On a residential street down a certain avenue, on the second floor of a four family house, there lived a man who was committed to doing good.
The peculiar thing about this man, Bene ‘Ben’ Di Rossi, is how self-critical he was. When I say he was self-critical I don’t mean as some kind of perfectionist, constantly assessing the purity, volume and frequency of his mitzvahs. No, what I mean is he would look at the world through the eyes of a cynic. A pessimist, he always pointed out to friends, family, even strangers, the folly of his high moral standards. Had he lived long ago, people would say, he could have coined the phrase no good deed goes unpunished.
He would be honest with his employer, a man by the name of Morris Simple; sincere to the point of being seen by some as foolish. All the while he would say, what a fool I am. After a particular situation involving workplace or family politics would play itself out, he would say, see, see; that’s why it pays to be underhanded, all the while doing just the opposite that his commentary would imply.
Bene heard the rain and couldn’t control, couldn’t stop the feelings the rain conjured up. Ben was a good man. Among his neighbors he was known as a stand up guy, a nice guy. Yeah, he thought, and nice guys finish last.
As the years of Ben’s life passed, he had attended schools both Catholic and public. After years in parochial elementary school the young boy asked his mother to place him in public when he saw the trouble making tuition payments caused her. His mother, single and struggling but proud to be self-reliant, never asked for this sacrifice, Bene insisted.
At first his mother Claudia simply saw this as more evidence that her son was the sweetest little boy in the world. After she realized that he wasn’t just sympathetic toward her, but to the world in general, her mind quickly changed. It wasn’t jealousy. They were people of modest means and she was genuinely concerned about her son’s future well being in a world that wasn’t normally kind to the kind-hearted.
Bene went through high school, finishing twelfth grade and then on to Brooklyn College. He did extremely well with close to a 4.0 GPA most semesters.
As scholarly and credentialed a college graduate Ben was, he was however unable to find a job that paid well, much less one that had the indications of a potential career.
His mother and the relatives over in Jersey blamed the economy and everything else they could think of, for Bene’s poor showing in the race for a good job, for his life’s first material success.
Worst job market in 50 years.
Bene is over-qualified.
After landing a 35K a year job at a neighborhood real estate office Bene soon came to the realization, if he hadn’t already, that business, his chosen major, did not reward the excessively honest. Much like a game of poker, he gave off a certain vibe he thought, a certain ENERGY that certain wide-eyed look of the hopelessly good. This was when the self-deprecating criticisms began.
Another problem was Ben would often get caught up with the DETAILS and beauty of life. He would not always get a joke right away or immediately understand when people were being sarcastic or facetious. Any sort of playful jesting would often go right over Bene’s head. Many times, especially when first meeting someone, Bene feared this might make him appear dim-witted.
Rain continued to collide with the outside of the skylight in Bene’s windowless hallway. Tenement laws were the reason the skylight was there as they made windowless rooms illegal. The New York State Tenement House Act of 1901. Dumbbell Tenement. These were the terms Bene had picked up from history classes about New York’s poor at the turn of the Twentieth Century. He thought of his own stupidity for doing what he had just done. His first selfish act. Bene had been smart this time, looked out for number one. He still had not managed to escape his own scorn.
He was in trouble now, and all of his unproductive daydreaming was a hindrance.
Ben thought of the last words his boss had said to him at the end of his job interview 2 years ago:
As long as you don’t steal from me, we’re good.
He wondered if he was going to jail.
He knew that what he was doing was no different than what others were doing. He hadn’t technically stolen anything. He had stumbled onto something that was potentially worth all that money.
All that money.
Bene was a connoisseur of antiques. From a young age he learned about a world where history and art, his two favorite interests, came together. Bene DVRed Antique Road Show on PBS regularly. He knew that even relatively slight signs of wear and tear were often enough to seriously downgrade the value of an artifact. Mint to near mint, excellent to just “good”. Classifications he picked up as a young comic book collector that were still in his lexicon.
That’s what made this particular item such a special discovery. It was found in the best possible condition. The most fitting thing about it was that something so valuable would be found hidden where it was, out in plain sight.