Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

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The “Like Generation” in Dating

couple

I sometimes forget that I met my ex-wife Sophia online, not on a dating site, but on a long-vanished forum on LA Freenet, an experiment in free internet service in Los Angeles.

Our first conversation was about children’s books. I said my favorite was Curious George Goes to the Zoo.  She liked The Little Prince. Neither of us had read the other’s fave, so we agreed to go to the library to check out the competition.

A few days we emailed each other with the results.  She found Curious George “childish.” I found the Little Prince “pretentious and boring.” It was love at first sight.

Don’t laugh.  This is how it works in the movies.  Imagine Sarah Bullock, playing a conservationist with Greenpeace, pushing past the secretary to confront the CEO of the oil company which plans to drill off of Venice Beach, played by George Clooney.   She takes one look at him, and what do you know — this is the same guy she had sex with last night after meeting him at the bar in the Mexican café in Westwood!

Opposites attract in movies.   But what about in real life?

Personally, if I met some woman who was into rodeos, it might be fun to learn more about her passions.   I know we are all taught to be confident in our own beliefs and likes, but what ever happened to learning about new things?

Can I also say that I am a Democrat and Sophia was a Republican?   I wonder if we met in today’s angrier America whether we could even get past the first swipe.    Yes, our views were important, but love has not boundaries, right?

One of the most interesting developments in online dating today is the need to judge each other by the most superficial of things — our cultural interests. Perhaps it is the result of “swipe and meet” apps where there are no questionnaires like on E-Harmony, and the bios are the length of Twitter updates. When using an app like Tinder or Bagel Meets Coffee, we know nothing about the person’s moral or artistic character, even after a first date.  The best way to judge worthiness (other than looks and chemistry) is to grab information about their “likes,” much as we do on Facebook.   But these likes are not the old-fashioned “walks in the rain” and “pina coladas,” which are activities done as part of romantic rituals, but media-created products that are consumed, such as music and tv shows.  But what do these “likes” really say anything about us other than the fact we pushed a button?

One of my dates went completely downhill when I revealed that I never listened to NPR, as if my lack of radio-listening was a sign that I was a Tea Party member.  I asked another woman if she wanted to see a Broadway musical, and her response was “that she does NOT see musicals.” It was a confusing moment, because I wasn’t sure if she was rejecting me or had some terrible fear of actors belting out songs.

Maybe it is a New York thing, but there has been so much name-dropping on my dates, from alternative bands to Bjork exhibits, that I almost fear being banned from a dating site if I mention my love of ABBA or Curious George Goes to the Zoo.   Before dating, my biggest fear was that I would forget to shave.   Now, I feel like I need to read the right books.

“No, I’m sorry. I haven’t listened to “Serial” yet.   No, I haven’t read Dave Eggers yet.  But I do have a blog.”

“Like Mashable or TechCrunch?”

“No.  A personal blog.”

“What do you write about?”

“You know.   Usual stuff.   Like telling all my friends and the general public all about my dates.”

“Do you make any money doing this?”

“No.”

“Hmm.  I saw you went to film school.   I love movies.   I love Wes Anderson.  You see any good movies lately?”

“Well, last night I watched this movie on cable called “Quartet” about a bunch of elderly opera singers in a British nursing home. It was pretty good.”

“I don’t think we are a good match.”

Do you think common interests in music, TV shows, or movies is the best barometer of a good match? If I watch Duck Dynasty does that brand me as a Republican and Jon Stewart as a liberal, and does it matter what we CONSUME in the media?   Is this “like” mentality, even in dating, the fault of social media?

Admit One

admit one

Well, I got through my first three months of online dating using two apps, Tinder and Coffee Meets Bagel.  I had eleven first dates, three second dates, and one third date.  It was fun and I met a lot of great women.  But it was exhausting.  On one week, I arranged three dates on three consecutive nights.   I hated this overbooked schedule but everyone in New York City seems so busy with their lives,  that you come away feeling that if you don’t meet immediately, you will lose your chance to meet anyone, especially with a hundred other potential matches close to their swiping fingertips.

