My Friend Mo (Mohamed)

In the summer of 1994, I found myself, for what would be the second time in my life, out of a job. After the fiasco at Lamco Chemical, I decided to get out of the paper and janitorial supply industry and try my sales hand at something new.

During the three summer months between jobs, Paul Amirault, Tim Bowden, and I put together, with financial backing from Chris something-or-other (I’ve forgotten his name and can’t find any record of it anywhere – Sorry, Chris), our first CD ‘Voices of the People’. Wait, I remember – it’s Chris Baker.

These were my pre laptop and pre Monster.com days and Tom Carmody’s computer skills were nonexistent. I couldn't distinguish between a mouse and a modem. I had been using the Sunday classified section of the Globe and the Herald as sources for my résumé.

One night, I was scheduled to meet with Tim to do the final mix down for ‘Voices…’ As I was leaving the house around 6 PM, the phone rang.

"Tom, it's for you". Said Terry.

"Hello."

"Is this Tom Carmody?" An interesting and lilting Indian accent.

"That's me."

"This is Ramesh Kapur with Medical-Technical Gases. I received your résumé and would like to arrange interview."

"How about tomorrow?"

"Tomorrow at 10?"

"That would be fine. Could you give me directions?"

"Hold on, I will transfer you to Susan."

The only gases I knew about were propane, gasoline, and the methane I generated but, what the hell, an interview is an interview and employers weren’t exactly lined up, trying to break down the door to hire me.

My first mistake was getting there early. Ramesh didn't arrive until 11 AM. I soon learned he was never on time for anything. The airwaves are abundant with flights he's missed and there’s a string of late appointments that would stretch from here to Bombay.

He told me he was looking for someone in sales but with no experience in the compressed gas industry. Only later did I learn why as he had a marginal reputation at best with his peers.

"Please fill out application, then we will talk." We talked for an hour. Two days later he made me an offer. I started work the following Monday.

Medical-Technical Gases, Med-Tech for short, if anything, is an interesting no -- let's say there’s never really a dull moment. The office is run by Susan, Polish by descent, who, I learnt weeks later, was married to Ramesh. I still don't know why it was supposed to be such a big secret. I remember once giving a prospect a tour of the facility and made introductions:

"John, this is Susan Kapur, our office manager."

"Susan," she said, "we only use first names here!" Geeez, pardon me for living!

Ramesh and his brother Amar had bought Med-Tech back in the '70s with a little help from Ramesh’s pop-in-law. The brothers later had a falling out; Amar left; the business somehow became Ramesh’s. At that time, the building that housed the business was a dump on Mystic Avenue in Medford. Ramesh used his minority status to grow the business. Then, in the late '80s, he sued Children's Hospital in Boston for loss-of-use issues and was awarded double damages by the court. What's loss-of-use? It's the clandestine little secret of the gas industry. Children's Hospital, like most large hospitals, can have hundreds of gas cylinders like oxygen, nitrogen, etc. in many areas at any given time. These cylinders are assets owned by the gas companies. They are rented out on a daily, monthly, or yearly basis. Every time a delivery of gas cylinders is made, (sometimes, two, three, or more times a week), empty cylinders are also picked up to be refilled. With all of these cylinders moving in and out from building to building, it's inevitable that keeping track of cylinders can become an accounting nightmare. Add to this, ambulances sometimes abscond with smaller oxygen cylinders, as do patients as well. So, after 20 or so years, it was discovered that there was a discrepancy of hundreds of cylinders and what we called dewars (not the Scotch) which are large stainless steel vessels that are nothing more than 5 ft. high glorified thermos bottles that hold cryogenic gases in liquid form. The cylinders cost a few hundred dollars apiece; the dewars, a few thousand. Anyhow, Ramesh sued Children's Hospital for lost cylinders (something unheard of given it was Children's Hospital. Most think he should have negotiated a settlement.)and the judge awarded him double damages. WOW! You say. Here’s another clandestine little secret. Every time a receiving department accepts a shipment of cylinders and/or dewars, they sign a receiving slip. On the back of the slip in a font size you can barely read is a statement saying that you agree with whatever number of cylinders and dewars Med-Tech says you have in house at any given time. Needless to say, few read the back of the receiving slip to their future chagrin.

The result was a new state-of-the-art facility for Med-Tech and to Ramesh’s credit, he found a cylinder tracking system that he implemented so that lost cylinders would never again be an issue.

One of my favorite people in the office was Carol Feeley. She could be raw but never course. Carol was Medford Irish Catholic, late thirties, left at the altar once, and didn't get a chance after that. She was efficiency personified and taken for granted like everyone else who worked for the Kapurs. Carol was a sports addict with an announcer's knowledge of game and player stats.

"What the Sox need is new ownership unafraid to spend big bucks for another chance to get into World Series and this time win it."

This spoken years before Tom Henry et.al. bought the Sox.

Carol's other addiction was radio contests. One day she appeared at my office door.

