The Selfie Stick: The Final Curtain

The New York City of today is not the same New York City of my past. Technology has changed everything. No one reads the newspaper on the subway. Everyone is on their smartphone, living their virtual life.   In fact, you can do anything now from the privacy of your mobile device – ordering food, buying a book, hailing a cab, finding a date. In what was once the most public-oriented city in the country, I’ve seen co-workers sitting together at lunch in a café, silently updating their Facebooks and Twitters, and singles in crowded bars, ignoring each other while sexting with strangers on Tindr. Interaction with strangers, once a social necessity of urban life, has become an antique from the past, like the payphone or Smith-Corona typewriter.

One public exchange that remains intact, despite the infiltration of technology into our daily life, is the age-old interplay between tourist and local.   New York City is a tourist city, and despite the reputation of New Yorkers as rude, most residents are glad to help the visitor navigate the five boroughs.  After all, New York is an international city, the home of the United Nations, where dialogue between different cultures is essential to the survival of the world.

Just today, I was on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art eating a hot dog when I noticed a young Japanese couple taking photos of each other with an iPhone.   The man snapped a photo of his girlfriend posing with a black hat and dark sunglasses, as if she was a movie star, then the woman took a photo of her boyfriend pointing up the stairs to the entrance way, as if he was a Greek sculpture.

This was the time for me to jump into action, doing what was expected of me as a resident of New York. I was about to do something that I had seen done by both my father and my grandfather, a social gesture passed down from generation to generation,  a symbol of  the interconnectivity of all people.

“Would you like me to take a photo of you together?” I asked, trying to look as confident and trustworthy as possible.

“No. No. No need.” said the woman.   She reached into her purse and  pulled out what looked like a retractable fishing rod, but later found out was called “a selfie stick.” She placed the iPhone at the tip of the metal stick, like bait, and then held it out so the phone was now several feet away, facing them, with the museum in the background.   The couple made kissy-poo faces at the camera, and she pressed a button on the stick to take the photo.  Snap.

The selfie stick. One more tradition dead – the asking of tourists to take their photo.   Once a noble gesture, now as old-fashioned as wearing a girdle.

Finally, the last reason to talk to strangers in the city.   Gone.


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Fictional Characters of New York — #37


After we spent all afternoon moving his equipment across the street, Gideon took a wad of money from his pocket and handed $100 bucks to each of the other guys in the crew. They promptly headed to the Fiddler to blow their money on liquor, leaving Gideon and I alone in the new studio with the boxes, furniture, and music equipment.

Gideon licked his thumb and swiped $300 from his still substantial ball of dough.

“And these three bills are for you, Danny.” he said.

“No, Gideon. I can’t take money from you.”

“Sure you can. You worked hard. You spent all Sunday doing this for me.”

“You know me. I didn’t have anything better to do today.”

“Listen, I wouldn’t have asked you if I thought you wouldn’t take the money.”

“I was just helping you… as a friend.”

“Did you see any other friends here?”

“So, I’m just like these other guys you hired.  Are you saying I’m not a friend?”

“Of course you are a friend. And that’s why I asked you.  I know you’ve been out of work. So when Jill suggested…”

“So, Jill told you to call me to give me a job.  Like a charity case.”

“She’s worried about you.”

“I would have rather you just called me as a friend.”

“Just take the money,” he said, as he tried to shove the $300 into my shirt pocket. “I know you need it.”

I slapped his hand away.

“Just take the fucking money,” he yelled.

“I don’t want your fucking money.”

Gideon grew red-faced.  He was not the type of man who liked no for an answer.  He grabbed me in a stranglehold, tightening his arm against my throat.

“You’re going to take the money,” he said, as he pushed the money down the front of my pants, into my underwear.   I pulled away, removed the bills, and ripped them into shreds, spilling it on the floor like confetti.

“No wonder you can’t find a job,” said Gideon.  “You’re an idiot.”

“I should have been the one who married Jill, not you.”

“Well she chose me. That’s life in New York City. Winners win, loser lose.”

“Good. Well, tell her I’m not fucking her anymore when you’re in LA for months on end.”

