THIEF OF TIME by Peter Nolan Smith

My first watch was a Timex bought by my father for my 14th birthday. I wore that timepiece throughout high school and college. It disappeared in the mid-70s. Lost, but not stolen. I went without a watch for the reminder of the decade. Punks in the East Village had no use for time. Our days and nights were ruled by rising and setting of the sun.

One of the cops moonlighting at Hurrah, the rock disco on 62nd Street, had a brother in the jewelry business. Manny called me on the phone. The Canal Street diamond dealer asked for a favor.

“Can you let my son into your club. He’s a good kid and wants to see the Ramones.” Manny spoke like he had spent his working life on the Bowery. It wasn’t far from the truth.

“How old are they?” The NY drinking age in 1978 was 18. All the girls from the Manhattan private schools were welcome regardless of age. Cute teenage boys were also on the list. Most of the bartenders were gay.

“Old enough and they have ID. My brother will take them home.”

The two boys showed up for the concert. Richie Boy and Seth were 16. They had a great time. Andy Warhol hit on Seth. Richie Boy met Mick Jagger. Both of them threw up on the sidewalk. Richie Boy’s uncle was a no-show. Seymour had a girlfriend on the Upper East Side.

I let the two boys sleep in my apartment. They snored like old men. Manny called at 5AM. His wife thought that her son had been in an accident. I allayed their fears without any explanation. Manny thanked me for acting beyond the call of duty.

“I’ll take care of you when I see you.” He gave me the address of his diamond shop. “Stop by for lunch. We eat around 1.”

At noon I rolled out of bed. Seth and Richie whined on the floor like two dogs begging to be put out of their misery. Threats of a kick got them to their feet. Their clothing looked like they had been kidnapped by white slavers. I gave them clean tee-shirts.

“Where are we going?” Richie Boy rubbed his face. His eyes squinted in the harsh midday sun. It was still his bedtime.

“Down to the Bowery to meet your father. He invited me to lunch.”

“Great.” Seth showed signs of life and licked his lips

“No way.” Richie Boy searched his jacket with both hands. Money would change my plans for him. He found none.

“Then how are you getting home?” I had already gone through their pockets. Seth was broke. Richie Boy was a gold mine. Home for them was Long Island. Not a walking distance in any condition.

I shoved the two teenagers out of my apartment. We caught a taxi on Avenue A. The ride to Canal Street took less than ten minutes. I paid the fare with a brand new $10 bill. Richie Boy started to say something.

“What?” I was ten years older and famed for my bad temper.

“Nothing.” He exited from the Checker Cab knowing his place, while plotting his revenge.

Seth was looking forward to lunch. He was a good boy. Manny wasn’t happy to see his son. The 48 year-old diamond dealer was dressed in haute couture for Little Italy. An immaculate gray flannel suit and a big diamond pinkie ring. Manny’s father was in the corner counting slips. I recognized them as lists for the numbers game. The old man eyed me, as if i might be a snitch. Manny cooled his jets.

“The goy is good people. He works with Seymour.”

“Boydem mit politsa.” The old man spoke Yiddish.

I had studied German in high school with a Bavarian monk and read several books of Isaac B. Singer. I had no idea what boy dem meant, but aped the old man’s inflection, “Nicht Politza. Ein sheygutz. Nicht Goyim.”

The man laughed at my appreciation of the difference between a goy and a sheygutz. manny looked at his watch. The clock on the wall made the time 1:05. A tall Puerto Rican boy rushed through the door with two bags of food. He was out of breath.

“That’s Domingo.” Manny shook his head in time with his father. “That boy is never on time and neither is my son.”

Manny slapped Richie Boy’s hand hard.

“No food for no one that hasn’t worked and don’t say nothing about the sheygutz and your friend. They’re guests.”

The food was a meal from Angelo’s on Mulberry Street. It reminded me of Little Italy in Boston. Manny’s father was named Jake. He told stories about bookies, the shetl, and working hard as a carpenter. “Everyone has to have some honest work.”

