Three years ago Christmas sales were few and far between on 47th Street. The depression has robbed the middle-class of their imagined wealth. Diamonds and jewelry purchases have been sacrificed to pay mortgages and credit card bills. America as a nation continued to suffer from the banking debacle, the collapse of the car industry, and the two wars in Asia. Thankfully Richie Boy has rich clients who are taking advantage of the downturn to buy high-grade diamonds and luxury jewelry with ruthless bargaining.
"We squeaked out another year." Richie Boy toasted our few successes at the Oyster Bar three days before Xmas. The wine was Austrian and the oysters had been harvested in New England. His wife was happy with both.
"A million-dollar ruby sale, a couple of rich guys buying big items, and a few lucky sales off the street." I had sold an Italian suite of pearls and sapphires to a Swiss couple and the ruby to a woman from Boca Raton. Richie Boy's client was the richest man in New York. I'm sworn to secrecy about his purchases and his name. "We were lucky."
"And we showed up to work every day. 90% of success is showing up on time."
"Or not too late." I arrived at the diamond exchange fifteen minutes after the opening time of 9:30 every day without exception. It was my one perp after working there for twenty years. "Here's to 2010."
As happy as we were with the season, Richie Boy's father shared none of our positivity. The bills came in faster than the money. His son's spending was profligate, but Richie Boy deserved every c-note. Without him the firm would be another dark window on 47th street.
The next morning Manny brandished the bill from the Oyster Bar.
"$4 for an oyster. They sell them at Doc's for $1 at Happy Hour." Doc's was his local bar on 34th Street.
"Happy hour ends at 7 and we worked until 7:30." I had worked 7 days a week since my return from Thailand the week after Thanksgiving.
"And only two of them were $4. Willapas as big as your palm." Richie Boy had been disgusted by the size. "The goy loved them."
"Almost as much as the clams casino. Oysters wrapped in bacon." I turned to Benzy, my Hassidic diamond broker. He's a big Yankee fan. We're friends anyway. "If oyster are tref and bacon is tref, do two tref make something kosher like two negatives make a positive in math."
"That's a good question." Benzy laughed with the joy of a man with six healthy children, which was a small family for the Hassidim in Williamsburg. "I'll ask my rabbi. He has a good sense of humor."
He hated Richie Boy and me for spending money on oysters.
"Why are you so miserable?" Richie Boy wasn't allowing his father to ruin his holiday. He was heading up to Vermont on Christmas Eve and then off to St. Bart's with his wife for the New Year's. Richie Boy had a good life and his father ruined every success with a bucket of Grinch. Manny reviewed our sales, as if each was a dead loss.
"You should have got more profit for the jewelry suite."
"I'll take $20,000 on a $50,000 sale any day." The commission paid the flight to Thailand.
"Big hero." He thought that I should have hit them for 70K. "I would have let them walk."
No one was exempt from his holiday gloom. He schlepped every dealer to the last minute. He chided my co-workers for every supposed fault. I told Richie to give us our bonuses before his departure to Vermont, otherwise his father would divine some way to make us miserable.
"I'm out of my here at 2:30." Richie Boy distributed our pay and Xmas bonus. He had wanted to give me a G. Manny cut it down to $800. I thanked them both. Manny had stiffed me with a nothing bonus the previous year.
"Manny, let them out early. They're goys and have family." Richie Boy cared about us, although not enough to stick around to insure an early Christmas Eve closing. He had a long drive in front of him and was eager to leave behind the grumblings of his old man.
"I'll let them go at 7." The exchange closed at that hour from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve.
Only Manny wasn't joking about his remake of Dicken's classic Xmas tale. Manny was Scrooge and I was Bob Crachtit. Everyone wanted to go home, but Manny wanted to show he was still boss.
"Manny, could you at least let Deisy go home early? She has a baby and needs to go to church." I pleaded between muttered curses.
"She's go home at the normal hour."
And we sat there for another two hours without a single customer entering the store, so I went out and bought some beers to drink. I didn't offer Manny a sip. He kept his head down and crunched numbers on his ancient accounting machine.
"Fucking mean old shit."
At ten to 5 I started pulling the back showcases.
"It's not five yet." Manny lifted his head and tapped his watch.
"Then buy a new watch. The computer says 5. My watch says 5. My phone says 5. The clock in the back says 5 and you had the landlord retime it five minutes slow to get another few minutes of shopping time. We're closing."
"Since when have you become my boss."
"I'm not the boss. I'm a goy and we celebrate Christmas."
"You're a non-believer." Manny remembered my many rants against the Church.
"Not today. Deisy start pulling."
"Deisy, don't do anything."
"Manny, give it up. We're going home."
"Why don't you go home and don't come back?"
"I can't, because Richie Boy asked me to look after you."
"I don't need anyone looking after me."
Manny was seething with anger. The octagenarian's friends have died or retired to Florida. His girlfriend lived in Miami. He doesn't want to join them and rightfully so because most of them sit in their rooms watching the wall. By coming to work Manny got to pretend that he was actually doing something useful and truthfully the only reason I could show up fifteen minutes late was that Manny arrived at 9:30 every day without fail. Richie Boy's 'extravagant' life style was managed by his father's careful balancing of the checkbook.
Manny might have been Scrooge, but he was my Scrooge and after closing the safe I wished my longtime boss a good holiday.
Deisy was gone. It was just him and me.
"You feel like a drink?" Manny got up from his papers and I handed him his coat. It was cold outside.
"Down the street?" I had nowhere to go this Christmas Eve.
"Anywhere as long as they had wine and maybe some oysters." He knew me well.
"Sounds good to me." I was still pissed at the old git, but Manny wasn't that different from me and neither is everyone else.
We all have a little bit of the Grinch in us this time of year, for as Manny likes to say, "There is no season for giving."
And ain't that the truth, especially if you like oysters and they tasted might good on Manny's tab.