Vignette: The Author Discovers A New Way To Jimmy And Is Despised For Having Done So

I blame science fiction, and all the various ideas of consciousness that it contains. You see, for much of my life I’ve struggled with a fear that goes something like this: Sleep is essentially equivalent to death. It’s a break in consciousness. So when you go to sleep, you basically die. The “you” that wakes up tomorrow isn’t actually you, any more than a clone would be. It’s just picking up the dropped thread of consciousness where you left off, the same way you are picking up where yesterday’s version of you left off. But that doesn’t mean that you’ll still be around tomorrow, any more than watching someone else’s home videos makes you that person.

The logical, if absurd, conclusion to this philosophy is that all of us are only alive for a single day. Remember the song? “Sha na na na na na live for today, hey hey”. The only things that you will ever experience before you “die” are what you’re going to do today.

It’s a very seductive theory, and there’s a bit of evidence to support it, but I’ve had to convince myself to let it go. First off, truly believing that today is the only day that I will ever be alive is a terrible incentive to skullduggery/adultery/aggravated-assault/impulse-purchasing/ZX-14R-wheelies and the like. Secondly, it’s hugely depressing on the days when nothing good or interesting happens. Consider today, if you will. The weather was miserable. Work has been annoying. And then there’s my usual $7.27 lunch at Jimmy John’s Subs. But wait! Today wasn’t entirely worthless, because I got to make other people unhappy.

Given the choice, I wouldn’t even be in the vicinity of my local JJ’s between 11:45 and 12:45. That’s when every single one of my fellow emasculated cubicle monkeys (and open-workspace bonobos!) stops “doing email” long enough to trudge down the street for a seven-dollar lunch. This isn’t a punishment to us; it’s a reward, because a lot of office drones in downtown Colulmbus can’t leave their desks at lunch and have to suffer the indignity of paying JJ’s to send a bicycle messenger with their sub. Those people are worse off than medium-security inmates at the prisons fifty miles south; after all, they get to step outside and walk to lunch.

My walk to Jimmy John’s always takes me past a weathered-looking fifty-something black guy who pretends to be homeless. He sells the “homeless newspaper” which is printed on a weekly basis and donated to the indigent, who then are supposed to sell it and in thus doing acquire some dignity. They’re not panhandlers, you see — they’re members of the media! I’ve stood there and watched his street sales pitch, a magnificent piece of performance art that threads the thin line between being pathetic and being rather menacing, depending on the age and sex of his pigeon du jour. He’s quite good and he earns more on a daily basis than other pretend members of the media, such as the average contributor to The Drive.

This guy is out in rain or shine, selling his newspaper. We’ve grown close over the past few years, based on a multi-faceted mutual understanding that works like so: I don’t buy his stupid newspaper. He doesn’t ask me to buy his stupid newspaper. He doesn’t laugh at me when my knees give out right in front of him and I tumble to the ground like I’ve been tripped by a vindictive ghost — this has happened three times in the past two years courtesy of my repaired left leg. And, finally, I don’t mention to anybody that I occasionally see him at Tim Horton’s in the morning, enjoying a nine-dollar breakfast to start his long day of pretending to be homeless. He’s not homeless. In fact, I’m pretty sure he owns a late-model Acura TL with Technology and Advance packages, in slate grey.

When he saw me today, limping down the street towards the sub shop, he raised his eyebrows at me. He knows I’m too smart to go in there during peak hours. But in this instance I was the mere puppet of my schedule, and in truth the line wasn’t so bad. There were six people waiting to order ahead of me, and they all finished in a hurry. I nodded at the young lady behind the counter, who knows my order and does not require that I speak it aloud.

There was a line of people waiting to get their subs. They were all holding empty soda cups. I was also holding an empty soda cup. I looked past the line of people to the soda machine. There was nobody there.

Since I’m kind of a Starfish Alien and my super-power is pattern recognition, I immediately understood what was going on here. In the minds of the ten or so people ahead of me, their Jimmy John’s experience was meant to follow a certain pattern:

  • Order meal
  • Receive cup
  • Wait for sandwich
  • Receive sandwich
  • Walk to soda machine
  • Fill soda
  • Eat meal

This is perfectly reasonable as long as all aspects of the line are moving at the same pace. But when the sandwich-making line is running a bit slow, as it tends to do around noon because they are making the to-go lunch orders and the delivery orders as well as the meals which have been commissioned locally, then the sandwich reception becomes a bottleneck.

So I walked around these ten people who were holding their empty soda cups. I walked to the soda machine. I filled my cup with ice. Then I filled it with soda. All ten people saw me do this. Then… almost as one… they bum-rushed the soda machine. The first fellow to get there was a corporate vice president right out of central casting. Six foot four, ruggedly handsome, wearing a topcoat. He tried to shove his cup in front of me while I was still getting the plastic top for my cup. I contrived to “accidentally” swat him in the face with the plastic top.

