BET ON CRAZY by Peter Nolan Smith / The 4Cs – Color

The last week of January I was hurrying down the sidewalk on West 47th Street. I had been on the job since my friend Richie Boy had busted both his knees skiing at Jackson Hole. My watch read 9:35. I was late for the third time this week and it was only Wednesday.
Lenny the bum was standing in front of Berger’s Deli. His lightly-clothed body was steaming in the sub-zero temperature. Fat people generate a lot of heat.

“Can you give a little?” Lenny said to a passing Hassidim diamond dealer and then pointed a quivering finger. “There’s the goy who gave me a dollar yesterday. The good goy, Damien.”

“His name isn’t Damien___” The dealer recognized me from Manny’s store.

“I like the name Damien fine.” I couldn’t resist Lenny’s utter helplessness. “You want a bagel?”

“From Berger’s? That’s not kosher.” The Deli had been operating on 47th Street for decades.

“Just what the world has been waiting for, a finicky bum,” The Hassidim laughed, but Lenny cringed with hurt and shambled off with a mutter.

“I’m not finicky, I just don’t eat tref. See you, Damien.”

Berger’s was definitely kosher, though not dairy glatt, and I crossed the street. It was 9:38. Manny was in the front window, tapping his watch.

I entered the exchange and Manny said, “Every day you’re late. Two minutes, five minutes, fifteen minutes. Why can’t you get here on time?”

“I try.” I got up at 8. Somehow 90 minutes weren’t enough time to shower, dress, and get from East 10th Street to Midtown. “I’ve taken the N train, the L, the 4. None of them are faster.”

“So leave a little earlier.”

“Okay.” I took off my leather coat and hung it over my chair. Richie Boy and Domingo were running late too. Nothing really happened on the street until lunch.

“Okay what? Okay you’ll be on time?” Manny handed me a tray from the safe. The metal box contained the heavy goods for the front window.
Diamond necklaces and engagement rings.

“Manny, when you going to teach me about diamonds?” If I was going to sell diamonds, I needed some basic knowledge.

“What’s there to teach?” Manny had little time for on-the-job training. “You do what I tell you and you can’t go wrong.”

“Yeah, but here are two 3-carat diamonds.” I held up two engagement rings in 14k gold; a marquise and round stone. “Both the same size, color, and clarity, but they don’t cost the same.”

“I told you about the 4Cs.” Manny sighed with exasperation. He hated wasting any time from his beloved paperwork.

“Carat, color, clarity, and cut.” These 4Cs determined the price of a diamond. “Your lesson lasted three minutes.”

“What you expect to know everything in a week? A month? A year?” Manny motioned to speed up setting out the goods in the window.

“No, I listen to what you tell customers and you inevitably tell them every stone is a G VS, unless it has a certificate from the GIA.”

“I hate the GIA.” Manny had no confidence in the Gemological Institute of America, having sent several stones for certification only to have them come back a lesser grade than his original estimation. “Upstarts.”

“They’ve been around since 1931.”

“And I’ve been around since 1925.” Manny was a little younger than my father. “So I beat them. They think that they’re the be all and end all of diamonds. We never sold those stones on the Bowery. Only when my hero and your friend, Richie Boy, moved me up here did I have to deal with GIA stones and that 4Cs crap.”

“It’s not crap.” Richie Boy entered the store on crutches and lifted the counter top. The braces had come off his legs, so he was able to wear his suits again. Armani, Zegna, Calvin Klein. I had inherited several hand-me-downs. They were little small on me, but better than a 20 year-old suit from Jaeger.

“It’s crap. The G comes into the store for a 1-carat stone. He doesn’t know a D color from a J, but he knows how much he has in his pocket. He has $3000. You tell him the stone is G VS. He has $4000. You tell him G VS. He has $2000. You tell him G VS, because what he wants is a white clean stone for the right price. Nice and easy.”

“Except if he has $10,000 in his pocket and he wants a 2-carat F SI stone. Then your formula gets shit-canned.” Richie folded his cashmere coat and hung it behind the safe. “Manny, the GIA helps the customers and it helps us. Get used to it.”

The telephones ringing ended this discussion. Richie Boy and Manny answered them, while I filled the window with rings, necklaces, tennis bracelets, pins, pearls, chokers, and antiques.

“Manny’s nervous enough to make a statue twitch.” Richie Boy hobbled to my side. “Do us a favor and don’t wind him up.”

“All I asked was about the difference in diamond prices.”

“It took Manny 50 years to know what he knows and doesn’t know. Leave him alone. If you want to learn about diamonds, just keep your ears open. In the meanwhile, run this setting up to Eenon to pick out 20 stones. G SI. Five pointers. Got it.”

