Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

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Fictional Characters of New York #44


“Be careful with the wheelchair,” said Ruthie.

“I’ve been doing this for 25 years.  I know what I’m doing.” said Beth as she wheeled her older sister through the tiny kitchen and into the dinette, avoiding the tear in the faded yellow linoleum.

For breakfast, Beth made Ruthie scrambled eggs and an English muffin. Same as usual.

“After breakfast, I’ll go pick up your meds from Walgreen’s,” said Beth.

“Have you said hello to the new neighbors yet?” asked Ruthie.

“Why would I do that?  They have no interest in us.”

“Make them some brownies. Be neighborly. After all, we live in the same apartment building.”

“Do we?” asked Beth, sarcasm cracking in her voice. “We don’t even take the same elevator!”

Last year, half of the building went co-op, and a separate entrance and elevator were installed for the new tenants. The McGovern sisters were listed as rent-controlled, still using the decrepit elevator where the button for the seventh floor was perpetually popped-out upside down.

“Buy a brownie mix at the supermarket and make them some brownies. It’s the neighborly thing to do. Besides, you don’t have a real job. What do you do anyway?”

“Take care of you,” Beth mumbled to herself and headed for the front door. It was dark in the apartment because the rent controlled apartments faced the blank side wall of the bank next-door.

Outside, the Brooklyn sun was shining brightly and Beth had to shield her eyes, like a vampire who just left the darkness of an enclosed coffin. As she made her way towards Walgreen’s and the supermarket, she passed the two new neighbors, a young couple in love, carrying a shopping bag from Whole Foods.  They paid two million dollars to live in the building, which gave them the privilege of having a doorman and riding the silver elevator.  They were God’s children with lives as glowing as the stars.

The couple walked past Beth as if she was invisible. Later that day, Beth made them brownies, which they never ate because of the gluten.

Fictional Characters of New York #43

fictional character

I’m a third generation New Yorker, but  I’ll be the last in my family to live here. My son has other plans.

“Lift me up so I can see the stars,” he said to me on Second Avenue at night, and I put him atop my shoulders like an Indian prince.

“It’s hard to see the stars here,” I told him. “Too many lights, too many tall buildings.”

He never took an interest in the Art Deco Chrysler Building or the majestic Brooklyn Bridge like I did at his age.  He is intrigued by loftier heights — space, the final frontier.

“One day, I’ll take you to Montana,” I said. “I went there with Grandma and Grandpa when I was your age.  When you look up, you won’t believe how many stars are in the sky.”

“But will you still lift me up so I can see the stars, even in Montana?”

“I’ll always lift you up to see the stars.”

“Even when you’re gone?” he asked.  The maturity of his question surprised me, as if he already understood the concept of death.

And I had no answer for him.  Luckily, he changed the subject at whim, as boys his age tend to do.”

“I don’t want to go to Montana,” he said.  “I’d rather go to Mars.”

“Mars, well, well! Daddy can’t lift you up all the way to Mars.   For that, you’ll need a super-duper rocket.  And you’ll probably have to go on your own because Daddy doesn’t like heights.”

“OK, I’m not afraid,” he said about his future journey in a rocket ship, a trip that he would someday take without me supporting him on my shoulders.

“Will you miss me up in space?” I asked.

“Nah, we can still Skype,” he said.


I was watching Murder She Wrote with my mother. Jessica Fletcher was helping an old friend, a golf professional, who was falsely accused of murder. The local police thought it an open and closed case, but Jessica Fletcher steadily poked holes into the evidence. After all, the victim was shot by a bullet that entered the right side of the body, which means the shooter would have to have been left-handed, and the main suspect, her dear friend, the golf pro, was right-handed, and unable to be the killer. The only other suspect capable of the crime was the owner of the pro-shop, who WAS left-handed, and had a motive – she was once jilted by the deceased on her wedding day, and she had vowed revenge. The owner of the pro-shop was cornered; she confessed.

Case closed.

“Eureka,” I cried out loud to my mother. “I don’t masturbate too often!”


Every male has one female friend who is the ONE WHERE IT NEVER HAPPENED. She could be a friend from college, from work, or a neighbor. She is the woman with whom the opportunity once arose to move to the physical, but for some reason, guilt, fear, shyness, or just common sense, the step is never taken. The moment of temptation usually happens on a night when there is drinking, and the light is just right, falling on her like a Rembrandt painting, and maybe an extra button is open on her blouse, and you look too long at the curve of her breasts, and the way her body breathes when she laughs drunk, and then she sets her gaze on you in a moment of lust and indecision thinking about whether she is making your cock hard, until the click-clack of a waiter clearing a martini glass breaks the connection, and all returns to normal, never to be mentioned again. But it never does go back to complete normal; the night is always there, just hidden, like a tattoo on the shoulder that was poorly removed. You remain friends, but an aggressiveness builds, mostly visible only in language, as words are the best way that humans suppress forever that unfortunate minute in time when you desired to fuck a platonic friend.


