Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Month: June 2011

A Story Worthy of King Solomon

It’s a story worthy of King Solomon.

My apartment complex consists of two buildings, the “A” building and the “B” building. Each one has eight floors, twenty apartments on each floor.   Each building is identical.

A few months ago, the Board of Directors applied for a state refund that was being offered to apartment complexes that were part of a state energy saving program.  Today we received our refund.

But there is a catch.

The refund is based on the combined income of the tenants in each building, and each structure is considered a separate entity.  So, while our apartment building was under the deemed amount necessary to receive the rebate, the other building apparently made a combined income that brought them slightly over the maximum level.

“Finally,” said my mother. “It paid for us to live with the poorer people.”

Everyone in the “A” building received a check for $100.   The “B” building received nothing.   You can imagine their reaction.

The issue is now the drama of the day in Flushing, Queens, talked endlessly about in the elevator, the mailboxes in the lobby, and the fruit section of the supermarket, pitting apartment dweller against apartment dweller, “A” building against “B” building, rich against poor.   Should the two buildings that comprise the co-op share the refund as one, splitting it in half, or should the “A” building just say “Tough Luck, Suckers!” to their more well-off brother?

“You would think those in the “B” building would be happy just to be known as the Donald Trumps of the co-op,” a woman said to me as I entered the “A” building laundry room.   The crisp check she just received in the mail was in her hand.

Jealousy and Envy in the Blogosphere

There are two types of people, each with a different take on the importance of culture vs. the individual.

There are those who focus on the wonderful fact that anyone who works hard enough can succeed, and others who say that a culture of inequality exists, where class, color, and gender create obstacles to success.

There are those who say that social problems such as anorexia or obesity is the fault of the individual’s weakness, and others who point their finger at a powerful consumer culture that plays off of our insecurities and weaknesses.

This same tension of thought plays online, particularly in reference to jealousy and envy in the blogosphere.

I see the same post written every other week — a prominent blogger telling others that they must overcome the jealousy and envy that is destroying the community.  In private, I hear a different story.  I hear about a LACK of  community, one in which each of us now uses every conceivable PR and advertising technique in the book to position themselves as unique, intentionally playing off the envy and jealousies of others for personal gain.

And yes, this includes anyone who seriously touts their Klout score on Twitter.  Did you read about this in the New York Times?  Do we want a world where a person can get room upgrades in hotels because of who he follows on Twitter?

Fact:  People are going to get jealous if you use methodology that evokes jealousy.  Jealousy is not new; it has been around since Cain and Abel.

So, let’s make a final decision.  Is every personal ill a matter of individual choice or does the culture help foster the problem?   Is McDonald’s partly accountable for obesity in America?  Should advertisers be more aware of how their unrealistic views of body image hurt women?  If we say yes, then what happens when WE finally become the media doing the selling to each other?

Rather than telling others, “Don’t be jealous,” we should ask ourselves, “Why do we try so hard to make others feel jealous of us?”

NYC — Seven Days, Seven Photos

Happy Birthday, Jenn

There is nothing as magical in the world as the moment when a person you once pictured as a confusing blur, suddenly becomes clearly visible, as if  viewed through a freshly polished piece of glass.  Will this glass always remain so clean and the subject so understandable?  Of course not.  As time goes on, the glass will gather dust, and the pitter and patter of the summer rain will strike at it, the spherical drops distorting the clarity of the view.

She is still a mystery, someone you hardly know in real life.

But there is no turning back from that special moment when she made SENSE to you, and there would be no more “Huh?  WTF?” every time she wrote a artsy poem with unfamiliar references.   Now you are at least an Instagram Whisperer, knowing the meaning of each of her photos of her slightly off-centered chairs, always filtered in Brannan.

Happy Birthday, Jenn, writer of Breed ‘Em and Weep.  You are the original Hipstamatic.

Canada’s Most Embarrassing City?

“Vancouver, Canada’s most embarrassing city.”

“Nice way to be classy, Vancouver.”

“I am ashamed that I am from Vancouver.”

“Never going to Vancouver again.”

There was a riot after a sporting event in Vancouver.  It wasn’t incredibly shocking to me, since I lived for many years in Los Angeles, where riots happen weekly at Little League games.    And considering that hockey is a violent sport where men love to drink Canadian beer… you get my point.  It isn’t a church crowd.

But I’m mostly talking about words right now.  And logic.

I know many are upset by this ugly display of violence and lack of sportsmanship, but why are so many blaming the city of “Vancouver” and not the small group of male hockey assholes who were drunk off their asses?   I constantly saw the city being blamed on Twtter last night and this morning.   Have we lost any sense of personal responsibility, or is the branding of a collective more important than what crimes individuals commit?   Or is this the result of only having 140 characters to make a point?   Is this the future of thought?

This blaming of “Vancouver” also makes me wonder if all of the political correctness that I see online is a facade, and that when people relax, they show their true colors about how they think.    I’ve always felt that more people actually DO blame the collective Muslim religion for Islamic terrorism than are actually saying it.  Or that a mommyblogger who “lacks integrity” DOES represent the collective.   Or that all “men” or “women” are to blame for some cultural problem.   I think we too often put people and groups into boxes because it is easier that way.   This makes me uncomfortable, even when it is something as meaningless as blaming “Vancouver.”  I know this particular example is a petty one, but YOU are the ones who are always saying that “language is important.”