"I just won Dunkin' Donuts coffee and doughnuts this Friday for the office."

"How did you do that?"

"Radio contest."

"Cool."

"But the same station is offering a dinner for two at Joe Tece's new restaurant down the street but since I just won, I can't call again for another 30 days."

"Your point being?"

"You're going to enter for me."

"Huh?"

"It's simple. This afternoon around 2, they'll take caller number X and ask a sports trivia question, probably about baseball ‘cuz it's that season."

"I'm not good at that."

"I know but I am. And I’ve also got a system that I can call at the precise moment they say they'll take the fifth, seventh, or whatever caller."

"You're kidding."

"Nope. Been doing it for years. I furnished my house with stuff I've won in contests. And not only radio, I enter all sorts of contests and sweepstakes; so many that the odds are my Irish Luck is always with me."

At 2, she popped into my office with her radio turned on.

"OK folks. Here's the 2 PM question and we’ll take caller No. 7. When was the last time the Red Sox won the World Series?"

Carol stood still for microseconds and dialed the phone as fast as a court stenographer recording a trial.

"Congratulations, you’re our seventh caller. Who am I speaking with?"

"My name’s Tom."

"Well Tom, here's the question. When was the last time the Red Sox won the World Series?"

Carol handed me a slip of paper.

"Ahh, 1918?"

"Is that your answer?"

"Yes."

"You've just won lunch for two at Joe Tecce’s Bambino’s Restaurant in the heart of Medford!"

"Thanks." I hung up the phone.

"As soon as you get the gift certificate, you and I are going to lunch."

"Great! Thanks!"

Three weeks later found us at Bambino’s where we had a great lunch. Joe Tecce himself appeared at our table and sat down as if we were old friends.

"So, how's the food?"

"Great Joe. How are your restaurants doing?"

"Restaurant -- singular. Me and my brother split up after what happened at Tecce's in the North End."

(Tecce's was one of the better restaurants in the North End at the time.)

Joe had to be at least 80. He stood almost 5 ft. 7 inches with a square face and a shock of wavy white hair. He wasn't heavy but wasn’t a lightweight either.

"My screwed up brother had a "disagreement" with old man A-----o

(my note: the head of the local Cosa Nostra). He sends two of his thugs over at 7:30 during rush hour. They start yelling and screaming so I tells them to stop, I got a business to run. One thug grabs a frying pan and goes at my brother. I take out my Walther and pop a bullet into his kneecap. The other goon draws so fast and before I can say anything about it, pops me in the gut. I wake up at Mass General and I figure it's time to strike out my own before the game’s over."

He lifted his T-shirt to reveal what could have been a second navel.

"Mangia, enjoy." He said leaving the table "I'm sending over cordials after dinner on the house."

As far as the veracity of the story, I didn’t believe a word of it.

Joe had suggested Fillet of Sole with Florentine crabmeat stuffing, so we both acquiesced. During one of the finest meals I’ve ever had, Carol I talked sports, or should I say, she talked sports. Carol’s a walking encyclopedia of sports especially as it concerns Boston. It made for a fascinating lunch even without Joe Tecce’s narrative.

The last I heard, Carol went to work for a hardware store so she didn't have to put up with Susan's BS anymore.

And then there was Robert-not-Bob, our all-around fix it guy and Susan's brother. Robert-not-Bob was fastidious, cynical, and a loner but I enjoyed talking with him. On the days when I was in my office, Robert would wander in and we’d solve the world’s problems. Robert worked slowly, methodically, and did great work but could milk a 1 hour job into days. His hobby was restoring furniture. Oh, by the way, like 99 percent of the people who worked for his brother-in-law, Robert loathed Ramesh. By the way, lest you get the wrong impression, I was one of the 1% who actually liked Ramesh, first, because he had hired me and second, he didn’t try to micromanage me. Anyhow, back to Robert:

"I've had it with that bastard. I gotta get out of here. I found a spot on Charles Street in Boston, a storefront. I’m gonna start a restoration business there." Robert said one day.

"Kind of a high rent district. How can you afford it?"

"I don't need much. I’ll live out back. I chose that area because there are so many antique dealers and I've already arranged to do a little work for one of them."

The business lasted a few months. Then Robert disappeared for a couple years and one day I walked into the maintenance area and there was Robert monkeying around with a gas regulator.

"Hey, Tom. Pass me that wrench, will ya?" As if he had never gone away.

Bob-not-Robert McGrath was Ramesh's production supervisor and also wore the hat of dispatcher for our drivers. He could also run the gas chromatography equipment in the lab.

"Where's Mary?" Bob called Robert ‘Mary’ not because of his sexual proclivities but because he thought Robert whined a lot. "Just like my wife" he’d say. Bob was an excellent supervisor and eventually, like everyone else, left Med-Tech and then went to work for Airgas where he remains today.

Bob McGrath had three kids. Two teenagers were his wife’s from a previous marriage and the other was an eight-year-old that was his own; unfortunately he was a Type One Diabetic.

