The World's Largest Bubble Bath
by David L. Amadio

My name is Jerry Falcone, and my business is jewelry. I own a small shop at the south end of Jewelers Row in downtown Philadelphia. My nephew works for me and we do pretty well, especially around Christmas and the months leading up to wedding season. I’ve been here eleven years, and I don’t see myself going anywhere anytime soon. I like what I do and I’m good at it. I guess you could say I’m happy in my work.

But this story isn’t about me. It’s about Gotlieb, and Jules Jourado, and the World’s Largest Bubble Bath. So let me get to it.

Gotlieb used to own the shop next door to mine, and though we never became good friends, I’d like to think I knew him better than anyone else on the row. He was probably the best jeweler in Philadelphia, and easily the oldest. Gotlieb was so old that people used to say he was his own father. He kept his age a secret, but I guess he was in his mid-seventies when I first met him. He looked much older than he was, and he always seemed older, maybe because he had been on the row so long, since 1948.

Back when it was convenient for him to travel, he would make monthly visits to the diamond exchange in New York, and once a year attended the exchange in Antwerp. But after a while his body caught up to him: arthritis, osteoporosis. The hump on his back was pretty big there at the end. Some days I swear I saw it getting bigger, literally rising before my eyes. It didn’t stop him from coming to work, though. He showed up everyday in the same plaid button-down and frayed khaki pants. He opened his shop at 8 a.m. and went home at 8 p.m. He wasn’t a religious man, but he did believe in work, and if there’s one thing you could say about him, it’s that he was faithful to his craft.

Gotlieb knew jewelry, diamonds in particular. He could get 70% yield from a piece of rough, unheard of in the diamond world. He was special because he could do everything: design, cut, grind, polish. He was all four experts in one. He had a cutting room in the basement of his shop, a clean, cool, quiet space where he spent most of his time. He didn’t have a lot of equipment down there—no microscopes, no refractometers. Just the essentials. He studied the stones with tweezers and a loupe, and when it came time to cut he rarely used the saw. Gotlieb cleaved his diamonds, something I never learned to do. By sight he could detect where the diamond was weakest, and that’s where he’d make his groove. Then, with a quick tap of his thin-bladed chisel, he’d split the gem in two, leaving the planes smooth and clean. Diamond, the hardest of minerals, was like putty in Gotlieb’s hands, and he worked it not for size or brilliance, but for beauty and durability. His jewelry wasn’t flashy; it was scintillating, like it’s supposed to be.

But for all his skill and expertise, Gotlieb was a terrible salesman. He thought that buying a diamond was serious business, and that a jewelry store shouldn’t be fun. He was very sober with his customers, and I think some of them were offended by this. They expected smiles, maybe a joke, but that wasn’t Gotlieb. He didn’t feel he owed them anything more than great jewelry, and he stuck by this philosophy even when business got bad. Customer service for Gotlieb was taking the trouble to look you in the eye. If he thought highly of you he might shake your hand. And even then, he wouldn’t hesitate to do something crude in front of you, like burp or fart. It’s like he wasn’t working for the customers; he was working for the stones. He once spent six months on a diamond for a woman in Chestnut Hill. It took him three weeks just to polish it. She called him routinely, demanding he finish the diamond, but Gotlieb paid her no mind, and kept on working. He lost the customer, naturally, but he kept the diamond, which he named “Marcel,” after Marcel Tolkowsky, inventor of the modern brilliant cut. He stored Marcel in a small display case in the basement, and often talked about its powers of illumination and protection. He had it with him on the day of the World’s Largest Bubble Bath, but there’s no telling who has it now. The police could have it, the Delaware Valley Lapidary and Mineral Society could have it. Hell, Jules Jourado could have it.

Jules Jourado. Where to start with this guy? He arrived on the row a couple of years ago, by way of a store in Manhattan that he ran with his half-brother. He moved into a three-story, block-long building on the corner of 8th and Walnut that made every other shop look like an outhouse by comparison. He dumped a lot of money into it, but he dumped even more into his ad campaign. A few months after his store opened I started seeing his billboards all over the city; then I started seeing his posters at bus stops; and then I started hearing his commercials on the radio. “Jules knows jewels,” went the slogan. The New Yorker with the game-show-host good looks knew how to sell himself, and he made more money in that first year than most jewelers make in a decade. And it had absolutely nothing to do with his lapidary.

