Chapter 1


Today, David Goldstein hated his life. If he had followed his heart and ambition rather than his father’s, he wouldn’t be glaring at a phone that refused to ring. If his father had financially supported his business idea of Kosher Deli on Wheels, he’d now be hiring a lawyer instead of studying to be one. With visions of Park Ave dancing in his head, the fantasy life of David Goldstein was interrupted by the sound he’d been waiting for, “Hello,” he answered his interrogator on the other end of the line “Yes, it is a two bedroom. It’s got lots of light. How big? Big enough for two people. One bathroom, yeah, yeah, we share it. It’s got a tub and…hello, hello?”

What do people want for $500? The fourth floor walk-up in a worn-out bland 1960s building was on one of the noisiest streets in the Bronx. Exhaust emissions mixed with cooking from around the globe filtered into the entire apartment building. Today the pronounced smell of duck fat and pungent Asian spices rose from Mr. Chang’s carryout across the street, overtaking every other worldly smell in his compact hot apartment.

Compact, he said to himself, but clean. Clean and near a subway. That should count for something.

It’s been three weeks since his roommate moved out without notice. The call came in the middle of the night and by morning one half of the rent rushed back to Chicago to take care of a father on life support.

David felt guilty about seeing his roommate and friend as a rent check, but he couldn’t help it. David needed a different kind of life support and he needed it now. His own father’s health was in decline. He unselfishly gave his meager savings to pay for tuition and books. David couldn’t turn to him for rent money.

The day after his roommate’s emergency exit, he placed a four by ten-inch card on the synagogue bulletin board advertising a room for rent while emphasizing a kosher kitchen and the proximity to both the synagogue and Marty’s Deli. On the school bulletin board, he promoted the subway, the vibrant Bronx life, and of course the cheap rent.

Free ads, including the craigslist, produced zilch. This time he bought a two lines ad in the New York Times:

Share clean 2 bdrm 1 bath nr subway, shops, restaurants

avail. immed. $500 plus util. 555-289-1345

David placed a lot of hope on that ad. He dreaded facing Dorothy, his gentile landlady who invested in this 1960s eyesore with the insurance money left by her dead husband ten years ago. David saw Dorothy as a kind person who was good looking for her undetermined age. She liked and respected him, and treated him as a friend. But Dorothy was a businesswoman and she expected to receive the rent on the first day of the month. David didn’t want to damage their friendship or lose his status as a model tenant.

Suddenly, Mr. Model Tenant’s thoughts were interrupted by a soft taping. Damn, Dorothy must already be playing rent hardball. David was always punctual with his rent. Personal delivery was his style. Every month he placed the check in an envelope and knocked on her door. If she were home, she’d ask him in for a hot or cold drink depending on the weather. Like a schoolboy, he looked forward to those brief encounters. It wasn’t difficult to erase a few facial lines and imagine the younger, flawless, All-American Dorothy. Her flirting skills hadn’t diminished with time. She still had a way of holding a gaze a little longer than David was comfortable with. It excited and embarrassed him at the same time.

Now his embarrassment was about money. Let me get it over with and face the debt collector.

Adjusting his thick eyeglasses and straightening his yarmulke on his thick chestnut-colored hair, he opened the door with a broad, welcoming smile on his face.

Startled by a foreign-looking man in his mid-twenties, David could only say, “You’re not Dorothy!”

That was the only thing the equally startled young man was sure of. He was not Dorothy and he probably had the wrong apartment.

David eyed this stranger who was smoothing a thick, dark mustache with one hand and holding the New York Times classified ads with the other.

Suspicious, David’s head was spinning. I didn’t put the address in the ad. I only had enough money for two lines.  Suddenly he heard his mother’s voice, “Never open the door to a stranger…have an unlisted phone number…just because you’re a man, it doesn’t mean you won’t be stalked.” Returning to his senses he remembered… Oh yea, I gave a few callers the address. I must have given the apartment number and the floor without thinking.

David studied the man standing before him in a short-sleeved white shirt that emphasized powerful bronze-colored arms and a strong chest. His eyes rested on the carved Semite features. A revelation. God has answered my prayers and sent me a Jew…a Sephardic one.

The visitor, watching the perplexed look on David’s face, said in a thick foreign accent as he extended his hand, “Good afternoon, my name is Ali Nasrallah and I’m here to see your room for rent.”

No longer a revelation, the excitement and smile faded from David’s face. He looked at Ali in disbelief realizing that the man standing in front of him wasn’t a Jew. Not even a Sephardic Jew would have a name like Ali.

David spoke without cracking a smile, giving no hint of his confusion, “Hi, I’m David Goldstein.” He shook Ali’s hand quickly then turned around and said, “Please come in.”

He strode toward the back of the apartment where the second bedroom was and with his voice rising to hide his uneasiness, he said, “This is it.”

Ali followed David. My God. I’ve responded to an ad to share an apartment with a Jew, and probably an Orthodox one.