in which various supermarket consumer products, such as those in beauty, health, and snacks, each vie to win their category (after paying the hefty submittal fee).

At first I told Marinka that I wasn’t going to the event, figuring it was a mommyblogger thing, and I would feel odd.  Marinka persisted that I should come.  Clearly she was desperate to tell her friends that, “I am with the brilliant @Neilochka at this event,” so everyone on Twitter could ooh and aah, and she would gain more followers.   So,  understanding her true motivation, and being the gentleman that I am, I agreed to attend as her platonic “date.”

The night before the cocktail party/event/PR shindig (on Monday), I received an email from Marinka, saying that she had a cold, or as she dramatically wrote — “I am on my deathbed” — and that she couldn’t attend the event.  She said I should still go… by myself,. but I refused to step into a den of mommybloggers without her support; I decided to skip the event as well.

Yesterday, I received another email from Marinka.  She was feeling better, and we were back on!

I dressed in my nicest Michael Kors shirt and a trendy sports jacket, despite it being seventy degrees outside, and headed by subway from Queens into Manhattan .  I had never been to the Oak Room (Fifth Avenue and Central Park West), but I knew that it was a classy establishment.

I arrived earlier than I expected and had an hour to kill.  I wandered up and down Fifth Avenue.   At the Abercrombie and Fitch store, the line was around the block.  I wondered if there was another mommyblogger event occurring simultaneously?  I questioned a few of the people online at the store, most who were German and Italian tourists.   I got my answer.  There was no special event.  These people were salivating European tourists who flew all the way to New York primarily to buy as many pairs of jeans as possible with our weak, spineless dollar, and then saying “Arriverderci” to our beloved America as our economy continues to sink into the Grand Canyon, much like Americans who used to go to Tijuana for cheap tacos and Mexican blankets.

I will be honest.  I have never stepped foot INTO an Abercrombie and Fitch store, despite there being one on every block in  Los Angeles.  But I did wonder:  Why are they so popular with our European friends?  The half-naked guy in the poster?

I continued my urban wanderings.  Most tourists love this strip of Fifth Avenue from Rockefeller Center to Central Park, but as someone with little interest in Tiffany jewelry or expensive watches, I got bored.  I bought a stale pretzel from one of the street vendors and headed for the Plaza Hotel.

On my arrival at the hotel, I was surprised to find another crowd gathering, this time right in front of the entrance of the Plaza.  There were several cop cars, and news vans from each of the local channels.  Perhaps I too quickly pooh-poohed this mommyblogger event, thinking it a minor happening in the big city, when in reality, it was the toast of the town, the BIG shindig of the night, and I was going to be on Page Six of the New York Post.

I sat by the edge of the famous fountain across from the hotel and went on Twitter, wanting to ask Marinka when she was going to arrive.

I learned two things from Twitter.

1)  The news media was not here because of this product event, mommybloggers, or me.  The night before, Charlie Sheen had some “allergic reaction” in one of the hotel rooms, and proceeded to go crazy and destroy the hotel.   Perhaps he had eaten one of those stale pretzels from the street vendor on Fifth Avenue.

2)  Marinka was still sick and could not attend the event.

#2 was a big blow.  I thought about going home.  I don’t like going to parties by myself.  Memories of all those parties in high school that I was too afraid of attending, of walking in by myself, the fear that no one would talk to me, pounded in my head, like a nagging evil step-brother.

But then I heard the voice of reason, of confidence.

“You’re a man,” said the voice.  Be a f**king man!”

It was my Penis.  He was talking to me.  It had been a long time since he had spoken to me directly, giving me advice.

“Don’t be afraid of the mommybloggers.  They’re going to be intimidated by YOU!”

My Penis was right.  I am someone.  I AM BEAUTIFUL!  I embrace my imperfections.  I am authentic.  Or whatever the current mantra is.

I would attend this event.  And I would talk to others!  I would speak openly about my opinions on these consumer products.  Like I belong.  After all, I do buy potato chips at the supermarket, just like the next guy.

But I still had an hour to kill, so I did what comes naturally to me.  I continued to waste time on Twitter.

I wrote some more tweets about the Plaza Hotel and Charlie Sheen, hoping to impress friends in Oklahoma that my life in New York is 1000x more glamorous than their sad, miserable, suburban life in Tulsa, where the only excitement is the introduction of a new all-you-can eat BBQ rib plate at Applebee’s.   After all, how often does Charlie Sheen go into a drug-induced tantrum in a Tulsa hotel, throwing furniture out the window?

Never.

Exactly. Only in New York.

As I played on my iPhone, I noticed a photographer setting up his camera to my right. He was aiming his lens towards me.  It was an expensive camera, so I assumed that he was either a professional photographer or a German tourist who just bought a very very nice camera and tripod at B&H because of the weak dollar, and is now laughing at our country’s failure.

