Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Tag: masculinity

Return to Nature

In the past, I’ve made jokes about myself.    About my lack of “masculine” interests.   I don’t watch football or hockey or NASCAR.  I enjoy Broadway musicals and ABBA.  And I love chatting with the mommybloggers about their bra-shopping.

But now I realize it was all an act, my true nature being hidden out of fear.  As a co-dependent personality, I take on the traits of whoever I live with at the time.  So, when I share a space with a girlfriend, a female roommate, Sophia, or my mother, my male inner soul becomes feminized.  The pheromones of the female are such a powerful and hypnotic force  that they domesticate my animal instincts, like the aliens do in The Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

My mother has now been in Florida for two days.  I have not spoken with Sophia in two days.  I am left by myself, the way God intended when he created Adam.  I have returned back to my true nature, and my apartment in Flushing is my personal Garden of Eden.  Yes, I have become a Man.  For years, because of the negative influence of the so-called “weaker sex” I lost what the Chinese call the “ch’i,” the natural energy of the Universe.   I have returned to what the 18th Century French philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, called natural man — a savage man, “living dispersed among the animals.”  To Rousseau, natural man is more or less like any other animal, where “self-preservation being his chief and almost sole concern” and “the only goods he recognizes in the universe are food, a female, and sleep…”

I have become that man.  I eat Chinese food from the carton, I sleep ten hours a day, and I think about f**king.

In the two days since my mother has left, the once spotless apartment is a mess.  I have not made the bed or done the dishes.  Just like a real man.  No more watching “All My Children.”  On Christmas, I watched the FULL James Bond marathon, dreaming of my own fancy watches, fast cars, and Pussy Galore.  I have completely stopped wearing clothes in the house.  It saves me from having to do a laundry.  I like it.  I am like a wild boar roaming the jungle/two bedroom apartment, searching for his next prey.  Whenever I pass the large bedroom mirror, I stop and admire how hairy I have become, like King Kong.  I have stopped shaving and showering.  My only concession to vanity is flossing my teeth and trimming my public hair so my penis looks more prominent when I pose in the mirror.  It is looking good.  Life is good.

Leah of Daily Piglet clearly wants to sleep with me, which is not surprising.   Who doesn’t?   Why else would she send me a tin of Christmas cookies, with each cookie delicately wrapped in fine paper.  I admire the feminine touch of the gesture, because I would never do anything so nice.  I ripped open the box, grabbed seven cookies, and wolfed them down for dinner.  I’m not going to thank Leah for the cookies.  I’m figuring that the real pleasure was all hers.

After devouring these tasty cookies, I wanted some ice cold milk.  I took the container from the fridge and was about to pour the liquid into a glass, when I was struck by the flower design on the glass set that my mother recently bought at Pottery Barn during their Holiday sale.   I stopped in my tracks because I was falling from the manly wagon.  What guy drinks milk from flower-decorated drinking glasses?

I immediately did what I’ve seen in countless unfunny movies and TV shows — I drank directly from the carton, letting some of the non-fat milk dribble down onto my hairy chest, like the blood of a gazelle as the lion, the King of the Jungle,  feasts on the raw flesh of his recent kill.

Now it was time to leave the house, to go forth into the world on my own terms, and to do something dangerous and reckless, as men are adrenaline junkies wanting to push their bodies and minds to the next level of pain and competition.  But what insanely crazy activity could I do, something that would make a squeamish female like my mother or Sophia say, “Why the hell would you want to do that?”

I found it.  I would sail around Manhattan in the freezing December cold when most mortals just want to stay inside like weak hibernating bears, watching the Yule Log on TV

(I should add that I didn’t go by myself, or do any of the actual sailing.  And you could sit INSIDE the boat if you wanted to and drink hot cocoa and sing Christmas carols. )

But I would have none of that pansy stuff.  I ordered a whiskey and stood outside, enjoying the icicles forming in my nostrils, like in the sea-faring tales of yore.   I would have even stood outside naked, but there was a family onboard visiting from the Ukraine and didn’t want to give them the wrong impression of New Yorkers.  Or start an international competition with the father, who was way more hairier than me, and the type of guy who I bet would SWIM in the water in December.

