Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Tag: fiction (page 1 of 5)

Fictional Characters of New York #51

subway

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.”

“You’re right,” Sandy sighed. It’s so superficial. I’ll try Match.com next.”

“Good idea,” said Laila, caressing her mother’s arm.

“So, did you get your second opinion?” asked Sandy.  “What did the man have to say ?”

“He said that there IS a real Santa Claus who lives in the North Pole and flies out with his reindeer on Christmas to make children happy.”

“I told you!” said Sandy, relieved.

Fictional Characters of New York #45

mother and son

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.

Fictional Characters of New York #44

couple

“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 — #37

move

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.”

Fictional Characters of New York — #34

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On the third day of my honeymoon, I knew my marriage was a mistake. Scott and I were in our hotel room, in bed after a long day sightseeing in Paris, when I looked over at my new husband.  He was reading from the Frommer’s Guide. It was at that very moment that I saw my future life, married to a respectable man who favored organization over spontaneity.  Scott was using the same guidebook as my parents.   Here we were — a young, vibrant couple in a five star hotel in the most romantic city in the world, and my husband was reading from the Frommer’s Guide. Why weren’t we fucking so hard that passerbys could hear us on the Champs-Élysées?

A few weeks after our return to New York, I met Victor on the elevator in my office building. He worked at the Cruise Company on the 38th Floor.  He was a few years younger than Scott, and not as financially stable.  He was not the type of man that I would usually be attracted to,  but he was funny and he liked me.

One afternoon, we played hooky from our jobs to sing Michael Jackson songs in that Korean karaoke place on 43rd. After a rousing duet of “Thriller, he kissed me and pressed me against the wall, and like an over-anxious schoolboy, I could feel his urgent need for me growing in his pants.

“Let’s take a walk,” I said.

It wasn’t as if I was indecisive about wanting an affair. I knew what was going to happen. That morning, I shaved my legs, painted my lips with the reddest shade I owned, and slipped on my dress like the shameless harlot I hoped to become for the day.

Victor and I took a walk to the Highline. He pointed down 23rd Street to an apartment building a few blocks away.

“That’s where I live. My roommate isn’t there.”

“Good.” I said.   It was time to break free from a mistaken marriage.  I closed my eyes and thought about the pleasure and pain I would feel as Victor pinned me to his bed.

Victor noticed the pause, and bit his lip. He was new to all this – dating a married woman. Victor was not a “player.”   He had only slept with one woman, an ex-girlfriend, and he still hoped to one day win her back.  He was deeply moral, born to a Christian family, and had mistakenly understood my pause for old-fashioned guilt.

“It’ll be our little secret,” he said, assuring me of his trustworthiness and sense of propriety.

And then, as happened when seeing Scott reading the Frommer’s Guide on that night in Paris, I knew Victor was the wrong man for me.  Scott was following the rules of marriage.  Victor was following the rules of infidelity.   And I did not want to be chained down by rules.

I wanted a man with such all-consuming passion for me, needing my body, mind, and spirit so completely that he would have no other choice but to shout it out to the entire city below.

Fictional Characters of New York — #33

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All summer, Josie observed the flitterings of romance between the library patrons.  While working behind the cold marble reception desk of the reading room,  Josie saw how the most unlikeliest of bespectacled readers and gaunt researchers succumbed to the power of love, the need for affection, and the pleasure of sex. It was summer, and nature had her ways. No one wanted to be stuck in the library reading.

Like a cross between Dr. Ruth and Sherlock Holmes, Josie became an expert in seeing the flirtations of others. She noticed the handiwork of Eros everywhere, even as she walked down the steps of the 42nd Street Library.  Shakespeare was right.  Life was a Play, and it was written just for her.

Today’s “Leaving Work And Walking Down the Stairs” production had an intriguing interesting cast of characters — the party-girl brunette pursued by the aggressive undergrad in shorts, the frustrated blonde who had failed to gain the attention of a young man hobbled with shyness, and the Asian girl and her puppydog-boyfriend, a compromise choice after her crush failed to reciprocate her feelings.

“Fall was approaching,” Josie thought, as she passed the two stone lions standing guard outside, named Patience and Fortitude. Josie was weary of observing love in others, and wanted to feel herself in the warm arms of a strong man.

She took out her phone to join an online dating site.