As I sat there, playing on Twitter, the photographer tried to get my attention.  I looked up and he was gesturing to me.  He was pointing down and saying something I could not understand.   I understood the gesture to mean that I should continue to look down at my iphone and not his way.  Was he trying to frame a shot of me sitting by the fountain?   I was the only one sitting by the fountain, and I imagined that my sitting there alone by the fountain WAS a cool shot.  I’m always reading how my blogger/photographer friends like Kate and Sarah search for off-the-cuff photos of daily life.  And here I was, some guy — a young executive, perhaps? — wearing a nice shirt and sports jacket, absorbed with his iphone.

The sun was beginning to set.  Perfect light.   I tried to imagine who he thought I was.  Did he think that I came straight from my fancy office — a law office, maybe, where I am almost a full partner — in some tall skyscraper, and I’m taking a little break on my iphone before I head home to my wife on the Upper West Side.  Or perhaps the photographer was documenting the alienation of modern urban life.  All around me was activity — thousands of people whizzing by, honking cabs, even news vans eager to get the gossip on the latest celebrity scandal, and here I was, alone, my face reflected in the glowing screen of my iPhone, talking to virtual friends instead of embracing real life.

I love art.  I love photography.  And I vowed to give the photographer the shot of his life.

I cheated my face a bit to the side, as I had learned in film school, and concentrated my focus on my iphone, faking a posing like an “alienated young New York executive alone with his Iphone,” half-hoping that my photo would end up as the cover for the next issue of New York Magazine, a special issue on “Has Social Media Stolen Our Souls?”

My acting was superb.  Helen Hayes, the grande dame of New York theater, would have been pleased by my performance.  But the photographer didn’t seem pleased.

“No.  No.” shouted the photographer, despite my best model pose.

He left his tripod for a brief second and ran to me, pointing downward.

“No.  No.  The back of you jacket is in the FOUNTAIN!”

So that was it.   The photographer was not telling me to look down at my iPhone so he can shoot my portrait.  He was trying to tell me to look down because the back of my sports jacket was dipping in the filthy water of the fountain.

“Sh*t,” I said to myself.

I slid the jacket off my body, trying to shake it dry.   What do I do now?  It was time for my big event.

I remembered my last “product event” that I went to in Manhattan.  It was about a month ago, a preview of the new washers and dryers for Whirlpool/Maytag.   At the end of the event, one of the representatives handed me his card and said I could contact him ANYTIME with questions about effective techniques for washing and drying.

I wish I hadn’t left his number on my desk.  I could have called him.

“Uh, yes… Maytag/Whirlpool PR guy, this is Neil Kramer from “Citizen of the Month.”  Do you remember me?  Well,  I am going to another PR event today.  I was supposed to go with another blogging friend, Marinka — remember her?   She was there too.  But now she has a cold and canceled, so I am going by myself, but I am a little anxious, and to make things worse, I just dipped my nice sports jacket into the famous fountain across from the Plaza Hotel, and every local news station is five feet away from me because of Charlie Sheen acting crazy and destroying the hotel, and now I see some of the news people are looking MY WAY, hoping that a new scandal might be developing.  What should I do?”

My phone rang.  It was Sophia.  She would have to do for advice instead of the Maytag repairman.   I told her my dilemma.  Her advice (after laughing at me) was that I should go to the hotel bathroom and use the heated hand blower on my sports jacket!

Clever.  Now do you see why I married her?

But I soon discovered a new obstacle:  The Plaza Hotel uses real towels, not heated blowers.

The clock was ticking.   I was already fifteen minutes late.  While in the Plaza Hotel restroom, I did my best to wring the back of my sports jacket dry, and then headed for the Oak Room.   I prayed that the room was very very dark.

Luckily, it was dark.    And I wasn’t alone without Marinka.   Twitter friend Jessica from Momma’s Gone City was there, as were AndreaLinda, and a dad blogger named Dada Rocks.  They may not have been intimidated by me, but they at least spoke to me.

It was fun to learn more about the business expectations of those who frequently go to these types of events.  The idea of dealing with brands and PR firms is still foreign to me.  Note:  Citizen of the Month is a very poor title for a PR friendly blog.

“Citizen of WHAT?!” someone asked me.  “Like Citizen watches?”

The event was decent enough, and no one noticed my wet sports jacket.  The organizers gave us then opportunity to “vote” on the products along with the real judges, but I have a feeling our opinions were not very important, and that we were merely asked to help in order to give us something to do as we drank our cocktails.  There were several displays of consumer products, M&M chocolate covered pretzels to new alcohol-free mouthwash.  We were give a checklist to judge the products in several categories such as “innovation” and whether we “like the product,” but since there was only one wrapped containers of deodorant, toothpaste, mouthwash, bug killer, etc. on the table, there was no way any of us could honestly or accurately rate these items unless we all passed around the deodorant, each tried it on our underarms, and then compared notes.

At a certain hour, the other three women bloggers had an appointment at another event, this one sponsored by Scrubbing Bubbles.  At first, I giggled, finding the concept of a Scrubbing Bubbles event as absurd, until I learned that it was occurring at The Rock Cafe at Rockefeller Center, and I immediately stopped laughing. (boy, these mommybloggers live the high life!  No cheapo street pretzels for them!)

