The events in my last post, “TWO RABBITS, ONE DEAD,” recount the events of one bleak day in January 1995.
Everyone is entitled to a bad day once in a while. If those events of 21 years ago had represented just one isolated blip in the story of a triumphal family saga, it wouldn’t have been that big of a deal.
Sadly, it wasn’t just a one-off but was part of a frequently distressing pattern.
It didn’t start off that way, of course, when I began my career at Olcott International a different January a dozen years before that, in 1983.
As I have written in various posts like “SOMETHING ABOUT DAD, PARTS 1 AND 2” and “HEARTBREAKER,” Dad wanted me to join the family business even though various warning signs made me ambivalent toward the idea. After all, you should always know who your business partners are. If they’re your parents, you don’t need to do a background check to find out.
As an example, I can perform due diligence in my case by asking a few questions:
Did Dad display stability in personal life, such as in marriage? Not so much! But I could deal!
Did he have inherent respect for law and order (or the lack thereof like with the zinger in the electric meter)? Well, most of the time, no issues!
Did he treat family members as valued assets and never subjected them to unreasonable tasks and/or being “disinherited?” Hey, he just had a bad temper!!!
Look, nobody’s perfect and he was the only father I had, so lay off! He was a good provider. Clever. Brilliant. Lucky.
But, in hindsight, these were indeed red flags. The lure of an intriguing and compelling international business seduced me into ignoring them. And so, in 1983, I entered the family enterprise without a Plan B. I developed one on the fly years later. Which saved my life and what was left of my sanity. More on that later.
Remember this point as I will be coming back to this.
There was of course the strange “Dark Meltdown” episode as related in my story “THE NIGHT IS DARK AND FULL OF TERRORS.” Awkward comments by Dad implying that I wanted to force him out of the business made my skin crawl. Especially since I desperately needed him for guidance and advice; I was afraid he would leave!
But in those initial days, Dad was great. He comforted me in my meltdown. I asked him to discontinue the strange comments about me wanting to “move his desk closer to the door.” And he respected my request. 100%. He never again made such comments.
There was, to be sure, intense pressure from him for me to move to Weehawken. One of Dad’s best friends, Fred¹, often expressed a belief that my Dad wanted to control people. I think Fred had that exactly right. And, as for myself, I wasn’t so sure I wanted to be controlled. At least not in terms of where I choose to call home. For one thing, over vast portions of my childhood, I mostly felt displaced and it wasn’t to my personal choosing.
Consider one 24 hour period in my life from the summer of 1962 as retold in my post “CHANGE AND REBOUND.”
All I knew is that one night in the summer of 1962 I was in the back seat of a taxicab on Fifth Avenue (New York City) mesmerized by the shadows of my head dancing back and forth in front of me as illuminated by passing streetlights. The next night, I was in a car driving through the deepest nighttime indigo of central Florida, the loud sound of crickets blazing throughout the shadowless darkness.
In other words, one day I was at home with my Mom and Dad in New York. Then the next thing I knew, I woke up in the pitch dark of a central Florida night to the deafening orchestra of crickets – a completely alien sound to me. My Dad was no longer with me (as my Mom had remarried).
Put that in your pipe and smoke it. Since I was all of 4 years at the time, there was no need for lengthy explanations. I couldn’t express it at the time but I sure as hell knew that everything had changed. Everyone was kind to me so there was no obvious cause for panic. But still. My world had changed.
One day, I’m on the slide next to the Met. The next day, not.
As I got older, I resented my home being torn from me. Every child wishes to be with their mother and father; it’s natural. If I ever asked why they weren’t together, Mom or Dad would each give me lots of kind words about the other. Without any kind of recrimination, they persuaded me that it was for the “better.”
Nor was I bitter. Shit happens. But I was left with the feeling that home was too important a choice to be left to others. As soon as I could make my own decisions at the ripe old age of 15, the very first one to make was about what I considered home. I immediately traded Orlando, Florida for Wallingford, Connecticut. I would have knocked over old folks in my way and haste to get from one to the other.
I always felt that Orlando (and then later Weehawken) were imposed upon me without any regard for my own considerations and feelings. No hard feeling against either place – there are many good people with plenty of heart in both communities. I remember them all vividly and fondly. Nonetheless, no one should be dragged from their homes. (Good advice anywhere and anytime).
So Dad pressing me to move to Weehawken absolutely hit one of my hot buttons – in that I, and I alone, would choose my home.
So from the beginning, January 1983, I threw caution to the winds and gave it my best shot. I enjoyed some early successes at work. There were some uncomfortable instances as noted above, a good number of which were completely assuaged.
However, dark clouds obscuring judgement and behavior slowly and inexorably rolled across my Dad’s countenance and abilities. They installed themselves much too slowly to be detectable on a day by day basis. Within a few years, however, his transformation was complete and Olcott International was no longer a safe place for me.
Not that I can be faulted for trying. Throughout it all, I was asked to be there. So I owed it to everyone — myself included — to make my mark.
¹ – Not his real name.