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A Critical Look at this Porno Clip

OK, I’m not going to lie.  I read about this website today that is called “a YouTube for pornography,” so I took a little “peek” to see what it was all about.  Believe it or not, I try to avoid pornography, not out of prudishness, but from a belief in feminism.  I was educated by intelligent teachers who taught me that pornography was anti-women, a patriarchal tool that turned capable women into mere sex objects.

I was sitting at my laptop watching Big Boob Woman and Muscle Chest Guy go at it on a kitchen table, doing it every way possible, including positions hat would require me to do a lot more exercise than the hula hoop on the wii-fit. The woman in the video was making so much noise that I turned down the speakers.  I didn’t want my Orthodox Jewish neighbors to think I was a freak.

During this bland sex scene, I had thoughts.  Not sexy thoughts.  Not thoughts about feminism and how women are objectified.  No.   I felt that the video was anti-MALE.

Let’s look at the female character.  It was only a clip, so I don’t really know how she met the guy, but – for argument’s sake — let’s go with the old story that he is a plumber coming over to fix her sink.  One thing leads to another and soon they are f**king on the kitchen counter.  Typical.   We’ve all seen it.   I’m sure this exact situation has happened to most of the mommybloggers who read this blog.

If you look at the woman during the sex, she is having the time of her life.  She is yelling at him to “do it harder,” throwing her head back and forth, and rolling around like an Energizer bunny. She is as demanding of him and his time, like a wife who wants to spend all Sunday shopping at the mall and buying shoes.

The guy seems unhappy, as if he isn’t even present.  He is a robotic Terminator of sex.

You can almost hear him say, “I must pound her.  I must pound her.  I must show no emotion.  I must pound her.  Harder.”

At some point during the sex, he turns her over, face down like a fried egg in the skillet.  I thought that during this brief intermission, their might be some conversation, or a joke told.  Nope.  The woman doesn’t even give the guy a “nice going” or some kind encouragement.  She just wants MORE!

He quickly goes back into robot mode. 

“I must pound her from the rear.  I must pound her from this rear.  It does not matter what side she is.  I must pound her again and again.”

While the woman seems in heaven from all the thrusting, the guy looks like he is stuck on a hot subway in August.  His face is as sour as a dill pickle. 

As I watched the video, I felt bad for the dude.  While he didn’t look very bright, he obviously spends a great deal of time at the gym, making his body buff.  He is proud of his body, but when he jumps out of his clothes in one quick swoop, she hardly looks at him.   If anything, she goes straight for his penis, the one muscle he didn’t work on in the gym.  Is that what we are to women?  A penis?

“I must pound her.  I must pound her.”

I wanted to reach into my laptop and comfort the fellow. 

“Relax, big guy.  It is noble of you to want to give this nice lady several orgasms before you finish fixing the water pipes, but why not enjoy it yourself?  I know what it is like to be a people pleaser, but sometimes you have to be a little selfish — to take care of yourself, too.  Who knows?  Maybe she might even enjoy seeing you having a little fun. It’s not all about her, you know?”

“Pound.   Pound.   Pound.’

My advice would fall on deaf ears.   The filmmakers want him to be a robot.  And the woman, despite being an educated woman (she wore glasses that she takes off early in the scene), is presented as self-absorbed and uncaring about the man’s pleasure.  She WANTS him to be a machine.  How else can you explain the constant cry for “Harder! Harder!” like she is a drill sergeant at Fort Bragg.

Men, let’s talk privately for a second.  Seriously, how many of us can make love to a woman for three hours straight, in fifteen different positions, without… you know… having to come…

Is it any wonder this guy looks like he is constipated.  He’s been pounding her for three hours, still waiting for her to have her fifth orgasm.  He is a SAINT!

Ladies, is this fair?  I have no idea why women complain about these types of pornographic films. The female character gets all the attention and has all the fun!  The man is practically her love slave.  He is expected to act like a soldier in combat, refusing to enjoy himself – just so he can bring the woman to sexual ecstasy and have her nearly pass out!

