In 10 days, my best friend of 22 years, Ross, will be married. I’ll be his best man. Should I ever take that plunge (a BIG if at this point), he’ll most certainly be mine. The following is the retelling of what sticks out as my favorite memory with Ross which took place nearly 20 years ago.
To help bolster this story, I interviewed Ross a few months ago. It’s long, but I’m hoping it will put a smile on your face and perhaps make you laugh. I hope you’ll enjoy. This long story is divided into three parts.
Part 1 – “We’re so fucked! This is bad. This is really bad.”
Part 2 – “He looked guilty. Guilty of something… I don’t know what. I remember the look on his face. I do.”
Part 3 – A missed opportunity and possible motives
“We’re so fucked! This is bad. This is really bad.”
I met Ross in the fall of 1996 when we were placed on the same soccer team. We quickly became friends and by the next season, we were best friends. It’s been a steady friendship from our first soccer practice up until today. Over the years, we both changed a lot but despite this, our friendship has been one of the most consistent things in my life and I’m thankful for it.
The first time we attended the same school was in 1999, as I had transferred to the public high school after a trying one-year stint going to a private school. This story takes place during our junior year in December 2000, a few days before winter break would start.
It all started when our overly nosy vice principal — who makes me think of Matthew Broderick’s character in Election — approached me and Ross in between periods with a simple question.
“Hey guys. I have a friend who is a corporate party planner and she needs help for an event on Friday night,” he said. “It’s a corporate Christmas party in San Jose. Would you guys have any interest making some money and helping out?”
This was most welcomed on a few fronts. A) Any goodwill with this vice principal would potentially help with any discipline issues down the road, and B) During times of the school year when I played a sport, I typically didn’t hold a job so earning some money to spend during break was certainly attractive. After a phone interview of “Yes, I can show up on time and yes, I can lift things and act professional,” the gig was firmed up. A few days later, we traveled to the San Jose Tech Museum in the early evening on the same night winter break started.
Our first hint of trouble came when the party planner, a woman in her late 40s and with a younger assistant, introduced us to two other random high school kids who would also be working the party. WHAT THE HELL WAS THIS? Why did we have two rivals to compete against? It felt like the Seinfeld bizarro world episode street showdown.
We settled on the theory that these were family friends of the party planner, and these guys who seemed a bit shy perhaps couldn’t enlist two other individuals to help out, so that’s how we got called upon. This would have not been an issue for me and Ross because, well, we were and hopefully still are pretty cool. Having a rival pair of new co-workers led us to conclude:
1. These guys were certainly not as cool as us.
2. We NEEDED to prove our superiority to them in every way possible that evening because everything was a competition to us back then.
For the first hour, we mainly just set up the ballroom. We unstacked chairs, took centerpieces and placed them, and did other things that you basically couldn’t fuck up and yet Ross and I would do everything in double-time to impress the fact we were WAY better than the other two kids. Our competitiveness would be our downfall.
About 90 minutes before the party started, a van arrived from the office which was having the party, and it was our job to unload the van and bring everything into the ballroom. The van parked at the loading deck, but because the museum was closed, the freight elevator was not working. Hence, we’d have to go up a flight of stairs and down a long hallway, and then to the front of the ballroom. Each round trip took about five minutes, and Ross and I decided our goal would be to not only carry more things than our counterparts, but to be so fast on each trip that we’d lap them at some point.
After about five trips to the van, we more or less accomplished our goal as our totally inferior invented rivals were leaving with their last load. That left us a final load, one more than the other guys carried, and if we moved fast enough, we would be seen getting it to the banquet hall ahead of them. But there was something very different about the last load. Everything else was mostly boxes, containers, and crates. The last thing we had to deliver was a very heavy and bulky flat object. Maybe the size of a huge whiteboard or coffee tabletop. It was either metal or glass, and was wrapped by a blanket and had a “fragile” note on it.
We booked it up the first flight of stairs without any issue. However, in our haste to make it up to the ground-floor, trouble arose.
