Solly Martin had a theory that great ideas are diamonds, not pearls. By which he meant that great ideas spring up full-blown in flashes of inspiration; they are not created, as a pearl is created, by layer after layer of idea and change and improvement, until one day a piece of sand has been converted into something brilliant and pure.
So it surprised Solly that when he had his great idea—to burn down America—it had not come on him all at once, but had been carefully built in his mind from the first irritating sand-speck of a thought.
Solly Martin was a businessman, although when he told this to his Uncle Nathan who was visiting his sister, Solly's mother, in Coney Island, Uncle Nathan had said to his sister, as if Solly were not in the room, "If this is a businessman, I am the Pope of Rome."
Solly did not like his Uncle Nathan; the old man had yellow teeth, chewed with his mouth open and had a craving for kreplach that bordered on the unnatural, and the abolition of kreplach from the house had been Solly's first manly demand upon reaching the age of puberty and being bar mitzvahed.
"You'll see, Uncle Nathan," Solly had said.
Uncle Nathan buried his face in the dish of Jewish dumplings. "Just so he doesn't go asking me to invest any money," he said to Solly's mother. "Some businessman. Already starting to go bald, and still to earn his first smart dollar. It is to laugh."
Solly shrugged off the comment. Uncle Nathan was wealthy but he had never had an idea in his head. His idea of success had been to buy fabric cheap and have it cut and sewn into garments which he still sold cheap, but not so cheap that he didn't make a profit. His success was predicated upon longevity: he had made small amounts of money for enough years to turn them into large amounts of money. Solly was going to make large amounts of money, but not by outlasting the American dollar. He was going to make it with the brilliant sparkle of his ideas that no one else had.
So far, the big idea had just eluded him. The Mark Spitz gold medal memorial key chains hadn't made it. Battlestar Galáctica boardgames had bombed. No one had wanted his pirated eight-track tape of the background music from King Kong II.
He had printed up 20,000 Elvis Presley T-shirts, couldn't sell them, and had unloaded them for a dime on the dollar. Two weeks later, Elvis Presley had died, the T-shirts were worth their weight in gold, but they then belonged to someone else.
In desperation, he had developed a racetrack betting system based on the biorhythms of horses, but when he found out that it only lost money, he stopped playing it and tried to sell it by direct mail to gamblers. No one bought it.
When the balance in his bank account was down
to $20,000, from the half-million he had been left by his father, Solly Martin decided it was time to rethink his career as a businessman.
He decided he had lost the common touch. He was so brilliant, so far ahead of bis time, so advanced beyond the rabble, that he had forgotten to stay in touch with what they thought and believed. He would move immediately to reestablish his contact with the buying public.
He told his mother, "I'm going to open a store."
His Uncle Nathan looked up from his plate. "He's going to sell sand to Arabs," he told Solly's mother. "Open a branch in Iran. Sell Stars of David. A businessman yet."
He attacked the last helpless kreplach which skidded around the plate away from his fork.
"Yeah," Solly said. "Well, maybe that's not such a bad idea. Think of all the Stars of David you could sell to people who want to burn them in demonstrations and things. Want to deface them. You ever think of that?"
"No, thank God," his uncle said. "If I thought of things like that, I would be sleeping in the street, making soup in an empty tomato can, Mister Businessman. Hah!" He looked at Solly and showed his yellowed teeth.
Solly Martin left the house. He felt uncomfortable. His uncle was too old-country to know anything about today and the movements that were going on in the world of marketing. And besides he had gotten uncomfortably close.
Solly had just bought a building off Main Street in White Plains, New York, in the heart of fashionable Westchester County. He was going to sell Middle Eastern imports, which could now be bought
for a song with so much of the Middle East going under economically.
Buy cheap and sell dear. Was anything simpler?
Unfortunately, Middle Eastern countries obviously did not regard shipping schedules as the life-and-death matter that American companies did, so on the day Solly's store was to open, all that had arrived were two boxes of Islamic crescent pins, one box in cheap gold metal and the other in mother of pearl, and seventeen cartons of banners bearing the Palestine Liberation Organization symbol, which Solly did not remember ordering.
He complained on the telephone to his supplier who, when he had taken Solly's order, had wanted to be called Phil, but now explained that his name was really Faud Banidegh, and said that he had ordered all Solly's supplies, he had, but it was America's fault, trying to make Iranian businessmen in America look bad to help restore an imperialist regime in Iran, but what could one expect of imperialists who slept with Zionists, and it was too late~ for Solly to stop payment on his check because it had already been cashed.
Solly's first customer came in, looked around the store and.left without saying a word.
His second customer was a woman with a gray pants suit, and graying reddish-dyed hair. She looked around, then stood at the counter, fingering an Islamic crescent.
Solly appeared before her. "Can I help you?" he said.
"Yes," she said. "Hold still." Then she spat in his face, dropped the crescent on the floor and ground it under her heel before leaving.
They were the last two people to enter the Little
Flower of the East Shoppe in White Plains, except for bill collectors, meter readers, and delivery men sent by the lunatic Iranian, Faud Banidegh, who seemed intent on burying Solly Martin under mountains of Islamic crescents, half in cheap golden metal and the other half in mother of pearl.
Solly decided to advertise, but when the local newspaper said it wanted cash in advance, Solly put signs up on his windows. Big Sale drew no one. Closeout did no better. Neither did absolutely last closeout. Final days brought him no customers, but three people did stop in front of his store and applaud and at night, one wrote under the sign "About time."
We're givtng rr away brought in one teenager under the assumption that the Little Flower of the East Shoppe was a porn parlor, but when he saw no peep movies, he snarled in disgust and walked out.
On the day his money ran out, and still the boxes arrived bearing Islamic crescents and PLO banners, Solly decided to do what he guessed most American businessmen did when faced with a disaster. He went to a saloon, and there he found out what many American businessmen did when really faced with a disaster, and it wasn't drink.
Solly told his tale of woe to two men sitting next to him at the bar.
They cracked their knuckles a lot and looked at each other and nodded as they listened.
"Now I'm not only broke, but I owe that Arab my lungs," Solly said.
"You miscalculated the American psyche," said the shorter man, whose name was Moe Moscalevitch.
The taller of the two had the face of a beagle that had been cast in wax and hung on a sunny wall to melt. He nodded. "Definitely correct," he said. "A miscalculation of the American psycho."
"Psyche," corrected Moe Moscalevitch. Ernie Flammio looked chastened. He said to Solly, "There's only one way out." Solly looked up quickly.
"I'm too young to die," Solly said.
"Who said die?" asked Flammio.
"Correctitude," said Moscalevitch, who said things like that a lot. "Nobody mentioned your impending demise."