the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Tag: Queens (Page 2 of 4)

The Free Turkey


My mother doesn’t like to waste money, and similar to many other Jewish mothers of her generation, she can sense a sale at Loehmann’s from miles away.

Which brings me to Thanksgiving.

Recently, a new supermarket took over in the space across the street.  At first, everyone in my apartment building loved the shiny new store because it was clean, had a brightly-lit produce section, and the check-out people said “Thank You,” something previously unheard of in a Queens supermarket.  The local customers froze in shock upon hearing these words, as if they had just entered an alternative universe.

But these niceties came at a huge price. The supermarket was stingy on sales.  The previous supermarket had a cluttered appearance, like a desk covered in post-it notes.  Everywhere you looked, there were colorful, mismatched stickers and hanging banners screaming out a new promotion, such as “Canned Peas!  Buy One, Get One Free!”

These constant promotions served two purposes — they created excitement and they distracted the customers from focusing on the unorganized shelving and inept customer service.

There were few sales at this new, more upscale store, and never on anything that people really needed as a necessity.  Last week’s big promotion was for “Fresh Halibut at $8.99 a pound.”

The bomb dropped this week when rumors spread throughout the apartment building that the supermarket wasn’t even going to offer a free turkey for Thanksgiving (usually for spending $25 dollars in purchase, with one per customer, of course)!  This had been a Holiday tradition with the supermarkets in this spot for the last forty years.   It was a tradition held as sacred to Queens residents as nativity scenes are to those who live in the mid-West.

My mother was very upset at the supermarket.

Now I can hear some of you grumbling and snickering at home.

“How cheap are you people in Queens?  Why don’t you pay for your own freaking turkey?  That’s what is wrong with liberals — always looking for a hand-out!”

Before you pontificate, let me try to explain this in a language that you will understand.

Imagine that you wake up tomorrow morning and go on Twitter, and you are greeted by a smiling cartoon Twitter bird with  the message, “We have finally figured out how to make money with Twitter.  Please pay $10 a month if you want access to your account.  Thanks.”   Are you going to say, “What a clever business model?”    Or are you going to be pissed, used to getting the milk from the cow for free?!

Think about that as you snicker!

You should also understand that my mother is a dangerous woman.  She is strong-willed AND retired, which means she is stubborn AND has too much time on her hands.

“I heard the supermarket on 164th Street is giving you a free turkey if you spend $25 dollars,” she said.

“You want to go all the way to 164th Street just for a turkey?  Is someone driving there?”

“No, I thought we’d walk over with the shopping wagon.”

“That supermarket is over a mile away!”


“Let’s just get it downstairs.  I’ll pay for the turkey.”

“No, it’s the principle of the thing.  Getting the free turkey is an essential part of Thanksgiving.  It’s like the Indians sharing their food with the Pilgrims.”

“And look what happened to the Indians.”

“If you don’t want to go, I’ll go myself and schlep the wagon up the hill, along with the heavy turkey, so everyone in the building will see me breathing heavy, walking two miles, and wondering if you’re sooooo “busy” at home writing one of your porno posts for your blog that you couldn’t help your mother carrying the turkey.”

“Nice,” complimenting her guilt shtick.

“Besides, you did say that you wanted to exercise more.”

I lost the battle.  Off we went to get our free turkey.

When we returned home, we were exhausted, and my back hurt from pushing the shopping wagon, filled with groceries and a 14 pound frozen turkey.

“So, honestly, Mom…” I asked.  “Was schlepping all this way just to get a free turkey really worth it?”

“Absolutely,” she replied, as she placed the frozen turkey in the bottom of the refrigerator to start its long thaw.

(note to Sarah Gilbert.   Next year,  I will try a Heritage turkey, which I never even heard of before until you mentioned it on Twitter!)

Advice for My Neighbor, the Terror Suspect

news story about this guy across the street

There’s a terrorist on my block
Wants a bomb that goes tick tock!

Saw him eating at “Chili Thai”
Now he’s wanted by the FBI!

Says he hates the U.S.A.
Gonna destroy the NY subway!

La La La La La La La
There’s a terrorist on my block
La La La La La La La
Wants a bomb that goes tick tock!

Terror Dude, I know you’re pissed
Dating must suck for a terrorist

Your work requires “me, me, me”
And women want “stability”

But acting like a stupid prick
Will not impress an American chick.

La La La La La La La
There’s a terrorist on my block
La La La La La La La
Wants a bomb that goes tick tock!

If you learn to treat a girl well
Then your life will turn out swell

American culture can make anyone mad
But with some hottie, it ain’t half bad!

Cause wouldn’t you rather slap her sexy ass
Then play all night with poison gas?

La La La La La La La
There’s a terrorist on my block
La La La La La La La
Wants a bomb that goes tick tock!

