the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Tag: elementary school

Bad Time For New Facebook Friends

Nothing can lift the spirits of a man better than a long-time friend. My friend Barry called yesterday.

“I’m free tonight. You want to grab some sushi and then come coffee at the diner?”


I’ve mentioned Barry several times before. We have known each other since kindergarten. Although he has moved to the Island, his parents still live in my mother’s building, so he frequently drops by.

We have a ritual on our nights out. We eat somewhere. We drive past Shea Stadium/CitiField and talk about the Mets (well, in honesty, he talks about the Mets and I listen). We drive to the Palace Diner near Queens College. I order a coffee and linzer tart. He orders a decaf coffee and apple crumb cake. We look at the songs on the jukebox and make fun of them. We watch videos on YouTube on the iphone. We sit there for four hours.


Barry knows very little about blogging and Twitter, but he has recently become obsessed with Facebook, mostly in reconnecting with people we knew in elementary school. He seems to have an amazing ability to find long-lost people.

“I found Josh. He sells real estate in Seattle. And I talked with Juan. He is a minister in Idaho.”

“Juan is a minister in Idaho?”

“He told me to give you his blessings.”

“How did he become a minister? All he ever did in school was smoke pot.”

“Maybe that’s how he found God.”

Now, if you recall, I closed the comments on my previous post. I titled it a “Trainwreck Post” and described how my life was falling apart. Some scholars say that God does not have a sense of humor. I should ask Juan about this issue. But I believe God IS a funny guy. Why else would Barry proceed to tell me this — ?

“Oh, I told him to friend you on Facebook. I told EVERYONE to friend you on Facebook. And I gave everyone the address to your BLOG.”

“My BLOG?! Why the hell would you do that?”

“Yeah, I thought it would be cool for them to see it. You were writing stuff even back then. They can see that you kept with it!”

“I don’t want THEM to see my BLOG!  Especially right now!”

It was too late. All weekend, I had classmates I haven’t seen in decades, happily married individuals who are now successful attorneys, professors, clothing designers, and ministers, coming to my blog and reading the post where I revealed that I am “rock bottom,” in need of medication, and STILL LIVING in the same apartment I was in elementary school.

“Interesting writing! I’ll read more.” wrote Sharon in a message to me on Facebook.  She was some girl I once dreamed about in sixth grade, now an assistant dean of a prestigious woman’s college.

For some reason, I don’t believe her.

When Barry told me this news in the diner, I knew it was going to be trouble.

“We all want to look good with old friends!  Having all these people reading my blog right now is like ME going to my college reunion with my fly open!”

“At least they’ll remember you as different,”  he said.

Barry handed me my iPhone.   As I was fretting, he had clicked onto Facebook and was showing me the current profile photo of Jane, who, back in the day, was considered the prettiest girl in fifth grade.

“Jeez, she’s still gorgeous!” I said. “Is she married?”

“To a neurosurgeon.”

I finished my linzer tart.


Today, on Facebook, Jane posted this photo of Barry and me in the fifth grade during the yearly P.S. 154 “Dance Festival” in the schoolyard.

How I Became a Writer as a Fifth Grader

When I was attending elementary school, my neighborhood in Queens was going through “changes,” which was a code word for the “welfare housing” that opened down the block. There was constant talk of drugs and violence in school, and those who could afford it, started sending their kids to private schools. In order to keep the “good kids” at the public schools, local schools started academically advanced classes, where kids like me were pushed, isolated from the drug pushers in the classes down the hall. While this didn’t prevent my friends from being called “honkys” or “Oreos” at the basketball court, at least we received a decent education during school hours.

While I remember my teachers as being a hundred years old, they were probably thirty. Most of them were into the philosophy of education, having gone to teacher’s college, and were interested in “opening up” the educational experience for a new generation, especially for “advanced kids” like us.

I have no recollection how this all started, but somewhere in the third or fourth grade, our teachers allowed us to present our English and Social Studies reports orally – and in small groups working together. We were also allowed to bring objects, photos, even music that might enhance our oral reports, giving the reports a feeling of a multi-media presentation. These teachers were ahead of their time understanding the next generation – maybe the arrival of Sesame Street had made them appreciate the importance of visual stimulation to capture a young person’s mind.

This is where I became a writer.

I had no interest in personal expression. Much like I started blogging for the practical reason of flirting with mommybloggers, my goal in school was to use writing to create a entertaining smoke screen.  The problem needing solving: five of us had to do a joint report on some dull, serious topic (remember – we actually had to go to a library and do research back then!)   So, being an advanced student, I quickly realized that if I wrote some entertaining script that had nothing really to do with the subject — but captured the teacher’s imagination – we could sing and dance our way to an A+, and the teacher would never notice that we copied the reports out of the World Book the night before.

