A Venture in Sandwiches
One man with an idea, another with money and the way in which they combined forces to make a good financial stroke.
CHRISTOPHER SIMPSON was reading the help wanted column, which he had decided was his last hope. Nevertheless he managed to extract amusement therefrom.
The diversion of the moment had been an advertisement running: Wanted, men to carry sandwich boards for advertisers.
Simpson, better known to recent collegians as cricky Simp, aside from his brilliant social career, had achieved distinction at college for his ability as an amateur actor and for the clever advertising schemes he contrived to boom the various college organizations. As to actual college work; well, he’d never let study interfere with his regular occupations.
His two “accomplishments” had awakened exceedingly vitriolic comment from Simpson, Sr., when that gentleman tried to find just where his son and only heir would fit in the machinery of the big iron works of which he was the head.
Soon after Cricky had thoroughly demonstrated that he was a cog unique and unfittable and had won a chilly stare of contempt in return for a hint that he’d like to run the advertising department, the Great Northern Iron Works went into the hands of a receiver. Hence Cricky in the last ditch.
Reporting he’d tried on his first return to New York. A classmate, Jack Benson, was making good at it and got Cricky a place on his paper. Cricky kept it till his first pay-day,
then resigned, as he put it, to get out of range of the rapid-fire gun the city editor was training on him.
Now everything available was pawned and the proceeds reduced to their lowest terms. As for asking any of his numerous New York friends for aid in getting employment. he was still too proud for that.
“I’d sort of like that sandwich game.” lie soliloquized, “quiet, clean and eminently respectable. Then I’d have plenty of time to stop and chat with friends I might meet. Imagine tipping my hat to Mrs. Van Zant from between two boards inscribed with ‘Take Sehlitzenheimer’s Sauerkraut before retiring. It aids digestion.’ Mink Upjohn would lie tickled to death to see me, too, now that he’s walking Broadway a good deal himself.”
Upjohn was the one man of Cricky *s fraternity delegation who never quite assimilated.
“Good fellow by birth, but with superimposed superfluity of the enervating and sublimating financial,” Cricky had pronounced.
Upjohn had been cordial enough yesterday when Cricky met him. The former explained that he was bent on striking out in business for himself with some free capital he had in his own name. He was at present looking for some one who wanted to furnish the experience for a half share in the business.
He had cooled ai once when Cricky told him that his own father had failed and that he was looking for work without even the “faint-
est tincture of a dilute solution of free capital, present or remotely threatening. ’?
“Afiaid I’d touch him for a fivespot out of that free 'capital,” Cricky mused with a grin. “Minky, you were never properly hazed in college, but you’ll get it before your capital is all paid over for experience. ’1
Cricky pondered again on the highly entertaining idea of the sandwich man. Suddenly he jumped up, his face alight with an idea. He jammed his soft hat on the back of his head, counted the change left in his pocket and went out.
The next day a ruddy-cheeked, redheaded young man, portly and rather stooping, giving his name as Phineas Riley, called at Upjohn’s home. He sent in a letter proving to be an introduction written by Christopher Simpson introducing Phineas Riley, son of a former butler, who had developed great talent for advertising schemes, was perfectly straight and had a business proposition that might interest Upjohn.
The heir of the house came down in a few minutes with a manner uncertainly divided between supercilious condescension and avaricious eagerness. He had not found a partner yet and was beginning to get anxious about his career.
Cricky’s letter of introduction had caused him to set aside some of his social prejudices. Besides, Mink was. as a matter of fact, an easy mark.
At the end of two hours Phineas Riley departed with a contract in his pocket, signed by himself 'and Percival Upjohn. Another of Cricky’s schemes had been born.
The next week the novelty-seeking
populace pricked up its ears and took notice. Phineas Riley, unblushing, smiling and bowing on all sides, sauntered down Broadway in the shopping district between a pair of huge sandwich boards that barely missed the sidewalk.
He wore a patchwork uniform blazing the most jarring combination of inharmonious colors that could be tortured out of the spectrum. On the front board in big letters of alternate red and green were the words, “If you want to know anything”—smaller black letters at the top of the other board continued the sentence—“ask the sandwich man. He knows.”
Xot a soul that passed failed to see the walking crazy-quilt. All read the front legend and to a man turned to note the rest of the sentence.
