It is the summer of 1983, a good six months after my very first trip to Sri Lanka. The prize gem from that six-week journey remains unsold: a spectacular alexandrite, weighing 2.95 carats. The alexandrite is referred to as “ ruby by night and emerald by day” due to an optical phenomenon, known as “change of color”. I work as a waiter by night and a gem dealer by day. The difference, of course, is that my change is due to “job selection” while the change in alexandrites is due to “selective transmission and absorption” of light waves, but enough of that. The stone pictured here is not the stone I refer to but one with a very similar change of color, once photographed by the late Tino Hammid for Modern Jeweler.
Already fast asleep, I bolt up to answer the phone. The late Mike Waitzman, with whom I had worked during my tenure at the GIA, has called to ask me to come over to his apartment. He would like to show the alexandrite to a client the following day. He apologizes for calling at this hour, but he has just returned with his Mom from a fishing trip to Mexico and has been telling her all about my promising career, blah, blah, blah. Heck, she could meet me and we could share a glass of wine. What do you think?
An eager beaver in need to sell, I jump out of bed, throw my clothes on and grab my satchel. I notice the car is low on gas, but it is just a few miles away and I don’t delay. I pull up to his building, dark except for the lights from his upstairs apartment. The night is very warm. The door is left wide open. Mom is a hoot. She had been in the jewelry business for years, that is, until she and her husband were pistol-whipped and robbed. A large screen TV blares Star Wars. We drink wine.
Two nylon-masked men burst into the apartment wielding pistols. My first thought is “That’s funny!” And I mean “funny ha-ha” turning into “funny-weird” and immediately turning into “This is not funny”. They order us to face down on the carpet. I surrender my watch, a stainless steel Rolex Oyster Perpetual that my Dad had bought in Kuwait in 1952. Mrs. Waitzman keeps looking up at the “perps “and is told to “Get back down, old lady, before I shoot you!” One holds us at gunpoint in the bathroom while the other ransacks the apartment. We are then told to step out, one by one. As I step out, a pistol is jammed into my temple. The three of us are then barricaded in a closet. One leg is shaking out of control in the dark. It is mine. After what seems forever, Mike puts his shoulder into it and we force the door open. I rush to the table where I left it. There it is, the precious stone paper. I feel it, unfold it. Yes! Destiny.
It is now 2:00a.m. The police finally arrive and fill out their reports. My satchel, wallet, money are all gone. Ten thousand dollars worth of stones I held on loan from other dealers; gone. Mike scrounges a few quarters for my gas. I leave the alexandrite and stick to the game plan.
A bearded man waits at the island of the all night gas station as I pull up. He approaches me. Before he can speak, I inform him I have absolutely nothing to give him and that I have just been robbed. He pauses then asks if I know how to get to Raleigh Hills Hospital. I had seen the TV ads for the rehab center but have no idea where it is. He then asks about the San Pedro Mission. I say "Yes, that is downtown, some 13 miles away. He says, “You got to help me. I am a musician.”
It is now about 2:30 in the morning. I am raw to the bone and this guy tells me he is a musician in need of my help. I tell him I don’t have enough gas to get him down there. He reaches deep into his pocket and slaps a crumpled wad of cash on the trunk of my car and says “Please.” I look at the wad (three dollars) and then I look at the cat. He is a cat, a jazz musician who claims to have played flugelhorn with Chuck Mangione. I have played drums since I was a kid. I have a terrible soft spot for musicians and cannot very well go against the grain of my nature even now though, by all rights, I do have a damn good excuse to deny this man his plea.
I pump my seventy-five cents and his three big ones into my car and off we go. On the way, he tells me that for fifteen hundred dollars, he can deliver two dead bodies to my front door. I tell him I do not want dead bodies. All I want is my stuff. He tells me that he killed a guy the previous week for stealing a gram from him and that he always carries a gun. This just pisses me off and I ask him “Are you carrying a gun right now?” He says, “I refuse to answer that question.”
The ride continues in furious silence. I find the Mission at 6th and San Pedro, drop him off and make my way back home through the gusty, near deserted streets, past giant, rolling tumbleweed. Tumbleweed in the dead of night rolling through downtown LA. I make it home by 4:00 in the morning.
For six months I have nightmares. The alexandrite is returned but the stone has a life of its own. It finally sells three weeks later. Three years later it comes back to me and I sell it to a Russian woman. The last time I see the stone, it is again for sale. The Russian woman, whose marriage evidently turned very bad by hard drugs abuse needed to sell the alexandrite. I swear I can see the pain of her life all over the alexandrite. The “shine” is gone. The color change has become “bad by night and worse by day”. It is a risky business.