Two years ago the Diamond District on 47th Street was dead on the high holiday of Sukkot.
All throughout the shetls of Williamsburg families were commemorating the Hebrews' wandering in the desert after the Exodus in Egypt by setting up sukkahs or outside dwelling to symbolize the tents on that decades-long journey to find someplace to call their own.
The Hasidic diamond dealers abandoned the Diamond District for the week. The day before Chol HaMoed Gabriel our broker left our store ten big diamonds in hopes that a goy might buy one. Richie Boy and his father weren't so religious and saw the holiday as a time to operate with less competition.
On the first day of Sukkot I opened the safe and put Gabriel's rocks in the window. They were in individual diamond boxes. None were under five carats and the total value of the goods was slightly over 500K. They made a big impression.
A half-hour later an over-weight gypsy in a Versace suit entered the store and asked, "How much for the big stone?"
"It ain't for sale." I had never sold to a gypsy.
"Everything is for sale on 47th Street."
"Not this stone." I had nothing against Gippos, but they hadn't earned their rep for guile by being saints.
"Show him the stone." Manny was sitting at his desk. He had dealt with hundreds of gypsies during his years on the Bowery.
"Okay, but everything has a price," I grumbled, for the Roma were a WOT or a waste of time. Worse was the possibility that they might rob you.
"Which is?" I had seen Tony around the block.
"Can I see it?"
"Sure." I went to the front window and plucked the stone from the tray. A zaftig, but attractive woman in a matching Versace dress smiled at me. She was Tony's wife. They worked as a team. She came inside.
I show her the diamond without letting her touch it.
"I love this ring, Tony." Her fragrance was Versace Bright Crystal.
"I love it too, but I don't love $40K for a 6-carat F SI3?" He was top of the line Roma. "Would you take 20K for it?"
"Thanks but no thanks." Gabriel had memoed the diamond for $35,000. Manny said that it was a lot of flash for the cash. My boss came from Brownsville. He had never lost its touch on his soul.
"I have the money." Tony brandished a roll of hundreds thick enough to be 20K, unless the center was all $1 bills.
"Sorry, the price remains 40K. No haggling either."
"I thought maybe you would want to do some business." What Tony meant was that if I gave him the stone, I could stick the 20K and walked out of the store.
"Sorry, no deal."
I sat at my desk and the gypsy exited from the exchange. Tony had other marks on his list. Maybe he would get lucky. My boss Richie Boy showed up a few minutes later.
"A gypsy offered me 20K for Gab's stone." Manny stood up with a groan. His hip was killing the 80 year-old.
"You didn't let him touch it?"
"Not at all." Gypsies were skilled at switching stones.
"Let me check."
I got the stone for Richie Boy.
"You're lucky," he said after weighing out the diamond on the scale.
"Lucky was, if he sold it." Manny sat back down with a grunt. He wasn't getting old, but some parts of his body were on strike.
"We were lucky." Richie Boy nodded to me and I put the diamond back in the window.
Across the street Tony and his wife were standing outside a store. They were looking to get lucky.
Anything was possible on Sukkot.
Around noon the girls working for Manny's partner wanted to order lobster rolls from the new take-out.
Coming from Maine I was eager to try the lunch special.
Richie Boy signaled that he was in too.
Lobster might be tref or unclean and unfit for consumption according to Jewish tradition, however only one member of our staff was religious. The rest were bacon Jews.
Lunch came, we ate, and then discussed the lobster rolls.
Cindy thought it was good. She had gone to UMass.
Richie Boy was unimpressed. He was nursing a hangover.
I had eaten better in Maine, but Lincolnville was an eight-hour drive from 47th Street.
A chubby hand slapped the window.
The Hassidic bum.
His yamakah was sliding off what remained of his greasy hair and his fingers were twitching for money.
"Fuck him." Richie Boy had little patience for Lenny.
"He's harmless." Lenny was no Don Rickles, but he made me laugh.
"Tell him to go away. He's bad for business."
"Business? On Sukkot keep on dreaming."
"Do me a favor and send him away. Lenny's ruining my appetite."
I put down my lobster roll and went outside.
Lenny seemed to have gained more weight and he smelled like he hadn't been to a schvitz since before Moses freed the slaves.
"Lenny, you're messing up the window." His hand imprints were scattered on the glass like prehistoric paintings. "I'm the one who has to clean it."
"Sorry, Damian." Lenny was a slob in his filthy tee-shirt and ripped flannel trousers with sodden sneakers shaped like melted cheese. He has been living on the street for more than 20 years, but I had seen the fat bum deposit over $200 at the bank more than once. Some people say that his lunacy is an act, except his rhummy eyes told the truth.
"No worries." I liked that he called me 'Damian'. The name smacked of THE OMEN and the Son of Satan.
"Why Richie doesn't ever give?" Lenny begged everyone on the street for money. He even took small change.
"Maybe it has something to do with you calling him a Nazi."
"He is a Nazi. A country club Nazi who hates Jews like me." Lenny was fondling an etrog lemon, which someone must have given him for Sukkot. I could smell it over his stench.
"Lenny, I hear you say that to a lot a people on the street. It's not nice."
"I'll tell you what's not nice." Lenny pointed to Tony and his wife. "Over a million gypsies were killed by the Nazis, but no one ever builds a museum for them"
"The Roma are 'travelers'." That was the Irish word for them and it didn't have a nice meaning.
"And the Hebrews wandered forty years in the desert and what about the Wandering Jew?"
"That's a myth." The Goyim had created the legend of a Jew cursed with immortality for taunting Jesus on his way to the Crucifixion.
"Ahasver might not exist, but the Jews have traveled the world for centuries same as the Roma and people talk about them the same way as they talk about us."
Aren't you celebrating Sukkot?"
"I sleep outside every night." Lenny lived in the rough. He had no possession other than the clothing on his back. "Every day is Sukkot for me. Same as you, Damian. You wander the world."
"My wanderings are more like Dion's THE WANDERER than the Jews and Roma." I loved the line from that hit, 'I'm the type of guy'.
"I love Dion." Lenny knew every homeless shelter in New York. They were his world and the sidewalks were paths for his travels.
"Me too, but I wish I didn't."
"Your kids in Thailand." Lenny was crazy, but he wasn't stupid. He knew my life."
"Yeah, my kids." The four of them were halfway around the world. There was something not right about that arrangement and I felt more sympathy for the Roma than was normal for someone born on the Coast of Maine.
Richie Boy rapped on the window.
"Lenny, I got to go back to work." I had to make a little money.
"You got a dollar for the holiday?"
I handed him two bills.
He wished me luck and called for a blessing on my kids in Thailand.
"May you get home soon."
"Thanks." Seeing my kids was my greatest wish. Another month and I would have plane fare to Bangkok. I would count every day.
"Baxt hai sastimos tiri patragi." Lenny shambled into the street. His eyes were on Tony and his wife. He saw them as a soft touch.
"What's that?" I had never heard those words before.
"It's Romani for 'good luck.'"
"Sie gesund." I wished him well in Yiddish and returned inside the diamond exchange hoping to close a deal in the final hours of Sukkot, because all wanderers are lucky as long as they were heading home.