Genealogical entropy, business naiveté, and some commuter confinement colored my yesterday. I finally had the pleasure of purchasing my fiancé's engagement ring, and I was intent on a memorable, cinematic day. Except like most of America, I didn't patronize: a) Tiffany's, b) DeBeers, or c) Zales, and hence avoided the commercially popular scene of 'man gallantly buying diamond for woman in fancy or cheesy store.' Nor, I am sorry to say, was there any mid-level orchestra playing pseudo-Vivaldi behind me.
I had a different sort of experience. You see, like many New York Jews, it turns out I have a family diamond connection, an exclusive, and highly coveted, diamond dealer who only services private referrals. Whose name is something along the lines of Sol. And of course, who lives in a gated community near Tony Soprano. And sure, he’s not really family, but the great uncle by marriage to the mother of my cousin’s spouse. Or something. And he's not really in business anymore (family lore says he was once the Diamond King of lower NY) but he'd be glad, he says, to do me a favor and show me some stones -- even though he's not very close with our 'connection.'
Can you feel the love?
Yes, well, I was intent to try despite numerous external forces working against me. This had the promise of being unforgettable in that Quentin Tarrantino goes Northeast sort of way. Or maybe in a more early-Philip Roth-like manner. At least that's what I began to think as I sat late in the day on the skirts of Newark inhaling toxins as the cops cleared a tractor trailer. It certainly was bound to be something. A lot of money was changing hand over state lines. Call the feds!
(Note to U.S. government: this story is fiction. Thanks, James Frey.)
Alas, frustrating boredom preceded the action. The drive out to Jersey from my temporary residence on Long Island was perhaps one of the more convincing reasons I’ve wanted to smack silly that one person who tells me I’m stupid to live in LA because of traffic. Suffice it to say, I crawled over the LIE into Manhattan to pick up my brother, who would serve as my “hired goon” for the day, and then inched home late at night. Total car time: seven hours. I could have driven from LA to a beautiful section of Baja, where I might dance around hats, high on cheap tequila. Without being within range of the cell tower that allowed one of my kind doctors to call and tell me my condition isn't improving.
(Feel like this medical comment is out of left field? Maybe it is. Stay tuned tomorrow for more on health issues. Blog posts, or narrative shards, as I'm calling them these days, aren't essays, so I don't have conform to essayistic logic. Take that, past MFA professors.)
The point, however, is that I did learn a lot in Bada Bing country. Sol, it turns out, had been lying to me from the beginning. After our initial consult, he said he’d call in two to three days to tell me the price of the setting before ordering the finished ring (instead, he called me nine days later to say my ring was ready and give me a total price--upstanding, no?).
Second, Sol said he’d provide an insurance appraisal and GIA certificate (instead he provided a certificate from the European Gemological Laboratory, which is respectable, but not the same organization). Then came Sol’s revealing diatribe about tax-related issues I can’t put in writing on the Internet. (Fiction, remember?!) Suffice it to say Jersey TV gangsters live there for a reason (and, yes, I’m aware they live in NY and on Long Island too; my grandfather, a former garment center pioneer, says he sold goods to Carlo Gambino in the ‘50s).
So I guess I should have expected Sol to overreact when I kindly asked him for a receipt after arriving at his quaint home yesterday.
We’re family, I said.
Then why do you need a receipt?
Because that seems like a reasonable way to do business?
Reasonable, what’s reasonable?
What is reasonable?
That's my point. ( What???)
Fine, I said. Let’s start with a more important issue: Why didn’t you just originally tell me the deal wouldn’t include a receipt? And why isn’t this a GIA certificate?
You want a receipt? he asked. I’ll make you out a bill of sale and charge you tax. This is the same thing as the GIA.
Then why isn’t it the GIA? If you had told me that beforehand, that would have perhaps been fine, but you waited until now for me to figure it out.
No problem, he said. I’ll just charge you tax on top of the price.
