What feels like a lifetime ago, I was an assistant manager at a pawn shop. It was a pretty stressful job, but nothing stressed me as bad as the day I had to call 911.
This sweet little old lady came in one afternoon, while I was the manager on duty. She was a bit frail looking, but dressed very nicely, a sweet smile, but eyes that looked far sadder than I had ever seen eyes look. She hesitantly came up to the counter, and I approached with an easy smile and calmly asked if I could help her. I expected she was there to find something that had been stolen – we had that happen far too often; grandkids would steal their grandmother’s jewelry and pawn it for a quick buck, and it was always hard to break the news to the grandmother that we’d have to get the police involved to get them back their things. Like I said, stressful job, so I was already mentally preparing myself for the speech I’d given a thousand times at least.
I asked her gently if I could help her. She smiled, and reached into her purse. She pulled out a collection of really beautiful looking jade jewelry.
“I was wondering if I could get a loan on my jewelry,” she said quietly, her eyes cast down, refusing to meet mine.
Fuck. This was worse than I was prepared for. The problem was, my shop, hell, most shops, won’t lend on jewelry that isn’t gold, silver, or diamonds. It’s too hard to verify that it’s real, and unlike Pawn Stars, we didn’t have a TV network flying in experts to verify something’s worth. As it was, I had already gotten in trouble that week for giving too much money to a young mother pawning a very cheap wedding ring set, in order to buy diapers and formula for her kids (yeah, I know, classic sob story, but her very hungry looking, smelly infant had me convinced there was a glimmer of truth to it).
I looked at the jewelry, and swallowed. I could probably give her $20 for it. That way, even if it was plastic and not actual jade, I wasn’t going to be out so much that I couldn’t cover it out of my own pocket if need be. But I didn’t want to insult her. I could tell be the tremble in her hands that this was breaking her pride, and I’d be damned if I contributed to that.
“How much are you trying to get?” I asked cautiously.
“I was hoping, maybe $300?”
Fuck. There was no way. No way at all, that I could get her that kind of money.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “I really don’t think I can help you with this. We don’t have the ability to test jade, and we’re very limited in what we can offer you.”
“Please,” she said, looking up with tears in her eyes, “I’ve tried every other shop. I need the money, please. They’ve raised my rent and I can’t afford to move. Please.”
F U C K.
I sighed. There was no way. But…
“Let me call my boss,” I said, “And see what we can do.”
I spent the next 15 minutes or so on the phone with my boss. He wasn’t a bad guy, but he didn’t want to take it in at all. We argued back and forth, and finally, we agreed that we could go as high as $75, but no higher.
I came back to her, and as gently as I could manage, I told her that the best I could manage would be $75.
Her face paled. Her mouth gaped. And then suddenly, she twitched, her eyes rolled back, and she fell over with a brief convulsion. I leaped over the counter and tried to get a response, but she didn’t seem to be breathing. I jumped back up, grabbed the phone, and called 911.
She was gone before they got there, I’m pretty sure. They still tried to resuscitate her, as they wheeled her out on the gurney and into the ambulance.
I was in a state of shock. It wasn’t until about a half hour later that I’d realized she’d left her jewelry on my counter, along with her ID. I contacted the police (non-emergency) and they sent an officer to gather her things.
I never found out if she made it or not.
Three weeks later, I turned in my resignation.