the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

iPhone Notes from Veronica and Di’s Visit

Wednesday, November 24

Veronica (V-Grrrl), one of my oldest and dearest blog friends, is coming to Queens this afternoon for Thanksgiving, along with her husband, her two teenage children, and Di Mackey (visiting from Belgium).

My mother and I are waiting for their arrival. Although they said the trip should take five hours coming up from the South, it is now seven hours since they left.   Not unexpected knowing pre-Holiday traffic.


I received a phone call from Veronica’s husband saying that they reached New Jersey.  They assume, based on what their GPS says, that they will reach Queens in forty-five minutes.   I just turned to my mother, who is watching “Judge Judy” on the television, and told her that they arrived in New Jersey.

“OK, it’s going to take them another three hours,” she said.

I agreed, and we laughed.


And we were right!  It took them ten hours to come to Queens.  Veronica’s husband parked the car down the block.   The others stumbled out, their bodies creaky and bent-over from hours in traffic.  Veronica was the last to exit.  I felt a sense of warmth seeing her again, despite her looking like she could use a serious nap.


I have met Veronica and her family in person before (I had visited them last Christmas), but this was my first time meeting Di Mackey. I forgot, that despite her living in Belgium as a photographer, that she was born a Kiwi.  I was surprised to hear her New Zealand accent, with its dusty, rough-and-ready timbre.

After we hugged, she asked me, “And where’s your mum?”

“What?!” I asked, not understanding her question.

“Your mum!”

Funny Kiwis.


Everyone was hungry after their arrival, so I called my mother down from the apartment building, and we walked over to Valentino’s Pizzeria, famous for its shrine to Fran Drescher (“The Nanny”), one of our block’s most famous former residents.


Still at Valentino’s.  Di is fascinated by the large portion of pasta at Valentino’s.   While Veronica and I mock American culture, Di seems to love our country.

“The people are so friendly,” she said.

“Maybe you’re the friendly one.” I said, already noticing how she had immediately started conversations with the waiter and a Chinese woman standing in the street, carrying an umbrella.

She was also “blown away” by her visit with Veronica and her daughter to… Marshall’s at the mall!   Apparently, in Belgium, there are two types of women’s clothing shops — ones that are very expensive and ones completely schlocky. There aren’t stores like TJ Maxx and Marshall’s, where the average woman can buy designer clothes at a discount.

Di mentioned that her new-found enthusiasm for American life got her in trouble with some blog readers back home, who thought she was dissing Belgium with her glowing reviews of Marshall’s and Applebee’s.   After all, asked her friends, wasn’t it the Belgians who really invented the waffle?


We’re back home and I am falling asleep.  A few weeks ago, when I first told my mother that I invited guests over, she wasn’t THAT happy. She was traveling to Florida for the winter a few days after Thanksgiving, and didn’t want to deal with the cooking, etc.    But now she is enjoying herself with the guests.  She is chatting with Veronica and Di as they watch the “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.”


Knowing that my mother was leaving town in a few days, Veronica and Di presented me with a cool — and amusing — gift.    They wrote — by hand — a small cookbook for me, with easy to make recipes.  They also gave me twenty essential McCormick spices to have in the cabinet.  If you follow me on Facebook, you might remember that I once asked a question about the essential spices every cook should have, which caused a minor fight amongst other Facebookers debating the merits of such things as tarragon and cinnamon.


Thursday, November 25

We are in the subway. We woke up at 5AM so we can find a good place to stand at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  Despite growing up in New York, I have never gone to the parade.  Maybe it is the idea of waking up at 5AM that had something to do with it.

When we entered the subway station, it was fun seeing everyone’s confusion over using the Metrocards.  For some reason, Di has compared the NYC subway to the train system in Istanbul!   She is now chatting with this grandmother who is sitting next to her.

Di talks to everyone.


We are on 50th Street.   We got a decent spot.  The parade is in progress.  But the waiting for the parade, and now the standing and watching the parade is tiring.  The event is fun, but it feels like my feet are falling off.

By chance, we picked a spot that couldn’t be more “American” in culture.  We are across the street from

1) an Applebee’s restaurant

2) a huge, building-length billboard for some ultra-violent video game where each game character is holding a shiny phallic gun.

3) some tropical island tourist billboard, where a woman’s bikini is half-falling off.

Surprisingly, this inappropriate billboard is quickly becoming the highlight of the parade for Veronica and her kids.  They are each amusing themselves by trying to photograph each balloon character at the exact moment it floats by the billboard, making the character look like he is trying to grab the woman’s bikini, or just plain sleazy.

I like Veronica’s family!

Photos by V-grrrl —


It is now night. My mother cooked up quite a Thanksgiving dinner. To top it off, Veronica and her family brought three delicious pies from a bakery down South.


It is after dinner and we are now watching the parade on TV that we saw in person earlier in the day.  What a vastly different experience.

