I have always been grateful for the privileges that I have had in life. My father, the famous corn futures trader, Joseph Jones, raised me to be comfortable and able to associate with the best element of society money could access. I attended the best private schools, went to the most exclusive clubs, socialized with the most sophisticated families, and when I reached adulthood, I attended Harvard, of course, graduating in the top of my class with an M.B.A. That was my vision and my obligation, to succeed in life and carry forward the Jones legacy that my father had built.
Joseph Jones was born in Trenton, New Jersey, and grew up with very little money – lower middle class. He built his trading company from the ground up, and he taught me the importance of helping others who are “less fortunate.” Sometimes, as I drive my Bentley across town, I see some of the poor souls on the streets with such little hope, and I wish for them the opportunity to work hard and climb up the American economic ladder. It was such an opportunity that I gave my first personal assistant, when, on that fateful night of March 24, 2015, my wife and I were refused service at the ____ club in Manhattan, and the idea of bartering with the poor came to me in a lightning bolt of inspiration.
I had dressed in some of my best casual attire for the evening. I wore a $400 Brooks Brother’s sweater over a fine silk shirt from Saks. No tie, and I slipped on my third favorite Rolex, solid gold, to round out the presentation.
I did not have a reservation that evening, as the ____ club had always accommodated me before. But that evening, the dining area was full, and being seated was going to be a challenge.
“I’m sorry, sir. We are completely booked this evening.” said the maître d’.
“Well, yes. I am sure you are sorry. You remember me, don’t you? Brant Jones, owner of Jones Futures.” I handed him one of my gold-leaf embossed business cards, and then left a pause in the conversation so the realization could sink in. “Now, please, I would appreciate your nicest table.” I slipped a $100 bill into the suit jacket pocket of the maître d’, and clasped him on the arm, indicating my friendly intent.
“I am truly sorry, Mr. Jones. I really am. But we just do not have any tables available,” the maître d’ insisted.
To tell the truth, I am still somewhat insulted by the whole incident. However, I have always been a problem solver. When I took over as CEO of my father’s company, the futures markets were still being traded with old chart trading platforms. I saw our profit margins, and knew they could be greatly improved if we would just join the 21st century and invest in high-frequency trading programs, which would allow us to legally buy and sell massive amounts of futures in seconds. Not to brag, but this move tripled our profits in the first year.
I tried to be unemotional about this incident at the restaurant, and decided to do what I do best – identify the problem, and then solve it.
I looked at the maître d’s name tag, and then asked him, “Joseph, are you are saying you do not have any more tables? Am I correct in assuming that this is the main problem? I assume you would like my business, if only you had another table at which to seat me. Is that an accurate assessment, Joseph?”
“Yes, sir,” the maître d’ replied. “We value you as a patron, and apologize that we just have no more tables. If you’d like to wait, we may be able to seat you in…”
I wandered aside, and entering my inner world where I routinely solved problems of greater magnitude and complexity than this, I pondered how to obtain an additional table. I stepped outside. Walking in my direction, like God himself had timed it for this very purpose, came the collision which has changed my life in incredible, and quite positive ways ever since. A man, wearing worn down clothes, and looking worn down himself, walked right into me. I made eye contact with the one I would call Number One.
“Sorry, man. Sir, do you have any spare change?” said the vagrant.
“Well, I certainly do,” I said, chuckling, thinking “Get a job, buddy”. I was distracted by my problem, and didn’t give the man a second thought. If he wanted money, let him go work for it like the rest of us.
And then, came the key moment, when the vagrant said, “If you won’t give me any money, can I do something for you? I’m hungry. This entreaty caught my attention in a way that mere begging never could have done. I noticed that here we were, this vagrant and I, both confronted with a problem, and both seeking to solve it. This common bond that Number One and I had at that moment created the possibility of mutuality.
It was one of those moments, like in the cartoons when a lightbulb illumines over one’s head, when the fog of daily confusion lifts, and a problem that had been heretofore unsolved was revealed as solvable. Like an echoic voice blared between my ears a great, “A-HA!” It came to me that this vagrant and I could help each other. I felt simultaneously elated that my problem was solved, and pleased that it could be solved in such a humanitarian way.
Turning back around to face my dilemma, wide-eyed with excitement, I said to him, “In fact, my friend, I think that I have an idea that will suit our needs quite well! Come with me.” I grabbed the man by the sleeve and led him upstairs. I approached the maître d’, and said, “I have found myself a table.”
“Sorry, sir?” the maître d’ asked, confused.
“You wanted to seat me, except you didn’t have a table. Here is my table.”
“I’m sorry, but I still do not understand.”
