These days most people in America have no money and the middle-class survive from paycheck to paycheck, dreaming of their lost wealth. Even the lower upper class are struggling to make ends meet and New York's Diamond District has been feeling the pinch. My bosses Richie Boy and his father Manny couldn't offer me a place behind the counter upon my return from the Orient.
"It's brutal out there." Manny always kvetched about business, but his business had been bled dry by salaries and rent. "I'm totally farblondzhet."
"It's that bad?" Manny was never at a loss for a solution, but I knew the answer from the long face of the other dealers in the exchange.
"I would be lucky, if it was bad." The Brownsville native had seen everything over his eighty years. "Vel ist mir, This is a nightmare, but we'll get through somehow."
His son was less optimistic. Richie Boy had newly born twins. We went out for a drink after they closed the exchange.
"I can't pay my rent."
"Something will happen."
"Call up your old customers. Make me a sale. I'll give you half the profit."
"I'll believe that when I see it." His father was a notorious chisel.
"Help me and I'll help you."
He went home to his wife and I wandered across 47th Street to catch my train to Brooklyn at Grand Central. Halfway down the block I ran into Rondell, a young Hassidic diamond broker with five kids. We hadn't seen each other for months and the overweight dealer asked if I knew of a red diamond.
"Red red." Red diamonds are actually rare. They cost a fortune, but I had seen one earlier in the day at a colored diamond dealer's office. "You want red red, I know of one, but it's less than a carat."
"How much?" Rondell clasped his hands in hopes of hearing the right number.
"Less than a million."
"How much less?"
"I'll have to make a call." I stepped into a foyer out of Rondell's earshot and called the holder of the red diamond and then contacted Richie Boy, because I needed his name to make this deal. I explained everything and he said, "If this comes through, then you get a good bone."
"You said half before."
"Half it was a private. This is a wholesale deal. No one is getting rich from it."
My friend was right about that and I didn't argue, since something was better than nothing.
The bargaining between the holder of the stone, Richie Boy, Rondell, his partner, the next person down the line, and the final buyer was murder, but after a week everyone said mazol and the deal was done. I made a few thousand, but Rondell kicked in another G, so it wasn't bad money for making two phone calls to the right places. The money was shared out in the exchange. Everyone was happy, but Manny.
"I have to get you and Richie Boy a good bottle of wine." Rondell was grateful to us both. He had a lot of mouths to feed "A bottle of kosher wine."
"Kosher wine, feh." Manny didn't like anyone who made more money than him and I expected nothing less from the Brownsville native. They grew them tough in that part of Brooklyn.
"There's good kosher wine," Rondell protested, while sticking his check inside his coat.
"No, there isn't." I tasted enough 'yayin kashér' to know that good kosher wine was a trifecta oxymoron. "It's all tref to my palate."
"No, there is good kosher wine." Rondell leaned on the counter. He weighed more than an NFL linemen and was only 5-11. Hassidic cooking was thick with schmaltz.
"Not a chance." Talmudic law banned the drinking of wine which might be used to honor an idol such as the Golden Bull underneath Mount Sinai or Jesus or Bacchus, the Greek God of epiphany. "Wine is drunk for enlightenment. I can't even finish a glass of glatt yayin and that makes schitkahness impossible."
"I will bring you a bottle of drinkable kosher wine and you'll sing praise to Chateau Zeitgeist."
"I'll believe it when I taste it." Yayin mevushal has to be boiled to purify it from the touch of an idolater and I explained to Rondell, "Back in 1995 we opened a nightclub in Beverly Hills. The previous bar had been Dean Martin's hang-out. The owner said that we could have the wine stock. I looked at the list. It was very impressive and I asked where was the cave. The owner said, "There's no cellar here, we kept it upstairs." The top floor was suffocatingly hot. I opened a few bottles. It had been boiled by the California sun to swill. The same goes for kosher wine."
"You're wrong and I'll bet you $100 that you'll tell me you're wrong." Rondell waddled from the exchange. Manny shook his head. I could read what he was thinking in his eyes. I had wasted too much time on 'bullshit'. It was his second favorite expression. # 1 was calling diamond brokers like Rondell 'piece of shit'. I left the exchange and went over to the public library to write. I was good for the month.
The following day I went up to 47th Street to pay off a debt. Rondell arrived in the exchange with a bottle of Chateau Beaucul. Richie Boy and I thanked him for the offering and we uncorked the bottle. I spit the first sip into the trash can and yelled Rondell.
"Are you trying to kill a goy?"
"Is it bad?"
"Nearly poisonous." I was more a sheygutz than a goy.
"Sorry, it cost almost $50."
"I appreciate the gesture, but it's dreck. I lived in France for ten years and this is worst that vin-trois-hommes?" Sheygutz was considered a 'wise guy' by some Yiddish speakers. To others it was an insult.
"What is that?"
"When wine is so bad that two men have to hold you down and pour it into your mouth."
"Give me another chance."
"It's not necessary." Drinking that wine was like having sex with an ugly woman. Something you would never forget and I didn't need to fuck a 'messkait' twice.
"No, I'll make good."
"Rondell, you might think of me as the shabbos goy, but I'm more the shabbath starker. Du versehts?" I spoke the last two words with a Bavarian accent. My high school teacher had hailed from that region. He might have given me an F, but I had the tone down right. "Worse than this I don't need. Not as a favor."
"Es tut mir leid." Most Hassidem only spoke Hebrew these days.
"Klein problem." I'm an old school goy. Hebrew is only for schul and Yiddish is daily life .
Rondell didn't show up for three days. Manny mocked my trusting him.
"He's a piece of shit."
"In the twenty years I've been working for you, you've never bought me a bottle of wine." Plenty of martinis and vodka, but never wine.
"If you're so in love with that fat fuck, why don't you marry him?" Manny had a way with words and so did I.
"Because he's not my type."
Richie Boy his son was staying out of this argument. He had enough trouble with his father. Anytime I took the brunt of the old man's attack was free time for Richie Boy to make money.
"Don't you have a home?" Manny was tired of seeing me.
"Yeah, but I like seeing you ready to plotz."
"Get out of here." Manny meant it, but only for the moment. We were old friends and I was trying to selling a diamond to a basketball player in Miami.
On Friday Rondell showed up before the rush home for Shabbos with a new bottle in his hand.
"This is the best of the best."
Richie Boy and I thanked him and took the bottle without any comment. I gout out the bottle opener and two glasses.
One for me and one for Richie Boy. Manny wasn't getting a drop.
He examined the bottle and nodded his approval. None of its ingredients were non-glatt.
Chateau Dionysos. It was a pricy bottle of wine.
"Let it breathe." I was patient and opened the bottle.
It had been a long day. The sale of an eternity band to my NBA client had fallen through the ice. His Miami jeweler was saying that I was no good. I poured Richie Boy and myself a glass.
Halfway to the top.
We dipped our noses over the rim. Our eyebrows peaked with anticipation. A single sip sent us into ecstasy. It was better than good, then again Chateau Lafitt 96 wasn't glatt kosher.
I tried calling Rondell. He wasn't picking up his phone. Shabbos started early in the summer. I raised a glass to the air and toasted my fat friend.
"Here's to Bacchus. Pagan not kosher."
Richie Boy clinked his glass with mine.
Manny glowered at his desk and we smacked out lips in appreciation, because sometimes the best things in life many times aren't kosher and that's a mitzvah for a goy and a blessing for a sheygutz. There was a difference between the two.