In what he calls "a bizarre confluence of coincidences", one photographer ended up quarantining with his mother and his ex-wife. No, that's not a sitcom tagline. That's Neil Kramer's life. But this experience did inspire Kramer to produce something comical—a photo series.
So, his two-bedroom New York City apartment transformed into a studio, and he together with the other two occupants became models of what eventually has turned out to be a funny yet accurate representation of the chaotic everyday life of the pandemic.
April 7, Quarantine In Queens, Day 26.a Facebook Friend Recommended A Gentle Bubble Bath As A Great Way To Relieve Stress During A Lockdown In My One Bathroom Apartment In Queens. Not Sure The Plan Worked
"My mother was supposed to be in Boca Raton, Florida but her rental apartment fell through and she decided to come back to New York for the winter. At the same time, there was a plumbing disaster in the Los Angeles house of Sophia, my ex-wife, and she had to move out," Kramer, an event/street photographer, and TV writer, explained the situation to Bored Panda. "Sophia asked if she could put her stuff in storage and come to New York for a few weeks before she looked for a new place. We never expected a pandemic to hit the world and that we would still be together ten months later."
Went for a half hour walk with Sophia, the most time we've been outside in over a month. We asked my mother to join us but she didn't want to wear a mask yet, so we told her she can't go. Once outside, we were surprised by how many people weren't wearing masks in my neighborhood. At least 25%, and mostly younger people. I understand it's a pain in the ass, but it's a necessity to protect each other, and an order by our governor. In NYC, it's difficult to pass by and stay six feet away.
We were walking by Queens College, and saw an elderly couple taking groceries home, both wearing masks. And then this big healthy young guy approached, He was jogging, huffing and puffing, and not wearing a mask. He passed the old couple, and then passed within one foot of us. Sophia yelled after him, "You should wear a mask!" The guy stopped and put up his middle finger. I turned white and told Sophia to leave it be, mostly because I didn't want to pee in my pants.
I'm like, "Holy shit, Sophia. He's a huge guy. We were taking a walk to relax. This is NOT relaxing."
"Wear a fucking mask, dude." Sophia said defiantly to the guy showing the middle finger. "It's not just about you."
"What are you going to do about it?" he asked, approaching us.
"Uh-oh," I said.
"Stay calm," Sophia to me. "I can handle him!"
And she just stood there, staring at him. He mumbled something else and then the young guy suddenly looked scared and ran off.
"Jesus," I said.
"I saw this documentary on a nature channel last week that when a bear comes at you, you just stand still and look big," she said.
The photographer said he had a good relationship with both his mother and his ex-wife before the quarantine but no one wants to spend almost a year 24/7 with the same people, especially in such a tight space. "Even though Sophia and I have been divorced for several years now, and remained friends, there were a number of occasions during our quarantine together where we started having the same type of arguments that we had during the marriage, especially about boundaries. Fortunately, remembering that we were divorced made it easier to defuse things. We were already divorced!"
"My mother and Sophia liked each other, and never had the cliched tensions of mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. But some conflict grew, particularly in the kitchen. They each saw themselves as the alpha woman. There were many discussions over which type of groceries to buy, with my mother wanting the 'generic store brand' shopper and Sophia liking the fancier organic stuff. Wherever there was a disagreement, it was inevitable that I would end up in the middle of things," Kramer said, adding that he has learned a lot about women during the last year.
June 24, Quarantine In Queens, Day 102
I'm worried about my mother and others of her age. Most of us who are younger will probably be able to create a somewhat semi-normal life until the world finds a vaccine for Covid-19, even if there will be limits to what we can do and where we can go. My mother is over 80, but even just four months ago, she was more social than I was, with a full calendar. Now where can she safely go? How can she see her friends? Can she go on public transportation? Every time she leaves the house, it is now a risk. She's been thrust into living like an old woman before she was ready. And is there anyone more irresponsible to her than our own President who throws rallies in the middle of a pandemic, so younger people without masks can get sick and spread it around to those who are my mother's age. Trump just makes it harder and scarier for the vulnerable to leave the house. Every time Trump appears without a mask on television, he is telling our parents and grandparents that he doesn't really give a sh*t whether they live or die.
However, by living together during this period, the trio hasn't grown apart. Rather, they've become even closer. "We understand each other beyond our previous roles as son, mother, husband, and wife," Kramer said. "There was little room for privacy, so we were forced to treat each other as individual adults. Because my mother is in her eighties, making sure she didn't catch Covid was our top priority."
Kramer revealed that many friends are asking him if Sophia and he will get back together after this experience but the man doesn't think this year was especially romantic. "It was stressful. We were a family unit just trying to survive. We're both probably going to need some therapy after this."