Fictional Characters of New York — #32

jealousy

It’s common knowledge in the Bronx that you don’t remain friends with your ex, but Xavier ached to prove the others wrong.  His ideas always ran contrary to common wisdom.  During his childhood, he prided himself on doing the opposite –he smoked pot to diss his parents, but went to St. Nick’s for Sunday Mass, just to annoy his friends.

“How’s your new guy?” Xavier asked Pammie.

They were sitting across from each other  for their weekly early morning Wednesday breakfast at the Pop and Son Diner, where they always split the Pancake and Bacon Special.

“He’s good,” she answered.

“You sleeping with him?”

“You really want me to answer that?”

“Sure. We’re friends now. Platonic friends. Like Chandler and Ross’s sister, what’s her name.”

“Yeah, I’m sleeping with him?”

“Any good?”

“Yeah.”

“OK.”

They both sipped from their now lukewarm coffee.

“Is this getting serious?” he asked.  “You’ve been seeing him for a couple of months now, right?”

“Nah. He’s married. He has two kids.”

Xavier coughed and gulped.

“You’re screwing around with a married guy?!”

“He’s my boss.”

“But…”

“He takes me places. We do things. Places I couldn’t go with you. Expensive places.”

“Oh…”

Xavier’s face soured.

“Don’t ruin this, Xavier. You said you could handle this.”

“Yes. Yes. We’re friends.”

And that’s when they changed the conversation to the Yankees.

+++

It was a few days before a holiday weekend, and Home Depot was crowded with customers filled with illusions of finishing some half-baked renovations in the kitchen.

Xavier found it hard to concentrate on helping the customers. His mind was on Pammie.

Xavier had no anger at Pammie. He cared about her. Loved her. He was impressed with her commitment to success, of getting ahead in life.  She was the only girl he ever knew who carried about a “Goal Notebook” in which she outlined each day’s intended achievements.

If he was furious at anyone, it was her boss.   Some rich Manhattan guy, who inherited his real estate business from his father, and never had a hardship in all his life. And now he’s fucking some girl in the office for fun.  Some chick from the Bronx.

Xavier wondered what this dude would think about him if he walked into the Home Depot right now. Would he even look into his eyes? Could he imagine that someone as inconsequential as himself once shared a bed with Pammie? Does he even know Pammie’s full name?  Or is she just some little whore from the Bronx for him to use when his wife is too busy doing her charity work?

The rage spread to Xavier’s fist. He grabbed a hammer from Aisle 5 and with full force, smashed it against the wall, cracking it.

“What the fuck…?” asked Johnson, the floor supervisor, on seeing Xavier with the hammer in his hand.

“I’m taking an early lunch,” said Xavier, and left the store to take the nearest subway into midtown Manhattan.

+++

Langstein Realty was located at 350 Park Avenue.   It was noon.  Outside the office building, Pammie was chatting with Bruce Langstein, the CEO, and Edgar Wiseman, the top realtor of the firm.  They were waiting for Marvin.  They had reservations for four at Matisse on Madison.

Pammie didn’t notice Xavier walking towards them, his veins popping in his forehead.  Xavier was heading straight for Bruce, Pammie’s boss.

A second later would become the destruction of the long friendship between Xavier and Pammie, once again proving that common wisdom in the Bronx is always right.

Fictional Characters of New York — #31

family

It was a hot summer day, when lazy minds drift off into the humidity. A family sat on the bench, waiting for the bus, after a morning of shopping at the Chinese supermarket.

“How come Jen won’t let me play poker tonight?” wondered the Dad. “I married a control freak.”

“When is school starting?” wondered the first Son. “I hate my family.”

“What’s wrong with playing Minecraft all day?” wondered the second Son. “I never get to do anything I want.”

“Why did we stop using birth control?” wondered the Mom. “I don’t want another kid.”

Scottie watched the family from the steps of the library, imagining the thoughts of each person appearing over their heads, as if they were characters in a cartoon strip.  He was eating his lunch — a plastic bowl of cold noodles from the dumpling place next to Starbucks.

“What suckers!” he thought, mocking the family as the Q41 bus pulled in, and they left the scene.

Scottie tossed the plastic blue bowl, and headed into the library.  It was time for work. He promised himself to write a certain  number of words a  day and was stuck on page twelve of his novel.

