The 2013 Christmas season had been a disaster on 47th Street.

Back in the 1990s I usually sold close to a quarter of a million in jewelry and my commissions provided a healthy six-month cushion for the winter, however in 2013 my sales from Thanksgiving to the Winter Equinox totaled less than $25000. After Xmas Richie Boy didn’t need my services and my commish would carry my expenses only into the second week of January. He needed money and a lot of it, for his firm along with most ground-floor stores in the Diamond District were adrift in dangerous waters.

After New Year’s Manny, my octogenarian boss, complained that the lack of sales was due to how we set up the window.

“You have to spread out the rings. Show people what we have.” Manny roamed the street looking at other firm’s windows. Any shop with customers inside it had to be doing something right. Our exchange was a morgue. We had very few diamond rings in the case.

No one-carat stones for the common man.

Everything was a big ticket item and the rich weren’t shopping on 47th Street.

n y before New Year’s I came into the city from Brooklyn to drop off pearls. I met Sammie at Richie Boy’s counter. I gave him his goods and he returned my memo.

“I’ve never seen a Christmas like this.” Sammie had been in the business over thirty years.

“The jewelry business is dead.” I had been working on the street since 1990.

“Why do you say that?” asked a Hassidic Rebbi. Sol was renown for his wisdom. Many of his followers were diamond merchants. He must have heard their moans.

“Prices went up. Customers don’t want to come into the city. They see the ads for Zales and Jared and hit the malls, but mostly people shop online. For everything. No one even knows 47th Street exists.” I had excuses galore for the collapse of our industry.

“That’s rubbish,” grumbled Manny from his desk. He regarded idle talk as a waste of time. “Hard work is what makes a business flourish.”

“How do you hard work yourself out of this hole?” Sammie was seriously seeking an answer.

“It won’t be easy. The street has to advertise itself. Our old customers are dying off. We need new blood, but most people under forty never buy jewelry, because they can’t commit to a relationship. All they have are their smart phones and smart phones don’t need diamonds.”

“You don’t know nothing,” smirked Manny. He had been in the business for over sixty years.

“Have you ever seen it this bad?” Sol demanded in a quiet tone. The rebbi didn’t want anyone to know what he thought of the economic climate.

“I got robbed for a half-million dollars. That was a bad time during a time of good money. All we have to do is make one good sale and everything will be fine.” Manny waved his hands in the air like he was trying to conjure a rich customer from thin air. The exchange remained empty. “But when that is, I don’t know.”

“What do you know?” The Rebbi stepped closer to the counter.

“I know nothing,” Manny admitted in an unexpected display of honesty.

“Then you are the smartest man on the street, for anyone with all the answers hasn’t heard all the questions.” The Rebbi blessed Manny and walked into the cold winter air.

Sammie and I looked at each other.

“So ignorance is a blessing?” Sammie buttoned his jacket. He had to go to see a pearl merchant in Chinatown.

“Socrates said, to know, is to know that you know nothing. That is the meaning of true knowledge.”

“Sounds like Greek bullshit to me.” Manny waved for us to leave. “I have work to do, not bullshit to hear, you beatnik bums.

“Happy New Year, Manny.” I wished the old man. Manny and I went back in the years. Many of them had been good and I hoped for more to come, if we were lucky. He slipped an envelope filled with $100 bills across the counter.

“I wish it was more.”

“I wish I had sold more.” For his sake as well as mine.

“Maybe 2014 will be different, but what do I know?”

“Nothing. Just like me.” Ignorance was always easier to achieve than enlightenment.

“Exactly. Come back later and we’ll have a drink. Maybe two.”
My boss dug into his pile of papers. The answer to his problems wasn’t in his bills, but it was better to look where it wasn’t than where it was with only one day left in 2013.

Nothing really bad could happen in that time, especially when ignorance is blessed by a rebbi.

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