(Mind you, Sol did not address why he didn’t tell me about the certificate switcheroo.)
Who’s to say you didn’t already charge me tax? I said. You’re making up the price of something without an objective appraisal. A diamond no one can really assess.
Objective? We’re family. I’ve been doing this 62 years, he said.
Which is nice, Sol. And I appreciate your help. But you don’t have answers for my questions, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask politely why you changed things on me.
I’d rather eat the ring then give you a receipt, he said, smirking. I haven’t given anyone a receipt in 62 years. I'm not starting with you.
It’s not the receipt, I said. It’s the principle. (Ok, and some kind of receipt just saying this purchase existed?)
What, you want to return the ring in a year? Your gal’s just gonna put it on her finger and live her life. Look how beautiful this thing is!
Which is why I should have some form of respectable documentation for it. It’s the first big purchase, we, as a couple, will have to protect. Wouldn’t you advise your son to ask for a receipt?
No, he said. I don’t want my name on any piece of this endeavor. I’ll give you the insurance appraisal I promised. You wanna leave or stay?
And then Sol looked at me with his sun-wrinkled face, the dim light of his formica kitchen refracting burning rays off the diamonds straight into my glassy, tired eyes. I was an idiot. Why should I expect anything in the way of morals, trustworthiness, or logic from a man who sells diamonds on his kitchen table--or for that matter, who once owned a fancy diamond store? How do you even get into such a business? Where do you get the diamonds? How do you save your money? In rubber banded packages stowed away in safe-deposit boxes? Is there a shell company involved? (Or more to the point, what's it's name? Fiction, remember?) And what about the family connection? Why not just be straight with someone you can trust? Why do I have to beg a magazine for a $1,000 article I pay loads of tax on, when this guy can sell diamonds for tens of thousands of dollars without having to declare it? (f-i-c-t-i-o-n....)
I realized I was tired. I would get nowhere. I realized, for the umpteenth time the comedic unfairness of the world. I realized I promised my fiance a ring. I realized this one was gorgeous, and proven legit by others.
Let’s make the deal, Sol, I said. (The diamonds looked beautiful. An expert I trust had seen them as well, and by this point, I realized there was a way Sol rose through the ranks to get to a gated community, and it wasn’t being generous and straightforward to late twentysomething punks marginally related to his cousin’s kids.)
Ok, Sol said, but I don’t have your insurance appraisal just now. And you better rip up that receipt I gave you for your deposit check. Unless you want me to cash it.
What? Why? I don’t care if you cash my check, Sol. I’m not worried about my name being involved with this payment. Why don’t you have my insurance appraisal?
I’ll send it to you.
Fine, Sol. Here’s the money.
Thanks, I’ll count it.
Go ahead, Sol.
You’re two hundred dollars short.
I am? I just triple checked that, Sol.
You are. So am I supposed to trust you?
Lemme see, Sol, I said, digging into my pocket, where I found two hundred dollar bills I had taken out from the bank at the same time.
Ok, here they are, Sol.
Great. We’re in business! So you gonna surprise your gal in California?!
Yes, Sol. Be well, and thanks for your help.
You know, you’re really lucky platinum came down this week. The way it was going, I thought you might have to pay another $1,000.
Thanks for looking out for me, Sol.
No problem, pal! Use it in good health! …
CUT TO: half an hour later, after some cooling down time on the Turnpike, when my cellphone rings.
Andy? Aaron? Who’s this?
Sol, it’s me Adam.
Adam, I just recounted your money and you gave me $200 extra.
Are you kidding?
No, I’ll send it to you with the appraisal. You’ll get it in three days from a Mr. Sanford Wiselstein.
You’ll send me cash in the mail? I asked.
Nah, Sol said. It’s not a diamond. I’ll just send you a personal check.
UPDATE: An impartial appraiser has just confirmed Sol's assessment. I am pleased. With the ring...