I decided to walk my new blogger friends to Rockefeller Center, where I could catch the E train back to Queens.

As we crossed the street from the Plaza Hotel, we approached the Paris Hotel, an art house movie theater that has been here for decades.  There was a line outside the theater; the patrons had just started entering.   I had never heard of the film, and I don’t even remember the name, but it was some art film from a Spanish-speaking country.  There was a young scraggy, disheveled homeless dude standing outside the theater.  As we approached him, he turned to the four of us, sensing that we were compassionate writer-types, and asked us for money so he could BUY A TICKET to the movie.

You can write me an angry letter, if you want, for laughing at the plight of the homeless in the big city, but whatever happened to begging for a quarter for a cup of coffee?

Money for a ticket for a art film?  Does this happen in Tulsa?  No.  Only in New York!

Keep Those Jerks Gay!

I am furious at Walmart. Livid. Let me explain.

I’m not having an easy time lately. I’m like a wounded animal away from Sophia. Yesterday, I went to the dentist, and arrived too early, so I had to sit in the waiting room for an hour and read the office’s collection of Cosmo magazines.

The trouble began with the hygienist, Natalya (another Russian chick! what is it with these Russian women?!). As she cleared my plaque, I looked into her eyes, which wasn’t difficult since the rest of her face was covered with a gauze-like mask, so I could ONLY see her eyes, and as I gazed into those watery pools of Russian soul, I wondered if she had read the same Cosmo that I just had in the waiting room.

“I wonder if her va-jay-jay is as untamed as the Siberian forest?” I said to myself.

During my wait for her, I perused much more than this one article. I also enjoyed a tutorial on how to best make love on your washing machine.

Coincidentally, washing machines had been on my mind lately, ever since I went to this mommyblogger-type Whirlpool-Maytag luncheon in Manhattan two weeks ago (I was invited! Why?!) , which I completely forgot to blog about until now.

One of the highlights of the afternoon was seeing this $2000 Whirpool washer that came with an included USB cord in the back (Twitter during the wash?).  Imagine the kinky stuff you could do with the Cosmo washing machine sex technique in combination with the USB cord. I can only imagine what is going to be on Facebook in the future.

Before you get too upset with me with the direction of this post, let me assure you that my mind is not only filled with lurid fantasies about unshaven pussies and front loading washers, although there is some funny double entendre there somewhere.

No, I also think about love. I miss being in love. Playing cards with Sophia. Even fighting over doing the dishes. But I need to be careful not to fall in love again too quickly. But that will come. I will be patient. I look to the future with optimism. I don’t need to rush. There are always women out there for me. Wonderful women.  Despite my many insecurities, I feel confident that I could effectively compete with the other men out there looking for the same thing. I understand the concept of the survival of the fittest. Like a peacock, I am readying my multi-colored plume.

And now to Walmart.  It’s simple.

The management consists of a bunch of selfish pricks.  I just read this today — Walmart is starting to stock a dopey religious-oriented book which allegedly cures gays from their homosexuality.

What the f*ck is wrong with you people? I know who you are, Walmart management. You are suburban white men, married with children, living in nice white-picketed homes. But what about me?  Clearly you forgot what it is like to be single, trying to pick up a Marissa Tomei look-alike in a short skirt at the Museum of Modern Art cafeteria during the Matisse exhibit on a Sunday afternoon, not that I would know anything about that first hand!

You ever hear of UNFAIR COMPETITION? Do you think a guy like me has any freakin’ chance with a really SMOKING HOT BABE, when she can go out INSTEAD with a cultured good-looking guy who likes to cook, clean, decorate the house — and has great six-pack-abs to boot — YES, I’m talking about the formerly gay guy who has turned straight after reading your book!

I SAY — KEEP THOSE F**KING gay dudes GAY! Who needs those arrogant assholes with their designer clothes and references to classic American musicals vying for the same women as us, clueless straight guys?  It’s like the New York Yankees playing the New York Mets!  We have no chance in hell to win the game.  Especially in a city like New York.  They even have nicer apartments!  Give these gay guys the skill — and worse — THE URGE — to f*ck our women, and the rest of us might as well just kill ourselves.

STOP WALMART FROM TRYING TO CURE GAY MEN. We do NOT want them competing for our women!  Vote now!  Please, share this on Twitter and Facebook.  Change your avatar to Dark Blue. Wear Dark Blue tomorrow.  Wear Dark Blue to Help Us Protect Straight Men from Gay Men Turned Straight.

Disclaimer: This message has been approved by Straight Men of America Afraid that the Hot Chicks Might Like the Gay Dudes Better Than Us if They Were Cured of Their Homosexuality!


Some van that almost ran me over yesterday in McDonald’s parking lot.

When in Greece…

Church Tour Guide:  “I hope you’re having a wonderful time at our 39th annual Greek Festival here at the Greek Orthodox Shrine Church of St. Nicholas in Flushing, Queens.  I’m so glad that you have taken the time from the festivities outside to come take a tour of our beautiful church.  I will be your guide.  Feel free to interrupt me at any time to ask a question about the church icons, church practices, or anything else you might want to know about Greek Orthodox culture.”

