Every Valentine's Day diamond dealers and jewelers on 47th Street anticipated a winter spending spree by lovers for their loved ones, but each year of the 21st Century the sales numbers dropped drastically, as the economic downturn cut into everyone's surplus, but the rich.
Valentine afternoon in February 2011 shoppers crammed the chocolatiers along 5th Avenue and the high-end stores hawking peach fuzz soft cashmere scarfs and libido-arousing lingerie. Rose hawkers manned every corner and no man was going home empty-handed, if he knew what was good for him.
Hlove and I stood in our diamond shop at noon.
Not a single customer had entered the exchange throughout the day.
"This is not looking good." I was wallowing in pessimism. My kids in Thailand needed money for the weekend and I was late on my rent.
"Valentine's Day isn't what it used to be." HLove was a little better off. He had given five guitar lessons in the last four days.
"Not that it ever was good." I couldn't recall a good Valentine Day in this century.
My telephone rang and I checked the number. It was an unknown caller and I answered the phone with caution.
the caller was a friendly voice.
"My name is Alex. I was recommended by a friend. Are you open?"
"Very open." There wasn't a single customer in the exchange. "What can I do for you?"
"I need a gift."
"Then come on over and I'll help you find something."
I hung up with dismay, because Richie Boy and Fat Karl had stripped the store bare for the annual Palm Beach Antique Show.
Lenny the Bum rapped on the window and mouthed the question if we had been robbed.
"Not at all," I answered in mime, but we had nothing to sell and I complained to Manny my boss.
"Stop your crying." Manny had seen four score plus Valentine Days and he had spent most of today arguing with his girlfriend in Florida. Everyone on the Block was heading south, because nothing said 'loser' louder than pale winter skin for non-Hassidic diamond dealers. "Selling when you have goods is easy. Selling when you have nothing is the sign of a great salesman. When your G comes in, act if you're standing in Cartier, because you are in the center of the diamond world and you know where to get everything."
"Right." There was no sense in fighting Manny, since he was usually right, even if he was wrong.
At noon Alex showed up with a smile on his face.
"What's your budget?"
"How long you been going out this woman?" $3000 was more than most men spent on their wives.
"Six months." Alex sounded like they were still having sex.
"Really? What does she do?"
"She's from the Ukraine and studied at University of London and works at the Bank of America."
"Oh." According to my calculations Alex was about one zero away from happifying this woman and I pulled out diamond hoops for $15000. They were the only ones left in the store.
"Way too much." Alex owned a budding high-tech company. They had no investors, so I showed him a pair of Italian diamond earrings with two carats in diamonds set in 18K white gold flower design. I had sold several other pairs over the last month and I had guaranteed each male customer a happy ending upon giving the gift to their loved ones, but I also suspected that might not be the case for Alex, so I asked my diamond associate for her assessment of the diamond earrings.
"There's very nice." Danni was Eastern European, young, and adored jewelry. Her engagement ring came from Jacob and Company. Her mother-in-law ran Moscow's largest jewelry store. She examined the earrings and asked Alex, "How long you been with your girlfriend?"
"Six months. She's petite. Like a ballerina."
"The earrings cost $3000."
"They are beautiful. Italian too." Danni was telling the truth. We always do, mostly because the truth is easier to remember than a lie.
"I'll take them." Alex paid the $3000 without haggling for a lower price. We gave him a nice box. It was a classic ring-box-go sale.
"If you don't get a happy ending, I'll give the money back." It was our standard offer.
After Alex left, I called Richie Boy at the Palm Beach Antiques Show. He wasn't happy with the sale. There was only $500 profit. "He's a friend of a friend."
"Oh, great." He had to share the profit with me.
50/50 minus the expenses.
"Better than nothing." I hung up the phone and put the money in the safe minus my commission, then closed the diamond shop.
The evening train to Brooklyn was crowded with men carrying Valentine Day gifts. They wore smiling faces. My effort had made Alex happy. I spent $10 of my commish on a Mexican dinner and fell into bed reading Pier Brendon's THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE. Within three pages I was out cold and didn't wake until 8am.
