In the run up to August 18th, 1986, the date of record for me, a typical training session that summer with my replacement Paul Campo went down something like this:

“OK, Paul, this is the computer inventory of all trademarks owned by The Wellcome Foundation.”  I put my hand down softly on a large green binder by my side.  Inside were hundreds of pages of green tractor-feed paper held together with white plastic paper ties.

Getting very little on the way of a reaction, I flipped through the pages making a ruffling noise.  “You see, the marks are organized by country.”

Again, no reaction.

Continuing to flip through the sheets, I stopped at one page.  “Here, this page is for Sudan.”

Paul looked lively all of a sudden.  “Dan who?” he asked.  “And I don’t know anyone named Sue,” he added.  A real comedian.

trex1

At this point, I grabbed The Lizard.  “No!  Not Dan and Sue.  SOO-DANNN, the African country below Egypt!” I said with a mock snarl.  “Don’t make me get The Lizard to straighten you out!”  I wielded The Lizard threateningly forward, towards Paul.

“Yes, of course,” Paul said.  “Sudan the country.  I know it well.  When I go to visit my aunt in Chad, we would often go to the Wawa across the border in next door Sudan.”

revised-sudan-map

Sudan is the last exit before Toms River on the Parkway.

Ignoring the reference to Chad, I continued.  “To learn the detailed status of the renewals, we’ll just check the file for Sudan.  Let’s say, for example, that I was not here for any reason at some point in the future and someone asked you about this.”  I looked at him with my left eyebrow lifted.  “Listen up, this could be important!”  At this point, I reached into the decrepit filing cabinet behind me, the one that threatened to jettison a 40 pound drawer on any unsuspecting kankle.

Finally, I commanded Paul’s complete attention now.

camel

Searching the top drawer between Afghanistan and Zimbabwe, I quickly found the Sudan file in its correct place and hefted it out.  Plopping the file down with reverence, I opened it and saw immediately a letter from our local agent there, an up and coming lawyer named Mohammed Mohammed who hailed from one of the biggest enterprises in the country, the Brigdar Ice Factory, located in the snooty Garden District, Khartoum NW (for northwest).

“Look here,” I said authoritatively.  “Any six year old can plainly see that our Agent, Mr. Mohammed, has the situation well in hand.”

Paul leaned in to examine the correspondence.  On top of the stack of papers inside the folder was an instruction letter from me dated a few months earlier asking Mr. Mohammed to renew some 20 odd trademarks in 1986.  Mr. Mohammed had written back confirming receipt of instructions to renew the exact same number of trademarks.  A good example; everything buttoned down nicely.  Even images of camels on the postage.

sudancamels

“Unusual name,” Paul commented.

“Notice that his first name is identical to his last,” I added brightly.

By odd coincidence, my Dad, who was skilled in the art of managing by walking around, happened to wander by at that very instant.  He examined Mr. Mohammed’s letter, written in his distinctive block letter handwriting.  He stabbed his stubby finger at the letterhead, also written by hand, stating clearly, MOHAMMED MOHAMMED, BRIGDAR ICE FACTORY, KHARTOUM, SUDAN.”

Dad said to me, “Is Mohammed his first name or his last name?”

“Both,” I said.

“Lorraine,” Dad said plaintively, ignoring me, “take a letter,” meaning he wanted to dictate a letter on the spot.

Lorraine was my administrative assistant on the lower level.  A mature woman with a cheery disposition and a short grey toni, she was wise beyond her many years.  If you barked orders at her rapid-fire, she was prone to reminding you that if you “stuck a broom up me, I can sweep the floor, too.”  Multi-tasking, years before the PC age at OI.

She picked up her stenographer’s notepad and looked up attentively at Dad.

“Dear Mr. Mohammed, drop a line, Is Mohammed your first name or last name?  Very Truly Yours.  Bernard Olcott.”

Lorraine expertly tapped out the letter for my Father, ripped it out of the typewriter, and handed it to him.  He signed it on my desk.  The matter thus referred to the source for judgement, he left the area to go belt out needed guidance elsewhere.

sudanese-stamps

Sure enough, in a few weeks’ time, a letter arrived with distinctive Sudanese postage stamps.  I opened the letter and read the memorable contents together with Paul which were as follows:

“MOHAMMED MOHAMMED

BRIGDAR ICE FACTORY

KHARTOUM, SUDAN

DEAR MR. BERNARD OLCOTT:

MY FIRST NAME IS MOHAMMED.

MY LAST NAME IS MOHAMMED.

VERY TRULY YOURS

MOHAMMED MOHAMMED

BRIGDAR ICE FACTORY

KHARTOUM, SUDAN”

Kind of like New York, New York, right?  So great they named it twice!

Mind you, this was a good eight years before the famous David Letterman joke “Top Ten (UN Secretary-General) Boutros Boutros-Ghali Pick Up Lines”:  “Can I can I buy you a drink a drink?”

Of course, all I could say to Paul was “August the 18th.”

And over the course of the next few weeks, leading up to the aforementioned date of record, I entertained the following questions from Mr. Campo Campo.

logo-planterslogo-planterslogo-planterslogo-planterslogo-planterslogo-planters

“James, the agent in Iran sent us trademark certificates for Mr. Peanut!”  This was a very weird problem since Planters was not and had never been a client.

My response?

“August the 18th!”

“James, our Swedish agent Renate Kranc got married!”  We never did learn anything about the lucky fellow.

“August the 18th!”

“James, why do we use a telex machine instead of a fax machine?”  Tough technology question.

“August the 18th!”

“James, why do we use typewriters with carbon paper instead of PCs with Word Processing Programs?”  Another chump stumper.  Leonard Nimoy is still in search of the answer to this one.

“August the 18th!”

“James, why do the ‘executives’ here punch in and out of a time clock when they are on salary?  Answer me, DAMN YOU!”  The self-improvised noose around his neck slung over the ceiling rafter was supposed to grab my attention.  It didn’t.

“August the 18th!”

guess-what-day-it-is

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