Ross: We had to go up and turn in the stairwell. I was on top and you were on bottom. And I was facing you going backwards and I had to go left.
Ross took the corner too quickly and the item hit the corner of the stairwell wall. (My recollection is different than his; I think it was more my fault). Basically, we didn’t pivot.
Ross: We heard a definitive crack. It wasn’t like “Oh, what is that?” We’re like, whatever it is, it’s just broke.
Panicked, Ross’s first instinct was to survey the damage to the glass panel.
I argued this was dumb and that we should basically just get to this the ballroom as quickly as possible and plead ignorance. Just say we have no idea how it happened when discovered. Basically every moment that we discussed what to do was another moment that made it more suspicious, given the fast pace of our previous trips to and from the van. Ross, who throughout this story and probably through life in general has shown more staunch ethics than myself, was talked into this with me more or less guaranteeing I would handle any interrogation. Basically, he didn’t have a concrete idea on how to remedy the situation and had faith that I could talk ourselves out of the situation.
Ross: I wasn’t on board at first but we made the right call, by the way.
At this point in the night, we had no idea what this company having the party actually did, nor did we have any idea what we were carrying. As I was backpedaling the huge glass panel into the ballroom with Ross facing the front of the ballroom, his eyes lit up and he started to freak out. My recollection was him saying something like:
“Oh fuck. Fuck! We’re FUCKED! We’re so fucked! This is bad. This is really bad.”
I had no idea what was behind me that was making him freak out, but didn’t have the time to figure it out given we were a few yards away from the front of the ballroom where we dropped off everything else. We were careful in setting down the glass panel and then I turn and faced whatever was freaking out Ross. He wasn’t kidding. This was really bad.
With some employees now in the ballroom, they had quickly set up a lot of the items we had brought over from the van. Specifically, it was a massive convention-like display booth area right next to the speaker podium. The very large marketing materials on both sides of the main display section said things like “Introducing the unbreakable windshield,” “A technology breakthrough years in the making,” “This is a game-changer” (attributed to someone in the military, I believe), and “You’ll never have to replace a windshield again.”
We had broken the unbreakable windshield. This was REALLY bad.
Ross and I had to go back to general setup duties knowing that within a few minutes, the broken unbreakable windshield would soon be discovered. It was no easy task trying to act discreetly and avoid staring directly at the employees and the windshield. The employees actually mounted it in the massive display case and finally ripped off the cover. There was a crack right in the middle from top to bottom. Like guilty dogs trying to feign innocence with their owners, we continued to look busy knowing the interrogation was coming.
As promised, I did all the talking. “Oh wow! That’s not good! What happened? No, nothing I can think of. Maybe in the van something happened?” I think this lasted a minute or so. There was an intense staredown. They knew we did it, but couldn’t prove it. I mean, what was their recourse really?
A flurry of phone calls then took place from the group of employees tasked with this booth setup.
Ross: I can remember the one guy saying “We only have ONE.” I can remember him saying “We only have one, what do you want me to do? We only have one! I remember that.
We tried to act normal and continue our setup duties but as more people would arrive and hear what happened, I’d see them pointing directly at us talking. I think a more senior executive interrogated me a second time but once again, I didn’t crack — unlike the unbreakable windshield.
Our duties for the rest of the night would take us away from the ballroom, but I couldn’t help but laugh at how the company ended up dealing with the hand we dealt them. They did only have one windshield, but they did have some smaller side panels for passengers’ windows and they opted to display one of those. It looked terrible, given the whole display was built with the dimensions of a huge windshield that might have been for a plane or a military vehicle, but instead had a tiny window, not that much bigger than your desktop computer screen. It was comparable to the Stonehenge scene in Spinal Tap.