Today, I feel sad, not in an extreme way, but just enough for it to be a “go to bed and eat ice cream from the carton while country music plays on the radio” day.  There’s no reason to be sad.  I’m impressed with myself and how successful I was, considering I haven’t gone on a real online date, well… forever.   Best of all, I have a better idea of what I want.

I started out this enterprise with me selling myself to others,  handing out”admit one” tickets to hundreds of  women, trying to draw them into the carnival show.  But that’s not how dating works.   First comes the chaos of the carnival, and then, only when the dust settles and you find that special woman, do you hand out the one ticket that speaks directly from your heart,  the ticket that reads “admit one.”

Time to go back into the fray – I just made a new first date for Thursday night.

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 Ghetto United Nations of Queens

My bedroom window looks out over an unpretentious supermarket that has been in the same location next to my apartment building for over fifty years, under various owners. You won’t find fancy stuff in this store, like organic kale, but you will find more brands of ethnic rice and beans than any other supermarket in the city. And they also have good pickles.

The supermarket is an ugly box-like structure built in the 1960s, so the last owner decided to pretty the place up in celebration of the neighborhood’s ethnic diversity.  He placed fifty national flags around the perimeter of the parking lot which represent all of the immigrant communities that live in the community.

My friend Barry and I jokingly called it “the ghetto U.N.” but there was also a deep sense of pride in this corny display of flags waving in the wind in the middle of Queens.   The flags were as iconic to this neighborhood as the skating ring at Rockefeller Center is to midtown Manhattan. Whenever I passed by, I quizzed myself on the flags’ countries of origin.  Some were easy — Lebanon, Turkey, India, Israel, Mexico, Japan.  But is that one El Salvador or the Dominican Republic?

The flags were arranged in random order, and it was amusing to see odd relationships developing, like Pakistan and South Korea suggestively rubbing against each other in the fall coolness.

Last spring, I noticed the Taiwanese flag hanging in a tree. It was ripped in half and stuck in the branches on purpose. Flushing has a large Chinese population and there are always political controversies involving Taiwan and China.  Events in Hong Kong have only increased the tensions in the Chinese community. Was this vandalism some sort of political statement?

I mentioned this online, but others thought it was kids playing games, not political media grandstanding.  This was a quiet supermarket in Queens where residents bought their milk and Pepperidge Farm cookies, NOT a hot-boiled environment like Twitter.

A few months ago, I was awoken by an angry voice outside.  I went to the window and saw a bearded man shouting in Arabic and ripping the Israeli flag down from her spot on the Ghetto U.N. display. As the police arrived, he ran away. I mentioned this on Facebook and I sensed a discomfort, as if I was trying to promote Fox News’ Islamophobia rather than sharing a real-life scary incident that I just witnessed.

In retrospect, these two little events at the supermarket were unimportant, not international incidents.  These perpetrators were individuals, and not representatives of agenda. We continue to all live happily in Queens, loving our diverse neighborhood.  I am writing this post from the McDonald’s next to the supermarket. At the tables near me are an elderly African-American couple eating Chicken McNuggets, two Asian dudes with Big Macs, and a Muslim woman wearing a scarf and drinking a Strawberry-Banana smoothie.  America:  Unity in Bad Nutrition.

But something has changed on our block. Something sad. The supermarket has decided to take the flags down — all of them. I have no idea if this has anything to do with the vandals, but whatever the reason, it’s as if New York City has decided to dismantle the Statue of Liberty because it was too much trouble to protect it from being graffiti.

There is a symbolism here that bothers me.  It is a culture that extends from name-calling on social media to the destruction of ancient relics in the Middle East.    It is the power of destruction over creation.

In his song, Imagine, John Lennon wrote the powerful lyrics,

“Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too”

He also imagined the flags coming down. But he imagined it happening because of love and peace, not because too many of the flags were getting ripped down in anger and hate.

Ten Years of Citizen of the Month – A Dedication

It was March 2005, and my first two weeks of blogging.  No one was reading Citizen of the Month, my “blog” named after a award that I frequently won in grade school for being such a goody-two-shoes. And without any comments, the idea of writing a blog seemed like a waste of time.

