Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Month: February 2012

T.M.I.

This post starts, as many of my recent posts have, in the rough and tumble neighborhood called Facebook.   I wrote a status update about how my new cholesterol medication was making me sleepy and grouchy.  I promptly deleted it.  Why was I sharing this bit of personal information with everyone from former classmates to producers in Hollywood?  I wrote another status update apologizing for taking the first status update down, which only drew more attention to the fact that my cholesterol is high.   One nice women recommended some herbal remedy.   Another friend inquired if my symptoms of “sleepy and grouchy” were really code words for “erectile dysfunction,” which I think would be an ideal way to start my new dating life.   Maybe I should put that on my bio.

Later that day, I stumbled onto a New York Times article, titled “Don’t Tell Me, I Don’t Want to Know.” (February 10, 2012).   The thesis of the article:  we are all hearing TOO MUCH INFORMATION from others in our lives via social media.

UNLESS you are my best friend or my husband, I don’t need to know the macabre symptoms of your gastrointestinal virus. I don’t need to know about how much candy anyone, other than me, has eaten. As for my ex-boyfriend, I don’t need to hear about his wife’s ability to Zumba.

There are things I’d rather just not know about you.

The content of the article is nothing new.   Bloggers have made jokes about privacy and TMI for years.  But apparently, social media has finally arrived in the formerly austere New York Times newsroom.  And while a staff member of the New York Times might feel comfortable reporting from the war zone, he apparently doesn’t have a clue what to do when he is confronted on Facebook by baby photos from a cousin in Oklahoma.

What I found particularly strange about this article was the choice of subjects interviewed on this topic.

There is Sloane Crosley, author of “How Did You Get This Number.”

“The entire world has become this Dickensian series in which you are not visited by three ghosts but by eight million ghosts. I feel as if I see things about people that I don’t necessarily want to see, and then it’s lodged like a piece of corn in my subconscious.”

There is Colby Hall, founding editor of Mediaite.com.  Laurie David, Hollywood producer. Julie Klam, author.   Laura Zigman, author.   Dodai Stewart, editor of Jezebel.com.

Even Maura Kelly, a co-author of the winner of the longest book title of 2012 “Much Ado About Loving: What Our Favorite Novels Can Teach You About Date Expectations, Not-So-Great Gatsbys, and Love in the Time of Internet Personals.”

You notice something here? In an era, when the Internet is the Time “Person of the Year,” when Twitter and Facebook are changing the face of the Middle East, the NY Times plays it safe with interviewing professional writers.

Weren’t we better off knowing a little bit less, a little less often, about everyone else?…

“The whole system is giving very ambitious people much less chance to reinvent themselves,” said Jaron Lanier, author of “You Are Not a Gadget,” and the change is less dramatic. Who would Bob Dylan end up as, he wondered, if Zimmerman were there with him the whole time?

And there lies the real point of the article.   This is not really about TMI in social media.   It is about how social media is making it harder for the “ambitious” to brand themselves! How could Bob Dylan be Bob Dylan if the Zimmerman family was forever posting Passover photos on his timeline?   Could Madonna still be Madonna if she kept in touch with friends from summer camp?

Is part of achievement the dropping the dead weight from the past?

This is an interesting subject, although I find the tone of the article somewhat condescending.   Shouldn’t professional writers in New York be encouraging their aunts in Ohio to express themselves online, even if it goes into TMI territory at times.   What professional writer hasn’t done that himself in his own writing?   Professional writers embarrass their families by writing memoirs.   It’s payback time.   The families are now going to embarrass them by posting photos of you on Facebook!

People finding their voice, even in small ways, is good for everyone.

If I were to choose the one moment in blogging that I am most proud of, it would be “The Great Interview Experiment” from 2008.   The idea truly expressed my love for blogging;  it was so idealistic and impractical, that I still laugh at the mild chaos that it produced. The concept spit in the face of the traditional name-dropping in this New York Times article (at least in my own mind).

I wanted to show that anyone with a blog was interesting enough to be interviewed.  So, the comment section became a random list of interviewers and interviewees.  Commenter #2 interviewed Commenter #1 and posted the result on her blog.  Commenters #3 interviewed Commenter #2, and so on.

