The funny thing about shopping for engagement rings is that you often have to rely on what the person who wants to take your money tells you about the quality of the diamonds (which are really worthless rocks, but you probably don’t want to get me started on that). This is clearly an imperfect system as it assumes people working on commission have your best interest at heart. When I decided to shop for an engagement ring for Chrisie, I worked to level the playing field.
I asked me friend Jim to go with me since he used to work a diamond counter and had the expertise to steer me correctly. The downside of this was that I often had no idea what he and whichever jeweler we were currently at were talking about.
“We’re looking for something F to G color,” he said as we walked in each store. Then something about clarity, but I honestly quit listening and watched the exchange. Invariably, the clerk would pull out a ring and ruminate on its quality and virtues. He or she explained how it was an excellent stone for the price and so forth. Then Jim would pull out his loupe. His personal loupe.
“Oh,” the clerk said, slightly taken back, “you have your own loupe. Hang on a minute, let me show you a different ring.” This happened more than once. I was amused every time.
It wasn’t the last store we visited, but I clearly recall seeing her ring. That’s how I thought of it the moment I noticed it. It was hers, no question. It was much like seeing Chrisie for the first time, I didn’t know she would become special to me personally, but I knew she was special. Just like the ring in front of me.
Jim looked at it and pointed out the larger center stone (flanked by three small diamonds on each side) had a small flaw in it.
“I can’t see it,” I said.
“You’re not looking. It’s right here.”
“I don’t care. I think this is it.”
He convinced me to look more, and we did. We looked at that store as well as others. I took his wise counsel to sleep on it. I dreamed of giving Chrisie that ring all night. The next morning was Saturday, and even though it wasn’t usual, I worked that day. I gathered the cash I had saved for the ring and took it with me since I knew I would be near the jeweler’s when I finished work.
This was when I still worked in closets. The reason I worked that Saturday was to finish apartment complex unit. I did the work first and did not go home to shower before going to the jeweler. In the summer, drywall dust always coated my left arm where it mixed with my sweat to form an annoying paste that hardened in the air conditioning of my truck. I knocked it off as best I could, but I still looked, um, less refined than the other patrons. I had difficulty getting someone to help me. There were several clerks, but they all seemed unable to see me. Finally, I stood right in front of a woman until she couldn’t ignore me.
“Can I help you, sir?” Her voice dripped with contempt.
“Yes, please,” I said brightly, “I’m here to buy a ring.”
“I see. And what do you have in mind?” She started to lead me away from the diamond rings and continued, “I have some lovely sterling silver -”
I stayed put and said, “No. An engagement ring. This ring right here.” I tapped on the counter. Tiny motes of drywall dust sprinkled the glass.
She came over behind the counter, took out her keys, and opened the back. She took out the ring and seemed reluctant to place the box on the counter between us.
“Are you sure you want this ring? Perhaps I can find one more, uh, suitable to your-”
“No,” I didn’t let her finish, “this is the ring I want.”
“I see. I can set it aside and you can come back.”
“No, I’m buying it today. Right now in fact.”
“I see.” She took the box over to the register. She pulled out a calculator and started punching the buttons. Let me just figure the final cost. I quoted the exact final price including tax before she could finish. This caught her off guard.
“Oh, let me just check your math.” I waited impatiently as she finished her calculations. “Ah, it look as if you are correct about the final price.”
“I can spell too, ” I said.
“Now how would you like to pay for this? You may be able to qualify for a revolving charge account.”
“I’ll use cash.”
“Cash?” I really caught her off guard this time.
“Yes, little green pieces of paper with old presidents on them.”
“Yes, except for Hamilton of course. He was the first Secretary of the Treasury.”
“You intend to pay with cash?”
Wearied from our exchange, I simply pulled a the required bills from my pocket. I counted out the crisp bills I had set aside specifically for this purpose. Most of the were hundreds, but I did manage to use a ten as well.
“Here’s that Hamilton guy, ” I said, “You do accept cash don’t you.”
“Yes, of course, sir.” A new obsequiousness shoved aside her former contempt. “Is there anything else I can show you?”
“No, this is all I need today, thank you.”
As she finished my purchase, I saw her write her name on the commission line, and I found myself remembering a story my dad told me of parking his ancient rust-spotted beater using the valet service at a swank hotel in Nashville. He spoke of the attendants falling over themselves to not be the one to bring him his car. He tipped the one who did $20 and taught him he shouldn’t judge by appearances.
“Why are you putting your name there?” I asked.
“It’s for the commission.”
“I know, but you didn’t help me,” I said and then gave her the of the woman from the night before. I probably shouldn’t have, but I continued, “In fact, you didn’t even want to help me. You thought I couldn’t afford anything in here.”
“No, sir, it’s not that. It’s just that, I can’t even afford that ring.”
“Well, that’s the difference. You work here. I shop here.” I walked out with Chrisie’s ring, happy to know that she wanted me as I was. I also couldn’t help but think I had bought a little more than a ring that day, at least from one clerk.
Later that night I held and stared at that ring. I never did see the flaw, I only ever saw its beauty. I clutched that ring, her ring, and knew it was the right one. When I thought of our relationship I didn’t notice the flaws. I still don’t. I know they are there, of course, but all I see is beauty.