the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Fictional Characters of New York — #35


“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


  1. Gurukarm

    Oh my. So touched, here. I loved that song, a long time ago. And your build up to which song was the ring tone was pitch perfect…

    Every one of these has been better than the one before, in my view. Keep up, Neil!

  2. shannon akaMonty

    Love that song. Love the story. It could be real.

  3. Lou Lohman

    Very well done, Sir. Your descriptive images are so well conceived and executed. And your choice of song is so very touching – how many young people have never heard that song, I wonder?

  4. Ms. Moon

    Perfect. Absolutely.

  5. Kizz

    Yes. Absolutely. There’s a movie in this one.

  6. Mel

    This was the perfect line: “back when telephones were still attached to the walls.”

  7. nabanita

    The last two lines resonated for some reason..Nicely written

  8. kapgar

    I love the story but, even more, I love your black and white photography. I need to do some of that.

    • Neil

      I’m still not sure all the time what looks better in B&W or color. I think certain cities — like Chicago and NYC — evoke black and white. Nova Scotia was color.

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