A BRIEF INTRODUCTION

Please allow me to introduce you to Bernard Olcott, 1918-2006, a man who led a legendary and iconoclastic American life.

Welcome to my blog.  My goal is to provide you with stories from times past by which you might catch glimpses of yourself, or of someone you know intimately. Bernard Olcott touched the world, from Japan to England to Egypt to Kansas to New Jersey. Maybe you know some of these places, too.

Every Thursday afternoon, I’ll present you with a new story, some new adventure or insight, dusted with more than just a little modern context and quirky cultural references. Dad loved screwball humor; although he took himself seriously as an attorney, he wouldn’t stop laughing if you called him an ‘ambulance chaser.’  You see, this is the point: we can’t pick our parents, but we sure as hell can cherry pick their best qualities. And that, my friends, is what will set you free.

AFTERMATH, OR GINGER’S RIDE

This is Ginger, a peppy, lively 1966 Ford Mustang.

Ginger was a present I bought myself in April 1992 for less than $7,000. A corn farmer in Minnesota had bought the car disassembled and completed a loving restoration, using the original color, navy blue metallic. He trailered the car from the Midwest to Weehawken and unloaded it in front of the office one Saturday morning.

She had a grippy 3 speed manual transmission and I drove her up and down Hackensack Plank Road with care. My Dad, who had a particular fondness for old cars himself (in his case, Mercedes Benzes), asked me if he could test drive it. Without hesitation, I jumped out of the car and watched him drive down the hill and back. He stepped out afterwards, and with a minimum of words, gave me his determination that Ginger was a solid car. That was his way of giving me an enthusiastic double thumbs up.

I actually used Ginger to drive to work for a week or two. She drew a lot of attention. Dave Murphy, my Dad’s handyman (and a loyal reader of this blog), loved Ginger and his brother ended up doing some work on her later that year. Dan or Yoshi, I forget who, hatched up a “For Sale” sign and placed it on Ginger’s windshield just to razz me. Truly, I worked with a bunch of comedians. Maybe some of my readers do, too.

As it turned out, she was a bit too fragile to use as a daily driver, so Ginger retired to the South Fork of eastern Long Island and became my beach car to sail along country roads.

AFTERMATH

will be my next post as I attempt to wrap up this phase of The Bernard Olcott Story.

I am grateful to the handful of my Father’s friends who have shown up from time to time to contribute a comment or two on these electronic pages.  Whether I agree with their point of view is irrelevant — my Dad touched many people during his life here.

Remember: I wouldn’t be here without him.  And you would be reading something much less interesting right now.

Check back next week for AFTERMATH.

WHY I READ THIS BLOG: ARTFULNESS FOLLOWS LIFE

Today, I present you with another guest post from my friend Ned McDonnell who sends this missive to me from his current residence in Tunis, Tunisia.  Obviously, I am somewhat embarrassed by his praise of my writing.  I mean, I am just a schnook on the internet with a blog.  

But I did try to weave a number of connections into my stories of times past so that I was not just writing about my own family — hopefully, at times, I was leaning into yours as well.

I will post a brief update tomorrow about my upcoming post AFTERMATH.

People often ask me why I read the essays in James Olcott’s cultural blog, The Bernard Olcott Story, almost ‘talmudically’; examining each word, savoring each thought as if it were handed down to me from on high. Is it because I have known James – for better or for worse – for more than forty years? Yes, I have known him since 1975. But that is not it.

Beyond being classmates, is my avid reading due to James’s wit rivaling that of his distant cousin, James Thurber? Yes, I like to laugh. But that is not it, either. Perhaps, it is James’s nuanced analyses of human pitfalls and downfalls that cause me to stop and think about contemporary life’s latest version of the human condition.  My own meditations are noteworthy in this regard that does not quite explain my continuing interest.

Robert Frost.png

HOW TO DEAL WITH A PARENT OR BOSS SUFFERING FROM DEMENTIA

Dementia is a dreary affair or topic in life, much less a blog.