"I don’t know who drives me crazier, the two teens or my wife. The only saving grace is Michael, but, medically, what a handful he is." Bob stood 6 ft. 3 inches about 250 pounds, strong as an ox, but unlike the ox, bright intellectually. Bob ran a tight ship and things at Med-Tech went to hell after he left. Luckily I was gone by then!

Well that’s the introduction and it should give you a flavor for Med-Tech. Now, what about the whole point of the story?

Mohammed Itani ‘call me Mo’ was Islamic. He hailed from Beirut, Lebanon. He held a doctorate from Northeastern University in biochemistry. He was waiting for a green card (I learned recently they can cost a small fortune) and Ramesh paid him less than any of us. In Lebanon, his wife had been a teacher but couldn’t practice here. Her head was always covered but her face wasn’t. They had a 3-year-old son named ‘Sala’.

Anyhow, Mo took over direction of the laboratory.

I’d been after Ramesh for ages to have a catalog and some literature printed. I had been making my own literature in what I considered a Mickey Mouse manner. Literally, ‘cut and paste’, then run the results through the copier. Ramesh finally got tired of my nagging.

"Tom, for the catalog and literature you want, would be a cost of $60,000."

"And your point is…?"

"We will consider another option."

"Which is?"

"Mo is one computer literate fellow. Will purchase a new PC with all needed software. Mo will teach you computer. Mo will make catalog; you will make literature."

He took Mo to Computer Center in Cambridge and spent over $15,000 on the PC, monitor, and lots of graphics software like Corel PhotoPaint as well as Adobe PageMaker.

Since I still couldn’t tell the difference between a mouse and a modem and was 50 years old, most would have considered me untrainable. However, in a year’s time, with Mo’s constant help and my constant badgering, I became proficient and designed several pieces of literature and assisted Mo with the catalog.

I should perhaps describe Mo. He was stocky and stood about 5 ft. 8 inches. His features were dark and he sported a black mustache and full beard. Mo’s breath during the Islamic fasting period of Ramadan could wither flowers and peel paint. Robert once put a bottle of mouthwash on his desk and that seemed to solve the problem. Mo also believed there were two sides to every story and decided to attempt to broaden my horizons vis-à-vis the Arab-Israeli thing.

"In this country, you only see the Middle East through the Israeli perspective, but remember, they are occupiers of our lands and not peaceful occupiers. Let me cite an example. One afternoon, I went to visit my friend and was approaching his house when an Israeli missile slammed into the house. I never saw him or his brother and sisters, and mother and father again. The excuse given was that it hit the wrong target."

He was very passionate about this so I waited a few days before broaching the subject again.

"Mo, you say the Jews are occupiers of Arab lands, but that area has gone back and forth from when Moses brought them to the ‘land of milk & honey’ to the Romans finally destroying their homeland which event dispersed them all over the world, to the Balfour Declaration at the turn of the century to the establishment of Israel. How far back do you want to go to establish ownership of the land. I mean when you come right down to it, you’re both Semitic people. Personally, I think the major problem is religion and that religious wars have a habit of lasting generations. In Europe, we had the Thirty Years War, the Hundred Years War all under the banner of ‘my religion is better than yours’. Take a look at my own people, the Irish. We’re still fighting over Northern Ireland and it’s been going on for generations and it all stems from religion."

And so the discussions went with neither side giving ground. We never got really heated and I really appreciated that about Mo.

As a Muslim, he was somewhere between fundamentalist and conservative.

Mo’s relationship with Ramesh, however, was something else and went from strained to outright hostile. Ramesh was caught once by Mo making racist comments about the Muslims. Really weird considering Ramesh was a black Indian minority. Also, Mo disliked the way Ramesh treated people in general.

"Forgive me Tom but I hate him."

Finally, Mo joined Bob and I in the office off the lab where we kept the computer. We dubbed it the ‘Employment Center’ and whenever we could, we’d search various engines on line for jobs.

Anyhow, Mo was part of a growing Islamic community in Everett. They were in the process of building an Islamic center complete with mosque and school. He gave me weekly updates.

One evening while watching the nightly news, the lead story concerned a man who had been brutally beaten by 5 other men. It seems this man was treasurer of the aforementioned Islamic center and had embezzled thousands. The story continued that these men believed in their own form of justice which was harsh and swift. The man was fighting for his life at a local hospital and the 5 men had been caught and would be arraigned in the morning. Imagine my surprise seeing Mo in chains and handcuffs being led away with the others! It turns out that Mo didn’t take part in the beating but drove the getaway car that unfortunately didn’t get away.

Mo was unable to raise bail immediately so remained and spent several days in jail and this set up a problem for me. Unbeknownst to me, Mo had set up a password to get into the computer. I called Mo’s wife and she got me the password. I should have guessed – QURAN

I never saw Mo again but hope he’s doing well. The last I heard, he and his family had moved to Virginia.

Oh well!