April 12, Quarantine In Queens, Day 31. A Beautiful Friend From Colorado Finally Mailed Us Toilet Paper And We Are Celebrating And In Tears.
Before the pandemic, he was mostly shooting street photography, so when he found himself hunkered down at home with his mother and ex-wife, Kramer's initial plan was to document it. "At first, I wanted to shoot our experience journalistically, but we were so busy making things work in real life that I trashed that idea. There was no time for art when life was happening at the same time. So, I decided that we would take our daily experiences and recreate them the next day in a staged photo."
"I insisted that we be honest in reflecting real events, so not all of our photos are humorous. They also reflect sadness, loneliness, and anxiety. If we attempted to be funny every day, we would have run out of steam in one month. By treating the photographs as self-therapy and keeping it real in intent, even if we were sometimes going for a laugh, we were able to use photography as a coping mechanism during a stressful time."
July 15. Quarantine In Queens, Day 123
Last month, Sophia and I woke up early each day and walked one of the trails at a nearby park. The trails are green enough to give the illusion that you are in Vermont, not Queens. But we stopped going after two incidents where Sophia confronted others who weren't wearing masks. Sophia didn't like that she was the one who always said something, while I hid in the corner. Today we decided to walk in the park again. I promised her that I will be most proactive in any exchange with the maskless.
With the park being crowded this morning, Sophia suggested we hike the "difficult" of the four trails. We would encounter fewer people.
Everything was fine on the trail until we reached an obstacle - a huge tree that had fallen over and blocked the path.
"OK, we should head back," I said.
"No way," she answered. You should go over it first, and then help me over."
"Why should I be going over first?"
"Because you're the man."
I hate when she says that, but she knows how to push my buttons. I climbed over the fallen tree, and then reached for her hand.
Sophia lifted up her dress so she wouldn't dirty it, revealing her underwear. She grabbed my hand and pulled a leg over the tree, but couldn't make it completely over. She ended up on the tree, her legs dangling from each side of the tree trunk, as if riding a horse. I pulled her over to the other side. She was still holding her dress up.
"Now I got my panties all dirty and wet. Make sure there's no splinters on me."
Her dress still up, I crouched down in front of her and started wiping the dirt off her panties. A young fit couple approached, wearing matching outfits. But no masks. Sophia realized that her dress was still up, so she dropped the hem over my head. From under Sophia's dress, I could feel the disapproval of the couple as they passed by.
"Pervs," muttered the woman under her breath.
I stuck my head out from under the dress, remembering my promise to Sophia to be more proactive with maskless.
"Yeah, but at least we're wearing masks," I yelled at the couple.
April 17, Quarantine In Queens, Day 36
Sophia had her car shipped from Los Angeles, but we haven't used it in a month since the lockdown. Even if we wanted to go anywhere, it's too risky because you would never get a parking spot on the street when you returned, because so few people are going someplace, and it would be too much of a hassle. But we've found a new use of Sophia's Prius - as a temporary retreat! Almost like an imaginary home in the Hamptons. I used it first, as a way to escape three people in a two bedroom, one bathroom apartment. It was enjoyable to just sit there in a parked car, playing some music alone, finally understanding the lyrics of The Talking Heads "Road to Nowhere." Today was Sophia's turn to use the vacation house for awhile. We're working on a schedule.
August 16. Quarantine In Queens, Day 151
Sophia showed me an article in the Wall Street Journal about the importance of hugging and mentioned that she never sees my mother and me hug. I said the Kramers have never been a hugging family. Sophia said that to get through this pandemic we should hug each other every day. My mother and I protested. "But we could be like your favorite TV show," Sophia told my mother. And so, in our first reenactment of "The Golden Girls," Sophia plays Blanche. I'm Rose. And my mother is definitely Dorothy. Thank you for being a friend.
June 26, Quarantine In Queens, Day 104
My mother had an appointment with a pulmonologist today. I went with her, and figured the doctor wouldn't let us into the office until the exact appointment time. But from the moment we arrived, it was clear this doctor took no effort to change any of his practices on account of the pandemic. There were no hand sanitizers on the front desk. The waiting room was tiny, and the only concession to social distancing was to flip every other chair towards the wall. The space between each patient was a foot and a half.
The waiting room filled up with seniors with respiratory issues and/or wheeling oxygen. Patients fiddled with their masks. I wouldn't have noticed these details a few months ago, but now I saw these red flags This type of medical office was acceptable a few months ago, but now it seemed dangerous. We waited for twenty minutes. I'm usually patient, but I thought back at how you scolded me on Monday for not speaking up when there was a woman without a mask in the laundry room. I asked the receptionist how long before seeing the doctor. She said the doctor was on a conference call. "We've been waiting a half hour," I said. "I know you're busy but I'm not sure it is healthy to have all these patients sitting here for so long in an enclosed room, so close to each other."
