Senin, 05 Maret 2012

MAKE NICE / BET ON CRAZY by Peter Nolan Smith

Manhattan’s Diamond District has a reputation for being a closed community. 99% of those working on 47th Street are of Jewish heritage and many of the gem dealers are connected by blood or marriage. On the surface the industry thrives due to the benefits of this homogeneity, but the mishpocha on the Street suffer the same chasms of enmity as any families.

Our firm showed smiling faces to our customers and rivals, since my boss, Manny, and his son, Richie Boy, followed the Corleone tradition of never laundering family troubles in public and basing their discretion on THE GODFATHER was better than adopting the murderous plot-line of GOODFELLAS.

For the most part our lips were sealed by the Jewish version of omerta, but anyone was fair game for Manny’s barbs. The Brownsville native had fought his way up through the ranks and at 82 he remembered every slight and unpaid bill to the penny. The two of us sat facing each other. He hated my talking on the phone and I resented his eavesdropping on my conversations, but at the end of the day the two of us often buried our differences with a drink in Grand Central Terminal. The bars were crowded with commuting women and manny had a good eye for the beauty of women as well as diamonds.

One morning in summer of 2010 I sold a walk-in customer a diamond for $55,000. The architect from Chicago had to celebrate a 25th wedding anniversary in a week. The deal was consummated in less than thirty minutes.

“Well done.” Richie Boy loved sales. He had bills to pay.

“All part of a day’s work.” A quick sale was a good way to start off the day.

“Wham-blam, thank you, ma’am.” Richie Boy handed the credit card and sales slips to his father.

“It’s always easy, when the customer needs what you have.” Manny stood up from his desk with difficulty. A bad hip didn’t prevent the eighty-two year-old from coming to work.

“And even easier when the customer wants what you have.” I calculated my commish. It covered a flight to Thailand. I hadn’t seen my kids in three months. “He was a good guy.”

“Don’t fool yourself. Everyone is a piece of shit.” Manny’s low esteem of humanity was based on a seemingly never-ending series of disappointments in mankind.

“Not everyone.” Richie Boy had inherited many of Manny’s traits, but his cynical optimism had been inherited from his elegant mother. They shared the same sapphire blue eyes.

“Everyone is a piece of shit.” Manny had a long list of POSs or ‘pieces of shit’. Richie Boy and me, his longtime employee, topped the chart. Neither of us came to work on time and our tardiness was the least of our faults in his book.

“Great, I’ll call the customer and tell him that I won’t sell the diamond to him, since he’s a piece of shit.” I grabbed the sales slip and picked up the phone. The customer’s number was on the top of the bill.

“Save the smoke and mirrors for your friends.” Manny seized the bill and examined the sales’ paperwork to add up the cost of the diamond, the ring, and the setting of the stone. The numbers weren’t to his liking. “Why didn’t you get more money?”

“Leave him alone. He did good.” Richie Boy was getting a headache. We had out drinking with a hedge fund investor last night. The billionaire was looking for a red diamond. The price per carat was in the millions.

“He did his job that’s all and why? Because he wants money.” Manny wasn’t wrong.

“Everyone wants money. That’s why we work.”

“Not Manny.” Richie sat at his desk. “He works to make us miserable.”

“My two heroes.” Manny did love to make us miserable. The fighting brought his blood to a boil and that was a good thing for a man his age.

“I’m going out for a cup of coffee.” I had heard enough of this conversation to know its destination and asked Manny, “You want one?”

“Here.” Manny’s hand fumbled into his pocket.

“I don’t need your money.” The twenty years of supporting me and mine granted Manny a special dispensation from having to pay for his own coffee.

I walked outside and took a deep breath.

Inside the exchange Richie Boy and Manny were squared off toe-to-toe. Sometimes I thought that the bickering was an act, but this morning they were going at it and I walked next door to the Russian coffee shop.

Several dealers were standing in the foyer. I said hello to Abel. The young Hassidic broker and I had sold several diamonds over the last two years. He was a good man in my books. We always made money together and a year ago when Manny lost a carat diamond memoed from Abel, the broker had knocked $500 off the price. Manny had called him a piece of shit for that generous gesture.

I never mentioned the insult to Abel.

Manny was man enough to tell people they were piece of shit to their face.

“How goes it?”

“Not bad.” I told him about the sale. Abel congratulated my luck and then said, “Whose stone?”

“None of your business.” Abel had his hand in every pot.

“Okay.” He appeared hurt by my rebuke, but in this business if a diamond broker commented in open conversation about a sale, then the information would be common knowledge from 5th Avenue to Avenue of the Americas by day’s end, albeit filtered through a myriad of mouths to be malformed into a miscarriage of the truth.

“What do you think about Farrid?” Abel had dealings with every ethnic group on the street. Countries and nationalities had no borders when money was the root of all life.

“Richie Boy’s old partner from the retail store on 5th Avenue?” I clenched my right hand into a fist.

“The Persian.” Everyone in the Diamond District called Iranian Jews ‘Persians’ and the entire tribe had colonized the Long island suburb of Great Neck.

“You want me to say good for him?” Our business depended on trust.

“He wants a stone from me.”