Sure, at the end, the guy comes too, but by then, he is so exhausted, numb, and out of it, I bet you he doesn’t know what is going on. 

“Uh, wait a minute.  Did I just come OR was that my foot falling asleep?”

And even after his orgasm, he still isn’t smiling.  Of course not.  He’s thinking, “Holy shit, tomorrow morning I have to f*ck this woman for another three hours!”

These movies do more harm to men than women.  These ridiculous lovemaking scenes screw up the minds of men.  Think about the messages being sent to your own sons, brothers, and husbands:

1)  You have to keep it up for three hours and never orgasm until the woman faints from intense pleasure.

2)  Every time you make love, you are expected to do it in several complicated standing positions which can give you knee problems later in life.

3)  Sex is not really sex without giving her oral sex for an hour, no matter how uncomfortable it is for those with weaker jaws.

4)  Lovemaking is all about getting the woman to come.  The man must never enjoy himself or smile.  The man’s role is to be a human sledgehammer and repeatedly hitting her in the correct spot, like those Whack-a-Mole games.

5)  And the most pathetic thing, is after all this work — and I mean hard, physical labor — the man isn’t even allowed to have his orgasm INSIDE the woman.  No, he has to quickly pull himself out, so he comes all over the place, ruining the good sheets he just bought at Target.   What the hell is that all about? Men like to have clean sheets too!

Seeing these porno films has made me lose interest in sex.  I  can understand why women want sex, but what man really wants to go through all that effort, especially when he has HBO? 

And god forbid, a guy has sex and doesn’t make it all the way through the three hour/twenty position love-fest!  He feels all guilty and inadequate.

“Oh, you were fine,” the woman says. 

Yeah, sure.  We know the truth.  You really want the robotic guy in the porno film.

Little Artie

Therapy has had two opposite effects.   It has motivated me to be more productive and organized, hence my post two days ago on how to be better organized.  Thank you!    Therapy has also made me incredibly self-absorbed, which is perfect for procrastination.   I never knew I could be so interesting to myself!   So, rather than working today, I spent most of the day mulling my own existence.  

First, let me ask you something.  I don’t know about your therapist, but my one hour session is really fifty minutes, because “Barbara” needs ten minutes to write her notes.   Does your therapist do the same?  I like Barbara a lot, but this business practice sounds a bit like the plumber charging you labor costs for his time filling out the paperwork.    Maybe I’m just grumpy because fifty minutes is not enough for me.  I’ve even started to skip the pleasantries of talking about the weather for a couple of minutes because I can feel the clock ticking.   When I walk out of therapy after such short sessions, I feel unfulfilled, as if I just went to a beautiful, naked Thai masseuse who rubbed by entire body in sensual oil, then told me to “get the hell out” so she could watch “Oprah.”  After my session today, I was in such a crazed mood to talk… to talk about myself.  Unfortunately, for many of you on my email list, there is the little invention called IM.  Please accept my apologies — all twenty of you — who I IMed with today while you were in the office.  At first, I was polite, meekly saying, “Hi there! How are you?” and then when you answered, I knew I had you trapped. 

“So, I just got back from therapy and it was very interesting.  I’m beginning to realize that I…. and that I… and… is the best for me… and… more sex… more for me… what I want… me…me…me…oh, right, your grandmother is dying… I remember when my grandmother was dying… me… me… and I was fourteen… and there I was, with my penis… me… aren’t I interesting?   What?  You have a job? … when I grow up, I want to be…”

I use Trillian for my IM messages, because the application can work on Gmail, Yahoo, MSN, and AOL simultaneously, so I had the entire world covered today.  Is it my imagination — or is everyone  on my IM list “invisible” tonight?   Oh, well, maybe everyone is just watching TV.   I can’t imagine that you would “hide” from me.

Barbara is a traditional therapist and she believes in all that crap about everything stemming from your childhood.   OK, I shouldn’t say “crap.”  I actually believe it too, but I am using humor as a “defense mechanism.”  How do you like them apples?  Defense-mechanism!   Don’t I sound self-actualized?  I know my stuff! 

