Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Category: Life in General (page 1 of 44)

Re-Remembering the “Juice” Story

I was watching a documentary on Helen of Troy last night, and the narrator reminded the viewer that much of what we know about the famous beauty comes from Homer’s Illiad, even though he wrote it four hundred years after her death.   By then, many of the details were forgotten, or changed with the morality of the time.

During the Bronze Age of the Trojan War, warriors fought in chariots, but by Homer’s era, it was considered unmanly.  Hand to hand combat was the norm, so the heroes of the Illiad fight on foot. The famous vivid battles in Homer’s Illiad are from a Trojan War re-imagined for a later time, much like Hollywood dressed up Charlton Heston as a twentieth century Moses.  We are always changing our visions of our heroes according to our needs.   Look at the many portrayals of Jesus throughout the ages – from wordly to godly, from emaciated to a long-haired hippy, from a black man to a white one.

Our personal memories are our own stories, and like Homer, we are just as eager to revise, edit, and mythologize as we grow older.   In order to live happy lives, we often emphasize the positive moments of our lives and forget the painful.

I recently found a box with some cassette tapes from my childhood. I had no idea they existed.  One cassette tape was particularly intriguing. It is from my first year at sleepaway camp. I am about seven or eight. It is visiting day, halfway through the summer in the Catskills, and my over-the-top father is interviewing me on his cassette recorder, as if he is Edward R. Murrow interviewing Eisenhower on the field of battle.

The cassette tape is very surreal, so I won’t play it all for you, but there is one section that shook me up, and I’d like to share it with you.

First, some background.

A few months ago, I wrote a post on the TueNight site titled, “Hey, it’s Juice! How My Camp Nickname Gave Me Confidence.” It’s about how I received a camp nickname that lasted for many years.   I always considered it a special part of my identity because it made me unique, and gave me confidence when I was young.  I even thought it gave me some sort of superpower.  The story of how I got my nickname “Juice” is one that I have told often throughout my life.

Here is the full post, originally published on TueNight on April 23, 2015.

When I was eight years old, I attended my first year of Camp Kinder-Ring, a sleepaway camp in upstate New York. Our first breakfast of the summer was served in a wood-framed dining room, where bunkmates sat together at large oval tables. The waiters, 16-year-old campers, served us soggy scrabbled eggs and individual boxes of Kellogg’s cereals, my favorite being Sugar Pops. In the center of each table was an aqua blue plastic pitcher which held the watered-down orange juice.

“Can you pass the juith?” I asked another bunk member.

“The juith?” he asked, and the rest of the table laughed at my slight lisp. “Do you mean the JUICE?”

Now I know some of you are already gripping your easy chair, preparing for an unsettling Lord of the Flies-type essay about mean boys and the bullying of the weak, but that is not the story here. I was lucky that the story veered off course into one of empowerment. Within a week of the incident, no one remembered WHY I was called Juice; it was just my nickname. When I returned the following summer, the lisp gone, I was still “Juice,” and for the next eight summers that I attended this camp, even when I finally became one of the waiters who served soggy scramble eggs to the other campers, the name remained.

The nickname gave me a special identity, despite its origins. It was my first experience of having an alias, much like Clark Kent had his Superman. During the winter, I was a goody-two-shoes, Citizen of the Month, grade-A student named Neil, but in the summer, I put on my shorts and tube socks, and became Juice. Yes, my mother still sewed my real name into a label attached to my underwear, but during the summer, I was only known by my camp name.

In many traditions, the naming of the child is an important statement, because tradition believes that it molds the child’s personality. My parents named me Neil. It was an OK name, but uninspiring. For every Neil Armstrong stepping on the moon, there was a Neil Sedaka or Neil Diamond singing sappy pop songs about love. To me, Neil was a nice Jewish boy who listens to his parents and teachers, and doesn’t smoke pot or drink beer.

But during the summer, I became Juice.

Juice, to me, meant energy, a spark, like currents of electricity. On paper, my personality didn’t change much from winter to summer. I was still a goody-two-shoes who was awful at sports, but my nickname transformed the perception of myself. Neil wouldn’t play football, go sailing, or build a tent, but Juice would. Neil wouldn’t take chances, but Juice might try pot or kiss a girl. Neil inhibited me, bounding me to responsibility of city life, while Juice freed me to be as wild as nature (within limits, of course). At school, I was invisible. At camp, everyone knew my name. Gradually, I learned to integrate some of this “Juice” into my “Neil” world, and learned that our personalities can be fluid. My nickname was my introduction into adulthood, and the complexities of identity.

