Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Tag: stories

Fictional Characters of New York #49

affair

“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?”

“No.”

Will you meet me at the Hyatt tonight?”

“Yes.”

Three Stories

A week ago, Actress #1 ( the woman with arm behind her back) mentioned to her friend, Actress #2 that she had an audition at Warner Brothers; Dick Wolf was looking for a actress to play a female rookie cop in some new crime drama. She hadn’t had a decent gig in years. Actress #2, also desperate, called up her agent and set up her own audition, keeping it a secret from he friend. A few days later, Actress #1 is surprised to discover Actress #2 leaving the production office.

“I got the role!” she said.

“What? How…?” a confused Actress #1 wondered. “I thought they were looking for a “stocky woman toughed by the streets?”

“They’re changing the character for me!” she chorted. “They want her more “sexier.” Typical Hollywood, right? No hard feelings, right?”

When Actress #1 heard this inauthentic patter, her face turned white. She could feel her fist tightening. She imagines bashing her friend in her pretty Hollywood face, over and over again, until the bright red backstabbing blood was rushing into the Los Angeles river, turning the water into the color of a Pacific Ocean sunset.

++++

They were eating Sunday brunch at their favorite cafe in Santa Monica. She had ordered the broccoli and swiss cheese omelette. He made a note to himself that she had ordered the exact same breakfast entree for the last fifteen years of marriage. Not once has she ever ordered oatmeal or scrambled eggs.

“You’ve ruined my life,” she suddenly said. “I’ve begun to hate looking at you.”

He closed the calendar section of the LA Times. He was reading about the box-office failure of his movie director friend, and was glad to read about it.

“I ruined your life?” he said, loud enough to reach the other two couples crammed into the cafe tables to the right and to the left of them, like overpriced sardines.

He tried to come up with something that would hurt her feelings.

“I hope you choke on your broccoli and swiss cheese!”

He knew it wasn’t a great retort, but he meant it. She was the writer in the family, not him. Fuck her if she didn’t think his job at Toyota was “creative” enough for her tender Bohemian, hat-wearing friends. He was the one who supported her ridiculous photography seminars.

The husband and wife didn’t speak at all as they walked back to their home, a three bedroom they bought in 2005, that lose most of its value after the real estate bust.

++++

After his MRI, Jason didn’t want to go home and face his roommates. He found the darkest corner of his local Starbucks and looked at photos of young girls, all of them topless and tattooed. It bothered him that he had never fucked a woman with a tattoo. Should he add this to his bucket list?

Jason was still shaking from the experience in the hospital imaging center. “Keep perfectly still” said the lab technician, a young Asian woman with a tattoo. He watched her disappear from view as he slid into the hard white high-tech MRI coffin. Jason was tied down to prevent him from moving, and he wore earplugs to soften the deafening sound of the machine.

One day, he will die for real, and he will be buried in a wood coffin. “And most of my bucket list will remain unchecked,” he thought, as he drank from his cup of coffee.

The Old Parsons Tree in Flushing: A True Halloween Story

If you visit my apartment building in Flushing, you would notice an oddly shaped garden apartment right across the street, sitting on a tiny, rectangular plot of land.  The architecture of the building makes no logical sense at first; you have to accept that Mrs. Vanello, who owned the liquor store on Kissena Blvd for twenty years, also owned this property, and despite the wishes of the community-at-large, wanted to build her home there.  The original plans called for a normal, rectangular-shaped building, but the untamed plot of land, which we liked to ironically call “The Forest,” contained an important part of local history — a tree dating from the Revolutionary War.

This tree represented an important part of my childhood. Until several years ago, this tiny plot was completely covered with ungroomed, tentacle-like weeds and plants surrounding the large ancient tree, bowing before it, like it was a deity.

When I would walk to elementary school with my friends Rob and Barry, we would trade stories about the tree on “The Forest,” bit and pieces of rumor and gossip about the true meaning of the oldest living member of our community.  Our parents rarely talked to us about the tree, just that it was a relic of the Revolutionary War.  We were never sure if they were ignorant of the history, or hiding it from us, like a parent avoiding talking about the birds and the bees.

While the tales we heard in school differed depending on which grade we were in at the time, the facts were similar to what we finally discovered by a simple visit to the archives at the Queens College Library, which we visited for a high school report on the Tree (remember, Google didn’t exist yet when I was in high school, so we had to go to a real library).