Sure, it was corny, but in my mind, bloggers would finally have to prove the stuff they said about “community” online wasn’t bullshit.   Dooce could be interviewed by a pagan witch blogger, who could be interviewed by a church-going pastor.   Everyone’s “brand” would be fucked up for one post, and the world would be a better place.

But the world keeps on turning, and the New York Times is the same, even when talking about social media.  Couldn’t they have interviewed at least one “regular person?”  I understood the importance of the internet in 2008 better than the New York Times today.

I applaud the fact that we all have the freedom to express TMI to the public.  More power to it!

Tomorrow I am going to re-post my status update about my cholesterol medicine.   There’s no reason to be embarrassed by it.

Sloane Crosley can unfriend me if she wants..

Oscar Night 2012!

If you were on Twitter or Facebook this weekend, and you follow my updates, you know how important the Oscars are to me.  The watching of the Academy Awards is a ritual since childhood, when I watched the glamorous show with my grandmother and mother.  Who would think, that one day, I would be in LOS ANGELES on the night of the big event!

The night began with much anticipation, as I stood on the red carpet (or as it is usually called, the red bathmat in the bathroom).

The Oscars are an evening of surprises. There are always unexpected wins, and the audience never knows when a streaker will run past David Niven.   This year was no different.    A few hours before the telecast, Sophia told me that she invited her friend Leon over to watch the show with us.   I had no problem with that.   Leon is an interesting guy, an eccentric Russian who composes music, takes microphotos of insects, and can repair any electrical or computer device ever created.

Leon loves to work on projects.   And his main interest in coming over was not to see Meryl Streep’s dress.   No, he was coming over because Sophia told him that our old monstrous Panasonic projector TV hasn’t worked in three months.  As a replacement, we use a smaller TV that we had swiped from the kitchen.

“I can fix the Panasonic for you!” he told Sophia.

I was not happy to hear that Leon was coming over to fix our TV on Oscar night.

Sophia looked hurt when I told her this.  She explained that she specifically asked him over for ME tonight before the show, knowing how much I loved watching the Oscars.

“You don’t want to see all those fake actress breasts on a tiny teeny kitchen TV.  You want to see them BIGGER than life!”

Sophia had a point about the breasts.  And Leon WAS a genius.  Surely, if he came early enough, he could get the old Panasonic bigscreen ready for the big night!

Leon arrived carrying three Trader Joe’s shopping bags filled with electic meters, wires, soldering tools, and diagrams of the specs that he downloaded from the internet.  He spread out his weaponry, approaching his job as if he had just read “The Art of War,” and he chose himself as the general.

He barked out his orders.

“The clock is ticking.  Here’s what I need you to do.  The back of the TV needs to be vacuumed so I don’t breathe in the dust.  I need all the cables undone. And I want to drink a root beer with real sugar.”

I dusted and vacuumed the entire entertainment center and disconnected the five thousand cable octopus that connected the TV to the cable box, DVD player, and Wii. Sophia went to the store and bought Leon some root beer and ordered Thai food for later.

Leon went to work. He removed the motherboard from the TV.

“I need lights. Many lights” he shouted in Russian.

Leon sat at the kitchen table with the motherboard.  Sophia and I surrounded him with every standing lamp in the house.

He worked. He worked. He soldered.   Sophia took photos as he unhooked each component so he could later remember how to put it all back together.

I went on Twitter and learned that the Oscars had already started.  I found out who won as Best Supporting Actress.

“Damn. I know who won for Best Supporting Actress!” I said.

“Don’t tell us,” said Sophia. “Leon will be done soon, and we can all watch it together on the DVR.  On the big screen!  Big actress tits!”

“Excellent,” said Leon.  I wasn’t sure if he was talking about the prospect of seeing the cleavage or he was making some headway with the motherboard.

I went on Facebook and saw  Jenn Mattern mention that Cirque du Soleil was great on the show.    I placed the phone in my pocket to avoid reading anymore about the Academy Awards.  I imagined everyone in the world watching it, except for me, the show’s #1 fan.