I was lucky. My nickname, based on a lisp, transformed me in a positive way. Some children are not as lucky. A name like “Fatty” or “Freckles” can torment a person for a lifetime. Whether for good or bad, names ARE always powerful.

I use my full name “Neil Kramer” on my blog and in social media. I have friends who only use aliases, which helps them express their hidden personalities, away from their families and workmates. The anonymity of the internet is a problem culturally, because it tends to lead to abuse and bullying, but for many, an alias allows someone who is normally a Clark Kent to find their Superman.

Last summer, I traveled to upstate New York to attend a reunion of friends from my sleepaway camp. I was nervous while driving up the Taconic because I hadn’t seen some of these people in 30 years!

I rang the doorbell.

“Hey, it’s Juice!” said one of my long-lost bunkmates.

Neil is the name my parents gave me at birth, but ever since that breakfast in that camp dining room when I asked to “pass the juith,” I have also been Juice. I have two names, and I wouldn’t be the same today without both of them.

You can imagine my shock when, a few months after writing this post, I hear my father ask me about my new nickname.   My mouth flew open.   I was confronting my own personal history.  The “Juice” story was coming alive.   At the time of the recording, the nickname was brand new, and now here  was my voice, reappearing — dozens of years later – – like a surprise witness at my own court case, about to corroborate the story I had just published!

But the truly shocking part is the sound of my voice. It wavers. It creaks. This is not a child who feels like a superhero, confident with a brash new nickname.  He sounds like an insecure kid about to cry.

What happened to the story that I have been telling forever, where I was instantly energized by my new name?  Was the nickname hurtful at first, and I never acknowledged it ?

In the retelling of my tale, why do I always distinguish my cool nickname from those like “Fatty” or “Four Eyes?”   Yes, my camp nickname eventually became a positive one,  but how long did it take?  At what point did I  rewrite my own narrative, erasing the discomfort of the beginning?  And would I have gone to my last days believing every detail of this story if I didn’t stumble onto this cassette tape?

“Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.” – Marcel Proust

small excerpt of audio —

Dating Advice


Female friend on dating:

“Think about her. What can you offer her? If she is a single mother, her children will come first. Can you be a good father figure? A role model? Can she look up to you as a man? Can you be patient and understanding, and appreciate her for her true self, and forgive her for any of her bad moods? Can you look into her eyes, and without words, tell her that she has someone she can always count on? Do you cuddle?”

Male friend on dating:

“Take your age, divide it in half, and add two. That’s who you should date. Not anyone your own age. Look at Mick Jagger. No one with children. Women with children have lost their sense of humor and if one of her kids gets a bad report card, she won’t be in the mood for sex. No one crazy. No one with a brother or father in the police force. Black women, Jewish women, Latina women all OK. No Italian women. From personal experience. Never use the word ‘cuddle.'”

Three Days on Tinder







1  Neil Kramer














2014 Online Recap


In January, I visited my friend, Veronica, in Virginia.


I wrote the first of many 2014 posts about my favorite topic, going to therapy.

Defense Mechanism,



In February, a freeze came over New York City and much of the East Coast.


It felt like an big accomplishment to sweep aside my fear of self-promotion to expand my photo “store.”

YouTube Preview Image



In March, I increased my productivity by working in the library, which worked very well until I realized the library had internet service.


I wrote about a breakthrough in therapy that happened when I needed to ask for the wifi password at a coffee shop.

The Password

On my birthday, there is a near-accident while trying to take a nude photo of myself with my iPhone.

The Story of the Birthday Selfie



In April I attended the 50th Anniversary celebration of the 1964 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows Park.


I wrote about life in my apartment building in Queens, including this “scary” tale of apartment living.

Doorbell at 3AM

April brought an unexpected viral hit, a collaborative parody of a now obscure independent film titled “American Blogger.”

YouTube Preview Image



On Mother’s Day, I participated in Listen to Your Mother at Symphony Space, NYC. It was a wonderful working with so many other talented storytellers.


The Kindergarten Show

I also posted a video of my piece, titled “Glass Half-Full.”

