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I can’t place an old friend on Fifth Avenue

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A week ago Friday I was walking down Fifth Avenue in New York when I saw an old friend on the street corner with his children. I saw him but he didn’t seem to notice me. And I couldn’t place him. The bags under his eyes, the long and comic, odd face, the big intelligent forehead and goofy manner– he was familiar to me as my brother but I couldn’t place him.

I kept walking, then I hoped he wouldn’t see me. I wasn’t sure why I didn’t try and do more to meet his eye. Something stopped me.

I was upset about it that night. I thought I am really losing my mind as I age, I wondered if he was not in the too-broad category of former friends I’d crossed off the list. So I made a bunch of notes to try and coax my memory. I wrote, I don’t think I know him from my work on Jewish identity, but he is Jewish. He is eccentric and very smart, he is goofy but he’s not a loser. Actually I think he’s rich. A nanny seemed to be there with the two children, on Fifth Avenue. But he is also a bit of a slob. I wonder if we parted on a bad note? If we had had words.

The next day I kept seeing his face, and I made more lists to try and bring him back before the memory faded. I could see him right before my eyes. I was thrown by his gray ponytail. It didn’t make sense. I wondered if he was from my city world or my country world, from my work world–no– or my internet world?

I was writing another list of his attributes as I sat on a plane last Saturday night when his name came to me suddenly, about 36 hours after the fact. He is a wealthy eccentric, in the arts. He is incredibly refined and also wild. It has been five or six years since I’d seen him. That is why the gray hair threw me.

The last time I’d seen him we’d gone for a walk with his kids, on a mountain trail near the Hudson. I took my dogs. His son kept bugging them and the girl dog kept running away from him. I told the kid that he could pick her up, I even helped him. As he started to lift her, my dog snapped at him. It was a close call. Another inch or so and it would have been a long afternoon at the hospital, and talk of plastic surgeons, insurance companies, and the legal weirdness about reporting the dog. He had been goodnatured about it; but it was all my fault. My wife was furious at me. You know how she is, she said of the dog. And I was furious at myself.

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