the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Tag: nostalgia

My Fifth Grade Diary

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A few months ago, I attended a reading of bloggers and writers reading from their teenage diaries. All of the participants were women. After the show, there was some discussion about diaries and gender. It seemed that every women had kept a personal diary in their youth, but hardly any men. Is this why women feel so comfortable blogging?

I told everyone that I never kept a diary. Writing for me was geared more for fiction than for self-exploration. So, you can imagine my surprise today when I found a diary in the back of my closet! I completely forgot about it. I wrote it in the fifth grade. Unfortunately, I lost interest in writing the diary after one month. I started it in January and ended it in February.

I’m not sure it is interesting to anyone, but what the hell — here’s the first week of entries. I found the second entry the most intriguing, for obvious reasons.

January 2nd

Today I went back to school. The day passed quickly. Today for some reason our teacher, Mrs. Mattis, brought 4 books, like pamphlets, called “What Should I Tell My Daughter.” It was about sex on the girls side. When I was home my Mom and a little bit of my Dad were bugging me about sex. All day my feet were killing me because of growing pains.

January 3rd

Today was a normal day. A rumor which was not true was that I showed my penis to my classmate, Freya. it started off with Tracey then went so forth. But many others have been having this trouble. My Hebrew school, regular friend, and ringolevio classmate said “Our class is the sexiest class in the school.” He’s right. My seat was changed from between Debbie and Freya to between Subha and Robert S. (Snipple). Larry was between Subha and Robert S. Now, he’s between Debbie and Freya. They all love each other.

January 4th

Today it was a normal school day. At gym we had dancing. Our class has more boys than girls so some boys doubled-up as a girl. I was one of them. A boy named Steven (spiderman) said to Barry (Eggy) who was dancing with a girl named Jamie, “Dancing with your girlfriend?” I was astonished when Barry said, “At least I can afford one.” Then me and Barry (Eggy) came home. I got a 100 in spelling.

January 5th

When I woke up this morning, I felt lousy. The day passed along slowly. At gym, I played like a zombie. One event, in gym, was when a girl named Sandra tagged her own man. A boy named Steven, who wants everything perfect, said to her, “Don’t tag your own man.” She thought he said “old man” not “own man.” She started to cry because her father died on my birthday. After school, I went to the eye doctor. My eyes got worse and I need new glasses.

January 6th

There’s been a problem. The lock on the diary just broke. I don’t even have time to write. I’m on the history committee on Mexico with Subha and Mahaan in school. Me and Mom bet on the first one who curses, yells or gets mad has to give the other person $1.00. Grandma came in 4th Place in a Reader’s Digest lottery. Mom says it’s a hoax. I say it’s true. I walked to school with a person I know but don’t know his name. At school, I helped a new girl named Sheri with math. The teacher told me to.

More Finds in the Closet

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Here is a photo of my parents on a date at the Luau 400, a famous New York Tiki-bar that is long closed.

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The Luau 400 (Polynesian), at 400 E. 57th St., is another example of what we think the South Seas should be like. To enhance the atmosphere, owner Harry Bloomfield has employed all his theatrical skill to present tropical trees, waterfalls, and exotic birds as a background for the sloe-eyed waitresses, ukulele players, etc. A favorite with show people, especially for private parties, and one of the last ports of call for upper East Side theatregoers on the way home.

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brochure photos from Critiki

My mother didn’t really remember much about the evening. Hopefully, it wasn’t as bad as my first date with Sophia.

When I searched for Luau 400, I discovered that there are Tiki bar collectors out there. A Luau 400 “mug” can fetch as much as $170! Unfortunately, my mother didn’t have any tiki mugs in the house.

But all is not lost! Look what I found in the back of my closet!

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I apologize to my mother for saying that she gave all my baseball cards away. I apologize to my cousin for saying that he became a millionaire selling my baseball cards on E-bay. I am RICH. Hank Aaron! Pete Rose! Roberto Clemente! Ha Ha, you suckers have to go back to work after the holidays. I’m ready to rule the world with my millions! (well, actually the most valuable card, the Roberto Clemente (with added crayon-colored uniform), is only worth $45 dollars mint-condition, so I will only rule the world for a few days until I am poor again).