On Health Care and Supermarkets

I received a compliment from a nice reader, saying that I encouraged debate on “political” issues.  She felt that her opinions were too hardcore and only attracted readers who agreed with her.  I told her that she nees to be who she is, because her style is just as important, maybe MORE important in getting things done in the REAL world.  In many way, my “encouraging debate” is a positive spin on “being wishy-washy.”  I tend to always look at the others side, which would make me a bad President, football coach, or union leader.

Leaders need “vision,” something as hard and rugged as the concrete of a New York City sidewalk, in order to inspire his follwers.  Leaders cannot be like Charlie Brown, debating whether or not to trust Lucy and kick the football.

This month’s big debate is over health care.  It is shameful that so many Americans live without health insurance.  Something needs to be done NOW.

The main argument against change is a fear of “socialized medicine.”  You hear the same questions being asked over and over again.  “How can we trust the government with managing our health care?  They screw everything up!  Have you ever gone to the DMV?”

Rebuttal:  There are examples of socialized medicine working successfully around the world.

Wishy-washy:  But every truth has two sides.

There is some truth that the government tends to make a mess of things.  Obama health-care supporters shouldn’t become so ideological that we brush this under the rug.  There has been a lot of discussion about “socialism” from both sides, and I sometimes wonder if people really know what they are talking about online.  No one wants to turn the United States into the Soviet Union.  On the other hand, I read someone on Twitter trying to persuade others to push for socialized medicine by asking, “What’s so wrong with socialism or Marxism anyway?!”

I can only assume that this passionate leftist is a sophomore at Columbia University, because it is something after a year of Contemporary Civilization classes.  I’m now an old fart who has sadly accepted the uncomfortable fact that most of us do when we leave the university and try to make a living — most people are lazy, selfish jerks who won’t do anything if there is no competition. Free enterprise is necessary.  And yes, so is some “socialism” to help those who need it.  We’ve all seen the good and the evil of both systems.  And yes, I include going to the DMV as one of the evils.


If you look outside from my mother’s dining room window, you see a supermarket right downstairs.  We are over the parking lot.  When I was growing up, this store was Waldbaum’s.  It was a decent store.  I remember every can of the store’s own brand of vegetables had a photo of “Julia Waldbaum” plastered on the label, smiling at you.

Sometime in the 1980’s our neighborhood declined.  I have written in the past about how an entire city block went out of business.  The local bakery, an aromatic piece of heaven, where my grandfather would buy onion rolls and jelly donuts, has been shuttered and graffitied for over fifteen years!


Despite the closing of these stores, there are three supermarkets within seven blocks of each other.  It is a crowded neighborhood, and people still need to eat.  As more immigrant families moved into the neighborhood, the three supermarkets seemed to care less about the quality and upkeep.  The first time Sophia came to visit, she thought that I lived in the “slums.”  Waldbaum’s changed into a Pathmark, and this supermarket was super sucky.  The vegetables were always rotting, and the cashiers were high school kids who really didn’t give a shit.  The management was so cheap that during day hours, there would be three counters open, and the lines would reach up to twenty people each, snaking into the cereal aisle, and blocking those who wanted to pass.  My mother still shopped at this supermarket, mostly because it was the closest, and the other two markets in the neighborhood were even worse.

Two months ago, this Pathmark closed and an Associated Supermaket took over the spot.  The owners spruced the place up, and even put in a wood floor.  The store was Korean-owned, and everyone, including the checkers are Korean, and the store runs as efficiently as a new Hyundai.  The vegetables are beautiful, and because fish is an essential part of the Asian diet, the fish department has doubled.  They have sushi, gyozas, and soba noodles!  You do not understand how revolutionary that is for this neighborhood!



This new supermarket has had a domino effect throughout the neighborhood.  Everyone went there, despite the higher prices.  They had ten checkout lanes!  Organic foods!  A real deli!  And the help actually HELPED YOU!

Two weeks later, one of the other supermarkets in the area went out of business.  A new owner bought it and promised to make it better than ever.  Today, I walked by the third supermarket in the neighborhood.  They are closing until November for a complete renovations.


My socialist aunt would hate to hear me say this, but “F**k Yeah, this is Pure Capitalism at Its Best!”  Without the competition, the neighborhood had three shitty, uncaring supermarkets.  Once, ONE stepped up the game, the others had to change for the better or die.  And that is good.

I’m still for health care reform, by the way.  You don’t treat people’s health like a supermarket.

Morning Dew


You need to grab nature wherever you can get it.


I walk on the cracked, gray, concrete of  the New York streets  to the McDonald’s across the street, the artificially colored arches calling to me, “Coffee!”

Before I can reach my destination, I face a challenge, like most explorers must.  I need to cross over a thin strip of lawn that separates the parking lot from the drive-thru from the main entrance.  This yard is green, and well maintained.  I try not to trample anywhere beyond the pathway.  The grass is wet and sparkly.   It is my morning dew.

