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.”
Outraged over this year’s Starbucks red cups not being Christmasy enough?
There is one institution that never fails to produce the holiday spirit — yes, it is time for the official announcement of the Tenth Annual Blogger Christmahanukwanzaakah Online Holiday Concert, all new, all exciting for 2015!
The Last Concert.
TEN years! Can you believe it? This is going to be the blockbuster concert we have been waiting for!
This year’s concert will take place on Wednesday, December 16, 2015 right here on this blog.
It is time to hear YOU PERFORM! YOU are the CONCERT. That gives you about a month to work your magic.
Interested? Sign up in the comment to perform. Bloggers past, present, and future are all welcome. It would be a special honor to have former performers return one more time. Be part of this long-running tradition!
1. Create a video (or audio) file of you performing a holiday song. If you need technical help, ask me.
2. You must be performing in the audio or video. Don’t cheat and have your cute kids doing all the work.
3. You can sing, play an instrument, recite poetry, dance the Nutcracker, or write a symphony.
4. Once completed, post the video on a place like YouTube and send me the link. Or just send me the file via Dropbox or email, and I will post it on YouTube. Try to get me all files and links by Monday, December 14, 2015, two days before the concert! That gives you plenty of time to be creative.
5. If you are too wimpy to sing a song, send me a holiday photo for concert decoration. It could be of your tree, menorah, or plain ol’ winter solstice if you are a heathen.
6. The comment section is the sign-up sheet. By signing up, we can see who is performing what, so we can avoid having ten versions of “Jingle Bells.”
7. Most importantly — don’t be intimidated if you can’t sing. We like to laugh at you.
Join us in the longest-running holiday concert online — The Blogger Christmahanukwanzaakah Online Holiday Concert, in it’s TENTH and FINAL blockbuster performance!
Skating by Vince Guaraldi performed by Angela Reiner Downing of Fluid Pudding
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.
“Not here. People are looking. Let’s talk inside.”
“I don’t want to go inside. I don’t care if the whole world knows.”
“Oh no? And what about Lisa?”
“Let Lisa find out. Where’s the security camera? Let her see us on our TV at home! Let her know everything.”
“You WANT Lisa to find out this way, don’t you, so you don’t have to tell her? Why don’t you be a man and TELL her to her face rather than trying to be caught on Fifth Avenue?”
“Soon. I promise. Soon, I’ll tell her. I’m being serious here. By January. By January, I’ll file for divorce.”
“Then let’s discuss this matter again in January.”
“No. Don’t go. I can’t let you go. I need you. My body yearns for you all day.”
“Get a divorce.”
“I know. I know. It’s just, It’s complicated. I know it’s a cliche. But it really is complicated.”
“You’re not going to leave Lisa and the kids.”
” I will. I promise. I just want to do it the right way, with everyone happy. Because I’m a good man.”
“If you were a good man you wouldn’t be fucking me every Tuesday night at the Hyatt.”
” I am a good man. I’m a kind, moral person who wants to do the right thing. My marriage has been dead for years.”
“So leave it already.”
“Beth, you’ve never been married. When you’re married for 15 years, you’re connected in so many stupid ways. It’s like a web that needs to be untangled. But I promise, at the end, everyone will be happy – me, you, Lisa, and the kids. We’ll all be happy because happiness is the most important thing in life. Right? I make you happy. I know I do. I see it in your face. I see it in your eyes right now. I see it in your blushing. I’m a good man. A good man who wants to make things right. A good man who has fallen for the most amazing and beautiful woman in the New York City. You do see me as a good man, right?”
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.”
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
Befriend the man who gives a hand, not shows his hand.
OK, I made that up. But it’s not terrible.
Welcome to my new blog template. At least for now. I suppose if enough people hate it, I will change it. I’m not married to it yet. This is my third blog template in eleven years.
Now for the bigger question — what to do with this blog? I’m human. I crave attention and validation. And I can get more interaction from most of you by posting on Facebook or Instagram. What makes this site special? A person might read one of my posts about kitchen sponges on Facebook because it is shoved at them on their newsfeed, but who in their right mind is going to click on a link to read the same material on my blog?
You will just say, “Talk to my Hand.”
Please do not take this as criticism of you, dear reader, but myself. A REAL writer will write whether there is an audience for his work or not.
“Then why not just submit your writing to other sites instead and make $ online?”
That’s a good question, internal voice! Which publication would be keen to publish articles about kitchen sponges?
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.
“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?”
“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.”
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.