Celebrating Ten Years of Being Free from Shoe Trends

Today is a special day for me.  I am cleaning out my closet and tossing away these old Doc Martens that I bought in 1997.  Why is this important?  These were the last pair of shoes that I bought solely because they were “trendy” at the time.   Since then, I have bought shoes for no other reason than they appealed to me, whether they were found at Nordstrom or Payless.

Back then, these  Doc Martens were all the rage in Los Angeles.  The shoes were uncomfortable.  They were ugly.   I wore them because they were cool at the time, even though I was probably already too late to be part of the “grunge” scene.

Throughout most of my life, I wore shoes to please others — to fit in — to be one of the crowd.  For ten years now, I have steered away from any shoe trends, building enough nerve to make this final step — throwing away these old Doc Martens!

I know many of you are parents of teenagers.  I feel for you, as I’m sure the importance of what brand of “sneaker” your child wears is still as important to him today as it was in the past.

Here is my life in “be like others” footwear, up until 1997, when I went into footwear rehab and started freeing myself from the tyranny of the shoed majority.  My must-haves begin at an early age — first grade —

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PF Flyers “Center”

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Keds

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Converse All-Stars

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Hush Puppies “Surround”

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Adidas “Country”

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Puma Clyde Basket

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Bass “Yuppie” Penny Loafers (80s!)

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Reebok “Classic” Black

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Nike Air Jordan

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New Balance 801

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Doc Martens

Today, I’m wearing sandals I bought at CVS pharmacy.

NaBloPoMo – Day One (or Funny Women are Hot)

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“Daddy, Daddy!” he cried, and I ran up the stairs, leaping over the Thomas LEGO Train  that I swore I put in the toy box just an hour ago.   “I’m coming,” I yelled.  Who knew that becoming a father would be like this — a life of big joys and even bigger anxieties?  When I entered his room, David was on the floor, still wrapped in his Transformers-themed blanket, his finger extended, showing me the “boo-boo.”

Sophia entered the room, interrupted the flow of my story.     

Sophia:  “What are you writing?  (looking over my shoulder at the monitor)  Who is that kid with us?”

Neil:  “I’m not sure.  While I was cleaning my desk, I found this disk of photos from 2001.  Do you know who he is?”

Sophia:  “Hmmm… no. ”

Neil:  “Is it possible that we had a child and we forgot?”

Sophia:  “You mean like we brought him shopping and left him there… and then forgot?”

Neil:  “You do have a habit of losing your keys.”

Sophia:  “If anyone would lose our child, it would be you.   Where’s my red bra you “said” you brought back from the laundromat?”

Neil:  I did bring it back.

Sophia:  OK, fine.   What’s the difference?  He’s not our kid.   He doesn’t even look like either of us.”  

Neil:  “I think I still have that sweater, though.”

Sophia:  “No, that’s the one you shrunk in the wash and we use as a rag.”

Neil:  “In case anyone asks, let’s call him David.”

Sophia:  “Asks about what?”

Neil:  “About our fake son.”

Sophia:  “And why are you writing your post like you are a father?”

Neil:  “I read on Twitter that one of those parenting blogs is looking for a writer.  I think they pay.   But you need to write about subjects such as “Daddy Depression.”

Sophia:  “Oh yeah?   Write away, Dad.”

Neil:  “I wonder why there aren’t any “Separated Husband” Blogs that pay bloggers?”

Sophia:  “You can start one.”

Neil:  “Eh, who would read it?  Every day it would be the same article —  “New Ways to Play With Yourself — Part #78.  I probably should just stick to Hollywood.  Online, I have no marketable niche.  I know very little about style or food or babies or gadgets.  I know nothing.  Well, I guess there ARE sex blogs out there…”

Sophia:  “Yeah, but you don’t know much about that either.”

Neil:  “Ha Ha.”