Jules Jourado is a bad jeweler, but this doesn’t stop people from flocking to his store. Seduced by the billboards and commercials, they come for the jewelry and stay for the ambiance. Jourado plays loud dance music and serves his customers cookies and beer. He employs a team of young, aggressive salespeople who don’t take no for an answer. The guys look like bouncers and the girls look like Fran Dresher, and it’s their job to show you a good time. He also has on staff a cutter, a setter, a designer, and a polisher. These men work in a big white room, and curious customers can watch them through a pane of glass in the wall. The whole place goes nuts when they switch on the diamond-cutting laser. Cutting diamonds with a laser is spectacular, but it’s very wasteful, and it’s been said that Jourado cuts his cocaine with the excess diamond dust. I believe there’s more truth to this rumor than falsehood, but then I’m not the best person to ask when you’re looking for an unbiased opinion about Jules Jourado.

As business got better for him it only got worse for the rest of us. For a while there all I was seeing was run-off from Jourado, people who wanted their jewelry cleaned, or repaired, or checked out. One day a guy came in with a ½ karat engagement ring that he’d bought from Jourado. He told me that when he presented it to his girlfriend and asked her to marry him, she took one look at the ring and said it was fake. Needless to say she declined his proposal, and he came to my store desperate for an explanation.

“Why didn’t you bring it to Jourado?” I asked.

“I did. They said my girlfriend was nuts.”

Jourado said that?”

“No. He was at lunch.”

I felt bad for the guy so I did him a favor and ran the stone through my DiamondSure—it’s an instrument that can tell the difference between real and synthetic diamonds. I put it through and the results were inconclusive. The guy looked like he was about to cry. That’s when I took him next door and we showed the ring to Gotlieb. He was in the middle of eating a corned beef special and made us wait until he was finished to look at the ring. He wiped his hands on his pants, blew his nose into a dingy handkerchief, and flipped on a lamp that swung out over the counter.

The man took the ring out of its velvet box and passed it to Gotlieb. He held it at arm’s length, then, with a subtle flick of his thumb, popped the stone from its setting.

“Is it supposed to do that?” groaned the man.

“No,” said Gotlieb, and tossed him the band.

Gotlieb placed the stone on a piece of white paper and shined the lamp directly on it. He rolled it back and forth with the tip of his tweezers, watching it catch the light and throw it back.

“Too much fire,” he said.

“What does that mean?” the man asked.

“It means it’s not a diamond. It’s cubic zirconium with a diamond film.”

Gotlieb picked up the stone with the tweezers and squinted into it. “There’s nickel in there, and cobalt.”

“The DiamondSure didn’t pick up any metal,” I said with some confidence, “but it did pick up something foreign.”

Gotlieb laughed to himself as he reached behind the counter for a piece of string and a magnet. He tied the stone to the end of the string and held it up for us to see, making me think that he was going to hypnotize us. But this was no voodoo. He brought the magnet close to the stone and it flew to it immediately, confirming the presence of metal. He showed us again but the man wasn’t satisfied.

“I spent $1200 on that ring. It can’t be fake.”

“Then we do Pliny’s hardness test,” mumbled Gotlieb.

Again he reached behind the counter and this time he took out a hammer and a slab of concrete. He placed the stone on the concrete slab and raised the hammer to strike it. The man sprang forward and grabbed his wrist, shaking the hammer loose. It fell on the countertop and cracked the glass. After that the room got quiet and we all took great pains to avoid looking at each other.

“Jules Jourado has a gletz in his pavilion,” Gotlieb said as we were leaving.

What he meant to say was that Jules Jourado is deeply flawed. I tried explaining this to the man but it didn’t give him any comfort. Gotlieb had showed him the truth, and it only made him more desperate. He stood on the sidewalk out front of Jourado’s store with the broken ring clenched in his fist. When he walked inside I heard the loud dance music and saw a black-haired girl approach him with a plate of cookies and a beer.