“This, here.” I said to the maître d’, pointing at Number One. “This man has agreed to serve as my table. Find me two chairs, and we will dine off of this fellow’s back.” The man I later named Number One seemed taken aback, but when the maître d’ asked him whether he was indeed willing to serve as the dinner table for myself and my wife, he mumbled that he was.
We dined that night, in more extravagance than ever before. There’s just something that feels fabulously wealthy about eating food from off of your assistant’s back. At first, the other patrons seemed scandalized, but as the night progressed, our fellow diners acknowledged us with approval and, if I read the situation rightly, envy.
“Not only have you demonstrated creativity,” said Mr. Mason, a staple at the club, whose family has been in coal for over 100 years, “but there is something inherently right about the scene here. This table of yours is more than just a table, but also adds a human element to the experience of dining well. Plus, you say this table of yours was in need of financial assistance, and you have provided him with a way to earn his keep. In so doing, you have given him the gift of dignity.”
This occurred two years ago. By now, it is rather bland for people to dine off the backs of their impoverished assistants. In fact, when you enter a nice restaurant, it’s become customary to be asked if you will be providing your own table. A table base can be brought out, placed on the back of your assistant, and a tablecloth placed over the tabletop. If I do say so myself, I began a trend among the upper-middle class which combines luxury and charity in a new way. To those critics, who say that the experience is degrading to the assistants, I can only say that they are treated very well. Often, when we are eating some scrumptious dish, prepared by the best chefs in the city, we will take a small sampling of the meal, put it on a bread plate, and put it on the floor for our assistant to eat. I can tell you that my assistants have many times complimented the food and thanked me for letting them taste it.
Further, the various assistants of the diners at the club see each other regularly, and have developed friendships outside of their duties, sometimes whispering in conversation to one another as we dine. Such friendships have been fostered solely because of the opportunity that we have provided them. Plus, they agree to do it. If they didn’t want to serve in this capacity, they could always just quit…
Not long after my breakthrough moment two years ago, I was walking along to dinner with my wife. Number One was behind me, as had become our habit. I was chewing a piece of gum, and realized that I was holding my gum wrapper in my hand. There were no trashcans anywhere in sight. I perceived another chance to perform an act of service to my assistant’s financial well-being. I dropped the gum wrapper on the ground, and said, “Number One, please pick up my wrapper, and hold it until we get to the next trash can.”
Number One did so, and in that instant, my assistant became to me more than merely a table. There was incredible potential for my assistant to fulfill all of the menial functions that I had been carrying out on my own all these many years. When I had some refuse to discard, I could throw it on the ground, and Number One would retrieve it. If I had somewhere that required me to stand in line, I could give Number One a cell phone, and he would call me when he had moved toward the front while I sipped a martini or handled business. I imagined Number One being quite grateful for these insights of mine, since each act as my assistant led to an increase in pay. Surprisingly, though, this was not the case, as I found out several months later.
It was at Wimbledon when I found Number Two. It was tea time, Sunday morning of the men’s championship. Another marathon bout between Djokovic and Nadal was promised. Number One stood in line and ordered my tea while I strolled the gardens. When it was time to sit down to enjoy my beverage, I saw there were no seats available. “Number One, I need a seat,” I requested politely, as I always do. I gestured for him to prostrate himself, so that I might sit down.
“No, sir.” Number One replied.
I did a double take. “I’m sorry?”
“No, sir.” Number One replied again. “I will not allow you to sit on me. I have humiliated myself for months now, and while I am grateful for the money, I cannot do this any longer. I will continue to provide you with assistance where it does not degrade me as a human being, but I just cannot go along with serving as an object for you to use any longer. And letting you sit on me like a piece of furniture is my first stand.”
I chuckled, to hide my dismay. I couldn’t believe it. Would Number One have ever had the chance to travel to London, to eat the finest foods, and peruse the finest neighborhoods without me? Would he be wearing the clothes that I bought him, in order than he might be presentable when accompanying me? I felt abused by his refusal, and troubled that human beings could be so thoughtless. “Ok, Number One. You’re fired. If you will not show gratitude for all I have done for you, then leave. I am sure I can find another to take your place, and with a smile while he does it.”
And that I did. I sent Number One home on the next plane to New York, and never saw him again. The next day, when Number Two walked past me on the streets of London, I knew him the moment I laid eyes on him. We were meant for each other. I still needed an assistant, and he obviously needed work. And food. Not to mention, his English accent would go over very well back home. Very classy. Everyone loves a touch of the Old Country.
I approached him, and before he could humiliate himself and ask me for some unearned capital, I offered him the chance of a lifetime. “Hey, pal,” I said. “Would you be interested in some work?”