Thinking about this a bit, if the company went through the trouble to bring this to the party, I have to believe a lot of people in attendance hadn’t seen it yet. This makes me think it was likely investors and possible customers were invited to the party to see the windshield’s unveiling in a more intimate setting. We ruined that. Two troublemaking idiots had more or less ruined the unveiling of over 100 people’s hard work and what I imagined was thought to be the answer to their professional well-being, as well as financial security. This is why you should use union labor. Also, that windshield sucked so that’s on you.
Ross: Someone probably got homeless because we did that. Yeah. That sucked… for them, obviously.
“He looked guilty. Guilty of something… I don’t know what. I remember the look on his face. I do.”
With the party starting soon, we were relegated to coat check duties. I think that since it was pretty well-known we broke the unbreakable windshield, we were given the assignment away from the banquet room.
Before we settled into our coat check duties, we were shown a break room which was down the hall from the banquet room, past the bathrooms, and not that far from our coat check stand. It was a small room with a few circular tables, a counter, and a fridge. There was only one entrance to which we could see from our coat check vantage point. Below a map of the venue.
In the break room was our meal. We weren’t going to get the fancy catered dinner, and again considering the fact that we broke the unbreakable windshield, who were we to complain about the accommodations? The spread was actually pretty solid.
For us and the inferior but clearly more responsible work rivals, we had a Togo’s sandwich party tray, a big bag of tortilla chips, a bowl of guacamole, a selection of sodas, and a cookie platter. Togo’s is a mostly local deli chain out here, highly regarded by most, and with a few sandwiches that were popular, the idea of sampling a lot of smaller sandwiches was exciting. I mean, come on, for high school kids, this was pretty money. You’re probably getting hungry looking at this.
Our rivals took a sandwich each and then went back to the banquet room where presumably they didn’t further demoralize an entire company and their loved ones in attendance. Ross and I took a sandwich each and settled into our coat check responsibilities.
With the mild winters in the Bay Area, we probably only had a couple dozen people check in jackets during the first 45 minutes of the party. With nothing else to do for the next few hours, Ross and I settled into making small talk. It was about an hour into the party when we observed from our vantage point a guy a few years older than us walk our way, look around as if he was lost which drew our attention, and then enter the break room.
Ross: There was only one person who had entered the room and it was obviously the guy who didn’t look like an employee, and we didn’t know what he was doing. He looked like he was exploring randomly. He had gone in at some point in the half-hour window from when we went in and was maybe in there 10 minutes. We had our eye on him.
Not long after he exited, I told Ross I was going to get a second round of sandwiches. Ross asked me to surprise him and just make him a plate of stuff while he watched the coats. Now if you look at the map, you’ll be able to clearly see that from our vantage point, we’d see anyone entering the break room and the only person to enter or exit was the young man we saw right before I went in.
I entered the break room and grabbed a couple of plates. I indiscriminately grabbed a sandwich for Ross and that’s when I saw it.
That sandwich I had picked up had a huge bite in it. What the fuck? It wasn’t just that sandwich. It was every … .single… one. The remaining 10 or so sandwiches ALL had a huge bite in them and that was just the start of the crime scene I was discovering.
The bowl of guacamole for the chips was nearly empty and the guacamole was now spread all over both the sandwich tray and the cookie tray. It was like someone grabbed the guacamole with their hand and just spread it all over both trays. So each item remaining was now tainted with guacamole, a food item I loathe.
Ross: It was like Saving Private Ryan. The beach on D-Day. Just sandwich parts. It wasn’t just bites. It was one bite out of each. It was like a serial killer. It was 100% intentional. I’ll never forget a turkey and avocado and the avocado was spilling over the sandwiches. It was a disaster.
I was in the room maybe 30 seconds. Clearly not enough time to perpetuate this heinous crime. I popped into the hall and told Ross he had to check out what I had seen. Ross didn’t want to abandon the coats, but my urgency won out. He was as shaken as I was. What the was this guy thinking? Who was this guy? What’s wrong with him?
Ross: When he came out, he looked guilty. Guilty of something… I don’t know what. I remember the look on his face. I do.