When I look through my blog, I see themes that are played over and over.   I don’t mean that I use the same stories over and over again.  I do that, too, hoping most of the readers from 2005 have disappeared by now.  I mean that many of my posts have a certain world view that relates to my own neuroses.  One of them has to do with gender issues in my marriage.    Over and over, we’ve seen that Sophia is outwardly the strong one, while I sit at home, listening to ABBA.   Who wants a wimpy husband?  Gender roles affect our home, our family, and our relationship.  

Since these issues didn’t play much of a role in my life until I married Sophia, I saw it as a “marital” problem, but Barbara is helping me realize that you can’t really fix a couple; you can only fix yourself.   The seeds of my behavior were planted in me way before I had met Sophia.  I learned about gender roles and marriage from my own parents.  My confusion over a “man’s role” in society were already bouncing around my head as a child, my brain crowded with images of Clint Eastwood and James Bond battling it out with sweater-wearing Bill Cosby.

When I was at USC Film School, my final thesis film was a broad comedy called “Little Artie.”  It was just a little funny film, but when I mentioned the plot-line to Barbara, she was surprised that the story foreshadowed my relationship with Sophia — and I hadn’t even met her yet.   It feels pretentious analyzing my “work” as if I am Ingmar Bergman, but I’m surprised how unaware I was of the similarities. 

Is this how little I know myself?

Little Artie:

Artie and Elaine are a married couple.  They have a little dog named Little Artie, and they treat him as their child, like many pet-owners do when they don’t have children.

Note:  While it seemed funny at the time, it now seems a bit odd that I named the two characters, Artie and Elaine, since my parents’ REAL names are… Artie and Elaine!  And who would be Little Artie then?

In the story, Artie works as a curator at an art gallery.  He is peace-loving , cultured “liberal.”   Elaine is training to be a black belt in karate.  She is more conservative and believes in self-defense, and is more aggressive in the bedroom.   They get along great, except for differing opinions on how to “raise” their dog, Little Artie.   Artie wants him to be a loving pet, while Elaine wants him to be stronger, able to take care of the family if there is danger.   Later, while they are at work, their home is burglarized and the dog stands there watching all the furniture disappear.  When they come home and see their empty home, Artie and Elaine have a big fight.  Elaine insists that Little Artie go to “guard dog school” to get him into shape, while Artie refuses to allow this.  The argument gets intense and they file for divorce.  The question remains — who gets the dog?  At this point, the dog runs into the dog house in the backyard and refuses to come out for either of them.   The couple goes to court and the judge rules that whoever can get him out of the doghouse first can keep him.  And then there is some crazy comedy!  Well, except for the parts that fell flat.  There’s some new “lovers,” and a karate fight finale (I used a real fight coordinator) between Artie’s two rival women at an art gallery opening.  At the end, Artie and Elaine learn to compromise — Little Artie needs to be both strong AND sensitive.

Anyway, that’s therapy — week seven.
 

The Sanjaya of the Blogosphere

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My mother arrived in Los Angeles today, in preparation for Passover next week.   After she unpacked, Sophia and I showed her all of the birthday cards that I received from other bloggers.

“You see, Mom, friendship is more important than actually making a decent living through writing.” 

“Well, let’s not get carried away this…” added Sophia.

My mother opened up a cutesy hand-made card from a Canadian blogger.

“And so many women!”

“Neilochka’s very popular with female bloggers.” explained Sophia.

I beamed with pride.  My mother may have once imagined me as a Jewish doctor or lawyer, but I doubt she dreamed that I would grow up to become an international sex symbol. 

“You’re like that boy on TV,” she said.

“What boy?”

“The boy in American Idol.   The boy all the girls like.  The Indian boy.”

“Sanjaya?”

“Sanjaya!” Sophia repeated, laughing.

I felt insulted by my own mother.  She just nodded.

“When I saw him the first time on TV, I knew he was going to win.  He has so much personality.  So much more than his sister.”

“Personality!?  He’s awful,” I protested.

“Oh, yeah?  I bet you five cents that he wins.” offered my high-gambling mother, her recent Mah-Jongg winnings making her cocky.

For the rest of the day, my mother’s words rang in my head, making me wonder if I should have accepted that Prozac from that therapist last week. 