It was Sunday morning. I called my wife in Thailand. She was happy to hear from me and my daughters and sons wished me much love. The store wasn't opening until ten, so my wake-up process lasted longer than normal. I read a little more of the book. England had really put it to India. I left my apartment in Fort Greene at 9am.
The subway was empty and I arrived at work a little past 10. My co-worker, Hlove, waited by the safe. The musician's face wore a veneer of exhaustion. The sixty year-old had stopped drinking on his doctor's orders.
"I couldn't get to sleep."
"Don't worry, I'll set up the front window."
Thankfully Manny wasn't coming in early.
Rain splattered on the sidewalk. It was promising to be a slow Friday.
I was wrong.
Alex showed up several minutes later. The chagrin on his face revealed the answer to my question, "How'd it go?"
"Not good." He stood at the counter sagging with the weight of disaster.
"Let me guess." The $240 in my pocket didn't feel like mine anymore.
"Last night we were going to the ballet. She came out of her bedroom in a dress which looked like it was woven out of the wind. On her ears were two-inch long strands of diamonds. They were antiques and looked like her family stole them from the czar. I handed her the box."
"The box." I had luckily given him an expensive box. "It cost over $20."
"She looked for a name."
"Oh." The box was elegantly but anonymous.
"She opened it and her face dropped like I had called her mother a bad name. She examined the earrings and said, "You have to be kidding." She didn't stop either."
Most women like her don't when they're on a good roll realizing the man was defenseless.
"She said they looked like they cost $600." Alex was reliving the pain from his failed gift.
"Enough already. I blew it. It's my fault." I went into the safe and counted out his money. He handed over the earrings and I returned his cash.
The bills were still crisp.
I shrugged and said, "I don't know what to say."
Actually that wasn't the truth.
Several curses floated on the tip of my tongue.
"I don't know whether to leave her or not."
"There's only one thing you can do at a time like this." Alex's day of romance had been ruined by this unfeeling chuva, which meant 'whore' in Yiddish, so I said the only thing possible, "Do what you think is best."
My advice was non-committal and exactly what he wanted to hear, because any advice from me would be seen in a negative light. I had ruined his Valentine's Day.
"Thanks for taking care of this." Alex held up the money. "This girl might come by to check out this place. She's that type of girl."
"No problem." I waved good-bye. "I'll be polite."
After Alex walked away, Hlove said, "That sucks."
"Big time. Can you do me a favor?"
"Anything." We were partners.
I asked HLove to T the G or follow Alex for several blocks.
A half hour later he came back and said the lovelorn executive had beelined into Van Cleef.
"Yeah." I phoned Richie Boy with the bad news. He took it with a lack of grace.
"That fucking bitch. A guy gives her a gift for $3000 and she shits on it. I can't believe it."
"First time it happened to me."
"Stay long enough in this business and you'll see everything."
Manny said the same thing.
His son and he were from the same school.
Everyone was out for themselves and no good deed goes unpunished.
Around 2:30pm a small blonde in designer clothing entered the store. A wide-brimmed hat hid her face. She was no ballerina in my book, but Alex must have seen a different performance of SWAN LAKE than me. Alex's fiancé examined the jewelry and I pulled out the earrings.
"You mind if I ask you a question?"
"No." The thirtyish woman was dowdy, but she wasn't telling the truth. She wanted out of here.
"If someone gave you this for Valentine's Day. How would you feel? Good? Bad? It cost me $2300. Maybe it's a little girlish for you. Women in their 40s like something bigger."
"I'm not 40."
"Are you in your 50s?" I was being mean. Someone had to be for Alex.
She huffed out of the store. Hlove gave me the thumb's up. He was happy that I revenged her slight. I would have been happier with Alex's money in my pocket, but sometimes you have to settle for what you can get and some days revenge is all there is, when beauty is in the hands of the holder.