Like I said, business wasn’t good, but most of us got by, somehow or other. Gotlieb, on the other hand, saw fewer customers than the ones who were really struggling. Whole days would go by and not a single person would walk through his door. He’d sit in the window and stare at Jourado’s for hours and hours, watching the people go in and out, in and out. The hump on his back was getting bigger, heavier it seemed, and the trip from the basement to the first floor was becoming harder for him.

It was around this time that I started going over there to see if he was all right, to see if he needed anything. On a couple of occasions I brought him lunch, but he never liked what I brought so that didn’t last very long. Mostly we talked about Jourado. He would always ask me how he was doing. In the beginning he was just being sarcastic. “So how is our old friend Jules Jourado doing today?” he would ask. But then he dropped the sarcasm and started requesting facts. I didn’t want Gotlieb to think that I was friends with the guy, but it wouldn’t have made a difference to him either way. So I told him what I knew. I told him that the City of Philadelphia was giving Jourado the Small Business Commitment Award.

“And what is that?” asked Gotlieb.

“It recognizes small business owners who make a positive social impact on the community.”

“He’s made an impact—a depression!”

“Word is he’s very generous.”

“Not with his diamonds. Them he makes suffer. What else?”

I hesitated. “The World’s Largest Bubble Bath.”

Gotlieb made a sound like he had stopped breathing.

“My nephew heard about it on the radio.”

“Make him tell.”

I got my nephew and he told Gotlieb about the World’s Largest Bubble Bath.

“It’s a contest,” he said. “Jourado’s gonna buy a machine and fill the whole place up with foam. Then the contestants look for plastic eggs hidden in the bubbles. Inside the eggs are prizes. A radios station’s sponsoring it.”

Gotlieb looked at my nephew like he was the one sponsoring it. My nephew was never comfortable around Gotlieb. I guess because the old man was always looking at him like he had done something wrong, or was about to. Gotlieb asked him about the prizes.

“Jewelry, keys to a brand new motorcycle, and a gift certificate for breast implants.”

“This contest is for women?” asked Gotlieb.

“Yeah. They’re gonna’ be in bikinis.”

Gotlieb started coughing as soon as my nephew said this, a wet, phlegmy cough that wracked him from head to toe. It sounded like his body was trying to reject what his mind could not. He coughed and coughed, and when he finally got up what was rattling around in his chest, instead of using a handkerchief he just spat on the floor. My nephew and I took this as our cue to leave.

I didn’t see Gotlieb for two weeks. I went away for a jeweler’s convention in Sacramento and left my nephew to run the store. When I got back he told me that Gotlieb had come by asking about the World’s Largest Bubble Bath. He wanted to know when it started and if it was open to the public. My nephew also said that Jules Jourado had sent around one of his people to ask everybody on the row if they wanted to join his “Brotherhood of Jewelers.” The goal of the Brotherhood was to promote the row to customers outside of Philadelphia. It was a big marketing campaign and he wanted all of us to chip in with money and ideas. My nephew didn’t give him an answer, which is probably what I would’ve done.

“Did they talk to Gotlieb?”

My nephew shrugged. I had thought a lot about Gotlieb while I was away. I felt like I should have been doing more for him, but it was hell just trying to buy him a sandwich. After I talked to my nephew I checked on Gotlieb. Not finding him upstairs I walked down to the cutting room. He was sitting on a stool, polishing Marcel with a leather belt. When I reached the bottom of the steps Gotlieb looked up and smiled at me. I don’t think I had ever seen him so serene. I guess it was Marcel that did it. The diamond was big, almost 5 karats, and it not so much sparkled as glowed. In Gotlieb’s gray, wrinkled hand it was the proverbial “diamond in the rough.”

I asked him if he had any intentions of joining the Brotherhood of Jewelers. I wasn’t decided, and I thought maybe he could talk me out of it.

“What Jules Jourado doesn’t understand is that this,” and he held up Marcel, “is useless. You can’t start your car with it, you can’t eat it. All you can do is show it off.” He put Marcel back in its case and hung the belt from a hook on the wall. “The man believes he is important, when he is just a man. Do you know what the plane of maximum hardness is?”

