Different Slants

Seeing the World from a New Angle

Joy’s Diamond Ring (5):Romance & Racketeers by Robert M. Katzman

Robert M. Katzman’s Amazing Story:  http://www.differentslants.com/?p=355

Part 5 (scroll down for parts 1-4)

Then very carefully guiding my hand, he tilted it so that all the valuable little critters fell neatly back into their glassine home, where all the inhabitants were equal.  He folded the top of the envelope over, returned the envelope to its appropriate slot on the black tray, surrounded by dozens of other such envelopes, and returned the tray to the yawning black safe behind him.  Buddy then placed his hand flat against the safe’s thick steel door and pushed it until I heard a distinct ‘click’ sound as it locked itself.

Buddy then showed me a nice-looking platinum ring with all its little prongs standing straight up, as if reaching for a stone to grasp.  They looked like tiny baby birds to me, stretching their necks, waiting to be fed.  I said it would be fine, in my vast experience as a connoisseur of jewelry.  Buddy nodded, and told me to wait there in his office and he would assemble the ring on the spot.

He placed the diamond I’d selected into the ring, right there in front of me, as I stood next to him at his workbench.  He carefully, skillfully, pressed down all of the prongs, as he slowly turned the ring to attend to each one in turn, to firmly hold the diamond in place.  Then he washed the assembled ring in some solution to make it sparkle.  He dried the ring, placed it inside of a little black velvet jeweler’s box and handed it to me.  That…was it.

He also handed me a certificate of authenticity stating the exact number of carats, or fraction thereof, the diamond’s color and other information my insurance company would need.  Buddy then signed and dated it as I watched him.

Then, I paid him.

In cash, of course.

My Dad’s relationship with Buddy and his presence in Buddy’s office with me that day assured me that everything was kosher, as we say, even about a Lutheran.  But Buddy the Hun was no ordinary Lutheran.

My Dad’s world was neatly divided into either “us” or “them”—Friend or Foe.  It was a crucial difference and all that mattered.  To him, and now to me, too, Buddy was “us”.

And also, my Dad told me that I received much more diamond than I could ever have afforded to pay for otherwise, at that time.

Where did all those diamonds come from?

(Read on …)

Joy’s Diamond Ring (4):Romance & Racketeers…by Robert M. Katzman

Robert M. Katzman’s Amazing Story:  http://www.differentslants.com/?p=355

Part 4 (scroll down for parts 1-3)

After Buddy was released from ‘The Slammer’, as my Dad always phrased it, his relationship with my Dad resumed like nothing had ever interrupted it, like World War II, for example.

Buddy the Hun was unavailable to serve his country in that war because he was already serving his sentence in that same government’s Federal Penitentiary.

When they had their first post-prison reunion in 1951, Buddy was trying to decide how to make a living.  My Dad suggested Buddy try becoming a jeweler like he himself had done, after the war.  My Dad laid it out for him: No heavy lifting, the merchandise would never break down, like say, a washing machine, for instance, and (not a small part of my Dad’s reasoning in this situation of career repair) it was distinctly possible to run a store selling jewelry as a cash business.

Buddy the Hun thought it over, especially the ‘cash business’ aspect of it.  Because to Buddy’s way of thinking, he wanted nothing further to do with the Federal Government of the United States—including paying any taxes.  He figured he’d already paid them enough in years of his life.

Buddy knew he had lines-of-credit waiting for him, and he was also fairly certain he could obtain an ample supply of easy-to-move merchandise like diamonds and watches.  What he didn’t know, like how to convincingly portray himself as an experienced jeweler, he would learn.  And his old pal Izzy would be there to help him, as long as it took.

So, with old chits to collect for time served, Buddy the Hun became Buddy the Jeweler, by appointment only.

Time passed.

Decades.

Now we’re back in December 1977.

A week before I made the decision to propose marriage to Joyce, I called my Dad—the former jeweler—and asked him where I should go to buy her a ring, since I knew nothing about jewelry, carats or what something like that should cost.  Being a jeweler wasn’t genetic.