I know I am deceiving myself by considering it morning dew.  I am trying to be poetic, to connect to Thoreau and Walt Whitman, even though I am in modern, decaying Queens.

There is a water hose curled up like a python near the drive-in sign that advertises the latest dollar meals.  I can see the hose.  I know it is there.  I know that a staff member must water the lawn every morning.  I know God is not sprinkling his natural goodness on this god-forsaken piece of land.    I have never seen this McDonald’s employee  in action, but I know that he was there before me, probably very unhappy about getting up so early to come to work to water the grass.

Even though I know the truth, I SEE the water on the grass as morning dew.  The idea that morning dew has appeared across the street from my apartment building, in Queens, on this little plot of lawn — well, it just makes me happy.  Water and grass.  Can you get more elementary than that?  With enough water and sun, a Garden of Eden could bloom, right on this spot, right next to the drive-in window of McDonald’s.

I kneel in front of the lawn.  I always rub the top strands of grass, watching the drops of water fly into the air.  I like when a droplet hits my skin and gives me a tickle.

I always wanted a dog, but have never owned one.  When I rub the wet grass, I can imagine the wet hair of a  little dog, playful after a refreshing bath, shaking the water from his body to and fro.

The morning dew greets me like that friendly dog.  Even when I feel lonely, one touch of the morning dew can change everything.

Goat Stew


I went for breakfast at the Dominican diner down the block.  I’ve written about this place before.  They have two menus combined in one folder — traditional Dominican cuisine and the gringo menu for those who want burgers and BLTs.   During my first few visits there, I went the safe route, ordering boring veggie burgers and turkey sandwiches.   Three blogger friends, Miguelina, Astrogirl, and Victoria of Veep Veep, all women with some part chica latina, scolded me for being so vanilla.

“Try something different, white boy!” said Astrogirl.

I ordered the goat stew.  It was delicious.   Tender, spicy, in a unique sauce.   Since then, I have ordered it countless times, as well as ordering other unfamiliar delicacies, such as cassava instead of potatoes, with my scrambled eggs.

At first, the staff was unfriendly to me, but once I ordered from their side of the menu, they accepted me as one of the community.   They yelled my name when I walked in, like Norm in Cheers, and they gave me the best table in the corner.  I talked to them about the Dominican music playing on the speakers; we chatted about life back in the old country.

I was eating my breakfast late today.  It was 11:30 and customers were now coming in for lunch.   Three burly Russian guys sat at the adjacent table.  They wore grey uniforms, and I assumed they were involved in some contruction or painting project nearby.  They were earthy guys, looking hungry.  One of the men — short, barrel-chested, and sporting a mustache — called over the waiter in a booming voice.

“Over here!”  he said.

His tone might have sounded rude coming from someone else, but it was clear that this mustachioed Russian spoke this way with everyone.   He also displayed a disarming smile that made you like him.

The Dominican waiter came over.   He told me his name once, and it sounded like “Chi,” so I will call him Chi.

“So tell me, my good man,” says the thick-accented Russian to Chi.  “What’s good here to eat for lunch?”

Chi looked nervous answering this question.    I studied the situation.   It was unclear if he concerned about his boss hearing his answer or giving the wrong answer to the three Russian guys?  Maybe these men were members of the Russian Mob and Chi was sweating in his boots?

“Fried chicken is good.” said Chi.

“Nah.” replied the Russian.

Chi tried again.  “Chicken parmigana.”

“No!   Nyet!   No chicken.  I’m sick of chicken.  My wife only makes chicken.”

Chi leaned against the wall, deep in thought, his eyes flickering back and forth from the back door to the kitchen.  I was completely involved in this drama, not quite understanding either the situation or the mystery.

I decided to help both Chi AND the hungry Russian trio.

“You should try the goat stew!”  I said, proud of my multi-cultural culnary knowledge.  “It’s excellent.”

This outburst was not a usual activity for me.  Sophia might have done this, but not me.  I rarely give advice to people I don’t know, strangers sitting at the next table.  I usually read the newspaper when I eat alone, or play on my iPhone, ignoring others.   But this story was so involving, I felt like I was part of it.  The three Russians turned towards me, hearing my advice, then quickly back to Chi, waiting for his response.

“No,” said Chi to the Russians.  “Don’t eat the goat stew here.  Have the chicken.”

For lunch, all three Russians ate fried chicken.

As I left the Dominican Diner, I noticed that nobody was eating the goat stew, even the Dominicans.