A tradition was born. For several years, I was the king of the “sharings.” These stories – done during our oral presentations, were more like one-act plays, usually movie parodies (I was into Mad Magazine) – and as time went on, they became increasingly elaborate, spectacles as complicated as the Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremonies.  These plays had songs and dancing and even “shootings” happening in the middle of the classroom.   I cannot believe that any teacher would let an elementary school kid do this today.  The school system would get sued by a parent.   Maybe, at the time I was there, the local public school was so happy to have any students that weren’t drug dealers, that they just let us do whatever the hell we wanted.

These sharings always took place in some imaginary locale created right in the classroom — there were scenes in discos and Vietnam.   My friend Rob and I once dressed up like Minutemen in Boston for a sharing on “The American Revolution,” tap-dancing while singing “Muskets and Defense” to the tune of ‘”Jingle Bells.”

This tradition continued up to high school, until it was time to study for the SAT — then all of a sudden everything got serious. At Columbia, writing term papers were a bore. You were never allowed to sing and dance while handing in the paper, even when it was for a dramatist like Shakespeare, who would have appreciated the effort.  Instead of having fun doing sharings, I sat by myself in the library and made up bullshitty “psychological literary analysis” stuff about Edmund Spenser’s sixteenth century snooze-fest “The Faerie Queen” instead.

These early dramatic works of mine were thought lost for the ages, but through some miracle, my father looked down on me this weekend from heaven and whispered in my ear, “Look in the back of my closet.” Hidden behind a slide projector was a folder which contained nostalgic stuff from my elementary school years that we hadn’t noticed before, including all of my famed elementary school “Citizen of the Month” certificates. Also included in the file was a five page “script” for one of these elementary school sharings.

I really don’t remember too many of the details about this sharing, but from looking at the “cast list,” I assume this is from the fifth grade. Our assignment apparently was to research totalitarian regimes of the Twentieth Century (pretty heavy for fifth grade!)  And what better way to explore this important historical and political theme of the horrors of the Twentieth Century than a light-hearted movie “parody” of the 1970’s classic movie “The Sting?!”

I won’t feel bad if you don’t read script. I was in fifth grade at the time. I’m mostly publishing it for my childhood friend Rob, who played the Paul Newman role. He should get a kick out of this. When I first discovered the script I was excited.  At last, I had proof of my genius.  Why was some dopey Hollywood producer telling me that my script doesn’t work yet.  Who the f**k is he?!  Doesn’t he know who I am?  I am like Mozart – I was writing brilliant scripts in the fifth grade.

But then, I read the script. Ooh boy, it is awful… and it makes no sense at all. NONE. How in the world did our teachers let us get away with this crap?!

Note: In the movie, the Paul Newman character is named Henry Gondorff. For some reason, I name him “Alfred Dreyfus,” the French Jewish artillery officer tried and convicted in 1894 on baseless charges of treason. Why? I have NO IDEA!

The following is copied verbatim:

The Sting 2

Johnny Hooker – Neil
Alfred Dreyfus – Rob
Alexander Slavsky (the Communist leader) – James
Snyder – Scott
Harold Mane (Snyder’s assistant) – Bobby

Music from “The Sting.”

Hooker runs in breathless.

Hooker:  They killed Luther, my best friend, the person who taught me how to be a con artist. That STUPID Communist organization. (to you) Hi, I’m Johnny Hooker. The place takes place during the Deppression. The Communists have all the money, especially the Communist organization that killed Luther. AND I’m going to get them back, but How? I’m going to put on the biggest con and get all their money. I’ll need a pro to teach me how, but who? I remember Luther once told me about someone, Alfred Dreyfus. I’ll go to him!

Exit. Carnival music. Hooker and Dreyfus enter.

Hooker:  So this is your hideout, a fun house, no one would look here.

Dreyfus:  It is a good hideout. Now, Hooker, you didn’t come here for a friendly visit, why did you come?

Hooker:  Well, you know Luther was killed by the Communists, I’m going to get them back by putting on such a big con that I’ll get all their money. I want you to teach me the big con.

Dreyfus:  Well, first you have to go to the Communist organization… (makes believe he’s still talking to Hooker as they walk out)

Hooker enters.

Hooker:  Now, I’m suspose to go to the Communist organization. Uh-oh, there’s Snyder and his assistant, Harold Mane!

Snyder catches Hooker, pushes him to the wall and bangs his head.

Manes:  We got you now, you can’t escape.

Hooker punches Snyder in the stomach and then the neck and runs out.  Hooker enters again.

Hooker:  So this is the Communist organization!

Slavsky enters.

Slavsky: You wanted me.

Hooker: Who are you?

Slavsky: I’m Alexander Slavsky, head of this organization.

Hooker:  My name is Johnny Hooker and I want to join your organization. I also want to get rid of someone.

Slavsky:  Who?

Hooker:  Alfred Dreyfus.

Slavsky: Any member of our organization can apply for someone to be killed. But how would you like him to be killed?

Hooker: Any way.