Gideon jumped me like a hungry lion smelling meat, and I elbowed him in the face, breaking his nose. Gideon tripped me and I fell, my head slamming against the edge of a synthesizer.  My vision grew dark and I needed to vomit.   I grabbed Gideon’s leg and he fell on a pile of framed photos stacked on his desk.  Portraits of rock icons destined to decorate the studio walls.  Crash!  The glass pieces flew through the air like tiny knives.

For the next twenty minutes we beat the shit out of each other, until we were too bloody and exhausted to continue. Using my last ounce of strength, I rallied myself to stand, and limped over to the front door.

“I have to go,” I said as I entered the gray day outside. “I have to look for a job tomorrow.”

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TED Talk on Confidence


Hello, there! I’m so glad to be here with you for this afternoon’s TED session. Haven’t the other speakers been amazing? Just outstanding!

Today, I want to talk to you about confidence.

True confidence has become the cornerstone in a growing movement, one that has become international, emphasizing self-respect and personal attainment in our daily lives. In today’s world, we have a feast of opportunities that were unheard of a hundred years ago, but we still feel powerless and unworthy to sit at our rightful table. A thriving industry has been developed to help others attain this confidence — books, courses, even lectures like this one, but most of the teachers involved in these enterprises don’t speak from hard-earned personal experience. They were either born with this confidence, or were privileged as children to have mentors and family members guide them towards the path of self-actualization.  What could they ever teach us, when confidence seems like an unattainable goal, like winning a gold medal at the Winter Olympics?   How can they they speak to those who still struggle with inner demons, the voices in our heads that are judgmental and critical.

I speak to you from a different place.   I have been plagued by these same naysayers in my brain, gone through the same battles, and only through hard work and introspection have I learned to root my feet into the soil of life, like a strong tree. I stand here as someone who was once like you, fearful and uncertain.  Now I share my vulnerability with you, the wisdom I have gained in my travels, so we can walk together towards our dreams.

First, let me say that it is impossible for me to share everything with you today.  That would take several days.   Hey, I’m willing.  We can bring in Chinese food in here on our breaks!  Yes, I think this topic is THAT important.    But there are other speakers who need to come up here, so my time is limited.    So, let’s focus on the the core point, the one tool that is most effective in building confidence.  Let’s examine it, as if under a microscope.   What has worked for me.  And what, I am convinced, will work for you.

So, let’s begin.  Let’s examine the thought process that I use during a fearful or anxious moment, one that snaps the brain into working for me, and not against me.

First, let’s imagine a giant stone, or rock. It could be a square slab of stone, of granite or marble, or a circular boulder. It doesn’t matter. What is important is that the object is hard, intimidating, and seemingly impenetrable.  And embedded inside this stone, in the center,  sight unseen, is your “confidence.”  Since you cannot see this confidence, you might doubt its existence, but it IS there.

Now, see yourself standing next to this stone, this fortress, the prison of your confidence. You want to get to break it out, but it seems out of reach.   Then you notice a chisel on the floor. You pick it up.

You are not an artist. You are not a Michelangelo or Rodin.  But you understand how a chisel works.  You pound into the rock, picking at it.  Harder and harder. Faster and faster. The air is filled with dust, and the stone looks hideous, but you are not here to create beauty. You are on a journey to the center of the rock, where the confidence you seek is waiting.

In the novel, “The Agony and the Ecstasy,” Michelangelo was described as “a master, the fierceness of his joy sending the chisel through the block like lightning through cumulus clouds.” I do not want you to see yourself that way. I want you to be a frenzied attacker, a drug addict needing his fix.  Even though this whole process is happening in your mind, in only a few seconds, it should feel like a month of sweat-filled work, your biceps sore, your arm muscles throbbing.  The stone, the boulder, the marble, whatever it is that you have imagined, disintegrates further with each blow, until you reach the very center of your nemesis, and then with one more brutal swing, you reach the heart of the stone… and it is empty.  There is nothing there.

Wait a minute.  There’s something wrong with this story.  I can’t put my finger on it.

How many people are in this audience?  Can we turn on the lights please?

Jesus, there are a lot of you. I didn’t realize that I am speaking to so many people today.

Why am I doing this talk anyway? Is doing this TED thing really going to help me get readers to my blog?