Meanwhile, Leon hit a bump in the road.  He sat there, looking at the electronic city on the motherboard, dumbfounded.

“I need to eat!” he said, pushing himself from the table.

We ate our Thai food. Leon drank his root beer, and told us some jokes in Russian.

“Are you sure you can fix this TV?” I asked him.

He glared at me, sensing my doubt.

A few moments later, I took Sophia into the garage, wanting a second alone with her.

“Can’t we just watch the show on the small TV.” I pleaded.

“And hurt Leon’s feelings? He’s very sensitive.  He once didn’t speak to his brother for six years for saying one of his musical compositions sounded like a monster truck rally.  Don’t worry.  He’ll be done soon.”

I washed the dishes. I didn’t know what to do with myself.  Watching Leon fiddle with the motherboard was dulling my senses.   I fell asleep on the couch. I was awoken by a buzz from the iPhone sitting in my pocket. It was a pushed message from the New York Times telling me what just won as Best Picture.

“Sophia, I know who won…”

“Don’t tell me!”

Leon was still working on the motherboard, the bright light from the lamp pouring over his shoulder. He was drinking a root beer.

I went back to sleep.   The next morning, tools and computer parts littered the living room floor.  Leon was not there.

“He’s coming back this afternoon to finish up,” said Sophia.

I know who won Best Supporting Actress and Best Picture.   I know Cirque du Soleil did something interesting.   But don’t tell me anything else until I watch the show tonight. Or when Leon finishes with the TV.

Mama’s Boy

My mother was in her yoga class in Boca Raton last week, doing one of her chair exercise, when another woman accidentally moved the chair that my mother was leaning against for support.  My mother fell back, hit the floor, and when she stood up, the teacher noticed blood.  The paramedics quickly came and she received three stitches in the back of her head.   She’s OK now, or “Perfectly fine,” as she always says, and already back in the exercise class.

I was anxious that day, naturally worried about her.

I read this article in the Wall Street Journal titled, “Who Are You Calling a Mama’s Boy?”   The writer, a mother of a son,  poses the thought, “A strong mother-son bond is crucial, but heaven help the mom who admits being emotionally close to her son.”

So much of who we are comes from our parents.

Have you noticed that I rarely write about sports?  My father never watched any sporting events. We never watched a baseball game together or played any games.  That doesn’t mean I didn’t do things with him, but they were always cultural events, like the theater or concerts.   He always treated me as a little adult.   Because of that, I never clicked with him in the emotional way as I did with my mother.   I played board games with my mother.   I wrote silly stories for her to read.   I did magic and puppet shows for her.   As an only child, I turned to my mother for companionship.

As a teenage boy, my relationship shifted.  All of a sudden, I didn’t want to be seen with my mother.   How “gay!”

Nowadays, I laugh when I read my mom blogging friends complain about how their adorable little boys — now teenagers — don’t want to be hugged anymore!   Of course they don’t.   I still remember the horror of being in the supermarket WITH YOUR MOTHER, and being SEEN doing it!

Over the last year, I lived with my mother in Queens.  I found the whole experience somewhat embarrassing, even if the reason was related to my separation.   What type of adult man should not be living with his mother?  I joked about it online, but it did hurt my self-esteem.   But it was a positive experience.  I experienced a relationship with my mother as if we were roommates — as two adults.

Well, not all the time.

“Wear a hat!” she would yell at me as I left the house in December, in the exact same tone as when I was in third grade.

But we found common interests, and discovered that we could even watch an R-rated movie together without needing therapy.

I would not feel so comfortable with my father.

I do have some qualities of a “mama’s boy.”   At the same time, I don’t, thanks to my mother herself.    She never hovered over me, and even went back to work when I started school.  I was never her entire life.

I still think about my father, who passed away in 2005, a few months after I started my blog.   I’m still unsure how to process his death, and what it means to me. It is odd to have someone just disappear from your life — forever.

All these emotions are flying through my nerves, because talking about my parents is talking about myself.   And there is no more difficult subject to write about than yourself.

The Perfect Couple

It was Sophia’s birthday on Saturday, and we went to LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art).   We had a great day together.

