Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Sandwich Guy

I think everyone has those people they encounter in the corporate world that they will tell stories about for the rest of their corporate careers. For me, that person was Jimmy the Sandwich Guy.

Jimmy the Sandwich Guy was the Soup Nazi of the corporate cafeteria. I honestly think the only thing that got him out of bed most days (outside of the fact that I could see him waking up in fear that his house was on fire because he fell asleep smoking a cigarette) was that over the four hours of the work day covered by breakfast and lunch, there were about 200 people for him to run through the proverbial meat grinder at his deli, where he made sandwiches and carved up souls.

The first time I wandered into Jimmy's turf I waited patiently in line and then asked for a hamburger. I didn't ask for anything gourmet or for him to bend space and time; I just wanted a hamburger.


"Humma, huh" was what I heard, but what he actually said was anyone's guess. Jimmy's voice sounded like the equivalent of a verbal love child between Gary Busey, Hunter S. Thompson, Nick Nolte and Tom Waits. It was like a low mumble that you could describe as gruff, gravely, rough or, probably most accurately, just-don't-give-a-f*ck. Another way to say it is that there's no possible way he'll be taking any narration work away from Morgan Freeman. My wife, who worked with me, actually thought Jimmy was a linguist and did this for kicks. I bounced back from my state of shock, regained my composure and said that I wanted a hamburger.


Copyright 2014, Travis Ross (Simple Man's Survival Guide)
I just wanted a sandwich.
He looked at me like I had the mental acuity of a skinned kumquat and said, "Humma, huh, huh" a bit more aggressively. I continued standing, staring, scared and trying to decode the message he was transmitting. I'd never been in a situation were I couldn't successfully communicate the foundational part of a sandwich order. It usually doesn't get confusing until ketchup with no mustard, but this getting ugly in a hurry.

"HUMMA, HUH, SANDWICH, HAW HUH!" I buckled under the pressure and finally just said, "Yes" to keep things moving. He smiled, exposing a gold tooth. He laughed, I laughed, and he threw out a "Humma, who ha ha, hooo ah!" Again, I had no clue what he said, but the verbal cues seemed to be positive and he was obviously very please with himself, so I flashed a smile and thought we'd gotten through that awkward part of our relationship.

He pointed to the bun options. "Humma."

"Wheat, please."

"Homma hooma hoo ha, huh?"

"What."

"Hooa Huh?" he fired back, sounding as confused as I was, only I had no clue how this would have been possible. I was getting the impression that it would have been easier to explain to Charlie Sheen why drugs are bad than to order this sandwich.

"Wuh Heat," I said, as politely as I could. I was practically sweating bullets realizing that we were going back into the trenches, and this guy kept coming at me like a human wrecking ball. I'm in a new place, I don't really know anyone, all I want is a hamburger and I'm getting treated like Tom Cruise in the hot seat in A Few Good Men while Bitter McAngrypants keeps raking me over the coals like Jack Nicholson.

Again, I gave up and just said, "Yes."

I didn't walk out of the cafeteria that day with a hamburger, but rather with a tuna salad sandwich on a while bun with all kinds of add-ons that I didn't ask for.

Over the years I formed somewhat of a working relationship with Jimmy the Sandwich Guy, and I realized that he did this to everyone, and as a result I think most people who didn't want to be heckled developed a rapport with Jimmy and also ordered the same thing every day to prevent confusion. I looked forward to the days when I would go down to the cafeteria and get to watch someone go through the process of getting their first sandwich from Jimmy. I didn't see anyone cry, but I saw a lot of people come back to their desk and ask "What's with the bug up the sandwich guy's a**?" Over time they learned it was nothing personal and that Jimmy hated everyone. They also learned that the true cost of a sandwich was $5 plus the willingness to accept a little verbal abuse.

All that being said, there's no Jimmy the Sandwich Guy where I work now, and I occasionally miss getting a sandwich that was the complete opposite of what I ordered with a side of verbal abuse. However, it will always make a good icebreaker when starting a job at a new place.

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