Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Tag: New York (page 1 of 5)

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 #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.

Flushing, the Song

f2

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 #39

wedding

My name is Eduardo Ruzman.   I am a professional wedding photographer, with a studio in Chelsea.  I shoot weddings of the most prominent members of New York society.   I make a very good living.

But my real vocation is that of fortune-teller. When I perform my duties at the church, temple, restaurant, or private mansion, I do not simply look through the viewfinder, and shoot images. I observe, and I listen. And based on the way a marrying couple interacts, their choice of words and gestures, the roll of an eye, a rise of tension in the voice, I can predict, to the exact month, how long their marriage will last.

“Maybe if you didn’t stay out so late last night, you wouldn’t be so tired today,” complained the new bride to her groom.  She was wearing a $10,000 Vera Wang dress.  He was the pampered son of a Wall Street icon.   His father hired me, knowing that I would make the couple look good for the New York Times wedding notice.

In fourteen months, and four days, she will file for divorce.

I was not born with this skill. I nurtured my talent during childhood in the Bronx. My father and mother, Rolando and Estella, argued all the time, about work, about the dishes, about how my mother made the “biggest mistake of her life” by not marrying Frederick, my father’s brother.  My father hated when she said that, especially how it was spoken with venom, and he would slap her in the face. Sometimes, while locked in my bedroom, I would hear the beatings.  It was my first correct forecast.   I knew that my parents would be married forever. Or until 1989, when my father had his mysterious accident, breaking his neck on the bottom of the steps.

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.”

Moving the Mannequins

mannequin1

mannequin2

15488498261_65b00ec249_z

mannequin5

mannequin6

mannequin4

Fictional Characters of New York — #36

bench

My name is Joseph. I’m a novelist living in Manhattan. My latest novel, “Upper West Side” was skewered in this month’s New York magazine by a young, feminist book critic. She called my female characters “cardboard cutouts” and “male fantasies” who only spoke about love, sex, and romance.

“Has this male author ever listened to real New York women talking with each other?” she wrote.   “I suggest that he leave his apartment one day and stop wanking off onto his page.  When I am with my BFFs we rarely talk about love, sex, and romance.  We discuss feminism, racism, literary criticism, pop culture, and the best new places to get Indian food. This is a book that should die a slow death. Shame on you Random House for publishing such tripe!”

I have to admit, I was hurt by this review.  And the comments were even worse, especially the ugly one where someone suggested women should get together in book clubs and discuss fun ways to cut off my dick.

But I’m not the type of guy to lash out. I believe that criticism is important, and I always try to learn and grow.  Criticism of your work is part of the job.

And maybe the book critic was right.   I do live a solitary life.   Writing is a lonely profession, and I spend countless hours by myself.   Maybe I need to understand women better.

Wasn’t it just last Saturday that my daughter, Julia, suggested I go on a date with someone, maybe one of my editors?

“I’m too busy for dating,” I told her. “I need to write.”

Besides, Saturday exists for my daughter.   Saturday is my happiest day.  Julia lives in Connecticut with her mother and step-father, and I live for our one day a week to see a Broadway show or new foreign film.

But how can I be a good father if I don’t understand women?   Is this why my marriage failed?  Did I not understand Kathy?   Do I only see women under the filter of  love, sex, and romance, but not living with the same worldly dreams, ambitions, and goals of men?

I decided to take the book reviewer’s advice to heart.   After lunch, I closed my laptop, and I took a walk down Broadway, something I never do in the middle of the week.   I continued downtown until I noticed three women sitting on a bench, chatting together. They were of different ages; I assumed they were related. I took my position on a bench across from them and closed my eyes to focus on their voices and conversation. I wanted to learn, “What DO women really talk about?”

And I listened.   One woman, I think the younger one, had a higher-pitched voice. The older woman was tentative in her speech, but the others responded with respect for her life experience.  The third woman was the most educated.   She mentioned her advanced degree from Columbia at least three times.

The feminist book critic from New York magazine was correct. I listened with my eyes closed for forty minutes, and NONE of these women mentioned the subjects of love, sex, and romance.

What did they talk about?    They discussed a job opening at a publishing house, an acquaintance who was recently unfriended on Facebook,  a vacation rental apartment in Prague, a sale on fall jackets at Burlington Coat Factory, a recipe for challah for Rosh Hashanah, whether Hillary Clinton would be a good president, and where to find a good math tutor for the middle woman’s struggling son.

I had finally learned what women discuss with each other.

“Basically, love, sex, and romance,” I said to myself.

I chuckled, then returned home to write a new book.

Fictional Characters of New York — #35

street

“What’s that ring tone?” asked the customer, a young black man with dreadlocks.

“It’s an old song. From the 60’s. When I was young.”

Milt sold shady, refurbished, jail-broken cell phones from a corner in Astoria, Queens. Everyone from the local high school knew where they could find him — the strange old man slumped over in his torn windbreaker, and kept his “merchandise” in the back of a broken down Ford van.   Today was a busy day for Milt.   With the introduction of the iPhone 6 the day earlier, students of Benjamin Franklin High School knew that he was getting rid of the iPhone 5s for cheap.

Milt never dreamed that he would be spending his Golden Years selling contraband iPhones and Androids to selfie-addicted high school students.  He was not a techie.  He attended Brooklyn law school back in the day. That’s where he met Renee.  It was also the start of his drinking, first one glass, and then as winter approached, a whole bottle of Dewar’s at night.  Milt always said that he didn’t hit Renee across the face that Christmas night.  The liquor did. But it was the start of the end. Renee moved to California and never returned his calls, back when telephones were still attached to the walls.

Milt had no interest in cell phone technology.  He saw a business opportunity. He knew the kids loved the phones, and it was better than selling them drugs.

“What that ring tone?” every young customer would ask him, boy or girl, black or white.

“It’s an old song. From the 60’s. When I was young.”

It was his signature.   The way Rolex put their name on a watch.   He personalized every ring tone before he sold it on the street.   And every phone had the same song.

Just walk away, Renee
You won’t see me follow you back home
The empty sidewalks on my block are not the same
You’re not to blame

From deep inside the tears that I’m forced to cry
From deep inside the pain that I chose to hide.

For Microblogging Monday

Fictional Characters of New York — #34

14931740599_67bfa39ee6_z

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.

Older posts