12 Second Tour

I know this is sort of dumb, but I did a test of this application 12seconds, which allows you to make a 12 second video, sort of a video Twitter. Since the iphone doesn’t have video capability, the phone app only allows you to take three photos, add a quick video, and then post the mini slide-presentation. Here is a really poorly done 12 second tour of my apartment. I have no idea why I sound like I am lisping. I hope my mother doesn’t see this. The kitchen is a disaster area.

[iPhone] House tour on

By the way, long-time blogging friend, Danny, of Jew Eat Yet, and his wife are going to have…. twins.

Wednesday Night Fever

Queens, Dec 10, 2008

Neil’s mother is cooking in the kitchen.  Neil is in the bathroom, combing his hair.

Mother: “Where ya going?”

Neil: “Out.”

Mother: “Where ya going?”

Neil: “I said out.”

Mother: “I know what you said.  I wanna know where you are going!  I wanna know who you’re gonna be seeing.”

Neil comes out of the bathroom, his hair slicked back.

Neil: “None of your f**kin’ business, Mom!  I’m going out.  Jesus.  What am I a prisoner here?”

Mother: “You live here, you live by my rules.”

Neil: “What are ya gonna do, throw me out?  You want me to leave?  You really want me to leave?  Cause I’ll walk right out and never come back?  Is that what you want?!”

Mother (crying):  “No, no, no.  I’m sorry, Neil.  Go, have a good time. (handing him ten dollars)  Here’s some money for you to enjoy yourself.  Just don’t stay out too late.”

Neil: “I’ll be home when I WANT to come home.”

Mother: “Sure, sure…”

Neil slams the door behind him, and leaves his apartment building wearing his tightest jeans, sexiest shirt, and disco shoes.  He confidently walks down the boulevard, in rhythm to Britney Spears latest single.  As Neil walks down the street, all eyes are on him.  Everyone in Queens knows, wants him, or wants to be like him.  Neil enters Valentino’s, the hottest pizzeria on Kissena Boulevard.  Everyone shouts his name.

“Neil!  The King is here!’

Neil has arrived and the party can get rolling!

Neil: “Yo! how ya doing, everyone!  Joey!  Tony!  Raj!  Bagel!  Mr. DJ!  BigBoy!  Donna!”

Donna comes up to Neil and rubs against him, like a lonely little kitten.  She is wearing the tightest dress imaginable.

Donna: “So, Neil, are you finally gonna f**k me in the back of your car tonight?  Cause I will do anything you want, even the crazy shit from behind.”

Neil: “Donna, ain’t you got any self-respect?”

Donna: “I do have respect  I respect ya a lot.  That’s why you don’t have to buy me a slice of pizza before you do me like a dog!  So, is your car outside?”

Neil: “Are you f**kin’ stupid, Donna!  My car is in LA, and even it was here, I’m not gonna be humpin’ some easy whore like you in the back of my new Toyota Prius.  It ain’t environmentally sound.  Now if I had my gas-guzzling Hyndai Santa Fe SUV, that would be a different story.”

Luigi, the Pizza Maker: “So, Neil, what do you want to eat — the usual — a plain slice?

Tony: “None of that pineapple shit on the pizza like those yuppie assholes in Redondo Beach, right Neil?”

Bagel: “Those California phonies are idiots.  We should bash their heads in.  Hey, let’s do that.  Let’s go over there right now and f**kin’ bash their heads in!”

Neil: “Bagel, California is 3000 miles away.”

Bagel: “F**k that!  F**k California!  F**k the LA Dodgers!  Brooklyn Dodgers!  Brooklyn Dodgers! Those Dodgers belong in Brooklyn!  Assholes.”

Luigi, the Pizza Maker: “So, how many slices, Neil?  And no money from you.  It’s on the house.  You’re the King here.  You’re the most famous person to ever eat in this pizzeria other than Fran Drescher (showing Neil the photo of Fran Drescher on the wall for the 100th time).”

BigBoy: “I’d f**k Fran Drescher.  I like her voice.”

Raj: “She sounds like a goddamn hyena!”

BigBoy: “My mother sounds like Fran Drescher, you dolt.”

Neil (to Luigi the Pizza-Maker):  “You know what, Luigi.  I’m watching my cholesterol.  I’m not going to have a slice at all.  I’m probably just gonna go home and watch “Top Chef” with my mother!”

Donna: “That is so sweet. I like a man who loves his mother.  You sure you don’t want to f**k me in the back of the pizzeria?  I’ll be loud if you want.”

Neil: “Not tonight, Donna.  “Top Chef” is gonna be on in ten minutes.”

Donna: “You son of a bitch, Neil. No one turns me down.  You’re gonna regret it.  You know why?  Cause I’m gonna f**k every guy in here tonight, every way, every position, and then you’re gonna regret it.

Neil: “I saw the promo for “Top Chef.”  It looks like a good chef challenge.

Donna: “Yeah?  OK, then maybe I’ll go home, too, and watch “Top Chef.”  There’s really not much doing on Kissena Boulevard at night anyway.