Neil:  “I have a question.”

Church Tour Guide “Yes?”

Neil:  “Last week on Twitter a couple of us were arguing over whether gyro is pronounced “gear-o” or “year-o.”  Which one IS the correct pronunciation?”

It’s Year-O.  Case Closed.

Talking to Real People

OK, so where were we? Oh, yeah, I was moping around my apartment in queens, writing posts about bringing hookers home for cake with my mother and getting trolled by some crazy person.

Yesterday, I said “enough is enough.” I was living in New York City now, the “Big Apple,” and it was time for me to live the life that was I was destined for — hobnobbing with the best and brightest in the big city.

So, off I went — from the land of Archie Bunker, the Nanny, and Ugly Betty, over the bridge (or rather under the river in the subway) to the Island of Manhattan.

As I took in all the neon lights and Saturday night hub-bub, my depression melted away as a fast as an ice cream cone in Coney Island in August.

I had a event to attend. I was going to NYU for the book launch party of the novel Petty Magic by Camille DeAngelis. I met Camille via Maggie Dammit and Sarah Miller on Twitter. Camille is utterly charming online and in real life, and I can’t wait to start reading her new literary fantasy. Largehearted Boy recently wrote about her novel, saying:

“If you read Camille DeAngelis’s debut novel Mary Modern, you experienced firsthand the author’s talent for creating truly unique and clever fictional worlds. Her second novel, Petty Magic, is equally impressive, inventively combining the paranormal, historical flashbacks, and a love story for the ages. A smart and funny page turner, Petty Magic will appeal to all ages of readers from young adults to senior citizens, and everyone in between.”

It was an honor to be invited to the book party.

One problem. I have hardly left my apartment for the previous two weeks, so I was overly-hyper to be in a room with so many other smart people. And since so much of my social interaction recently has been limited to Twitter and Facebook, I was out of shape in my ability to have normal social conversation.

After chatting with the witty Camille, I found myself talking with another attractive, intelligent woman with an open face, the type of person who instantly made me feel comfortable enough to open up to her. So I talked to her. And I talked. And I talked. I talked about New York. And LA. And books. And politics. And Facebook. And my mother. And Sophia. And living in my childhood bedroom in Queens. It was as if I was still on Twitter and I could chat all day without fear of being unfollowed by 98% of you. I mentioned that I met Camille online, and praised the blogosphere as a place where one can meet others as a meeting of minds, where you connect rather spiritually without holding any of the superficial stereotypes or real-life misconceptions you might have in the real world. It’s as if you know the “heart and mind and soul” of the person rather than the physical entity.

“I remember the first time I met a fellow blogger,” I said. “He was this guy who lived in Northern California. We really bonded. One day, he came for a visit, so I went to meet him at the airport, and when I opened up the door to the car and looked at him, I said, “Oh my God, you’re black!”

There were uncomfortable moment with my friendly listener at the party. I could feel the humor hissing out of my conversation balloon. I immediately back-stepped, trying to explains myself.

“It’s not that it really mattered that he was black.” I announced. “I just was surprised that he was. He had a European name. It was almost Swedish, so I imagined him very differently. Not that you can’t be a black guy with a Swedish name. I was just saying that you don’t know who a blogger is until you meet him, so you have no preconceived stereotypes. Uh, not that I have any preconceived stereotypes of African-Americans.”

I was digging a hole to China. I decided to change the subject.

“And, so, uh, what do you do?” I asked.

“I’m Camille’s literary agent” she answered matter-of-factly.

“Oh.”

I figured my best approach was to continue asking questions about her, instead of talking about myself and putting my foot in my mouth.

“So, are you originally from New York?”

“No, from Florida.”

“Hey, my mother started going to Florida every winter. To Boca Raton!”

“Well, I grew up in Northern Florida. Not that many people know much about that part of Florida.”

“Sure they do! Isn’t that where that pastor lives who wanted to burn all the Korans?”

Yeah. I’m smooth.

Anyway — thank you Camille for a lovely evening.


Neilochka with Camille

I know many of my blogging friends have books that will be published this year, (such as you — Kyran). I hope these blogging friends will also invite me along to whatever literary parties they attend in New York, so I can chat with THEIR agents!

One Day Off Twitter (Or “Getting Off” — Ha Ha)

Sophia and I had an unlikely laugh today, thanks to… of all things, Twitter.

I wanted to stay off of Twitter for a week, but I just didn’t have the self-control to do it. That’s when a friendly voice on Twitter came up — a blogger named @krisiallen — with the million dollar solution:

@Neilochka give someone you trust your password & have them change it & not tell you what it is.

I thought that was genius. Seriously. I think someone could develop a whole service out of this. You give access to your social media passwords to some bond-trusted customer service representative in, say India, and when you get too distracted from your work, you text this service, writing, “Cut me off from Twitter and Facebook for three hours, and don’t let me back on, even if I call you crying.”

A few friends offered to be my bad cop, but I knew the perfect person to help me with my plan — one person who was so loaded with integrity, and strong-willed, that she wouldn’t cave in no matter how much I begged or offered free Olive Garden coupons. Yes, Sophia.