“Are you two getting back together?” a friend texted me.

“No,” I answered. “Just a fun day out for her birthday.”

“You just seem so perfect together.”

“Perfect?!  Ha.  We are far from it.”

Sophia and I love each other, but the perfect couple we’re not.   We never were.

We tried our best, but we both want something more from a partner, a love that boils over and makes us want to shout it out to the world.   Something a little bit closer to the perfection of a Perfect Couple.

Does this Perfect Couple exist?   Or is it an illusion, the relationship equivalent of the bikini model drinking a Coke?

But then, on Saturday evening, as we left the museum, Sophia and I encountered them. It was the Perfect Couple, right on Wilshire Blvd in Los Angeles.

If God was a chef, this couple would be his signature dish. They would be spiced with respect, love, and passion, and as they marinated in His blessings, happiness and joy would waft through His kitchen, out the window, and throughout the world.

And they were standing right in front of us.

“Take an instagram photo!” said Sophia, as we both stared, confronted with our own  inadequacies.

After taking a few photos of the Perfect Couple on Wilshire Blvd., we discovered that we had stumbled into someone else’s photo shoot, and this couple were models.

But the Perfect Couple is a standard that is hard to let go, even if it is a fantasy.

The Night Out

It was going to be our last Valentine’s Day “date night” as a married couple.  We were going to attend a special film screening.   Sophia’s former boss was unable to make it, so he gave the tickets to us.   The tickets would be waiting at the box-office in his name.

When we arrived at the arts center complex, the parking lot was jammed.  We followed the crowd into the main auditorium building, and waited on the line.  We approached the will-call window at the box office. The hipster attendant was wearing a fedora.

“I’m picking up two tickets.  The name should be for Roger Green,” said Sophia.

The attendent rifled through his tickets.

“I don’t see any tickets for Roger Green,” he said.

“It must be there,” said Sophia. “He left it at the box office under his name. Roger Green.”

The attendent clicked on the keyboard, the computer screen reflecting in his eyes.

“I don’t see any tickets for Roger Green.”

The other patrons on the line were getting antsy.

“Maybe he put it in your name,” I said.

Sophia gave me a glance that meant, “let me handle this.”

The attendant’s manager appeared.  She was an older woman in a business suit.

“Is there a problem?” she asked.

“There are supposed to be two tickets here left by Roger Green,” Sophia repeated.

“Maybe we should call Roger…” I started to say, until Sophia gave me the look again, and I stepped back.

The manager double-checked her list.

“I don’t see any tickets for Roger Green.”

Sophia took out her iPhone.

“OK, I’ll call Roger. But he’s not going to be happy to be bothered.  He’s a big donor to the arts center.”

The manager and the fedora-wearing attendant exchanged nervous looks.

“Listen, I’m sure it is just a computer glitch,” said the manager. “Take these two tickets and enjoy the show.”

She handed us two tickets, the best seats in the house.

Sophia and I entered the auditorium.  We really did have the best seats in the house.  But something seemed odd.  Instead of a movie screen, the stage was set up with furniture, decorated like a suburban living room. I glanced at the pamphlet that we were given by the usher.

We were in the wrong building of the arts center complex, and about to see a play.  The film screening was next door.

“What should we do?” I asked.

“We can’t leave now.” replied Sophia.  “It’s too embarrassing.”

And the play was really good.

And so, this was the last Valentine’s Day of our marriage.  It was much like our own marriage, an experience filled with laughter and confusion, of walking into the wrong theater, and making it work until the show was over.

Tea and Valentines

I was driving with Sophia today down the streets of LA when I noticed a couple, both in their late-sixties, on a street corner.  They were waving flags.   They seemed as comfortable with each other as any long-married couple.   The woman, her hair still as blonde as in her Beach Boys California youth, was draped in an American flag.

“You should take a photo of them for Instagram,” she suggested. Ever since she found out about Instagram, she has been both amused and annoyed at my habit of taking photos in public.

“I’m driving,” I said. “I can’t take a photo.”

“Sure you can. Go slow,” she announced as she grabbed the steering wheel. “I got the wheel.”

“Are you crazy?” I uttered, as the car weaved. “I can get a ticket for this!”

