Siggi Grünebaum, an old diamond cutter Benny Schorsch, his partner Violetta Grünebaum-Moser, Siggi’s daughter Roland Moser, her husband Elfie Schneider, a young woman
The play takes place in the Diamond District of New York City, in the last year of the last century.
Lunchtime with Wagner
New York City, 47th Street. It’s a winter afternoon in the Diamond District. Siggi Grünebaum’s small diamond store sits to the right of a passageway to 47th Street. At the rear of the store there is a workshop and an office with its own entrance, both separated from the front by a curtain, which is open. Storefront and main entrance are to the back of the stage. Stones glitter from velvet-covered showcases. On the glass door of the storefront, the name “Grünebaum, Moser & Schorsch Inc.” can be seen in reverse. Siggi is a diamond dealer with his own cutting shop, although he hasn’t done any cutting for some time. As the curtain opens, his partner, Benny Schorsch, first unwraps some lunch parcels on the counter in the front and then moves back and forth between the store and the workshop. Siggi sits eating a piece of bread and looking at a jar.
SIGGI: What’s that?
SIGGI: (He picks up a jar.) This.
BENNY: Rose jam.
SIGGI: Where’d you find that?
BENNY: Citarella on Sixth Avenue.
SIGGI: For me?
BENNY: Not for you! It’s for my neighbor, the Greek lady. (He takes the jar from Siggi.)
SIGGI: Good Lord. It’s that serious?
SIGGI: How would you know? The soul is impenetrable.
BENNY: Get lost. I have no intention of talking about it.
SIGGI: No, really-I’m happy for you. Truly happy. (Takes the jar back.)
BENNY: Knock it off. (Grabs the jar.)
SIGGI: You know what? I’ll call Mrs. Shapiro and tell her about this jam. She’s having a rose exhibition in SoHo. (Takes it back. )
BENNY: A rose exhibition? (Goes to the back and puts on a record, Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries.” )
SIGGI: Yeah. Real roses and jewelry. Old flower pins from the 18th and 19th century. Just roses and jewelry. This could be part of it, don’t you think?
SIGGI: Absolutely. In fact Mrs. Shapiro still owes us some money. It could be a little reminder we’re still here, you know? (Siggi takes the phone and dials. Benny comes back.)
BENNY: Well? What do you think?
SIGGI: He takes it too fast.
SIGGI: I don’t care, it’s still too fast. (Hangs up the phone, sits down.)
BENNY: (He’s eating.) You can hear them coming, the Valkyries.
SIGGI: Toscanini’s too fast for me. (Noshing.)
BENNY: That Bruno Walter of yours is too gemütlich for my taste. With him it’s not a ride, it’s a schlep.
SIGGI: I just get more from Walter.
BENNY: Not me. (Goes to the back and turns down the volume. Comes back and dances to the music.) Wagner. Magnificent.
SIGGI: Well, you can’t really hurt Wagner anyway. I heard the Meistersinger for the first time in Berlin, when I was just a kid. So far up in the nosebleed section I kept my eyes closed. I’ll never forget it (he’s humming). When I opened them, someone had stolen my opera glasses.
BENNY: No kidding-Wagner, at that age?
SIGGI: Sure. I was a big opera maven, even then.
SIGGI: What’s with the surprise? I wanted to be a singer.
BENNY: What? A singer! You never told me that.
SIGGI: Sure, it was a big dream of mine. (Humming.)
BENNY: And you’re telling me after all these years?
SIGGI: Even the closest friends have to have some secrets. It’s a fact. Ah, Wagner . . . it’s hard to hurt the guy, no matter what. (Thoughtful chewing of pickles between them.)
BENNY: True. (Goes to the back and turns the music up; returns.) I love it. And there are actually people that complain about it. Should be ashamed of themselves. Really. (Goes back and turns the music off; returns. ) But that last Götterdämmerung at the Met . . . stretched out-didn’t you think?-like a big old strudel. (Noshing.)
SIGGI: Don’t complain, you had a nice nap.
BENNY: Speaking of napping . . . do you know that about Rubens?
SIGGI: Do I know what about Rubens?
BENNY: The great painter Rubens slept sitting up. He was scared he might choke on his own spit.
SIGGY: Benny, for crying out loud, I’m eating.
BENNY: You can see his bed in the museum in Antwerp.
SIGGI: Museums spoil my mood. (He stands up, goes to the door and looks out.) It rains and rains. Nothing is happening. Business is rotten, no customers. And you know what? I make just as much money sleeping all alone on my side of the bed.
BENNY: What a lousy mood you’re in . . .
SIGGI: The human being is no doubt a phenomenon, but rarely a success.
BENNY: Are you talking about yourself?
SIGGI: Yeah – about myself too . . . Terrible weather.
BENNY: Not for a duck.
SIGGI: New York is a teeming cemetery.
BENNY: Don’t talk like that. This city lets us survive, lets us work and earn a living. It’s a good old city.
