Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Category: New York City (page 2 of 24)

The Bus Driver in Queens

There are two MTA city buses that go from Flushing, Queens to Jamaica,  Queens.  They are named the 25 and the 34.  One bus goes the local route, making all the stops, and the other is  the express, skipping a few.  I usually get onto whatever comes first, because the amount of time saved using the express is negligible.  But today, I ended up on the express bus, heading towards Jamaica. There were ten passengers on board.  The only passenger standing was a mop-headed middle-aged white man who was carrying six plastic Key Food bags filled with grocery items.

“I want to get off here,” he yelled as we passed his stop.

“I can’t.  You can get off at  the next stop,” said the bus driver, a portly black man.

“But I want to get off here!” repeated the passenger.  “This is my stop!”

“I don’t stop here.”

“How can you not stop here? I always get off here.”

“This is the express bus.  This is a local stop.   I don’t stop here.”

“I demand that you stop!”

“I cannot stop. There are RULES.”

The passenger edged towards the front of the bus, his foot hovering over the white line separating him from the space of the driver.

“I know you,” he said to the driver.  “You’re a control freak. You’re always like this. You get pleasure from sticking it to others. You’re a cruel man. A cruel, cruel man.”

Another passenger, an African-American woman in a short dress, stood up, hoping to ease the tension.

“It’s an express bus, mister.. Chill out.  He doesn’t make the same stops. You must be used to being on the  local bus.”

“Fuck that,” spewed the man.  “He could stop if he really wanted. He just loves the power. I know his type.”

The rest of the passengers nervously glanced at each other, preparing for the worst. They turned towards me. I assumed that since I was the only other white passenger on the bus, and they wanted to see if I was to be an ally in case things turned racial.

The tension dissipated when the bus pulled into the next stop.  The angry white passenger stepped off,  two blocks from his usual stop,

“I know who you are,” he snipped once more at the driver.  “All of us know who you are. You enjoy it. The way you stick to your rules. You’re a sick man. You’re crazy!”

The bus driver remained silent, ignoring his insults. The moment he left the bus and the door was closed, we all erupted in laughter.

“That guy was nuts!” said the woman across from me, sitting with his young son.

We all looked out the window as the man struggled with his bags, walking in the opposite direction.

There was a red light at the intersection where the stop was located, so the bus needed to wait at the curb until the light turned green.  We sighed; our ride had reverted to normalcy.  Just then, an elderly black man, a cane in his hand, knocked on the closed door of the bus, wanting to come inside. He was relieved to not miss the bus.

“I can’t let you in,” said the bus driver.

“Why not?” asked the man. “You’re still here.”

“I closed the doors already. There are RULES.”

The light turned green, and the bus sped away, spewing smoke in the elderly man’s face.

The bus passengers bonded again in secretive looks, but this time, you could see in our eyes that our opinion of the bus driver had  forever changed.

Fictional Characters of New York — #52

 

waiting

In my twenties, I would never have slept with a married man. I’m too moralistic. The granddaughter of a preacher.  But now, I don’t consider it a moral failing.  it just IS.  I see him, despite his marital status. I love him, despite his marital status. I caress him in my bed, despite his marital status.

It’s not the big bad city that changed me.  I’m still the goody-two-shoes Wisconsin girl.  It’s just getting older.  It  means the stripping the body and mind clean of what constricts  us, the old black and white thinking, and embracing complexity.  Don’t overthink it. See the world with an open mind. We are all flawed.  Brene Brown tells me to not feel shame.   My love for him is not shameful.  Yes, our relationship is complicated, like they say on Facebook.  But I understand it.   I understand that he has kids, and his wife who’s  crazy, so he needs more time. What I can give him is patience. I can wait. That’s true love. Like in Shakespeare.

He treats me well, better than any other man.  He brings me gifts and tells me I’m beautiful.   I so want to meet his kids. Some day.   And we will be a family.  Or else, we can have our own kids. Yeah, imagine that!  What am I talking about? I’m not going to turn into my sister, stuck at home with kids, getting fatter by the day. No kids right now! That time will come.  Just enjoy what you have.  With no shame.  Thank you, Brene Brown.

I bought a steak for tonight. He loves steak.  I wish we would skip dinner completely and  fall into bed, so I can feel his strong hands grab me from behind. I love when he says my name. I wait for that.  He says that I make him feel like a man again.   That his wife is aloof and makes him feel that he never makes enough money.

