Example: [Brunvand, 1993]
They were looking for a bookkeeper, but after the madam quizzed the boy about his education and discovered that he could neither read or write, she turned him away.
Feeling sorry for him, she gave him two big red apples as he left. A few blocks down the street, he placed the apples on top of a garbage can while tying his shoe, and a stranger came along and offered to buy them.
The boy took the money to a produce market and bought a dozen more apples,which he sold quickly. Eventually he parlayed his fruit sales into a grocery store, then a string of supermarkets. Eventually he became the wealthiest man in the state.
Finally he was named Man of the Year, and during an interview a journalist discovered that his subject could neither read or write.
"Good Lord, Sir," he said. "What do you suppose you would have become if you had ever learned to read and write?"
"Well," he answered, "I guess I would have been a bookkeeper in a whorehouse."1
Origins: According to folklorist Jan Brunvand, after writer Somerset Maugham was accused of stealing the plot of his 1929 short story "The Verger," he explained that he'd heard the tale from a friend and that it was a well known bit of Jewish folklore. Maugham's claim is supported by this find, harvested from a 1923 joke book:
He was of a likeable disposition, and speedily made acquaintances who sought to aid him in his ambition. One of them sponsored him for the vacant post of janitor, or shammos, to use the common Hebraic word, of a little synagogue on a side street. But when the officers of the congregation found out the applicant was
Within ten years he was one of the largest independent operators in East Side tenement-house property and popularly rated as a millionaire. An occasion arose when he needed a large amount of money to swing what promised to be a profitable deal. Finding himself for the moment short of cash, he went to the East Side branch of one of the large banks.
It was the first time in his entire business career that he had found it necessary to borrow extensively. He explained his position to the manager, who knew of his success, and asked for a loan of fifty thousand dollars.
"I'll be very glad to accommodate you,
The caller smiled an embarrassed smile.
"If you please," he said, "you should be so good as to make out the note and then I should sign it."
"What's the idea?" inquired the bank manager, puzzled.
"Vell, you see," he confessed, "I haf to tell you somethings: Myself, I cannot read and write. My vife, she has taught me how to make my own name on paper, but otherwise, with me, reading and writing is nix."
In amazement, the banker stared at him.
"Well, well, well!" he murmured admiringly. "And yet, handicapped as you've been, inside of a few years you have become a rich man! I wonder what you'd have been by now if only you had been able to read and write?"
"A shammos," said Mr. Rabin modestly.2
A good story never goes out of style, as this example shows:
An unemployed man goes to apply for a job with Microsoft as a janitor. The manager there arranges for him to take an aptitude test — (Floors, sweeping and cleaning).
After the test, the manager says, "You will be employed at minimum wage, $5.15 an hour. Let me have your
Taken aback, the man protests that he has neither a computer nor an
Stunned, the man leaves. Not knowing where to turn and having only $10 in his wallet, he decides to buy a
Within less than 2 hours, he sells all the tomatoes individually at 100% profit. Repeating the process several times more that day, he ends up with almost $100 before going to sleep that night. And thus it dawns on him that he could quite easily make a living selling tomatoes. Getting up early every day and going to bed late, he multiplies his profits quickly.
After a short time he acquires a cart to transport several dozen boxes of tomatoes, only to have to trade it in again so that he can buy a pickup truck to support his expanding business. By the end of the second year, he is the owner of a fleet of pickup trucks and manages a staff of a hundred former unemployed people, all selling tomatoes.
Planning for the future of his wife and children, he decides to buy some life insurance. Consulting with an insurance adviser, he picks an insurance plan to fit his new circumstances. At the end of the telephone conversation, the adviser asks him for his
When the man replies that he has no
After a moment of thought, the tomato millionaire replied, "Why, of course! I would be a floor cleaner at Microsoft!"
Moral of this story:
1. The Internet, e-mail and e-commerce do not need to rule your life.
2. If you don't have e-mail, but work hard, you can still become a millionaire.
3. Since you got this story via
4. If you do have a computer and e-mail, you probably have already been taken to the cleaners by Microsoft.
It is ever thus — the directions of lives change depending upon which ad is answered, which interview is given, even which bus is taken. A chance encounter can lead to a marriage and the begetting of children, and just as certainly the slightly different choice of ad or bus can result in those two people's never meeting. Career direction is likewise up for grabs.
As much as we like to feel we're masters of our fate, often we're the very last factor to have much influence on unfolding events, even within the confines of our own lives.
But there's another message to this legend, one of the power of divine intervention and why it doesn't pay to second-guess God. Today's disappointment can be a necessary, though momentarily painful, ingredient in tomorrow's success, as the snubbed bookkeeper or janitor finds out. Children of the moment that we are, we tend to forget this truth when caught up in sorrow over not getting what we'd set our hearts on, and tend only to remember it again when things ultimately turn out far better than they would have if we'd gotten our shortsighted way.
Barbara "father of the chide" Mikkelson
Sightings: In Somerset Maugham's 1929 short story "The Verger," an illiterate church caretaker is fired by the vicar when his lack of education comes to light. The ousted verger goes on to become a tobacconist, eventually owning a string of shops in London.
Last updated: 20 April 2011
1. Brunvand, Jan Harold. The Baby Train. New York: W. W. Norton, 1993. ISBN 0-393-31208-9 (pp. 155-156). 2. Cobb, Irvin S. A Laugh a Day Keeps the Doctor Away. New York: Garden City Publishing, 1923 (pp. 190-191).
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