While my mother was upstairs, I cornered Sophia in the kitchen.

“I’m not like Sanjaya.  Am I?” I stuttered anxiously, acting just like a person with a dependent personality structure.

“Well, maybe your mother has a point.” said Sophia.   “I think little girls like Sanjaya because he is safe and non-threatening.”

“Are you saying female bloggers think I’m safe and non-threatening?”

“Well…”

There was a silence heard around Redondo Beach.

“How can I be safe and non-threatening?!  I’m always writing about sex… about how I want to f**k them!”

“Yeah, well… sure… you write about it.   Sanjaya also wore a mohawk last night, but that doesn’t mean he knows how to be a punk rocker.”

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A Year Ago On Citizen of the MonthThe Best Teacher I Ever Had

Unretouched

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Some of you may have noticed that during the day, I changed the photo at my last post from a stock photo to one where I am wearing the purple bathrobe.

This photo is me is un-retouched. No filters. No Photoshop. No flashy photographic gimmicks. I owe it to Sophia for pushing me into presenting myself au naturale. As I discussed two weeks ago, putting a photo of myself online is not an easy thing for me to do. Today, there was a war of words with Sophia over this photo issue, a back-and-forth much bigger than the one over the bathrobe itself.

This morning, Sophia woke me up. She was reading my post on her laptop. She thought the previous photo was a loser and the post would be better if it showed myself wearing the purple bathrobe. She suggested that we take a photo in the living room.

After she took the photo, I went into my office to check it out. I hated the way I looked and started to Photoshop it. I tried to reduce the size of my bed-head hair, and to eliminate my unshaven double chin.

As I worked with the zillions of Photoshop tools, Sophia stopped by.

“What are you doing?” she asked, in that certain voice that I know means trouble.

“Nothing.”

“You’re Photoshopping yourself again, aren’t you?”

“So?”

“So, you look great in that photo. Why do you need to do this?”

For some reason, Sophia gets pissed at me whenever I try to fix myself in photos. She is of the belief that it is “unmanly” for me to be “so vain” about my appearance.

“What about when I take your photo?” I asked, ready to debate. “You’re always so picky!”

“That’s different. I’m a woman.”

“You don’t complain when I dress up.”

“That’s because you look sexy when you dress up. But it’s not sexy to have a man Photoshopping his own chin.”

“Why not?!”

“You’re a MAN. This is how a man looks. You’re not supposed to look all air-brushed. It’s so gay.”

“That’s an insult to gays.”

“OK, my apologies to gays.”

“Can I go back to my Photoshop please?”

I returned to Photoshopping my photo.

“Are you trying to photoshop your double chin?”

“Exactly.”

“Now it makes you look like you have goiters.”

“Yeah, you’re right. Let me try to use the blend tool.”

“Now you look like you have a tracheotomy. Why don’t you just photoshop in an oxygen mask?”

“Maybe I’ll take my whole head off and lower it over my chin.”

“Then you’ll look like a Hobbit. Is it really worth it? Don’t be so insecure, Neilochka. You look cute. Women will see the real you and will still go “ooh” and “ahh.” Just the way you like, I promise.”

“Are you sure you just don’t want me to look bad?”

“Why would I want that?”

“So, if we split up, I won’t date some hot blogger before you date someone else?”

“We have split up. Go date someone. Be my guest. You’re the one who doesn’t want to leave my house!”

“C’mon, Neil, listen to her – publish it. ” yelled my Penis. “Be confident.”

“You, too, Penis? I asked.  “But aren’t you worried that no woman wants to f**k a man with a double chin.”

“No,” my Penis responded.  “No woman wants to f**k a man who Photoshops his chin.  It’s not the size of anything you have, but how many times you can make her yell, *&@&% me again, you $@*&%$!”

“Your Penis is right.  Be a man,” said Sophia, nodding in agreement with my Penis. “This is what you look like, chin and all.  Accept it and be happy with it.”

Damn, Sophia was right.

So, Mazel tov to me. TODAY, I became a man. I published the photo — totally un-retouched.

