the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

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.


  1. Dagny

    I am sorry to hear about the loss of your uncle.

  2. SciFi Dad

    I’m sorry for your loss.

    However, I can understand your confusion about the prayer…

    Are you satisfied
    In your life and time
    Does it clear you mind
    With all the hurt you find

    Built on Mother Earth
    They were meant to stay
    Nations bloom today
    On gifts of yesterday

    Born of the Earth, are nature’s children
    Fed by the Wind, the breath of life
    Judged by the fiery hands of God

    World goes by the hand
    Of the master plan
    Can’t you understand
    You’re but a grain of sand

    Do you need a guide
    To make you feel satisfied
    Head to the sky
    Will tell you why

    Born of the Earth, are nature’s children
    Fed by the Wind, the breath of life
    Judged by the fiery hands of God

  3. V-Grrrl

    The most sacred moments of my life are wrapped in the mundane and not scripture, sermons, songs.

    Inspiration, comfort, joy–they lurk in the most unlikely places.

  4. All Adither

    Aw, sorry about your uncle.

    So can you? Carry an urn on an American Airlines flight?

  5. melanie

    “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.”

    yep. I believe that music is a religion as well. It amasses cult like behaviors and dedicated followers. i love earth, wind and fire.

    I hope the ceremony goes well and everyone refrains from realizing why they are all there.. in respectful memory of your uncle. My condolences.

  6. melanie

    refrains from bickering and realizes… (blonde moment)

  7. Astrogirl

    First, this post will be uncharacteristically New Age-y for me, because I just woke up from a very strange dream and it’s still affecting me.

    We take our spirituality where we can. Whether it’s from the chanting from a mosque, or the lyrics of Earth, Wind, and Fire set to the dishwasher. This is a rough time for you. Take what you need from those who are offering it, and from the world in general, and try not to be too hard on yourself. Give yourself some grace. It sounds like you’re pretty much there, already. 🙂

    Your family is in my thoughts. But you knew that already :).

  8. Kate

    At first I thought this was going to be a post about Earth Wind and Fire – which is one of my FAVORITES. I’m not ashamed to admit it. And I dare anyone to play Serpentine Fire in their car and not sing along with the “oh yeahs”. But of course that didn’t come in until the end. I can’t complain since I’ve done this a couple of times myself in promising that a post involved nudity.

    Anyway – I love hearing about your neighborhood. I grew up in DC in two of the city areas (there are a good number of suburb type neighorhoods in DC), and we had a lot of interesting characters wandering in and out of our daily routines.

    And of course – I’m sorry to hear about your uncle (and I hope that the rest of my comment didn’t come across as insensitive). I hope that all of the complications work themselves out quickly.

  9. Annie

    Neil, I am sorry about your uncle. I loved this post. We all need all the comfort we can get, be it Earth, Wind and Fire or prayer, what difference does it make?

  10. piglet

    ok, so that made me cry. damn you. i miss my dad more than anything else in this world.

    thanks for the laugh at the end, i guess it makes up for the cry.

  11. Twenty Four At Heart

    Sorry to hear about your uncle. Earth Wind and Fire has a comforting magic too. I saw them at a private event in Vegas a few years back. The lead singer held my hand and serenaded me. Sigh … How can you NOT be a lifetime fan after that? I love your neighborhood posts. I can’t wait to get back to NY soon for a few days. Hugs!!

  12. Kate

    I’m sorry about your uncle, Neil. I don’t know why, but I’ve always found the sound of a whirring dishwasher to be very soothing.

  13. Nance

    Three weeks before the due date of my first son, he still hadn’t turned head down. My obstetrician told me it was in my best interest to sign up for caesarian classes. I was distraught; I wanted to have natural childbirth–after all it was my first! I said, “Isn’t there anything I can do?” the dr. said, “You can try putting some music on and put the headphones low on your belly. In rare cases, the baby will try to move toward the music.”

    “What kind of music?” I asked.
    “Oh, something pleasant,” my Chinese doctor said.

    I went home and my husband and I searched our collection. He pulled out Earth, Wind, and Fire. I lay on the couch with my feet propped up a bit, Rick put E,W,and F on the stereo and placed the headphones down on my lower abdomen. After the third song, which was “September”, a huge movement occured and as I watched, my son turned, then locked and loaded. I gave birth about 18 days later.

  14. better safe than sorry

    i’m sorry for your loss.
    something about this is so strange, thinking about your uncle’s ashes, while listening to natural elements, it sort of makes sense to me, it seems right.

  15. teahouseblossom

    I’m very sorry to hear about your uncle. I’m glad he was able to be laid to rest in NY where he wanted.

    As for the prayers, maybe you actually heard the voice of God?

  16. patois

    It is okay for me to laugh at the ending of the post, right? Okay. I did. In all seriousness, though, I’m sorry about your uncle. I hope you and the rest of his family find comfort with each other.

  17. always home and uncool

    I put the ashes of my dead dog in checked luggage. It was the first, and last, time he ever got to fly.

  18. churlita

    I’m sorry about your uncle.

    I’m sure there are some who would argue that listening to Earth, Wind and Fire can be a religious experience.

  19. mamikaze

    my condolences for your family.

    great post. how did you get uncle home? earth wind and fire is a great portal for solitude.

  20. amanda

    neil, i have been seeing your tweets about your uncle and have been meaning to offer my sympathy. sorry it is so delayed. thinking of you. stay in touch. -amanda

  21. kris

    I am thanking God it wasn’t the Backstreet Boys. That really would have spoiled the moment.

    Thinking of you today.

  22. maggie, dammit

    “And for the record — women in burkas don’t like you checking out their asses…”

    Every time you write a sentence like that I want to open a t-shirt shop and spread your delicious wit all over the world.

    I love your writing.

    I am so sorry to hear about your uncle.

  23. anymommy

    You find peace and spirituality where ever you can in this world. I’m really sorry about your uncle.

  24. plain jane

    This beautiful, complex post is why I read you every day. I found the EW&F part very moving.

    And Maggie said everything else I wanted to say.

  25. Crys

    i actually quite liked the post you took down. it mirrored a lot of what’s inside my own (obfuscated, semi-fucked up) head, plus it was kind of hot.

    if you censor yourself again with posts i happen to highly like, i will likely become punitive. which basically =s me crying a little in my heart part.

  26. Crys

    did i use obfuscated correctly? i think i did.

    please don’t challenge me ever.

  27. G. Savant

    My condolences about your uncle.

    Also, when I woke up this morning (nearly noon really) I found that I had a few referrals to my blog from yours. “Dare I dream,” I thought to myself, “That I have been chosen as Neil’s Blog Crush O’ The Day?! Could it be that Christmas has come early this year for the Gentleman Savant?!”

    Alas, I was not and it has not. It was from a post that I wrote about Wal-Mart that appeared on the right side-bar, a prestigious placement to be sure, but not the great golden trophy I’ve been waiting for. I hopes were raised and then dashed within moments.

    I can, however, smell the top from here. It’s so close I can smell it. It smell like honeysuckle and geisha sweat.

  28. mp

    Sorry about your uncle..we catholics also had issue w/ cremation. I don’t get it..the whole Dust to Dust thing should be an automatic green light.

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