During that same time, Doug Faunt wired up my new Cromemco computer, and I wrote a new bookkeeping program, for sending out the bills to this growing number of customers. One of my OPs named Hugh, a lanky jazz pianist, came in all excited about a dream he’d had, in which our Cromemco computer was called “Mr. Suitcase.” And from then on, Hugh insisted on referring to the computer as Mr. Suitcase. Soon everybody called the computer Mr. Suitcase.
And before long, I needed to hire a bookkeeper to operate Mr. Suitcase and my new bookkeeping program.
When we advertised, in walked Pankaj.
He was a young man, dark and serious, from India. He seemed a bit apologetic and uncertain in the rough humor from Texas and Tennessee with which Bob and I taught him the job. Pankaj was an accounting student, sent by his father to get a degree in America, because, he said, “you get the better job if you have a degree from the United States.”
The odd thing to me and Bob, thinking it over, was that he was attending a tiny trade school then located on Masonic Boulevard, called Lincoln University. It had about three buildings. The main building might have been a large restored victorian, or even a converted mortuary. We couldn’t imagine that the school had more than a few hundred students. So what would be so prestigeous about attending a small trade school in San Francisco?
Pankaj did just fine with Mr. Suitcase, and had no difficulty with the bookkeeping. He was by nature incurious, somewhat passive, and a bit gullible to the stories clients told, but he grasped the concept that his job was to make the money come in, and did his best with collections, though being pushy made him nervous. He lived with two other Indian students, in a dump in the tenderloin area, which is a rough part of downtown frequented by hookers, pushers, hoodlums, and the eternal poor.
We found Pankaj a bit mysterious. For example, he always fasted on Tuesdays. When asked why, he said evasively that it was a religious thing, that he’d always done it. On certain days, his forehead broke into beads of sweat, as if he suffered fevers.
“It’s nothing,” he said.
His full name was Pankaj Sewal, and given our egalitarian presumptions we therefore called him Pankaj. We told him to call us Bob and Richard (my name before I changed it), but the closest he could bring himself was to call us “Mr. Bob” and “Mr. Richard.” Soon, we also called each other Mr. Bob and Mr. Richard.
Finally, one day Mr. Bob asked him why he’d gone to all the trouble to come to this side of the planet to attend Lincoln University. Pankaj smiled ruefully.
“It was a mistake,” he said. “You see, there is another Lincoln University, and it is a famous school, very prestigious. My father intended that I go there.
“But when I applied, I got the wrong school, and sent off my application to San Francisco. Then, when I got here, I saw that it was the wrong school, but what could I do?
“When my father finds out,” he said mournfully, “I don’t know what he’ll do.”