The streetlight turned red, and I pressed on the brake to stop the car.  I reached in my pocket for my iPhone.  The case got caught on my belt, so I removed the phone from the case.   The car windows were grimy with beach dust, so I pressed the button to open the driver’s window.  It whirled down.

Sophia waved to the couple at the corner.

“Hey, over here!” she yelled.

“Don’t call them.” I said. “They might not want their photo taken.”

Sophia laughed.

“They are standing on the corner dressed in American flags and waving flags, and you are worried that they don’t want their photo taken?”

The couple responded to Sophia’s plea, and they waved. The woman’s wave was reminiscent of a beauty pageant, as if she was still Miss West Covina riding a float in the 1969 Rose Bowl Parade.

I politely took their photo.

“Thank you!” I said.

“Who are they?” asked Sophia.

“I have no idea.”

The streetlight went green, and I turned left. As I rounded the corner, I was able to read a handwritten sign previously hidden from view.

Save America.  Join the TEA PARTY!

“Oh my God. I just said “thank you” to members of the TEA PARTY!” I said, speeding away.

If you aren’t familiar with the Tea Party movement in America, you should read —

++++

It is now 9PM. I lost interest in whatever political point I was trying to make.

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. A day to think about love.

And as much as I hate to admit it, what could be more romantic than an older couple standing on a street corner together, misusing the American flag for some insane political cause?

How many years have you been together, Tea Party couple?  Forty years?

In a year, my divorce with Sophia will be finalized.  We didn’t make it to forty years.  I’m alright with that, but I still envy the staying power of your love for each other.

More power to you, Crazy Tea Party couple.  Continue loving each other.   May that love soon grow a hundred-fold, even a thousand-fold, changing you from within, until you dream of draping that red, white, and blue blanket of compassion over us all.

++++

Happy Valentine’s Day.

 

One Year of Instagram

In the summer of 2010, I noticed that Schmutzie was posting photos with her iPhone. They had a different feel than the photos taken with her “real” camera.  I downloaded Hipstamatic, her favorite photo app, but there were too many choices of stocks and filters, and I quickly lost interest.

I followed another link to an iPhone to an app called Instagram.   This one I understood.  It was point and shoot, and even better, it was like social like Twitter!  And unlike blogging, which is segregated by language, you could see photos from far-away places as France, Turkey, and Brazil!

I walked around my block in Queens and took a few more shots of the neighborhood. It didn’t feel like serious photography, but more like a visual diary.

“Hey, look. Here’s a chair someone is throwing away in the garbage!”

It WAS like Twitter.

It was a year ago today.

There was no way in hell that I could ever imagine that 365 days later, I would have taken 1300 more photos!  And even more shocking — others would LOOK AT THEM!  Instagram reminded me of my blogging world from 2005 — a mishmash of professionals and amateurs taking photos of their lunches, their babies, their cities, and lots of artsy sunsets, with no one  angsting over stats or monetization… yet.

Of course, some professional photographers looked down on the heavily-filtered Instagram photos, much in the same way that  some writers don’t see blogging as “real writing.”  The professional photographers do have a point.   I would never call myself a photographer.  I barely know what I am doing.   No one is going to hire me to do a job.  99% of those who use these app are not authentic photographers, but dabblers, and what’s wrong with that?  It’s another way to enjoy our creativity.  This is the world we live in — on the internet, everyone is a writer, actor, and photographer. And good-looking.

I did receive received some criticism over the year, especially for my fondness for taking photos of strangers on the street.  I am quite aware of the “peeping tom” aspect of what I am doing, but so far, I’ve been able to live with myself.  I do it with a standard of respect.  In my heart, I see street photography as a celebration of humanity and urban life, not something salacious.

In many ways, this year-long exercise in iPhoneography has given me more confidence in other facets of my life.   Writing is a solitary occupation.  Instagram gives me a reason to walk around the block.  It’s also taught me some lessons about writing, perception, and POV.  There is also something sexy about photography.

I’m even starting to gain the courage to ASK subjects if I can take a photo.  Last week, I had lunch/dinner/drinks with three different bloggers.  After the meal, I asked each of them if I could take her photo.   It felt empowering to say “Trust me,” and have someone believe me, especially a woman.