Note: In retrospect, this was not the smartest decision, considering that she now has access to everything I’ve ever written privately to any of you on DM, but let’s just say that despite my advanced degrees, I’m not the brightest guy on the block.

At midnight, she cut me off from Twitter. I felt a sense of relief.

Unfortunately, this morning, there was an unforeseen glitch. I noticed that Twitter had sent me an email notifying me of the password change and wanting me to confirm it. I had to call Sophia to tell her to change the password AND the email.

After my morning coffee, I sat down to work. I was productive for about five minutes, when I absentmindedly grabbed my iphone to check Twitter on one of my seventeen different Twitter apps. And — boom — just like that — I was given access to the pot of gold. Even after the password and email change, I was back on Twitter. Would I have to destroy every laptop in the country before I could be free of this tempting siren with her heaving social media bosom? I was advised by a friend online that I would need to SIGN OUT first for the new password to take affect. Twitter certainly makes it difficult to leave, don’t they? Like leaving the Mafia?

I went one step further. I deleted all of the Twitter apps off of my iPhone.

Around lunchtime, I became hungry again… and not for lunch. For gossip. Was anyone talking about me? Perhaps there was an emergency on the blogosphere and someone was calling out for me on Twitter, desperately needing my help, and I was selfishly absent.

“@neilochka? @neilochka! We need you.”

Maybe I shouldn’t reveal this to other twitter addicts, but if you go onto Google and search you Twitter handle, like @neilochka, you can see if anyone has mentioned you! Sadly, my only mention was a spam offer for “penis pills from Brazil.” I guess there weren’t that many emergencies I had to deal with today. I could go back to work.

Five minutes ago, I went on my iphone to check on Facebook (which has been my poor cousin procrastination tool of today — I’m just not that into you, Facebook!) And there is was, sitting in a little corner of one of my iphone screens, right next to Evernote — Hootsuite, a Twitter client that I rarely used. I opened it up and instantly saw all my missed Direct Messages. There was only one, but it was like manna from the sky. I decided to keep this twitter application a little secret between me and God. I wouldn’t use it to update. I would just read up on what others are doing. I would just use it to pimp my new blog posts. That’s legit. If I don’t pimp my posts on Twitter, no one is gonna read them, right? And less money for my family.

But that would be cheating. And we are all trying to teach the next generation that cheating is bad. And I am supposed to be the Citizen of the Month.

I haven’t deleted the app just yet. But I will… right after I publish this post. Honestly.

P.S. — More important than this boring post is this — I don’t usually send my readers off to other blog posts written by better bloggers than I am for obvious selfish reasons, such as not wanting to feel inferior, or having you read her blog before mine, but Jenn Mattern, the super-talented writer of Breed ‘Em and Weep, wrote this post about marriage, divorce, hurt, and healing that is just beautiful, very personal in nature, and touched me a lot.

And while I greatly admire her writing, I even admire her more for her amazing ability to stay off of Twitter without resorting to using handcuffs.

Thank Your Troll Day

In the last two weeks or so — or ever since that popular breast-feeding post — I’ve received an unusually large amount of comments from trolls. I’m not sure if it is THAT post or my post about my marital woes with Sophia or even my birthday post to Tanis, the Redneck Mommy. Maybe it is a combination of the three — a burst of popularity + a sob story + kissing ass. Trolls hate popularity, friendship, and/or a sign or weakness. Just this morning, I received a comment on my last post. I deleted it because it was off-topic, but the gist was that I was lame, unfunny, a nobody who hangs out with his mom, a pretend writer, pathetic loser, and someone who “couldn’t get laid by any mommyblogger, let along a self-respecting woman.” And as I’m reading this diatribe, I’m going, “Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes!!!” Thank you for understanding the real me.

Trolls are the most misunderstood individuals in the blogosphere. We brand them with a scarlet letter, but can’t we see the good in them? Isn’t it possible that these members of our community are just believers in “tough love.” Perhaps they do care about us, but not with the typical manner of support — the cliched “be yourself!” or “you rock!” Instead, they want to help you strip away the artifice, peel away the layers of the your onion, much like the finest therapist, or Doctor Phil.

I enjoy these troll comments, because the troll usually agrees with me. After all, I just wrote a post about a hooker falling asleep on my living room couch. I already know that the scenario is pathetic. That’s the point! So, friends, don’t worry about me or my feelings. Don’t protect me in the comments. If anything, I worry about the troll. I feel bad that I might have touched a nerve by writing about a sleeping hooker. I can only assume that the troll felt hurt because she has sleep apnea or was unsuccessful in her career as a hooker.

Many of us on the internet are upset because of that horrible incident at Rutgers last week where students posted a video of roommate having sex online, humiliating him, which ultimately led to his suicide. But not everyone feels that the two students who posted the video are criminals. I emailed this troll, who has a slightly different view. She thinks that this boy’s friends were trying to “help” him come out of the closet. Since he was a shy, sensitive boy, they took it on themselves to do what he could not do himself — enable him to be comfortable with who he is in public. Tough love.