I told him I didn’t.

“It’s the part of the stone that’s last to yield. You would give up before even getting there. Jourado, if he knew, wouldn’t even begin to cut, even with his laser. He would throw away the stone and find an easier one. That’s why his diamonds are whores.”

The bell on Gotlieb’s front door jingled. We walked upstairs and were shocked to find Jourado standing by the counter. He looked about as smooth and as calm as a man can be in a place where he is unwanted. He wore black pants and a black shirt, and around his neck hung a chain of gold herring-bone. He nodded to me and then spoke to Gotlieb like a politician would an angry constituent.

“I understand that you don’t like me, and that you want me to go back to Lebanon, but that’s no reason to throw hot soup on my employee.”

“That soup was lukewarm,” mumbled Gotlieb.

“He was just trying to tell you about the Brotherhood—”

“I don’t want to hear about your Brotherhood of Jewelers!” yelled Gotlieb, and that’s when I saw the hump on his back getting bigger, spreading his shirt like a giant walnut ready to explode. He staggered under the weight of it and reached out for the counter to keep himself from falling.

Jourado didn’t lose his cool. “I understand, Mr. Gotlieb, but you’re giving up a wonderful opportunity to grow your business.”

“I don’t have a business,” said Gotlieb, and the truth of this statement could not be denied, not even by Jourado. The slick jeweler walked back across the street as Gotlieb stood by the window and watched him. There was anger in his eyes, and jealousy, and I thought it only right to leave Gotlieb with his hardship. I had witnessed enough, too much to be of any real help. I felt more like a spectator than a friend, and I didn’t think that was fair to Gotlieb, so I got out of there, before he reached his plane of maximum hardness.

For the first time in a long time I had a week’s worth of work ahead of me, which was good, not only for business but for peace of mind. The work helped me forget about Gotlieb, and though I saw him shuffling into his store every morning at 8 a.m., I didn’t feel the need to reach out to him. My nephew and I put in a lot of hours that week and before we knew it Friday had rolled around, the day of the World’s Largest Bubble Bath. I had never seen the row so lively so early in the morning. By 9 a.m. the corner of 8th and Walnut was crowded with people—mostly men—looking in the windows of Jourado’s store. I walked over and the first thing I saw was a shiny new Harley Davidson parked on the sidewalk, one of the big prizes. A couple of guys were standing around admiring the motorcycle when a very young, very attractive girl in a black bikini pranced out of Jourado’s and straddled the bike like she owned it. Everybody started taking pictures with their cell phones. The girl looked like a stripper, and I had a hard time taking my eyes off her.

I worked my way up to the storefront where about thirty guys were plastered against the windows. The scene inside was something out of a nightclub. At the far end of the store a big machine was churning out foam; in some spots the bubbles almost reached the ceiling. The cloud of foam was so thick that you couldn’t see the floor or the display cases. Near the entrance the radio station had set up a folding table and chairs and the deejays were talking and laughing into their microphones, which, along with their headphones, were hooked up to a big board operated by a sound engineer. Jourado and his employees, standing off to the side in a tight black cluster, smiled mechanically, never allowing for a second that they weren’t having a good time. More strippers in bikinis waited by the edge of the cloud for Jourado to signal the start of the rush. The girls wore swim goggles, and seemed to enjoy how ugly they made them look.

The guy behind me pressed against my back and the guy to my right started jostling for room. Everybody was getting anxious, me included. I wanted to see what was going to happen next. At last Jourado gave the signal and the girls plunged into the foam in search of the plastic eggs. We could see their arms and legs briefly through the bubbles and could hear them slipping and falling on the wet floor, sending up big peals of laughter when they went down. The deejays described the action as best they could for their listening audience, while Jourado, a girl on each arm, anticipated the first triumphant scream. It came fast, but there was no triumph in it. And it didn’t come from one of the girls inside the foam. It came from the girl on the motorcycle.

