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Three's company: A man sticks out the pandemic with his ex-wife and his mother

Neil Kramer and Sophia Lansky are ex-spouses and roommates in the Queens borough of New York.
Neil Kramer
Neil Kramer and Sophia Lansky are ex-spouses and roommates in the Queens borough of New York.

A New Yorker sticks out a pandemic in a too-small apartment with his mother and ex-wife. Chaos ensues — or does it?

It may sound like a pitch for a sitcom, but Neil Kramer is living it. Kramer has spent the past two years living with his mom and his ex-wife in a two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment in Queens.

Sophia Lansky, who has been divorced from Kramer for more than a decade after their 15-year marriage, had asked her ex-husband if she could stay with him and his mother — who had already been living there — for a couple of weeks after her roof collapsed in late 2019.

"I thought it was going to be for like a month," Kramer said during a StoryCorps conversation with Lansky in November 2021.

Kramer gave his ex-wife his room; he slept on the pullout couch in the living room.

Then, COVID-19 hit.

"We almost became dependent on each other for survival," Kramer said.

"There have been moments when things were going on the news, when I would come in there at like 3 in the morning and we just would hug and watch with each other."

On top of it all, Lansky, a court interpreter, and Kramer, a writer and photographer, have been working from their shared quarters since 2020.

Early on in the pandemic, Kramer began chronicling their odd living arrangements through a project, with staged pictures, as a coping mechanism and a way to tap into the humor and absurdity of their life at the time.

One of his photos depicts Kramer covered in bubbles while soaking in a bathtub while crowded by his two roommates.

"Most of our fights revolved around the lack of space," he said. "I spent a lot of time in the bathtub just hanging out there."

Sophia Lansky, Neil Kramer and Kramer's mother Elaine, crowd into their bathroom in Queens in April 2020 in a staged scene as part of photography project by Kramer.
/ Neil Kramer
/
Neil Kramer
Sophia Lansky, Neil Kramer and Kramer's mother Elaine, crowd into their bathroom in Queens in April 2020 in a staged scene as part of photography project by Kramer.

Kramer said his friends want to know: Are he and his ex-wife getting back together?

He and Lansky said they have no such plans.

Lansky said she sees her ex as less of a friend and more like her family, "just not my husband."

As the pandemic drags on, Lansky is trying to figure out her next move. Even when she feels ready to move into her own place, she said, Kramer will always be in her orbit.

If there's one thing she takes away from their experience, she told him, it's his kindness: "That's what I loved about you in the first place."

"What was so unique about the last almost two years was, there was really no one else," Kramer said. "Even though we live in, you know, New York City, a city of how many millions --"

" — New York was a city of population three people," Lansky cut in. "And I wouldn't want to go through this experience without you."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Eleanor Vassili and Kamilah Kashanie.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eleanor Vassili
Kamilah Kashanie
Kamilah Kashanie (she/her) is the host of the StoryCorps Podcast. Kashanie's love for radio is rooted in her desire to understand more about what makes us who we are. As a storyteller, she's committed to starting conversations to make lasting changes in underserved communities, and to craft narratives that help give voice to individuals who would not otherwise have a platform to tell their stories. She's also a graduate of the Transom Audio Storytelling Workshop and the host of Feeling My Flo, a reported podcast about menstruation from PRX and Lantigua-Williams & Co.