Then, a woman named Mary commented on several posts, writing notes such as “great post” and “you are a talented writer.” I was so excited; I was connecting with a stranger through my writing! This type of immediate feedback more satisfying that writing scripts for soulless Hollywood.

But then I noticed an oddness in the “IP address” of this Mary person. It was the same IP address as mine — not similar, but exactly the same.

This was because “Mary” was my wife at the time, Sophia, encouraging me under a false alias, not wanting me to quit.

This is a dedication to my first ten years of blogging.

I started my blog on March 7, 2005, on my birthday.

There are so many people to thank. Citizen of the Month has been a personal journey of my last ten years, and I have made countless friends along the way, like Frodo meeting the dwarves and elves while heading to Mount Doom. But there is only one person who truly deserves a special dedication to my first ten years of blogging — and that is Sophia.

If Citizen of the Month were a novel, it would start with my marriage to Sophia, proceed to my on-and-off separation with Sophia, my on-and-off divorce from my Sophia, and finally to the aftermath of my marriage, from my chapter with Juli in New Zealand, to therapy, to my first stabs at online dating.  Even my topical posts were filled with secret messages and personal details.

Even when Sophia wasn’t present in the online story, she was somehow in the background, such as when she hacked into my blogger address book and secretly arranged a virtual birthday party for me (with Danny‘s help) in 2007.

birthday1

My second decade of blogging will be a different story, one that I haven’t written yet, because I am not in complete control of the plot. My divorce is now further in the past and I live in another city. I haven’t been the greatest blogger of late, spreading myself thin on social media, but in my mind, everything I do online is a continuation of the personal journey that I started here on this space.

Thank you to everyone who ever stopped by, commented, or argued with me here on Citizen of the Month during the last ten years.  I promise to try to put the shine back on to my space.  Thanks to my mom, who has always been the most popular “character” on my blog, even back in 2005 when I got some laughs at her calling Citizen of the Month a “blodge.”   To Elan, who taught me everything.    To Martin, the best and most intelligent commenter that ever appeared on this blog.  Bon, Jana, Juli, Sizzle, Josette, Lotus, Megan, Pearl, Tamar, Sarah, Jenn — jeez, you know who you are.   Those names just came popping out and I apologize if I don’t mention you personally.  I even apologize again to  Liz from Mom 101 for calling her a Mussolini-type dictator for her “blogging with integrity” movement from years ago.

Throughout the years, I’ve always had an eccentric definition of a “blog.” I don’t see this space as writing or photography or a business. I’ve seen it as an extension of my life, as a living and breathing entity that expresses my inner soul, writing to myself, the wind, and sometimes just for Tanis, simply to annoy her.

And thank you, Sophia for always being supportive of my online life (except for the one time you called my favorite blogging friend, Veronica, on the phone and yelled at her for that one comment, but I promised I would never mention that), and for being my muse during the Golden Age years of my blog.

Now on to my second decade of blogging.

The Student of Arabic

It was a snowy night in the city. I traveled on the F-train, coming home from a literary reading in Brooklyn. A dark-skinned man with Mediterranean features sat across from me, reading from a book written in a foreign language. A strap-hanger, a college-age young man enclosed in a puffy blue parka, stood over the reading man, peering down at his book.

“I’m taking Arabic in college,” said the college guy to the foreign-born reader.

“Cool. But…”

“It’s hard. Arabic is. I could have taken French, but I decided to take Arabic. It’s more useful.”

“Yeah, probably.”

“Today, the teaching assistant in my Arabic class — he’s a cool guy from Saudi Arabia — took me aside, and said, “Trevor, you want me to teach you something new?” So, I said, “Sure.” And he taught me how to say ننظر في ذلك ضيق الحمار. Ha ha. You know what that means right?”

“No.”

“It’s “Look at that tight ass.” ننظر في ذلك ضيق الحمار.”

“Hmm.”

“How come you didn’t known that? You’re reading Arabic.”

“Actually, I’m not. I don’t know Arabic. I’m Pakistani.”

“Oh, well. Arabic is hard.”

“Yeah.”

