Serial entrepreneurs are a curious lot, and many are driven by the biblical root of all evil, the love of money. My entrepreneur buddy Zack loved money, and always had some inevitably futile scheme to get it.
One of his unsuccessful schemes was reopening a defunct Chinese restaurant and hiring a family from Guadalajara to run it. Patrons saw burritos on the menu with chow mein—both were ghastly. Other total misfires included a snake-oil cancer cure made from Chianti wine that turned out to be a Ponzi ruse; an eczema cure he cleverly called Chinese Skin Stuff that in addition to its “secret blend of Asian medicinals” contained illegal amounts of steroids; and perhaps his oddest venture—selling fresh bluefin tuna, which he labeled “money from the sea.”
Zack asked me to help him with picking up his first tuna import. He wasn’t familiar with navigating the San Francisco Airport, and needed me to guide him to the freight area, and also to porter the 300-pound fish from the airport to its destination at a Concord sushi bar.
The first of his disastrous decisions that day was to show up at my Bayview Drive townhome in his wife’s Toyota Camry.
“What the hell, Zack?” I yelled. “Where’s your van?”
“It wouldn’t start,” he answered sheepishly. “That fish won’t wait! We need to get it now. I bought bungee cords and ropes—we’ll tie the crate to the roof. Quit bitching, get in, and let’s go!”
I got in even though I intuitively knew that this plan was going to be a disaster.
Zack drove like a madman to the airport, saying little. I couldn’t help thinking about the classic Laurel and Hardy film, “The Music Box,” in which the two imbeciles push a heavy piano up ten flights of steep stairs only to find out that they could have used the driveway.
I guided Zack to the airport’s freight loading docks, and within minutes a harried young guy with a forklift dropped a huge 10-foot, heavily taped Styrofoam crate in front of us.
Zack pondered the situation and then said, “I’ll drive the Camry as close as I can get to the dock, then we’ll pick the fish up, and set it on the roof.”
He parked the car inches from the dock, painfully squeezed out of the passenger door, and, to the hilarity of some surrounding truckers, we tried in vain to lift the heavy crate onto the car’s roof.
Zack was red-faced, gasping for air, and frustrated. I spotted a forklift driver, yelled for him, fished a $20 from my wallet, and asked him to pick up the crate, drive down a ramp to the parking lot, and set the crate on top of the car.
After he stopped laughing, he got the crate, drove to the car, and then masterfully and gingerly set the crate on the roof.
All the laughter and derision had affected Zack, so he was furious as he rudely yelled at me to stretch bungee cords and hook them from the crate to the door handles and rear and front bumpers. He then heaved a stout rope over the crate and through the car windows, and then tied it to the steering column.
After we were done, Zack glared at me maliciously and sarcastically barked, “Oh, ye of little faith! I told you this would work!”
We drove into the morning rush hour traffic on Highway 101, and after clipping along with nothing more than gleeful laughter from fellow motorists, some jerk in a semi truck cut Zack off, and he had to slam on the brakes. With a great, resounding screech and thud, the bungee cords went flying and the crate slid to the car’s hood, stood straight up, and fell to its side, thankfully onto the freeway’s shoulder.
Zack parked the car on the shoulder, and sat there, numb, red-faced and speechless.
Because I had been a contractor for decades, I was good at thinking my way out of sudden disasters. I offered the only solution that occurred to me: “Zack, we can’t lift that crate, so we’ll have to get rid of it and set the fish inside the car.”
Zack’s paralysis ended, and he dejectedly moaned, “ Well, I’ve already put a huge dent in the hood of my wife’s car, so why not put a giant fish and 100 pounds of ice in the back seat?”
I tried not to laugh at Zack’s dark humor. Then, using two pocket knives, we cut the tape straps off the crate, lifted the lid, and saw the 10-foot, 200-pound bluefin tuna gazing up at us. It seemed to be grinning.
Zack dolefully heaped crushed ice from the crate onto the car’s back seat, moaning, “She’ll file for divorce!”
With a mighty “heave-ho” we pulled the slippery fish from the crate, and eased it onto the back seat. It was so long that the tail and head had to hang out the rear-seat windows. I tried to avoid laughing, as Zack was now pale from fear and frustration.
“Keep piling ice on it while we’re driving!” Zack barked.
“My hands are frozen,” I moaned.
“Then we’ll both take off our shirts, and you can use them for gloves,” a quick-thinking Zack ordered. He was a practicing naturalist, so for him to go shirtless in public was no big deal. For someone as pale and corpulent as me, it was beyond embarrassing.
So, on that cold November morning, to a cacophony of honking horns and visible hilarity, two chubby—and shirtless—old men with a giant fish hanging out of their car delivered a bluefin tuna to a sushi restaurant in Concord.
The restaurant’s owner saw us drive up, and walked to the car. At first he was speechless. Then he yelled at Zack, “Where’s your refrigerated truck? You can’t deliver fish like this! Where’s the ice?”
“Gil’s been keeping the fish covered with ice,” Zack countered. “Look! His hands are frozen!”
“I can’t look at him,” the restaurant owner said with disgust in his voice. “He’s so fat! He needs to put on a shirt.”
I somehow wrestled into my soaked, icy-cold and fishy-smelling shirt. I was tired, disgusted with Zack, and about to punch the rude restaurant owner in the face. He saw me approaching with an angry glare and backpedaled toward the restaurant’s door.
Zack knew of my bad temper, and begged, “Gil, please leave him be. I need to sell this fish!”
The restaurant owner looked relieved, then told Zack, “I’ll take the fish for half-price, because you don’t know what you’re doing, and the fish is compromised, not perfectly fresh.”
“Half-price?” Zack bellowed. “I’ll lose money!”
The restaurant owner thought this over, then came back with an offer. “I’ll cut six tuna steaks for you,” he said. “That’s it!”
Just then, Zack’s phone rang. He panicked, and said, “Oh my God, it’s 8 a.m. My wife needs her car for work.” He rapidly agreed to the owner’s deal, and we desperately began scooping ice and water from the back seat.
“I’m doomed!” Zack lamented. “You’ll need to take BART and the bus back to Alameda. Pray for me!”
“I don‘t think God wants anything to do with this one, Zack.” I answered.
Two hours later, I was back home, humiliated by riding public transit in a wet shirt that smelled of tuna.
Zack shared three tuna steaks with me, and while I didn’t pan-sear them for Thanksgiving, they were delicious.
Ten years later, I still haven’t heard from Zack, but his nephew told me that his wife drives a new Camry.