I turned around and saw her lying face-down on the sidewalk, her legs pinned beneath the fallen Harley. Standing over her with a hammer in his hand was Gotlieb, the image of the crazy old man come to break up the party. Why no one in the crowd tackled him I’ll never know. Maybe they thought he was part of the act, the violence to the strippers’ sex. I called his name, but there was no response, just a snarl and a stare. Stepping over the girl, he reached into the breast pocket of his greasy shirt and took out Marcel. It glowed with a phosphorescence you rarely see in gemstones, and Gotlieb shared this glow with Marcel, the one feeding off the other.

The deejays got a kick out of him right away. “Some nut with a hammer just walked in,” said the one. “He looks like he hasn’t seen the sun in forty years.” But they stopped laughing when he started cursing at the sound engineer and yanking cables out of the big board. Each time he ripped out a cable the sound engineer frantically plugged it back in. Jourado ran over to subdue Gotlieb but the old man was having none of it. He threatened to bash Jourado’s brains in if he didn’t get out of the way. Jourado backed off and Gotlieb went slashing through the foam, guided by Marcel.

“Call the police!” a voice in the crowd shouted.

“No! Let him go,” yelled another.

From deep inside the wall of suds came the sound of shattering glass as Gotlieb began smashing the display cases. It was a terrible sound, made even more terrible by the screams it provoked from the frightened contestants, but glorious too, because in it you could hear all of Gotlieb’s frustration being released, and mine too, and that belonging to the other jewelers on the row, and the poor guy with the fake ring, and anyone else who had ever been wronged or offended by Jules Jourado.

Tensed and twitching, Jourado pawed at the herring-bone, as if he too were calling on it for guidance, power, strength. He summoned two of his bulkiest male employees and sent them marching into the foam. They collided with the girls fleeing the other way, but soon found Gotlieb and dragged him by his arms to the front of the store.

“He was headed for the laser,” said the one.

Gotlieb sat on the floor, suds clinging to his clothes, and waited for the law to arrive. They came quickly and took him away in a police cruiser. It all happened so fast I didn’t even get a chance to talk to him. As they were escorting him into the police cruiser, amid cheers and boos from every side, I managed to pat him on the back, letting my hand linger on his hump, the spot I imagined hurt him most. But as I took my hand away I got a different sensation, a different feeling. The hump was hard, hard as diamond, but Gotlieb didn’t seem to be laboring under it anymore. The burden, the weight of his art, was gone. He had left it in the World’s Largest Bubble Bath, along with Marcel and the hammer. I thought about this as I watched them drive him away. And what came over me wasn’t sadness or anger, but happiness, a great satisfaction in knowing that Gotlieb had yielded everything, and was free.

But that freedom came at a cost, as goes the cliché. Gotlieb was placed on probation and had to pay a hefty fine. He struggled to come up with the money and was forced to sell his shop. After the day of the World’s Largest Bubble Bath, Gotlieb never returned to the row, not even to clean out his stuff. Everything was handled by his daughter, a woman I met only once, and once was enough.

The guy she sold to is a Lithuanian from Chicago, and he pretty much keeps to himself. One of the first things he did when he got here was join the Brotherhood of Jewelers, because everyone told him he ought to. In case you’re wondering, yes, I’m a member, but I don’t go to the meetings and I don’t display the sticker in my window. Business is much better these days, and the Brotherhood may or may not have something to do with it. Jourado would have you think it’s the only reason why, but what the hell does he know except how to sell low-grade product at a premium price?

He opened another shop in the King of Prussia mall, about 25 miles outside the city, and he’s up there more than he’s down here, thank God. Though I shouldn’t say that. Because when I see him on the street or through the windows of his store, I’m reminded of Gotlieb. The villain keeps the hero alive, and so does my nephew, if you can believe it. Out of the blue he decided to teach himself the art of cleaving. He wants to cut a diamond with only a hammer and a chisel. He hasn’t mastered it, and he may never, but I respect his ambition, and I admire his faith.

Packingtown Review – Vol.6, Winter 2014/2015

David L. Amadio received his MFA in Creative Writing from Bowling Green State University in 2001. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Main Course, Avalon Literary Review, Masque & Spectacle, and Nerve Cowboy. He lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two children.

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