“ننظر في ذلك ضيق الحمار. Look at that tight ass. I’m never going to remember that.”

The Pakistani guy looked my way, hoping to somehow end this uncomfortable conversation.

The college guy sighed sadly, as if he had always made the wrong choices in his life.

“Maybe I should have taken French.”

Truth Quotient:  90%

++++

In three days it’s going to be the 10th anniversary of Citizen of the Month.  For a week, I’ve been debating what I should say in my big “10th Anniversary Post.”  Blogging has been such a big part of my life.   Citizen of the Month never got any big awards or made me any money.   But I’m proud of the way I pretty kept to the same philosophy of writing throughout these years — write whatever the fuck interested me at the moment.   Sometimes funny, sometimes not.  In the real world, I’m a bit of a people-pleaser.   On my blog, I’ve wrote whatever.

Last night, I overheard a completely inane conversation on the subway, so I scribbled notes on my iPhone, and said to myself, “this should be one of the posts celebrating my ten years of blogging.”

Why?  Because no one else will like it.  That to me — is blogging, old school.

I’ll be back on March 7th to thank you for being such good readers and friends.

Wild and Crazy Dating Stories

tinder

Conversation with my friend Craig, who I met in the street.

“Hey, Neil. How’s the online dating life?”

“It’s good. I’ve met some interesting women.”

“It must be wild. I’ve been reading the articles in the New York Times about all the crazy hookups on Tinder and sex with strangers?”

“That’s the media blowing things up to write salacious articles. They love to appeal to our fears about the internet.”

“I think it’s real. Did you see that video of the 89 year grandfather who fooled all these young women on Tinder? Their reactions will shock you!”

“That’s fake shit. A perfect example of the media using “hot topics” to get hits. I should know, I just wrote something titled “4 Lessons from My Month on Tinder,” which received more feedback than any post that I’ve written on my own personal blog this year. But the truth is, most people on these dating sites are just normal people looking for love.”

“Ha ha, yeah… you mean normal, single people wanting to bring their sexy back… with strangers! Come on, Neil, surely you must have encountered something wild so far?”

“Well, yesterday, I did get a Tinder offer to join a couple in a threesome.”

“Now, that’s more like it! What did you say?”

“I swiped no. I can barely handle one women. Who wants to also deal with her stupid husband?”

I thought when you said threesome, you meant two women.”

“No. It was a married couple. So far, no offers for threesomes with two women.”

“Anything else really wild and crazy?”

“Well, there was one woman who said that before we met for coffee she wanted to Skype.”

“Ooh, for sex talk?”

“No, quite the opposite. She gave me a third degree straight out of “Law and Order” – “Do you smoke? Do you drink? Do you use drugs? Do you ever play cards for money?” I started laughing, thinking she was joking, cleverly being ironic, but she wasn’t.”

“I asked you for a story that was wild and sexy, not crazy and sad.”

“Well, how about this – I found this interesting.  As I am swiping on Tinder – yes, no, yes, no – I come across a transgender person.”

“How did you know?”

“She said in the text under the photo. I am transgender.”

“OK.”

“And I know transgender issues are big now, with that terrific TV show, Transparent. And you know how I am all for LGBT rights, but when I actually encountered a transgender person on a dating site, it made me stop in my tracks. I felt a little hypocritical, because there was no way I was going to swipe right and say yes, no matter what she looked like. I’m just not ready for it on a personal level. I believe in it for society, but I’m not sure I am ready to overcome my own internal bias over what is “male” and what is “female.” I’m not sure I am ready to date someone who is transgender. I thought about writing about this in a blog post.”

“No way. Don’t write that blog post.”

“Why not?”

“Because it sounds like you are anti-transgender.”

“I’m not anti-transgender. I’m just being honest about confronting my own bias. Maybe in ten years I will be able to date a transgender person, but not now.”

“Don’t write the post. You still sound like you hate transgender people.”

“I don’t hate transgender people!”

“So, are you saying that if Bruce Jenner publicly says, I am a woman, operation and all, you still wouldn’t date him?”

“I wouldn’t date Bruce Jenner.”

