the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Month: October 2014

Gluten-Free Halloween


Andy opens the door to greet a little boy and girl, both dressed as superheros.

Little Boy/Girl: Trick or Treat!

Andy: Hello, there! Ooh, what cool costumes. I recognize you, Batman. I mean Batgirl.

Little Girl: I’m not Batman or Batgirl. Why is it so important for you to identify me when gender is a societal construct? I consider myself a gender neural Bat Individual.

Andy: OK. And how about you, young man. I don’t recognize your superhero costume.

Little Boy: That’s because I’m an anti-hero, Alexander Petterssen.

Andy: I don’t know him.

Little Boy: Jesus. Haven’t you read any of the dystopian graphic novels by the Norwegian artist Gustav Slettemark?

Andy: Uh, no. (calling loudly) Bridget, do we have treats for our young guests?

Bridget comes to the door carrying a large tray with nine different bowls containing a variety of choices of treats for the kids.

Bridget: Here you go. Pick the one that best fits the needs of your dietary and religious restrictions, and political leanings. For the regular kids, we have Snickers with Almonds. But if you have a nut allergy, this second bowl contains nut-free Tootsie Rolls. This third bowl contains gluten-free gummi bears. The fourth bowl contains sugar-free lollypops. Bowls five and six have candy imported from Israel and Egypt, and are kosher and halal. Bowl seven contains organic and fair trade chocolate from a company that we researched online, so we know is supporting sustainable agriculture and worker health and rights. Bowl eight contains candy from a chocolate company with no national or international links to the Nestle Company, the Occupied Territories, or any stockholders who donate to the Republican Party. Finally, in bowl nine, for those kids who have reinterpreted Halloween as a Harvest Festival promoting healthy and natural living, we have individually wrapped leaves of kale.

Andy: So, Bat Person and Alexander Petterssen, which treat do both of you want to take from us?

Little Girl: We both want the kale.

Little Boy: Yeah. Is it pre-washed?

Bridget: I think so.

Little Girl: We’ll wash it again, just to make sure.

Andy drops the kale in their trick or treat bags, and the kids run off. Bridget plops down on the couch, exhausted.

Bridget: You know, the kids in our new neighborhood are kinda assholes, don’t you think?

Note: Despite the joke, I will be giving kids two choices this year — Snickers with nuts, and Skittle for those with nut allergies. Why not?

“M” or “N”


We talked about goals today in therapy.

“But how do you know which is the right path to take to reach your goals?” I asked my therapist towards the end of the session.

The therapist looked at his watch, indicating that time was up.

I took a long walk to 34th and 6th to take the E train back to Queens.

The E train was jammed with every Human of New York as we screeched from the station. It was not rush hour.  Something was wrong for it to be so crowded.

The conductor spoke over the loudspeakers.

“Because of construction,” he said, “The “E” train will only make stops on the [unintelligible]  line. Again, the “E” train will only make stops on the [unintelligible] train.”

“Did he say the “M” train or the “N” train?” asked the woman standing next to me, a middle-aged Pakistani lugging three shopping bags from TJ Maxx.

“”M” train” I said. “I think.”

“No, he said the “N” train.”” said a dude with an NYU yarmulke.

The confusion quickly spread through the entire train, like a wild fire in California, or viral video on Facebook.

“Let me say this again,” spoke the conductor.  “Because of construction, the “E” train will only make stops on the [unclear if its “M” or “N”] train. As in the word….”

He either said “Mikey” or “Nike.”

“Mikey?” asked an off-duty security guard reading the Daily News. “So it’s the “M” train?”

“I thought he said “Nike,” retorted a mother with a baby stroller. “So the “N” train.”

Like a boomerang tossed into the wind, our cries whipped back to the conductor.

“Because of construction…” he said for the third time, “… the “E” train will only make stops on the [unclear if its “M” or “N”] train.  As in… MICHAEL JORDAN.”

“Michael Jordan,” I said.  “I knew I heard “M.”

“But maybe he means Michael Jordan, as in the Air Jordans made by NIKE, so “N”!” said the security guard, proving Voltaire’s famous maxim that “Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.”