And perhaps this is a personal issue, as someone familiar with Jewish history, where over and over again, the fingers were pointed at “the Jews” as involved in a collective crime.   What exactly did “Vancouver” do?

Group identity is important.  And we certainly want to be proud of the city or country in which we live.  But why are so many verbally abusing an entire city?   Is someone really never travelling to Vancouver again because of this one incident?   And to turn the tables on Vancouverites, are you so insecure with your image, that you are now shoving the blame on the “suburbanites” who don’t really live in the nice polite city?  What code word do the “suburbanites” represent?   Blue collar folk who don’t eat sushi?  How many times do we blame some ethnic group for crime in the city?

I’m not particularly politically correct myself.  I use stereotypes all the time for humorous effect.  But I was surprised how many people were upset at the “city of Vancouver.”

Vancouver, you are a very pretty town.   Embrace your new rough and tough image.  In all honesty, you were kinda boring before.

A Month of Instagram

In the last month, I’ve taken over 300 photos of my neighborhood in Queens and around the New York City, and posted them on Istagram, which is a Twitter-type app on the iPhone for photography.   I’ve also greatly enjoyed seeing the photos of other bloggers also using this iPhone app.   Instagram is an interesting place to visit, a mixure of professionals and amateurs from around the world, all putting up random photos of their lives in an never-ending stream.

I rarely take photos, even on vacations, but during the last month of photo-taking, I’ve learned some interesting tidbits about myself, the creative act, and YOU, the viewer.   Maybe I’ll talk about these insights during my next post.  This exercise has been a lot of fun, even a little sexy.   Life is interesting, and colorful, so why not capture it in images?

Writing is a different animal.   Words frequently fail me when I try to recreate the real world on the blank page.   I hide behind the words.  But the real world loves the camera.   It doesn’t play games.   It begs for our attention, like a spoiled movie star in a low cut dress crying, “Take my photo!”

I suggest you take some photos this weekend, throw some filters on top of them, and publish them on your blog.  Visual art energizes a different part of the brain.

I don’t know how much longer I will be running around town taking photos, or whether LA will inspire me in the same way, if I end up returning there.  I like that there is a little story behind each photograph, even when the subject is the most ordinary.  Especially when the subject is the most ordinary.  That makes it even more intriguing.  It’s an important lesson to remember for writing.  The other photos are on Flickr.

Coming Clean

“Be careful what you put online,” my mother told me a few days ago, after “Weinergate” hit the newspapers. “Those things can come back to haunt you if you ever run for office!”

She’s probably right. Because of the large amount of salacious material on this blog, I’m now doomed to a life as an artist, where it is actually expected that I throw couches out of the windows in Hollywood hotels.

In reality, I’m pretty tame, more of a boy scout than any Mormon in Utah.   I’m not much of a drug or alcohol user, with this codeine cough medicine I took last week being one of the harder substances I’ve ever put into my body.   But considering all the hand-wringing I am seeing on Twitter about Representative Anthony Weiner’s activities online (some from individuals having real-life affairs, not virtual ones), and the fact that the only blogging lists I ever seem to get on are “Those Male Bloggers Most Likely to Email a Photo of His Penis to a Female Blogger,” I figured I might as well come clean about my past transgressions, so you can decide for yourself if you want to continue reading this blog in the future.

I have smoked pot (mostly when I was 14 years old, although rarely inhaled (honestly… I was afraid of lung cancer!)), got drunk on sake a few times (including this Thursday, after the rained-out Black Eyed Peas concert in Centeral park, after which I fell asleep on the subway coming home and almost missed my stop), made fun of an effeminate boy in junior high with my friends, calling him gay (and now I see on Facebook that he is an interior designer in Miami, so we were right!), was even meaner to a girl in high school who I liked more than she liked me (and blogged about it), sexted with a woman online while still officially legally married, but separated (and blogged about it!), got mad at a family member and spewed “F*ck You! (but used an asterick instead of the “u” even when saying it verbally), threw a container of Brewer’s Rocky Road ice cream at Sophia and missed, but stained the couch, and the most embarrassing topper — I once masturbated while watching Nigela Lawson make a veal dish on the Food Network.

Man, she was so hot on that show!

Clearly, my chances for ever running for public office get dimmer by the day.

The Weiner story is getting boring to me, especially now that he is going for “professional help,” whatever the hell that means.    It was fun while it lasted, even if his sins pale compare to those of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I don’t mind jokes at the foibles of public figures.   I made a number of jokes on Twitter about the scandal.  But I do mind when imperfect people seriously pontificate as if they ARE perfect.   And I saw plenty of that this week.

Back Next Week

Why haven’t I been writing on this blog?

I can give you the professional answer.  I am busy with work.

I can give you the artistic answer. I have been focusing my energies on taking photographs for Instagram rather than writing online.

Or I can give you the real reason.  I am scared.  I promised myself to fly to Los Angeles by July and make some big decisions on a number of topics.  And I just don’t feel in a safe place in the blogging world at this moment to explore this with you.  Because I don’t think you like to read about people being scared.

Give me another week.  Maybe I’ll start small.  For now, I’m just going to work on a script while playing with these Instagram photos for a little bit longer.  It amuses me, despite the fact that I am the laziest photographer to ever hold an iPhone.  Out of the 159 photos that I have published in the last two weeks, 98% of them have either been taken in a three block radius from 42nd Street and 7th Avenue, a two block radius from my apartment building in Queens, or a twenty foot radius from my kitchen.

Like I said, I said small.