And did I forget to dress today?  Why am I standing in front of all of you completely naked?  God, this is awkward.  How could I do this?  Do I leave the house so infrequently that I’m now leaving the house without clothes?

Can we dim the lights please?  I’m naked.

No, not on the audience.  On me.

Thank you.

You can still see me, can’t you?  I was afraid of that.

I know what you are looking at.

You are looking at the scar on my left leg. I hate having to explain that.

OK, it happened in North Shore Day camp in Queens. I was seven. Rob and I were playing tag near the pool, and I slipped and cut my leg on a metal chair. And there was blood all over the place. And I had to get stitches.

But don’t worry, Rob and I are still friends.

In fact, I just saw him last week. He is married and has two kids. And they just got a cute little dog that they named Hatchi.

You should see Hatchi. He is so friendly and cute. He runs up to everyone. He pees wherever he wants. He’s so confident. He should be giving this talk.

Oh.  Well, I see that I am getting a cue that my time is up.  Let me wrap up by saying this —

“Confidence is standing naked in front of a group of strangers to give a talk on confidence, and winging it.”

Pin that on Pinterest.

Thank you.

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Moving the Mannequins







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Ask Dr. P., An Advice Column

While I have been fiddling around with this dumb blog for the last ten years, my Penis moved to Baltimore to attain an advanced degree in Psychiatry at John Hopkins University.  We here at Citizen of the Month are now proud to bring a new voice into the community to help my readers with answers to pressing problems related to issues of mental illness, anxiety, and depression.

About Dr. Penis —

Dr. P., as he is known by his colleagues and patients, brings a wide range of professional and life experience to his practice as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. He has spoken to national audiences on radio and at workshops and seminars internationally, and is a frequent guest writer at the Elephant Journal, Jungian Newsletter, and Huffington Post.  Dr. Penis is sought after for his work in Dream Analysis, Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, Somatic Work, and Hypnosis.

All questions submitted to Dr. Penis are real, submitted by real people, but kept anonymous for privacy reasons.

Dear Dr. P,

Hello, Dr. P. I could really use your help. I’m a man who considers himself a bit of a budding photographer. Recently, I went to a fun and creative photo retreat in Canada. There were thirteen other participants. On the first day of the retreat, the leader wanted us to split into pairs in order to practice portraiture. I wanted to pair up with “Katie” because I was a fan of her photography, but when the time came to ask her, I started to worry, “What if she wants to pair up with someone else — someone more of a professional than I am — and then if I suggest we pair up, I will be putting her in the awkward position of saying no to me, or even worse, yes just our of politeness, and then a coldness would develop which would tarnish our friendship forever. Soon, everyone was partnered except the last two, one being me, and I had flashbacks to being picked last for softball in camp. Do I sound codependent to you? One of the attributes of codependency is an overwhelming need to care for others before themselves? Should I join a codependent twelve step group?

Codependent Carl


Dear Codependent Carl,

First of all, thank you for writing to me. Expressing your fears is the first step in overcoming them. All men have fears. Imagine yourself walking into a bar, seeing Scarlet Johansson sitting by herself, and going over to her to say, “You don’t know me, Scarlet Johansson, but I’d like you to come home with me tonight to make sweet sweet love.”

That would be difficult for even the most confident of men.

Of course, you were just pairing off at a photography retreat, so there is no real comparison with picking up Scarlet Johansson in a bar.  You are just a fucking wimp. Grow up, pussy boy! What’s the matter with you?

And don’t give me that bullshit about you protecting this “Katie” from making the decision. She’s an adult who can make her own decision. She’s probably more of an adult than you.   Stop trying to read the minds of others.  And stop rationalizing your own pussyhood.  You didn’t do if because you were protecting her or fearing her reaction.   You were afraid of your OWN reaction!   Maybe she even WANTED to pair up with you also.  I wouldn’t be surprised if that was your real fear — that she would say YES,  and then you would feel responsible for her enjoyment for the rest of the day.   Your mind is like a sewer plant of wrongful thinking.

Jung once said, “Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”  I say, “Get over yourself, you narcissistic nutjob!  Stop treating others like children and yourself as the dutiful, responsible parent.  Their decisions are their own.  It’s always easier worrying about others than yourself.”