My Dad told me he knew a guy “who would take good care of me”, and to let him make a phone call to arrange a meeting, first.  I said ok.

A couple of days later, on December 27th, my Dad called me and told me to meet him Downtown at 5 North Wabash, under the elevated tracks, or in other words…at the location of his former store from long ago.  He must have thought I had no recollection of his place, but I did.

He told me he had an old friend there, a guy named Buddy the Hun, who would sell me a ring on December 31st, the same day I planned to propose.

I first thought, 

“Buddy the Hun?  Is he serious?” 

(Read on …)

Joy’s Diamond Ring (3):Romance & Racketeers…by Robert M. Katzman

Robert M. Katzman’s Amazing Story:  http://www.differentslants.com/?p=355

Part 3 (scroll down for parts 1-2)

In the furniture store’s office, there was a secretary who answered the phones and did all the filing as the various orders came through from all the salesmen who worked there.  She was a young black woman who set up all the appointments, called “leads” (and pronounced like “leeds”) for my father and the other salesmen to go out and try to make sales.  She was a pretty woman—I met her several times when I was a child—with a big smile and a friendly, cooperative attitude.  She was very popular with all the salesmen.

Her name was Lorene.

One morning, in 1958, when my father came in as usual to pick up another stack of leads waiting for him in his box on the wall so he could contact potential customers and make arrangements to see them, he was surprised to see Lorene sitting at her desk, quietly crying.  He had never seen this happen before.

After a moment, not sure if he should intrude in her privacy, he asked Lorene what was the matter?  Was she sick? Did one of her relatives die?  Could he help her somehow?  My father was very chivalrous and protective of women, and seeing her sitting there crying in that office was disturbing to him.  He told me all about this incident years later, just like he told me one hundred other stories about his life.

Lorene blew her nose, wiped her eyes and told my father that she’d broken up with her boyfriend because he was always drunk and he kept hitting her.  Now he was stalking her and refused to leave her alone no matter how much she pleaded with him.  She was terrified and felt she was at his mercy.

My father became angry upon hearing her words.  A completely different situation than he was expecting from her.  Flowers wouldn’t do it, this time.  He had three sisters including his baby sister Estelle, then 34 and now 86.  In my father’s immigrant world, no one touched the women.  A rule had been broken.

My father asked Lorene for her former boyfriend’s phone number.  She hesitated, unsure what this friendly Jewish man had in mind.  But then she wrote the boyfriend’s number on a scrap of paper and handed it to him.  My father assured Lorene he would solve her problem.  That was his whole persona.  He would either become the Lone Ranger himself, or knew where to find someone else who would assume the role.

A few days later, my father came into the furniture store to pick up his leads from Lorene, and she quietly asked him to step inside of her little office.  He went in there, waited and then she whispered to him,

“What did you say to him?  My boyfriend called me up last night screaming about cement shoes or something like that and then told me he was through with me, that we were over.  He said he’d never, ever call me or follow me again.  What did you do?”    

(Read on …)

Joy’s Diamond Ring (2):Romance & Racketeers…by Robert M. Katzman

Robert M. Katzman’s Amazing Story:  http://www.differentslants.com/?p=355

Part 2: (scroll down for part 1)

About a year prior to that evening at the Kinzie Steakhouse, I once read an item in a movie magazine about actor Richard Burton, giving his wife, Elizabeth Taylor, a ridiculously enormous diamond ring.  I remember dismissively saying to Joy that for a diamond that large, a person could go to Europe twenty times.  I said that would be a far better use of money, in my opinion.

I am certain that Joy silently filed this unwelcome comment from me in her mental file cabinet under,

Bob: Clueless!!  

However, like numerous other people have in my life, she underestimated me.  Her shock at receiving the diamond ring that night was also a subtle jolt from me to her that I was far more aware about what was important to her than she had previously assumed.  It certainly redefined our relationship on that wintery December night in 1977 when I asked Joy to marry me.

So…okay, a nice romantic moment, yes?