After I finished my lunch, I thanked Manny for his hospitality. He lifted his hand. A watch dangled from his fingers. A Pulsar P2. Roger Moore had worn the same model in the James Bond film LIVE AND LET DIE. 007 later replaced the Pulsar with a magnetized Rolex.

“It’s yours. For taking care of my son and his worthless friend.”

“I thought you were giving it to me.” Richie Boy protested from the steam machine, at which he was cleaning rings.

“Was, wasn’t. Sie gesund.” Manny snapped the watch on my wrist and I wore it with pride for years. Richie Boy and I became friends. Our interests ran the same; good music, night clubs,, beautiful women, and drinking. Manny’s term for our relationship was ‘asshole buddies’ It was a derogatory term. Richie Boy and I were straight. I discounted his bullshit. He had been born in Brownsville. Its motto was ‘Never ran never will’. Manny was a tough guy.

Richie Boy and I were Kings of the Night. We went everywhere. I was working for Manny. His son was able to order me around. His revenge had been a long time in coming, but I didn’t begrudge his come-upperance. I was getting old.

For Thanksgiving Eve 1992 we had been invited to a party at an apartment overlooking the staging grounds for the Macy’s Parade. Gigantic balloons loomed before the windows of our motorcycle friend RT. I drank a little too much too quick and told the story about meeting Richie Boy for the first time. I showed the guests the Pulsar watch.

“James Bond wore it in LIVE AND LET DIE.”

“Roger Moore wasn’t really James Bond,” a young man said and took the watch from my hand. He was a painter. The watch looked as good on his wrist as mine or Roger Moore. I argued for all the 007s and we drank tequila shots toasting the pantheon of James Bond girls. The taxi ride home was in a fog.

The next morning I woke up wishing that I had stayed home. Drinking at age 40 was more punishing than at 30. I reached for my watch. It wasn’t on the night table. It wasn’t anywhere in my apartment. I excavated the dregs of the evening and recalled the painter taking my watch. He had never returned the Pulsar to my possession. I called my hosts and told them of the incident. The painter had left town. I remembered his name. New York was a city of millions, but our scene was small.

Sooner or later he had to show up at a gallery opening or dinner or party.

I was wrong.

My watch was gone.


I saw one on 47th Street a month ago. The dealer wanted $1100. I cursed the painter and imagined my revenge, if I should meet him. The rendezvous wasn’t a long time coming, for this past weekend I had been waiting for a Chinatown bus. My nephew and his girlfriend came to have lunch with me. Matt and I drank three beers in an hour. His girlfriend only 2. I missed the 4PM bus and his girlfriend suggested that we visit the National Gallery.

We walked by the two score plus portraits of presidents guessing who was whom.

None of us were right about Buchanon.

On the 3rd floor was an exhibit of a modern painter. His name sound familiar. A couple of seconds later I said to Matt, “This guy stole my watch.”

“The Pulsar, right, Uncle Bubba.” Matt and I had spend time together. He had heard most of my stories. Some more than twice.


“Well, at least he is a good painter.”

The thief’s paintings portrayed fantastic apocalyptic vision. I admired his cartoonish prophecies, while raging about his ripping me off back in the last century. A tableau of arctic ice chilled my jets.

“You know you’re grandmother Nana said that if you lose something that it wasn’t yours to begin with?”

“Matt told me that too.” His girlfriend beamed at the bridging of the generational gap.

“Also about the nuns saying that there was a closet in heaven with everything you ever lost.”

“So I’ll have to wait until then to get my watch back.” There was a good chance that the artist had not stolen my watch, but I had lost it in the taxi. I liked my story better. Always true, if interesting.

“If you’re going to heaven.” Matt knew my non-belief of the afterlife.

“No ifs, buts, or ands. I’m hoping for alien abduction before the end.”

His girlfriend laughed at the inside joke. She was possibly family. We walked out of the National Gallery in a good mood. She hadn’t seen me key-scratch a painting. Matt had rolled his eyes at my crime. I was his Uncle Bubba and he knew it was always better to be a vandal than a thief.

As long as you never got caught.

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