It’s 7:30. He said he would meet me here a half hour ago. But it’s OK. He must be stuck somewhere. I know Tuesday night his daughters have Girl Scouts. I wish he would text and tell me where he is.  He needs to be discreet.  I understand that.   Until he can divorce her,  it has to be this way.  It’s all good.  What can I do?  All I can to do now is wait.  True love requires patience.

The Election

board meeting

Democracy requires compromise. We cannot survive in a world where ideological splits, gender politics, and vicious accusations of corruption are the daily norm. The 2016 Campaign has brought out the worst in everyone, and I’m not talking about the primary season, but the Board of Directors election in my apartment building in Queens.

There are two political camps in my building — Team Murray and Team Sylvia, which I’ve named in honor of their leaders. Each team has differing views on hot issues such as the efficiency of the new dryers in the laundry room, the wisdom of hiring a new management company, and the acceptable amount of electricity used in the yearly Christmas/Hanukkah decorations. Five new members of the Board are elected each year, and each side want to stack the Board with those loyal to their agenda.

This year’s trouble began a few weeks ago when tenants started to receive homemade “campaign” fliers slid under their door. At first, they were innocent enough — typical campaign promises of more parking spots — but the situation quickly deteriorated as more and more fliers showed up, usually at 3AM, unsigned and with vague accusations of corruption and abuse of power.

Team Murray and Team Sylvia went to war.

“Is there anything lower than sending around anonymous letters accusing good people of profiting from the new laundry machines?” screamed a new notice received under the door, written in a size 15 font.

“Only cowards write anonymously!” the person continued on, anonymously.

The day of the big election quickly arrived. I remembered that Jana was flying in from Atlanta that same night.

“Have any exciting plans for us?” she asked me on the phone on the night before her arrival.

“Very exciting plans,” I said. “I’m taking you to my apartment building’s Board of Director’s election night. This will be more dramatic than any Broadway show.”

The General Election was held in the apartment building’s large wood-grained “community room,” located near the lobby. The room, with a full kitchen and a full set of tables and chairs, has been home to countless meetings for the tenants, sweet sixteen parties and retirement dinners. It was in this room where, many years ago, I had my bris, the traditional Jewish circumcision ceremony.  Can we get any more symbolic than that?

But tonight the room was a shelter for Democracy in Action. The candidates sat at the dais in the front, nervously fidgeting as the tenants placed their filled-out ballets into the makeshift cardboard ballot box, then sat down at one of the rows of chairs set up for the general meeting  before the vote counting.  My mother came early with her friends to get “good seats” up front. I arrived late with Jana since she had just arrived from La Guardia Airport. We found two open seats in the back, directly behind a group of supporters of Team Murray, including Murray himself. Whispers were passing between them; there was a last minute plot afoot.

The meeting started off peacefully. As we waited for late-comers to show up and vote, the President of the Board convened an open meeting to discuss some minor issues involving the building. And that’s when the shit hit the fan. One female tenant stood up to publicly accuse some long time resident on the fifth floor as the mysterious “anonymous letter writer.” The accused fought back, insinuating that she was cheating on her husband, and stealing The New York Times from other tenants. Things only go worse.

Much has been made of the lack of decorum on the internet, with all the insults, hate, and trolls being a product of modern-day forums such as Twitter and Reddit. This makes the assumption that in the days before the Internet, the human race was kind and respectful, lovingly listening to the needs of the others. I can guarantee that Jana and I were the only ones in this room who have ever used Twitter, and there was enough “shaming” going on in this room to fill ten timelines.  Humans have been hitting each over the head with clubs since we were cavemen

After much loud drama, a tenant shouted everyone down, suggesting that we keep our personal issues saved for another day, and focus on the purpose of the evening — the election. All the ballots were now sitting in the box and it was time for the count. But first, as required by “the bylaws,” the President of the Board, a plumber by profession,  had to read some legal document written back in 1960 to validate the legitimacy election.  It was a ritual done in every Board Election since then.

The tenants of the building half-listened to the legalese until he reached the President reached the last paragraph of the bylaws, which went, “According to the bylaws, as written in June of the year 1960, if anyone so chooses to be included on the ballot as a write-in candidate, now is the last moment to do so, or else forfeit your chance.  Would anyone else like to be added to the list of candidates?”

This was read without emotion, much in the same way that a pastor might ask those attending a wedding if anyone present has a reason to oppose the marriage.  No one is supposed to yell out, “Yes,” except maybe a character in a romantic comedy from the 1990s.