It was shocking and deflating, but what could we do? We had already broken the unbreakable windshield. We didn’t need to further disrupt the party.
We had some paper and a pen at our coat check table and with some time to kill, our response began to take root.
Ross: “Can you describe this person?” I decided I was going to draw it regardless, you know? So you described it and I drew it, and I still think it’s the best drawing I’ve ever done. I mean seriously it is, because I’m terrible at drawing. Absolutely terrible.”
What the end by-product ended up being was a Wanted poster. We wrote on top “Wanted – For Being Sandwich Terrorist. Highly Dangerous.”
I ended up going through a drawer at the information desk and found some tape and with great delight we put the poster on the men’s bathroom door. We wanted people to know about this and for the next hour we’d laugh hysterically as partygoers would walk up to the bathroom door, take the time to read our poster totally bewildered before going into the bathroom. Was it part of the party? Something from the museum? No, it was a measured response to one of the most heinous crimes perpetuated in my lifetime.
We were probably at the halfway point of the party when our perpetrator was spotted again and he was clearly walking to the bathroom. I knew I couldn’t handle it and without saying anything to Ross, I ran up the stairs behind us to the IMAX theater and hid behind a wall laughing to the point I was in tears. I came downstairs after maybe a few minutes of laughing, we were somewhat nervously on the verge of instigating a confrontation with this psycho. When I returned, Ross simply told me the guy looked around the museum to see if he was being watched, and then tore it down and threw it in the trash. OH HELL NO!
We were NOT going to let this guy get away with defiling our sandwiches simply by putting our poster in the trash. No fucking way. I went back to the information desk and gathered more supplies. Ross was now tasked with drawing a half dozen posters. He’d make one as fast as possible and then I’d discreetly walk around the museum and place them in spots where partygoers would see them. What unfolded was a high stakes cat-and-mouse game.
I put a poster on one of the doors into the banquet room. Maybe 30 minutes later, we saw him look at the poster, again look around while somehow totally unaware we were doing this, and then instead of ripping it down, he just propped the door open so the poster was now pinned up again the wall where nobody could see. Smart move, sandwich terrorist. Ross made another poster and I put it on the other side of the door so people would see a poster regardless if the door was open or shut. The heat was on.
The sandwich terrorist’s next move is one I have to give him credit for. At some point in the back half of the party, Santa hats had been given out with other stupid props and trinkets. Sandwich terrorist was now wearing a Santa hat and was using it as a disguise.
Ross: Why wouldn’t he, he’s a wanted man!
This guy knew what he was doing. Might have not even been his first time. But he didn’t know who or what he was up against.
I made Ross redraw posters for me to put up with him wearing the Santa hat and I put up the new round of posters. (This is one that we kept, which Ross found before he moved.)
We observed maybe half the party at some point look at one of our posters and at times read them out loud, wondering what the hell they were looking at. Every single time, it made us laugh silently as we didn’t want to cop to this being a dumb thing we were doing.
The night was winding down and people were now retrieving their coats. It was at this junction we got some insight into one of our country’s most notorious criminals.
A man in his 50s was walking with his arm around the sandwich terrorist towards us. We could tell by the conversation that it was the sandwich terrorist’s father. At one point, he looked at the poster, read it out loud, and even commented “It kind of looks like you!” I have no idea how I didn’t die laughing at that moment.
They were on their way out, and we were tasked with giving out a party gift to everyone. (We’ll get into this later.) As the man picked up his gift, a few other employees would approach him and then would introduce their significant other. It became clear to us that sandwich terrorist’s dad was the CEO or President of the company. My guess is that his son was in college and he thought this would be a good thing for him to experience to maybe warm him up to the idea of seeking a real job, which was a nice idea even if his son is a cold-blooded sociopath.
A missed opportunity and possible motives
Before getting into motives, one thing has gnawed at me to this day. Ross and I were given four boxes of wine bottles to hand out to the party guests (these were some of the boxes we moved from the van). Each box had 24 bottles of wine and I distinctly remember the party planner going, “Don’t give anyone more than one bottle! We SHOULD have enough, but it’s going to be close.”
