On Thursdays I get a sitter for a couple of hours and go have tacos with Mike and some friends. Driving to this engagement always takes me past the Hollywood Pawn Shop. So, when I decided I wanted to try to sell my old engagement ring, it was there that I decided to go. Why search further afield? Gas is expensive, plus I believe in destiny. Or taking the shortest route. Or being inordinately lazy. It depends on how you see it.
So last night, on the way to tacos, I parked my Honda at the corner of Glendale and San Fernando and walked up to the pawn shop’s door.
Perhaps I should have been scared off by the crazy man out front. He paced back and forth, scratching at his chest through a thin tee shirt, and yelling at his cell phone as if it had just kicked him in the nuts. And I was scared, a little. But I was also determined. So I gave him a wide berth and walked up to the door. Because I am brave. Because I am open. Because I am foolhardy, perhaps. But also because I need cash, and am out of better ideas.
It turns out pawn shops do have those gates. You know, the ones you see on “Law and Order?” The diamond-patterned iron ones you can’t shoot through? Yup, those. They’re sort of terrifying. And they really do “clang” shut.
Pawn shops also, it turns out, reek of cigarettes. Or at least this one did. I may, in fact, be the first girl ever to walk in there, wave her hand in front of her nose delicately and say “goodness! So smokey!” It’s good to be first at something, I suppose. At my age you take what you can get.
Three burly men sat behind the counter, spaced evenly at different stations: the gun section, jewelry, computers, and tools. (Who knew? Tools at a pawn shop. I should’ve robbed the garage before I came in!) Each man managed to look at me in a uniquely amused fashion. Why? Well, as if the smoking comment wasn’t enough, I was also wearing clogs — not a common site at your average pawn shop, I’ll wager — and had dried food on my jeans. They’re the only ones that fit me right now.
When they were done sizing me up one of gentlemen asked if he could help me. Clumsily, I explained my mission. As soon as the words “old engagement ring” came out of my mouth I saw his lips twist into a knowing smile. “Another one,” I knew he was thinking. “These chicks are a dime a dozen.”
I took out my ring, and all three gentlemen bent over it. After a moment one of them took it to the back, where I could see a microscope and some jeweler’s tools. “I hope you don’t mind,” he said over his shoulder as he vanished.
“Of course,” I replied lightly. Not really, at least.
Feeling awkward, I commenced to look around. After I had examined the tools — which looked like, um, tools — the necklaces, which were gaudy, and the electronics, which virtually shouted “I’ve been pinched!” I went and stood at the counter again.
The remaining two gentlemen looked at me expectantly. Was I supposed to make small talk?
“So is everything in here, um, for sale?” I said. “Or is it pawned? Or, um –”
“Everything is for sale,” said the particularly big one. “The pawned things –” he jammed a thumb over his shoulder “– are in the back.”
“Oh,” I said, cocking my head uncertainly. Pawn shops are sort of nebulous to me. I’ve really never understood how they worked.
My new friend seemed happy to explain. “We hold your item for four months. In the back. If you don’t come back?” He gestured at the cases.
“Oh,” I said brightly. “That seems very fair. And — ”
He went on. “And then you can have four more months, if you like. You just pay the interest…”
Ah. Interest. I could imagine. “Right,” I said. As if I knew all of this already.
There was a pause. I drummed my fingers on the counter. Then I had a thought. “Would you guys mind — I mean, can I take a picture in here? I, um, I have a blog.”
They looked at me skeptically. Then at each other. One of them shrugged. “Why not? You want we should pose?”
I hadn’t really wanted to photograph them. But what are you going to do? I’m certainly not going to insult these guys.
The two men put their shoulders together and smiled at me widely. My ipod snapped the shot.
Just then the man with my ring returned. “Hey lady,” he said. “Just to be clear. You want to pawn this ring? Or sell it?”
“Sell, please,” I said primly.
The man nodded briskly and walked away again. There was more waiting. I started pacing the store again. I stopped in front of a Victrola, its top open, a record on the turntable. Yeesh. Who pawns a Victrola? A bankrupt octogenarian? How much did he get for it? Was it worth the effort of lugging it in? Did he have to deal with Mr. Chest Scratch outside?
I turned back to the counter. The jewel guy was looking at a chart with diamond shapes and sizes on it — across the top were the words “Pear! Pear! Pear!” He ran his fingers across a set of boxes, finally stopping at one I couldn’t read. Then he closed the book. Crooking a finger, he beckoned the other men to him. They conferred in whispers, in a language I assume was Armenian. I could only imagine what they were saying, but I sensed that “she’s a sucker” were three of the salient words.
Finally the third guy nodded. He turned to me. “So,” he said. “I think, lady, we can give you… two hundred and twenty five dollars for this ring. OK?”
All three of them waited for my response. At that moment they looked almost cherubic — if cherubs were middle-aged, nicotine-stained, and had matching cleft chins.
I thought about it. My ring had cost about two-thousand dollars. (I know that because I ended up paying for it: my ex-husband put it on a credit card, then left me with all of his debt when we divorced. But I’m not bitter!) The diamond is small, but beautifully cut, and of a high quality. Higher than the marriage it symbolized, in the end — but whatever. I was fond of it. I still am. I had hoped to be offered enough money to justify pawning it off — literally — to a stranger. But two-hundred and twenty-five dollars? That’s about one and a half trips to Trader Joe’s. Or two-thirds of my water bill. And although the marriage had proved about as sound as a three-legged horse, it still deserved a tiny bit of respect. More than a couple hundred of dollars worth, I thought.
I gestured for my ring and placed it back in its little pouch. “You’ve been very kind,” I said. “But I think I’m going to think about it.”
The trio looked surprised. Was I supposed to haggle with them? Frankly, I didn’t care. I turned and took a final look around.
“I really like the Victrola,” I said.
The cherubs waited for more.
But that was it. I opened the gate, waved goodbye, and stepped out into the fresh air. I took a deep breath and looked around. Cars whizzed past. Streetlights blinked and changed. Crazy Man was still at it, pulling his hair and yelling something about scripts into his much beleaguered phone. Jesus. Even the street nuts are in the film business.
Tucking my ring into the back pocket of my jeans, I ducked into the street, got into my car, and drove off towards the taco stand. In my rear-view mirror Hollywood Pawn Shop shrank, shrank more, and then vanished altogether. I waved goodbye. I doubt very much I’ll be there again. Unless I go back for that Victrola. As for the ring? Maybe I’ll make a necklace out of it. Or a toy for Myra-Jean.
And as far as the money goes? We’re not that broke. Plus, my ebay stuff looks like it’ll sell.