“The Olympic champion? Someone who has been on the front of Wheaties?”

“I’m not interested in Bruce Jenner.”

“It’s almost un-American.”

“You would date Bruce Jenner?”

“Bruce Jenner – sure. If he is fully a woman. I mean, when I was growing up, there were two posters hanging in my bedroom — Farrah Fawcett Majors and Bruce Jenner. Enough said.”

“Anyway, online dating is interesting because it make you confront your own stereotypes, stuff that we are always so progressive about online but never have to actually confront. Do I like blonds or brunettes? Is she too fat or too skinny? Will I date a woman with three children? A black woman? An Arab woman?”

“You sound very judgmental.”

“I’m probably more open than a lot other people. One woman said she doesn’t date men outside of Manhattan, as if Queens is in another country!”

“So are there any definite NOs for you — other than transgender people? What about dating someone gay?”

“Why would I date someone gay?”

“I always thought you were bisexual.”

“Why would you think that? I’m not bisexual. I’m straight.”

“You’re always talking about Broadway musicals with your friend Danny. I thought you guys had something going on.”

“Danny is straight. He is married with two children. Just because we talk about Broadway musicals doesn’t mean that we are gay. That stereotype is so old.”

“Ok, I get it. The secret is safe with me.”

“But that reminds me of one funny story about gays on Tinder.”

“Ooh! Finally. As a supposed “humor” writer, you rarely tell any funny stories.”

“I told you about that article I wrote for that online magazine titled “4 Lessons From My Month on Tinder.”

“Yes.”

“After I handed it in, the editor asked me to take a photo of someone swiping Tinder on a screen. I said sure, always up for a photographic challenge. So I took a photo of my own hand swiping the screen of my tablet. She said she liked the photo, but since her readership was mostly female, it would be better if the hand was a feminine one, and not one covered with strands of dark hair, inherited from my Eastern European grandparents. So, I went back to my photography studio (AKA the kitchen table), held my hand at a certain angle, and adjusted the lighting so my hand would appear more “lady-like.” I then went into the Tinder app and temporarily changed my preference from men looking for women to men looking for men. I wanted to create a photo of a woman swiping YES to a hunky man.  The photo came out perfectly, but in my zeal for the perfect shot, I accidentally swiped too far, so said YES to this man looking for love. I switched my preferences back to “looking for women,” but all day I was worried about this mysterious NYC gay man. What if he swipes yes back to me? What would I tell him? Would I have to apologize and say that I am not gay and swiped on him by accident? Would he believe me? Would he think I am trying to not hurt his feelings? Would he be disappointed if he found me very attractive and here I was – crushing his dreams? Luckily, and also rather sadly, I never heard from him, so apparently he didn’t feel the same way about me that I accidentally felt about him. Even though I am not gay, it stung to be rejected. I thought about writing about this in a blog post.”

“No. Don’t write about this either. Maybe you should just stay off your blog for awhile.”

16th Annual Chinatown Lunar New Year Parade

It was the Year of the Sheep (or Goat) – it was unclear to me – at the 16th Annual NYC Chinatown Lunar New Year Parade & Festival.  All I know is that, according to Chinese astrology, people born under the sign love creativity, so it was something to celebrate, even if everyone watching the parade had to stand in cold and dirty slush from yesterday’s snowstorm.    But what colors!

Lower East Side Tenement Museum Snapshot Event

It was a once a year event — cameras were allowed inside the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.

From the Tenement Museum website: “We tell the stories of 97 Orchard Street. Built on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in 1863, this tenement apartment building was home to nearly 7000 working class immigrants.”

As the docent guided us through the building, the other participants were fascinated by how much has changed in the hundred years since my own grandmother lived on the Lower East Side, working in the garment industry.   There  have been breakthroughs in technology, advances in sanitation, and regulations that better protect conditions at work and home.

But as we heard stories about those who lived here, a past generation’s hopes for success, love, and health, I thought about my own life, still living in a small New York City apartment, dealing with making money and work, and using an electronic dating app like Tinder as a modern-day Yentl the Matchmaker.

I understood that most basic human needs are still the same.

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