the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Man in the Mirror


Every Friday night, a group of Jewish men meet in the apartment building I grew up in and greet the Sabbath.  Most of the men are older or find it difficult to travel to a temple.  Traditionally, you need ten men to form a “minyan,” the group that prays together.  In Judaism, praying in a group during Shabbat is considered more important than praying alone (sorry ladies, traditional Judaism doesn’t count women as part of the minyan). 

I’m not very religious and don’t go to temple very often, but I was honored to be asked to join the minyan for the night.  The leader of the group said it would be a good opportunity for me to say “Kaddish,” the traditional prayer said for the deceased.   I can read Hebrew and know the prayer, but I’ve never stood in front of a group of religious men and said Kaddish out loud in honor of my father.  It was an experience as powerful as my bar mitzvah.   The ancient text praising G-d really leapt off the page for me.  During the service, Kaddish is said three times.  During the first time, my voice was uncertain and croaky, so the leader said the prayer along with me.  But by the last reading, I found my confidence and read it in a strong voice.

When I returned to my apartment, I felt nervous energy coming from my mother and Sophia.  My mother was going through a pile of my father’s paperwork.    He was a real “paper saver” who kept bills and receipts from decades ago.   I showed my mother how to use the shredder I bought my father last year, something he never even plugged in.

Sophia was involved in another matter – our trip home.  When we learned that those so-called “bereavement fares” were a joke (and cost more than the regular fares), we used our American Airlines frequent flier miles to come to New York.    Earlier that day, we learned that if we wanted to, we could make a multi-day stopover anywhere in the continental U.S. on the way back.   Sophia said we could use a few days of rest after the last few weeks of stress and sorrow.  We asked my mother to come along wherever we went, but she wanted to go back to work.   I went through my list of bloggers, thinking whom to visit, but we decided on Albuquerque because I saw that they are having a world-famous International Balloon Festival next week.   We booked the flight, but then we realized the most of the hotels were already filled.  So, when I came back from services, Sophia was all frustrated from trying to find a hotel.   She asked for my help, but I told her I was exhausted.   The week’s tensions were finally hitting me.  Until now, we had all been too busy to feel tired.   From the minute we arrived in New York, it’s been visits to the hospital, arranging for the funeral, and sitting shiva.  I felt my body collapsing and went to my parents’ room and quickly fell asleep.

The next morning, I woke up in the same bed.  Sophia was sleeping next to me.  My mother was asleep in the living room.   It was pretty early in the morning, but the New York City Sanitation trucks were already rolling outside.   I had a morning hard-on.   I moved against Sophia and she told me to get lost.  “We’re separated, remember?”  Besides, she was up half the night looking for hotels in Albuquerque and was upset that I woke her up.   I went to take a shower.

I turned on the water and stepped inside the shower stall.  It was nice to feel the water against my back.  I’d been so tense.  Still hard, I started playing with myself.   I looked down at my penis and laughed — I remembered being in the exact same spot doing the exact same thing when I was fifteen years old.   Maybe I was just too tired from the last two weeks, but for some reason, after a few minutes, I lost interest in what I was doing.  That would never have happened to me when I was fifteen.

I stepped out of the shower and dried myself off.    Through the closed door, I could hear that my mother was now up.    I could hear the grinding of the shredder ripping up my father’s receipts from 1995.  I could hear that Sophia was now awake also.  I could hear her watching the “Alias” episode that she had taped on my my mother’s ancient VCR.   Well, for a minute, at least.  Then I could hear her telling my mother off for switching channels and taping a Food Channel show and the cable menu instead.

With my cock still up, I couldn’t leave the bathroom… just yet.  I wiped the “fog” from the bathroom mirror and looked at myself standing there.    While we were sitting shiva, we had covered all the mirrors — as is traditional.  Now that the mourning period was over, was my father looking down at me now from heaven?   Do I even believe in that stuff?  And if he is, couldn’t the same be said for my Grandma and my late Aunt Ruthie?  Jeez, are all of my deceased relatives seeing me now with an erection?  How embarrassing. 

But It didn’t seem weird at all to think of my father as I looked at my penis.  After all, the male circumcision is what bonds the Jewish male to the Jewish people.   I remember when I was a little kid, I used to take a shower with my father.  I remember looking forward to the day when I could have hair on my chest and a man’s penis hanging there, not a boy’s penis.  Suddenly, it occurred to me that, as the only son, I’m now the “man of the family.”  But what does that mean?   My father was so much more of a “man” when he was my age.  He had a steady job, a steady marriage, and a son. 

“You have none of these.” I thought I heard my penis say to me.

“You’re right,” I said.   

"You know it’s Rosh Hashana in a few days," my penis continued.

"I do."

"The Jewish New Year is the ideal time to make changes in your life.   You can start to become the man you want to be."

