Originally published on December 5, 2012:
BY BOB SMITH
Have you ever heard of the Chooba diamond? I invented it when I was 11.
In 1965, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons had a pretty big hit on pop radio with a song called, “Let’s Hang On.” It’s a bouncy anthem about love gone wrong featuring Valli’s powerful falsetto, and one of the verses begins like this:
That little chip of diamond on your hand
Ain’t a fortune baby but you know it stands
For the love (A love to tie and bind ya)
Such a love (We just can’t leave behind us) …
The chorus exhorts the girlfriend to:
Hang on to what we’ve got
Don’t let go girl, we got a lot
Got a lotta love between us
Hang on, hang on, hang on
To what we’ve got.”
Somehow, I misunderstood the first line of that verse. I thought Frankie said, “that little Chooba diamond on your hand,” instead of “chip of:”
I’d had zero experience with diamonds (or engagement rings, or girls, for that matter), so I assumed Chooba was a designation of origin for a rare type of diamond unknown to me. The “ain’t a fortune baby” line made sense because he did say “little,” after all. So in my quaint understanding, Frankie had purchased an engagement ring for his girl set with a minuscule, but nonetheless highly-prized and mysterious, “Chooba diamond.”
This was decades before the Internet, so I couldn’t simply Google “Chooba diamond,” and find out how wrong I was. (The first line of the Google search results for “Chooba diamond” yields the faintly sarcastic, “Did you mean, ‘choose a diamond?'” Similar snarky results come up for the alternate spelling, “Chuba.” And I never bothered to look it up in the dictionary, because I assumed Chooba was an exotic vernacular reference that wouldn’t appear there. (It doesn’t.)
Not wanting to appear unsophisticated, I didn’t dare ask anyone in my family or any of my friends to explain the word. It didn’t seem to be an issue to anyone but me. Hey, if everyone else accepted “Chooba diamond,” who was I to argue? I just played it cool, tapped my feet to the song when it came on the radio, and silently sang “Chooba diamond” to myself, imagining that someday I would become a man of the world, and learn exactly what kind of diamond that was.
It was 15 years before I learned the truth. I was in my first year of law school, in the midst of a divorce, and just starting to date Maria. I had only a part-time job, and was paying nominal rent to live in a spare room in a friend’s apartment. I was essentially penniless. Nonetheless, I badly wanted to get Maria a gift for Christmas. I went to the local jewelry store with the entire $30 that was at my disposal, and picked out a ring that consisted of a single silver wire looped around a sliver of garnet. She opened the box on Christmas day, dutifully oohed and ahhed, and slipped it on her finger. You could hardly see it.
“That’s so sweet,” she said. “You’re like Frankie Valli and that little chip of diamond.”
“What do you mean?”
“You know: “‘That little chip of diamond on your hand, ain’t a fortune baby, but you know it stands,'” she sang, humming the rest.
I understood immediately. I had bought her a Chooba garnet.