But here is where Team Murray executed their shock and awe plot. They earlier had convinced Rashida, a friend of Murray’s wife, Allison, to add her name as a last-minute write-in candidate, hoping to stack the Board with supporters of the Team Murray agenda.

“I’d like to add my name,” said the woman, a middle school teacher named Rashida.

“Uh, OK…” said the Board President, unsure of the next move. In the fifty years of Board Elections, no one had ever added their name on the night of the election.

“You have to add her,” said Murray. “It’s in the bylaws.”

“I suppose it is. We’ll have to add her,” he said, facing the crowd, showing his first true sign of leadership during his five years as Board president. “So now if anyone wants to vote for Rashida, you can vote for her.”

Rose, one of the members of my mother’s weekly mahjongg group, stood up with an objection. Although now frail, the eighty-five year old Rose once worked at a large advertising firm and was considered intelligent and street savvy by the other tenants.

“I think we might have a little problem with this plan,” she said.

“What’s that?” asked the Board President/Plumber.

“We voted all already and our ballots are in the box.”

Pandemonium broke out, and even King Solomon himself couldn’t find a compromise between Team Murray and team Sulvia, a precursor of what is going to happen when Bernie Sanders makes a play for Hillary Clinton’s super-delegates at the Democratic Convention this summer.  Politics is an ugly business

The Board President consulted with a tenant from the fifth floor who used to work as a court stenographer, and a decision was reached

“We will take all the ballots out of the box and return them to you, and then you can cross out someone and add Rashida instead.”

It was a mess. Many tenants never signed their name to the ballot the first time, so no one was quite sure which ballot belonged to which person, except if they used a special colored marker

Rashida, fearful of utter chaos, made the announcement that she was pulling out of the election, much to the dismay of Team Murray.   She realized that it was just too complicated, and also wanted to go home before nine o’clock to watch some TV show.   The ballots were returned to the box, and a trio of supposedly unbiased tenants from the building, an accountant, a retired NYPD officer, and a stay-at-home mom, took the box behind closed doors into the “kitchen area” to count the ballots by hand.

As the rest of us waited for the “results,” calmness fell over the room, and tenants socialized with each other, asking each other about their health and families.  My mother took Jana over to meet her friends, introducing her as my “girlfriend.” Not that I minded my mother saying it, but it did feel weird hearing her say it, especially since I never described her as such.  But women know these things.

neighbor
Jana meeting the neighbors.

The cocktail party atmosphere faded as the kitchen door swung open, and the election committee returned with results. The crowd returned to their seats. It was time. Call Wolf Blitzer.

The election results were a surprise.   Despite the maneuvering of the Machiavellian Team Murray, it was a clean sweep by Team Sylvia.   All five of the Team Sylvia candidates were elected to the Board.

Murray himself stood up and announced the entire election a fraud.

“It’s an illegal election.”

“Why’s that?” asked the Board President, who was re-elected for a second term.

“Because the ballot box was opened, making it null and void!”

“But we only did that because your own candidate decided to run at the last moment before she changed her mind!”

“I demand a new election.”

“We’re not having a new election!”

“Then I’ll take this entire apartment building and the Board of Directors to court!”

Insults were flung. Someone’s wife was called a whore. Arguing was heard for hours as most of the tenants shrugged, and went upstairs to their apartments. Rashida went home to watch her TV show.

“So what did you think?” I asked Jana as we took the elevator upstairs.

“That was the best time I’ve ever had in New York.”

A week later, all parties agreed to accept the results, as long as it goes down in the history books with an asterisk, much like the contested election of George W. Bush.

Politics as usual.

The Other Side of Kissena Boulevard

map

Since neither of my parents drove a car, they moved to a neighborhood in Flushing, Queens where it was easy to walk to stores to shop.   The two block strip of Kissena Boulevard near their apartment building was home to a vibrant melange of shops that catered to the needs of the lower and middle-class neighborhood that circled around it – two “five and ten cents” stores, a pizzeria, a Chinese restaurant, a kosher deli, a bakery, a butcher, a fish store, a stationery store selling newspapers and comic books, a supermarket, a clothing store, a shoe store, a pharmacy, a cleaners, a barber shop — all the basic staples that any family would need. Behind these stores was a large parking lot which catered to the shoppers visiting from other neighborhoods, but the action happened on Kissena Boulevard herself.

