Every time someone tries to steal my locked bike, something gets bent or broken. So once again I walked it over to Arieh’s bike shop at Dizengoff Square.
The shop, as musty and ancient as its owner, seems to defy order: bike parts strewn everywhere, tangles of rubber and metal held together with cobwebbed padlocks. Arieh alone is privy to the logic, able to find anything and everything.
“Hello!” I cried out, clumsily coaxing my bike through the door. Still with a customer, Arieh looked up, expressionless, then turned back to their transaction. The customer said goodbye, and the little bell tinkled as she walked out the door, leaving just the two of us in the shop. Seeming to address the twisted pedal he was working on, Arieh said, “So where did Gershwin get the material for his compositions?”
“Where did he get it? You don’t compose from air, you know.”
This was my seventh or eighth time in the shop. During my third visit, Arieh asked if I was a musician, because, he said, I look like one. Ever since, he’s been expounding on topics I should know more about than I do.
My mind raced; where did Gershwin get his material? To save face, I answered a question he hadn’t asked: “Well, Bartok took his material from folk songs.” I was desperate to impress this man. “So did Sibelius.” Eyeing me with disdain, he returned to Gershwin: “He got it from old Jewish and Chassidic songs. Listen.”
Rising from the smell of rubber, metal and oil came Arieh’s soulful, throaty rendition of something vaguely familiar.
“Ooh, yeah—what is it?”
“Rhapsody in Blue!” he snapped.
I’ve considered finding a bike shop that is kinder to my ego. But Arieh is a meticulous repairman and, my insecurities aside, I do look forward to his lectures. What is his background, and how did he acquire his vast musical knowledge? I’m longing to know, but asking would be indiscreet. In Israel, philosophers sweep streets, poets sell falafel. Arieh is a musicologist who happens to work as a bicycle repairman nine hours a day.
I asked Arieh what I owed him.
“Thirty shekels? That’s nothing,” I gushed. “Unbelievable!”
“Nu,” he replied, without looking up from his work, “We’re friends.”