Monday, December 19, 2016

AN XMAS EVE TALE by Peter Nolan Smith

Three years ago the holiday sales plummeted to near-zero in New York's Diamond District 47th Street. The Greater Depression had robbed the middle-class of their imagined wealth and jewelry purchases had 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 had rich clients and two days before Christmas we toasted our survival at the Oyster Bar in Grand Central with his wife.

"Well, we squeaked out another year.”

The three of us clinked glasses and a platter of freshly shucked shellfish arrived at our table. 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.

“We were lucky.”

“And we showed up to work every day.

“90% of success is showing up on time.”

“Or not too late.”

The next day was Christmas Eve. I arrived at the diamond exchange fifteen minutes after the opening time of 9:30 . Tardiness was my one perk after working there for twenty years.

"Morning, Manny."

"What are you so happy about?" Richie Boy's father came to work on time.

"The end of another holiday selling season."

"Bah." Richie Boy’s father shared none of our positivity. Operational costs and bills from his son arrived faster than our profit, but Richie Boy deserved every c-note.

Without him the firm would be another dark window on 47th street.

"Did you see this?" Manny brandished the print-out of the bill from the Oyster Bar. He must have had my work wife check the credit card expenditures. Deisy shrugged innocently. She was just following orders.

"No."

The dinner had been Richie Boy's treat. He walked into the store and his father asked the same question.

"Yes, I signed for it."

“$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 were here until 7:30. 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.”

"A dozen oysters was $20?” Manny hated spending money on luxuries.

“Maybe more.”

“And you had to have them?”

“We were celebrating getting through another Christmas,” answered Richie Boy.

“Now is it not the time for celebrating.”

“We saved the firm.”

“By luck. Maybe next year we won’t be so lucky.”

“Why are you so miserable?” Richie Boy wasn’t allowing his father to ruin his holiday. He was heading up to Vermont 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.

“I’m not miserable. I’m running a business.” Manny reviewed our sales, as if each was a dead loss. He pointed a finger at me. “You should have got more profit for the jewelry suite.”

“I’ll take $20,000 on a $50,000 sale any day.” The commission would pay for a flight to Thailand to see my kids.

“Big hero. I would have let them walk” He thought that I should have hit them for 70K.

"Better something than nothing."

Richie Boy and I sat at our desks and ignored Manny's gloom, as the old man 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 stiff us.

“I’m out of my here at 2:30.” Richie Boy distributed our pay and Xmas bonuses. He had wanted to give me a G. Manny cut it down to $800. I thanked them both. The previous year Manny had given me nothing.

“Manny, let them go home 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.

“Funny.”

Only Manny wasn’t joking about his remake of Dicken’s classic Xmas tale. Everyone wanted to go home, but he was Scrooge and I was his Bob Cratchit.

“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’ll 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.”

And I started pulling the back showcases.

“It’s not seven yet.” Manny 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 did 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.” My work wife didn't move. She obeyed who paid her.

“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.”

"Really?" All his friends were dead and his girlfriend lived in Miami.

"I have my work."

"Is that what you call it?"

"Yes. I come to work, so you can come late. I come to work to manage my son's spending more than we make. Without me there'd be no work, so we are staying to the last minute."

"Not today." I opened the jewelry case and loaded the necklace and rings into a tray.

"I can't believe it. My name's on the wall, but no one listens to me."

"Like I said 'not today'."

Deisy joined me. She had a young daughter. Her family was coming over for dinner.

"Fine, pretend I'm not here."

"Will do."

After closing the safe Deisy left for New Jersey. I got my coat and wished my longtime boss a good holiday.

“That wasn’t right, you closing.”

"Yeah, but what's done is done."

Outside shoppers were heading home for the holiday. They had families and friends waiting for them. My wife and kids were on the other side of the world and I asked, “You feel like a drink?”

"Why not."Manny got up from his papers and I handed him his coat. It was cold outside.

“Down the street?”

“Anywhere as long as they had wine and maybe some oysters, but no $4 oysters” He didn't stay mad at me long.

“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.”

"Your treat?"

"When wasn't it?" We left the exchange.

"Always the same, my man," I answered, because while Manny might have been Scrooge, he was my Scrooge and my Bob Cratchit was his.

At least for Xmas Eve.

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