Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Month: June 2014 (page 1 of 3)

Fictional Characters of New York — #22

soho

If you want proof of the existence of ghosts, just look at logic. A person is more complex than a brick, but a building can last for thousands of years. This means that a human being, based on his innate superiority, must exist longer than a brick. And since we all know that death occurs for people, the only reasonable explanation is that the “person” or “entity” continues to live on as a ghost — at least for longer than the lifespan of a brick.

It just makes sense.

The traffic was bumper to bumper in lower Manhattan, so Hunter Horowitz stepped from his car to stretch his legs. It was his last year teaching Philosophy 101 at NYU to a bunch of undergraduates who couldn’t care less about the existence or non-existence of the world.

Hunter looked down the old city block, now traffic-snarled, and knew that, in another dimension, invisible behind the Subarus, Hondas, and trendy boutique store signs hanging in view, his great-grandfather, Mlotek was still pushing his cart along the cobblestone streets and yelling “Toys for Sale” in Yiddish.

Fictional Characters of New York — #21

wonderwheel

Stefan hadn’t stepped foot in Coney Island since 1975. Too many bad memories. It was a cesspool back then, attracting the lowest of humanity. Today, the area attracts gentrified “weirdos,” those who stroll in after a fancy brunch to show off their store-bought tattoos and fake breasts in selfies on Instagram. Back then, were real weirdos, men and women who yawned at the one remaining freak show on Ocean Boulevard as being too tame. A sword swallower will never impress an ex-marine living off of food stamps who once sliced his leg off with a Japanese sword on a dare, just to win a bottle of scotch.

Stefan had hallucinatory nightmares about Coney Island; even now, he could still see the lights, swirling colors, and Satanic clown faces of the fading murals, marred by the urban graffiti.  Stefan would often wake up all sweaty and alone, the rancid smell of polluted salty sea air in his lungs.

Today, thirty-nine years later to the day he left, Stefan made the decision to return to Coney Island, his former home. It was time to forgive those who hurt him in the past.

He would forgive the three black teenagers and their junkie mother who beat the shit out of him behind the Flintstones pinball machine, kicking him in the groin and face, mugging him of the five dollars of allowance money.

He would forgive his parents, and that heated argument on the beach that day, when they were slapping each other and forgetting him in the ocean as he almost drowned in the rising waves.

He would forgive the elderly man who managed the rickety Wonder Wheel, and left him stranded in the car alone, on the top rung, swinging in the wind, for three hours until the fire department arrived and fixed the faulty electrical switcher.  This was the most horrifying experience of his life. He was a young boy at the time, and there he was, looking down at the smallness of the world and knowing the dread of death.

Stefan was sure the old man who ran the Wonder Wheel in 1975 was probably deceased himself, but Stefan would inquire about his final resting place so he could place a bouquet of flowers in remembrance on his grave, completing his mission.

Fictional Characters of New York — #20

move

Of all the 8,954 couples breaking up this afternoon in the five boroughs of New York, Bruce was the last to leave from his apartment alone and without a future, not stepping onto the hot pavement of East 23rd Street until 5:48PM.  

On his right shoulder, he balanced a linen camping bag with his everything he owned — three t-shirts, a heavy yellow beach towel, some J Crew underwear he recently ordered online, a pair of ripped jeans, his college French books, an old DVD box set of The Sopranos, and a dead cat.

The dead cat was an unexpected addition. As he packed, Bruce argued with his girlfriend, Judith, over the ownership of Fluffy, the black and white striped American short hair.   Judith caved in, as usual, but always the performance artist,  took the revolver from the hat box in the closet, shot Fluffy in the head, and with the blood dripping down her arm, she handed the cat over to Bruce as a final parting gift.

Fictional Characters of New York — #19

sun

The following flash fiction was inspired by the people of New York, and the street photography that captures the diversity and excitement of the city. The story, names, and situations are all 100% fictional.   Photo and story by Neil Kramer.

Teddy was an oversharer. Last year, on his blog, he posted several personal stories about his bout with depression, rants about his ex-wife, and semi-nude photos of himself sitting in a hot tub during a business trip to Northern California. This cost him his job at Goldman Sachs, where managers frowned on such openness.

After six months unemployment, Teddy found a job with a NY technology firm that encouraged innovation and the use of social media. 

On June 21, after a long day’s work, he stood in the office lobby and adjusted his Google Glass strapped to the sides of his head.  As the company’s community liaison, he was assigned to do a live video broadcast of the moment of sunset of the Summer Solstice.

Teddy researched the significance of the event in preparation for the day.   He learned that “solstice” literally meaning the “stopping” of the sun.  He knew that the summer solstice was celebrated by thousands across the world who believed in the sun’s power, and who associated it with life and fertility.