“Am I codependent?” you ask. How the fuck should I know? No real professional gives a diagnosis on the internet. I do know that whatever size dick you were born with has grown progressively smaller as you have grown older, almost the reverse of what happened with Pinocchio’s nose, and if you continue on this path of thinking you need to please others all the time, by the time you are retirement age, you cock will have shriveled up and turned into dust.

Should you go to a codependency twelve-step group? I would. Many codependent women substitute sex for love. You get my meaning or do I need to spell it out?  You go to F-U-C-K THEM.

To wrap this up, Codependent Carl, because I’m growing a little tired of thinking about you, here’s what you need to write on your forehead and look at in the mirror every morning —

“Let others make their own decisions.  Grow up and take care of your  own fucked-up life first.   Because no one else will.   And most importantly, always remember this  — every time you don’t ask for something that you want, you dick grows smaller.”

Dr. Penis.
Please follow Dr. Penis on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Ello.

Posted in Health | Tagged | 1 Comment

Roosevelt Island Tram

I posted this little video on Facebook, and no one seemed very interested in it, but then again, I enjoy experimenting with different ways to tell a narrative.   I’m using a very old technique here — patching together still photographs into a sequence,  and then using a voiceover to give it some meaning.  It’s a little pretentious, but it’s my first try playing with this idea.

Posted in New York City, Photography | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Rosh Hashanah 5775


It was a rainy Rosh Hashanah in New York City. It was the second year I was attending a progressive service in Manhattan, one in which God’s name was rarely spoken and there was discussion about getting a vegan shofar made of plastic for next year, instead of the one used by Jews for thousands of years, made from a ram’s horn.

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, is a time of reflection. Jews look back on the past year, and prepare themselves for being “inscribed into the book of life” on  Yom Kippur, when the “book is closed.”  Jews — they are into metaphors involving books.

Halfway into the service, the rabbi turned her attention to the congregation.

“How have we all used our time over the past year?” she asked.  “Have we done good deeds? Have we been of service to society?”

One congregant immediately rose her hand.    Clearly she was once the teacher’s pet in third grade.

“I volunteer at a homeless shelter twice a week and joined the Central Park Conservancy executive committee.”

The rabbi nodded in approval.  The rest of us clapped, honoring her service.

A younger man stood next; he wore a yarmulke colored like the LGBT flag.

“I directed a film for marginized teenagers.  It was shown in the public schools throughout New York City schools, and I believe it has helped many overcome their personal shame.”

More applause.

The next two sharers helped run a successful fundraiser for a cancer clinic at a hospital and organize last week’s People’s Climate Change March on Wall Street.

The mood in the room took a surprising silent dive after these four congregants shared their good deeds.   There was a tangible feeling of embarrassment about our own accomplishments over the last year.  The moment reminded me of that feeling you get on on Facebook when you read about someone’s exotic vacation in Costa Rica, and you don’t want to tell anyone about your low-key Thanksgiving at your Aunt Mildred’s home in New Jersey.  How can you compete?

“How have we all used our time over the past year? Have we done good deeds? Have we been of service to society?”

These were the questions of the rabbi.  Good questions.   Questions aimed at making us think about how we treat our fellow man.   But the first four responses sounded more like references you would add to your college application.

It took an older woman to break the ice. She stood up to face the rabbi.  She was wearing a green wool dress that added color to her short gray hair.

“Well, just last night, a friend called up and said she was having an anxiety attack about her granddaughter in California, so I got dressed, took the cross-town bus over and talked with her until she calmed down.”

Some of us giggled, because it was a rather absurd example in comparison to the others, but then we all applauded, sensing her wisdom. She had expanded upon our definition of a good deed, so it included the small and personal as much as those larger actions that are part of the public record.

And suddenly others stood up, energized by the older woman.  One by one, congregants  mentioned minor actions, decisions, and choices that would never make the newspapers or news, but made their past year one of good deeds, their existence worth living.

Last week, I watched the PBS documentary on the Roosevelts.   Their accomplishments were fascinating.  FDR was Governor of New York and President of the United States. He created the New Deal and Social Security. He led us out of the Depression AND World War 2.  But would FDR have taken the cross-town bus to calm down a friend having an anxiety attack?  I don’t think so.

