Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Category: Literary (page 1 of 17)

Fictional Characters of New York #47

guitar

It’s a decent gig playing guitar on Rector Street. Although the Wall Street guys downtown are born assholes, programmed to crush their competition, they tip well, especially when the NASDAQ is up. Music is universal, no matter your income. During two years of standing on this corner, music has covered my rent and helped me pay back some debt I incurred at Julliard. The street has also been good for my soul. The constant chaos of lower Manhattan has softened the pain of losing Gina’s soft skin next to another man at night. A year later, there was still a hole in my heart. I had loved her more than all the music in the world.

The market fell a hundred points today, so I started to pack it up early, at 6PM.

“Don’t leave yet,” he said, approaching me from around the corner. He was one of my regulars. I nicknamed him “GQ” because he was always dressed in an imported Italian suit, pressed shirt, and fine leather shoes. His eyes that were the color of thousand dollar bills.

“Play it for me,” he said to me. “Play me the song.”

“I’m already packing up,” I replied, not wanting to go through this game again.

“Play it for me. Like only you can.”

“I don’t think it is a good idea to…”

GQ opened his wallet, drew out several hundred bills, and shoved it into my hands. My body was repulsed, wanting to return it, but my mind reminded me of my financial need.

I grabbed my guitar and strummed the opening chords to Bruno Mars’ “Just the Way You Are.”

“Oh, her eyes, her eyes make the stars look like they’re not shining
Her hair, her hair falls perfectly without her trying
She’s so beautiful
And I tell her everyday.”

As I sang the song, I thought about GQ’s cruelty. “Just the Way You Are,” was OUR song. It was playing on the radio on the night I met Gina. And he knew that.   Winning Gina wasn’t enough for him.  He would pay me to sing to the victor, the ultimate humiliation, because on Wall Street, you are programmed to crush your competition.

Fictional Characters of New York #46

old man

“Help me to the window,” said the old man to his aide. “I want to show you something.”

The old man put his face to the window, like a kid looking into a candy store.

“You see those two buildings on Fifth Avenue. I own them. I own forty-seven properties in Manhattan, twenty properties in Brooklyn, and twelve properties in Queens. I practically own the city.”

“Your legacy is clear, sir.    We will remember you as one of the greatest men the city has ever produced.”

The old man laughed.

“What do you know about Boss Tweed?”

“Who?”

“He ran the city in the late nineteenth century. Today, he is nothing more than an obscure answer on Jeopardy. No one will remember me.”

The crowd below had gathered in strength.  This morning, even the scared New York Times had weakly endorsed the rabble-rousers of the Occupy Real Estate Movement.  The angry mob marched down Fifth Avenue with their signs and banners and angry voices calling for an end to all private property. Ground Zero was the old man’s apartment tower, the third largest building in the city, where apartments started at $20 million dollars.   Last week, the old man’s organization installed bulletproof windows in his penthouse, in case one of the armed protesters hijacked a helicopter.

“Where are you from?” the old man asked his aide. “For all the time you’ve been here, I’ve never asked you about your family.”

“I’m from Staten Island, sir.”

“I was born in the Bronx. Morris Avenue. It was a nice place back then. We used to play stickball in the street. I kissed my first girl on Morris Avenue. Mary Lapazza was her name.  Of course, everyone I know from that time is dead by now.  Including Mary Lapazza.  “I’m going to make it big for you, Mary,” I once told her after she decided to go to the prom at Andrew Jackson High School prom with Arnie Weinstein instead of me.  “I’m going to make it big, and then you’ll come calling on me!””

The old man jerked unsteady on his cane.

“Would you like to sit down, sir?” asked the aide.

“No. I’d like you to go buy whatever property is now on 145 Morris Street in the Bronx. I don’t care how much it costs. I want you to buy it today. And then when you buy it for me, I want you to drive me over there, because for the rest of my life, that is where I am going to live.  And die.”

Fictional Characters of New York #45

mother and son

The hardest job in this motherhood gig is watching your son in pain, and knowing that only time will heal, not your motherly touch.

Brett was a boy on the cusp of being a man, and hugs from his mother were verboten. He had a hard year – problems in school, bad grades, bullying, his own romantic heartbreak, and, of course, my divorce with his father, which hit our family like a hurricane wave.

“Let’s go to Coney Island,” I said, trying to be cheery. “My grandmother used to take me there very summer. We can go to Nathan’s and have hot dogs.”