As the sun started her descent and the entire city was bathed in the golden haze,  Teddy was surprised to find himself crying, as if all the disappointment in his life was released by the brightness, much as the Druids had once felt standing at Stonehenge in their spotless white robes.

Teddy immediately shut off his Google Glass and tossed it to the floor, like a piece of litter. This moment of sunset was too special, too personal, and too profound to be shared haphazardly to viewers on the the company’s website, just another viral video manufactured for the masses.    In one ray of light, everything changed.  Here was God was speaking to him, directly.

The video setting sun never made it to the live feed.   The next day, Teddy was fired from his job, and he was relieved.

Fictional Characters of New York — #18

passing

The following flash fiction was inspired by the people of New York, and the street photography that captures the diversity and excitement of the city.  The story, names, and situations are all 100% fictional.   Photo and story by Neil Kramer.

Honey, Sweetie, Hot Mama. Sherry had heard them all. She was an expert in wolf whistles, deciphering the lout’s jerk-level from the tone and the pitch.

New York was a tough place for a looker like Sherry. The men showed no respect. Every guy, from the Wall Street CEO to the delivery man thought that he was Prince Harry, and she was the royal prize.

Sherry didn’t hate the men of New York.   She hated herself.  Because she knew that when the time came when no one admired her ass for the precious jewel of her youth, that she would miss it.

Fictional Characters of New York – #17

cafe

The following flash fiction was inspired by the people of New York, and the street photography that captures the diversity and excitement of the city.  The story, names, and situations are all 100% fictional.   Photo and story by Neil Kramer.

When Anthony Vizzi was fifteen years old, at 7:40AM, on the way to his job at the warehouse, he stopped at Caffé Napoli on Hester Street and ordered an espresso. He knew that he was too young to be drinking coffee, and that his mother would object, but since the night before, he had lost his virginity to Angela Finaldi, he felt that he deserved an espresso, if not for the taste, which was as sour as the dark hidden spaces between Angela’s ample thighs, but for the symbolism of the event.

Eighty years to the day, Maurice, the forty-something morning-shift waiter at Caffé Napoli, noticed that Mr. Vizzi was absent from his usual table. Mr. Anthony Vizza had ordered an expresso at 7:40AM from the same table at Caffé Napoli for the last eight decades. Maurice immediately ran to the manager, Mr. Scuza, and told him of his concerns about Anthony’s absence. Mr. Scuza immediately called 911. Something was wrong.

Ten minutes later, police officers from the 13th and 1st precincts arrived at the door of Anthony Vizzi, along with the fire department, senior members of the Italian Fraternity of Hester Street, an ambulance from Saint Francis, representatives of the McNeil Funeral Home, friends from the nearby Jewish and Chinese community boards, and Mr. Scuza, manager of Caffé Napoli. Maurice, the waiter on duty, tagged along, carrying a take-out espresso for Mr. Vizzi, just in case this was all some horrible mistake.

It was as if the entire community was there to pay respect to Anthony Vizzi, the man who learned to appreciate the pleasure of a woman’s touch when he lost his virginity to Angela Finaldi eighty years ago. But Anthony Vizzi opened the door to his apartment. He was wearing a snazzy seersucker suit and looked not dead, but quite healthy and fit for a man of his age.

“Thank God you’re alive!” said Mr. Scuza, the café manager. “I was so worried.”

It was a false alarm, and off went the police officers from the 13th and 1st precincts, the fire department, senior members of the Italian Fraternity of Hester Street, an ambulance from Saint Francis, representatives of the McNeil Funeral Home, friends from the nearby Jewish and Chinese community boards, and Mr. Scuza, manager of Caffé Napoli, back to their usual day.

The only one who remained at the door was Maurice, the waiter on duty. He was taking this experience the hardest of them all. Ever since his time in Catholic school, he believed in the sacred order of things, and for eighty years, Anthony Vizzi stopped by for his espresso.

Except for today.

“I don’t understand,” Maurice said to Mr. Vizzi. “You are in fine health. Why didn’t you come today for your usual espresso?”

“I wasn’t in the mood. I decided to walk up to Mrs. Wang’s place in Chinatown and try some of that Chinese health tea she’s always talking about.”

“But you’ve been having an espresso for eighty years! Eighty years!” Maurice repeated. “No disrespect to you, Mr. Vizzi, but it seems “irresponsible” for you to stop and go in another direction so late in life.”

Mr. Vizzi never finished high school, but he was a keen observer of human nature. You couldn’t survive in the warehouse all those years without learning a thing or two about people. And he instinctively knew that that Maurice’s anxiety was about his own personal fears over the fragility of life than anything to do with Anthony Vizzi’s eighty years of espresso-drinking.