My antagonist flushed with anger and I could tell that he would have liked to punch me in the face. The problem for him was that you don’t get to a VP position in a major corporation if you’re the kind of person who punches first and asks questions later. We looked at each other for a long primate moment and we both correctly concluded that he had much more to lose than I do in any potential confrontation. So he settled for a kind of subvocalized snarl. I gave him the blankest look possible then put the cherry on the top of my satisfaction by shoving him unceremoniously into the soda machine with my right shoulder as I walked past him back towards the sandwich counter. There are moments when I take a real pleasure in being a lower-middle-class piece of human garbage with no career prospects and this was one of those times. While Mr. Vice-President bent over to pick up the cup he’d dropped, two other people went around him and started passive-aggressively bumping and shoving at the soda machine. It was anarchy, bro!

The whole interaction was beyond fascinating for me. I think it perfectly encapsulates the transitional state of modern middle-class American society. Nobody was paying attention. Nobody was thinking about the process. Maybe they all had more important things on their minds, but I attend a lot of corporate meetings and I’ve yet to see any evidence that anybody at any of those meetings does much thinking during the day, whether in the lunch line or elsewhere. Once I “cheated” and demonstrated a better way to operate the process, however, all sense of decorum was immediately abandoned by all parties in a rush to arrive at the soda machine first.

A practiced student of game theory could model this situation and show all the different scenarios/costs/potential actions. You could argue, for instance, that I’d actually “cut” the first person in the sandwich line. Had he received his sandwich while I was filling up, he would have found me in front of him. I’d have felt bad about that. But as things turned out, the first person to get to the machine behind me was actually third or fourth in line. He was just the quickest person to realize that he could do what I’d done. He was also obviously the tallest and most successful person in line.

I don’t think that’s coincidental. We live in world where most fortunes are made by recognizing an exploitation potential faster than someone else. Whether that’s in tech, real estate, Bitcoin, the market as a whole, or the law. I’ll give you an example. There’s a fellow in Columbus who was an apartment builder. He was searching for a competitive advantage. He looked at the laws governing condominium developments and he realized that they were much less rigorous than the laws governing apartments. So he stopped building apartments — and started building condos. Then he created a property management agency to rent those condos while the owners weren’t using them.

Turns out that 100% of the owners of these new “condos” wanted to rent them out. Can you believe it? And at least 10% of those condos were sold at a discount to trusts that operated on behalf of various Ohio lawmakers. So despite the protests of pretty much every consumer watchdog group in a fifty-mile radius, the good times never stopped rolling. After ten years or so, his competitors caught on and started doing the same thing. It was too late. Our protagonist had already bought the good lots. And his house in Naples. And his fractional jet share. Meanwhile, the “condos” were starting to fall apart. But it was the owners, not the builder, left holding the bag. I met the guy once, at a party. He struck me as a cross between Charleton Heston and a barracuda. One of the most unpleasant people I’ve ever stood face to face with. Nobody would mourn his death. Not even his family. But let the record show that he is worth more than $200 million and I am worthless to everybody but my son and the sales staff at Paul Reed Smith, Inc.

My pal with the homeless newspapers affected mild surprise to see me come back out of the Jimmy John’s so quickly. I winked at him. He turned away from me and started applying the inexorable pressure of his presence on two frightened-looking Millennial office workers in casual khaki. One of them stuttered excuses. The other started fumbling in his front pockets, hand shaking. I had to smile. Game, as they say, can recognize game. I strode away with the limping swagger of a lightly wounded Roman centurion. Maybe this is the only day that is allotted to me after all. I could live with that. Maybe it’s enough. Like the lady said, I got my feet on the ground and I don’t go to sleep to dream.

58 Replies to “Vignette: The Author Discovers A New Way To Jimmy And Is Despised For Having Done So”

    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      He’s part of their new professional staff in their new business model.

      By which I mean he writes for free in exchange for a quiet five-star weekend away from his wife.

      • Tomko

        Yes, but does she know about “the competition”?

        “I write about it more than Dutch Mandel does, but that’s only because nobody wants to read about ordering a steak from room service, charging it to Bentley, stuffing it into a shoe, and banging it while you cry over declining circulation numbers.”

    • Kevin Jaeger

      Man, a homeless panhandler doesn’t deserve to have the Technology and Advance packages. I don’t have the Technology package.

  1. Orenwolf

    What the hell is with the Tim Horton’s reference in this story? They’ve expanded all the way down there?

    If they have, you might want to consider their sandwiches for lunch, too – assuming they’ve kept the menu from the Motherland.

    • Dirty Dingus McGee

      In the tiny hamlet of South Bloomfield OH (approx 20 miles south of Columbus), there are three “restaurants”. A Mc Donalds, a Bob Evans and a Tim Hortons.