“I’m a vegetarian now,” he said.

“Right. I forgot. But who knows, maybe they now have Nathan’s veggie dogs.”

“I really doubt it.”

“Yeah, me too.”

We took the F train anyway, down to Stillwell Avenue, the last stop. The beach was empty. The Cyclone and Wonder Wheel still. The season had yet to begin.

We walked as far as the ocean, and my boy-man moped around the gray wet rocks at water’s edge.   The rocks sprouted green colored moss like Chia pets.

I looked at Brett with a woman’s wonder.  He was once a baby that grew inside my body.   How could any mother be an atheist?  She had witnessed a miracle.

My divorce had arrived suddenly, a winter break surprise.  Andrew sat me down at our favorite Italian restaurant in Chelsea, and over veal marsala, told me that was he seeing another women, from our synagogue of all places.

“I’m not in love with you anymore,” he said. “I mean I love you as a person. As someone who was my wife. Who gave me a child. But not romantically anymore. You know how it’s been. We hardly touch each other. And I need touching.”

Don’t we all. Don’t we all.

My sister suggested I join Tinder, but I have not time for that. I am a mother first.  And Brett needs me now.

“Brett, come here,” I said. “I want to give you a hug.”

“I’m fine, Mom. Leave me alone,” he said as he climbed to the top of the Coney Island rocks, as if he was effortlessly shedding his boyhood forever.

Fictional Characters of New York #44

couple

“Be careful with the wheelchair,” said Ruthie.

“I’ve been doing this for 25 years.  I know what I’m doing.” said Beth as she wheeled her older sister through the tiny kitchen and into the dinette, avoiding the tear in the faded yellow linoleum.

For breakfast, Beth made Ruthie scrambled eggs and an English muffin. Same as usual.

“After breakfast, I’ll go pick up your meds from Walgreen’s,” said Beth.

“Have you said hello to the new neighbors yet?” asked Ruthie.

“Why would I do that?  They have no interest in us.”

“Make them some brownies. Be neighborly. After all, we live in the same apartment building.”

“Do we?” asked Beth, sarcasm cracking in her voice. “We don’t even take the same elevator!”

Last year, half of the building went co-op, and a separate entrance and elevator were installed for the new tenants. The McGovern sisters were listed as rent-controlled, still using the decrepit elevator where the button for the seventh floor was perpetually popped-out upside down.

“Buy a brownie mix at the supermarket and make them some brownies. It’s the neighborly thing to do. Besides, you don’t have a real job. What do you do anyway?”

“Take care of you,” Beth mumbled to herself and headed for the front door. It was dark in the apartment because the rent controlled apartments faced the blank side wall of the bank next-door.

Outside, the Brooklyn sun was shining brightly and Beth had to shield her eyes, like a vampire who just left the darkness of an enclosed coffin. As she made her way towards Walgreen’s and the supermarket, she passed the two new neighbors, a young couple in love, carrying a shopping bag from Whole Foods.  They paid two million dollars to live in the building, which gave them the privilege of having a doorman and riding the silver elevator.  They were God’s children with lives as glowing as the stars.

The couple walked past Beth as if she was invisible. Later that day, Beth made them brownies, which they never ate because of the gluten.

Fictional Characters of New York #43

fictional character

I’m a third generation New Yorker, but  I’ll be the last in my family to live here. My son has other plans.

“Lift me up so I can see the stars,” he said to me on Second Avenue at night, and I put him atop my shoulders like an Indian prince.

“It’s hard to see the stars here,” I told him. “Too many lights, too many tall buildings.”

He never took an interest in the Art Deco Chrysler Building or the majestic Brooklyn Bridge like I did at his age.  He is intrigued by loftier heights — space, the final frontier.

“One day, I’ll take you to Montana,” I said. “I went there with Grandma and Grandpa when I was your age.  When you look up, you won’t believe how many stars are in the sky.”

“But will you still lift me up so I can see the stars, even in Montana?”

“I’ll always lift you up to see the stars.”

“Even when you’re gone?” he asked.  The maturity of his question surprised me, as if he already understood the concept of death.

And I had no answer for him.  Luckily, he changed the subject at whim, as boys his age tend to do.”

“I don’t want to go to Montana,” he said.  “I’d rather go to Mars.”

“Mars, well, well! Daddy can’t lift you up all the way to Mars.   For that, you’ll need a super-duper rocket.  And you’ll probably have to go on your own because Daddy doesn’t like heights.”