The street is where the teenage Fran Drescher would grab a slice of pizza, or Gene Simmons would leave his job at the butcher before practicing with his band “Kiss,” named, of course, after Kissena Boulevard.  On Sunday morning, I would stroll with my father to the Garden Bakery to buy their famed onion rolls, freshly baked, a Sunday morning staple as important as the New York Times. During the week, after school, I would head to Wainrite’s, checking out the latest K-tel records in their tiny “Record Section.” If not for the diversity of the neighborhood, black, white, Asian, and Puerto Rican, you would think you were visiting small town Main Street.

During the 1970s, crime and homelessness grew in the outer boroughs, and by the 1980s, the Golden Age of Kissena Boulevard had come to an end.  One by one, each store closed, until only the pizzeria, Valentino’s, Fran Drescher’s favorite hangout, was left thriving. The owner of the shopping area went from being local landlord to a company headquartered in Palm Beach, Florida. The rumor was that the owner wanted to demolish the whole complex and bring in a Target or Kmart. The ample parking lot behind the stores became the big selling point for the future development, not the needs of the neighborhood.

The big plans never blossomed, and the facade of the two block structure started to deteriorate. The awnings became havens for pigeons. Graffiti covered the locked metal shutters of forgotten enterprises, prisons of past commerce. I left the neighborhood and went to college, grad school, and California.

kissena10
The famous Garden Bakery in 2008, closed for thirty years.

“Any rumors about Kissena Boulevard?” I would ask my mother when I would speak to her on the phone from Los Angeles.

“Nope. Still waiting.”

By 2008, the Garden Bakery and many of the other stores had been empty shells for 30 years. A whole new generation grew up seeing the two blocks as nothing more than a corroding antiquity from ancient times. That year,  I wrote a blog  post titled, “The Slummification of Kissena Boulevard,” where I talked about the decline of the street’s shopping district. I couldn’t understand the logic behind all these stores left empty. The neighborhood wasn’t fancy, but it wasn’t impoverished. Surely a Dunkin’ Donuts franchise would do OK. Was it possible that a landlord could make more money NOT renting the property, under some sort of tax loophole reminiscent of “The Producers?”  To this day,  I still get comments on that post from people who used to live in the neighborhood.

kissena12
Kissena Boulevard, 2008.

I’m glad to say that a lot has changed since then. Not long after I wrote that post, there was movement on the street, and workmen began making repairs to the infrastructure. Rather than the structure being demolished, it was strengthened, and smaller storefronts were consolidated. While no Target or Kmart ever moved in, new stores DID arrive. Today, 95% of the original Kissena Boulevard shopping area is back in use, the centerpieces being a supermarket, a National Wholesale Liquidators, and an established electronics/computer store.  I enjoy each store and shop there often.

One aspect of this neighborhood revival disappoints me, and that is the suburban mentality that is foisted on our urban folk.   While the once empty parking lot is now busy with shoppers filling up the trunks with purchases,  Kissena Boulevard is still a ghost town.   All entrances that were once directly on Kissena Boulevard have been locked, boarded over, or bricked over.   The only way to enter the stores is through the parking lot.  It feels as if the stores have open arms to visitors driving in from other parts of Queens, while sending a message of distrust to the actual residents of the neighborhood.

kissena4
Liquidators from the parking lot, 2016.

kissena5
Liquidators from Kissena Boulevard, with locked entrance.

kissena6
Liquidators from Kissena Boulevard, with no entrance.

kissena3
Electronics Store from parking lot, 2016.

kissena7
Electronics store from Kissena Boulevard, with locked entrance.

kissena1
Supermarket from parking lot, 2016.

kissena14
Supermarket from Kissena Boulevard, with no entrance.

kissena9
Supermarket from Kissena Boulevard, with bricked in former entrance.

kissena15
Supermarket from Kissena Boulevard, with locked doors.  Dirty recycling bins are on the street.

Now to be fair to these establishments, I’m the only one I know who seems to care about this issue.   I mentioned it to my mother and a few of her friends and they supported the stores!

“If they had an entrance in the front AND the back, they would have to hire more security!” said one woman.

“There would be so much shoplifting, the stores would go out of business.”

“We should be happy that we have stores back!” said my mother.

Apparently no one trusts the neighborhood, even the people who live here.

I don’t buy it.   It is not our problem  to worry about a store hiring more security.   If a store is going to move into a neighborhood, they have an obligation to add beauty to the neighborhood, not throw up a two block wall to alienate those who live here.  The stores are a great addition to the local economy, but Kissena Boulevard remains as dark and uninviting as it has for the last thirty years.  Only Valentino’s pizzeria continues to face the street, catering to the locals, not those visiting by car.

kissena8
Valentino’s on Kissena Boulevard, the one constant since the 1950s.

