February 28, 2020

The Perfect Circle

Back in the ’80s, I had a friend named Mickey. Although he was a helpful and fun guy, he would pluck out a person’s one good eye if he thought he could get cash for it. He was one tough, funny Jew — a shtarker. When I was with him, I always felt protected. Other than my father, he was the only other Jew I knew who had a tattoo — a Star of David on his right forearm. At my father’s funeral, he locked arms with me and held me up when I got weak in the knees. Except for his thievery, he was a really great guy. 

After moving to California, just in case my career didn’t work out, I kept my New York apartment for about 15 years. Periodically, I’d let friends stay for free. It was a tiny studio with no sink in the bathroom and a gas heater. If the heater’s pilot light went out while you slept, there was a possibility you might sleep forever. 

The apartment was too small for a bed, so I kept a prison-thick foam mattress leaning against the wall that I would plop on the cold floor at night. Occasionally, a mouse would scamper by my face as I was drifting off. Mice loved my apartment because I always had crumbs on the floor or an open package of something from Entenmann’s. I kept a small TV, radio and cable box so when people stayed there, there was some entertainment other than mice scooting by. 

During a gig in Indianapolis, I met a jeweler named Marc Aronstam, who quickly became a friend. One day, I told him that Nov. 18, 1984, was an important date in my life; in fact, it was the day I started my life over. He suggested that he make me a ring to commemorate the date. Months later, he handed me a beautiful ring that I cherished and wore almost all the time. Whenever I looked at it, I felt a surge of gratitude. 

Every time I look at [the ring], I feel that same surge of gratitude.

I got a call one day from a friend who was staying at my New York apartment. He said, “I thought there was a TV and cable box here.” I said, “There isn’t?” He said, “There is nothing here.” I hung up and called Mickey, who admitted he went shopping at my apartment. He eventually returned everything and I eventually forgave him. Mickey was struggling with addiction and mental health issues. A few of us tried to help him but ultimately to no avail. Five years later, I let Mickey stay with me in California until he found a place. He swore to me he was done stealing but the day after he moved out, my most precious ring was missing. I grilled him but he never copped to it. That said, I’ve always believed it was him. 

I heard later that he was caught stealing an expensive pair of sunglasses and other items. I cut Mickey out of my life. Sometimes you have to get rid of people you love. 

Many times, I’ve thought about the ring and how I wish I still had it. But I never tried to replace it. Then one day, I told my friend Roman Ward, a 90-year-old Holocaust survivor, about my Nov. 18 date and how important it was to me. When Roman came to the U.S., he became a jeweler. He said in his Polish accent, “Mark, my dear friend, I’d like to make you a ring as a gift.” I told him I’d love it. He told me that he loved me. 

Roman made me a ring. What’s amazing is that the ring he made is almost exactly like the old one, which Roman never saw. Like the original, every time I look at it, I feel that same surge of gratitude. I don’t miss my old ring anymore. I feel like this one is a gift from God through Roman Ward. Like the original ring, the circle is once again complete. As my friend Cubby once said, “It’s good to know that miracles are possible without my consent.”

Mark Schiff is a comedian, actor and writer.