by Paul Burri

Gus ran the photo-lab at the GI’s service club while I was in the army stationed in Austria. I was an avid photographer at the time and I spent nearly every evening there. Of course we talked photography but Gus was interested in everything about America so we talked a lot about that too.

One evening soon after I arrived, Gus asked me:

“What’s a paran thess us?

And I said, “Huh?”

After ten minutes of back and forth, I figured out that he meant, parentheses and using my cupped hands, I explained it to him.

He wrote it down on the brown sheet of paper he had covering his battered old desk.

I watched and then I said, “Come on. You’re never gonna remember that.”

He just smiled.

                           –        –        –        –        –

After about 18 months, I had completed my tour of duty and we said our tearful goodbyes, both thinking that we would never see each other again.

But we were wrong. About a year after I left, Gus made friends with another GI and when that guy returned home after about another two years, he sponsored Gus and his family and they ended up in the town of Booneville, Missouri. (You can’t make this stuff up.)

Gus ended up making sandwiches in Pete’s truck stop.

Long story short, after about a couple of years in Booneville where his abilities were being sadly wasted, I got Gus a job in Los Angeles and I found myself waiting for his train in Union Station in Los Angeles. Not surprisingly, I wondered whether I would recognize him since it had been almost six years since we had seen each other.

–        –        –        –        –        –

Gus’s train arrived and as a crowd of people emerged into the waiting room and we suddenly saw each other.

I cupped my hands, raised them over my head and yelled, “What’s this?”

And he shouted back, “Parentheses.”

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