During the Revolutionary War, there was the Battle of Long Island.  The Flushing area where I currently live was primarily farmland owned by the Parsons family.  Alexander Parsons lived alone with his daughter and was an ultra-religious man, not caring whether his loyalties went to the British or the colonists.  He just cared about hard work and the Bible.

In is younger days, Alexander Parsons was a rabble-rouser, frequently traveling to Brooklyn with his famous cider packed on each side of his saddle, but after the death of his wife, Betsy, his heart grew cold, and he became a hermit.

One night, a group of British soldiers knocked on his door, asking for food and shelter.  His daughter, Sarah, cooked them dinner while Parsons entertained the guests by reading passages from the New Testament.  As he recited the section of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, he noticed that the soldiers were more interested in his daughter, with — as Parsons imagined — lurid fantasies of mounting her instead.  Parsons was disgusted at the sinful glances, and after dinner, Parsons said that he had to rise early, and quickly shuttled the soldiers to the stables where they would fnd their “beds” of hay. After the soldiers were comfortable, Parsons went the extra step and locked his daughter in the broom closet.

All night, Parsons was awake, a stoic patriarchal sentinel, refusing to release his daughter from the closet, ignoring her knocks and teary cries.  He was certain that SHE had been a part of this indecent exchange with the British soldiers. Did she shoot a lustful glance at one of the soldiers to attract him?  Perhaps she was intrigued by the powerful commanding officer with the large mustache, strong posture, and attention-getting uniform that snuggly fitted his masculine body?  Is it possible that she willing to lie with all of them at once, to give her body freely, wantonly, insulting the image of her perfect late mother, who remained a virgin until her wedding day?  And what about the soldiers in the stables? Could he trust them — these men filled with vigor and violence, like stallions eager for battle? What if they rammed through the door in the middle of the night, and demanded to take her at all costs, using force to satisfy their animal urges?

Parsons own mind drove him insane that night, and as the soldiers slept soundly, exhausted from travel, Parsons walked into the stable with his sharp meat knife, and slit the necks of each soldier.

Parsons returned to his house, knife still in hand and opened the closet door.  His daughter saw the blood dripping down the knife handle onto her father’s worn, bony hands.

“What have you done?!” she screamed.

“I have sent those sinners to HELL!”

“Why? Why? I don’t understand?  Why did you lock me up?  Why did you kill those soldiers”

“I know what you wanted to do with those men.”

Parsons eyes were as blood-red as the knife, as he continued screaming, spittle flying from his mouth.

“My own flesh and blood is like a female serpent luring her prey.  That’s why they looked at you like that.  Wanting to rip off your clothes, to reveal your tender full breasts, to steal your precious womanhood from inside your fiery furnace of decadence!”

Parsons grabbed the arm of his daughter.

“Stop it!  You’re hurting me!” she screamed.

He dragged her outside into the dark, cold night where wolves were already howling, smelling blood.

But Parsons did not use his knife.  He carried her to the largest tree on his property, and hung his own daughter with a sturdy rope.

The next day, British troops approached, searching for three of their men.  They found their bodies in the stable, their heads rolled several feet away, maggots and rats and possoms eating the eyes and brains of their fallen comrades.

Sarah Parsons was hanging from her father’s tree, her eyes still open, a horrified gaze affixed until her last seconds of life, her slanted mouth still forming her father’s name in vain.

Alexander Parsons was in the house, naked, flogging himself with a whip, his back bloody as each self-inflicted crack beat his skin again, bent over as he read from his favorite Bible verses, as if he was in a trance.  He never looked up from the Bible, even as he was carried away by the officers.  He was forever lost in time and place, awaiting to meet his Maker.

The British Military Tribunal found Alexander Parsons guilty of murder and hung him from the same tree as he had hung his daughter.

Fast forward to 2003.  Mrs. Vanello, the current owner of the property, wanted to build her home on the “The Forest” next to “The Hanging Tree.”  Local Queens Community Board #27, after a heated discussion, decided that the tree was an important historical landmark to the area, so she couldn’t chop down the tree.  Mrs. Vanello, a woman who doesn’t like to say no for an answer, build the home anyway — a triangular monstrosity that avoided the tree, letting it remain standing to the side of her driveway, like an ancient oddity.