My readers will appreciate that I have tried to dress it up by adding all kind of stories about nostalgic New York, travelogues on Kansas, Japan, the Bahamas, and Lithuania, multiple marriages, the America’s Cup, and business school write-ups of niche industries.

Kudzu-eating goats even pitched in to help me out on my last entry, THE FINEST ESCAPE, PART 2.

But dementia remains the overriding issue that I have tried to address in my writings; and I have sought to do so as humanely as possible. It afflicted my Father, after all. I make a point out of capitalizing the words “Father” and “Dad” out of respect for him personally, for the role he played in my life, and for the enormous personal success he achieved in life, surmounting so many challenges.

Few, very few people ever scale the heights my Father did.

Yet my Dad succumbed to a crippling illness over the course of many years.  At the outset, I reiterate that I had neither special expertise nor basic knowledge of this affliction or of elder-care issues in general. Truthfully, I learned the hard way by surviving a family business, albeit with my insanity intact.

My ‘normal’ was my Dad’s successful international company, the standard by which I judged the world and work environments around me.

THE FINEST ESCAPE, PART 2

I guess solutions to problems make themselves known in the strangest and the most unexpected of circumstances. Like flying mouses.

Take my Dad, for example (or Please!). He had made his greatest escape from his under-privileged origins as a Merchant Marine.  Sailor that he was, though, he was not able to elude the imprisonment of old age infirmities. In later life, as my prison warden, I, too, was obligated to escape. I had no choice in the matter but to throw the chair through the office window and climb out.

To put it simply, he was killing me!

Lebertech-Your-Killing-Me.jpg

The PANOPLY OF SWAGGER series charted both my Dad’s incremental decline and my concomitant exits from Olcott International.  In the initial installment, I recounted how Dad started neglecting his beautiful business in the slightest of ways. By shorting one of his top salesmen of his commission. Maybe it was a one-off? Ultimately, it wasn’t. The same thing happened with others, like Bob Gerhardt, in the harshest of ways.

In the second, I regaled my readers with the beginnings of a horned parade of spurious investment ideas beating a path to my Dad’s doorstep. It all started innocuously enough. A table game with Huntington Hartford. Oil drilling in Kansas. But it didn’t stop there. It accelerated whereby Dad got churned for a million by a stockbroker. He had the good sense to sue for his money back. But when he prevailed in court, he turned around and reinvested with the very same advisor!

Tail chasing eats up valuable time.

In the third part, I tried in vain to get my Dad’s eye back on the eight ball.  Instead, I was reduced to pleading in his kangaroo court, where the appellate judge was either the cleaning lady or my drug-addicted colleague. By hook or by crook, I did everything I could to draw his attention to where it should have been.

But it was no use.  Ever have days like that?

THE FINEST ESCAPE, PART 1

Yup, this is a repeat. But it sets the stage for my new story THE FINEST ESCAPE, PART 2 due next week.

The Bernard Olcott Story started off 2016 with a rewrite of my post “THE LOST WEEKEND” focusing on the Academy Award (and Cannes!) winning movie of the same name from 1946.  That post promised the following stories to come:

• the biggest movie of 1946 (THE LOST WEEKEND),
• the 3rd Avenue El (including an art house film),
• old style New Yorkers interacting in flavorful accents,
• a valuable lesson at Cooper Union
• a mysterious death in 1943 with what little facts are available, and
• a color-filled present with a shared activity across time.

All have been delivered, except for the last topic.  I did leave the 1940s to take you, the dear reader, on a color-filled ride 40 years later to Lithuania in 1985.  I framed my trip in terms of a Boomerang where I realized that my journey, as an effort to strengthen family ties, may have inadvertently reminded my Dad of his disadvantaged youth.  Both in terms of society – his immigrant household subject to prejudice – and family – where his brother was favored in the household.

But wait!  There’s more to that technicolor present!  Today’s post will wrap up both the Boomerang and 1940s themes with the following conclusion: my Dad escaped his unhappy situation 4 ways:

1. Becoming a sailor on the Merchant Marines and shipping off to Europe
2. Flying the coop to Cooper Union
3. Becoming a Technology Consultant
4. By engaging in a mystery activity (identified below), one that he and I both share.