The library stank with children on summer vacation.  Scottie didn’t the library at all.  He disliked the shuffling of nervous students, the clicks of the keyboards, and the bad breath of the sweaty men reading the Chinese newspapers. But Scottie’s apartment wasn’t air-conditioned, and the library kept things a cool sixty-nine degrees. He even checked that with the woman at the circulation desk.  Sixty-nine degrees, exactly.

Scottie liked saying hello to this librarian at the circulation desk.   Her name was Margaret, a plain-looking librarian who wore the same blue nylon dress every day. She was even homely, with bags under her eyes and thinning hair, but he would ask her out for a date, that is if he could build up the nerve.   He had lost all confidence in himself and his work.   Ever since the divorce, the losing of custody of his two children, Max and Ellie, and Cheryl’s move to Austin, Scottie felt alone and needing of family.

Fictional Characters of New York — #30

bus

Lily felt depressed and didn’t know why. She avoided the news and the internet.  Her friends fought constantly on Facebook over the news of the day, and the tension made her body feel heavy, like a ship’s anchor falling deeper into the dark water.

At 6PM on Friday, Lily was on the bus, coming home from a long day as a cashier at Walgreen’s.  Her eyes stared down at the dirty floor of the Q64 bus and she thought about the laundry to do this weekend; she had no other plans.

The bus approached the stop directly across from Lily’s small house, the one she inherited from her parents.  Lily looked up, out the window.   The front lawn was brown and uneven. Lily thought about her late father, a gardening perfectionist, and how he would be disappointed in her. It’s no wonder she felt depressed. She would never be good enough.

But then, through the window, she noticed Eddie on the front porch, waiting for her.  He wore a newly-pressed uniform and his dufflebag was at his side.

He was back from Iraq.   And Lily was depressed no more.

Fictional Characters of New York — #29

Russians

Dimitri’s favorite story was about the size of his dick.  Here it goes —

“When God was handing out dicks, the Creator, being fair-minded, presented equal size penises to every man. But he made a mistake in the shipping process.  He hung the penises on a clothesline for the taking, but immediately noticed that the shorter men had trouble reaching so high.   God didn’t want to start creating man all over again, so instead, he went the easier route — he extended some of the penises to make it easier for the shorter men to grab from the clothesline.  And THAT is why many of the shortest men have the biggest cocks.”

Yan found this story ridiculous, as he did most of Dimitri’s  stories, and Yan didn’t shy away from telling him so.   Dimitri was Yan’s best friend of seventy years; they had known each other since their days in the red wooden grade school in Kiev.

Dimitri liked a good tale, but he wasn’t a liar.   He DID have the biggest dick that Yan had ever seen, noticing it first when they skipped school to go skinny-dipping in the watering hole by Vartan’s farm.   It hung from his friend’s small frame like one of those giant cucumbers his mother used to buy at the Odessa Privoz Market.

Perhaps it was that extra testosterone of having such a big dick that made Dimitri so combative.  Dimitri and Yan could argue about anything.   And Yan loved the joy of their daily debates.   The topic was irrelevant.   Which wife made the best borscht?   Is Obama a communist? Brooklyn or Queens? Best soccer team — Germany or Brazil? Who owned the more luxurious car? Who would have made more money if they remained back in the old Soviet Union? Most talented singer — Frank Sinatra or Anna Netrebko?

These debates could last for hours, sometimes into the night, and the spouses of Dimitri and Yan accepted their husbands as more married to each other, if not by law, then by time spent together.

On Sunday, Yan woke up early, and letting Lubov, his wife, sleep, he walked over to Dunkin’ Donuts on Main Street.  He was hoping to find Dimitri waiting for him.  Their weekend arguments were a sacred tradition, like going to church.   He was ready to argue his dear friend about anything, anything at all.

It was Dae, the Korean owner of the store (and sometimes bookie) who told Yan the bad news.   Dimitiri had a heart attack in the street early that day.   His kind and argumentative best friend, the man of owned a thousand stories and the biggest dick that Yan had ever seen, was no more.  Yan cried for the first time in seventy years.

That night, Yan was in the mood to argue with someone.  He though of facing against Lubov, but she was too mild-mannered and would agree too easily.  With Dimitri gone, he lost his opponent.

So, Yan argued with God.   He told God that He had made another mistake much worse than building a clothesline too high for the shorter men to get their penises.

God had taken away Dimitri from his life.

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