Neil: “No, it’s pretty dead.  See you, everyone!  Luigi!  Joey!  Tony!  Raj!  Bagel!  BigBoy!  Donna!””

Everyone: “Bye, Neil!”

As Neil walks down the street, back to his apartment, all eyes are on him, mostly from the two thugs sitting on the ledge by the bank, drinking some cheap stuff out of a paper bag.  Neil walks a little faster, remembering that somebody got mugged on Kissena Boulevard last week.

Lunch at Lenny’s Clam Bar

Commercial for Lenny’s Clam Bar from the late 1970’s

So, it was like my mudder’s birthday on Thursday and… that’s right, my muddah. What the f*ck is wrong with you? You don’t got no muddah? Just shuddup and listen to my story before I f**kin’ take a baseball bat to your head. Vaffanculo!

It was one of those Jewish holidays on Thursday, and you know how those friggin’ Jews are a pain in butt — non mi scazzare i coglioni — so we had to celebrate her birthday on Friday instead. So, we got a couple of her buddies and ding dang dong, before you know it, we are cruisin in Howard Beach, Queens to the famous Lenny’s Clam Bar. Now that is a f**kin’ place that knows how to treat a grosso calibro with dignity, not like that demeaning friggin stuff you get at the fake Goomba Olive Garden, where their manicotti is as hot and sticky as my balls and their garlic bread is as hard to bite as a .45 automatic.

Sure, when we first walked into Lenny’s, the lying maitre de told us they didn’t have no stinkin’ lunch menu when they really did, un bastardo, but whatcha expect? Times are fuckin’ tough. Even the Wall Street guys don’t want to pay a hooker two hundred bucks for un pompino! You want a lunch menu, take your big ass over to one of those places where that Chinaman puts who knows what merda into his chop suey. Vaffanculo a Lei, la sua moglie, e’ la sua madre. Lei e’ un cafone stronzo. Io non mangio in questo merdaio! Vada via in culo! (You, sir, go fuck yourself–and your wife and your mother. You are a common turd! I’m not going to eat in this shithouse. Fuck you!) from the book Merda! The REAL Italian You Were Never Taught in School by Roland Delicio © 1993 from Penguin Books.

But let me tell ya, the food at Lenny’s — la cena era deliziosa. Just like mamma used to make. And everyone’s been there. Frank, Frank Jr., Rocky Graziano, the “Family,” all the Sopranos — they love the shrimp and the clams!

Oh, by the way, the waitress at Lenny’s — una bella fica (very nice ass). It was a memorable birthday for my muddah, and for me.


There has been a lot of talk lately about CHANGE.  Voting for Obama is for Change.   Yom Kippur is this week — a time for change.   Fall is about change.   The leaves have already started to change colors in New England.   Overnight, the dress code went from t-shirts to sweaters.
I need to embrace change.  My fear of change is one of my biggest faults.  Sophia and I cannot live in limbo-land forever.  It is frustrating for both of us.  Man cannot live without woman for long.  It is one of the few Biblical statements based on fact.  Look at Adam.  He had the wondrous Garden of Eden and the first human Penis – the prototype – and still it wasn’t enough for him.

“WHAT do I do with it, brainiac?” Adam asked God in a sarcastic tone.
God did not like Adam’s pissy attitude.
“No problem,” said the Big Prankster, ” I will give you a Wo-man!  Good luck, sucker!”

Within days of Eve’s arrival, Adam was so pussywhipped that he was doing her bidding.

“Eat this Apple,” said Eve.

“What for?” asked Adam.

Eve removed the fig leaf covering her nakedness.
“F*ck!” said the dumb-as-shit Adam, as he bit the apple.  “You always win.”

It is hard being alone.  OK, I did tell you about that one sexy email experience that I had a few weeks ago.   We did have another encounter after that, but I need her approval before I write about it.  But it was more depressing than fun.   What’s the point of virtual sex?  More frustration?
“Seriously…” I said to nice girl who I don’t really know, “Why would we want to send sexy emails to each other.  We live thousands of miles apart.  We’re not going to hook up in real life.  We don’t even know each other.  It’s just going to make us feel lonelier!”

“I love it!” she said.  “There is something so sexy about frustration, a fantasy that can never be fulfilled.”

WTF?  I could hear God laughing at me, just as he once did with Adam.  You wanted Wo-man, you are stuck with her, sucker!  