My wants as a man have so far been pretty simple so far:  good Chinese food, the open thighs of a woman, and a subscription to HBO.   Maybe it was time to become as accomplished a man as my father.  To know what it actually means to be a man.

"You stood up and said Kaddish at the minyan.  That’s a good start." said my penis, being encouraging. 

"Thank you," I told my friend.

Sophia knocked on the door.

“Hurry up, Neilochka.  I need to use the bathroom.  And… who are you talking to anyway?”


  1. Bama Girl

    Wow, I don’t know anyone else who would combine so many disparate things into one post–your father’s passing, your hard-on, wanting to be a man. You always manage to keep me interested. Good luck in the new year on being a real man–whatever that means to you.

  2. Fun Joel

    Hey Neil. Not a comment on this post specifically, but the last few weeks’ worth. I feel terrible. I hadn’t even glanced at your blog (or pretty much anyone else’s, including my own) over the last 2-3 weeks, and so I had no idea of all this going on. And I was even in NYC during part of this time. Sorry man. I’m really sorry to hear about your Dad’s death, and I can tell from what you’ve written that he’s proud of you. Hope the New Year brings only wonderful things for you and your family.

  3. TWM

    You are a hell of a writer, Neil. If you aren’t making big bucks in Hollywood it only confirms my belief that they wouldn’t know quality if their penis pointed it out for them.

  4. Introspectre

    You are the cutest man ever. And, as far as I can tell, this is the most intelligent conversation a penis has ever had with a man. You should call Guiness or something. Get a “Most Logical Penis” award or something.

  5. Tatyana

    Wiping up bathroom mirror? Now you got me worried about your ergonomics, Neil.
    Oh, wait, may be “worried” isn’t the right term here.

  6. ashbloem

    Great post, Neil.

    By the way, go to New Mexico, but stay in Santa Fe. It’s not a far drive, 40 minutes, if I remember correctly. So you can see the balloon festival and stay in a much quainter town. Oh, and go to that spa. Seems to me, you both need that spa of which I spake.

  7. MA

    Brilliant as always Neil.

  8. Pearl

    So you’re back to sharing the *smallest details* of your life, huh? Wishing you and your *good buddy* lots of luck.

    How you could combine “Kaddish”, “minyan”, “Rosh Hashana” and “penis” in the same post is beyond me…but you did a fine, *upstanding* job, Neil!

    I wish the Kramer family a sweet, healthy and peaceful New Year.

  9. Tuck

    A yarmulke for your penis might be a nice touch (no pun intended) for the holidays.

  10. psychotoddler

    Happy new year to you and your penis, Neil.

  11. amanda

    haha, i might have otherwise cried reading this. but i can’t help but giggle when i read about talking peni.

  12. danielle

    I wish you all the best for the new year, Neil… Sustenance, fulfillment, clarity, and the inspiration for many more brilliant posts like this one!

  13. Anne

    I’ll second Introspectre. That’s a very intelligent penis you have.

  14. anne arkham

    Told you penis posts were good.

  15. anonymous city girl

    awsome art deco mirror and sink!

  16. Leesa

    Great post, Neil. I was still with my ex-husband when his father died of heart attack. He also went to a Minyan, or at least I think that’s what it was. He was a changed man after his fathers death, I can see the same in your posts.

  17. Edgy Mama

    Happy New Year, Neil!

    Heading into the bathroom to have a conversation with my labia. I’ll report back later.

  18. hope

    thank goodness you are back to blogging about your penis. I thought we would never hear about it/from it again!

  19. bettyonthebeach

    Great post! Glad to hear you and your penis are back in form! 🙂

  20. Danny

    Kaddish and cock in one post. Brilliance! And your penis always has great insights—you need to listen to him and Sophia at all times. (I almost said “I really like your penis” but that would have come out WAY wrong…)

  21. ms. sizzle

    death has that ability- to shake us to our core and reset priorities. go with it and see what emerges.

    p.s. your penis has a lot of wise things to say. 😉

  22. ladymathematician

    As I performed the super-mizvah (for my parents) of bringing a Jewish boy over for dinner this weekend (who cares if we spent the train ride there discussing his lunch date), I had the equivilent of the “when am I going to be a man” moment. Well, woman, of course, but I think the idea is somewhat the same – when am I going to be a reponsible adult? I realized that at exactly my age, my mom left the USSR with a kid, a husband, no money, and moved to another country with no idea if she would ever see her family again. And she did well.

    Me, I’m looking forward to a world with health insurance; then I’ll know I really made it.

  23. Nancy French

    This post made me think of one of David’s Psalms:

    O God, you are my God,
    earnestly I seek you;
    my soul thirsts for you,
    my body longs for you,
    in a dry and weary land
    where there is no water.