YouTube Preview Image



In June, I attended a fun 1920’s era garden party on Governor’s Island.


I struggled with the fact that my special relationship I had with Juli in New Zealand had come to an end.

Three Months Later

I tried shopping therapy to cheer myself up, crowdsourcing on Facebook for weeks about which jeans I should buy.

Which Levis Jeans Makes My Ass Look the Best?



July brought the big 10th anniversary conference of Blogher in San Jose. I was honored to c0-present a Pathfinder session on Visual Storytelling. I also got to hang out with my friend JC Little in Los Angeles.


Blogher ’14



I had a wonderful time at BlogHer, but I didn’t hear much that was inspirational about blogging. The excitement has moved to other venues — social media and more traditional outlets, where there was a better chance to been seen, heard, and read. I had seem my own traffic take a dive. So, I decided to change things up, and started to write short fictional pieces based on New York City photos.


Fictional Characters of New York #1



In September, I traveled to Nova Scotia to attend Kate Inglis’ Shed Photography Workshop. I had the best time there. I learned so much about photography from Kate and the other participants.  I also got to spend quality time with some of my favorite online friends from Canada.


Kate’s Shed Photography Workshop



In October, I toured the Ford Foundation and other interesting NYC buildings during the Open House New York Weekend.


By now, my readers were familiar with my therapy-oriented posts.

M or N



In November, I socialized way more frequently.  Jana from Georgia came to visit, and I attended  an art gallery opening with two visiting friends from Canada.


By the end of the year, there was one undisputed fact about my writing — readers were much more interested in hearing about my mother than myself.

Mom, are you a Feminist?



In December, most of my energy online went to “producing” the Blogger Christmahanukwanzaakah Online Holiday Concert, which mostly involved reminding others over and over again on the deadline! Despite several who have never learned to read instructions, it was a huge success.


The Ninth Annual Blogger Christmahanukwanzaakah Online Holiday Concert

YouTube Preview Image

It was a pretty good year.    Thank you for your friendship.   Happy New Year.

“Hang Out in Another Neighborhood” Day


I was the opening speaker at the graduation of my Queens elementary school, P.S. 154. I still remember most of the speech. It was a sixth grader’s riff on Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream.”  He was a hero to everyone, including me.

There were three portraits on the wall of my classroom that year– George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King.  We were a mixed school of different religions and races, and it was as clear as anything that society was changing fast — and that this was the future. We were heading towards a color-blind society where no one would care about the color of your skin, only about how many baseball cards you had in your pocket.

My father was about as liberal as you can get, donating his time and money to numerous causes, but I would cringe when he would mention the word “Negro” or “Oriental,” but eventually I understood that he was extremely good-hearted, just using words from another generation.

I’m now the person from another generation, with outdated language and ideas.   It’s taken me longer than some of my other friends to understand that being color-blind is racist.  I still grumble about the concept of male privilege.   I still catch myself being sexist.   I never was taught about these structural issues in school. We were more about equal rights under the law. Even Martin Luther King, with his mainstream views on integration and non-violence, seems old-school today.

I bring this all up because I had this weird idea this morning, and it won’t make any sense without first giving it some context. I’ve been reading a lot about Ferguson, racism, and the inequality of our society, but much of it doesn’t inspire me in the way that Dr. King once did.   Sure, we can boycott Black Friday or unfriend racist friends, but so what? I know this might sound overly-sentimental, but I’d love to find a way to fight injustice by creating some goodwill between communities, getting people to learn about each other, much as we did back in P.S. 154, when we went over to each other’s houses to do our homework, and experienced neighborhoods different than our own.   Anger at the America is important, and we should be angry, but we also need to feel as if there is hope.

It seems as if America’s biggest problem is that we remain segregated, sometimes even more than I remember in the past. White and Asian people are irrationally afraid of black and Latino areas because of the fear of crime. Black and Latinos feel uncomfortable in white areas in fear of ethnic stereotyping.

Solution — we need a way to start sabotaging this fear.

We’re always creating days online, “Talk Like a Pirate Day” to “Buy a Donut Day,” so why not create a “Hang Out in Another Neighborhood Day,” where Americans purposely go out of their comfort zone to connect with those who live in other neighborhoods, particularly those where the residents are different than themselves?