“You’re never too old to change,” Anthony Vizzi told the forty-something Maurice. “I know you hear people say that and you think it’s all bullshit. But it’s not. Look at me. Now you have proof that it isn’t bullshit. You’re never too old to change.”

Maurice nodded slowly. He had just received a great gift. He took a sip from Mr. Vizzi’s take-out espresso and planned his future away from the Caffe Napoli.

Fictional Characters of New York — #16

bar

The following flash fiction was inspired by the people of New York, and the street photography that captures the diversity and excitement of the city.  The story, names, and situations are all 100% fictional.   Photo and story by Neil Kramer.

If you’ve been doing online dating as long as Benji, you would have celebrated too.  Match.com, E-Harmony, J-Date.  Finally, he felt such chemistry and when he made a joke, she laughed, and her face turned the color of a strawberry.  

And then came Saturday.  

“Why do women agree to go on dates to only say they “still have feelings” for their ex?” he wondered to himself as he left the bar.  “And if they “still have feelings,” why do they continue to go out with men other than me?”

Fictional Characters of New York — #15

markk

It didn’t take Marc long to figure out secret of living in the city.  “New York is theater,” he would say, from his studio on East 43rd Street.   “You leave your apartment and enter stage right.  No one cares about YOU. You are the role you play.  Either it is assigned against your will, or you create it with your own hands, like a special piece of Play-doh.”

And Marc certainly made myself.   He asked for no help.  He was taught by his hard-working parents never to ask for a hand-out.   It was his parents who built “The Gaucho House” from scratch — the first faux Argentine steakhouse ever seen in the Buffalo area.  Yes, Marc ran from home as fast as possible, at the age of seventeen, but he always respected the self-sufficiency of his parents.

It was in this spirit of kinship that Marc became his own guide.  He devised a look that intimidated and a way of speaking that invited envy.   And when introduced to others at parties, he would say his name was — Markk.

Fictional Characters of New York — #14

wedding

Growing up in Queens, Lien dreamed of one day having a wedding in her favorite spot in the New York – the manicured French Conservatory Garden in Central Park.  Under the flowery arches, and before the statues of the two Maidens dancing in the shaded pool, Lien would speak her vows of love and companionship to the man who would be her husband.

Lien’s two young sisters, Amy and Grace, were intelligent and deserving women, and Lien was proud of her role in guiding them to maturity. But attending their double weddings this afternoon, in the very spot she had yet to stand, dressed in black like the spinster she had become, felt like two sharpened knives thrust into her chest.

20 Minutes on IM #4: With Jana

Tonight, on Facebook messenger, with Jana of Jana’s Thinking Place.

Neil
Ok, you ready?

Jana
Ready ::clears throat::

Neil
Ok, preamble… this will all go on record…. unless you politely tell me to strike something….

Jana
OK.

Neil
We will go on 20 minutes. You don’t have to be interesting.

Jana
pfft

Neil
Very few read this anyway.

Jana
Ha. Do it.

Neil
OK. Let’s start. Hi, Jana.

Jana
Hi, Neil. Thanks for inviting me to talk.

Neil
I know I am supposed to be making believe that I am talking to you without the others listening in, but I should put some context into this — you just started a new job. So now I’m gonna ask, how’s the new job? Oh, crap. Re-do. I didn’t have to break the fourth wall. I could have just said, how is the new job and people would have understood.

Jana
OK, so just erase that?

Neil
No. Just go on. I am nervous doing this with you.

Jana
I did start a new job!  And I’m loving it. Although I gotta tell you, it kinda feels like i’m just sitting around playing on the internet all day and getting paid for it.

Neil
Hey, that’s what I do but I don’t get paid!

Jana
Which technically, I am. But I feel like a social media hooker.

Neil
Hmmm. So, can we follow you in your biz account? Are you on twitter hawking Georgia products?

Jana
But i think the job’s going to be a good fit for me. I mean, i’m not a hooker and never have been. This isn’t what you’re looking for, huh?

Neil
You may be fired from your new job now for calling yourself a hooker because that makes your boss a pimp.

Jana
All the research I’ve been doing, and cooking summer stuff, has led me to a question for YOU.

Neil
Oh, shit. I knew you were going to ask me a question. You have the guts to turn this around and put me in the hot seat. Ok, ask.

Jana
Ok, so I was shucking some corn the other night and thought to myself, knowing I was going to talk to you tonight, “When Neil goes to the grocery store and buys corn on the cob, “Is it already shucked? Or does he have to shuck it himself?”

Neil
Your question is about corn on the cob?

Jana
Because i can’t imagine you shucking corn. Or even that your grocery store in NYC would have corn that needed to be shucked.