SIGGI: You’re right, you’re right. I don’t mean it. But it wasn’t quiet like this in the old days when I was selling, even if it was just a tiny stone. I sold like crazy! No, no – there’s no real business anymore. (Takes a chair and sits down next to the door.) It’s a miserable feeling. I’m finished, absolutely kaput. I don’t even like working anymore. Even brushing my teeth – exhausting. I’ve decided: Forget it, I’m closing my store at the end of the month. I’m not going to make a big fuss, Benny. I’m just gonna close up.
BENNY: CLOSE! You’re gonna what?! What are you saying? Whadda you mean? You want to close?
SIGGI: You heard me – close! I’ve had it. I hate New York, I hate the climate. I never could stand it the whole time I was here, thirty years. The air is like soggy clothes.
BENNY: Try to drink something, Mr. Weltschmerz.
SIGGI: I’m not thirsty.
BENNY: Once upon a time you always used to drink, thirsty or no.
SIGGI: Used to. Not anymore.
BENNY: You have to take your medicine. (Puts down a bottle of drops and water.)
SIGGI: I’m so damn tired. (Takes a few drops.) I wanna get out of here. Just leave. Go back to where I came from. See Vienna one more time, visit my parents’ house . . .
BENNY: Who says the new owners would let you in?
SIGGI: Sure they would, why not? (Eating.)
BENNY: Oy, I can’t believe you’re starting up with this now. “Close!” “Leave!” You were sick for two weeks, that’s bad enough. Now you’re back – what do you wanna close for? What would you do in Vienna?
SIGGI: Leave me alone, you annoy me… Hey, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that. (He puts a fish tail on Benny’s plate.)
BENNY: Why put your fish tail on my plate?
SIGGI: Sorry, I’m a little farmisht. (They eat.) You know what I think?
BENNY: How should I know?
SIGGI: I’ve been in the business for over fifty years. I know everything there is to know about it – there used to be all kinds of stones passing through my hands. But I’m not interested anymore. I have no appetite for the work. The only appetite I have is for closing up . . . I don’t need anything, and I’m beat. God, what a sweaty ordeal, this life. And sometimes cold, don’t forget. Wet. Hot, even. You name it. Now I just wanna quit. My daughter has her own business on the twelfth floor, behind secure doors. She’s a looker, and the classiest dame in the District. And she sells like nobody’s business-customers like I never had. I don’t have to worry about her . . . No, my little girl doesn’t need her old Tate anymore.
BENNY: You never know, Siggi.
SIGGI: Roland Moser, my son-in-law – a goy! But he’s a popular goldsmith and does a good business. My grandson has flown the coop – he doesn’t wanna know from diamonds. Wants to make the world a “better place,” be a political leader – the new Abe Lincoln. A nebbish.
BENNY: We could use a guy like Abie now.
SIGGI: Seriously, what am I good for here? I’m dead tired. Why should I torment myself – for what? I’m clumsy, I keep dropping things. And I’m homesick, Benny. To the core of my being. I wanna go back where I came from – to Vienna. The older I get the more I want to go back to Vienna.
BENNY: Do you really believe what you’re saying? How schmaltzy can you get?
SIGGI: But that’s how I am.
BENNY: You don’t really mean that, do you? What can you want there, for God’s sake? You belong here! Imagine going back to Vienna – where you grew up, where you were driven away! That fucking city didn’t even offer to give back apartments to the people they’d stolen them from. Vienna is one of the most anti-Semitic places in the world, I’m telling you.
SIGGI: Come on – did the Romanians give you back anything? In Cernovic? I don’t wanna be buried here in New York. That would be my last wish, to be buried in Vienna.
BENNY: I can’t believe that – buried in Vienna? You’re meshugge.
SIGGI: In the Central Cemetery, for all I care.
BENNY: Aw, go on – the Central Cemetery in Vienna?
SIGGI: Yes, or in Grinzing. The cemetery in Grinzing has a nicer view. A last wish I shouldn’t get?
BENNY: I’ll tell you something, Siggi. You’re dwelling too much on the past. It’s that stupid homesickness that’s keeping you from the present. You’ve been sick – now you should be trying to get back your appetite for life.
SIGGI: What’s that supposed to mean?
BENNY: You’re longing for the wrong things. And reading too much. Also . . . salt you should cut out. Life, Siggi! Do you hear me? What’s poison for the wise man is food for the fool. I’m talking love, Siggi: a great, late love.
SIGGI: Maybe somebody like your ripe old Greek neighbor, Miss Viggi Christophanos?
BENNY: She’s not that ripe, you know.
SIGGI: Really? How ripe is she?
SIGGI: Thirty-nine! Well, they stay that for a long time.
BENNY: It doesn’t have to be her.
SIGGI: No, come off it, it’s too humiliating. Up, down, down, up – ridiculous. Just thinking about it throws my back out. Not to mention my soul. No, that’s nothing for me. I have to go back to Vienna.
