Monday, February 27, 2012


It says that 10 measurements of beauty descended upon the world, and Jerusalem got 9 of them.

I am walking holding my father’s hand on the streets of Jerusalem, on our way to visit my father’s friend, Israel’s greatest living poet, Yehuda Amichai.

At that time, Jerusalem was a divided city. The border ran in the midst of apartment houses, the barbwire rolling through streets and among back yards. Two countries at war separated by a street and a length of barbwire: Israel on one side, Jordan on the other.

The wire was high, but you could still see the Jordanian soldiers walking back and forth, holding guns, smoking cigarettes and shouting profundities at the women on the Israeli side.

The barbwire passes very close to Yehuda’s home, the external wall by the entrance leading to the stairway is dotted with bullet holes.

The studio where the poet writes is facing the Jordanian side. Its window is kept wide open, even though he could easily get shot by a Jordanian sniper.

Beyond the soldiers, Yehuda’s window is facing the old city. He was born in Jerusalem; to him the city is one. He doesn’t recognize the borders; to him it’s all about the pain, the sorrow, the death, the beauty, the words -- the region.

And so his window is kept open for the muse to dawn.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Julep bounded up the five flights of stairs to the penthouse apartment I was renovating in a Park Slope town house down on Lincloln Place just below Seventh Avenue. Without pausing to catch her breath, she knocked impatiently on the door. The owner, Martin Friedman, a stocky Wall Street banker with a poker faced expression, answered the door. “Is my dad here?' Julep asked, panting. Martin let her in as I, hearing her excited voice, pushed aside the plastic tarps that sealed off the work area and ushered her into the front room where I was working. “What's up kiddo? Everything alright?”

“Dad! You won't believe! It's the most incredible thing.” Julep was 14, an emotionally intense girl by nature, now with teenage hormones raging. Still trying to catch her breath, she kept right on.“Niki and I were walking in the park after school and this really cool dog started following me. I mean, he went everywhere we went. I didn't even have anything to give him, he just kept following us everywhere. We even went into the deli to get some snacks, and he sat outside and waited. We were in there for allmost ten minutes and he was still right there waiting when we came out.” As she went on I was beginning to suspect what she was amping up to ask. “He followed us all the way down Seventh Avenue. He walks right by my side, Dad, almost up against my leg. He won't leave me alone. Dad, you gotta see him. He's really special. And he doesn't have a collar or anything, and looks like hasn't been fed in a long time.”

It was a sunny mid-October afternoon. Julep had been living with me for about a month and a half. We lived together in my two bedroom tenament apartment at the other end of the neighborhood, in Windsor Terrace, alongside the Prospect Expressway. I hadn't lived with her full time since she was four years old. The past summer she had runaway twice from her mother in Denver, and was refusing to go to school there. My ex-wife was a clever and resourseful woman, but had given up on trying to control her or gain her cooperation. Against Julep's adamant protests, I insisted she come to live with me in New York. Reluctantly, she came, but she was still in full-tilt rebellion, leaving school whenever she felt like it, throwing me into a panic every time she stayed out long past her curfew. But by some miracle, she was begginning to become more cooperative. God knows it wasn't my skill with authority or parenting, maybe she was just beginning to see my love for her. But things were still far from easy between us. I was running my own business and new at being a full-time single parent. It was already more than I could manage. And dogs are like children and I just couldn't handle any more responsibility.

“Julep, listen, Honey... I know what you want to ask, and I'm sorry. I just can't do it. We've already got our hands full.”

“Oh Dad, just come down and see him. Don't say anything yet. Just come and see him”. Her intensity was turning from pleading to desperate. Her face was flushing and her voice was getting teary.

“Julep, I'm sorry kiddo. I can't do it. I can't. Maybe when we get a little more settled into our routines. Now I've got to get back to work, it's almost quitting time.” She began to cry and moved to the front window, to look down to the sidewalk where Niki and the dog were waiting. She stood and sobbed like her entire world was crumbling, like she was holding against the utmost despair.

“Please, Dad?” pleading from her deepest vulnerablility “Why won't you just come down and look at him?”. In her swollen eyes, I saw what this meant to her and I wasn't going to treat it like she was just asking for an extra scoop of ice cream. I went to the window and looked down and saw a very large and thin, black and tan dog, standing still, waiting with her friend.

“Okay” I sighed. “I'll come down and look. But I'm not making any promises.”

“Oh, thanks Dad. Okay. Okay. You'll see. I mean, okay, Oh thanks.” She ran ahead of me quickly down the five flights of stairs, and down the large limestone stoop.When we got to the sidewalk, the dog wagged his tail at Julep enthusiastically. He was even bigger than he looked from the window. Then he looked at me and seemed to instantly understand what was going on. He sat down as if I'd silently given him the command to sit. He looked straight up at me, pushing out his chest.

“Wow” I said, “Hey big guy”. He sat perfectly stilll, except to follow my eyes. He looked like a cadet standing at attention. “Hey buddy, what's going on.”

“Isn't he sweet, Dad?” Julep encouraged me, seeing I wasn't yet trusting him. He was young, maybe not even yet full grown. I put my hand forward to pet him, knuckles first. He didn't budge. He just sat perfectly still and looked directly at me with his wild, ancient and obviously intelligent eyes. I was amazed as my own instincts suggested what his look was saying. I could almost hear the words - “Mister, if you take me in, I'll protect this girl for you, and I'll be the best dog you have ever seen.”

“Wow. He's really somethin',” I said.

Julep began to smile with growing anticipation.“Isn't he great Dad? Isn't he incredible?”

I began to think of the potential advantages. This could give Julep something to really care about and begin taking responsibility. And nobody was going to mess with this dog, who was obviously part Doberman. I was willing to give it a try. “Okay, look kiddo, I'll make you a deal. I'll pay for his shots, and his vet bills, and buy his food and whatever he needs. But you've gotta take care of him. You've got to walk him whenever he needs to go out. And feed him. And bath him. And brush him.”

“Oh yes Dad. I will, I promise I will, Dad, I want to. I'll take really good care of him.” And adding, as if to sweeten the deal and show her maturity, “And he can sleep out in the hallway until we find out if he's housebroken or not.”

“Okay,” I said. “Let's try it.”

Julep wrapped her arms around me with the biggest, strongest hug she'd given me since she moved to Brooklyn. Then, bouncing up and down on her toes, she hugged Niki, who stood by the whole time without saying a word. And the dog? The dog jumped up from his sitting position and started wagging his tail and turning one way, then the other. He rubbed up against Julep, and then turned to me and circled me, as if to say, “Okay, Okay, Boss. We're a family here. Now - which way is home? I'm really hungry. I haven't eaten in a week.”