kansas

THE HOLEY LAND, PART 1

Above photo of Kansas highway courtesy of Erik Trautman

The following Monday morning, I got up a little earlier than usual in my apartment in Yorkville, Manhattan.  I put on a pair of jeans and my Timberland boots as this here urban cowboy was going to work on the oil field for the week.  Well ok, maybe not exactly.  I was really going to be a tag-along on the oil patch.  To be on the heels of the world-famous Jewish cowboy and oil rustler, Bobby Edwards!

I grabbed a cab and directed the driver to Bobby’s place on East 86th Street.  As we pulled up to the awning on Bobby’s building, he was, of course, nowhere to be seen.  We waited as the doorman called up.  “Mr. Edwards will be right down.”  I wondered if everyone’s workweek on the oil patch started this way.

After a few moments, Bobby arrived at the car, huffing and puffing with his suitcase.  “LaGuardia Airport for TWA Airlines, please,” he barked to the driver in his raspy voice as he staggered into the cab.  We were on our way to an 8AM flight to Kansas City International Airport.  “Wait ‘til you see Kansas, kid,” he laughed and coughed.  “Looks just like 86th Street.”

Doesn’t everywhere?

Once at the Central Terminal (which, at LaGuardia, is Terminal B, not C: go figure), I followed Bobby to the check-in counter at our gate.  He slouched up against it and whipped out a money clip.  On one side were several Gold and Platinum ‘Elite’ TWA Frequent Flyer cards.  On the other side were several Benjis ($100 bills).  Bobby winked at me as he addressed the check-in agent while clicking the clip on the desk.  “Hi Linda, how are you this morning,” he said as if he had played doctor with Linda in kindergarten.

benji

“Fine, Mr. Edwards.  How are you?” she said pleasantly if nonchalantly as the printer spat out two boarding passes.  After handing him our seat assignments, we soon took our coach places towards the rear of the empty aircraft.

stripper-wells

CHIGGERS AND STRIPPERS

Above: Stripper wells, courtesy of http://www.energyindustryphotos.com/texas_oil_well_photos.htm

East 86th Street figures prominently in The Bernard Olcott Story.  First, my Dad lived on the corner of Fifth Avenue with his second wife and baby, James.  Several years later, he moved further east to Second where he lived with his third wife and baby, Victoria.  (The aforementioned son lived with this growing and eclectic family during summers).

Had you kept going further east, you would arrive at the residence of one Robert Edwards, otherwise known as “Bobby.”  Whereas other residents of Yorkville typically wore suits during the workday, Bobby always looked like he was going to a rodeo.

As introduced in last week’s story, “MR. SWAGGER’S PUMP AND DUMP,” Bobby was probably the most colorful character ever to have enjoyed the select distinction of “Business Partner of Bernard Olcott.”

By the early 1980s, Dad already had experience in investing in oil and gas exploration.  It was one of the best tax shelters in that the entire investment could be written off as an “intangible drilling” deduction.  Then, later on, after you would have drilled for oil, found some (there are no guarantees), extracted it via a pump jack into a tank, and finally have Enron come buy it from you, you could claim it as income at reduced capital gains rate.

Potential problems?  Of course there is always the possibility of a fly in the ointment.

marlboro-country

MR. SWAGGER’S PUMP AND DUMP

Although my office was on the lowest of three levels, during that first year on the job, I would occasionally hear strange noises filtering down from the top floor. Often these indistinct sounds would mimic fanciful imagery like, I kid you not, cattle rustling with an occasional hoof stomp. Other times, the herd would be in full stampede. A cowboy could be heard running after them, shouting and hacking from a bad cough.

Quick reality check: the office was in Weehawken, New Jersey with a glorious view of the Manhattan skyline and the giant double helix of the Lincoln Tunnel. The latter emitted the roar of machinery, the giant soul crusher as featured in my post “THE NIGHT IS DARK AND FULL OF TERRORS.” It was very far from Marlboro country, campfires, and cowboys yodeling ah-hee-ho!”

The bumps, shouts, and herd noises were discordant and weird.  What the fuck was going on up there? Sometimes, I would climb the stairs to snoop around. At first, doors would be closed as soon as I reached the top. Sometimes, I could see out of the corner of my eye,  through a partially open door, something resembling a nose, or maybe some wrinkled skin. It was as if the stable master had asked the illegal stallion to settle down in his stall so as to hide from a passerby.

Nose and wrinkled skin? Was Dad hiding an elephant from me? Wouldn’t it fall through the floor of our ramshackle building?

stockholm-old-town_2566_600x450

PANOPLY OF SWAGGER

Pictured above, beautiful Stockholm.

Last week in my post “OF GIANTS AND DWARFS” I took you, the dear reader, back to 1966 to meet Lenny the check-forger.  But Lenny turned out to be a mere piker.  Compare him to Herby Fischer¹ – the stockbroker from American Express who churned Dad for over a million in the late 1980s.  Now that guy had a plunger.  A big one.

Strange thing was, after Dad took him to court and won, inexplicably, seeking no one’s advice but his own, Dad reinvested with Herby!  Everyone can get taken once.  But to go back to the same guy afterwards?

