Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

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Fictional Characters of New York #49


“Not here, Steven.”

“Will I see you later?”

“Not here.  People are looking.  Let’s talk inside.”

“I don’t want to go inside. I don’t care if the whole world knows.”

“Oh no?  And what about Lisa?”

“Let Lisa find out. Where’s the security camera?  Let her see us on our TV at home!   Let her know everything.”

“You WANT Lisa to find out this way, don’t you, so you don’t have to tell her?  Why don’t you be a man and TELL her to her face rather than trying to be caught on Fifth Avenue?”

“Soon. I promise. Soon, I’ll tell her.  I’m being serious here.  By January.  By January, I’ll file for divorce.”

“Then let’s discuss this matter again in January.”

“No.  Don’t go.  I can’t let you go.  I need you. My body yearns for you all day.”

“Get a divorce.”

“I know. I know. It’s just, It’s complicated. I know it’s a cliche.  But it really is complicated.”

“You’re not going to leave Lisa and the kids.”

” I will. I promise. I just want to do it the right way, with everyone happy.   Because I’m a good man.”

“If you were a good man you wouldn’t be fucking me every Tuesday night at the Hyatt.”

” I am a good man.  I’m a kind, moral person who wants to do the right thing. My marriage has been dead for years.”

“So leave it already.”

“Beth, you’ve never been married. When you’re married for 15 years, you’re connected in so many stupid ways.  It’s like a web that needs to be untangled. But I promise, at the end, everyone will be happy – me, you, Lisa, and the kids. We’ll all be happy because happiness is the most important thing in life. Right? I make you happy. I know I do. I see it in your face. I see it in your eyes right now. I see it in your blushing. I’m a good man. A good man who wants to make things right. A good man who has fallen for the most amazing and beautiful woman in the New York City. You do see me as a good man, right?”


Will you meet me at the Hyatt tonight?”


Fictional Characters of New York #47


It’s a decent gig playing guitar on Rector Street. Although the Wall Street guys downtown are born assholes, programmed to crush their competition, they tip well, especially when the NASDAQ is up. Music is universal, no matter your income. During two years of standing on this corner, music has covered my rent and helped me pay back some debt I incurred at Julliard. The street has also been good for my soul. The constant chaos of lower Manhattan has softened the pain of losing Gina’s soft skin next to another man at night. A year later, there was still a hole in my heart. I had loved her more than all the music in the world.

The market fell a hundred points today, so I started to pack it up early, at 6PM.

“Don’t leave yet,” he said, approaching me from around the corner. He was one of my regulars. I nicknamed him “GQ” because he was always dressed in an imported Italian suit, pressed shirt, and fine leather shoes. His eyes that were the color of thousand dollar bills.

“Play it for me,” he said to me. “Play me the song.”

“I’m already packing up,” I replied, not wanting to go through this game again.

“Play it for me. Like only you can.”

“I don’t think it is a good idea to…”

GQ opened his wallet, drew out several hundred bills, and shoved it into my hands. My body was repulsed, wanting to return it, but my mind reminded me of my financial need.

I grabbed my guitar and strummed the opening chords to Bruno Mars’ “Just the Way You Are.”

“Oh, her eyes, her eyes make the stars look like they’re not shining
Her hair, her hair falls perfectly without her trying
She’s so beautiful
And I tell her everyday.”

As I sang the song, I thought about GQ’s cruelty. “Just the Way You Are,” was OUR song. It was playing on the radio on the night I met Gina. And he knew that.   Winning Gina wasn’t enough for him.  He would pay me to sing to the victor, the ultimate humiliation, because on Wall Street, you are programmed to crush your competition.

Fictional Characters of New York #46

old man

“Help me to the window,” said the old man to his aide. “I want to show you something.”

The old man put his face to the window, like a kid looking into a candy store.

“You see those two buildings on Fifth Avenue. I own them. I own forty-seven properties in Manhattan, twenty properties in Brooklyn, and twelve properties in Queens. I practically own the city.”

“Your legacy is clear, sir.    We will remember you as one of the greatest men the city has ever produced.”

The old man laughed.

“What do you know about Boss Tweed?”


“He ran the city in the late nineteenth century. Today, he is nothing more than an obscure answer on Jeopardy. No one will remember me.”

The crowd below had gathered in strength.  This morning, even the scared New York Times had weakly endorsed the rabble-rousers of the Occupy Real Estate Movement.  The angry mob marched down Fifth Avenue with their signs and banners and angry voices calling for an end to all private property. Ground Zero was the old man’s apartment tower, the third largest building in the city, where apartments started at $20 million dollars.   Last week, the old man’s organization installed bulletproof windows in his penthouse, in case one of the armed protesters hijacked a helicopter.

“Where are you from?” the old man asked his aide. “For all the time you’ve been here, I’ve never asked you about your family.”

“I’m from Staten Island, sir.”

“I was born in the Bronx. Morris Avenue. It was a nice place back then. We used to play stickball in the street. I kissed my first girl on Morris Avenue. Mary Lapazza was her name.  Of course, everyone I know from that time is dead by now.  Including Mary Lapazza.  “I’m going to make it big for you, Mary,” I once told her after she decided to go to the prom at Andrew Jackson High School prom with Arnie Weinstein instead of me.  “I’m going to make it big, and then you’ll come calling on me!””

The old man jerked unsteady on his cane.

“Would you like to sit down, sir?” asked the aide.

“No. I’d like you to go buy whatever property is now on 145 Morris Street in the Bronx. I don’t care how much it costs. I want you to buy it today. And then when you buy it for me, I want you to drive me over there, because for the rest of my life, that is where I am going to live.  And die.”

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


“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.

Fictional Characters of New York #42


“What makes a woman happy?” thought Victor, as he waited for his wife in the shoe section of Macy’s, where they were having a sale.