We laughed — we laughed for a very long time.  (Women, write this down.  It doesn’t matter the size of your boobs or what type of nail polish you wear.  If you can make a man laugh, you’ve won him.)  

Sophia:  “And what is this NaBloPoMo you’re doing?”

Neil:  “We’re all supposed to write a post every day in November.”

Sophia:  “Why?”

Neil:  “Why?  Why? Why so many questions?”

Sophia:  “Just curious.”

Neil:  “I don’t know why I’m doing it?  Some big-shot blogger somewhere wants us to do it, and we all follow like sheep.  That’s why!”

Sophia:  “But what can you write about EVERY DAY?  Do you have that much to say?” 

Neil:  “I can write about my life.   My adventures.   My wild sex life.  My female readers are always curious about what I’m like in bed.”

Sophia:  “I think these photos from 2001 might give your readers some idea…”

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Seriously, funny women are hot.

A Year Ago on Citizen of the Month:   Male Nurse

The Purple Bathrobe

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This morning, I wore a purple bathrobe. It is not a new bathrobe. I’ve had it since college. It is old and worn bathrobe. It wasn’t even originally my bathrobe. It was the bathrobe of this girl who lived on my college dormitory floor.

I was infatuated with this girl. But she liked somebody else. Just like an old song. Despite it all, we became platonic “friends,” although I kept on wishing for it to be otherwise.
She owned two matching bathrobes, one green and one purple. She let me wear the purple bathrobe. She wore the green bathrobe. Sometimes we would wear our matching bathrobes when we would walk over to our co-ed, but individual, shower stalls. We would sing while showering.

When we graduated, she told me I could keep the purple bathrobe.

For another year, I thought of her whenever I wore the bathrobe. Time passed, and I thought about her less and less. We completely lost touch, as happens after college.

I kept the bathrobe. Whenever I moved, I moved it with me. Today, I keep it in the bedroom closet. Even Sophia sometimes wears the purple bathrobe. Sophia has never heard the story of the girl and the purple bathrobe… until now.

I don’t wear the bathrobe very frequently, but I wore it today, because it was cold.

I like my purple bathrobe. It doesn’t remind me of the girl anymore. It does remind me of times gone by.

So, I keep it.

A Tour of my Childhood Bedroom in Queens

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I know the photo is awful.  Give me a break.  I just got off a plane from LA. 

This is the room I grew up in.  I lived here until college.  Behind me, is where my old, comfy bed used to be.  Now it is a “convertible bed” that my father put in several years ago  to make my room “more adult.”  You can actually feel the metal coils sticking into your back.

The clock in the background has not worked in twenty years, but no one has ever thought about taking it down.

The poster at the top right has changed throughout the years, from that of the New York Mets to long-forgotten rock groups.  The current poster is of Sophia acting in a children’s play she directed in Israel. 

My pants belonged to my father, but I don’t think he ever wore them.  My t-shirt is from a Target in Los Angeles.  I’m using an old digital camera that works so-so.

After taking the photos, my mother made me a turkey sandwich and we watched “What Not to Wear,” which is pretty much the same thing I would have done if I was sitting on the couch with Sophia.  

My Father’s Closet

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My father was a pack rat.  Without my mother’s influence, he would have been one of those guys who kept piles of newspapers from ten years ago.  He actually saved credit card receipts back from 1980.  He was overly-organized to the point where he should have probably gone to a therapist to discuss it.  He kept calendars to fill in events coming up two years into the future. 

“We’ll be coming to California to see you in December 2004, on a Monday” he would tell me in January 2002. 

It was very difficult for him to change plans.  This rigidity used to drive me crazy, and as a result, I rebelled and became the complete opposite.  I’m a sloppy, unorganized procrastinator.

In my parent’s bedroom, my father had HIS CLOSET.  It is where he kept all his personal stuff.  He had slides and Super-8 movies from before he was married, all sorts of memorabilia in old cigar boxes, and mysterious papers filed away.  Like many men of a certain generation, he never spoke about his life before marriage. 