But Herby was ultimately not the biggest plunderer.  More about him later.

Neither gentleman made it to the letterhead of Olcott International, my employer as of 1983.  Based on the amount of cash they carried away, however, they should have — at least as cost centers.

Steven Sites¹, however, did make the letterhead.  He was on the famed pantheon of “Associates” thereon.  That meant he was a BIG, the real deal.

Soon after I started my first job, I mean, not simply a first job but one at the family business with Bernard Olcott as CEO, efficiency expert, attorney at law, certified engineer in three states, computer consultant, construction foreman, automotive engine and air conditioner mastermind, ladies’ man, and unfortunately, easy mark, a pudgy man waddled over to my desk on the lower level.  He extended his hand.  “I’m Stevie Sites,” he said.  I recognized the name immediately and stood up.  A giant had graced my stoop!

I told him that I recognized his name from the letterhead and asked him about his accounts.  I had no idea what he was about to tell me.

OI HQ

OF GIANTS AND DWARFS

Special note: Today is Dad’s 98th birthday!

As related in my last two posts, “THE NIGHT IS DARK AND FULL OF TERRORS,” and “FIRST TEST,” my full-time entry into the family business was marked by both gloom and doom on one hand, and affirmation on the other.

You could say it was a study of extremes. Like my Dad.

The location of the office was, well, anything but standard.  It was close to my home in Manhattan — five miles as the crow flies.  Just across the river, the first stop.

Yet, it was hideous from the point of view of public transportation.  Two subway lines to Times Square; a bus from the New Jersey Embassy (otherwise known as the Port Authority Bus Terminal); and then a quarter mile uphill slog.  This was a tough commute of one hour’s duration, each way.  It was the Goddamn bus that took the longest, inching its way through hellacious traffic to and from the Lincoln Tunnel.  If I could have walked on water, I could have hoofed the whole thing in just about the same amount of time.

Test

FIRST TEST

As I took my seat behind that wooden desk on the lower level in 1982, I began my training at Olcott International.

As discussed in numerous posts, Olcott International operates in a highly specialized field, one that most people do not understand.  My Dad had started his business in 1961 on the back of an advanced (for its time) computer program that could sort patent renewal data.

He offered this service to corporate patent owners that had live dockets of hundreds or thousands of registrations. Most of these required annual payments to maintain their validity. (Patents in the USA follow an extremely odd payment schedule, however).  After the 20th year, the patent would come to term and fall into the public domain, meaning that anyone could read the patent, make the thing (whatever it was), and sell it for a buck.

Generally, whenever I met people socially, and the conversation turned to work, describing this computer and legal-driven business quickly became a problem.  Most people have professions that can be easily pigeon-holed in simple terms, like “banker,” “teacher,” or “forklift driver.” Not I. In fact, it got so tedious for me to explain what I did for a living, I would typically bail and offer up that I was simply the hostess’ psychiatrist. Sometimes, I would even be asked if I was taking on new patients. I always made sure that I was available only on the most unsuitable night.

There are patents for all kinds of things. Some vital, like certain AIDS medications. Many are frivolous, like weird ribbing patterns on a condom. Most are a waste of money, patented by individuals for products with no commercial potential.

On the other hand, successful corporations, eg. Apple Computer, have dockets comprising thousands of valuable, revenue generating patents. Every one of them worth the $2,000 annual cost of renewal (thereabouts) annually in over 100 countries across this beautiful planet.

So what was the essence of my first job with Olcott International? Patents? No!

Night is full of terrors

THE NIGHT IS DARK AND FULL OF TERRORS

“What did he fear? It was not fear or dread. It was a nothing that he knew too well. It was all a nothing and a man was nothing too. It was only that and light was all it needed and a certain cleanness and order. Some lived in it and never felt it but he knew it was already nada y pues nada y pues nada. Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada. Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada; pues nada. Hail nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee.”

-Ernest Hemingway, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”

In 1982, Dad was suing Gloria for divorce.  Or more accurately, he forced her to sue him.  As the defendant, he and his lawyers threatened her with an illegal prior divorce and effectively slaughtered her (see my post last week “IS YOUR MEXICAN DIVORCE LEGAL?”).

During that Fall, I started working at Olcott International part-time, one day a week, on Fridays, when I had no classes at Columbia University’s Graduate School of International Affairs (SIA).  It was the last in a string of temporary or part-time jobs held down since my last year of college in 1980.

As a college senior, I created a job for myself as an organizer for Teddy Kennedy’s presidential campaign in 1979 and 1980.  Teddy didn’t win, as you recall.  Then, I worked as the New York State College Coordinator for John Anderson’s Presidential campaign in the Fall of 1980.  John didn’t win either.  Later on, at SIA, I had summer jobs at Société Générale and the United Nations.  Great experiences all.

John Anderson

The highlight of my experience in John’s campaign was when he took the time to call me one day to thank me for my efforts.

But now Dad had offered me full-time employment at Olcott International starting January 1983.  This was to be my first time working in a job for a paycheck.  To be supporting myself like a real person.

As mentioned in previous posts, I had my reasons to be nervous.  The puffed-up title of Assistant Vice President did little to assuage my concerns.