A Year Ago on Citizen of the Month: I Am So Over Boobs

Strong, Silent Type

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Cover Your Mouth wrote this comment on my last post after I worried that my post was being taken too seriously:

Listen Neil, if it makes you feel any better, I don’t give a shit about your financial stability or whether or not you’re “getting what you deserve from your marriage.” I come to this site everyday because your posts make me laugh. As long as you’ve got the 6 bucks a month it takes to keep a blog going and your relationship with Sophia continues to provide humorous post material, then I’m happy. I hope my callousness has lifted your spirits.

Why did I actually enjoy this comment?  Why am I actually more comfortable with a comment like this than a caring one?

Men usually write comments like that.   I usually write comments like that. 

MY father was not a strong man physically.  I never saw him get into a fight.  He wore Woody Allen type glasses, but you couldn’t pay him to actually watch a Woody Allen movie.  He loved movies about men.  Real men.  John Wayne.  Clint Eastwood in his spaghetti westerns.  James Bond.  Men who never complained, but always got things accomplished.  In reality, he was nothing like these characters at all, but I think he felt like he was the man in charge and the moral compass of everyone.  He never complained about his health or let anyone pick up a bill.  That’s what Gary Cooper would have done.  He would go bonkers to learn that when I had dinner with Sarah last week — SHE picked up the check.   Now that’s a shonda.  (Yiddish: disgrace)

Sophia’s step-father, Vartan, is an elderly man.   He walks with a cane.  He has trouble lifting one of his arms.  He never lets his wife carry the grocery bag.   Even I need to fight with him to do something for him.   It would hurt his pride to be seen by others as needing anything.

Every day I watch All My Children, along with Sophia, and countless other viewers.  Every man on that show is like a rock, always there to rescue Erica or Kendall or Babe from some traumatic event or emotional breakdown.  The man’s main role in life seems to be “a rock” for their woman.

I don’t consider myself a stereotypical male.   I love Broadway musicals.  I’m more than happy to let Sophia use all the tools in the house.  I do not touch a hammer or a nail.  I’ve never opened the hood of my car without the presence of the guy from AAA.  But during the last two posts, I heard my male ego scolding me: 

Neil’s Male Ego:  “Why are you setting yourself up on your blog for people to care?  And women, especially.  You don’t want anyone to worry about you.  That’s unmanly.  A man doesn’t take advice.  A man manages on his own.  A man takes care of his own marriage.  His own career.  He doesn’t ask for help or show any concern.   Does Clint Eastwood ask for help?”

Neil:  “You got a point there.  Like a quarterback.  He can’t have any doubt.  Win one for the Gipper!”

Neil’s Male Ego:  That’s right.  Just laugh away everything.  You spend way too much time with the girls.  Stop reading those knitting blogs and those poetry blogs.  Join a fantasy football league.  You need more male readers.  They write the comments you are comfortable with — the sarcastic, uncaring ones, you know — like the ones you write.   Write less about Sophia and more about your “dinner date” with Sarah of “The Delicious Life.”  So, why exactly is her life so delicious?” 

Neil’s Penis jumps up in protest.

Neil’s Penis:  “F**k your male ego, Neilochka.  Don’t listen to him.  You just keep on doing what you’re doing.  Anything that gets their panties off.”

Neil:  “But, Penis, I thought women like the strong, silent, manly type.”

Neil’s Male Ego:  “You see.  You’re doing it again.  You’re setting yourself up for female bloggers to say, “Oh, Neil, that’s not true!  We love sensitive men like you.  We are modern women.  We don’t like those boring manly types. We feel bad for you…”

Neil’s Penis:  “Good, Neilochka!  Let them say that.  Maybe one of them will finally f**k you!”

Neil:  “That’s not why I’m blogging, Penis.  I just don’t want readers to lose their respect for me.  I don’t want to appear needy!”

Neil’s Male Ego:  “That’s right, Neil.  Be a man.  Be strong.  Remember the Alamo!”

Neil’s Penis:  “Your male ego is so old school it ain’t even funny.  He’s never going to get you f**king again.  Listen to me!  Be a puppy dog if it will work!  Women like vulnerable.”

