Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Tag: Camp Kinder-Ring

Locomotive Breath

There are some songs that you like because they are good, and some you like just because you associate them with a specific event or memory. I would never consider “Maneater” by Hall and Oates to be a rock classic, but it is memorable to me because it was playing on the radio when Jessica Neinbaum talked to me at a party.

Sometimes, the meaning of a song can change throughout time. “Locomotive Breath” is an old song by Jethro Tull. The reason this song is important to me is that it brings up memories of Camp Kinder-Ring in Sylvan Lake, New York. It was already an old song when I attended camp, but it was the favorite band of one of our camp counselors. Whenever we would practice basketball lay-ups before a game, this counselor would put this high energy song on the loudspeaker in order to energize us. The song became engraved in my mind as a “fight song” before a big game.

I loved summer camp, the song, and the lay-ups. It didn’t matter that I never got a lay-up IN the basket. I was a bad basketball player, despite being one of the tallest campers. Just to make it clear to you how bad I was — this was a JEWISH camp, and I was still one of the worst!

In truth, it was an odd choice for a fight song. Years later, in college, when I actually bought the album, “Aqualung,” and read the lyrics, I noticed how depressing the song actually was:

In the shuffling madness
of the locomotive breath,
runs the all-time loser,
headlong to his death.
He feels the piston scraping —
steam breaking on his brow —
old Charlie stole the handle and
the train won’t stop going —
no way to slow down.

But who cares? It was one of the few Jethro Tull songs with a beat.

Fast forward to three weeks ago. Sophia and I were getting into the car with our luggage, about to go on our trip to Portland.

“One more thing!” I said as I ran back into the house and grabbed a random assortment of music CDs — rock, Latin, classical, jazz, etc. What type of road trip would it be without music?

As I drove up the 405, Sophia rifled through my assortment of CDs.

“What the hell is a Jethro Tull?”

I told her the story about doing lay-ups at my Jewish summer camp.

“Play it. It’s song number 10. Forget the rest of the album which I KNOW you will hate.”

Sophia played the song, and liked it. “Locomotive Breath” became the anthem to our trip. Every morning, as we would start the next leg of our trip, we would put on song number 10, “Locomotive Breath,” and blast it on the speakers.

He sees his children jumping off
at the stations — one by one.
His woman and his best friend —
in bed and having fun.
He’s crawling down the corridor
on his hands and knees —
old Charlie stole the handle and
the train won’t stop going —
no way to slow down.

Gradually, the meaning of this song changed for me. It wasn’t about camp anymore. It was the THEME song to “Neil and Sophia’s Road Trip.”

70’s Progressive Rock.

Ian Anderson on the flute.

Separated husband and wife visiting bloggers in Portland.

It made sense. And maybe it was the bombastic theatricality of our 70’s theme song that inspired us to get stopped by the cops THREE times during our trip (twice for Sophia and once for me. Sophia was let off, of course. I got a ticket).

Jethro Tull made us into progressive rock rebels.

Last night, Sophia asked me to pick up some eggs at the supermarket. We’ve been home a few days now, and there is still nothing in the fridge. I’m embarrassed to say that I decided to drive the one block to the store. When I turned on the ignition, “Locomotive Breath” started playing on the speakers. One of us must have left the CD on when we left the car.

He hears the silence howling —
catches angels as they fall.
And the all-time winner
has got him by the balls.

I sang along in my garbled New York accent as I drove to Von’s Supermarket. I hadn’t gone half a block when I noticed a police car sitting at the corner of the street. He turned his siren and lights on.

“Pull over” he announced.

What was the problem? Get this — I didn’t have my seat-belt on!

Did he know who he was talking to? I follow every driving rule in the book. I always have my seat belt on! I was just driving one block… and Jethro Tull was distracting me!

The officer gave me a ticket… my second ticket in a week.

Locomotive Breathe. From now on, I will remember YOU as the song that made me into a criminal.

He picks up Gideons Bible —
open at page one —
old Charlie stole the handle and
the train won’t stop going —
no way to slow down.


(not Jethro Tull and definitely not me)

A Year Ago on Citizen of the Month: Neilochka Stalker

Adventures in Male Bonding

This is an embarrassing story that I vowed never to tell. 

When I was a kid, my friend and I found this really old “nudie” magazine in the garbage.   The magazine must have been published pre-Playboy because the photos were supposedly a behind-the-scenes look at a “nudist colony.”  Maybe the only way to legally show these photos back then was under the guise of “sociology.”  I don’t know whatever happened to that magazine, but the images of the bosomy naked women playing volleyball have been seared into my memory.

That’s not the embarrassing part.  My friend and I then concocted a game which we called “Nudist Colony.”  (Mr. “I Now Work for Big Company” Friend, you know who you are!).  

The object of “Nudist Colony” was to never touch the floor of my room.  You could jump from the bed to the top of the dresser.  You could slide across the room using the desk chair and hop onto the desk.   You just couldn’t touch the carpet, or else you had to take off a piece of clothing.  The first person to be naked lost the game.   Weird?   Gay?   Not really.  That was “Nudist Colony,” and I remember it being a lot of fun. 

As an adult, I frequently miss male companionship.  After a certain age, men become socialized into becoming “men,” whatever that means, and male friendship becomes associated with work and sports.  Sometimes, I’m envious of all the close, emotionally-connected friends that most women seem to have.

I’m not suggesting to return to that fake male-bonding that was a joke ten years ago, when guys would sit around a campfire and bang drums.  I just wish that it was easier for guys to talk to each other, particularly in times of need.  Statistics show that after a stressful event, like a divorce, the man is hit the hardest.  Typically, a wife is the husband’s closest friend, while women tend to have other female friends for emotional support, ala "Desperate Housewives."  

Sometimes, when Sophia goes to her breast cancer support group at the Wellness Community, I go to the “friends and family” group.   The biggest complainers in this group are usually the wives of prostate cancer patients.  It’s usually, “My husband won’t talk about how his illness is affecting our sex life.”  Even worse, the prostate cancer group is always half-empty because men fear being seen by other men as being “less than a man.”  

Meanwhile, in the breast cancer group, Sophia tells me the women are much more open, sometimes even  flipping up their blouses and showing each other their scars and reconstructed breasts.

Here’s another embarrassing story from my past. 

One summer night, while at Camp Kinder-Ring, all the guys in Bunk 5 sat on their bunk-beds and passed around a ruler so we could each measure the size of our own dicks.  I remember it was a little confusing at first, because we weren’t sure where the penis actually started and ended.   Eventually, we figured it out, wrote up all our sizes on a ripped-out page from Mad Magazine, and stuck it on the bathroom wall.   Boy, those were the days of real male-bonding! 

I’m not saying I want to do that now  — let me say that before you permanently cross me off your blog list —  but it would be nice to expose myself emotionally to other men, at least every once in a while.

By the way, I wonder what happened to David M., the winner of our camp contest.  He is either now a porno star or making some woman very happy.

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