And it seemed to the tired Riley at night that every mother’s son and daughter had wanted information. They asked him the way to the Battery, the way to Harlem, the way to every business place, street and locality in the city. Smart persons asked him sundry fool questions. All wanted to know -why he was doing it and for whom he was doing it.
They all got their answers. Mr. Riley seemed to know nearly everything, and where knowledge failed, invention filled the gap.
His replies were full of quaint, apparently original rhymes, proverbs, and wise advice. No one, though, got any light on the why and wTho of the sandwich man.
Once he stood in front of a big department store all day. “Ah, the mystery is solved,” said the public. He was advertising McDougal’s.
The next day the sandwich man maintained a station in front of Me-
Dougal’s rivai two blocks down. The public was again in the dark. Incidentally each store on its favored day did a third more business than usual.
Within the next two days representatives of each emporium approached Riley and offered him good wages to stand by his entrance and drop an occasional good word for the business inside.
The sandwich man seemed not to understand them. Meanwhile other stores were similarly favored.
Then the firm made its next move.
Full-length poster pictures of the sandwich man began to appear in conspicuous places about the city. The board in each picture bore in small letters at the top, “Ask the sandwich man.” ¡Small posters of the same kind appeared in the streetcars. Subway, and L trains, and in the stations. There was a copyright stamp on each. These valuable advertising spaces were paid for out of Upjohn’s $10,000.
The public was becoming constantly more mystified.
In a little office in Twenty-Third street sat Upjohn addressing circulars to big advertisers about the city calling attention to the blank spaces on their posters. Phineas Riley would dodge in occasionally, encased in his sandwich boards, to give sage hints.
The sandwich man was a favorite topic at the Scribblers’ Club, where Christopher Simpson, a leading member, spent his evenings, the only advantage derived from his brief journalistic career.
Jack Benson first discovered the sandwich man. He gave a detailed description of the phenomenon.
“The duffer’s positively uncanny,” he said. “I never saw the
chap before, I’m suie, but he seemed to know all about me. I got curious when I spotted him first and braced up to jolly him a little. Hanged if he didn’t give me as good as I sent and raise me one each time. He finally told me he had never been fazed by a newspaper man yet. Now I hadn’t told him I was a newspaper man.
“ ‘Well, you’re on, old man,’ said I. ‘Suppose you’ve seen me somewhere before. I’m looking for a story. Can’t you put me on to this game?’ And I forked over a good ■cigar.
“ ‘You’re too ambitious, Mr. Benson,’ lie said. Now how the deuce did lie know my name? ‘You are to be married in June, I know,’ he went on, while I nearly threw a fit. ‘but the young lady had rather have you to herself a little more than to have a few more dollars to spend.’ Now—bang it all! —that’s just what Miss Wallace, my fiancee, said the other night and I hadn’t mentioned it to any one except the three of you fellows I ate dinner with the day before yesterday. That was more or less confidential, too, and at least I know you chaps aren’t blabbing to sandwich carriers.”
The members of the club decided one and all to meet the sandwich man. Crieky Simpson was apparently as curious as any.
Benson gave his paper a breezy newTs story of his experience. Others followed. Then there came editorial paragraphs of comment. A newspaper poet wrote a rhyme, "Ask the Sandwich Man.”
The phrase had become a general proverb.
The climax came when a composer adapted the rhyme to a catchy tune and put it in the mouth of the lead-
ing woman of a popular light opera having a run in town at the time.
The city went wild. iSewsboys and [)oot|blacks would line up behind Riley and march solemnly, singing “Ask the Sandwich Man.” He heard it whistled and played whenever he went.
In the meantime, however, it looked as though Cricky Simp’s prophecy as to the ultimate fate of Minky’s capital was to be fulfilled. Riley had big notions of the advertising value of the sandwich man’s posters and had turned away many offers that had made Upjohn gasp with eagerness at first, then wait with inward misgivings, and finally protest that they would reach too far and lose everything.
Upjohn had only ten thousand dollars of free capital, and nearly every cent was sunk in the space concessions.
At the end of the first week offers began to come in for blank space on the sandwich boards. Sums ranging from ten thousand dollars to twentyfive thousand dollars were promptly refused, but with the refusals went suggestions from Riley as to the firm’s ability to place advertisements with various papers.
