Careful who you eat a sandwich with 

It was on one of those days he said he “kicked out” when I first met Jerry Olsen.  I was engrossed in the paper and a sub sandwich when I heard, “Mind if I sit here?”

I glanced up and noticing little else other than he probably wouldn’t steal my wallet or my sandwich said, “Sure, go ahead.”

He sat down as he said, “It’s so crowded in here today I couldn’t find a seat that wasn’t full and you’re about the only person who I wouldn’t be afraid would steal my sandwich while I ate it.”

“Uh, huh” I said.  I was trying to finish the short piece on the woman who washed her cat in the dishwasher and dried it in the oven; a real riveting human-interest piece.  The last thing I wanted was a conversation.

“Name’s Jerry, Jerry Olsen” he said, extending a hand.

“Paul Stent” I said, barely meeting his eyes as I wiped my hand on my pants and shook his hand.  I wanted to know if the cat survived and what the ASPCA or the people with the funny jacket and white outfits had done to the woman.

“Whatcha readin?”

“Just a little piece here on the imminent explosion of the earth due to ultraviolet rays, greenhouse gases and atomic experimentation.  A fluff piece.”  Some people just wouldn’t take a hint.

“Oh.”  He may have gotten the hint after all.

“I work at Stella’s on the mall.  What do you do?”  I said.  The cat had lived.

“Oh, I sell insurance, deal a few drugs and race Cigarette boats on Lake Erie for fun and profit.”

So, he had taken the hint.

“Oh yeah?  Sounds sort of dry and boring.  Too bad you can’t work at Stella’s” I said.  At least he had a sense of humor.

“Sorry I wasn’t very friendly but there was this story about a lady and her cat…”

“Yeah, I saw that this morning.”

“But the paper doesn’t go out until eleven.”

“I usually see it a little earlier than everyone else.  What do you do at Stella’s really?”

“Income taxes.  I do accounting, bookkeeping, general bean-counting stuff.  What do you really do?”

“Well, nothing today, but I guess you could say that if you count the beans I make them.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I sell stocks and work with venture capital.  You know, start-ups and stuff, the next big thing walks across my desk every other Tuesday.”

“Whoa!  If you do that what are you doing at a dump like this for lunch?  You could be eating at Rotero’s or some other white-collar joint.”

“Well, today I kicked out.”

I stared at him waiting for an explanation but none came.  He just looked at me, rather sheepishly and then looked down.

“What do you mean, you “kicked out”?”

“Well, sometimes the pressure gets to be a little too much and I just kick out of gear.”

“So you just quit?”

“Yeah, well, not really quit, I just leave for a while to recharge.  I usually go back before too long.”

I guess I must have looked like I didn’t understand (which I didn’t) so he went on.

“See, your head is kind of like a machine made of gears and mechanisms and switches and stuff.   Well, mine has a mechanism that, when the circuits get too overloaded, it just kicks out of gear and I have to shut down and let things cool off.”

He said it so matter-of-factly it seemed to lose some of the obvious, inherent flakiness that behavior carried.

“Yeah, well, I’ve gotta get going, get back to the office, you know.”

The crazy-person red flag was waving.

“Hope you get to feeling better soon.”  ‘This guys might be nuts!’

“Thanks, I’m sure it’ll pass, it always does,” he said like it was the same as getting over the flu or a cold.

I turned this chance meeting over in my head a few times on the walk back to work but never really got farther than the whole head-explanation thing and the nuttiness of the guy.  By the time I got back I’d written him off as probably a harmless kook who more than likely was delusional and NOT someone who dealt in any kind of investment other than the companies he launched from the closet in his parent’s basement.  In fact I hadn’t thought about him since our first run-in when I bumped into Jerry at the Downtown Diner a few weeks later.

This is the first installment of this story and, like you, I’m not sure who Jerry is, if he’s really harmless or if it’s safe to be in any kind of restaurant with him.  And what in the heck is “kicking out” really?

Every week I write about life stuff, sometimes it’s real, sometimes it’s conjectural and sometimes it’s fiction.  This would be the last one.  If you would like to read more of my writing, just click here and you’ll go to my blog’s home page.  From there, or here, you can subscribe to my blog for free.  Subscribing means you’ll get an email on Sundays with links to the week’s writing.  Go ahead and click this to subscribe.