"The doctor just got off the conference call," she said. "He'll see you soon."
"Ok," I answered.
I was about to walk away, when I channeled my ex-wife, Sophia. I was the one in charge today. What would Sophia do? She would not walk away.
"OK, how soon?" I asked the receptionist. "When will the doctor sees my mother?"
"Everything is backed up, so it will be another 15 minutes."
Something snapped in me. "We're going to be leaving now," I told the receptionist. "I don't feel safe here. I think you guys need to set up a protocol where patients wait outside and there is more social distancing and hand sanitizers, or your patients will get sick by coming here. If YOU were here with your 86 year old mother, would you wait 45 minutes in this waiting room?"
"Probably not," said the receptionist. So my mother and I left.
March 23, Quarantine In Queens, Day 11
We've never ordered delivery from a supermarket before, but one of my friends told us about instacart. We're worried about giving anything to my mother, so we decided to use the service, despite there being three supermarkets down the block. Still, half of what we wanted was out of stock. When the shopper rang the doorbell with the groceries, my mother and I went to open the door, and Sophia yelled at us and told her to just thank her through the door and have her leave the groceries in the hall. My mother and I thought this was rude. Sophia said we'd rather appear nice than stay alive. The shopper didn't seem to care. She didn't want to interact with us either. We left an envelope with an extra tip taped to the door. Sophia hear Sanja Gupta say that you should spray every grocery before bringing it into the house. So I did that, and then had to figure out where to put all these cans of tuna. Super stressful. I then took a nap.
January 12, Quarantine In Queens, Day 301
It was a hard week as my mother healed from her fall, a new strain of Covid arrived in America, and what else! - oh, our President provoked an insurrection in the United States Capitol. But we're seeing an end to the longest marathon anyone has ever run. We're getting a new President in a week. And my mother gets her first dose of the vaccine this Friday. The finish line is finally in sight. Let's not screw this up.
August 23. Quarantine In Queens, Day 158i Asked My Ex-Wife If She Would Hold Me
March 24, Quarantine In Queens, Day 12. Tensions Are Already Rising
May 5, Quarantine In Queens, Day 55.need A Haircut? The Quarantine Salon Is Now Open. By Appointment Only
June 13, Quarantine In Queens, Day 91
I've now spend three months alone with little outside contact other than these two women. You would think that this femininity would be rubbing off on me. Maybe it has. I mean, in many of my photos, I've been the one either undressed or wearing a dress. But in reality, over the last three months, I've never felt a stronger sense of masculinity and responsibility for these two people, probably the two most important women of my life - my mother and ex-wife.
August 11. Quarantine In Queens, Day 146
My family doctor, called me after my blood test.
"Your vitamin D is low."
"Oh no," I said, "Does this mean I might have Covid?"
"No, it means you have to put your pants on, leave your house, and get some freakin' sun."
April 19, Quarantine In Queens, Day 38.we're Tired Of Each Other, But We Need Each Other
November 20, Quarantine In Queens, Day 247pandemic 2.0 Is Here In Queens. And This Time, We're Ready! Nothing Can Go Wrong
March 30, Quarantine In Queens, Day 18.unexpected Family Closeness. We All Were Looking Terrible, So We Decided To Help Each Other Look Presentable In Case We Have To Facetime With Someone
June 7, Quarantine In Queens, Day 85
Ready or not, the world has reopened. People are in the streets, protesting for racial justice. Friends have started to take the subway again. But here at home, we're still confused and anxious over Covid-19. Especially my mother. Because of her age and high risk, does she need to remain isolated from her friends and social activities until there is a vaccine?
A few days ago, she looked depressed so Sophia asked her if she is looking forward to anything when New York reopens.
"I'd like to go have breakfast at the Blue Bay Diner," answered my mother.
The Blue Bay Diner is a local diner here in Queens.
"It's way too soon to talk about diners," I said.
And then I felt bad for saying that.
"But I have an idea for this weekend..." said Sophia, looking out the window at our terrace.
July 25. Quarantine In Queens, Day 133
Everyone is giving up hope. You thought we were as well. But nope, not us. We're the epitome of optimism. When we saw our local movie theater's marquee promising they were "opening soon," we set up shop to be the first in line. And so we're waiting...