Lyrics from Seasons of Love from the musical, Rent.

Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty five thousand moments
Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?
In daylights, in sunsets
In midnights, in cups of coffee
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife
In five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, a year in the life?
How about love?

Posted in Jewish | Tagged | 10 Comments

Fictional Characters of New York — #36


My name is Joseph. I’m a novelist living in Manhattan. My latest novel, “Upper West Side” was skewered in this month’s New York magazine by a young, feminist book critic. She called my female characters “cardboard cutouts” and “male fantasies” who only spoke about love, sex, and romance.

“Has this male author ever listened to real New York women talking with each other?” she wrote.   “I suggest that he leave his apartment one day and stop wanking off onto his page.  When I am with my BFFs we rarely talk about love, sex, and romance.  We discuss feminism, racism, literary criticism, pop culture, and the best new places to get Indian food. This is a book that should die a slow death. Shame on you Random House for publishing such tripe!”

I have to admit, I was hurt by this review.  And the comments were even worse, especially the ugly one where someone suggested women should get together in book clubs and discuss fun ways to cut off my dick.

But I’m not the type of guy to lash out. I believe that criticism is important, and I always try to learn and grow.  Criticism of your work is part of the job.

And maybe the book critic was right.   I do live a solitary life.   Writing is a lonely profession, and I spend countless hours by myself.   Maybe I need to understand women better.

Wasn’t it just last Saturday that my daughter, Julia, suggested I go on a date with someone, maybe one of my editors?

“I’m too busy for dating,” I told her. “I need to write.”

Besides, Saturday exists for my daughter.   Saturday is my happiest day.  Julia lives in Connecticut with her mother and step-father, and I live for our one day a week to see a Broadway show or new foreign film.

But how can I be a good father if I don’t understand women?   Is this why my marriage failed?  Did I not understand Kathy?   Do I only see women under the filter of  love, sex, and romance, but not living with the same worldly dreams, ambitions, and goals of men?

I decided to take the book reviewer’s advice to heart.   After lunch, I closed my laptop, and I took a walk down Broadway, something I never do in the middle of the week.   I continued downtown until I noticed three women sitting on a bench, chatting together. They were of different ages; I assumed they were related. I took my position on a bench across from them and closed my eyes to focus on their voices and conversation. I wanted to learn, “What DO women really talk about?”

And I listened.   One woman, I think the younger one, had a higher-pitched voice. The older woman was tentative in her speech, but the others responded with respect for her life experience.  The third woman was the most educated.   She mentioned her advanced degree from Columbia at least three times.

The feminist book critic from New York magazine was correct. I listened with my eyes closed for forty minutes, and NONE of these women mentioned the subjects of love, sex, and romance.

What did they talk about?    They discussed a job opening at a publishing house, an acquaintance who was recently unfriended on Facebook,  a vacation rental apartment in Prague, a sale on fall jackets at Burlington Coat Factory, a recipe for challah for Rosh Hashanah, whether Hillary Clinton would be a good president, and where to find a good math tutor for the middle woman’s struggling son.

I had finally learned what women discuss with each other.

“Basically, love, sex, and romance,” I said to myself.

I chuckled, then returned home to write a new book.

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Kate’s Shed Photography Workshop

I’m sitting in McDonald’s with my free morning coffee (some promotion for the last two weeks of September). Across from me is a sixty year old woman wearing a fall jacket. She has red hair that is too bright, and full lips. She is an attractive woman. Years ago, back in high school,  she was probably the girl everyone wanted to ask to the prom. She leans against the window and the morning sun is shining in, coloring the left side of her face with golden light. It’s a scene out of Renoir, if Renoir lived in Queens rather than the French Riviera.

I have an urge to take a photo of this woman, to capture the moment, but she seems alone in her thoughts, and my instinct tells me that it is inappropriate to take out my iPhone. I cannot explain to you why one moment feels right to take a photo and the other an invasion of privacy. I just feel it.

There is a slippery slope of morality in taking photos of strangers. I can give you arguments rationalizing the importance of street photography — historical record, artistic license, celebration of the city — but I don’t like to bullshit you.  For me, there is an element of escape to street photography, an unburdening of loneliness. Taking a photo makes me feel as if I am part of something bigger, a city in motion.

