Meanwhile, back in Kansas…

After barking orders to Luke and Roy to fix whatever was wrong with the non-working pump jack, Bobby Edwards proceeded to drive me around southeastern Kansas to the other leases.  As it was a half hour to 45 minutes to any of the others, Bobby and me spent the rest of the week in the truck driving around the stark landscape.

Typically, we would arrive at some desolate farmland, turn off the paved road, and then drive around farm roads for a while, with Bobby looking here and there for familiar markers.  Occasionally, we were at risk for getting stuck in the mud in the middle of nowhere.  If the truck started to slip and spin, Bobby would mutter “cocksucker!” in his raspy voice, jam the truck into reverse, slam back into drive, and rock the truck out of the mud.  The mud, thus insulted, would always relent.  (And I survived to write the tale!)

Then, suddenly, Bobby would say, “We’re here!” put the truck in park, and lurch out of the truck.  I would study the outside, quizzically.  Just empty fields, maybe a tree line marking a boundary.  Then I would hop out and walk around the truck to see Bobby pointing downwards at a hole in the ground.  There would be an eight inch well casing or pipe extending several inches up off the ground. Looking down the casing, it would be just a dark hole running towards the center of the earth; the average depth of oil wells in this area would run maybe 1,000 feet.  Bobby would explain how, to start with, these abandoned holes had to be cleaned out due to “kids throwing stones and bottles down them.”  Once cleared and re-drilled to find the oil reservoir, only then could a pump jack and piping be set up to bring up, hopefully, as the Beverly Hillbillies would say, the “black gold.”

The extraction process had not been started for the first hole.  Nor for about 39 others.


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.


“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.


Above: Stripper wells, courtesy of

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.


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?


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.