I didn’t fall. I didn’t bump into any blunt or sharp objects. The only medical explanation for the pain in my arm was my three months using Tinder. At night, despite to end my loneliness, I would lie in bed, holding my tablet up in the air with my left hand, and swipe right and left on the dating site with my thumb, the direction of the movement depending on whether the woman in the photograph passed my criteria. She must smile. She must have a bio. No bikini shots. No mountain-climbers. After three months, I began to notice a pain in my shoulder. I went to an orthopedist. I even came up with a medical term for my condition — Tinderitis.   I thought I was uber-clever and shared my diagnosis with Facebook, hoping to get some LIKES.


“I wouldn’t tell everyone on Facebook that you injured your shoulder through Tinder,” she said, later that day.


“Why not?”

“Because it’s ridiculous. No one believes that you injured yourself by swiping.”

“It makes sense. The pain happened three months after I started using Tinder.”

“Let me tell you what most people are REALLY thinking.”

“What are most people REALLY thinking?”

“That you injured your shoulder by masturbating too much.”

“What? No one is thinking that.”

“That’s what I thought when you first told me you hurt your shoulder.”

“What?!  How much masturbating do you think I do?”

“Well, I don’t know. You’re looking at all those women on Tinder and maybe you get off on it?”

“Do you REALLY think I am masturbating to the women I see on Tinder? Most of them look crazy to me. They scare me!”

“That never stopped men before from masturbating.”

“I don’t think you really understand men.”

“Oh, I do.”

“If you understood men so much, why aren’t you dating anyone?

“I don’t date because I know men too well.”

“Eh, bullshit. You hate being alone.”

“I LOVE being alone. Why does everyone think a woman needs a MAN for her to be happy?”


The killer on Murder She Wrote was the left-handed owner of the pro-shop.

Jessica Fletcher had saved the day.

“Eureka,” I cried out loud to my mother. “I don’t masturbate too often!”

I called my friend to tell her the news. That I was right and she was wrong.   My injury happened to my LEFT shoulder. I swipe on Tinder with my LEFT hand. But I only masturbate with my RIGHT.

Case closed.

New Fulton Fish Market

The New Fulton Fish Market in the Bronx is second in size worldwide only to Tokyo’s Tsukiji wholesale seafood market. The market handles millions of pounds of seafood daily and annual sales exceed one billion dollars. Thank you Open House New York for the opportunity to see this vibrant market up close.

Fulton Fish Market

Fulton Fish Market

Fulton Fish Market

Fulton Fish Market

Fulton Fish Market

Fulton Fish Market

Fulton Fish Market

Fulton Fish Market

Fulton Fish Market

Fulton Fish Market

Fulton Fish Market

fulton fish market

fulton fish market

fulton fish market

Fulton Fish Market

Fulton Fish Market

Fulton Fish Market

Flushing, the Song


Justin Giarrusso, a composer, recently wrote a choral piece about the five boroughs of New York City titled “Five Boroughs, One City.”   For the Queens section of the piece, he used a poem I wrote on Citizen of the Month in 2008 as his inspiration.

Yay, Queens!

The piece can be heard here

Flushing Poem

“Last stop! Last stop!”
Flushing, what a name!
Tiny women talking
Mandarin in the rain
Alone, I walk by
A mural, Chinese art
A cafe, a hooker
A rusty shopping cart
The downpour, the rushing
The garbage in the street
The yearning, the craving
The summer New York heat.

Fictional Characters of New York #42


“What makes a woman happy?” thought Victor, as he waited for his wife in the shoe section of Macy’s, where they were having a sale.

They were attending a matinee of “On the Town” that afternoon, but Cindy wanted to drive in early from New Jersey and park near Herald Square to go shopping.  Macy’s was decorated with a “spring bloom” theme, even though it was snowing outside in late March.


In August, Victor will be married to Cindy for ten years, but did he really know her?  Did he know her likes and loves?  He worked long hours on Wall Street to pay for the bills and to do the best for his family, especially Eric, his son, but his wife remained a mystery, besides her affection for Kate Spade bags.

Victor and Cindy rarely talked about anything other than Eric’s schoolwork.  She was worried that he was not advancing as quickly as some of the children of her friends.

“You want him to get into Harvard, don’t you?” she would ask.

“He’s nine years old.  It’s a little early to worry about Harvard.”

Is that what Cindy wanted now out of life — to spend the next ten years making sure Eric got into Harvard?   Is that what everything leading up to the present moment has been about?

The last time Victor had sex — real sex — was on his birthday, as if she was giving him a present.


We’re going to be late for the show,” said Victor.

“I just want to take a selfie with David and sent it to my sister!” she replied.   “it will be so funny!”

There was a fake statue of David in the lobby of Macy’s surrounded by flowers, and the tourists were eating it up.


Victor and Cindy went to Florence for their honeymoon.   It seemed like such a long time ago.

The “Like Generation” in Dating


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?”


“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


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


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.

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