BENNY: Wait, I might have a much better remedy. (Goes to the back and returns with a plastic bag. He sits down at the counter and takes out a round wad of newspaper.) There. Look at that.
SIGGI: What is it?
BENNY: Just take a look.
SIGGI: What is it?
BENNY: Maybe it’ll raise your spirits.
SIGGI: Unwrap it.
BENNY: Unwrap it yourself! You’ll see.
SIGGI: (Unwraps the paper, revealing a huge, uncut stone the size of a large grapefruit.) Oh – !!
BENNY: You see what I mean? Just look at it. Take it – touch it.
SIGGI: (Looks at the stone over and over.) Oh, my . . .
BENNY: Well? Doesn’t that bring you back to life?
SIGGI: Where’d you get it?
BENNY: Oh sure, wouldn’t you like to know! It’s a very special stone. I’ll tell only you: I’ve been carrying it around since you went to the hospital two weeks ago. (Pause.)
SIGGI: My God, that’s some stone. I’ve never held a diamond this big in my hands. You carry that around in a shopping bag?
BENNY: You have your safety systems, I have mine.
SIGGI: Where’s it from?
BENNY: Do you know where you’re from?
SIGGI: From my mother’s womb, God bless her.
BENNY: Well, this one comes from another womb. I got it from Pedro Bernstein in the name of the Exchange, and Pedro got it from Tel Aviv, from Mott Mensch.
SIGGI: What a story.
BENNY: Let me finish. One fine afternoon, when you were sick, Pedro and his people came and sat down here.
SIGGI: Really? And?
BENNY: “Here we gotta stone, Benny Schorsch. We got together for this very rare stone and invested our money in this stone, and we don’t want anyone else to cleave this stone beside Siggi Grun’baum, got it? He’ll do it with the least loss, he’ll cut it so the most beautiful colors, the most beautiful light, the most fire comes out of it!” (Silence.) Now it’s your turn.
SIGGI: Me? Why?
BENNY: Why? Because you’re the best, for God’s sake! Are you gonna do it or not?
SIGGI: No. How much?
BENNY: We’ll discuss it.
SIGGI: “We’ll discuss it.” I’ll tell you something Benny – I’m getting the shivers. I’d have to lock myself up with it for at least twelve days and nights to get to know it. A huge stone! (He keeps staring.) You know, when I was young . . . But I’m too old, Benny, too old . . . . No. (Silence.)
BENNY: Don’t say no. Look at it. Let the light inside get to you*Š If you can free it, it’ll be a triumph.
SIGGI: Whadda you mean “light”? This gray clump? It’s a long way until it shines. And if the cleave fractures it? A gletz? The stone is gone. Look at this. My canary. (He takes a case out of a secret pocket and removes a yellow five-carat diamond.) A yellow diamond is a freak of nature, the rarest of the rare – only one in a thousand is a canary. God, did I have courage then! It was even more of a clump, and I just went right ahead, without that much experience. And I got a big, beautiful stone out of it. Today I got experience, but no guts. Now I know all the things that could happen. I won’t do it. I promised my daughter that I would give it up. I won’t do it.
BENNY: Then give it back.
SIGGI: Wait a second. I’m wondering what they’re thinking, Pedro and his people. Why would they want it cut by hand? Nowadays they do everything with lasers.
BENNY: With lasers you cut against the stone. They don’t want that with this one, not with this one.
SIGGI: I see.
BENNY: They want this one to be cut in the traditional way, how it used to be. With the stone, not against it. The way it used to be done, you know?
SIGGI: I know exactly what you mean.
BENNY: Follow the stone, you know? Like the old days. They want your signature, is what I’m saying
SIGGI: I follow you. That’s nice to know.
BENNY: You need to go with the stone, like you used to do it. But there’s a hitch.
SIGGI: Don’t tell me: It needs to be done yesterday.
BENNY: No, that’s not it. There’s no insurance. They won’t insure it. No laser, no insurance. Or else you have to pay a fortune.
SIGGI: No insurance. I see.
BENNY: Yeah. No insurance. Nothing.
SIGGI: No insurance.
BENNY: But Pedro and his people, they think you’d be the guy for this. Anyway, insurance wouldn’t make your hand any steadier.
SIGGI: It’s a challenge, that’s for sure. (He studies the stone. ) Tell me, Benny, that Rubens – he really schlepped spitting up? I mean, slept sitting up? I’d love to know.
BENNY: Answer, Siggi!
SIGGI: To each his own . . . way of sleeping. (Siggi studies the stone.) No. I shouldn’t do it.
BENNY: Okay. I’ll tell Pedro you’ll liquidate the business.
BENNY: Still, there’s something in it . . . No, no, I better not – it would be careless of me. I promised my daughter.
BENNY: But this stone is worth breaking a promise, don’t you think?