29 March 2015
He was the worst thief in the bazaar and would bump up the price of a three-legged dog, claiming all the best dogs have three legs.
He was a rug merchant, after all, who inspired the advice as far back as the Silk Road never to buy at retail from a man who smiles like a cherub. The full price, writ large on a price tag means nothing; the sale price, though written in red below it means nothing, either. The former was $10,000 for a rug I liked, but feigned no interest in; the sale price beneath was $4,000; the former was fiction, the latter was the best he thought he could get and that’s when he brewed more espresso, so talk for the rug, I didn’t want, could began. I told him up front I wasn’t buying, but wouldn’t mind some espresso.
Yes, yes, he said, I know you’re not interested. To needle him a bit, I pointed out a leashed four-legged dog walked by a lady in a tiara. She merely feigns royalty, he said. Were she truly royal, she’d have a three-legged dog. Au contraire, I said, a three-legged dog is a faulty dog, not its fault, but faulty. No, no he said, sipping thick coffee, it’s bred for kings…like this rug spread out before you that graced a sultan’s summer palace. And though you are not royalty, I want you to have it. Listen to me, he said, I am your friend. You come into my house…I treat you like a brother. It’s true. I want to be your friend forever. I swear it on my father’s ring…a precious ruby, set in gold. Here, I’d like you to have it.
I couldn’t…and with talk of three-legged dogs and ruby rings, we’re straying from talk of the rug. Oh, yes, he said, the Royal Kerman that you don’t want. By the way, I said, I noticed three tiny holes, where winged intruders must have indulged, as it graced the Sultan’s floor. His rejoinder, without breaking stride, I told you, it is made of the finest wool. Now because you are my friend, he said, I will sacrifice clothes for my daughter and take $100 off the price. It breaks my heart, but I want to see you happy. I, too, I said, would like to see your face radiant as a pasha’s blush, so in honor of all three-legged dogs, I’ll give you $2000.
Flatterer, he said, but on her deathbed, I promised my sainted mother, that never would I sell this rug for less than $3750. It was her favorite. Was that $2500, I just heard, I asked him. No, no, that was the sound of tears, falling into my cup…$3600 and I’ll put in my own money to bring it up to $3750. The bargaining for this rug that I claimed no interest in went on through four cups of espresso and sugar cubes. And the talk was of knots per square inch, the wildflowers the sheep grazed on, the royal vats that dyed the wool, the house where it was weaved and the aged weaver…this, his last rug…the money from which would have to last him until called to Paradise.
I have a check, I said, already made out for $3000, my last check until new ones come in next month. Although, as you know, I have no interest in this rug, I do want to show my gratitude for the coffee and your pledge of friendship. Well, he said, I will lose money on it, but better to make a friend happy. Here, he said, take my father’s ring, too. Ah, the guilt I have, showing him how a real pro gets bargaining done. I’ll have the ring appraised next week.
I did go into an oriental rug emporium last week, thus this blog. The folksy profession of friendship, the offer of espresso hasn’t changed, since I bought an oriental 40 years ago. But the rugs now are made in India and China.