Imagine if hundreds of white folk and their families went into Ferguson for the day — buying burgers at the local McDonald’s, going to the local church, visiting the park, and getting to know how the other half lives. At the same time, black folks and their families, who are intimidated from entering certain well-off white neighborhoods, are invited WITH OPEN ARMS into these neighborhoods to have lattes at some upscale coffee ship or to do some shopping at the local stores.   Even if it is just for one day, it will make everyone less afraid of each other, because we would all cross the invisible red line.

And it is all perfectly legal.   And it might even been fun.  At least it would help demystify each other.

New Yorkers — “Hang Out in Another Neighborhood Day” — Upper East Siders — go have brunch in the South Bronx. Walk around. Support the stores there. Those who live in South Jamaica — have you ever been to Tiffany’s in Manhattan? Come in and take a look. Even if you can’t afford it now, at least realize that you are free to browse freely at any time.

Los Angeles — Beverly Hills folk — go have a BBQ sandwich in Compton, and then go to some of the small businesses in the area. Folk in Compton — have you ever seen the lobby of the Beverly Hills Hotel?   Why not?

Some people are going to hate this idea, because it doesn’t really deal with the systematic racism in our society.   That the white people get to go back to their fancy neighborhoods while the others are stuck in a police state.   It is an idea that isn’t angry enough.   Structural inequality will not be solved by gimmicks.    I get it.   But since I am old school, still inspired by my elementary school speech promising Dr. King to further his hopes of a less segregated society, I present this corny but radical little idea to you for your perusal.

Waiting and Acting


In therapy this week, I felt something deep,like a voice from childhood.  Someone telling me to wait.   Study and prepare.   Or risk the humiliation.   And all of a sudden I wasn’t there for humorous fodder for Facebook but because I needed it.   Two years since my divorce, my going to New Zealand, and my coming back to New York, and I’m still in retreat, waiting, studying and preparing.

I put on some 70s funk music on  Spotify.   And the music tells me, in this funkiest way possible, that there is no humiliation in acting. There is no humiliation.  There is no humiliation.   Acting only brings joy to the world, not only for you, but for everyone else.   You’re not here on Earth to think.  You’re here to act.

I need to act.  Don’t think.  Just act.  Start small.




In all my years of blogging, I have never written anything with the aim of inspiring you. It’s not my style.  I’m not a teacher or an advocate.  I don’t consider myself inspirational.

But that changes today.

The night started with my own search for inspiration. I’ve been feeling scared lately, fearful, unable to take steps that could improve my life.   I searched online for advice. Through Google, I found all sorts of gurus, wannabe gurus, psychologists, happiness experts, and thought leaders who were eager to help me.  These articles were written by two categories of authors — those who never faced fear, and those who learned to overcome it.   Whether written as  longform or Buzzfeed listicle, on an academic website or online women’s magazine, the advice was always remarkable similar, pretty much expanding on Nike’s advertising copy of  “Just Do It.”

“You can’t succeed without failure.

You will never know until you try.

Change your way of thinking.

Fight the fear and do it anyway.

Twelve Ways Successful Entrepreneurs Win at Business.

Get the Love You Deserve By Risking it All.”

All night I read articles that felt cold against my skin, clichés tossed at me to sell e-books or writers promoting themselves. I was not inspired by someone who once feared air travel and now jumps out of an airplane every day at lunch.  What if you’re still finding it hard to call up American Airlines to change a flight?

These articles just made me feel inept.

“Just do it,” they said.   That sells stuff.

“Fuck you.  I can’t do it yet,” I answered.   That will never sell anything.

So, I am here to talk to those who fear change, risk, or rejection. I cannot tell you to fight that fear, because I have not done so myself. I give you no tips on how to overcome obstacles because I frequently falter.

My only inspirational message is this — if you fear something, you should feel it. That’s it. Save fighting it for another day.  Just feel the fear.  And know that others feel it too.  That’s my inspirational message.  It’s the only way I can help you.

That is what I was searching for tonight. And since I could not find that inspirational article on any website, I wrote it myself.

#Microblog Mondays 1 — Trying it Out


I’m terrible at joining communities online, unless I start them myself.  (Ha ha, what does that say about me?)

But Melissa of Stirrup Queens always has new ideas to build community, and this one had special appeal to me.  The idea of #Microblog Mondays is to post something once a week on our blogs that we would normally do on social media.  And theoretically this will inspire us to all come back to blogging.   Melissa’s idea is so idealistic, crazy, and ultimately hopeless, that I just knew I had to join up.