Mrs. Vanello was not new to controversy.  The Community Board tried to close her liquor store because it was a blight on the neighborhood, serving the bums and the hoodlums.  She pulled her daughter out of high school because she was “dating” a Puerto Rican boy. Some hated her for her sense of privilege.  Her uncle was a big shot in Queens politics, who always protected her from local outrage.

About three months ago, there was a huge storm in New York City — a tornado even (remember that?!).  The epicenter was, of all places, my neighborhood in Queens.  Windows were broken.  Branches cracked.  But the biggest tragedy was after almost two and a half centuries of existence, the famous “Hanging Tree” fell blown over, like a mighty statue which finally turned to dust. It was the last piece of Revolutionary War history in our neighborhood.

As you can see from the included photos, the city still hasn’t taken away the remains of the tree.  The Community Board is dealing with the red tape on how to clean up a fallen landmark.

This morning, Halloween, there was a ring at the bell.  I cursed under my breath, thinking it was Trick or Treaters already making their rounds at 9AM.  Kids are so impatient today.  But it was not children in cute costumes; it was my next door neighbor, Lily.  She invited herself into my apartment.

“Call your mother,” she said.

My mother came from the bedroom, and Lily took us to the window by the dining room; it faced the Vanello house by the old Parsons Tree.  There were several cop cars in front of the Vanello property.  This was not unusual, because both Mrs. Vanello and her daughter, Angella, were tempestuous women who had loud arguments that inspired calls to 911.  You could sometimes hear the crashing of dishes from the Vanello place from up in my bedroom.

“This time it is serious,” said Lily.

Lily explained that both Mrs. Vanello and her daughter were both found hanging from their ceiling fan.  They are dead.  The scene was gruesome.

“Who?  Why?” asked my mother, trembling.

I was also in shock at the news.

“You know I’m not a superstitious woman,” said Lily, taking a deep breath.  “I am a science teacher at Stuyvesant High School, and an avowed atheist.”

My mother and I both nodded.  She was even the head of the Queens Atheism Club.

“But the rumor is that when the tree fell down, it unleashed the spirit of old Alexander Parsons.”

It was as if Lily’s hair was turning gray in front of me.

I was still skeptical.

“Are you saying the ghost of Alexander Parsons was the one who hanged Mrs. Vanello and her daughter?”

Down below, on the street, an ambulance had just arrived.  Two bodies were being wheeled out of the home, past the stump and the remains of the old Hanging Tree.

“Is it possible?” I thought to myself.  “Is it truly possible that there are ghosts among us, some good and some evil?”

I thought back to that report I did in high school.  I went into my closet to retrieve it.  My mother had kept all of my school report in a neat folder.  I was shocked at what I learned.
“Alexander Parsons was hung on October 31, 1777, on All Hallow’s Eve.  As the noose was put around his neck, he promised to some day return, when the time was right, and to take revenge on all LUSTFUL SINNERS EVERYWHERE!”

“I think he plans on striking again tonight!” said the terrified Lily.

“But WHO?  WHERE?” screamed my mother.

“No one knows,” answered Lily.  “But anyone hearing or even reading about this story about the old tree is in a great deal of danger.  It doesn’t matter where you live or how far away from Flushing or Queens.  It could be ANYONE who has ever lusted or had a sinful thought or had once gone onto a porn site with amateur videos where the brunette looks vaguely like someone you went to graduate school with several years ago.  Everyone is in danger of the Flushing Halloween Hangman!”

From the writer of such horrific Halloween tales as The Mommyblogger’s Demon Child (2009), Giving Head (2008), The Werewolf (2007), and The Joy of 666 (2006)!

Storytelling and Branding

Some think writers are crazy, idealistic fools with no sense of the real world. I completely disagree. Just look at the above video of a well-known storytelling guru. Amy and I hope to exhibit as much passion as Nicholas the Storyteller in our BlogHer session.

On the same day that I was taking some notes on “storytelling,” from Nicholas, I had an interesting chat on the phone with a PR professional attending the conference in Chicago.  She is very interested in the concept of “branding” online, both for companies and individuals. I asked her some questions about branding, because I see the word used frequently online, but never completely understood it.