With the party essentially wrapped up, two of the boxes were empty. We had one box of 24 about halfway empty and one full box left. It was going to be half an hour before the party planner said she’d be back to pay us and just to sit tight. If you look at the map, our location was basically 10 feet from the side street exit. We had about 35 bottles of wine. They were expecting them all to be gone, more or less. My idea was to grab a few from the full box of 24 and put them in the half full box and then for Ross to just move my car to right outside the door and get them in there while I was on lookout. I thought having a handful of bottles gone from the last box would look more believable with the upside being us stealing maybe 15 bottles of wine. Ross protested.
Ross: My morals came into play, which is a recurring theme in this story.
The compromise was Ross snuck out four bottles. This only bugs me because when we told the party planner we had 30 bottles of wine left, she said something like “Oh! What are we going to do with them!” as if it was a problem. I think we drank the wine over break and told everyone we knew they were $100 bottles of wine. We didn’t even like wine and I think we threw up every time we drank them.
I’ve never really put forth a theory about the sandwich terrorist’s motives. Ross offered this explanation.
Ross: Honestly, until right now I’ve never ever thought about what was his motive. You can’t. I mean… it’s not a rational thing to do. It’s not even… maybe he wanted to try a sandwich or two to see which one was best? But that is insane. It had to be malicious. It HAD to be. For some reason, he enjoyed destroying other people’s stuff. He was probably angry with his father for not giving him any attention so he was probably looking for attention.
Ross’s fiance, Kari, overhead the tale end of our conversation and offered the following theory during this exchange [Editor’s note: they would be engaged two weeks later]:
Kari: I’ve never heard this story!
Ross: That’s not true! That’s not true! It was June 4th, 2013!
Kari: What? What does that mean? Why would I know this story?
Ross: If I haven’t told you this story… you can wait to read the article.
Kari: It’s definitely something I would do when I was drunk. Ross got very mad at me at a wedding when I ate Casey’s food off his plate.
Ross: Maybe he was intoxicated, we never even thought of that!
Me: Whose wedding?
Kari: Kristin and Nick’s wedding!
Ross: Hey, you don’t need to yell!
I’m not sure I buy Ross’s theory or Kari’s theory, but both are possible. What rocked me to my core was a theory put out by the husband of our own Jill Whisnant. His theory is that as word got out at the party about the broken windshield, the son decided to take revenge and without any of our possessions in the break room, he decided to defile our sandwich spread.It’s the Inigo Montoya theory and it by far makes the most sense but we’ll never know.
We were paid $80 for the night each (in addition to the wine we stole). We conveyed the night’s events to our friends over break a few times, which was always received with skepticism. As I recalled the night’s events to Ross, I told him I’d die on the hill that everything in this story is accurate.
Ross: Oh absolutely, it all 100% happened which is the unbelievable part. Looking back, this really happened.
One of the things that has made Ross a great friend is that so many of my favorite memories with him were like this, in that it wasn’t at a crazy party or night out. Even up through today, some of our best times are pretty low-key where we’re just goofing off. Not too long ago, somehow he got into a standing-on-one-foot contest with another friend of ours at my house. It lasted nearly two hours. I giggled the whole time. Ross won, but would later forfeit his victory admitting he had briefly leaned on a couch when we weren’t looking. The kid has ethics.
We’re in our mid-30s now and Ross moved out of the area about a year ago. We’re both doing our best to be adults, but when we get together, it doesn’t take much for us to revert back to the two teenagers who had hundreds of sleepovers centered around eating pizza, trading baseball cards, playing video games, and watching movies. It’s that sentiment which leads to me getting a little bit misty whenever I watch the final scene of Stand By Me, which ends with the words “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12. Jesus, does anyone?” Twenty-three years into our friendship, that quote rings truer than ever.