Old Brownie



Neighborhood: Midtown

Old Brownie
Photo by Peter Nolan Smith

Yesterday was a quiet day on 47th Street. A winter snow was having its way with New York City. Snow piled up on the street. The porters had a hard time clearing the sidewalk and I was having difficulty looking busy. There was nothing to do.

No one came into the store.

No dealers, no gypsies, and no customers.

“I don’t know why I had you come in.” Manny was at his desk. The 84 year-old had taken a taxi to work.

“Hlove is at the doctor and your son is stuck in Vermont.” My work partner wasn’t feeling well and Manny’s son was trapped by snowdrifts in Stratton. Richie Boy was a better than good skier. “Of course we could close early and go home.”

“You’d like that.” Manny thought that I hadn’t worked a day in my life, even though an eight-hour shift with him was like a week at a steel mill. Heavy intensive labor like in A DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH.

“Why not?” It was Two O’Clock. Everyone else was packing up early.

“Because we’re the only store open. Something has to happen.”

I looked out the window. The snow was pelting pedestrians.

“You’re right, but don’t bother me.”

“Why should I disturb you from doing nothing?”

“My thoughts exactly.” I was here. I actually wanted to make a sale. I needed money.

Same as Manny.

“The next customer is mine,” claimed Manny.

“Not a chance. You can’t even hear what anyone is saying.”

Manny had lost his hearing aid at his favorite bar. He hated when I joked that he had lent it to a friend.

“I can hear fine.”

“But only when you’re in a foul mood.”

Then he heard what he wanted.

“A hero. That’s what I have. A fucking hero.” Manny and I went back over thirty years. We could say what we wanted about each other. It was never personal, only on this day an hour passed without us saying a word to each other. Manny was talking on the phone to his girlfriend in Fort Lauderdale. It wasn’t snowing in Florida.

Only Big Dave was in the exchange. The other stores were closing for the day. Camillia was packing up the antiques across the aisle and even Mrs. Sidel was gone. The old lady was usually the last to go, but today even commuting to 5th Avenue was going to be hell.
Luckily I only had to go to Brooklyn.

Around 4 the door opened for a woman in a down coat. She was nearing 50. Her face was red from the cold. She shook off the snow and approached our counter. Her brown hair was streaked with gray. I liked her green eyes. They said she was a good person.

Manny struggled to get up from his desk. His hip was shot and I beat him to the shot.

“Can I help you?” I was wearing a suit and tie with rubber boots.

No one could see them from the other side of the counter.

“Yes, I’m looking for a 5-carat diamond.” She took off her gloves.

A small diamond ring was on her wedding finger. The band squeezed her flesh. I sized the stone for under a carat. She was looking for a long-overdue upgrade.

“I have a beauty in the window. A JSI1 for $65000.”

“I don’t want to spend that much.”

“How much do you want to spend?” Diamonds were a commodity. Price was determined by cut, clarity, color, and carat.


“$5000?” exclaimed Manny. “There’s no way you can buy a 5-carat diamond for that much money.”

“I have one stone for that much, but it’s really brown.”

“We have a stone like that?”

“Yes.” I knew everything that was in stock and recalled an ugly stone hiding like a troll in the safe.

“It’s a five-carat brownie oblong-cut.” There was no designation on the GIA charts for its color.

“What’s its clarity?”

Clarity is one of the 4Cs of diamonds. The best classification is IF for internal flawless and next comes VVS or very very small inclusions, which is the industry’s polite term for flaws. VS stands for very small inclusions. SI means Slightly Included followed by Included when a diamond has visible inclusions (i.e. feathers, carbon, clouds, and needles).

This diamond was a class all of its own and I answered, “XB.”

“XB?” The woman and Manny said at the same time.

“Yes, extremely bad.” It looked like someone stuck a cigarette out in a cup of coffee, which froze overnight.

“I’ll show you.”

I went into the safe and pulled out the diamond ring.

It was dreck and Manny examined it, “If you had that much black in you, they’d take you to the hospital.”

“What’s your name?” I asked putting the ring on her finger. It fit perfectly.


“I don’t mind selling this to you, but it would be wiser buying a smaller stone on better quality.”

“Like a one-carat? I already have that. I want a 5-carat diamond.” She pointed to the stone. “That’s five, right?”


“And it cost $5000.”

I checked the tag.

Manny had paid $4000 for it.

“It’s yours.”

“I wouldn’t buy it,” said Manny.

“Then how did it get in the safe?” Marjorie pulled out a wad of $100 bills. They were all new.

“I did someone a favor.”

“And I’m doing this woman a favor.” I warned him with a glare to shut up.

Manny might have been old, but he knew that getting that much money on a snowy day was close to a miracle.

After Marjorie left, Manny warned, “She’ll be back.”

He hated giving back money.

“Maybe.” Manny had a funny way of being right and the next day Marjorie showed up with a bald man in tow.

He looked very contrite.

“See, I told you.” Manny was happy to be right.

“Don’t be so sure.”

She was wearing the ring, which was a good sign, and she introduced the man.

“This is my husband. We’ve been married for 25 years and for the last two years he’s said he’d get me a 5-carat stone for our anniversary, didn’t you, honey?”

“Yes.” His voice belonged to a beaten man.

Manny minded his business and dug through his papers.

We weren’t giving back the $5000.

“And?” I had to ask.

“Last night we had a party for our 25th and I showed everyone this diamond. “

“I haven’t heard the end of it.” The man was beyond misery.

“25 years and this is what you got your wife? And that was from his family.”

I could only imagine what the in-laws said.


“So my loving husband wants to buy me a 5-carat stone. What do you have that’s really nice?”

The man looked at me for mercy.

I sold him the JSI1 for $78,000.

The man wrote a check to Manny.

My boss was pissed that I was right about selling a mitziah.

I pulled the woman aside and asked, “Does the first stone figure into the deal?”

“Not at all. I sort of like it, because it makes him look bad.”

After concluding the deal the couple left and Manny came up to me.

“Well, that goes to prove one thing. All stones are beautiful, if you sell them.”

As always Manny was right.

OPEN CITY declared Peter Nolan Smith an underground punk legend of the 1970s East Village. During the last century the New England native spent many years as a nightclub doorman in New York, Paris, London, and Hamburg. More recently he was appointed the unofficial writer-in-residence to an embassy in Mittel Europa. The constant traveler has lived for long periods of time in Tibet and the Far East. He is currently based in Fort Greene, New York and Thailand researching the secrets of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as well as putting the final touches on BACK AND FORTH his historical semi-fictional book about hitchhiking across the USA in 1974.

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