“And afterwards the stones will be G VS?” 100 points made up a carat, so five pointers were 1/20th of a carat.
“It’s what the ‘G’s want.”

All customers were ‘G’s, not because they were goyim like myself, but they always asked for a G color stone like Manny said. I left the store and headed down the street to the front of a 9-story building.

Lenny was by the entrance front mumbling about deBeers.

His audience consisted of errant snowflakes, as everyone rushed about on their chores. He was too drunk to notice my entering the building and I got in a packed elevator, pressing the button for the 8th floor.

A skinny Hassidic setter hadn’t bathed since the Deluge of Noah. I breathed through my mouth until the 8th floor.

Eenon’s office was at the end of a bleak corridor. The walls were a weak lime green and the overhead neon lights fluttered at the end of a long life. Room 805 was magnetically locked and I rang the buzzer, then lifted my face to the CCTV. The door clicked open and I stepped in the waiting room. An old man face popped into the tiny window.

Eenon’s father resembled a featherless chicken and I heard him say, “The goy is here.”
Goy and Damien were my two new names on 47th Street.

His father opened the door and indicated that I should sit on a metal folding chair. The small room was decorated with battered desks on which weighing scales were lit by brilliant lamps.
Eenon looked up from a parcel of small diamonds with a smile.

“Ach, it is the goy.” Eenon was my age. He liked calling me ‘the goy’, because there were so few gentiles working on 47th Street. “What does Manny want now?”

“20 five-pointers. G SI.”

“He’s willing to pay $550 per carat?” Eenon asked like he hadn’t heard me right.

“I think so. What’s the difference between $500 and $550?”

“A good question.” Eenon usually had a little time to speak with me, probably because I was his only contact with the goyim. He reached over to the pile of loose stones with long-nosed tweezers and placed two small stones on a folded piece of white paper.

“The price is determined by the usual factors. Color, clarity, cut, and carat size. No matter what the size. Look at these two stones. Each one is a 20-pointer. Same cut and clarity and both are the same color. Different costs.”

“And you can tell the difference?” They appeared to both be white to me.

“My father taught me the difference, although when he was learning they called the stones different colors. D was Jager. E and F were River. G and H were Wesselton. I-J were Top Silver, K-L were Top Cape and the rest to Z were designated as Cape to Yellow.”

“Why you wasting your time telling ‘the goy’ this?” His father was seated at his desk, sorting tiny diamonds, each one a glitter under the electric light of his lamp.

“Because he asked a question.”

“You know why they called Wesselton ‘Wesselton’ or Jager ‘Jager’?” The old man pushed back his sleeve. A tattoo was burnt into his wrist, a concentration camp souvenir.

“No.” Eenon answered with a grin.

“What’s so funny? You think you’re tricking an alte kakher into being the goy’s teacher.”

“No one said you were an old man.” Eenon was fluent in English, Hebrew, and Yiddish. “I want him to know the right thing and not lies.”

“Being honest is easier than lying.” His father tsked with the cluck of his tongue. “Zo, Wesselton was the name of a South African mine. The stones out of it were G-H in color. People called E and F River, but no one uses those terms anymore.”

“Same with Jager?” Eenon was not through digging.

“Any more questions are $1 dollar.”

“What is Jager?” I put a dollar on the desk.”

The old man plucked a diamond from an envelope. Maybe a 90-pointer. Almost a carat. There was no mistaking the gin-clear color was a D.

“Jager is the finest diamond color. Why they call it “Jager’?”

He motioned with his hand and I put down another dollar.

“It came from the Jagerfontein Mine.”

“The word means hunter in German and fontein probably means fountain.” I had taken the language in high school.

“Jaeger.” The old man’s eyes narrowed. “Maybe you aren’t such a stupid goy after all.”

“I try.” It was the first syllable in ‘triumph’ and I learned that from a proverb on a Salada tea bag.

“One more thing and this is a free answer, because you didn’t ask it. Color is determined by the lack of nitrogen in a stone. The more nitrogen, the yellower the stone.”

“Thanks.” I liked freebies.

“Here are your stones?” Eenon gave me a paper parcel. He had written 20 stones = 1.04 and I signed a memo for the goods.

“When is your boss going to pay for these?”

“Wer wisst.” Manny was a notorious slow payer.

“Who knows?” Eenon’s father shook his head. “I like this goy more and more. Sie gesund.”

“Thanks for the lesson.” Eenon had never explained the difference between 500 per carat and 550 per carat diamonds.

I left the office and went to the elevator. and took it to the ground floor.

Out on the street Lenny was leaning against the wall.

Across the street Manny was in the window.

He would have never told me about Wesselton and I doubted if he knew about Jager. If he did, he wasn’t saying, because the best secrets are the ones you never tell.


Post a Comment

Your email is never shared. Required fields are marked *