Thursday, April 26 , 2018, 12:48 pm | Fair 60º


Paul Burri: A Parenthetical Friendship

A bond between two men develops in a photo lab

I was drafted into the Army and stationed in Austria for about two years during the Korean War. Even though it was at the height of the Cold War, it was pretty boring stuff with a lot of marching, drilling, and cleaning and greasing equipment.

Paul Burri
Paul Burri

The only thing that relieved the tedium for me was to spend whatever off-duty time I had in the photo lab in the serviceman’s club. At the time, I was very interested in photography and did a lot of picture-taking, and then later, developing my own film and enlarging my pictures.

The young man who ran the photo lab was named Gus, and he was a Hungarian national who was displaced from his country and was now living in a nearby town and working for the U.S. government. Gus and I soon became good friends — I was there almost every night of the week — and after we ran out of photography subjects, we would often talk about our civilian lives.

Gus was always fascinated by life in the United States, and although he spoke English quite well, he was always interested in learning new words and how to speak better.

One day Gus asked me what those two little curved marks (that are sometimes put around certain phrases such as this) were called. I told him they were called parentheses, and then he spent the next several minutes saying them over and over to learn the pronunciation. Over the next several months, I would pop quiz him on the word from time to time.

After about 19 months in Austria, I was scheduled to be shipped home and discharged. There were sad goodbyes when I left, along with promises to write and stay in touch. When I returned home, I went back to work and started night school. Despite being busy with work, school and homework — and the fact that there were no computers in those days — I still managed to write to Gus on a more or less regular basis.

About three years later, Gus was sponsored by another Army soldier and came to the United States to work in that man’s family restaurant business in Booneville, Mo.

Gus worked there for another three or four years as the short-order cook and general helper. During those years, I had advanced to become the foreman at the company where I was working. By this time, the company had expanded to the point where we needed several machinists, and I knew Gus could handle the job. Not only would it pay much more, but it offered much more of a future. I talked my boss into hiring Gus on my say-so. Not only that, but the company paid for his train ticket to Los Angeles.

The day came when I was to drive to Los Angeles to pick up Gus at Union Station. I waited eagerly in the cavernous station for Gus to arrive, worrying whether I would recognize him. Remember, it had been about seven years since we had seen each other. Suddenly, about 300 feet away, Gus appeared out of the crowd. I held up my hands in the shape of two opposing Cs and yelled, “What’s this?”

Gus yelled back, “Parentheses.”

— Paul Burri is an entrepreneur, inventor, columnist, engineer and iconoclast. He is not in the advertising business, but he is a small-business counselor with the Santa Barbara chapter of Counselors to America’s Small Business-SCORE. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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