Last night, I watched Now, Voyager, starring Bette Davis, on the Turner Classics channel.  This is the famous film where Paul Henreid lights two cigarettes in his mouth and hands over.  He does this not once, but about fifteen times in the course of the story.   I’ve seen this film many times and always found it a corny, melodramatic girl-flick.    But have I officially changed?  Have I become an adult who enjoys crap like this?  I was completely taken in with the story about marriage, commitment, secret love, and lust.   For the first time, I UNDERSTOOD THE STORY!   No wonder I am having such a hard time writing a script about two single guys trying to get laid.  I’m not that person anymore.  I have joined the ranks of  adult “complications” where the getting “laid” is not the goal anymore.  I’ve already gotten laid, and I know what happens afterwards.   It is Wo-man!  The apple is never free.  They are trouble.  Thanks a lot, God! 

What was I talking about in this post anyway?  Oh right, change.  You see, I can’t even stay focused on talking about “change.”  I avoid it by chatting about Adam and Eve and Adam’s penis.  Let’s get back to the point. 

I need to embrace change. 

I came to New York to embrace change.  But so far, I have failed.   All that happened was that I got into another rut, another routine.  

For example, every day I take a walk, but it is always the same path, always encountering the exact same individuals. 

My Daily Walk by Neil Kramer

I leave my mother’s apartment building.   As I step out, I run into Juan, the building’s effective but hated super.  Juan works hard for the building and takes great pride in his work, but so much so, that he thinks he owns the place.   He treats the tenants — his employers — like shit.   He yells at them for walking in the lobby after he washes the floor.  God help you if you take a short-cut across the lawn.  He sees you with his third eye.

“Get off the grass, you jerk.  I just cut it!” he bellows.

In August, I got stuck in the elevator for fifteen minutes.  It was an unsettling experience.  When he finally “rescued” me, he blamed ME for taking the elevator.

“Kramer, didn’t you know this elevator had a problem?  You’re wasting my time!  I have work to do.”

“How was I supposed to know that?” I answered, still dizzy.  “There’s no sign on the wall.”

“I’ve been telling people all week.   You need to listen!  Don’t they listen in California, or are you too busy drinking margaritas by the pool with Tom Cruise?”

The “Board of Directors” of the co-op has tried to fire Juan from his job, but he is PART OF THE UNION, which means they have to come up with some legitimate reason to dump him.   Unfortunately, he does an excellent job and is a great super.  What can they say to the union – that they want to fire him because he is rude and obnoxious?   This is New York!   The supers have more power than the tenants!

OK, back to my daily walk.

My next encounter is with Eleanor, a retired woman who sits on the benches in the courtyard between the “A” and “B” buildings of the co-op.   We live in the “A” building.  Eleanor lives in the “B” building.  Her husband has been in a wheelchair since his stroke, so the best they can do for getting out of the house is sitting outside, watching everyone walk by.    My mother also plays Mah Jongg with her on Tuesday night.

Now my regular readers have read a lot about my mother.  You all seem to “love” her.   You think she is fun.    She is fun.  She is also cool enough to read my blog every day.    But she is private.   She would never keep a blog.  When I asked her if everyone at Farrar, Straus, and Giroux had seen the pictures of her retirement party that I had posted, she said no.  She revealed to me – for the first time ever — that she never told most of her co-workers about my blog.    

“Why not?”  I asked.  “Because of the cursing?  The sex talk?”

“Nah,” she said.

“So, what’s the problem?”

“It is none of their business to know about you and Sophia.”

I learned something new.  My mother has not been forthcoming with her some of her friends about our separation.

“Are you ashamed?” I asked.

“No, of course not.   You should hear about some of their screwed up kids?  Divorced, in rehab, Scientologists… you’re pretty normal in comparison.”

But it bothered me that my mother was hiding the truth, especially with those in the apartment building.   But then, I realized – so was I!   My mother was right… why does everyone need to know your business?!    There are a lot of yentas in my building, always prying for personal information.  Whenever I meet one of these yentas in the elevator, I freeze up, knowing  that she is going to grill me like an attorney questioning a witness on “Law and Order?”

“How’s your beautiful wife — Sophia?”  one yenta asked recently.

“She’s doing fine.”

“Is she in New York with you?”

“No, she’s in LA, working.”

“You’ve been in New York a few months now, haven’t you?”


“You must miss each other.”


“Will she be coming here soon?”

Luckily, I live on the first floor, so my elevator ride is a short one.

“That’s my floor!” I shouted as I jump off.

“Send my regards to your beautiful wife, Sophia!’ 

There are some days that I take the stairs, just to avoid meeting these yentas.

I eventually convinced my mother to tell her friends at her weekly Mah Jongg game.    After all, if they are truly her “friends,” they are not going to mock her or think she did a crappy job as a mother.    I am separated.  I didn’t rob a bank.

Eleanor, the woman who sits in the back with her husband in the wheel chair, is one of those who knows the real story about why I am in New York.   After all, how long can I really be “visiting” for?  But good intentions have bad results.  Since then,  I cannot walk past Eleanor without her calling me over for one of her “helpful” lectures about marriage and relationships.