“OK, I’m not afraid,” he said about his future journey in a rocket ship, a trip that he would someday take without me supporting him on my shoulders.

“Will you miss me up in space?” I asked.

“Nah, we can still Skype,” he said.

Fictional Characters of New York #41

light

It was not a good third date.

Sheryl had high hopes about him; he was a perfect gentleman on the first two outings. But he changed tonight, as if he had gotten some bad advice from an ex-fraternity friend on becoming a “player.” He bragged too much about his new job as a securities analyst, and pushed her to order the most expensive cocktail at this trendy restaurant that was “impossible to get a reservation except if you know someone.”

After dinner, she turned down his offer for him to come to her apartment, saying that she was old-fashioned, certainly not expecting his face to redden and words to spew such as “cocktease,” “bitch,” and “user.”

Sheryl never perceived herself in such a negative way before, wondering if she was indeed guilty of breaking the rules of dating.  She apologized to her date and said she was uncomfortable dating.   She’d rather just stay home and read, but her ultimate fantasy — of one day walking through Central Park with a special man, holding his sturdy hand — proved sufficient motivation for her to leave the house wearing the makeup she bought at Macy’s and her prettiest yellow dress.

Sheryl walked home alone. Weaker women would be crushed by the evening’s disappointment, but not Sheryl. As she passed by the abandoned church on Amsterdam Avenue, she saw that the church light, a former beacon of hope to those in need of spiritual guidance, now cracked in disrepair, was still lit, almost miraculously, much as her broken heart still beat strongly in a search for love.

Fictional Characters of New York #40

Eddie

The year was 1972.  Eddie was working at his father’s hardware store in Chinatown when the People’s Republic of China Peking Circus came to town as a cultural exchange arranged by President Nixon.

It was a busy in his father’s hardware store, named Yang’s Do-it-Yourself.  It was the first day of Spring, and all the hibernating weekend warriors suddenly awoken to the maintenance jobs left undone during the cold winter month, their wives pushing them to fix the broken doorknobs and misfitting window shades.

But Eddie’s mind was elsewhere.  The NYPD closed off part of Mott Street for a procession of the Chinese performers, a mini-parade, and Eddie was keen on seeing it.   At lunchtime, he left the shop, against his father’s wishes.

Eddie thrilled at the sight of the exotic acrobats and horses which paraded down the grimy, littered Lowe East side street.  The circus performers looked as Chinese as he did, same eyes and dark hair, but they stepped with a precision that made them seem distinctly unAmerican.   If only the Chinese people saw the chaos during a fire drill at an American school like P.S. 100.

“Form a straight line.” Mrs. Goldenberg, his teacher, would yell.  “One at a time.”  And, of course, no one listened.  Americans are like John Wayne.  They do it THEIR WAY.

“I bet there isn’t one Eddie in THIS circus,” Eddie thought to himself.

A few moments later, he saw a woman in the procession wearing a costume with golden wings.  She was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.  Her name was Howin, which means “loyal swallow” in Chinese.  He discovered that was her name because he followed her for a mile along the route uptown and waited for her for five hours in the lobby of the Pennsylvania Hotel until he could see her again, completely forgetting about his job back at the hardware store.  That night, his father beat him with a belt, calling him a shameful son who lacked ambition.

Today is the first of Spring, 2015, and Eddie has long forgotten the beating.  Eddie prides himself on remembering the good things in life and not the tragedies, such as his father’s death, his son’s suicide at seventeen, the closing of the shop, his wife’s cancer.  And he will always remember the day and especially the night with Howin, the Communist Chinese circus acrobat visiting on a cultural exchange arranged by then President Nixon, a woman he could barely communicate with in Cantonese or English.

He never again saw Howin, the loyal swallow, but as Eddie, now an old man, walks along Mott Street on this cold first day of Spring, he remembers her golden wings.

The Ghost of Christmahanukwanzaakah Past

ghost

Oh great, all weekend my Facebook feed was filled with your damn Chrismahanukwanzakah trees and decorations and menorahs, and your obnoxious kids singing in their school choirs, posing as clean-cut, as if we didn’t know they spend the rest of the year Snapchatting photos of themselves to the other kids in junior high.