Slavsky: Oh, wait a minute, we’re having a Communist meeting today, will decide there.

Hooker: Wait, Dreyfus is just outside. He thinks I’m getting a drink of water. We better capture him.

Slavsky exits and enters with Dreyfus.

Dreyfus: Get off of me!

As Dreyfus goes in, he picks nose to Hooker. Hooker does back. They all sit. Snyder and Manes come and sit.

Hooker: Snyder and Manes, your Communists!

Snyder: We joined to apply to kill you, Hooker.

Manes: Let’s kill Hooker now!

Slavsky: One killing at a time. First, the Dreyfus case. Now for the question “how to kill him.” I say put him in a concentration camp, the Nazi Germany way!

Snyder: I agree!

Manes: Why don’t you kill him the Cuban or Spanish way!

Hooker: Put him in a labor camp, the Russian way!

Dreyfus: Why don’t you just give me hard labor like the Chinese?

Slavsky: I have an idea. Each person will tell about their punishment and then will choose. First me and Snyder will tell about ours.

(Nazi Germany report)

Manes: I’ll tell about my punishment.

(Cuba and Spain report)

Hooker: I’ll go next.

(Soviet Union report)

Dreyfus: Could a prisoner tell about a punishment?

Slavsky: You could, but it will probably not be used because it’s the prisoner’s choice.

(China report)

Snyder: Okay. Hands up everyone! I know that Dreyfus and Hooker are putting on a con. Hooker, you have to leave, thanks for telling!

Dreyfus: You squealed!

Dreyfus shoots Hooker. Manes shoots Dreyfus.

Snyder: Okay, let’s go Slavsky!

Slavsky: But my money is there!

Snyder: What’s more important, your money or your life?  Manes, take care of the dead bodies, I’ll take Slavsky to headquarters.

Snyder and Slavsky exit.

Manes: Okay guys, their gone, you can get up now.

Hooker and Dreyfus get up.

Dreyfus: Well, kid, you put on your first con.

Manes: The money’s over in the chest.

Hooker: Give it to charity. I’d only lose it in gambling.  At least we gave them the sting!

Walks out slowly as music plays.

The End

My Fifth Grade Diary


A few months ago, I attended a reading of bloggers and writers reading from their teenage diaries. All of the participants were women. After the show, there was some discussion about diaries and gender. It seemed that every women had kept a personal diary in their youth, but hardly any men. Is this why women feel so comfortable blogging?

I told everyone that I never kept a diary. Writing for me was geared more for fiction than for self-exploration. So, you can imagine my surprise today when I found a diary in the back of my closet! I completely forgot about it. I wrote it in the fifth grade. Unfortunately, I lost interest in writing the diary after one month. I started it in January and ended it in February.

I’m not sure it is interesting to anyone, but what the hell — here’s the first week of entries. I found the second entry the most intriguing, for obvious reasons.

January 2nd

Today I went back to school. The day passed quickly. Today for some reason our teacher, Mrs. Mattis, brought 4 books, like pamphlets, called “What Should I Tell My Daughter.” It was about sex on the girls side. When I was home my Mom and a little bit of my Dad were bugging me about sex. All day my feet were killing me because of growing pains.

January 3rd

Today was a normal day. A rumor which was not true was that I showed my penis to my classmate, Freya. it started off with Tracey then went so forth. But many others have been having this trouble. My Hebrew school, regular friend, and ringolevio classmate said “Our class is the sexiest class in the school.” He’s right. My seat was changed from between Debbie and Freya to between Subha and Robert S. (Snipple). Larry was between Subha and Robert S. Now, he’s between Debbie and Freya. They all love each other.

January 4th

Today it was a normal school day. At gym we had dancing. Our class has more boys than girls so some boys doubled-up as a girl. I was one of them. A boy named Steven (spiderman) said to Barry (Eggy) who was dancing with a girl named Jamie, “Dancing with your girlfriend?” I was astonished when Barry said, “At least I can afford one.” Then me and Barry (Eggy) came home. I got a 100 in spelling.

January 5th

When I woke up this morning, I felt lousy. The day passed along slowly. At gym, I played like a zombie. One event, in gym, was when a girl named Sandra tagged her own man. A boy named Steven, who wants everything perfect, said to her, “Don’t tag your own man.” She thought he said “old man” not “own man.” She started to cry because her father died on my birthday. After school, I went to the eye doctor. My eyes got worse and I need new glasses.

January 6th

There’s been a problem. The lock on the diary just broke. I don’t even have time to write. I’m on the history committee on Mexico with Subha and Mahaan in school. Me and Mom bet on the first one who curses, yells or gets mad has to give the other person $1.00. Grandma came in 4th Place in a Reader’s Digest lottery. Mom says it’s a hoax. I say it’s true. I walked to school with a person I know but don’t know his name. At school, I helped a new girl named Sheri with math. The teacher told me to.

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