      Choose wisely.


      About 15 years ago Tim Horton’s invaded the U.S. through a strategic partnership with Wendy’s (which is headquartered in Columbus, OH). There are probably more Tim Hortons in Columbus than Starbucks. I don’t think it got a lot of publicity in the Canadian press as Canucks who move here are always really excited to see that their native coffee is readily available.


      • CanuckGreg

        Which I always find amusing as Tim Hortons’ coffee is an undrinkable blend of battery acid and bison piss. Their Egg McMuffin knockoff is better than McD’s original version though.

  2. Professional Commentist

    Sitting here trying to estimate time spent on a project but don’t actually remember a single day of it, even though it was something like 100 hours. That’s 100 hours clinically dead. Repeat. Occasionally ride bike 170mph to remind heart to keep squelching…

  3. ZG

    Wasn’t there a Sherlock Holmes story about a wealthy mam trying to hide the fact that he was a panhandler from his respectable family? That’s all I could think of while reading this.

  4. Kevin Jaeger

    Now that Jack has injected chaos into their serving line they’ll be forced to change their process. They won’t give customers a cup until AFTER the cash has been collected and the sandwich delivered.

        • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

          I just gave up breakfast that’s all. I’m doing the so called intermittent fasting. Most days I only eat between 1pm and 7:59pm.

          • Robert

            Me too. Is it helping? I find it depends _a lot_ on what I eat once I do start surprise.

          • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

            I lost 24 pounds in six months in 2015, getting ready for my Elsinore race.

            This time, it’s been harder going because I can’t tolerate as much knee load when I exercise. But I’m down about 12-13 pounds from my recent high and I’m also sleeping better.

          • Jodine

            How do you like IF, Jack? I’ve been contemplating doing it for from 11-7 but can’t yet commit.

          • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

            It works for me because unlike you I don’t have the discipline to avoid bad food. So I’m cramming all the bad food into just one third of the day and drinking water the other two thirds. Is it as good as eating healthy all the time? Not even close. But because I work 14-16 hours a day, it’s hard not to look forward to a meal. 🙁

          • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

            It works for me because unlike you I don’t have the discipline to avoid bad food. So I’m cramming all the bad food into just one third of the day and drinking water the other two thirds. Is it as good as eating healthy all the time? Not even close. But because I work 14-16 hours a day, it’s hard not to look forward to a meal. 🙁

  5. James

    I went to a college, in the Northeast, where everyone waited patiently in line, at the dining halls, to use the drink machine: one person per machine, at a time.

    Then I transferred, to another college, also in the Northeast. I went to the dining hall, used the drink machine–and two students reached around me to use the same machine, at the same time. That was a much better school!

      • James


        The students at my first school used to get so displeased at me when I filled a drink at the same time they did! It took them a long time to do anything; everyone sleepwalking, but watching out for anyone awake.

        • Kevin Jaeger

          I’ve always wondered if Miss Manners had a position on multiple people using the drink machine at the same time. If someone is already filling a cup with Coke is it okay to use the Sprite tap or are you supposed to wait?

          We didn’t have such questions when I was young so my mother never taught me.

          • Mark S.

            So long as you can get that Sprite without boxing in or otherwise encroaching on the Coke drinker’s personal space, I don’t see why it would be impolite.

  6. Rock36

    So I imagine there had to be at least one time that newspaper man tried to sell you a newspaper. How did that go down?

  7. yamahog

    Embrace your lower middle class status with a Z125. I haven’t ridden one but I understand them to be nicer / more solid than the Grom. You really can’t lose too much money on them (beyond modding it – don’t do anything except for tires, brake lines, pads, ect.)

    I bought my grom new when they launched, got power blasted in the booty by the dealer, crashed it several times, put 5k miles on it, and only lost $1k in depreciation. I’m about your size and maybe a few pounds lighter, and I wouldn’t count on it to do 60 but it’d do 55 – unless someone tailgates you, then it does 53. Apparently you can regear it to go faster but why bother?

    They’re awesome for having around, it’s a great pit bike, you’ll always get 100+ mpgs so running to the store for milk or a crush washer doesn’t feel wasteful. Imo that’s the biggest selling point – it’s so consequence free that there are just no hangups. It feels like freedom in a way that a car or fast bike never can – freedom from paying the piper. You don’t need 200 dollar tires, or 4 hour routine services. You could do an oil change in 15 minutes (inclusive of clean up) and a full service in an hour. It’d be a great thing for teaching someone new how to wrench. It has very big dividends to servicing it right and it doens’t really matter if you take shortcuts like skipping a torque wrench and just snugging up a bolt because the materials are so strong and everything is so oversized.