The Pakistani woman was becoming frantic, swinging her shopping bags like a pendulum. She walked over to the side door where the conductor was sitting inside.  None of us had realized that we were in the first car, in close proximity to the oracle himself.  His door was adorned with a poster advertising a sleazy dentist who took all medical plans.

The woman knocked several times, asking, “What stops are we making on this train — “M” or “N?”

The conductor opened the door, revealing his unshaven pale face. There was gasps from the crowd, because his appearance was like seeing the Phantom coming on stage at the Paris Opera.

“We’re making the stops as the “M” train,” he said, as clearly as possible. “The “M” train. “M” as in AUNTIE M.”

The weary travelers sighed in relief. We were making the stops as the “M” train. It was as solid a truth as the existence of gravity.

Except that if he was making a reference to the Wizard of Oz, most people should know that Dorothy’s aunt was named Emily, so her name would be Auntie Em, not Auntie “M,” which would be an “E,” the letter of the train we thought when we first entered the “E” train. But rather than causing any more confusion, I kept this information to myself.

We all have goals in life. But sometimes we need to let life take us to our destination without question.

Fictional Characters of New York — #38

The statues stood silent, dusty and broken in a lonely storage room.

“I told you this was the wrong place,” she said. “Robert’s gallery is on the fourth floor.”

I never liked Robert Altbrook, her pretentious artist friend, the type of guy who talked about books he never read.  But Andrea didn’t want to be late for his opening, so we got here early, but apparently on the wrong floor.

She had planned on this outing for a week, buying a new dress at Bloomingdale’s and making sure the kids were staying with friends.   I even cancelled my tennis game.

“After Robert’s show. After Robert’s show.”  That was my mantra to Lydia, as I kissed her breasts in her bed on Tuesday afternoon. “I don’t want to ruin Robert’s show for my wife.  I think she is love with him.”

Lydia managed the PR department of the firm. She was ten years older than I was, but younger at heart, and what had started out as a weekly Tuesday afternoon lunchtime fuck had turned into love.  Lydia was pressing me to ask Andrea for a divorce, and I was using Robert’s show as the deadline.

“And why would Andrea care?” I thought to myself.   We haven’t had sex in six years.  We had wasted fifteen years that went nowhere.  I was even convinced that Andrea was having an affair with Robert, but I never brought it up, feeling nausea at the idea.

“I want a divorce,” I will say to her, and we will both be free to follow our hearts.

But I knew that I would not ask her for a divorce. Not before Robert’s show. Not after Robert’s show.  I would not have the courage.  This was my life, and there was no turning back.

“Can we go?” asked Andrea, looking over at the dead stone figures.

“These statues scare me,” she said. “Imagine if they became alive.”

I felt the statues looking right back at us.

“These humans scare me,” they said. “Imagine if they became alive.”





The Selfie Stick: The Final Curtain

The New York City of today is not the same New York City of my past. Technology has changed everything. No one reads the newspaper on the subway. Everyone is on their smartphone, living their virtual life.   In fact, you can do anything now from the privacy of your mobile device – ordering food, buying a book, hailing a cab, finding a date. In what was once the most public-oriented city in the country, I’ve seen co-workers sitting together at lunch in a café, silently updating their Facebooks and Twitters, and singles in crowded bars, ignoring each other while sexting with strangers on Tindr. Interaction with strangers, once a social necessity of urban life, has become an antique from the past, like the payphone or Smith-Corona typewriter.

One public exchange that remains intact, despite the infiltration of technology into our daily life, is the age-old interplay between tourist and local.   New York City is a tourist city, and despite the reputation of New Yorkers as rude, most residents are glad to help the visitor navigate the five boroughs.  After all, New York is an international city, the home of the United Nations, where dialogue between different cultures is essential to the survival of the world.

Just today, I was on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art eating a hot dog when I noticed a young Japanese couple taking photos of each other with an iPhone.   The man snapped a photo of his girlfriend posing with a black hat and dark sunglasses, as if she was a movie star, then the woman took a photo of her boyfriend pointing up the stairs to the entrance way, as if he was a Greek sculpture.