Bernie Sanders talks a lot about income inequality, but wealth and lack of wealth also affect self-image.   The rich learn to expect more from their neighborhoods.  I’ve been in some upscale towns in California where a homeowner can’t change the color of his roof without it passing some local ordinance.  I’ll tell you one thing.  No one living in Beverly Hills would accept a two block wall on Wilshire Boulevard, and if they did, it would be a very pretty wall, with footprints of movie stars.

The reaction from my mother and her friends:  Eh.

I might not have won them over with aesthetics, but I’m hoping someone out there is thinking about the safety of the community. There are some days when there are hundreds of cars going back and forth into this parking lot.  There are no lights or stop signs.    These stores cater to thousands of locals who walk to their shopping, and without entrances on Kissena Boulevard, they are forced to cut through through a busy parking lot.  There is an accident waiting to happen.

kissena2
Walking through the parking lot to go shopping.

I am very grateful that these fabulous stores are now in the neighborhood.  I just wish the owners turned away from the parking lot every once in a while and said hello to the street.

Fictional Characters of New York #51

subway

It was Friday afternoon and Sandy stood on the 125th subway platform with her daughter, Laila.    They were heading downtown; it was her ex-husband’s weekend with his daughter.   Sandy’s mind was elsewhere.   She was hoping to have a date tonight with the good-looking marketing executive she met on Tinder, but he had yet to return her text.

“How does Santa Claus get into our apartment building. We don’t have a chimney?” asked Laila.

Laila had been obsessing about the truth behind Santa Claus ever since she observed the one from the department store Santa  entering the men’s room behind the kitchen appliance section in Macy’s.

“In New York City, Santa Claus brings the toys in through the window.  He also has the key to every apartment.” her mother answered.

Normally Sandy hated to bring her daughter over to Luke’s apartment, she disapproved of his new girlfriend, Ellie, a twenty-eight year old Hungarian graduate student  with excessive cleavage.    This weekend, Sandy was glad for the time alone.   She could use her time to watch Hallmark movies in her underwear. Even if the Tinder guy didn’t get back to her this weekend, it will be enough to have the quiet in the apartment.

“And I always have my vibrator” she thought, a gift she bought for herself last Christmas.

Laila was still thinking about Santa Claus.

“So, Santa Claus flies into every single window in New York City? That would take him all night. And, uh, where does he park the reindeer?”

“He just does it. He’s Santa Claus.”

“Let’s get real. There is no Santa Claus, is there?” Laila asked, clicking her tongue.

Sandy’s heart skipped a beat. Her daughter was too young to reject the magic of childhood. Sandy felt like a failure as a mother, the type of parent to be scorned on the internet.

“Of course there’s a Santa Claus,” said Sandy. “I mean it’s not the guy at Macy’s. That is just an actor. But the real Santa Claus is out there, with his white beard, living in the North Pole. coming on Christmas to make children happy.”

“Mom, I think I need a second opinion.”

Laila saw an older black man sitting on the bench under the poster for the new Supergirl TV show.  He was reading the New York Times, about the latest terrorist attack in Europe.

“Excuse me, sir,” said Laila, and the man looked up from his newspaper.

“Yes?” he asked, glancing over at Sandy for her permission to talk to he daughter.

“Could you tell me if there is really a Santa Claus?” asked Laila

“Ah, Santa Claus,” said the man on the bench, crossing his legs.  “Are you having your doubts about Santa Claus?”

“Yes. My mother said there is a real Santa Claus. What do you think?”

“Hell no. It’s all made up nonsense. There is no Santa Claus. Only little children believe in that stuff.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Laila.

“I’m glad to help.” said the man.

Laila returned to her mother, who was checking Tinder.

“Did your date get back to you?” Laila asked her mother.

“Nah, he’s a loser.”

“Yeah.  Maybe this dating site is not the best place for you.”

“You’re right,” Sandy sighed. It’s so superficial. I’ll try Match.com next.”

“Good idea,” said Laila, caressing her mother’s arm.

“So, did you get your second opinion?” asked Sandy.  “What did the man have to say ?”

“He said that there IS a real Santa Claus who lives in the North Pole and flies out with his reindeer on Christmas to make children happy.”

“I told you!” said Sandy, relieved.

Fictional Characters of New York #50

yeshiva

It started out innocently. A message on Twitter. A meeting in Central Park. Lunch at a kosher restaurant on 38th Street. I had never expected to see my brother, Avram, again. When he left the Yeshiva and moved to California, he was considered dead, and my older brother, Shimon, prohibited me from having any contact. Now Avram was married and back in town, living in Long Island with his wife and two children.