While these three photos may not be the greatest portraits ever, or as dramatic as the Instagram photos I once took of the skyscrapers of Fifth Avenue, they are way more special.   I care about these people.   And I didn’t have to hide in the bushes.

And then, this week, for the first time,  I asked a stranger if I can take her photo.

And that’s a big change in a year.

The Accidental Viewing of the Gay Porn

This was my Facebook status update this morning —

“I will participate in the “Shop-In” on Sunday, February 12 and stand up to the idiotic, homophobic One Million Moms by going to my nearest lesbian bar and… oh, wait, I mean shopping at my nearest JCPenney to thank them for retaining Ellen as their spokeswoman.”

It was only later that I realized that I just committed myself to shopping at… JCPenney. OMG!  I called a gay friend who was aghast at even the prospect of walking into a JCPenney.

That’s when I started worrying. If you know me, you know that I worry.  Was my status update an authentic one?  Did I really intend to shop at JCPenney this weekend?  Or was I just joining the social media bandwagon?

I am a liberal who believes in social justice. Or at least that is my self-identity.  But who was I speaking to when I wrote that update?  Who was I trying to persuade?  Certainly not the 99.9% friends online who believe exactly the same as I do.  Is it possible that my update was self-promotional?

Does my motivation really matter?  If companies see us supporting Ellen, we defang the stupid One Million Moms.   My motivation is irrelevant.   Social media is about influence.

Social media. I am getting bored with it.

“Social” is not writing.   Writing is solitary.  Writing is digging deeper to find an inner truth. Social media is the enemy of alone.

When I sit down in front of my screen, I don’t need to prove my political beliefs to myself.  I frequently start with the question, “OK, what is wrong with me today?”  I want to take a journey within, not persuade you to act or do something.

Many of us want to take this inner journey, but are afraid of the reaction of others.  We might discover a version of ourselves that doesn’t belong on a Facebook status update.

A few weeks ago, I was searching for a video.  OK, so it was a video of some actress in a sex scene that I read about on a movie blog.

By accident, I clicked on the wrong link.  I found myself watching two men shtupping each other in a scene from a gay porn film.  I closed the browser so fast that I almost knocked my laptop onto the floor.   Watching the scene made me uncomfortable.  I do not want to see two men shtupping.  Two women shtupping: hot.   Two men shtupping: uncomfortable.

I am a good-hearted, pro-gay, equal-rights liberal who has real-life gay friends who have seen me naked (that’s another story).   But I was afraid of gay porn.   Why?   Was I afraid that I would secretly like it?   Was I concerned that I would suddenly be transformed and have the urge to change the drapery?   And what if this page accidently re-opened while I was sitting in Starbucks, and everyone looks over at me as hunky male porn actor on my laptop actor screams, “F*ck me, Joseph!”?   Would I be embarrassed?   Would I be slightly less embarrassed if it was a hot babe screaming the same thing?

Do gay men have trouble watching regular porn?   Do I need to force myself to watch several hours of gay porn in order to prove to myself that I authentically believe in gay marriage?

Of course, these worries are neurotic.   Hey, it is my brand!   And I can easily convince myself that I am still a good person.  After all, I am a straight man.  Why should I care about gay porn?  And unlike the Million Moms, I believe there is nothing wrong with two men shtupping.   You can enjoy your brand of chamomile tea; I will enjoy mine.

WTF is this post about?

I am writing about writing.   And how easy it was to write a status update about a well-liked celebrity.  Social media is about joining the mob.  Writing is about neurotic musings on gay porn.

Sure, this post is ridiculous.  Again, it is my brand!  But so much of what we talk about on Facebook and Twitter is downright fake.   We point fingers at the racism of others, then move our kids to private schools because the public school is too “ethnic.”  How many of us equate a “black neighborhood” as a “bad neighborhood” and lock the car doors when passing through?  If you say yes, that doesn’t make you a bad person.  It just makes you real.   And I bet writing about our own individual biases will advance society faster than the constant feel-good preaching to the social media choir.