That makes sense. After all, no one would publish personal videos or say mean things on blogs out of pure malice. I try to look for the good in everyone. My mother taught me that.

Maybe we should have a Thank Your Troll Day. There is so much ass-kissing online, so much bullshit. It is the trolls who do the necessary work of helping us look within ourselves with a clear, cold vision of a hawk.

It’s all interesting to me. A study in human psychology.

Sadly, trolls are not as successful with me, mostly because I am so self-denigrating and silly. What can you say that I haven’t already said about myself? Your technique works best, even kicks ass, when applied to those who are truly hurting, or overly-sensitive, or don’t have big-time bloggers as friends for support to scare you away. I say — focus on those bloggers who don’t have good senses of humor, or unfamiliar with handling personal criticism, especially those getting separated from their spouses or have just lost a baby or have come down with some life-threatening exotic disease. They deserve your full support. Your tough love comments will mean a whole lot more to them.

Now, back to the big issue — really — surely I can get laid by SOME mommyblogger. Ok, maybe not one of the bigshots who speak at one of the 3000 mommyblogger conferences running every other week, but at least one of the lesser-know ones. Right?

Please Come to Walgreen’s

“Please come to Walgreen’s with me and help me carry up a 24 pack of water on sale,” said my mother.

“I’m busy,” I replied.

For the first time in a long time, I wasn’t lying. I was finally out of my pajama bottoms and wearing real pants, even if they were unfashionably pleated, and seated at my desk, working on my laptop. Microsoft Excel was open and I was creating complex charts about “Female Bloggers I Would Shag if I Had the Opportunity To or If They Weren’t Married.” My research was going well, and the results were quite surprising. You would be astounded to learn how many of the obvious choices had to be filed away in the “Probably Too Much Trouble and Not Worth It” category.

So what finally motivated me to leave my bed after moping around for a week and start working like a responsible adult again? Like with many of us, it is music that inspired us. I dusted off all of my old LPs and cassettes, and replayed them, reminding myself of my youthful dreams and the themes that would haunt my consciousness over and over again.

It was in the middle of the 1970’s song, “Please Come to Boston” by Dave Loggins, that I had my eureka moment. I was in the middle of sobbing to the lyrics —

Please come to Boston for the springtime
I’m stayin’ here with some friends and they’ve got lots of room
You can sell your paintings on the sidewalk
By a café where I hope to be workin’ soon
Please come to Boston
She said no, would you come home to me

{Refrain}
And she said, hey ramblin’ boy, why don’t you settle down
Boston ain’t your kind of town
There ain’t no gold and there ain’t nobody like me
I’m the number one fan of the man from Tennessee

Please come to Denver with the snowfall
We’ll move up into the mountains so far that we can’t be found
And throw “I love you” echoes down the canyon
And then lie awake at night till they come back around
Please come to Denver
She said no, boy, would you come home to me

{Refrain, with Denver}

Now this drifter’s world goes ’round and ’round
And I doubt that it’s ever gonna stop
But of all the dreams I’ve lost or found
And all that I ain’t got
I still need to cling to
Somebody I can sing to

Please come to LA to live forever
California life alone is just too hard to build
I live in a house that looks out over the ocean
And there’s some stars that fell from the sky
Livin’ up on the hill
Please come to LA
She just said no, boy, won’t you come home to me

{Refrain with LA can’t be…}

I’m the number one fan of the man from Tennessee

— when suddenly it occurred to me that this ridiculous, manipulative, “emo”-song that was emo before emo existed, was not about ME. I’m not a painter selling my work on the sidewalk. The only blogger I know really well in Boston is Miguelina, and she already has three kids, and since she went to that snooty Mighty Summit this year, she’s probably never going to say “Please come to Boston to me.” I’m far from a drifter. And the biggest difference of them all — I’m not from Tennessee! OK, I was there once, to visit Graceland, but still…

I turned off my turntable and decided to look towards the future. That’s when I make the decision to take action — to create an excel sheet about “Female Bloggers I Would Shag if I Had the Opportunity To or If They Weren’t Married.” Maybe it wasn’t a major step — like leaving the house and going to say, a museum, — but it was a start. A baby step.

Of course, this was all rudely interrupted by my mother with her selfish request for me to help her carry up 24 bottles of water from Walgreen’s. Hey, Mom, it’s not my fault you’ve gotten older!

My mother and I took the elevator to the lobby. I was wheeling “the wagon,” which would later help us carry the water down the block from Walgreen’s back home. As we stepped out of the apartment building, we noticed a NYPD car speed up in front of the mailbox. Two officer in well-pressed uniforms jumped out, ready for action. The headed for the front door of our apartment building, passing my mother, me, and our wagon.

Jose, the all-knowing super, was cutting the grass. He didn’t even look up.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“Eh,” he answered, shrugging. Other tenants nonchalantly walked by the cops. It was as if no one cared. I turned to my mother.

“Doesn’t anyone blink an eye when a cop car speeds up and two cops enter the building? There could be a hostage situation!”