I hate the holidays, and I don’t understand how any of you can express any joy and hope or celebrate life when we live in a world filled with sexism, racism, agism, genderism, fat shaming, and the death of the political magazine, The New Republic. What’s there to celebrate?

You want to know how I see Chrismahanukwanzakah? I see it as one big DOLLAR SIGN to sell you my overpriced New York City prints of Rockefeller Center that you could probably get on the street in Times Square for five bucks. It’s a time for profit for me, an excuse to build traffic, a drug to feed you so you will avoid worrying about the growing inequality between the salarys of CEOs and you.

But I don’t need to worry — As a straight white men I will one day be the 1%, as ordained by God, controlling the world while the rest of you eat Hot Pockets for dinner. Feminist ally, give me a break. Santa delivers the toys while Mrs. Santa stays at home, keeping the fire warm. That’s the way of the world.

Chrismahanukwanzakah, who needs it?!

I’d rather sit by myself on December, watching old sex tapes of Kim Kardashian than celebrate some fake holiday with some pretentious bloggers who aren’t talented enough to be REAL writers and photographers.

That’s what Chrismahanukwanzakah means to me on December 18, and nothing can ever change my mind. Nothing.

+++

I was restless last night. The rain and wind beat against the window as if they were my enemies. A ghost appeared. He had wiry white hair and was dragging a tail of clanging chains. He scared the shit out of me.

“Who are you?” I screamed.

“I am the Ghost of Christmahanukwanzaakah Past,” he said. “I hear that you hate all blogging concerts that celebrate the holiday.”

“F*ck blogging. Blogging is dead. It’s a waste of time. Why celebrate it? Better to write for the Huffington Post for exposure. I wish I never started blogging or doing any of this inane social media crap. What have I gained from it? Nothing.”

“I see. But have you thought about the others? Do you dare to see what type of world this would be if you never existed as Neilochka online? How much you would be missed?”

“I would love to see this world.”

“Then let it be so.”

The ghost raised his arm, and after what felt like a brief earthquake, he nodded towards me.

“It is now so. The world is now what it would be if you NEVER started blogging or went online.”

I jumped out of bed and looked out the window. It looked exactly the same as it did before. I grabbed my iPhone and went on Twitter. Everyone was joking and fighting with each other about racism and feminism as if I never existed, and no one seemed to care that I wasn’t putting in my two cents.

“So what exactly is different?” I asked.

Scarlett Johansson entered my bedroom, just wearing her underwear.

“Scarlett Johansson? What are you doing here?!”

“I’m you wife, Neil. You are more famous than I am. You wrote ten bestselling novels because you never wasted all your time on your stupid blog or flirting with married women on Facebook.”

“Oh my God! This is awful to learn how much time I wasted online with my blog! But how is this supposed to make me love blogging more or care about some lame Christmahanukwanzaakah concert? If anything, I hate it all MORE. What type of ghost are you? I want to stay here and live THIS live, where I am writing the novels and bonking Scarlett Johansson at night! Give me ONE good reason for going back in time or participating in some Christmahanukwanzaakah concert, now knowing that blogging totally f*cked up my life!”

+++

“Let’s make love again,” said Scarlett Johansson. I looked at her. We were in bed. She was naked. She was perfection.

“I want you now,” she said, and climbed on top of me. It was a fantasy come true. I was living the life I would have had if only I had never started my useless blog or wasted time on social media. A poster hung on the wall of last week’s New York Times book section, where all ten of the bestselling books were written by me.

“You know, Scarl,” I said, “I need to get new eyeglasses. What type of glasses should I get?”

“Whatever you want,” she said purring and biting my neck.

“Do you think I should the squarish ones from Warby Parker, or can you see me in round glasses, like Harry Potter?”

“I don’t know. It’s up to you.”

“I’m also thinking of buying new jeans. Do you think I should buy the 501s or the 514s? Have you ever heard of Joe’s Jeans? Are they worth $150?”

“Are we making love or not?”

“I’m just making small talk. You know, like foreplay.”

“It’s not foreplay talking about your glasses and your pants. It’s boring and annoying. Shut up,” she said, as she put her hand over my mouth and shut off the light on the night table.

I should have been happy. I was a best-selling novelist, and Scarlett Johansson couldn’t take her hands off me. But I felt unsettled, as if my life wasn’t complete.

After our amazing lovemaking, with my gorgeous movie star wife sleeping at my side, I tiptoed into the living room and sat in front of my laptop. This was an alternative universe given to me by the Ghost of Christmahanukwanzaakah Past, so I knew that when I logged into Facebook that I would not be a user. I quickly signed up for Facebook.