They were attending a matinee of “On the Town” that afternoon, but Cindy wanted to drive in early from New Jersey and park near Herald Square to go shopping.  Macy’s was decorated with a “spring bloom” theme, even though it was snowing outside in late March.


In August, Victor will be married to Cindy for ten years, but did he really know her?  Did he know her likes and loves?  He worked long hours on Wall Street to pay for the bills and to do the best for his family, especially Eric, his son, but his wife remained a mystery, besides her affection for Kate Spade bags.

Victor and Cindy rarely talked about anything other than Eric’s schoolwork.  She was worried that he was not advancing as quickly as some of the children of her friends.

“You want him to get into Harvard, don’t you?” she would ask.

“He’s nine years old.  It’s a little early to worry about Harvard.”

Is that what Cindy wanted now out of life — to spend the next ten years making sure Eric got into Harvard?   Is that what everything leading up to the present moment has been about?

The last time Victor had sex — real sex — was on his birthday, as if she was giving him a present.


We’re going to be late for the show,” said Victor.

“I just want to take a selfie with David and sent it to my sister!” she replied.   “it will be so funny!”

There was a fake statue of David in the lobby of Macy’s surrounded by flowers, and the tourists were eating it up.


Victor and Cindy went to Florence for their honeymoon.   It seemed like such a long time ago.

Fictional Characters of New York #41


It was not a good third date.

Sheryl had high hopes about him; he was a perfect gentleman on the first two outings. But he changed tonight, as if he had gotten some bad advice from an ex-fraternity friend on becoming a “player.” He bragged too much about his new job as a securities analyst, and pushed her to order the most expensive cocktail at this trendy restaurant that was “impossible to get a reservation except if you know someone.”

After dinner, she turned down his offer for him to come to her apartment, saying that she was old-fashioned, certainly not expecting his face to redden and words to spew such as “cocktease,” “bitch,” and “user.”

Sheryl never perceived herself in such a negative way before, wondering if she was indeed guilty of breaking the rules of dating.  She apologized to her date and said she was uncomfortable dating.   She’d rather just stay home and read, but her ultimate fantasy — of one day walking through Central Park with a special man, holding his sturdy hand — proved sufficient motivation for her to leave the house wearing the makeup she bought at Macy’s and her prettiest yellow dress.

Sheryl walked home alone. Weaker women would be crushed by the evening’s disappointment, but not Sheryl. As she passed by the abandoned church on Amsterdam Avenue, she saw that the church light, a former beacon of hope to those in need of spiritual guidance, now cracked in disrepair, was still lit, almost miraculously, much as her broken heart still beat strongly in a search for love.

Fictional Characters of New York #40


The year was 1972.  Eddie was working at his father’s hardware store in Chinatown when the People’s Republic of China Peking Circus came to town as a cultural exchange arranged by President Nixon.

It was a busy in his father’s hardware store, named Yang’s Do-it-Yourself.  It was the first day of Spring, and all the hibernating weekend warriors suddenly awoken to the maintenance jobs left undone during the cold winter month, their wives pushing them to fix the broken doorknobs and misfitting window shades.

But Eddie’s mind was elsewhere.  The NYPD closed off part of Mott Street for a procession of the Chinese performers, a mini-parade, and Eddie was keen on seeing it.   At lunchtime, he left the shop, against his father’s wishes.

Eddie thrilled at the sight of the exotic acrobats and horses which paraded down the grimy, littered Lowe East side street.  The circus performers looked as Chinese as he did, same eyes and dark hair, but they stepped with a precision that made them seem distinctly unAmerican.   If only the Chinese people saw the chaos during a fire drill at an American school like P.S. 100.

“Form a straight line.” Mrs. Goldenberg, his teacher, would yell.  “One at a time.”  And, of course, no one listened.  Americans are like John Wayne.  They do it THEIR WAY.

“I bet there isn’t one Eddie in THIS circus,” Eddie thought to himself.

A few moments later, he saw a woman in the procession wearing a costume with golden wings.  She was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.  Her name was Howin, which means “loyal swallow” in Chinese.  He discovered that was her name because he followed her for a mile along the route uptown and waited for her for five hours in the lobby of the Pennsylvania Hotel until he could see her again, completely forgetting about his job back at the hardware store.  That night, his father beat him with a belt, calling him a shameful son who lacked ambition.

Today is the first of Spring, 2015, and Eddie has long forgotten the beating.  Eddie prides himself on remembering the good things in life and not the tragedies, such as his father’s death, his son’s suicide at seventeen, the closing of the shop, his wife’s cancer.  And he will always remember the day and especially the night with Howin, the Communist Chinese circus acrobat visiting on a cultural exchange arranged by then President Nixon, a woman he could barely communicate with in Cantonese or English.

He never again saw Howin, the loyal swallow, but as Eddie, now an old man, walks along Mott Street on this cold first day of Spring, he remembers her golden wings.

Lower East Side Tenement Museum Snapshot Event

It was a once a year event — cameras were allowed inside the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.

From the Tenement Museum website: “We tell the stories of 97 Orchard Street. Built on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in 1863, this tenement apartment building was home to nearly 7000 working class immigrants.”

As the docent guided us through the building, the other participants were fascinated by how much has changed in the hundred years since my own grandmother lived on the Lower East Side, working in the garment industry.   There  have been breakthroughs in technology, advances in sanitation, and regulations that better protect conditions at work and home.

But as we heard stories about those who lived here, a past generation’s hopes for success, love, and health, I thought about my own life, still living in a small New York City apartment, dealing with making money and work, and using an electronic dating app like Tinder as a modern-day Yentl the Matchmaker.

I understood that most basic human needs are still the same.

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