There were twenty-two tables in the dining room, but Table One was for them. They were the wealthiest seven residents at the Chatsworth Senior Residence Home and they ensured a proper class structure by assigning each new resident to a table best befitting his or her social standing. In essence, they were the snobbiest and they held sway over the rest. Cross them and you ended up sitting at Table 22.
Each new resident was invited to lunch, but just once. He or she would get a written invitation and was expected to be properly dressed and on time, and after which he or she would be questioned about their backgrounds, their financial situations, what colleges their children attended, and so on and so forth. At the end of lunch, they would be dismissed and would receive a table assignment slipped under their door later that day.
Jim got his invitation to lunch within minutes of his arrival in his suite. He hadn’t shaved for several days and his clothes looked like he’d slept in them, which he had. Two days ago he’d received notice that he’d been accepted at Chatsworth and that his lodgings would be available two days hence. Bringing nothing with him but an old suitcase, he arrived by cab and checked-in just after lunch. As he was escorted through the sitting room to his suite, the other residents had a good look at their newest arrival. The Table One crowd huddled together shortly thereafter and decided to invite Jim to tomorrow’s lunch and get it over with as soon as possible.
At lunch the next day, he arrived at Table One on time. “Hi, I’m Jim Jablonski. I live in Suite 148 C. Just got in yesterday. I appreciate the invite to lunch,” he said, the odor of his strong aftershave catching everyone at the table a little off guard. “What’s for eats, anyway?”
The others, their eyebrows all raised, looked at each other realizing that Table 22 would have another place setting this evening. Nevertheless, they went ahead with their interview. “Jim,” one of them asked, “What did you do for a living, if you don’t mind us asking?”
Digging into his salad, his mouth half full, Jim managed to mumble, “Janitorial work, mostly. And some handy-man work around the neighborhood. Oh, and I drove a school bus when the regular driver was out.”
“Interesting,” another at the table commented. “Did you inherit money, Jim?”
“Me? God no. My family’s got nothing,” he replied, shoveling another forkful of salad into his mouth. “And I sure as damn well didn’t marry into it neither.”
The group, a bit mystified, said nothing for a few moments, and then the head snob asked, “Well, Jim, just how are you able to afford Chatsworth? Not on a janitor’s retirement, certainly.”
Jim wiped his mouth with his napkin, belched, and sat back. He looked around the table, smiled, and replied, “So, that’s what this little get-together is all about, huh? Where does Jim get all his dough?” Then, leaning forward and staring each one in the eyes, he chuckled, “Well, maybe I stole it.”
The group let out a collective gasp with some of the women holding their hankies to their mouths and some of the men letting out with loud ‘Tsk-Tsks’. Jim watched them for a moment and then announced, “Now, don’t get your panties in a bunch, folks. I ain’t no crook. I made my money straight up . . . and a lot of it, too.”
“Well, really, Jim, we’re certainly glad to hear that. Just how did you earn your fortune?” one of the men wondered.
“I found something I was really, really good at. Better than almost anyone out there, too. It took me years of self-learning, a lot of hit and miss, but when I hit my stride, I was the best at what I did. And the money just rolled in,” Jim explained.
They looked around at each other again and then one asked, “The best at what you did, Jim? I don’t recollect seeing your face or name in anything I’ve read over the years. Just what were you so good at doing?”
Jim cleared his throat, picked-up a spoon and started, “Okay, let’s say this spoon represents a jewelry store that sells estate jewelry. And let’s say that this here fork is old Jim Jablonski, dressed in his janitorial clothes, his name sewn on his shirt. So the spoon takes one look at the fork and asks, ‘Yes, Jim, what can I do for you today?’.” Jim stops, lets that sink in, and continues, “Now, the fork has taken a quick look around the store and has realized that there is just one item in the whole damn store that is seriously underpriced. Let’s say it’s this knife, okay?”
They all nod as Jim arranges the spoon, fork, and knife on the table in front of them and continues, “Now, the fork has spent years figuring out what jewelry is really worth. He knows that the shop owner is real good at this, too, but he’s better. There’s something about the knife that the fork has spotted that the spoon has missed. And it’s the difference between selling the knife for three thousand dollars or for thirty thousand dollars! You all with me?”
Enthralled, they all nodded together, their eyes fixated on the silverware arrayed in front of Jim. “So, Jim,” one of them asked, “That’s how you made your fortune? One piece of jewelry at a time? That’s an amazing story. And you managed their expectations by wearing your janitorial work clothes! Wonderful, Jim. And that store owner probably went home to his wife and bragged how he had made a killing on a piece of jewelry on a sale to pardon the expression, some poor working man.”
Jim sat back and was asked the next question, “So, Jim, was that typical? Could you make that kind of profit margin on most of your discoveries?”
“Oh, that’s not how I made my fortune. No, what I’d do next is go to New York, Chicago, or Miami where I’d have contacts and move these pieces in high-end jewelry stores to their very wealthy clients. So, for instance, that knife we’re talking about would sell for over a hundred thousand in a place like Boston. So, instead of making just twenty-seven thousand profit, I’d make a lot more . . . a lot more.”
The group gave Jim a muted round of applause with smiles all around. Jim was clapped on his back, his hand was shook, and even one old lady batted her eyelashes at him. But he wasn’t done with this crowd just yet. As they all settled down, Jim pointed out, “That broach you’re wearing, ma’am. I bought that in a store in North Carolina for eight hundred dollars. And I sold it in Chicago where you later purchased it for over seventy-eight thousand. Am I not right?”
The wearer of the broach blushed as the group turned towards her in shock and embarrassment. “And you, sir, that ring you’re sporting on your right hand. That’s one of mine, too. Maybe the most money I’ve ever made on any single item, I’m proud to say,” Jim announced without hesitation.
There was a growing sense of anger at the table as Jim went from one person to the next, telling how much money he’d made on one piece of jewelry or another that each was wearing. And at the end of it all, he announced as he started to rise, “Well, I guess I’ll be sitting at Table 22 tonight. But at least I’ll have some tales to tell. Right?”
It took less than a second for the man on his right to put his hand on Jim’s shoulder and ask him to remain seated. “Now, now, Jim. Let’s not be too hasty about this, shall we. Why don’t you just join us for the foreseeable future here at Table One. I’m sure the rest of us feel the same way I do.”
Jim smiled, looked around at the rest of them and saw they were all nodding in agreement. And as he sat down, the old woman who had batted her eyelashes at him asked, “Why, Jim, what is that wonderful cologne you’re wearing, anyway?”
Jim knew that somebody at that table would have his story checked out and would find out it was all a lie. But before that happened, Jim would have sold lots of overpriced jewelry to these folks and be long gone, headed for the next ritzy retirement home and another table full of suckers.