by Frank Lewis
Sanford Herskovitz, better known on the East Side as Mister Brisket, sometimes tells stories in his e-mails to customers*. We had to share this one:
At roughly 4:30pm on September 10, the stupidest customer in the history of Mister Brisket contacted me at the shop. It began with a cell phone call. I answered and a voice expressed interest in a corned beef sandwich. Then there was dead air. Within a few seconds the phone rang again with the same result. After several similar incidents — I’d answer, the phone would cut off, I’d hang up — I decided to call the cell phone rather than vice versa. Using our infamous “S.Felsen” line — not our business phone — I dialed the cell number on our caller ID. No one answered. But as soon as I hung up, the phone rang and it was my erstwhile customer. This time we were able to communicate for several seconds. He wanted to know if we were still making deliveries. I said it was too late but that he could pick up a sandwich. Then more dead air. The phone rang again. “I want to pick up a sandwich” — then dead air.
I was astonished that someone with a malfunctioning cell phone would keep using it. I tried to get a few words in each time the phone rang over the next few minutes. “Use a different phone” I’d advise but there was always dead air after I answered. After at least a dozen attempts at a conversation, I decided to no longer answer — but he kept calling from his malfunctioning cell phone.
It was like a science experiment where an animal gets an electric shock to induce it not to engage in a certain behavior. Only this guy wasn’t reacting to the shock. He seemed both nonplussed as well as incapable of learning from the incident that kept repeating itself. I began answering again and was able to deduce that he wanted to pick up a corned beef. I wondered why he didn’t just come in and order it but this guy seemed intent on calling ahead. He wanted that sandwich. Secondly, he was going to keep calling from his cell phone in spite of the fact that it was not working properly.
At any rate, after perhaps thirty attempts at placing his order, we finally had success. His line held, and he said he wanted to order a corned beef for pick up. Ok, I said. Now, let me ask one more question — what would you like on the sandwich? After fifteen minutes and countless calls, he responded, “I don’t know.”
Then he yelled to someone in the background, “Hey, what do you want on your sandwich?”
In his next e-mail, Herskovitz noted: "No recent email generated more responses than the story of the guy using a broken cell phone to order a sandwich. Most of you laughed; a few took umbrage. But the most memorable reply came from customer Martin Helstein. With tongue firmly planted in cheek, he sent me this famous Dale Carnegie quote: 'Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.'"
*CORRECTION: The story came from Hank Kornblut, Sanford's stepson. Scene regrets the error.