Neil’s Male Ego:  “Shut your mouth, Penis. No woman wants a man who makes LESS than she does…”

Neil’s Penis:  “Bite me!  He’s an “artist.”  Let her pay the bills while he does the shagging…”

Neil:  “Help!  Someone help!”

Arthur Kramer, Neil’s father, comes down from heaven.

Neil:  “Dad?!”

Arthur Kramer:  “What is it, Neil?  I’m in the middle of watching “The Guns of Navarone” on DVD.”

Neil:  “I’m having an internal conflict over being a man.  I need you… as my father… and as my main male role model.  Can you help me?”

Arthur Kramer:  “Well, I’ll tell you one important thing.”

Neil:  “Please do, Dad.”

Arthur Kramer:   “And I want you to forever remember these words of wisdom that are coming from the afterlife itself –”

Neil:  “Yes…”

Arthur Kramer:  “No man lets a cute food blogger pay her own restaurant bill!  And pay for you too?  What a shonda!”
 

A Year Ago on Citizen of the MonthHeaven or Hell

Man in the Mirror

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Every Friday night, a group of Jewish men meet in the apartment building I grew up in and greet the Sabbath.  Most of the men are older or find it difficult to travel to a temple.  Traditionally, you need ten men to form a “minyan,” the group that prays together.  In Judaism, praying in a group during Shabbat is considered more important than praying alone (sorry ladies, traditional Judaism doesn’t count women as part of the minyan). 

I’m not very religious and don’t go to temple very often, but I was honored to be asked to join the minyan for the night.  The leader of the group said it would be a good opportunity for me to say “Kaddish,” the traditional prayer said for the deceased.   I can read Hebrew and know the prayer, but I’ve never stood in front of a group of religious men and said Kaddish out loud in honor of my father.  It was an experience as powerful as my bar mitzvah.   The ancient text praising G-d really leapt off the page for me.  During the service, Kaddish is said three times.  During the first time, my voice was uncertain and croaky, so the leader said the prayer along with me.  But by the last reading, I found my confidence and read it in a strong voice.

When I returned to my apartment, I felt nervous energy coming from my mother and Sophia.  My mother was going through a pile of my father’s paperwork.    He was a real “paper saver” who kept bills and receipts from decades ago.   I showed my mother how to use the shredder I bought my father last year, something he never even plugged in.

Sophia was involved in another matter – our trip home.  When we learned that those so-called “bereavement fares” were a joke (and cost more than the regular fares), we used our American Airlines frequent flier miles to come to New York.    Earlier that day, we learned that if we wanted to, we could make a multi-day stopover anywhere in the continental U.S. on the way back.   Sophia said we could use a few days of rest after the last few weeks of stress and sorrow.  We asked my mother to come along wherever we went, but she wanted to go back to work.   I went through my list of bloggers, thinking whom to visit, but we decided on Albuquerque because I saw that they are having a world-famous International Balloon Festival next week.   We booked the flight, but then we realized the most of the hotels were already filled.  So, when I came back from services, Sophia was all frustrated from trying to find a hotel.   She asked for my help, but I told her I was exhausted.   The week’s tensions were finally hitting me.  Until now, we had all been too busy to feel tired.   From the minute we arrived in New York, it’s been visits to the hospital, arranging for the funeral, and sitting shiva.  I felt my body collapsing and went to my parents’ room and quickly fell asleep.

The next morning, I woke up in the same bed.  Sophia was sleeping next to me.  My mother was asleep in the living room.   It was pretty early in the morning, but the New York City Sanitation trucks were already rolling outside.   I had a morning hard-on.   I moved against Sophia and she told me to get lost.  “We’re separated, remember?”  Besides, she was up half the night looking for hotels in Albuquerque and was upset that I woke her up.   I went to take a shower.

I turned on the water and stepped inside the shower stall.  It was nice to feel the water against my back.  I’d been so tense.  Still hard, I started playing with myself.   I looked down at my penis and laughed — I remembered being in the exact same spot doing the exact same thing when I was fifteen years old.   Maybe I was just too tired from the last two weeks, but for some reason, after a few minutes, I lost interest in what I was doing.  That would never have happened to me when I was fifteen.

