Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Author: Neil Kramer (page 1 of 187)

Rainy Day at the Columbus Day Parade

I can’t believe I even have to preface this, but these photos are not an endorsement of the nasty Christopher Columbus, of the Spain’s Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, sponsors of Columbus and the monsters behind the Spanish Inquisition and other bloody crimes  in the name of Christianity, or the American government and their mistreatment of Native Americans, and certainly not any sarcastic comment about the many accomplishments of Italian-Americans in our country.  I was passing through midtown Manhattan.  There was a parade.  It was pouring.  And I like to shoot photos of people with umbrellas.  Fair enough?

My Toy Machine Gun

(no sound)

On my sixth birthday, my parents threw me a birthday party.  My extended family was invited to our apartment in Queens. It was one of the few times both sides of my family sitting in the same room at the same time. I remember little about the event except for two specific gifts that I received on that day, both which became legendary in my own mind.

The first gift was a Scrabble set. I immediately loved this board game, and quickly became obsessed with finding the best triple score words with the “X” tile.  Soon,  I was beating my mother in her own game.  I could draw a  line from that day i got the Scrabble set with my love of dictionaries, to becoming an English major in college, to wanting to write rather than go to law school.

The second memorable gift was so infamous that it became a running joke with my mother that has continued for decades.  It was a plastic toy machine gun that made realistic rat-a-tat sounds when you pressed the trigger, a gift from my aunt, the wife of my father’s youngest brother.

My aunt was blonde, gorgeous, educated, and worked as a psychiatrist.  She was the most accomplished person in the room. She was also the first non-Jew in our family, and simply unaware that I was nothing like Ralphie, dreaming of his bb gun in “A Christmas Story.”  My Jewish family from Brooklyn and the Bronx were very afraid of guns. Maybe it was a remnant of anti-Jewish pogroms back in Russia and Poland, or the Holocaust itself, but in my family, whenever you saw your neighbors with guns, you knew it was not a good sign for the Jewish people. My parents thanked my aunt for this “unique” birthday gift, but after the party, my mother hid the plastic toy gun somewhere in the house and told me that I couldn’t play with it.

Within a week, I discovered my mother’s hiding place (she naively hid it in my own closet!) but at this point, I was so into scrabble, I forgot about the gun.  Later that year, my mother threw the gun into the garbage. My fate was sealed — I was to become a man of triple score words and not a marksman. 

I thought of my toy machine gun this week because of the endless debate our country has over gun control. Three days ago, a killer brought over 30 rapid-fire guns into his hotel room at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas and shot concert-goers outside his window on the 32nd Floor. No one knows the motive.

I tell the story of my toy gun because I want to come clean with my gun-owning friends in the South and the West.   I know I perfectly fit the stereotype of someone who doesn’t understand the importance of gun culture, or how your identity is intimately connected with defending your family.   What right do I have to talk about guns?  My crazy mother wouldn’t even let me use a toy gun!

But you have your own biases.  You hide behind the NRA.  Deep in your heart you know that gun violence is a sickness in America, and that it isn’t normal to walk into a hotel with thirty high-powered rifles to mow down innocent people. But you are afraid that by admitting it, people like me will want to take all your guns away, and then you will be defenseless and weak. I get that.  I’ve told you my bias and where I come from, and I’m ready to hear your side of the story.    But I want to hear from YOU, not the NRA.

30 Days of Gratitude – Day 4 – Grateful for those I’ve Met Online

30 Days of Gratitude – Day Three – Grateful for Accepting Singing as Natural in Musicals

30 Days of Gratitude – Day Two – Grateful for Water

30 Days of Gratitude – Day One – Grateful for Being a Man

30 Days of Gratitude – Intro


This is my Facebook update Saturday night after I came home from the Coney Island Mermaid Parade:

Everyone is sexy and beautiful if they want to be. And even if they don’t want to be, they can’t help others from seeing it. Been thinking about that all night. Even I’m kinda sexy.


Maybe I wanted to make it clear that I appreciated the “body positive” vibe of the event. People strolled up and down the boardwalk in various stages of undress, and they didn’t do it for my “male gaze.” The creative folk did it for themselves. They love the opportunity to wear outrageous costumes and paint their bodies in oceanic colors.

I’m a tame voyeur.  I never gawk at sunbathers at the beach. I have never visited a strip club.   But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit the pleasure I received from admiring the stew of bodies on view on Saturday in Brooklyn — the big bosomed and the flat-chested, the tight abs and the big guts, the fleshy asses and the large male packages balled into tight-fitting speedos. It was sexy and fun. If I had more chutzpah, I would have taken off my own clothes and painted my ass green.

Is it so wrong that I enjoyed being a blatant voyeur for a few hours? The Mermaid Parade, much like I imagine Mardi Gras or Carnival, allows for a safe and playful expression display of the body. I felt comfortable talking to parade participants and asking permission for photos. When it rained, a whole bunch of us took shelter under the awning of Nathan’s, and soon I was dancing in the downpour with half-naked women. What could be better than that?

It’s easy to connect photography with voyeurism. We like looking at people.

Breaking Up With My Therapist

Reading at “Come as You Are,” a night of storytelling at the Charles R. Wood Theater in support of Warren-Washington Association for Mental Health.

11th Annual Dance Parade in NYC

Saturday was the 11th Annual Dance Parade downtown.  It was a lot of fun.  Thank you Lori, Grace, Laura, and Tom for letting me join up with you!

The parade’s mission:   “To promote dance as an expressive and unifying art form by showcasing all forms of dance, educating the general public about the opportunities to experience dance, and celebrating diversity of dance in New York City by sponsoring a yearly city-wide dance parade and dance festival.”

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