Career Tracks IV: The Quest for Peace

Working with Bahri at the gas station was an interesting experience. After his mom had died, he and his older brother had moved here to start a new life. What was merely a summer job for me, a way to make some money and keep my parents from calling me lazy, was his career and livelihood. I needed money to buy comic books; he needed it to pay the rent. A rivalry developed that I didn't notice at first. I tried to befriend him, and loaned him a duplicate copy of Uncanny X-men #248 when he complained of having nothing to read at home. The next day he complained about it being “kid stuff” and that I was a “leetle kid who needed to grow up!” A few years older than me, he often tried to take on an older brother role and tell me things like, “do not be shaving too high or you weel have hair on your cheekbones and always have to shave there!” His intentions seemed more about keeping me in line than actually taking me under his wing. Ravindra, one of my college friends, already played the role of “big brother” in my life by this point, and he at least was an intelligent guy. He would make fun of my drawings, but then take the time to show me what I was doing wrong. He saw that I had taught myself by looking at comics, and pointed out that I should learn REAL anatomy before getting into the stylized ideal reality portrayed in comics, and recommended some very good books from artists such as Burne Hogarth. Bahri used to call me a “dreamer” and say I would never, ever get a job as an artist.

No attractive female customer was safe from the inevitable inquiry of, “please geev phone numbar?” when Bahri was on the prowl. I remember one day in particular when he came to me dejected after one of these exchanges and asked me, “What ees fluttering?” I of course thought he meant the way a bird's wings moved and asked as much, so he clarified by explaining: “I ask for phone numbar and she say ‘thees ees fluttering but no.” What ees ‘fluttering' mean?” I smiled, now understanding in context, and broke the bad news to him.

As the summer of ’94 wound down, new employees were hired and assignments changed. I actually had some shifts where I didn't have to deal with Bahri, and some where we had a third man to help us cover the six pumps. Bahri cited one of these new hires as an examplary worker that I could learn from, since this gentleman would clean headlights without the customer asking, and occasionally got a good tip for his trouble. Of course, he was doing better than any of us realized. In those days, not all credit card transactions were electronic. We would take the card and put it under a carbon slip like a bank would use, and slid this device along a track that would transfer the raised numbers from the card. The owner would then sign this slip and get a copy of it. But what headlight guy would do is use two slips and keep one for himself. Ultimately he was caught, and thankfully modern technology makes that sort of thing harder to accomplish. Bahri was none too pleased to be wrong though, and I would occasionally bring the guy up just to get a rise out of him.

I stayed at the station well into October, working late shifts on the weekend. As the weather grew colder and basketball season approached, I eventually decided to quit since many weekends would require my presence at the games with the pep band, and it was now my senior year and last semester of classes. I needed to focus, and start thinking about an internship, which would count for my entire second semester's worth of credits. To my surprise, I actually found a publisher five minutes from my home. I got the internship, and soon found myself working alongside a graphic designer as she created various interior design and gardening coffee-table books for them. Of course the CEO of this humble 20-employee operation hated that term and insisted we call them “design books,” to maintain the level of class he wanted to portray. I did a lot of scanning images into the computer for the books, and a lot of corrections to existing designs from freelancers, but didn't get to create that many pieces myself. Occasionally they'd have a banquet or gala that needed an invitation designed, and they allowed me to handle those assignments. I learned a lot from the graphic designer while I was there, and from our supervisor Richard, who had been with the company from the beginning, even longer than the CEO who had only recently acquired it. My future seemed brighter every day, and I thought I might even have a great job in my field when I graduated. My dreams were all going to come true, and it seemed like always, Bahri was going to be proven very wrong.

Wasn't he?

To be concluded.



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