This was the time for me to jump into action, doing what was expected of me as a resident of New York. I was about to do something that I had seen done by both my father and my grandfather, a social gesture passed down from generation to generation,  a symbol of  the interconnectivity of all people.

“Would you like me to take a photo of you together?” I asked, trying to look as confident and trustworthy as possible.

“No. No. No need.” said the woman.   She reached into her purse and  pulled out what looked like a retractable fishing rod, but later found out was called “a selfie stick.” She placed the iPhone at the tip of the metal stick, like bait, and then held it out so the phone was now several feet away, facing them, with the museum in the background.   The couple made kissy-poo faces at the camera, and she pressed a button on the stick to take the photo.  Snap.

The selfie stick. One more tradition dead – the asking of tourists to take their photo.   Once a noble gesture, now as old-fashioned as wearing a girdle.

Finally, the last reason to talk to strangers in the city.   Gone.


Fictional Characters of New York — #37


After we spent all afternoon moving his equipment across the street, Gideon took a wad of money from his pocket and handed $100 bucks to each of the other guys in the crew. They promptly headed to the Fiddler to blow their money on liquor, leaving Gideon and I alone in the new studio with the boxes, furniture, and music equipment.

Gideon licked his thumb and swiped $300 from his still substantial ball of dough.

“And these three bills are for you, Danny.” he said.

“No, Gideon. I can’t take money from you.”

“Sure you can. You worked hard. You spent all Sunday doing this for me.”

“You know me. I didn’t have anything better to do today.”

“Listen, I wouldn’t have asked you if I thought you wouldn’t take the money.”

“I was just helping you… as a friend.”

“Did you see any other friends here?”

“So, I’m just like these other guys you hired.  Are you saying I’m not a friend?”

“Of course you are a friend. And that’s why I asked you.  I know you’ve been out of work. So when Jill suggested…”

“So, Jill told you to call me to give me a job.  Like a charity case.”

“She’s worried about you.”

“I would have rather you just called me as a friend.”

“Just take the money,” he said, as he tried to shove the $300 into my shirt pocket. “I know you need it.”

I slapped his hand away.

“Just take the fucking money,” he yelled.

“I don’t want your fucking money.”

Gideon grew red-faced.  He was not the type of man who liked no for an answer.  He grabbed me in a stranglehold, tightening his arm against my throat.

“You’re going to take the money,” he said, as he pushed the money down the front of my pants, into my underwear.   I pulled away, removed the bills, and ripped them into shreds, spilling it on the floor like confetti.

“No wonder you can’t find a job,” said Gideon.  “You’re an idiot.”

“I should have been the one who married Jill, not you.”

“Well she chose me. That’s life in New York City. Winners win, loser lose.”

“Good. Well, tell her I’m not fucking her anymore when you’re in LA for months on end.”

Gideon jumped me like a hungry lion smelling meat, and I elbowed him in the face, breaking his nose. Gideon tripped me and I fell, my head slamming against the edge of a synthesizer.  My vision grew dark and I needed to vomit.   I grabbed Gideon’s leg and he fell on a pile of framed photos stacked on his desk.  Portraits of rock icons destined to decorate the studio walls.  Crash!  The glass pieces flew through the air like tiny knives.

For the next twenty minutes we beat the shit out of each other, until we were too bloody and exhausted to continue. Using my last ounce of strength, I rallied myself to stand, and limped over to the front door.

“I have to go,” I said as I entered the gray day outside. “I have to look for a job tomorrow.”

TED Talk on Confidence


Hello, there! I’m so glad to be here with you for this afternoon’s TED session. Haven’t the other speakers been amazing? Just outstanding!

Today, I want to talk to you about confidence.