“Better you talk to Richie Boy about that.” I had sold a million-dollar ruby for Farrid and Richie Boy in 2009. The Persian had shorted $2000 on my commish and then insinuated that I had come close to fucking up the sale.

The closer to nothing that I said about him the better.

“Are you saying he’s no good?” Abel considered me a ‘sheygutz’ which for a Hassid was one step less pejorative than a goy and a sheygutz had a different perspective of the business than a G.

“I’m not saying nothing. It’s not my place.” Farrid had twice bounced this commission check. He had been hit hard by Bernie Madoff. He wasn’t out of the woods yet either. Like all Persians he had a big family.

“Thanks. I owe you a coffee.”

“I didn’t say nothing.” I paid for my coffee.

“And thanks for that.”

I returned to the exchange. Richie Boy was on the phone with his wife. Manny was fiddling with the electrical connection to his adding machine. It dated back to 1982. He raised his head and asked, “Where’s my coffee?”

“I forgot it.”

“Everyone thinks about themselves.”

I let it go. This was 2010. Jobs weren’t easy to hold and even harder to get for a man my age. Later and the rest of the morning passed without incident.

A little past noon Richie Boy came over to my desk.

“Farrid just called me.”

“And?” I had a good idea what was coming.

“He said you told Abel not to give him a stone.”

“Abel asked me about him and I said it wasn’t my place to comment on him.” I was telling the truth.

“Farrid says you said bad for him.”

“I said nothing. He can think whatever he wants.” I was hot enough to walk over to Farrid’s office and do something crazy.

“I do business with him.” Richie Boy wasn’t dropping the subject.

“I never will.” I hadn’t spoken with him in two years.

“You made money from that deal.”

“Yes, I did and he screw me out of two grand.” It was money out of the mouths of my children. “I’ll never say bad about him to anyone else, but you can tell him, if he’s ever in a room alone, he has a minute to leave it.”

“And what?” Richie boy wanted me to paint the entire picture.

“You know me a long time.” We had met at Hurrah, a punk disco on West 62nd Street. His uncle had been an off-duty cop working as security. Sam had seen me at my worst and Richie Boy had witnessed my breaking a drug dealer’s nose with a rolled-up GQ magazine for his calling me an asshole. The double-issue had a nice weight to it. “I’ll be a nice guy. If Farrid is with his family, then I’ll leave wherever they are without a problem. But he is never to say hello to me or expect me to say good for him. He’s a piece of shit.”

“See, you feel the same way as me.” Manny was near-deaf, but the old man could hear whatever he wanted to hear. “I know what Farrid did to you. He screwed with your family. He’s a piece of shit.”

“You’re right.” I usually hated when Manny proved that he was right, since he was usually right.

“Thanks for taking my side.”

“You’re family. But best to avoid any trouble. There’s no money in it.” Manny came from Brownsville, Mike Tyson’s old neighborhood. No one these days knew how tough it was there back when Manny was young.

“And if there’s no money in it, then why do anything, right?”

“That’s the way I think.”

“Okay.” I was leaving for Thailand to see my kids, so I said to Manny, “I’m going to be cool. I won’t speak to the piece of shit. He won’t get a fork in the eye. End of story. Of course he could pay me the $2000. Then I’ll be real nice.”

“Not a chance of that happening.” Manny was a good judge of bad character.

I thought that was the end of it, except that afternoon Farrid saw me on the street and I blanked him like a dog.

For the next few days the Persian telephoned our office and I never answered the phone. Finally Manny fielded the call. He would speak to anyone. I told him thanks.

Some people can leave well enough alone and the next morning Richie Boy tapped me on the shoulder with a pen, “I want you to be good to Farrid. I make money with him.”

“Really?” I knocked away the pen. No matter how Richie Boy painted his partner, Farrid was still a donkey in my eyes. Manny rose from his desk. Everyone in the exchange was watching us. Manny pulled us together.

“When I was a boy, there was a kid who didn’t like me and I didn’t like him. Back then in Brownsville we had gangs. Not like now, but we were tough.” Murder Incorporated started in Brownsville. Mike Tyson grew up in that neighborhood. Its motto was ‘never ran, never will. “This black boy challenged me to a fight after school. He showed up with twenty friends. I had about thirty. I could tell he was carrying a knife. I had a lead pipe. We stepped away from our friends and I said, “You wanna fight, then both of us will get real hurt. I don’t see that you wanna go to the hospital and neither do I, but if we gotta go then we gotta go at it.” The black boy shrugged and shook my hand. There was no gain in us fighting. Same as there’s no gain in your fucking with Farrid. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think so.”

“You’re no wrong.”

‘So what are you going to do?”

“I’ll play nice.” I’d be out of there in less than a month. Being nice wouldn’t kill me.

“Good.” Richie Boy hated fights. He was no starker, which meant tough guy in Yiddish.

As his son sat at his desk, Manny said, “At my age and your age fighting isn’t an option. Making money from someone is the best revenge.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” I liked Manny. The old man didn’t take shit. People like him were hard to find. People like Richie Boy’s partner were everywhere. Farrid was lucky that I was leaving town, especially since having to make nice to a piece of shit was not in my job description.

Unlike Richie Boy I also was a starker and Manny liked his martinis with two olives.So did I.

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