But the truth is I envy your photography online, especially that which is connected to your domestic life.   I wish I could have your wonderful subjects — such beautiful children, spouses, dogs, and houses.  I can think of nothing more thrilling than taking photos of my kids at a birthday party or my wife posing naked for me.   Street photography is impersonal and lacking in heart.


My week in Nova Scotia was a magical one — the scenery, the music, the people, old friends and new, and even the cookies that Kate’s mom baked for the occasion. You can read about it on Kate’s own blog. Kate’s Shed brought me back to the first time I actually met Kate — back at our first BlogHer conference, before she had published her first book. It was a time when blogging conferences had intimacy to them, something now lost.

I have a hard time coming up with a narrative thread for an experience that contains so many threads — friendship, tourism, and learning, so I’ve decided to just pick the one moment that had the most impact on me, the experience that I still think about today.

It was my short time taking photos of C.

C was a participant at Kate’s Shed photography workshop, and I didn’t talk with her much.  Yet, one of the assignments on Saturday was to split into pairs and take portraits of each other. I was paired with C. I was insecure, as if I was going to be unmasked as a fraud.  Kate lent me her Canon DSLR, and I hated leaving the comfort zone of auto and the ease of a zoom lens.  I didn’t know whether to tell her that I had never used a DSLR until that day.   Even worse, the only way to make her comfortable enough and trust me to take her portrait was to, uh, TALK to her.

It’s difficult to judge the results, but I was happy with them.  I believe I “captured” something about the spirit in her heart, even if I can’t put my finger on what it is.   It didn’t happen immediately, but I didn’t rush it.   I took my time.   I moved her to a new location.   I coaxed her out of her discomfort.   I waited for the light to hit her.   I didn’t think of myself as an external camera, but as two people doing some sort of visual dance, and for a brief moment, this woman was the most beautiful and interesting women in the world to me, and I felt it.

It was an experience both professional and intimate. Street photography is hiding in the bushes. Portrait photography is engagement. And the result is a moment captured.

I doubt I will ever see C again. After the shoot, we didn’t bond in any special way.   Our special moment disappeared the minute the camera was off.   We continued on with the workshop as two relative strangers.  But there was something about that moment that changed my view of photography. And it had nothing to do with using the DSLR instead of a smartphone. It had to do with connecting with your camera, and with another person.  I had experienced something about photography that I had never felt before.   And I suppose that was the point of the workshop.

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Fictional Characters of New York — #35


“What’s that ring tone?” asked the customer, a young black man with dreadlocks.

“It’s an old song. From the 60’s. When I was young.”

Milt sold shady, refurbished, jail-broken cell phones from a corner in Astoria, Queens. Everyone from the local high school knew where they could find him — the strange old man slumped over in his torn windbreaker, and kept his “merchandise” in the back of a broken down Ford van.   Today was a busy day for Milt.   With the introduction of the iPhone 6 the day earlier, students of Benjamin Franklin High School knew that he was getting rid of the iPhone 5s for cheap.

Milt never dreamed that he would be spending his Golden Years selling contraband iPhones and Androids to selfie-addicted high school students.  He was not a techie.  He attended Brooklyn law school back in the day. That’s where he met Renee.  It was also the start of his drinking, first one glass, and then as winter approached, a whole bottle of Dewar’s at night.  Milt always said that he didn’t hit Renee across the face that Christmas night.  The liquor did. But it was the start of the end. Renee moved to California and never returned his calls, back when telephones were still attached to the walls.

Milt had no interest in cell phone technology.  He saw a business opportunity. He knew the kids loved the phones, and it was better than selling them drugs.

“What that ring tone?” every young customer would ask him, boy or girl, black or white.

“It’s an old song. From the 60’s. When I was young.”

It was his signature.   The way Rolex put their name on a watch.   He personalized every ring tone before he sold it on the street.   And every phone had the same song.

Just walk away, Renee
You won’t see me follow you back home
The empty sidewalks on my block are not the same
You’re not to blame

From deep inside the tears that I’m forced to cry
From deep inside the pain that I chose to hide.

For Microblogging Monday

Posted in Literary, New York City, Photography | Tagged , , | 9 Comments