Minggu, 09 Oktober 2011

A MEAN OLD MAN / Bet on Crazy by Peter Nolan Smith

This summer our Israeli landlords on West 47th Street were squeezing every commercial cent from their property. Contractors reconstructed the entrance to create space for another diamond store along the facade. The new owners are longtime dealers in the Diamond District. I put on my suit jacket and Manny, my boss, asked, "Where are you going?"

"Next door to offer the new guys my best wishes." I believed in the goodness of humanity."Don't you have anything better to do?" Manny meant like making him money."No." It was slow this time of the morning.

"What happens if they're not lucky. They'll blame it on the goy. Better you than me." Manny came from the old school of the Bowery. Trust no one and don’t spend the money until the check clears were the eighty year-old's two favorite mantras. Time has proven the wisdom of each adages more than once.

"That may be true, but it's a good neighbor policy." I dealt with everyone on the street. The merchants hailed from every corner of the earth and sold an unbelievable array of gems and jewelry. Richie and I spoke them all, because one can own everything."Good neighbor. You think this is the suburbs?""No, but its' a lice gesture.""Nice, schmice. It's a waste of time."At his age time could be counted on fingers and Manny returned to shuffling the papers on his desk.

"Talk about a waste of time, if we had online banking, you would only have to spent 20 minutes a day on those papers.

"I like papers." Manny resisted every attempt to modernize the business. Chaos protected him from having to pay his memos on time. "Those people next door. They'll never be a good neighbor. They're trying to steal money out of your kids' pockets.""You don't even know them.""I don't have to. Its every man for himself on this street."

Good attitude." I was used to his negativism and exited from the exchange without a backward glance. I would have kept going to the subway, except tomorrow was payday and I wanted a full week's wages. I had four kids. That made me smile and I looked up at the sky.

It was a sunny day.

A customer was coming later in the day. She had gold to sell. My commish would pay off the last debt of my wife in Thailand. I knocked on the glass window of the new store. The two young owners waved me inside. Its decor was standard clean lines with bright lighting unlike the yellowing lights of our exchange. Their diamonds sparkled white.

"Congratulations and good luck."

"Good luck depends on God," the younger brother said with uplifted eyes.

Good luck depends on good decision." Bad luck was determined mostly by bad decisions.

"And not God?" The younger brother frowned with disapproval. He was good-looking for his age. Both of them dressed with style.

"If God grants you good luck, sie gesund." I had no argument with people's beliefs.

"Are you religious?"His question sought out my faith.

"I am a shabbath sheygutz. A goy. I was baptized a Catholic, but now I'm a non-believer."

My atheism dated back to Vatican II. The Mass in English exorcised the magic out of the Old Religion.

"I believe more in luck. Hard work too, for luck is 95% hard work and 5% being in the right place to take advantage of the hard work."

"Yes, but God has a hand in our luck." The younger brother was not Hassidic. He didn't wear a yamulke either. They were the new wave of Jews from Central Asia. They liked fast cars and young wives. None of them were Hassidim.

"For you."I was loyal to my conviction, but didn't want a fight over a god in robes. "I just came over here to wish you good luck."

"Good luck from God." He wasn't compromising on his dogma.

"Good luck or God luck. It's only one letter difference. Sometime neither does you any good. Twenty years ago we were across the street." The year was 1991."A nice spot. Always good to have your own entrance.

"I liked it too."

That store supported my travels in Asia for 15 years.

"Anyway one winter day the glass door shatters. Maybe it was too cold. We swept away the glass and I said to Manny that we have to close. Snow was falling and the temperature was well below freezing. Manny told me if I wanted to go home, then I would only get paid a half day. I cursed his meanness and sat next to the store's only electric heater. Manny wanted it, but I wasn’t giving the old bastard anything. Even with the heater my feet and fingers were losing sensation. I was about to walk out the door, when a black man entered the store wearing gang colors. Delroy was from Detroit. I knew him from the clubs. He had a roll of cash in his hand. "I need something for $80,000." I sold Delroy everything I showed him. My commish came to over $2000 and later I realized that this sale had nothing to do with luck or god. It had to do with the meanness of an old man."

"Your boss." The older brother understood the connection. He wasn't a friend of Manny, but then again Manny thought everyone was a piece of shit.

"And worse was that I had to tell him that he was right not to close the store. So good luck." The younger brother smiled with the irony.

"And God bless you." The older brother and I shook hands.

"You know how it is on this street and everywhere else in the world."

I returned to my store. Manny looked at his watch. I had been gone ten minutes.

"How long does it take to say good luck?"

"That's a good question." I had never heard Manny wish anyone 'good luck.I sat down at my desk. Manny waited for several seconds for my explanation, then realized that I wasn't going to give him an answer.

"You are trying my patience." Manny was shuffling his papers like a blackjack dealer. The house was winning either.

"Manny, you don't have any patience." I sat at my desk and his head disappeared under the pile of bills, invoices, and memos.

"I'm a boss. No one pays us for that." Manny had been a boss for over 50 years.

"Believe me I know." I had had my own business and it had failed three years ago.

Manny muttered under his breath about 'pieces of shit'. They were not connected to a pirate chest of pieces of eight. I had a lot to learn from him, because while Manny was a mean old bastard, he was my mean old bastard.

And neither luck nor God had anything to do with a piece of shit.They just are.

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