“Nah,” she said. “These guys are here every day. The woman in apartment 3B says the people in apartment 2B are smoking cigarettes and that the smoke is flying up and slowly killing her. So she calls the cops, saying that the other tenants should be arrested for attempted murder. The cops are forced to come because she calls them, and they always tell her the same thing — that it is legal for them to smoke in their own apartment so there is nothing they can do. She curses at them, then says she’s going to write a letter to the mayor and the New York Times.”

“She sounds a little batty. Do I know her?”

“Yes. She’s lived in the building for a long time. She’s the woman who used to be the crossing guard when you went to elementary school.”

“I always wondered what happened to her.”

The Dating Life


(taken down the block from my mother’s apartment building)

“How much?” I asked the woman in the tight shorts standing on the corner. She seemed the perfect partner to help me complete my humiliation.

“Ten dollars for a blowjob, twenty-five for sexual intercourse, and two hundred and fifty dollars to sit around your apartment for a hour and talk about your marriage.”

I pulled out a wad of bills.

“Here’s two hundred and fifty dollars for the conversation.”

She was surprised, and looked at me with pity.

“You know what? I’ll throw the blowjob in for five dollars.”

I had left my keys on my dresser earlier, so I had to ring the doorbell to my mom’s place when I returned with the hooker. My mother answered. She was opening a box of Entenmann’s cake. She was surprised to see me with a women.

“Hi, Mom. This is… uh, Clarissa?”

“Clitrissa,” stated the hooker.

“Clitrissa,” I repeated for my mother. “She’s a hooker from the neighborhood.”

My mother didn’t blink. That’s the best thing about getting older. At a certain point, you’ve seen it ALL and nothing seems that weird.

“I was about to have a piece of cake,” said my mother, politely. “Would you like to join us?”

My mother, always the perfect hostess.

“Sure,” said Clitrissa.

The three of us — me, my mother, and the hooker in the tight shorts — headed into the kitchen. As we passed the living room, Clitrissa noticed that a sitcom was playing on the twenty year old RCA TV.

“Two and Half Men! I love that show.” cried Clitrissa.

“It’s my favorite,” said my mother.

“Charlie Sheen cracks me up,” Clitrissa laughed.

My mother lead the giggling hooker to the couch.

“Sit down” instructed my mother. “The show just started. Let me catch you up to speed. The two brothers just had a fight and the nebbishy one — not Charlie Sheen — is thinking of moving, and you know…”

Within minutes, we were all plopped on the couch, in front of the TV, individual TV stands propped at our knees, munching on the Entenmann’s cake.

After “Two and a Half Men,” My mother and the hooker turned on the DVD to watch the episode of “Glee,” from earlier in the week. It was another favorite of both my mother and the hooker.

But I was getting impatient. I don’t usually complain about service in restaurants or at the dry cleaners, but in this instance, I wasn’t getting anywhere near what I paid for.

I slid my TV tray to the side, and forced a fake cough, hoping to catch Clitrissa’s attention, but apparently Clitrissa was a huge “Gleek,” and had seen every episode of the show.

I finally spoke up.

“Uh, Clitrissa, don’t you think we should get started before it gets too late.”

“Oh, yeah, right. Uh, but I’m really enjoying this Glee. Rachel’s going to sing in a minute. Do you mind if I give you your blowjob during the commercial?”

I almost spit out my cake.

“I’m not going to have you give me a blowjob with my mother sitting right here.”

My mother agreed that it was a bad idea, especially since she usually fast forwards through the commercials with the DVR, which would mean that she would have to give me a very fast blowjob.

But my mother is as accommodating as she is a good hostess.

“I guess we could pause the show, you can do whatever you have to do, and I’ll go finish making my brisket for dinner tomorrow.”

Clitrissa and I acknowledged this as the best plan of action. My mother headed into the kitchen. Clitrissa took off her ratty boots and made herself comfortable on the couch.

This was exactly what I needed. To reach rock bottom. To be humiliated. To expose myself to the cheapest whore, a person only interested in my money. It’s better this way. Love is all an illusion. Relationships are impossible. Better to live like the wild animals that we really are, only caring about our immediate gratifications and our beastly yearnings.

“What would you like to do first, the blowjob or talk about your wife?” she asked.

“Let’s talk about my wife,” I said.

Clitrissa sighed, a bored expression on her face. She was apparently more of a doer than a talker.

“Ok, go ahead,” she said, lying back against the pillow. “Don’t worry if you see me closing my eyes. That means I’m listening very carefully.”

I have long considered myself a storyteller, but this was one of the hardest stories to retell. It was the story of my marriage to Sophia.

“To tell you the full story of my marriage, I will need to go back in time. To a happier time. It was our wedding day. I wore my first tuxedo. It was black and regal. And she was like a beautiful Queen, in a flowing white dress…”

Two and half hours later, the story had shifted gears. It was now filled with romantic drama. My mother had gone to bed, leaving us to our privacy.