I stepped out of the shower and dried myself off.    Through the closed door, I could hear that my mother was now up.    I could hear the grinding of the shredder ripping up my father’s receipts from 1995.  I could hear that Sophia was now awake also.  I could hear her watching the “Alias” episode that she had taped on my my mother’s ancient VCR.   Well, for a minute, at least.  Then I could hear her telling my mother off for switching channels and taping a Food Channel show and the cable menu instead.

With my cock still up, I couldn’t leave the bathroom… just yet.  I wiped the “fog” from the bathroom mirror and looked at myself standing there.    While we were sitting shiva, we had covered all the mirrors — as is traditional.  Now that the mourning period was over, was my father looking down at me now from heaven?   Do I even believe in that stuff?  And if he is, couldn’t the same be said for my Grandma and my late Aunt Ruthie?  Jeez, are all of my deceased relatives seeing me now with an erection?  How embarrassing. 

But It didn’t seem weird at all to think of my father as I looked at my penis.  After all, the male circumcision is what bonds the Jewish male to the Jewish people.   I remember when I was a little kid, I used to take a shower with my father.  I remember looking forward to the day when I could have hair on my chest and a man’s penis hanging there, not a boy’s penis.  Suddenly, it occurred to me that, as the only son, I’m now the “man of the family.”  But what does that mean?   My father was so much more of a “man” when he was my age.  He had a steady job, a steady marriage, and a son. 

“You have none of these.” I thought I heard my penis say to me.

“You’re right,” I said.   

"You know it’s Rosh Hashana in a few days," my penis continued.

"I do."

"The Jewish New Year is the ideal time to make changes in your life.   You can start to become the man you want to be."

My wants as a man have so far been pretty simple so far:  good Chinese food, the open thighs of a woman, and a subscription to HBO.   Maybe it was time to become as accomplished a man as my father.  To know what it actually means to be a man.

"You stood up and said Kaddish at the minyan.  That’s a good start." said my penis, being encouraging. 

"Thank you," I told my friend.

Sophia knocked on the door.

“Hurry up, Neilochka.  I need to use the bathroom.  And… who are you talking to anyway?”

My Man Date with Rob and Kai

My friends, Rob and Satomi, have a beautiful baby boy, Kai.  Rob is Jewish and Satomi is Japanese, but Kai has his mother’s Asian features. 

While visiting them, Rob and I decide to go for a stroll with Kai, giving Satomi some well-deserved time to be baby-free.  We go to the park and put Kai on a swing.  He loves it.

Two attractive women come over and start talking to us.   We joke about how much Kai loves swinging back and forth.  I chat with one of the women, a tall brunette wearing a tight t-shirt that reads “Virginia is for Lovers.” 

I have this profound thought:  “Must hang out with cute babies more often.”

“Virginia is for Lovers” says she thinks it is great how we’re raising Kai.  Both women assure us that men can raise children as well as women.  Suddenly it occurs to us that these women think we are a gay couple who’ve adopted an Asian baby.

“Virginia” was not as loving after we told them the truth, as if we deceived them.

As we walked home, we saw ourselves as others saw us.  I’m sure if we were two women walking with a baby, others wouldn’t have given us a second glance.  

The situation reminded me of this popular article from the NY Times, written in April by by Jennifer Lee, titled “The Man Date.” (NY Times registration)

“The Man Date; What do you call two straight men having dinner?” The article discusses the issue that two male friends enjoying certain kinds of public activity together—going for a walk, visiting a museum, or having a meal—are automatically assumed by onlookers to be gay if there is no obvious business- or sports-related reason for them to be together. The fear of being thought gay, the article suggested, made it difficult for men to create the kind of one-on-one close friendships that women take for granted. (via World Wide Words)

Frankly, I think the thesis is rather ridiculous.  It really didn’t bother us at all, although a few blocks later, we passed a couple of teenage boys hanging out.  One of them nudged his friend and pointed at us, laughing at us with the baby.  In retrospect, we should have scolded him, or at least kicked his ass. 

Or even better, told his friends that we saw him last night at a gay bar.

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