The first time I saw him in ten years was on a bench near the Great Lawn. He had suggested it as common meeting area, away from our different worlds. I was shocked to see my older brother without his scholarly beard, wearing a shirt that read “LA Dodgers.” It was as if I had never met him. He said that after many years of “hating religion,” as he put it, he was now attending a reform synagogue in Forest Hills. He wanted to reconnect with his family.

“You might as well go to a Catholic Church,” I said. “The reform Jews know nothing. They serve bagels and pork on Shabbat.”

“Well, it’s not that bad. No pork. But they do serve lobster at kid’s bar mitzvahs.”

I frowned, and Avram poked me, saying that he was joking. Avram always had a strange sense of humor.

“And you, Nahum,” he wondered. “Why are you not married yet?”

That was a touchy subject. The whole Rifka incident and the sad ending to their courtship.

“God will bring the One to me.” I said.

“God does nothing, unless you make it so.”

Avram was trying to egg me on, but he wasn’t saying anything so controversial that the Rabbis hadn’t  questioned themselves.

“Baruch Hashem,” I said..

Avram suggested that I spent this Shabbat in Long Island, so I could meet his wife and kids, but I told him it was impossible.

“I’ll meet you anyway on Friday.” he said. “Outside the Yeshiva.  In case you change your mind.”

I said that I wouldn’t.

During the week, my heart softened. The Torah reading that week spoke of family, of Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac. Was not Avram, despite his wrong path, still my brother?

On Friday afternoon, I approached the Yeshiva, and saw Avram waiting for me. He was smiling, confident of my choice to join him for the weekend. A few feet away, with his arms crossed, was my older brother, Shimon, silent and as stiff as Lot’s wife, waiting to argue against it.

Fictional Characters of New York #48

three women

The man sitting next to me on the F train was fidgeting with his iPhone, nervous sweat on his face.

“Are you OK?” I asked.

I don’t usually talk to strangers in the subway, but this man caught my attention. Well-dressed with shiny shoes, he had a charisma that built trust, like a Great Gatsby of the 21st Century.

“Read this,” he said, and pushed his iPhone into my hand.

It was a personal email to a woman friend of his, a girlfriend.

“My dearest Emily,” it started.

“I’m not sure I should be reading this,” I said.

“Please,” he replied, touching my shoulder. “Read this. For me.”

I understood his need for sharing, even with a complete stranger. Matters of the heart can consume the strongest warrior, bringing him to his knees, begging for mercy. This moment of intimacy closed the deal. I started reading the email again, drawn into the world of this mysterious stranger.

“My dearest Emily, our night together last week transported me to places I never knew. As we made love, your breasts against my chest, our mouths devouring the other, my manhood thrusting into your heavenly tunnel, a mixture of pleasure and pain that only the Gods of Olympus had ever attained, I knew you were the answers to all my prayers. Ever since the death of my wife three years ago, I saw a future of loneliness and despair, but now I know True Love.  God has blessed us with tears of happiness. Before we met each other, we lived on dry land, uninhabitable. Now we have received the rain to grow our bounty, to make our petals open to the sun and our flowers bloom. I cannot go another day without your body next to mine, your whispers in my ear. Let’s get married! Meet me at the Fulton Street Station tonight at 8:00PM and we will toast our future together. I pray to God that your answer is YES.” Your one and only, Michael.”

I lowered the iPhone, not sure what to think. Sure, it was melodramatic and as clichéd as a pulp novel, but who can think clearly when love has engorged the heart and groin? During passion, a man’s blood cells rush from his brain as fast as commuters leaving midtown at rush hour. Back when I was an English major in college, I distrusted the famous poets who wrote well-constructed love poems. No one experiencing passion can convey it with cohesive sentences and grammar. Here on the F train, I found a man who was truly stung by Cupid’s burning arrow.

“What did you think?” he asked, seeing that I had finished reading the email.

“I thought it was powerful,” I said. “You make your point very forcefully.”

My new friend was sobbing. Now I touched his shoulder as a sign of camaraderie.

“Don’t cry,” I told him,  consoling him like a brother. “I think a woman will eat this up. I guarantee that Emily will say yes. I’m sure she’s there waiting for you at the subway station right now.”

“Yes, but what about Melissa and Anna?”

“Who are Melissa and Anna?”

“They are the other two women I had sex with last week, and accidentally cc:-ed the same message.”

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.

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