I proceeded to write my first update.

“Hi there! I’m new here, but I was wondering if you can help me out deciding what type of glasses and jeans I should buy?”

And within seconds, despite me being a completely new user, the answers started rolling in, from strangers, good Samaritans far and near, people who didn’t know me from a bug on the wall but had so much free time that they bothered to care about my glasses and jeans. It was amazing, even thrilling.

“Get the round glasses!”

“Buy the glasses online!”

“I LOVE Joe’s Jeans”

“I wrote a post last week about the best jeans. Here is the link!”

“If you buy the jeans and glasses both at the same time from Amazon, you can save shipping!”

Even those who were somehow bothered by my question, still offered useful bits of advice.

“First World White Dude’s Problem! Get a F**king Life.”

Tears started running down my cheek. So many people caring about me, even in anger, wanting to help me find the important answers to life, or educate me on how I was wrong. Sure, being a bestselling novelist and bonking Scarlet Johansson was nice, but could it ever replace the intimacy and care of the community I could find online?

“Bring me back, Ghost of Christmahanukwanzaakah Past! Bring me back to my old life when I was blogging and on Twitter and Facebook all the time with people who answered my stupid questions. It’s wasn’t as if online friends couldn’t live without me; I can’t life without them! What’s the fun of being a bestselling novelist and bonking Scarlett Johansson every night without bragging about it to my loser online friends, or at least posting a few photos on Instagram? Bring me back, Ghost of Christmahanukwanzaakah Past! I now understand the importance of Christmahanukwanzaakah and all my blogging and social media friends! Bring me back, and I will help make this year’s Ninth Annual Online Christmahanukwanzaakah Concert the best one yet!

And then, the earth shook, and the lights flickered, and the thunder screamed, and suddenly I was back in my bed. Instead of Scarlett Johansson next to me, it was my iPhone. The Ghost of Christmahanukwanzaakah Past had granted me my wish and returned me to my old life. I quickly opened my Facebook app, and praised the Lord that my old account was back, along with my 1000 fake friends.

I noticed that there was a new comment on my last post, an update asking for advice on a new vaccum cleaner.

“First World White Dude’s Problem! Get a F**king Life.” wrote the commenter — G.C.P.

And I laughed, as hearty and joyful as Santa’s ho ho ho. I immediately knew who G.C.P was – the Ghost of Christmahanukwanzaakah Past himself and I thought I heard some thunder in the distance.

“Everyone is on Facebook nowadays,” I thought.

Thank you G.C.P. Thank you for everything you did. I had learned the true meaning of Christmahanukwanzaakah — You can bonk Scarlett Johansson several times a day, but without “community,” no one will ever know.

+++

The Ninth Annual Blogger Christmahanukwanzaakah Online Holiday Concert. December 18th.

Fictional Characters of New York #39

wedding

My name is Eduardo Ruzman.   I am a professional wedding photographer, with a studio in Chelsea.  I shoot weddings of the most prominent members of New York society.   I make a very good living.

But my real vocation is that of fortune-teller. When I perform my duties at the church, temple, restaurant, or private mansion, I do not simply look through the viewfinder, and shoot images. I observe, and I listen. And based on the way a marrying couple interacts, their choice of words and gestures, the roll of an eye, a rise of tension in the voice, I can predict, to the exact month, how long their marriage will last.

“Maybe if you didn’t stay out so late last night, you wouldn’t be so tired today,” complained the new bride to her groom.  She was wearing a $10,000 Vera Wang dress.  He was the pampered son of a Wall Street icon.   His father hired me, knowing that I would make the couple look good for the New York Times wedding notice.

In fourteen months, and four days, she will file for divorce.

I was not born with this skill. I nurtured my talent during childhood in the Bronx. My father and mother, Rolando and Estella, argued all the time, about work, about the dishes, about how my mother made the “biggest mistake of her life” by not marrying Frederick, my father’s brother.  My father hated when she said that, especially how it was spoken with venom, and he would slap her in the face. Sometimes, while locked in my bedroom, I would hear the beatings.  It was my first correct forecast.   I knew that my parents would be married forever. Or until 1989, when my father had his mysterious accident, breaking his neck on the bottom of the steps.

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.”

statue1

statue2

statue3

statue4

Older posts