Take anything you would have thrown up on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram and place it on your blog.  A passing thought.  What you did over the weekend.  What you’re looking forward to during the week.  What you’re worried about.  The strangest thing you observed on your way to work.  The funny thing your kid said.  A great picture you took during a hike.  A funny picture you forgot about until you found it while looking for something else.

You can read more at her blog.

OK, here’s my one paragraph post that I would normally put on Facebook.  Be glad that I am not boring you with it over there.

While I enjoy writing these Fictional Characters of New York that are flooding my blog lately, I am fully aware that I am hiding behind them. It’s as if I don’t know how to write a blog anymore.  A personal blog is not a memoir. And I don’t want to create some sort of two-dimensional character that is a stand-in for the authentic self. I just don’t feel safe being myself with you, because I don’t know who you are.

We Are the Camera

photo courtesy of Wikipedia

When I was growing up in Queens, people were afraid of walking the streets at night, fearful of “muggings.”  It became a cliche to hear about an elderly neighbor pushed onto the ground to have her purse stolen, or some old man held up by gun point.  If you see old movies from the 1970s-1980s, you will see these events as a frequent story plot.

Crime continues today, especially violent crime, but how often do you hear about muggings in the street? Very rarely.  Do we have a new respect for the weak and elderly? Has police enforcement become more efficient?

I think the most obvious answer has nothing to do with any of these things, but technology — the growth of the credit card since the 1990s.

The desperate know that the average citizen walks around the city with paltry amounts of cash in their pockets; instead, we have a multitude of credit cards.   Credit card fraud is a whole lot more complex and time-consuming that stealing $100 from an old lady.  In 2014,  you are more likely to have your iPhone stolen in the subway than your wallet.   And as technology better protects our phones, that will become less frequent as well.

Technology. We hate how invasive it has become, but we love it anyway, especially when it serves our needs.

We all have seen the outcries on social media about Facebook Messenger and how it spies on our data.   But welcome to 2014.  Technology continues to change how we live our lives.

Much has been said about the growth of citizen journalism. During the marches and police activity in Ferguson last night, it was ordinary citizens who presented the images and videos to the world via their cellphones, not the mainstream media.  For everyone who has ever complained about the ubiquity of selfies online or me taking street photos of women crossing Fifth Avenue, we now see the positive power of amateur photography. We have become the media.

Yes, we have become the directors of our movies, but it also means knowing we are the subjects of the films of others.  Look at London.  There are video cameras on every corner.   Does it reduce crime?   Yes.   But at what cost?   We appear as character actors on camera seen picking our noses as we walk the street.

Because of our distrust of our own police forces, there are some cities that now require police officers to wear video cameras while on duty.   This will force them to not abuse their power.   I think we can all see the future. In fact, we already have it — in Google Glass.

Once we all become walking and talking video cameras, forcing transparency on what used to be done in dark corners, the world will completely change. Crime will drop, as will police abuse.  Sexual harassment will disappear because we will always be on camera in our offices.  Productivity will rise because we will have no choice.   Cameras will be required  to be ON during interviews and important board meetings.  No one will trust parent-teacher conferences that are not recorded, used as protection against lawsuits.

There will be so much good coming from this world where “We Are the Camera.”   People will act better because Big Brother will be watching.   But our urge to control the world will also control us.  Google Glass type devices can be our own personal video security system, making us feel safe as we walk home from the subway at night, but it will also destroy our careers when we are recorded telling that dirty joke while drunk.

“1984” is here, for good and bad, creating a more equitable, safe, but invasive and angry world where we watch each other, controlling each other’s every step. The amateur videos from St. Louis. The “selfies” from BlogHer. Google Glass. Policemen required to wear video cameras. And, of course, running it all from behind the scenes – Facebook Messenger.

Singing Cabaret

I’m not big on crowds.  My experiences with conferences tend to revolve around hanging with one or two people who I strongly connect with for one reason or another.   This year, at BlogHer, that person was JC, the Animated Woman.  Besides driving with her to San Jose from Los Angeles, we did a little sightseeing in LA after the conference, including a visit to this weird Hollywood store filled with old Hollywood props.  Last night, I made this appropriately weird little slideshow movie for her to watch on her flight back to Montreal.

Older posts