“I have been married for fifty one years,” she told me a few weeks ago, her husband nodding in the background.  “And let me tell you, it hasn’t always been easy.    But it wasn’t until about five years ago that I truly understood what marriage is all about… what makes a marriage work.  It was all because I read a book.  You must read this book.    This book changed my life.  I don’t know if you ever heard of it, but it is called… “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.”  Have you read this book?”

I have read this book and thought it was hogwash, so I lied.

“I haven’t read it.   But I have heard of it.  It is about how men and women are different.”

“Exactly.   After reading this book, everything about men and women became clear to me.  This book is as important as the Old Testament.  Let me give you an example of why.    A husband and wife are getting dressed to go to a Temple function.  Everyone who’s anyone is going to be there.  The husband says, “Let’s get going.  We’re going to be late.”  The wife is busy putting on her make-up, wanting to look her best.   The wife asks, “How do I look?”  The husband says, “Fine.  Now, let’s go.”  And then the wife is upset at her husband for the rest of the night because he said she was looking “fine” and not “beautiful.”  “What did I say?” asks the husband.    He doesn’t get it.   That’s because he is from Mars and she is from Venus.  You are from Mars.  Your wife is from Venus.  Always remember that.”

Frankly, I think a big problem with my marriage is that I’m from Venus and she’s from Mars, but I kept that to myself.

Every day, every time I take my walk, she is sitting on the bench with her husband, waiting for me.

“Did you read the book yet?” she asks.

“I’ll get it this weekend at the library.”

“You must.  You are from Mars.   She is from Venus.  Remember that.”

Only once she did try to be a matchmaker.    She has a granddaughter who is interested in television production, a “beautiful redhead” who is having trouble finding a “Jewish man with a good soul.” 

“But she’s just 22, so you are too old.” she added at the end. 

“No, she’s not,” screamed my Penis, but the muffled sound from inside my pants never reached Eleanor and her hearing aide.  Eh, her granddaughter is probably a Wo-man from Venus anyway, which does not bode well for our relationship.

Onward, with my walk.

A few blocks after meeting Eleanor, I pass another apartment complex, one for lower-income tenants.   The complex has many buildings, and looks like a typical urban housing project.   In front of one of the buildings, I always encounter Charles, a friendly tenant, working on his garden.  Charles takes great pride in caring for his flowers.   He can be interesting to talk to, but he is also mentally-challenged, so he tends to be long-winded and repetitive, going into the same details about his flowers.

“These are gladiolas,” he would say.


“I water them a lot.”

“Do they need a lot of water?”

“Yes, that’s why I water them a lot.   I use the hose, but I have to be careful not to put it too high because then the flowers don’t like it… and the manger says I use too much water… but the flowers like the water… but not too much water…”

Sometimes I speed up as I pass, giving a quick “hello,” making believe I’m in a hurry to catch the bus.   I feel like a jerk, but so what… proof that I’m not THAT nice.

As I turn the corner, I enter an area of look-alike garden apartments, townhouses, each with two families.    All summer, at the third garden apartment from the corner, sat a little Puerto Rican girl on the lawn,  who had set up a table and was selling lemonade for five cents.   On the porch, was her grandmother, watching closely.   I found this scene very quaint.  I don’t remember anyone selling lemonade when I was a child.  It seemed very middle-American, like in a Dennis the Menace comic book, not an activity you would see in New York.

For some reason, I always said hello, but never stopped for a drink.  I think the main reason was because the grandmother gave me an evil eye whenever I approached.  It sucks being a guy nowadays.  You can’t even say hello to a little girl without being thought of as a predator.    I feared  buying a cup of lemonade, thinking the grandmother would send her German Shepherd, who was waiting inside with his black eyes, to attack.

On Friday afternoon, I took my usual walk in the neighborhood.    It was the same as every day.   I met Juan, the cranky super, Eleanor, the Men are from Mars Yenta, and Charles, the retarded gardener.      The sun had come out, giving New York one last gasp of summer before Fall took permanent residence.    As I rounded the corner, I noticed that the Puerto Rican girl was still in business.    I figured that today would be her last hurrah as the colder weather crept in, and the lemonade lovers went into hibernation.

I thought about my daily walks all summer.  Always the same.   Same path.  Same actions. 

“Whatever happened to my commitment to change?” I asked myself.   

I decided to break the pattern.  No more procrastinating.  I was going to start my change NOW.  I was going to fight my fears and have myself a lemonade before it was too late.  After a summer of passing by the little girl with just a smile, I was going to act.  This would have a domino effect on my life, creating changes everywhere as one tile fell, creating a chain reaction in my brain and in my heart.

I stepped onto the lawn and approached the little girl.

“I’ll have a cup of lemonade.” I said.