When I thought about it, these terms — storytelling and branding — have a lot in common.  They are both about using words, and sometimes pictures and music, to create a narrative which entertains or persuades.  The main difference is that “branding” is about control, fine-tuning a message so others will see you or your company in exactly the way you want it to be presented.  You do not want any holes in your story.  For branding to be effective, you want to focus on the truth — but only a certain slice of it.  The other elements must be swept under the rug.  Currently, the Jackson family is attempting to “brand” the Michael Jackson story, focusing on his talent and inspiration, hoping that his legacy will be positive, and not that of a pedophile.  Have you ever been to the Nixon Library in Orange County? It is a educational place, but the curators do some history re-writing in order to make the former President seem more like a towering historical figure than a creepy guy.  Branding is important because it puts our best face in front, like the photoshopped avatar in Twitter.  Branding is an oil company putting on a “green” logo on their brochure because they know it sells.  When it doesn’t sell, they will brand themselves as something else.

Don’t get me wrong.  Storytelling also hopes to manipulate you.  Stephen King wants you to jump out of your seat at the right moment.  A comedian knows from experience when you are going to laugh at a punchline.  The better the story, the more the writer controls your every thought.  But the heart of a good story is less about placing a barrier between the real soul of the writer and the audience, then about digging deeper, so that the one dimensional becomes three dimensional.  The writer is communicating, but also searching for his own meaning. The lone cowboy is a one-dimensional image.  It is the Marlboro Man in a famous cigarette advertisement.  The cowboy who likes his cowboy friend and checks out his ass while lassoing the steer is a character in Brokeback Mountain, and that wins the Oscar.

Writing a blog is a combination of branding and storytelling.  At times, I do present a one-dimensional side of myself because it makes it easier for me to relate to you, and for you to “get me.”  If I were to start my blog over again, I might spend more time “branding” myself.  I am jealous of all the mommy and daddy bloggers, the dating and tech bloggers, who are able to focus their energies on a certain aspect of their lives.  Maybe I should have restructured this blog as a marriage/separation story, focusing on my relationship with Sophia, and then writing a book about it.  Instead, this blog is all over the place.

Do you see the difference between branding and storytelling? If I was “branding” myself, I would try to be clear in focus, so you would be able to quickly identify me, like you can on my Twitter avatar where I wear a fedora like a 1940’s detective. In this almost five year story of my life on my blog, I spend most of my time searching for this “brand,” this clear-cut identity or vision. Once I achieve it, there will be no more reason for a blog. Once I am my own brand, then I have nothing else to explore. That’s when I just market t-shirts with my name on it.

Do you get a clear sense of who I am?  Probably not.  I don’t. I’m nice and friendly and sometimes a jerk.  I flirt with women and tell sexist jokes, but I’m very politically correct.  Probably the biggest misrepresentation of my self relates to the sex posts. Now that I am less than two weeks away from meeting so many women, I am a little concerned about my reputation. Does anyone going to BlogHer really worry that I might hit on them in the bathroom, saying, “Let me see those tits, baby!” I’m never going to say that.  I probably wouldn’t even think it.  I mostly think of those things when I am at home, writing blog posts by myself.

That doesn’t mean that I’m not dangerous.  Oh, the neilochka brand is dangerous all right.  What you REALLY have to worry about is me during the keynote address, when I run onstage, grab the microphone from whoever and point to some well-dressed woman in the fifth row and say, “MomBlogWoman, I can’t keep it in any longer.  I’m in love with you.  I know I only met you ten minutes ago, but the way you were slurring and spilling your drink all over yourself last night when you were sloshed was so beautiful, and the way you put that business card in my hand, so our fingers touched ever so slightly, and the fact that you skipped The Bloggess’ comedy session to come to ours instead — I just know that you were the one, and that I must have you as my own.  I know you are married with three children, but I just received these engagement rings in the mail in exchange for putting a link from this jewelry company on my blog, and I would like to get on my knees like the guys do on “The Bachelor” and, in front of 1500 of these wise women, and ask you, MomBlogWoman, will you…”

Anyway, you see.  I’m not going to feel you up.  That’s not me.  That is all “branding.”  My story is more complicated and intense.  I want to be in love!  Love!  Do you hear me?  And then we will dance the night away on a riverboat as we sail between the famous buildings of the Chicago Skyline, fireworks in the sky from the special event going on in Wrigley Field, Bat Day and Fireworks Day and Love Day, all rolled into one.  Sigh.

Yeah, avoid me.

Then again, I’m not sure how true this is either.  Maybe I do just want to feel you up.   Maybe I should call Sophia and see how she’s doing.

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