Other ingenious schemes were unfolded. They began soon to get some returns in this way.
“If we can win out and clear twenty-five thousand dollars apiece on the sandwich deal, we’ll have a nice little business started,” said Riley. “If we don’t it’s all off, and we’ll have to throw up these contracts and go to ditch-digging. ”
But above the twenty-five-thousand-dollar mark, the offers showed down, and after the inexorable Riley had refused two for thirty thousand dollars, despite protests
from the alarmed Upjohn, the offers stopped for two days.
, The two weeks for which the concessions were held had nearly expired. The capital had dwindled to a few postage stamps and money enough for meals to the end of the week.
On the last day of the term of lease Upjohn was in a panic, and a reassertion of his autocratic disposition nearly caused a break between the partners.
He began by making a pointed demand of Riley to explain just what his game was.
“You know the game and have been agreeing to it,” replied the other rather sharply. “I got another offer while you were out at luncheon,” fie added after a moment.
“Who? How much?”
Upjohn’s flagging spirits rose with a bound.
“The new concern that’s just finishing that big building in TwentyThird Street. They’ve been keeping their plans dark till now. They think we’ve got the scheme to start their boom, and will pay forty thousand dollars for it,”
Upjohn jumped up wildly.
‘‘Saved !’ ’
The other looked at him quizzically, then at his watch.
“Hold on,” he said; “not yet. I told them I’d give them till five o’clock, when our concessions expire, to make it fifty thousand dollars. Otherwise I’d close with another party. ’ ’
“Another party!” gasped Upjohn.
Riley’s nerve was superb.
• “You remember old Skinflint McDougal told us we’d be glad to come back to him on his five-thousand-dollar offer before our two weeks were
up. That's the only other offer still open.”
Upjohn's wrath swept its weakened barriers away. Riley watched him, smiling* sweetly.
Finally Upjohn became coherent enough to say:
“'Let me at that 'phone. I'll accept the offer myself.”
“You forget the clause in our contract saying* both must agree on an offer,” said the imperturbed partner, back against the receiver.
It was four thirty o’clock.
The partners stared fixedly at each other, one glaring, one smiling.
At four thirty-five Upjohn shifted to the other foot.
Five minutes later he began to swear, and, looking out of the window. cursed fluently for five minutes more.
Then lie began to plead. Four fifty found Riley unmoved.
Then followed ten minutes of despair. The face of Riley began to show traces of it, too.
At five o’clock the game would be up.
And five o’clock found them still waiting. Riley’s confidence was at last shaken.
“Well, it seems to be off,” was his only remark as the minute hand touched the fated mark.
What Upjohn said will have to be omitted.
Then, as the hand of the watch still poised for an instant at the hour, the telephone rang.
Riley's hand trembled for the first time as he unhooked the receiver and lifted it to his ear.
“Yes, this is Mr. Riley.
“Yes, I thought you would.
“For fifty thousand dollars. Corred. Send a man around with the contract immediately.”
The two partners were in each other’s arms.
“Riley,” said Upjohn after a moment, “I've been an incompetent, supercilious ass. You’re a gentleman, and I’m proud to have you as a partner. You come up to dinner to-night and meet my mother and sister by way of celebration.”
The regeneration of Minky was complete.
“Thank you,” Riley responded, “I will. Guess I'll wash up now.”
Upjohn tilted back in his chair and watched his partner bent, sputtering and scrubbing over the washbowl in the corner of the little office.
As he looked, surprise suddenly overspread his countenance. Riley’s fiery red hair, under his vigorous ablutions, was becoming dingy, then it turned mud color, then dark brown. Finally a dripping mop of jet black disappeared in the towel.
Upjohn was on his feet staring.
“What the deuce you been doing?” he demanded.
Mr. Riley continued leisurely to dry his face and hair.
After a minute he withdrew the towel and there before the thunderstruck Upjohn stood Christopher Simpson, amateur actor and advertising expert.
After twinkling a moment in delicious enjoyment of the situation, he tumbled into a chair and roared till lie nearly fell out of it.
“So it was you all the time,” Upjohn managed to gasp, after a few minutes. “I see the whole thing now. I was easy.”
“Mr. Phineas Riley,” returned Cricky, “just passed away down this drain, and as a dying recpiest he asked me to substitute for him at that dinner to-night.”