September 7, Quarantine In Queens, Day 173.labor Day 2020. The Family. Alone Together
Sophia Has Been Experimenting With Different Types Of Effective Masks So I Could Go Outside, And She Tried This Combination Of Plastic, Paper Towels, And An Cut Piece Of An Air-Conditioning Filter That She Bought On Amazon After Reading That The Virus Can't Penetrate It. I Went Downstairs Wearing This Mask And It Really Worked Well, Almost Too Well, Because Within Minutes I Felt Myself Hyperventilating. So, Back To The Drawing Board
July 4, Quarantine In Queens, Day 112. Independence Day
September 13, Quarantine In Queens, Day 179
Neil: "Sophia, look what I found in my closet. It's the topper from our wedding cake."
Sophia: "That's not ours. It looks like it's from the 19th Century."
Neil: "Of course it's ours. Who else's could it be?"
Sophia: "Maybe it's your mother's. Mom! Is this from your wedding cake?!"
Mom: "Who remembers things like that? I barely remember what we ate for lunch. I don't think it's mine. Maybe it's my in-laws?"
Neil: "No, it's ours. Am I the only sentimental one here?"
Sophia: "You're the sentimental one?
Neil: "Are you kidding me? When we were moving your stuff into storage, you were going to throw away your wedding dress! I saved it and packed it in the box! It didn't matter if we were divorced or not. It's history! I even brought the wedding album back to New York! I keep track of everything."
Sophia: "We'll, let's look at our wedding album and we'll see if this was on top of our wedding cake."
I looked for our wedding album in my closet, my mother's closet, the bookshelves, the drawer chest.
Three hours later.
Sophia: So, where's the album?
To be continued. Maybe.
May 1, Quarantine In Queens, Day 50.the Queen Has Spoken. NYC Is Her Home. We're Not Running Away Like Some Other Families. Maine Wouldn't Want Us Anyway. You Can Keep Your Lobsters. We're Going To Redecorate The Dinette Instead
July 22. Quarantine In Queens, Day 130
Five months of isolation have not been good for my mental health. I seem to spend half the day looking out the window, like a cat. And the other half eating, also like a cat. Yesterday, I signed up for a free text therapy session that is offered by New York City. I'm not sure how much it helped me, but it was nice chatting with an anonymous stranger, rather than boring all my friends with my problems. It seems like every other friend now uses the lame excuse "I can't talk right now. I'm in the middle of a Covid test" every time I call them up. Today, I tried a new approach. I thought to myself, "Is there anyone who knows me better than my own family? Why not just talk with them as my therapists rather than a stranger? They surely will get to the bottom of it, right?"
August 15. Quarantine In Queens, Day 150
After getting positive reviews of my legs in a photo I showed on social media, I decided it was time to improve the upper half of my body during this pandemic. But as much as I tried to get attention from the women in the house, they were more interested in watching Outlander on TV.
March 20, Quarantine In Queens, Day 8. All Of Us Together, Watching The News
April 21, Quarantine In Queens, Day 40
Never in my life has food become so central to my existence. 3/4 of our conversations revolve around grocery stores, grocery lines, delivery times, what to eat at our next meal, snacking, and our weight. Most of our family fights even revolve around food, like who selfishly ate the last bag of pretzel sticks. Every night, we play cards where the winner doesn't get money, but exclusive rights to the fancy Belgian strawberry jam. It's all ridiculous, but true.
Last night we received a long-awaited delivery from Amazon Fresh. More accurately, it wasn't night but 5AM in the morning! The delivery person rang the lobby buzzer and we all woke up and waited by the closed front door, protected from any potential viral danger. We waited but we didn't hear any shuffling in the hall. I slid the door ajar, expecting our groceries to be sitting on our welcome mat, but nothing. My mother suggested that they left our groceries in the lobby by the mailbox, along with the other Amazon boxes.
I took the stairs downstairs to the lobby to discover another lost soul, some guy from the sixth floor, perusing the delivery boxes from Amazon and Walmart, searching for his name. He was wearing a homemade mask that matched the colors of his pajamas. We nodded to each other and he ran off.
I looked by the mailboxes and found our three big shopping bags of perishable groceries sitting on the floor. They only delivered half of what we ordered. There still was no way I could carry all these bags up the stairs, so for the first time in over a month, I decided it was time to enter the dreaded and dangerous ELEVATOR! I entered the elevator, which we had previously nicknamed "the death trap," and pressed the close button with my elbow, schlepping the groceries at my side. When I made it to my front door, I proceeded to go through my now-frequent ritual of spraying every product with Lysol and then wiping it down in the hallway before I brought it into the apartment. By 6 AM, I was asleep on the living room couch, snuggling a package of Thomas's English Muffins in my arms. We ate them at breakfast. They were delicious.