Maybe, but not nearly as fascinating a story as where Joy’s ring came from.  Because on the morning of December 31, 1977, that diamond ring did not exist.  Yet.

What follows now, is the truly convoluted story of the long, long journey leading to the creation of Joy’s diamond ring.  I suppose I’m writing this story for my granddaughter Natalia, and her soon-to-be sibling and cousin whom are both presently on the way.  The next generation should know about these intricate old family stories. 

In 1939, when my talented and artistic mother, Anne, then only 18 years old, was already designing detailed, imaginative jewelry.  Although her parents, who were from the Jewish Pale in Eastern Europe, were not in that business and her father was essentially a peddler to other immigrants near the steel mills located at the southwestern shore of Lake Michigan, the Chicago-area Jewish community was still small enough so that she was able to befriend, through friends of friends, some of the veteran jewelers working Downtown on Wabash Street.  For a curvaceous pretty girl, which she certainly was, doors frequently opened more easily for her than they might have opened for any man.

These old men whom she gradually came to know, turned her designs into reality, and as those finished designs sold, my mother began to make a name for herself in the tight little world of men who handled diamonds, rubies and pearls every day.

One of those unusual people I can still remember from over fifty years ago was a very old, very short man named Sander Goldstein.  He appeared to me to be a formally-dressed and always laughing…elf.

He always wore a white dress shirt, a black vest, had thick-lensed glasses with gold wire frames plus a jeweler’s loop—a kind of high-powered miniature magnifying glass inside of a small black plastic tube—with him at all times.  He had a wispy angelic-looking fringe of fine white hair, was round-shouldered from endlessly sitting hunched over his cluttered work table for so many decades, skillfully placing precious stones in gold, silver and platinum settings.  He also repaired broken watches and necklaces.

In 1955, when I was five years old, I thought he must have been at least one hundred years old.  I still do.

(Read on …)

Joy’s Diamond Ring (1):Romance & Racketeers…by Robert M. Katzman

Robert M. Katzman’s Amazing Story:  http://www.differentslants.com/?p=355

Not your usual love story.

A Chicago West Side tribal immigrant’s tale, encompassing:  Friendship, Jewelry and Gangsters.

A puzzle with so many pieces, all steadily adding up to Joy’s diamond ring.

 

On December 31, 1977, New Year’s Eve, I invited my long-time love, Joyce Esther Bishop, then 27, to dinner at a famous old Chicago steakhouse.  Specifically, The Kinzie Steakhouse, but which is now far better known today as Harry Caray’s Steakhouse, after the now deceased and legendary Chicago radio announcer for the Chicago White Sox baseball team, famously remembered for yelling: “HOLY COW!!” after every home run hit by the home team.

Aside from Joy’s full-time day job working in the city, she also worked at my original Hyde Park store, Bob’s Newsstand, every weekend.  She was either selling newspapers, stuffing the Sunday newspaper’s weekend components inside each paper or keeping an eye on all the numerous part-time employees and/or the endless stream of customers.

This was back in the days when Chicago still had four separate daily newspapers and was the last remaining American city to be so blessed.  Now there are only two Chicago newspapers left, both post-bankruptcy, and in their present (2010) shrunken and sensationalized formats, they would have seemed other worldly to either of us in 1977.

The then fiercely competitive conservative Chicago Daily Tribune and the more liberal Democratic Chicago Sun-Times, were rich and mighty Midwestern icons of journalism, seemingly able to last forever, just thirty-two years ago.  What happened?

Joy was certain that I loved her, since I told her so every single day (and still do).  I was also convinced that she loved me too, in the unmistakable ways women get that idea across to the objects of their affection.

But crowding twenty-eight years of age, Joy seemed to want a further level of commitment from me.   With unmarried women, the status quo is an unacceptable status.  I was conscious of how she felt and I resolved to make her happy.  She wanted to put a collar on me, and a leash, too, I guessed, so that night I decided to ask her if I could be her pet for life.  I already had my shots, and she was well aware that I hadn’t been neutered, either.

(Read on …)