Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: SLOTH (indolence; laziness) (01/29/15)
- TITLE: The Mystery of Johnny Joe Jacobs
By Leola Ogle
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He dug through dumpsters and garbage. Every week he stood in line with his neighbors at the food bank to get produce and day-old bread and pastries. He shopped where they sold dented food cans. He ate meals at various soup kitchens and homeless shelters, although he wasn’t homeless.
He was only fifty years old when he was killed by a hit-and-run driver. His death made national news. What would cause such interest in this non-descript man known to only a few? Was it because he was a hoarder? He was a hoarder of sorts but nothing like those you see on reality television.
Johnny’s mobile home was old and rundown, but clean and organized. Police found his cupboards stocked with cans and boxes of food, most of them outdated. But that wasn’t the main thing he hoarded. He hoarded money – lots of money. Over one million dollars was found in multiple hiding places in his humble abode.
Where did a man who was described as lazy, unmotivated, and jobless get all that money? Was he a bank robber? A swindler? Why did he live in poverty when he had so much money?
I was the journalist sent to investigate this bizarre story. I spent weeks interviewing Johnny’s family, teachers, and neighbors trying to piece together Johnny’s life.
He was the oldest of eight born to Paul and Beth. Theirs was an impoverished household where punishment was meted out as denial of meals. Johnny often went to bed hungry. His family also moved frequently because of evictions for failure to pay rent.
Johnny was punished for getting horrible report cards, although in high school it was discovered that his IQ was off-the-charts-genius. “Johnny was brilliant. School bored him because he knew more than his teachers,” said Johnny’s brother, Dave. “But that genius brain of his…well, it’s like one cylinder was always misfiring, making him kind of an oddball. He was just different, you know. People didn’t understand him.”
“He was a good kid, quirky but amazing,” his science teacher said. “He created and sold an advertising program when he was sixteen. But his parents took the money. At least that’s what he told me.”
Johnny paid cash to purchase his small mobile home located in a rundown trailer park when he was a senior in high school. He sold a computer program and bought the mobile home before his parents could take the money. His dad was so furious he kicked him out. Johnny was only seventeen.
Socially inept, he became almost a recluse, although he did marry when he was twenty-five – a marriage that produced a daughter. “Johnny was a worthless, no-account loafer. Never worked a single day,” his ex-wife said. “Only food we had came from food banks. And grocery store dumpsters. I took Chelsea and left him. Good riddance.”
“Never contributed a dime to family support,” Johnny’s dad said. “Well, ‘cept that time in high school when he invented something. Squawked like crazy when I took it. Lazy kid. That’s what Johnny was. Lazy every day of his life. If he was so smart, why didn’t he get a job?”
The best insight I got about Johnny came from an old guy named Baxter. Baxter and Johnny were chess buddies. “Played several times a week. Never could beat him, though,” Baxter said. “I’m the only person Johnny bothered with. It wasn’t that he didn’t like people. People made him feel awkward. The smartest man I ever met. Never went to college. Smarter than me, and I graduated Harvard.”
“Harvard?” I was surprised.
“Yes. I fell on hard times.” Baxter shrugged. “Never knew Johnny had all that money, but I’m not surprised. He was a genius when it came to the stock market. So why’d he live in poverty? Seems everyone wants to know, eh? I think inside his brain was that little boy who feared his dad would take all his money. Or maybe he was afraid people would come snooping.”
“Was he lazy?”
Baxter chuckled. “Well, he didn’t want a job.”
I wrote my story, but only Johnny knows the complete truth. In the meantime, those who considered Johnny worthless are now fighting over that money.
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