Neil
I thought you were going to be about my sex life or something interesting.

Jana
Nope. Corn.

Neil
Actually, the shucking is a pet peeve of mine.

Jana
Why?

Neil
They usually have a garbage bag hanging by the corn in the supermarket, and people peel the corn and kinda throw the shucking all over the place, and it is gross.

Jana
Same here. It is kinda gross. and then all the silk? It’s messy.

Neil
Sometimes I just take the whole corn and do the shucking at home.

Jana
But you pay more when you do that.

Neil
Do you?

Jana
They weigh all the stuff you should shuck off. You’re paying too much!

Neil
I think they usually charge by each individual corn cob.

Jana
SHUCK THE CORN IN THE STORE, NEIL.

Neil
Wow, I have been doing it wrong. I have been a sucker. I do take the stems from tomatoes, though.

Jana
Oh, well, if they do it that way, you’re good. Depends on the time of year for that here. Sometimes it’s weight. Sometimes it’s by the ear.

Neil
Why pay for stem?

Jana
Tomato stems are extra weight too.

Neil
Although I read it keeps the tomato fresher longer.

Jana
Do you always test a grape?

Neil
No. I don’t want to eat chemicals. Needs to be washed first.

Jana
Me neither. I figure if they’re bad, it’s just closer to being wine.

Neil
Sophia did show me how to buy a watermelon by hitting it. One thing I learned in marriage.

Jana
Eh, i’m not worried about chemicals. I used to sit out back under the crop duster and i’m not dead yet. Something’s gonna get me. Knowing how to buy watermelon is a huge life skill to know.

Neil
Let’s get personal.

Jana
Ooh.

Neil
We have chatted on IM about nonsense quit a bit over the last few months, not just tonight. Maybe we are even friends by now — no?

Jana
Sure. I’d say we’re definitely friends. And yes, we have chatted about a lot of nonsense.

Neil
You worried we are going to start gossip?

Jana
I just know my mama’s gonna read it.

Neil
I was just trying to say that the internet is cool because I wonder if we lived in same city whether if we would be running in different circles and never meet.

Jana
Interesting. I don’t know. I mean, maybe we would?

Neil
The internet allows you to interact with people who are seemingly different. Like I learned all about college football and grits and the Waffle House from you, but then you find out that people are basically the same everywhere.

Jana
That’s exactly what i was about to say. We’re so different so i don’t think we would run in the same crowd in person.

Neil
While here, we can cut through the exteriors.

Jana
But now that i know you? We totally would.

Neil
That is different. But then of course it would be weird being real life friends unless I was also friends with your husband. Who sounds pretty cool. Cooler than you.

Jana
He is pretty cool. He used to be a DJ you know?

Neil
Maybe this conversation is going in a weird direction, talking about “can men and women be friends” thing. This whole conversation needs to be edited now doesn’t it? I mean we’re now talking about your husband in a public blog post.

Jana
We’ll work on that.

Neil
First this conversation will get you fired for calling your boss a pimp. Your mother will disown you for talking to me. And then your husband will want a divorce for gossiping about him online. This post is a disaster. Let’s talk about your son next.

Jana
OK.

Neil
And then maybe, your son will run away after reading this, the cherry on top.

Jana
Hahahaha. OK. Go.

Neil
What grade?

Jana
4th grade. And acts like a 13 year old who’s been given an EXTRA large dose of hormones. But he’s a cool kid.

Neil
hmmm…. maybe we might need to strike that too.

Jana
Gah.

Neil
Maybe we should do this over again next week.

Jana
We suck at this. The corn thing is good though. Save it.

Neil
The corn thing was terrible. But maybe I can edit things.

Jana
But this defeats the WHOLE point of the exercise.

Neil
Maybe I can salvage this by putting in… (deleted)… so people will understand

Jana
And then (deleted) would read it and start internet rumors about us

Neil
Oh great, let’s bring her into this so I get in trouble too. Why not ask me about (deleted) too?

Jana
Hey, if i’m going down, you are too, mister. Maybe you can just post the corn conversation. and then cut it off because I had to leave for some redneck emergency.

Neil
I’m not sure what you are talking about. This was my worst conversation. We just already know too much, so it felt phony. We’re just burning bridges with everyone. Hey, why don’t we badmouth Dooce while we are here?

Jana
(deleted)

Neil
Now, I have to delete that too. Ok, we are off record.

Jana
Hahahahaahahah. We’ve been off record, man.

Neil
Ok, time is up. This was terrible.

Jana
OK. we’ll make stuff up to make it better.

Neil
We can’t do that. But thank you, Jana. Let me read it through and see if I can salvage this. What kind of dumb question about corn?

Jana
It’s a good question.

Neil
Ok, later….

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