“The next stop on our honeymoon was Sevilla. We didn’t really like Sevilla that much. We went to a touristy flamenco show, thinking it was going to be very authentic, but instead the dancers were an elderly couple, one of whom had a leg brace. Later that night, Sophia got a pebble in her shoe, and a blister, and I spend two hours trying to find a pharmacy that was open at night… and there wasn’t a CVS in sight…”

Clitrissa had her eyes closed tightly, and was breathing rhythmically. I could only assume she was listening to my story very carefully. And she was an excellent listener, not interrupting my speaking flow even once.

“But as life continued, as in any relationship, things changed. Events changed us. We changed ourselves. We were brought together by happiness and generosity. Sophia threw me a giant surprise birthday party online. We were burdened by tragedy. My father died. There were health issues. Breast cancer surgeries. There was dinners and concerts. There was separations and reunions and dancing. There were more deaths in the family. There were laughs and trips and wild weekend trips to Bakersfield. My entire blog has been one long memoir of a crazy marriage, of two people bound together by love and holy matrimony, two lovers never quite sure if their personalities meshed in the way absolutely necessary for two people to live together without killing each other. There was always more chaos than comfort in this marriage, which made for good blog fodder, but a tremendous amount of real life stress…”

Clitrissa snored, and it finally hit me that she was fast asleep. Money down the drain, I thought. I didn’t even get a fast blowjob during the fast-forwarding of Glee on the DVR.

But as most of you know, I’m a pretty decent guy, and Clitrissa looked sleepy, so I covered her with a blanket, and went into my bedroom.

I called Sophia on the phone.

“How ya doing?” I asked her.

“Fine.”

“Did you turn in the filing papers for divorce yet?”

“No.”

“So, what are you waiting for?” I wondered.

“Not waiting for anything. Today’s Sunday. You want the courts to stay open just for you?”

“You’re gonna do it tomorrow?”

“Maybe. But I have a dentist’s appointment.”

Despite our tentativeness on the phone, we had signed the papers on the day that I left town. I wanted to make some sort of ceremony for us, but we ran out of time. We were busy the previous day cleaning out the garage before I left to make parking the cars easier. We had both just taken showers, and we signed the papers, both naked, much like Adam and Eve might have after the infamous “apple incident.”

Sophia and I were both tired of this on-again and off-again life. I hated ping-ponging back and forth from NY and LA. We had discussed getting “filing papers” for at least three years. If you are a long time reader of this blog, you know that we considered ourselves “separated, but living together” for as long as five years ago! Last week, after years of avoidance, she brought the papers home. I was slightly pissed because I wanted to be the one who brought them home; it would make me sound more decisive when I later tell this story. But then again, I can always change the details when I tell the story in the future.

The last year has been such a hard one for Sophia and me. Both her parents died, one after another. This changed things, especially for her, but for me too. I can’t exactly say in what way. Perhaps it reminded us that life is short, too short to play around with a happiness that only hovers around the 61% percentile.

We are now in a six month transition period. I’m in New York again for a few months, plotting my course. I have a lot of writing that I am behind on. The past year took an enormous toll on my creative output. It is hard to write when real life is much more dramatic than anything you are putting onto the page.

During the travails of the year, I was asked often, “Did the turmoil of her parents’ illness and dying bring you together?” In many ways, it did. But it also broke us apart. The last year has not inspired much romance.

It is time to start dating other people.

“So, have you started dating yet?” I asked Sophia, still on the phone.

“No, but I will start soon.”

“Good for you!”

“How about you?”

“There’s a woman with me right now on the living room couch.”

“There is? You’re with a woman right now at your mother’s place? Isn’t your mother THERE?”

“My mother’s an adult. She’s hip. She even read Sidney Sheldon back in the 1970s.”

“Where did you meet this woman?”

“She’s a hooker. Her name is Clitrissa.”

“I see. So, you paid her to sit with you and talk about “relationships?”

“F*ck no. Well, yeah. But also, for a blowjob.”

“Why didn’t you go for the full sex?”

“It would be another twenty dollars.”

“Why are you always so cheap with yourself?”

“Maybe because I’m still paying for half YOUR apartment.”

“That’s just an excuse. You still should have gone for the full sex. It was the same with the airplane. Just because they charge you another twenty five dollars a suitcase on Virgin America, doesn’t mean you can’t take two bags. You need to treat yourself better.”

“What is this lecture about? Do you really want to talk about this now?”

“You’re the one who called me!” she yelled back.

She was getting my goat, as usual.

“Can’t we just talk about something safe for once? Something that won’t tick either of us off?”

“Like what?” she asked.

“Did you see this week’s Glee yet?”

++++

The next morning, my mother served Clitrissa breakfast (challah french toast!), and she went back to the street corner to go to work. I never did get a blowjob, which is probably better since I didn’t really know her that well..

It was the start of my new dating life.

Truth Quotient: 8%

Foolish Lad

Girl, girl, I want to ask of you
What can grow, grow without rain?
What can burn and never end?
What can yearn, cry without tears?

Foolish lad, why do you have to ask?
A stone can grow, grow without rain
Love can burn and never end
A heart can yearn, cry without tears.


Tumbalalaika (Yiddish)

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