Once, when my friend Rob and I were in elementary school, we bravely opened the CLOSET and discovered an old Playboy magazine tucked between two shelves. Wow, was that exciting.  We devoured each page until our eyes were popping out.  At 5:25 (my father always came home exactly at 5:30), we carefully placed the Playboy back in between two shelves — in the EXACT same spot.  Later, that night, my father asked me why I went into his closet.  I was stunned that he knew about our adventure.  Did we return the Playboy just a millimeter off, giving us away?  I never went into his CLOSET again while he was alive.

For the last week, Sophia and I helped my mother clean up the house.  Even though my father died in September, most of his clothes were still in the house.  We gathered up several huge bags of clothes for Goodwill to pick up.  We cleaned up my father’s odd collection of luggage, some from thirty years ago. 

During these days of E-bay, it is more difficult to throw things away. 

“Should we toss away my father’s old-school hard-cased American Tourister suitcases?” I asked Sophia.  “People collect all sorts of nonsense on E-bay.  Maybe there’s a collector of American Tourister luggage out there willing to pay top dollar for our junk.”

At the end, we just tossed it. 

Eventually, the inevitable came up.

“Neil, why don’t you go through your father’s closet?” asked my mother.

So, I did.  I went into my father’s mysterious closet, the one I had feared for so mnay years. 

It was a highly emotional experience.  My father kept everything in this closet.  Photos of his family.  Photos of old girlfriends in bathing suits on the beach.  Paperwork from the shtetl my grandparents had lived in, in Europe.  ID tags from the Army.   College papers.  Slides and movies.  Odd artifacts from my grandparents — a framed photo of the Dionne Quintuplets, a signed painting of six-time presidential candidate for the Socialist Party of America, Norman Thomas, and old editions of the Yiddish newspaper, the Forward.  And boxes and boxes of stuff about me that I thought my mother had thrown away years ago.  Letters from sleep-away camp.   Parent-teacher notifications. My college acceptance to Columbia.  An audio recording of my bar mitzvah. 

I was most intrigued by his personal tchotkes, especially this pair of little glass boots that he kept in a cigar box.  They did not look like baby boots or army boots.  What the hell were they?  Sophia and my mother tried to convince me to throw them out, but I couldn’t.  My father obviously saved them for decades, but why?  Had he won them?  Was it an inside joke with an old buddy or girlfriend?  I know I have all sorts of important memorabilia in my “junk drawer” at home.  These items are special to me for various oddball reasons.  I imagined these boots as special to my father.

When my father died, I didn’t feel that things were “left unresolved.”  Going into the closet was my first experience of really MISSING him. 

I wanted to ask him why he kept certain things and not others. 

I wanted to ask him why he never shared these things with me. 

I wanted to ask him what these glass boots meant, if anything. 

The closet was a real treasure trove.  I barely had time to look through most of it.  

Last night, Sophia and I returned to Los Angeles.  I only took two items with me.  Both “spoke” to me in a unique way.   But rather than hide them in a closet like my father would do, I’ll rebel against Arthur Kramer and publish them on the internet.

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This is a photo of my father and me.  I used to put on magic and puppet shows.  Here I am at a Jewish center, telling the story of Purim (the devil puppet on the left is supposedly the villain of Purim, Haman).

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This a hand-written letter I wrote to the New York Times when I was twelve.  I have no recollection of writing this letter at all, but found it amusing (and with some bizarre sense of pride) that I wrote it:

Neil Kramer
Flushing, NY

To the Editors of the NY Times:

I’m sure the NY Times believes in freedom of speech but there was one thing I was shocked about.  In your June 27th “This Week in Review” section on the back page there was a full-sized “Jews for Jesus” ad.  If that is their belief, let it be, but to broadcast that all Jews should change their belief is outrageous, especially in the NY Times.

I know that the “This Week in Review Section” is used much by children and teenagers for current events.  Isn’t it true religion shouldn’t be mixed with schooling?  What if a gullible teenager reads this ad?

I’m sure many worthwhile organizations wanted to buy that space.  I hope you will have better discretion with your ads.