True confidence has become the cornerstone in a growing movement, one that has become international, emphasizing self-respect and personal attainment in our daily lives. In today’s world, we have a feast of opportunities that were unheard of a hundred years ago, but we still feel powerless and unworthy to sit at our rightful table. A thriving industry has been developed to help others attain this confidence — books, courses, even lectures like this one, but most of the teachers involved in these enterprises don’t speak from hard-earned personal experience. They were either born with this confidence, or were privileged as children to have mentors and family members guide them towards the path of self-actualization.  What could they ever teach us, when confidence seems like an unattainable goal, like winning a gold medal at the Winter Olympics?   How can they they speak to those who still struggle with inner demons, the voices in our heads that are judgmental and critical.

I speak to you from a different place.   I have been plagued by these same naysayers in my brain, gone through the same battles, and only through hard work and introspection have I learned to root my feet into the soil of life, like a strong tree. I stand here as someone who was once like you, fearful and uncertain.  Now I share my vulnerability with you, the wisdom I have gained in my travels, so we can walk together towards our dreams.

First, let me say that it is impossible for me to share everything with you today.  That would take several days.   Hey, I’m willing.  We can bring in Chinese food in here on our breaks!  Yes, I think this topic is THAT important.    But there are other speakers who need to come up here, so my time is limited.    So, let’s focus on the the core point, the one tool that is most effective in building confidence.  Let’s examine it, as if under a microscope.   What has worked for me.  And what, I am convinced, will work for you.

So, let’s begin.  Let’s examine the thought process that I use during a fearful or anxious moment, one that snaps the brain into working for me, and not against me.

First, let’s imagine a giant stone, or rock. It could be a square slab of stone, of granite or marble, or a circular boulder. It doesn’t matter. What is important is that the object is hard, intimidating, and seemingly impenetrable.  And embedded inside this stone, in the center,  sight unseen, is your “confidence.”  Since you cannot see this confidence, you might doubt its existence, but it IS there.

Now, see yourself standing next to this stone, this fortress, the prison of your confidence. You want to get to break it out, but it seems out of reach.   Then you notice a chisel on the floor. You pick it up.

You are not an artist. You are not a Michelangelo or Rodin.  But you understand how a chisel works.  You pound into the rock, picking at it.  Harder and harder. Faster and faster. The air is filled with dust, and the stone looks hideous, but you are not here to create beauty. You are on a journey to the center of the rock, where the confidence you seek is waiting.

In the novel, “The Agony and the Ecstasy,” Michelangelo was described as “a master, the fierceness of his joy sending the chisel through the block like lightning through cumulus clouds.” I do not want you to see yourself that way. I want you to be a frenzied attacker, a drug addict needing his fix.  Even though this whole process is happening in your mind, in only a few seconds, it should feel like a month of sweat-filled work, your biceps sore, your arm muscles throbbing.  The stone, the boulder, the marble, whatever it is that you have imagined, disintegrates further with each blow, until you reach the very center of your nemesis, and then with one more brutal swing, you reach the heart of the stone… and it is empty.  There is nothing there.

Wait a minute.  There’s something wrong with this story.  I can’t put my finger on it.

How many people are in this audience?  Can we turn on the lights please?

Jesus, there are a lot of you. I didn’t realize that I am speaking to so many people today.

Why am I doing this talk anyway? Is doing this TED thing really going to help me get readers to my blog?

And did I forget to dress today?  Why am I standing in front of all of you completely naked?  God, this is awkward.  How could I do this?  Do I leave the house so infrequently that I’m now leaving the house without clothes?

Can we dim the lights please?  I’m naked.

No, not on the audience.  On me.

Thank you.

You can still see me, can’t you?  I was afraid of that.

I know what you are looking at.

You are looking at the scar on my left leg. I hate having to explain that.

OK, it happened in North Shore Day camp in Queens. I was seven. Rob and I were playing tag near the pool, and I slipped and cut my leg on a metal chair. And there was blood all over the place. And I had to get stitches.

But don’t worry, Rob and I are still friends.

In fact, I just saw him last week. He is married and has two kids. And they just got a cute little dog that they named Hatchi.

You should see Hatchi. He is so friendly and cute. He runs up to everyone. He pees wherever he wants. He’s so confident. He should be giving this talk.

Oh.  Well, I see that I am getting a cue that my time is up.  Let me wrap up by saying this —

“Confidence is standing naked in front of a group of strangers to give a talk on confidence, and winging it.”