First of all, most people on the parade route never see any of the Broadway show routines that they perform for the cameras in front of Macy’s.  Also, the celebrities on the floats, such as Kanye West and Gladys Knight, mostly wave and yawn as they travel down the parade route, reserving their energy for when the camera lights go on.  Sometimes, the floats passed by so fast, you’re not sure who it was that was waving at you.   We just learned from the NBC broadcast that the five clean-cut guys on the Build-a-Bear float were some popular boy band on Nickelodeon!

Even though you see more of the parade on TV, the NBC broadcast has become very cloying and commercial.  Was it better years ago?   Now it seems that they break away from the parade every five minutes so Al Roker could interview — wait, is that a star from one of NBC’s new shows who just “happens” to be standing there on the parade route?!


Friday, November 26

We’re back in the subway this morning, this time to Battery Park to take the boat to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

My photo of Ellis Island (via iPhone)


Today, it is Di’s day to shine. I am watching how she takes her photos. She has such an eye for detail.

Here’s an example in one of her photos from Ellis Island.


We have returned to Queens.  Veronica’s husband just found out that he got a $70 parking ticket because he misread one of New York’s many confusing parking enforcement tickets. He is a little mad at himself for making the mistake.  I am telling him that rather than feeling upset, he should consider getting this overpriced parking ticket the most authentically New York experience that he will have this entire weekend.


We just ate dinner.  Why do leftovers always taste better?


After dinner, we were using my mother’s laptop to show each other various funny videos from YouTube.  I remembered that there was a parody version of the song, “Empire State of Mind,” titled “Forest Hills State of Mind,” which prominently showcases the Queens subway stop at 71st Street and Continental Avenue, which is where we caught the E train each day en route to Manhattan.  I thought I would amuse everyone by showing it.

OK, now remember, I don’t have kids.  So it didn’t even occur to me that this video, filled with references to motherf*ckers and other NSFW items, might not have been been the best Holiday video for the entire family.  From now on, I’ll remember to check the ratings before I show Veronica’s family any videos!  (Yeah, like photographing Thanksgiving Day balloon as sleazy characters is “normal” family behavior.)


Di wants to take some photos of me.   She tells me to stop mugging and “look natural.”

by Di Mackey


Saturday, November 27

My guests are going home later today in order to avoid the big traffic on Sunday.  We are at the Dominican Diner having breakfast.

A few moments ago, Di ordered a bagel, saying that she hadn’t yet tasted a “real New York bagel.” My mother and I exchanged glances.  Both of us know that the bagels at the diner are terrible, probably from the supermarket.  My mother gestured to me, as if to say, “Eh, don’t tell her, and she won’t know the difference. Why ruin the moment for her.”


She loved the crappy bagel.


I just said good-bye to everyone, hugging Veronica, Di, and Veronica’s daughter.   I have been feeling a little lonely since leaving LA.  Their visit was just what I needed.


  1. sizzle

    It’s good to be around friends. I’m glad they visited!

    Love the inappropriate parade floats. Now that is my kind of parade fun. 😉 (I don’t like parades.)

  2. Juli

    We all expect you to play tour guide when we visit NYC. Mates’ rates!

    Btw, it’s not just you. The monotone front-of-mouth Kiwi accent is notoriously difficult to understand–the garbled vowels, the mumbling dropped syllables, the rising intonation at the end of sentences. The “fush ‘n chups” accent is a point of national pride.

    • Di

      That’s Australian-nese, Juli. My diction is clear and delightful …………………

  3. V-Grrrl

    It’s great when friends feel like family. : )

    I had such a good time that I felt hungover when the visit ended, a little sad, a lot tired, ready to go home and yet not wanting the weekend to be over so soon.

  4. suburbancorrespondent

    Those parade photos are genius! They deserved a blog post of their own. Tweet them!

  5. Mamie

    The balloon groping/ogling bikini shots are absolutely awesome. I think I really like V’s family. Happy post T day, Neil. Glad it was great. 🙂

  6. memarie lane

    Wow Neil, you look hot in that picture! You should look natural more often!

  7. slouchy

    sounds like a wonderful time was had by all.

    and you can’t really do better than that!

  8. Twenty Four At Heart

    YOU DYED YOUR HAIR!!!!!!!!!

    • Neil

      No, dear. I didn’t!

  9. Jack

    Sounds like it was a great visit.

  10. simon

    Sounds like you’ve got Di’s number; “rough-and-ready ” indeed 😉

    • Di

      Oi, I read that, Simon. Bad Simon! I can even hear your smirking as you write that.

  11. Gwen

    Spiderman wins! I always suspected he was a secret perv.

    Great picture of you, Neil. Nice to read about you being somewhat happyish in your real life (and me with the qualifiers).

  12. Maggie, dammit

    I love this post.

  13. Julianna

    Your eyes are the color of sea glass. It’s a lovely photo of you. Serious without looking posed.

  14. Tara Bradford

    Lovely photo and you’re right, Di talks to everyone! She is always creating a scene (in the nicest possible way of course). And good job you didn’t tell her about the bagel. 🙂

  15. apathy lounge

    This was a great post. It has all the elements. Great pics, fabulous city and two really wonderful bloggers (wait…three?) Wish I had been there.

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