    The only hang up is that they really respond to driving wide friggin open. The short wheel base means you can make lovely, fantastic lines in a single land and you can do stuff like take 90 degree corners at 35-40 mph, or do circles in a single lane while you wait for the light to change. Easily the fastest vehicle I’ve ever driven in the city and for whatever reason (size?) the cops cut me a lot of slack.

    I sold mine because I had a 50 mile daily commute of which 48 miles were on the freeway and the GRom just didn’t hack it when the traffic was clear and people needed to GO (even in the far right lane).

    tl;dr It’s carefree fun (except when it isn’t).

    • don curton

      I view mini-bikes like the Grom in the same manner that we used to view mopeds and fat chicks, fun to ride but you didn’t want your friends to see you doing it.

      Actually thought about the Grom to take on camping trips, but that’s a lot of money when I already own a bicycle.

    • sabotenfighter

      Grom is too damn small, frame wise, for me.
      My CB50S or a Dream 50 is just big enough to not be horribly uncomfortable for a cheap, light bike. That said, before the engine swap, I was getting up to over 100kmh on the flats with just a carb swap. The old points ignition wasn’t happy with revving over 13k rpm though, so it would start to stutter when pegging it out. Swaped in an XR Motard engine and partial wire harness to the CB. Got a lot more torque, CDI ignition (with rev limiter, but fixed that) and much more stable 12V electric system. Doesn’t seem to have great top end, but I can pop wheelies up through 3rd.

  8. Djarum

    This is a completely opposite to how things run here. I live in Huntsville, AL, home to NASA, Marshall Space Flight Center, and Redstone Arsenal. This town is full of EE, CS, and CPEs. We only have a few JJs, here, but we do have a bunch of Firehouse subs. Its ALWAYS order, fill drink, and then pickup sandwich. Even at JJs because they, at the peak of lunchtime, are behind on making sandwhiches. Everything here is done in a logical and efficient fashion.

  9. viper32cm

    If you ever get tired of the fast-paced lifestyle of contract IT, I humbly suggest you consider a career in industrial engineering or operations management.

  10. Ken

    Leave it to Jack to write about something mundane and make it interesting. One of the many reasons I enjoy this site.

    I don’t understand group mentality. I mean I get it, in that it exists, but not why. In that same scenario I too would have looked over and then used the soda machine. On the flip side if I was one of the guys idly waiting – what was the point of bum rushing the soda machine? Especially if you were going to wait longer for your sandwich to be made anyway.

    Those are the same people who breathe down your neck at the cash register and need to be first on a plane w/assigned seats that’s leaving at an assigned time.

    I never understood the stress of beating the herd. I’d rather just avoid it. Perhaps its a primal thing.

    • Disinterested-Observer

      The only reason to get on a plane early is to find a spot for your carry-on since nobody checks their bags anymore. Otherwise why would I spend one second more than I had to in a pressurized disease tube?

  11. DirtRoads

    OK OK OK I really did this…

    I was a guinea pig for the VA and UW (U of WA) back in the late 80s. They gave you specific food for 6 weeks while they did tests on you, then you exercised for 6 months, then the food and tests again. Anyway, the food gave me gas like a mofo. Seriously!

    I was in an elevator in the UW medical building, with my sacks of food for the week, and I looked like a homeless guy because I’d just gone running etc etc… It was one of those long elevators they can put gurneys in. As I descended, I moved to the back as it stopped at various floors and started filing up with doctors and nurses. Snooting their noses at this knuckle ddragging lowlife with the brown bags. I could feel a huge fart bubble building up in my guts at the same time we were coming to my floor. It was one of those “silent but deadly” (SBD) farts. I started releasing it as I slowly exited across the elevator and it got cut off with the elevator doors behind me, filling that small chamber with human-source methane gas.


    I never smiled at a fart so much in my life.

    So is that kind of how you felt at Jimmy’s, Jack?

  12. Jeff

    Hey Jack,
    Long time listener first time caller. What are your thoughts on Mark Stevenson’s latest housekeeping article over at TTAC? I can’t help but see it as an attempt to shut you down. Man I hope not, I’ve been reading that site for a long time and you and Bark are by far my favorite authors. I work long boring shifts chained to a control panel (think Homer Simpson) for a power utility and this site and TTAC are my free entertainment.

    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      Hey Jeff,

      I don’t envy Mark in that job. I had a much easier time of it — the ownership respected (and slightly feared) me, the readers had a solid sense of my merit or lack thereof as a writer, and I have a personality that lends itself well to leading hopeless endeavors.

      Mark came in hobbled by a lack of title (he’s just Managing Editor, as Derek was before him), a lack of rapport with the readers, and no fan base as a writer. I think he is doing the very best job he can and I never have a single moment’s doubt about the purity and honesty of his intentions. He is that rarest of things — a truly nice guy.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.