    Well, I guess there was water in your story, but I’m trying to push that shower scene out of my mind… The point I’m trying to make is that it’s natural for your inner being to be drawn to God…

  24. Brooke

    I think that was the best post I have ever read, by you or anyone else.

    Clearly you were penis-inspired.

  25. Megan

    I’m with Brooke: I think this was the best post I’ve ever read. Deep, yet dirty too. This will be hard to top.

    (I just giggled because I said “hard.”)

  26. modigli

    Hey Neilsie … Great post, as usual. If New Mexico doesn’t work out, I say you and Sophia should stop over here in Cleveland. (Even if it is only worth spending about a day or two here!) 😉

    BTW ~ Your penis is awfully smart. You should listen to that guy more often! 😉

  27. bella

    Your penis seems very wise, maybe it, “Dave”? right, should run for presidency. I’d vote for a dick like that. (evil grin)

  28. miss marisol

    In my head, your penis’ voice sounds like Yoda’s.

    “Awake you are. Off you must jerk.”

  29. miss marisol

    Oh, and I’m all for change but don’t sell yourself short. You seem to have a lot going for you.

  30. -RM

    I have been reading lately and have been impressed, intrigued, and inspired by you as a writer, glad your friend knocked some writing sense into you. You will aspire to these things and congratulations on the personal growth. L’shanah tovah.

  31. akaky

    Neil, a great post, and my compliments to Mr Johnson on his insights.

  32. tinapopo

    L’Shannah Tovah, Neil!

    I’m glad your penis is full of such insight. When we sat shiva on Thursday evening for my husband’s funeral, he said the kaddish and it was beautiful.

  33. akaky

    …and, of course, when you’re fifteen it feels better. I mean, when you’re in your forties orgasm is still a good thing, dont get me wrong, but frankly it doesnt really compare to getting a big refund on your income taxes or a nice moist piece of chocolate cake, but none of the latter really compares to when you were in the shower at fifteen spanking the monkey for all it’s worth and it felt like skyrockets were going off down there.

  34. tinapopo

    Wow, I just realized I said “my husband’s funeral.” (and then that he said the kaddish…). It was his grandmother’s funeral. Jesus.

  35. JJ

    Very intelligent genitalia. All mine ever said to me was, “C’mon, a couple more beers and she’ll be plenty good looking.”

  36. Bill

    A great though unsettling post. I can come up with all kinds of comments about my penis and talking to it but the father and manhood business seems to ask for something a bit more thoughtful than I can spin out and my penis isn’t nearly as articulate. Though my Dad has been gone quite a while and I’ve thought through all this to some extent, it’s not easily put into words. Especially in a comment.

    In some ways, I think I had something of an opposite experience – or maybe my father did. The last thing he ever said to me was, “Don’t go down that road, Bill. Don’t go down that road.” And that probably had more to do with the morphine he was on than anything else, because he was in la-la land big time. Still, it always resonated as warning to not be too “responsible,” not to do the “man” thing to such extent you lose yourself. He was a very respectable, well-paid accountant in corporations and so on and hated it. But he fulfilled all his roles as man.

    I think I’ve done the opposite as a reaction to that. Whereas the place to try to be is somewhere in the middle. Middle, though perhaps boring, is probably best. Manhood is a good thing, but only to an extent. It tends to get oversold.

    Anyway … as you can see, this theme produces a jumble of thoughts for me that obviously still aren’t sorted out.

    btw … the only thing my penis ever said was, when a woman once laughed and said,

    “And just who do you think you’re going to satisfy with that?”

    It replied, “Why, me madam. Me!

  37. Bill

    Damn … no edit function. Can’t fix the code. I also meant to add, I stole that penis joke. Though I’ve no idea from where.

  38. Jewels

    I guess now I know why my husband is always smiling in the shower – his penis must be talking to him. But what can it be saying????

    Very interesting story and great insight into your mind. The picture of you in my mind has changed, yet again. Thanks, I like it 🙂

  39. mysterygirl!

    That’s the most beautiful story about a talking penis that I’ve ever heard.

    Seriously, though. Neat post.

  40. Josia

    Just checking in …. and see you’re back in form 🙂

  41. Michael

    Good post. I mean this entry on your blog, not your sage friend downstairs.

  42. Jack

    Maybe you want to meet Big Blue

  43. Sandra

    …and people say that it’s a bad thing to think with your penis!

  44. Laura

    This is the very first post I’ve ever seen on a Jewish blog that was completely natural and unaffected about sex. You said “penis” and “hard-on”, you referred to masturbation, your commenters have said “cock”, and (gasp!) “labia”!! LOL

    Great stuff. I’m relieved to know such healthy attitudes exist. I’ll be back.

  45. Neil

    Is this a Jewish blog?

  46. Tovah

    How the hell were you able to use “penis” and “kaddish” in the same sentence?

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