Pin that on Pinterest.

Thank you.

Ask Dr. P., An Advice Column

While I have been fiddling around with this dumb blog for the last ten years, my Penis moved to Baltimore to attain an advanced degree in Psychiatry at John Hopkins University.  We here at Citizen of the Month are now proud to bring a new voice into the community to help my readers with answers to pressing problems related to issues of mental illness, anxiety, and depression.

About Dr. Penis —

Dr. P., as he is known by his colleagues and patients, brings a wide range of professional and life experience to his practice as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. He has spoken to national audiences on radio and at workshops and seminars internationally, and is a frequent guest writer at the Elephant Journal, Jungian Newsletter, and Huffington Post.  Dr. Penis is sought after for his work in Dream Analysis, Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, Somatic Work, and Hypnosis.

All questions submitted to Dr. Penis are real, submitted by real people, but kept anonymous for privacy reasons.

Dear Dr. P,

Hello, Dr. P. I could really use your help. I’m a man who considers himself a bit of a budding photographer. Recently, I went to a fun and creative photo retreat in Canada. There were thirteen other participants. On the first day of the retreat, the leader wanted us to split into pairs in order to practice portraiture. I wanted to pair up with “Katie” because I was a fan of her photography, but when the time came to ask her, I started to worry, “What if she wants to pair up with someone else — someone more of a professional than I am — and then if I suggest we pair up, I will be putting her in the awkward position of saying no to me, or even worse, yes just our of politeness, and then a coldness would develop which would tarnish our friendship forever. Soon, everyone was partnered except the last two, one being me, and I had flashbacks to being picked last for softball in camp. Do I sound codependent to you? One of the attributes of codependency is an overwhelming need to care for others before themselves? Should I join a codependent twelve step group?

Codependent Carl


Dear Codependent Carl,

First of all, thank you for writing to me. Expressing your fears is the first step in overcoming them. All men have fears. Imagine yourself walking into a bar, seeing Scarlet Johansson sitting by herself, and going over to her to say, “You don’t know me, Scarlet Johansson, but I’d like you to come home with me tonight to make sweet sweet love.”

That would be difficult for even the most confident of men.

Of course, you were just pairing off at a photography retreat, so there is no real comparison with picking up Scarlet Johansson in a bar.  You are just a fucking wimp. Grow up, pussy boy! What’s the matter with you?

And don’t give me that bullshit about you protecting this “Katie” from making the decision. She’s an adult who can make her own decision. She’s probably more of an adult than you.   Stop trying to read the minds of others.  And stop rationalizing your own pussyhood.  You didn’t do if because you were protecting her or fearing her reaction.   You were afraid of your OWN reaction!   Maybe she even WANTED to pair up with you also.  I wouldn’t be surprised if that was your real fear — that she would say YES,  and then you would feel responsible for her enjoyment for the rest of the day.   Your mind is like a sewer plant of wrongful thinking.

Jung once said, “Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”  I say, “Get over yourself, you narcissistic nutjob!  Stop treating others like children and yourself as the dutiful, responsible parent.  Their decisions are their own.  It’s always easier worrying about others than yourself.”

“Am I codependent?” you ask. How the fuck should I know? No real professional gives a diagnosis on the internet. I do know that whatever size dick you were born with has grown progressively smaller as you have grown older, almost the reverse of what happened with Pinocchio’s nose, and if you continue on this path of thinking you need to please others all the time, by the time you are retirement age, you cock will have shriveled up and turned into dust.

Should you go to a codependency twelve-step group? I would. Many codependent women substitute sex for love. You get my meaning or do I need to spell it out?  You go to F-U-C-K THEM.

To wrap this up, Codependent Carl, because I’m growing a little tired of thinking about you, here’s what you need to write on your forehead and look at in the mirror every morning —

“Let others make their own decisions.  Grow up and take care of your  own fucked-up life first.   Because no one else will.   And most importantly, always remember this  — every time you don’t ask for something that you want, you dick grows smaller.”

Dr. Penis.
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