Sincerely,

Neil Kramer

OK, maybe I should’ve kept that IN the closet.  But it made me laugh. 

 

A Year Ago on Citizen of the Month:  S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y Night

Those Were the Days

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EXT.  QUEENS NEIGHBORHOOD – DAY

A typical middle-class Queens neighborhood.   We hear a piano playing and two voices singing an old song:

“Boy the way Glen Miller played
Songs that made the hit parade.
Guys like us we had it made,
Those were the days.”

INT.  QUEENS LIVING ROOM – DAY

Neil and his Penis are singing together at the piano.

“And you knew who you were then,
Girls were girls and men were men,
Mister we could use a man
Like Herbert Hoover again.

Didn’t need no welfare state,
Everybody pulled his weight.
Gee our old LaSalle ran great.
Those were the days.”

After they finish singing, Neil sighs wistfully.

Neil:  “Being back in New York certainly makes me nostalgic for the old days.  Handball in Flushing Meadows Park, flipping baseball cards, playing the game of “Life” in my room with my friend Rob.

Penis:  “Being here makes me nostalgic, too.”

Neil:  “Really?  I didn’t figure you as a sentimental type.”

Penis:  “Sure.  I had youthful dreams like everyone else.”

Neil:  “Like what?”

Penis:  “Well, like you actually f***ing someone before you turned ** years of age?”

Neil:  “I’m sorry about that.  I was shy.”

Penis:  So, I had to suffer?   You should have let me do all the talking.”

Neil:  Penis, I really don’t want to get into this conversation again.” 

Penis:  “I’m still upset about Debbie Rosenzweig.” 

Neil:  “Not Debbie again.”

Penis:  Clearly she wanted to f***k you after that concert — what was that band’s name?  They were my favorite — ”

Neil:  “The Talking Heads.”

Penis:  “Right…  she practically had her hand down your pants.”

Neil:  “Debbie was my friend.”

Penis:  “Exactly!  And she wanted to get more friendly!”

Neil:  “I didn’t want to ruin things with us.”

Penis:  “Jeez, they should revoke your license to be a man.”

Neil:  “Aw, c’mon, Penis.  we’ve had some good times together.   I’ve probably spent more time playing with you than all of my friends combined.”

Penis:  “I guess we have had some good times.  And It’s nice being back in the old stomping ground of Flushing, New York.”

Neil:  “But the neighborhood looks so different.  The Greek deli — gone.  The Garden Bakery, with those amazing onion rolls — out of business.  All my friends — moved away.  I guess time really does march on. ”

Penis:  “I miss the old days myself.”

Neil:  “Yeah?  In what way?”

Penis:  “For one thing, being a Penis used to be a lot more prestigious.  I remember when a girl would go crazy when I would make my appearance in the bedroom — proud and strong, like a U.S. Marine.  Now every woman has some sort of exotic vibrator at home with more controls than a Tivo.  How can I ever compete?” 

Neil:  “C’mon, women will always have a place for a Penis.”

Penis:  “Are you so sure about that?  I hear there’s a new vibrator coming out with a docking station for the woman’s iPod.”

Neil:  “Wow, I didn’t realize you were as insecure as I am.”

Penis:  “Sometimes I worry that my Glory Days are gone.   I remember when the C**k was King.     Now it’s all about cunnilingus.  It’s the fault of that damn ‘Sex and the City’!  Now, every woman wants the tongue.  What are we — men or puppy dogs?  It’s like the c**k has become a second class citizen.  Soon they won’t even call you “Citizen of the Month” anymore.”

Neil:  “I guess we both need to adjust to the times.”

Penis:  “Adust?  Me?  No, I’m gonna keep on f***ing MY WAY until I’m ninety years old.  I’m even hoping to get a little action here during this NY trip. 

Neil:  “You do realize that Sophia’s here.”

Penis:  “I know.  And I applaud you for renting that romantic lake-side cabin in the Berkshires next week.  Finally, you’re doing something smart.”

Neil:  “Uh, maybe I forgot to tell you… but my mother to going with us.”

Penis:  “Please.  Shoot me now.”

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