The grandmother, who was sitting on a rattan chair reading the National Enquirer, put down the paper, and leaned forward, her neck stretching outwards like that of a Bald Eagle.

As the girl poured me some of her lemonade from a plastic Tupperware pitcher into a Dixie cup, I realized that I had been reading the price wrong since day one.  It was 50 cents a cup.  The cardboard sign was folded, making me think it was just 5 cents .   50 cents for a Dixie cup of lemonade?  I thought it was a bit of a rip-off, but maybe I was living in the past.   After all, Lucy from the Peanuts used to give Psychiatric Advice for 5 cents.   Now, I bet she is $200 an hour!

But I didn’t protest.  This cup of lemonade was not to quench my thirst.  It was a symbol of change.

The little girl handed me my drink.  I handed her two quarters.  I had a tremendous urge to make some sort of traditional toast before I drank the elixir from my holy grail, the way I might before drinking wine at a wedding or at a Passover seder.    I lifted my glass to the young girl, making sure I kept my distance for the sake of the staring grandmother.

“Thank you sincerely for this fine lemonade.”  I said, speaking in a pompous tone, as if I was performing in a Shakespeare play at the Old Globe.  “My I just say that this lemonade is extremely important to me today.  It is more than a cool drink on a hot day.  It is about CHANGE.”

“No change,” the little girl said, angrily.  “It is FIFTY cents.”

“I didn’t mean that.”  I muttered.

The grandmother stood up, her National Enquirer falling to the ground, her hungry dog appearing behind the screen door of her garden apartment.

“Is there anything wrong, Lizzie?” she asked.

“He paid fifty cents.   Now he wants CHANGE!”

“NO CHANGE.  NO CHANGE!” yelled the grandmother.

I wanted to explain more, but it was hopeless, and I could already see the dog salivating. I drank my lemonade, and quickly left.

Any adventure requires an obstacle, and here was mine.    Just when I made the choice to change, the forces of the status quo were striking back, telling me “NO CHANGE.  NO CHANGE!”

Well, screw you, forces of the status quo.  Just you wait!

Earth, Wind, and Fire

Today I will continue my tradition of writing a blog post about my neighborhood without walking a block from my mother’s apartment building. 

I’ve introduced you to the supermarket downstairs with the crashing cars and the religious Jewish guy with the condo fliers.  I’ve told my tales of the worst McDonald’s in the United States and the seventeen year old black kid who is the assistant manager and the elderly Chinese saleswoman selling porno DVDs.  I’ve exposed the evil landlord from Palm Beach, Florida, who is trying to close all the small stores a half a block away to build some sort of Kmart.  Today, I’ll move across the street — to the mini-mall next to McDonald’s. 

In this non-descript Los Angeles-style mini-mall, there is a small deli, a chicken/pizza place, a hair stylist, and a “car service.” Other than using the car service to go to the airport, my mother doesn’t go into any of these stores.  They mostly cater to the Muslim, mostly Pakistani and Afghan community.  Now in my mother’s defense, she doesn’t go into the religious Jewish stores on Main Street either.  These small insular establishments are not very friendly to the outsider.  I’ve tried the pizza at the Muslim pizzeria a few times, and the food was pretty bad.  And for the record — women in burkas don’t like you checking out their asses.  But I have used the “car service” to go to the airport.  The drivers are excellent, despite all of them looking like Bin Laden’s brothers.

Over the car service is a small mosque, built into what seems to be a former dentist’s office.   A crescent moon stands proudly on the make-shift fabric domed roof.  From my mother’s living room, you can look directly into the mosque.  It is Ramadan now, so there are services at night.  I sleep in the living room, because the mattress of the convertible bed my mother put into my bedroom is like sleeping on metal.  While I lay on the couch, I can look inside the mosque window and in the brighness of the room, watch the religious praying, kneeling and facing Mecca. 

Later today, is my uncle’s funeral.  It has been a crazy week since he passed away.  He lived in San Francisco, but he wanted to be buried in New York — near my father, who was his eldest brother.  This opened up some neurotic family discussions, and also a debate over how to get him to New York.  He wanted to be cremated, which could be iffy in some Jewish cemeteries. 

And the big question — “Can you carry an urn with ashes on an American Airlines flight?”

This morning, I woke up to the sound of my mother’s loud dishwasher.  I also heard the sound of prayer.  It was comforting, even if it was coming from another religion – from a religious group that doesn’t usually see eye-to-eye with mine.    I thought about religion in general, and how we are all alike at heart.  All of us trying to make sense of life and death, all having the same hopes and dreams.

And then the whirl of the dishwasher stopped.  And what I thought was prayer was not prayer at all.  There was no one praying at the mosque.  What I imagined as sacred prayer was the janitor’s CD player blasting songs from “Earth, Wind, and Fire” as he worked on his old Toyota out front.

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