Stunned by the sight of Steiner smoking a pipe and blowing smoke out of an open window, Jamal stood there expecting him to go on a rant.
"I saw the news," Steiner started off slow as he tapped the tobacco out of his pipe. He wasted no time stepping it up into high gear, shouting about everything from the static he caught from the Provost regarding the supposed sexual harassment issue with Leslie Smith to being bum rushed by detectives regarding the shooting Jamal witnessed. After unintentionally breaking the pipe on the desk, he grew quiet. "You go from my top intern to being Public Enemy Number One. So far you're battin' a f***** thousand for getting yourself on the shortlist outta here, son."
When Jamal started to laugh, Steiner's face stretched, puzzled by what looked like mean-spirited defiance. By the time Jamal finished explaining the carnival of circumstances he had been through since dissing Leslie Smith and stumbling into the shooting fiasco and the whole police tie-in, it didn't take much for Steiner to understand the comedy of errors that had occurred. He closed the window and glanced at Jamal. "Out of all the excuses I've ever heard, that is the craziest. No offense but even the media can't make up s*** that good."
"With all due respect sir I'm here to skip all that," Jamal finally said, tired of reliving the crazy details. "All I want is to be my own internship -- to be my own boss of my own business. What do I need to do to make that happen?"
Stunned and inwardly tickled by this revelation, Steiner returned to his desk as he popped a mouthful of Altoids to mask his smoke-breath. "You're already three Aces dead in an Ace-King Poker Hold 'em hand. What makes you think that can happen now?"
"I got through all this mess and none of it was my fault. The Lord is on my side. I know what's up."
Even though Steiner was estranged from his native Jewish faith, there was still something deep inside that wouldn't allow him to question Jamal's statement, nor the power of God. He leaned back in his chair, unsure of what to say. When it came to natural business instincts, Jamal was the Michael Jordan of his sophomore business students, showing the kind of promise that most professors in the department admired, even the ones that had issues with other students his age from Queens. "I like the idea but there's a problem -- the department head won't go for it."
Jamal felt his bile rise but refused to let it show. "Why not?" he said, too tired to raise his voice, then studied Steiner's face in search of any sign of Hidden Racism at work. "My grades are good and besides this mess over the past few days my rep is solid -- and I'm not gonna stop sorting that out until my name is straight again. Come straight with it... what's the deal?"
"Only Juniors, Seniors and Grad students can get credit for running their own business ventures," Steiner replied as he thumbed through the department handbook and pointed out the requirements. "School policy."
For the first time in a long time Jamal was ready to puff up and say 'What the F*** does that have to do with me?' Instead, something outside of himself tapped him on the shoulder, possibly Aunt Edwina's words of wisdom or even the hand of an Angel, and he remained calm. "There has to be someone we can talk to."
"Really it's the Dean that'll shut us down." Steiner said with a sigh. "When I was here finishing up Grad school back in the mid-90s, my advisor tried it with some undergrads that started a dot-com company. They had a half-ass business plan, some lame financials, and against my advice the Dean pulled in some members of the board to invest. About 2000 when the bubble busted all the board members that invested lost a ton of money. When the board got pissed, it was like KRS-ONE said -- phone calls were made, profiles kept low -- and then people started catching hell. A few people even lost their jobs under questionable circumstances. "
"I've heard about some of the businesses the seniors put together to get credit for their independent projects. Not only were they lame, it were easy to cook the books. They skated by on non-existent profits like Enron execs. I know I can do this -- and my books will be tighter than a tax audit. You know it too. "
"Look, you think I don't know about all that?" Steiner smiled as he awkwardly tried to roll a Poker chip back and forth across his knuckles. "If students cook the books, they cook the books -- and if they're sloppy we usually catch 'em. Your situation isn't that simple. It doesn't matter how smart or ambitious you are. The official rationale behind the new policy is that students your age generally don't have the experience to write real world business plans or the money to pay someone to get it done by someone else. On top of that you lack the personal equity to get the necessary loans nor do you have the track record to get enough investment capital to keep a business afloat till it's profitable, let alone solvent."
"I've made an 'A' on every business plan I've ever done. All my research, my numbers, charts, and--"
"And it's not that simple," Steiner politely interrupted. "Those were class assignments. You put together fantastic business plans based on what each professor required -- not real world requirements."
Steiner paused as he recalled one of his favorite trick questions, deemed too culturally biased by some members of the board. "Okay, let's say you want to start a printing company and you found a liquidation auction with all the printing equipment you need for just $10,000 dollars. You don't have the money and you decide to go to a bank to get a loan. How much do you ask for?"
It was obvious that $10,000 or even $20,000 dollars was not the right answer. Too tired to do any heavy math, Jamal paused then fired off an answer. "$100,000 dollars."
"Still declined," he said as he walked over to his white board and picked up a dry-erase marker, prepared to write.
"For $10,000 in hardware and some overhead?"
"Yep. Very declined."
Without another word, Steiner feverishly began to scrawl expenses on the board, line items from a cashflow projection spreadsheet. By the time he finished spelling out the basic salaries to space and office equipment and truck leases to utilities to insurances and tax liabilities, the overhead had passed $250,000 dollars. Jamal nodded. “Okay, I got it, I got it.”
Steiner returned to his seat. "And on top of all that, there are other factors..."
"Like what else -- being young, Black and from Queens?"
Steiner gently stroked the razor stubble on his cheek as he wrestled with himself about whether or not to speak his mind. That's when the Brooklyn side of his Borough Park upbringing came out. "Alright, I never said this. If it ever comes back to me we're both done at this school. Let's just say some of the tenure here is from the Old School, the kind that goes to country clubs that used to be restricted not too long ago. The only reason they accepted Yids into their Good Ole Boy network was because we own s*** and we're not going anywhere, know what I mean? Don't get it wrong, there are African Americans operating in those circles, too, but when it comes to the Good Ole Boy scene make no mistake about who is still running things."
Mildly shocked, Jamal paused. Steiner almost sounded like some of the Conscious brothas on campus. He had never heard a White man call out what other rich White men do. Along with that he'd never heard a Jew refer to his own as 'Yids'. He sensed it was a term amongst the Jews, not to be used freely by outsiders. "So you're saying that's what I'm up against?"
"Yes. That's what you're up against."
"So you're saying I need to give up the chase?"
Steiner paused, knowing that he had opened up a proverbial Pandora's Box sharing the Hidden Race Card. The wrong choice of words could come back to haunt him. "I guess I'm saying that there are easier alternatives to getting your internship credits."
Jamal stood and prepared to walk out. "I'm not feelin' the internship thing,. I've been playin' by everybody else's rules up to now and it's not panning out. I didn't learn a thing from the last one except how to deliver papers and get burned by a vindictive partner in the company. I did my best to be a top notch student and what'd it get me? The first time someone says some mess it cost me my internship creds -- and it's about to screw me out of my graduation date. I know it wasn't your call but I can't take any more chances. It's got to be all me from here on out."
Steiner knew that everything Jamal said was solid. "You may have missed your calling as a District Attorney," he said with admiration as he stood and extended his hand across the desk. "You've made your point with me, but as far as the Powers that Be are concerned, I don't know what else to tell ya."
Jamal returned a firm handshake. "Just tell me you've got my back when the time comes."
"I'd like to if I knew your game plan," Steiner replied with a curious tone.
Jamal winked. "Straight up -- one way or the other I will make this happen."