Strangers with Candy

A little after midnight, an A train rolled north. I'd been in Brooklyn, had a few drinks at a party, and had my late-night whiskers on (read: no iPhone gazing, no music playing, making shifty eyes at the other passengers on the ride). The A train, normally the fastest of the fastest, was going local for the rest of the run. I sunk into my seat. It was going to be a long ride home.

At 59th Street a wave of people entered, including a short man in a pair of jeans and a coat. His visage was like a Billy Goat, a long face, accented chin with a tuft of brown curly hair, prominent cheek bones and eyebrows. He sat right next to me. He turned to me at his right, looked me up and down, and then asked about the train.

"Is it going local?" he asked.

"Yes," I said.

"I just left seeing my son, such a long day, I can't wait to get home," he said. Expressing disdain for delayed trains or local trains is like the New York equivalent of complaining about a suburban car accident that locks up a lifeline bridge. 

I could only nod at this. I never was one for complaining about delays.

"It was my baby's mother's birthday, so I brought her some gifts," he said. Then quickly after, "we're not together anymore but, you know, to thank her for everything she does."

"Oh that's really nice," I said. We continued to talk, sharing bits of information about ourselves until he held up his cell phone.

"How about I show you something, but you have to pick one," he said. I turned my head away.

"I don't play this game," I said back, imagining a dick pic in waiting. 

"It's not bad, it's not bad, I promise," he said. He uncovered his screen with his hand, and I slowly turned back to look at it. It's a picture of 10 diamond and platinum solitaire rings in a velvet ring display case.

"What is this?" I asked. He laughed.

"Pick a ring," he said. "I'm a diamond designer."

"Wha?" I said. He chuckled and looked down at his t-shirt and baggy jeans, it was apparent to him that he looked more like a rapper and less like a diamond designer. I flushed instantly, realizing that I had put him into a box.

"I went to prison a few years back, and when I was in there I met a guy. He got into a huge fight and I backed him up. Turns out, he was the son of a famous jeweler. Gave me a job. Now I design for all the rappers," he said, and trailed off a list of names I knew very, very well. He flipped through his photos to a gold chain with a gigantic piece of gold hanging off the end, the diamonds hadn't been put on it. "I did this one, it's not done yet. Costs a couple hundred thousand."

"Wow," I said.

He flipped back to the first picture of all the rings. 

"So pick one, come to the store, I'll make it for you," his lips parted into a grin. 

"Ah, no, no, no, no," I said shaking my head and laughing nervously. We all know a mirage when we see one; a stranger on the train offering diamonds seems like a trap. The New Yorker in me wants to say, "I wasn't born yesterday." 

He laughed. "I don't want anything in return," he said. The train slid into 125th street. "You're beautiful, you deserve a ring."

"I have a boyfriend," I said with hesitation. This wasn't the usual annoying stranger on a train, I actually worried about making him sad. There was a softness to his personality that differentiated him from the drooling men in the bars. 

"Bring him in," he says. He stands up as the train pulls to a stop. Then he takes my right hand to shake it, but doesn't let go of it. "You promise me you'll stop by the store?"

"Yes," I said.

"I'll get your number?" he said.

"I'll just--"

"Come by the store," he said finishing my sentence. He released my hand. Then he exits. 

I already know: I'm not going to visit his store. 



A few months go by and spring arrives. The diamond designer's boss is front page news in the business section of the New York Times and the story the designer told me, checks out. I tell this to a friend, including the part about the article in the paper. 

"You have to go to the store," she said. "Those are probably sample rings he makes, and probably doesn't need anymore. I work in retail, I know these things. Just go check it out, just go see. I would go." 

My other friend, equally as cautious as I am, shook her head. "I disagree. Why would anyone offer free diamonds without anything in return?"

"They'll sit in a locked room forever, probably or get thrown away," my retail-friend said. 

Two more months passed after that. Summer came and with it my office summer Fridays (in Manhattan the media companies let their employees off of work at 2 pm). On June 3, the first one of the year, I took a typical walk through midtown east, crossing 56th street to go west. Without realizing, I landed in front of his jewelry store. The window signs had pictures of their most opulent designed rings. I didn't even pause there, I kept blazing my trail west. 

This Friday, the same thing. The same accidental run-in, but this time with there newest store under construction closer to Madison Avenue. The writer in me itched to push the button with all the warning signs and hazard tape, just to see what was on the other side. It's a typical problem. To go, or not go. To make a story or to be safe. To buy a plane ticket, or not. To go on a date in Paris, or hole up in an apartment and write. To party with strangers at the Hong Kong Sevens, or go to bed early. To walk across the Brooklyn Bridge or settle on reliable old Manhattan for an afternoon. 

I was early for an appointment at Le Parker Meridien, so I flopped in a Starbucks to kill the time. My head was spinning. I know when a soon-to-be post crosses my path. This was it. This was the deciding moment. 

"Ariel, this is easy," I said to myself. I took out my phone, opened up a blank Evernote screen and typed in: "To do: Buy your own damn diamonds." 

That was that.