The Adirondack Northway is one of America’s spectacular highways. I’ve driven it many times between New York City and Canada, usually en route to a ski vacation in the North Country.
It winds its way along the foothills of the High Peaks region. If you look over your left shoulder while driving north, you can make out the pyramid-shaped summit of Mt. Marcy looming in the distance, just as Mt. Everest (or Chomolungma, “Goddess Mother of the Mountains” to Mujibhar and his family in Nepal) towers over surrounding peaks on the other side of the world. Eventually, you arrive at the border, where I have already given advice on negotiating customs and border formalities.
Before most remaining gaps in the interstate highway were plugged in the 1960s, if you wanted to drive to Montréal from New York (or Weehawken, for that matter) in the 1950s, you would follow an older (obviously) 2 lane highway called US Route 9 as directed on your foldable Esso highway map (the one that said ‘Happy Motoring’ next to the tiger).
The tiger is on the back.
You can see old Route 9 during one episode of “Mad Men” when Don Draper drives up to Montréal with his Canadian wife, Meghan.
Soon after I was born, my Dad, Bernard Olcott, loaded up the ‘horsemobile’ with his Canadian born wife, newborn son (ie., me), and maybe some sandwiches and brewskis for the long drive, which, in the late 1950s, must have taken at least 12 hours (as compared to 9 today). Then we plied up Route 9 north together. My first road-trip.
Once we arrived in Québec City, we were feted by Mom’s large family; my Grandmother was one of 7 children herself. Each one of her sisters was my “second” Grandmother.
The sib of importance for today’s story is Emilienne. Nicknamed “Minou” (“Pussycat”), she lived her long life as she saw fit. For some reason, the family took a disliking to her husband, Ben. He either wasn’t from a good family, or wasn’t rich enough, or whatever. In 1983, I had the pleasure of lunching with my Aunt Minou at the Clarendon Hotel, where she told me her life story, with an emphasis on the fact that she didn’t give a damn about her Mom or Dad’s (my great-grandparents) opinion about Ben. She loved him, he loved her, and that was that.
We took a cab back together to her Senior Residence and I had to a chance to see Ben for myself. He was at the end of his life, walking with great difficulty due to arthritis, and had difficulty speaking. Minou didn’t care; she just looked at him and glowed.
More than intriguing, Minou was a very intuitive woman. As mentioned in my post, “TALE OF TWO IMMIGRANTS,” she wrote and published (privately) a history of her (our) family in Canada. As for myself, I must have just barely made the publication date with the following picture and caption:
Evidently, when my Dad and Mom drove up with me as an infant in 1958, she took my full measure as a man and included that description of a very small baby named James Olcott in the book. It translates to:
“In 1958, we met James and his papa! What memory can we keep of this little bit of man with blond hair… an easy smile… jolly personality… with a sweet little rascally face and fists always ready to defend himself.”
My question is, how could she have known to comment about my fists, “always ready to defend himself?” I always took that as a throwaway observation as I was never prone to going into bars, trolling other drinkers, picking fights, and eventually throwing stools. That just wasn’t me.
But sometimes, bad things can come looking for anybody, including yours truly. Such misfortunes happened to me a few times in Weehawken.
This story is about one such on February 3, 1994, a few months before the e-mail story posted last week.
You see, 1994 was a very heavy year for me.
Remember Yoshi,¹ the keeper of the legacy Olcott International computer system? Yoshi is, and was, a storied, legendary guy. He was huge, weighing just shy of 250 pounds, mostly muscle, hood-grown and bred. Dude resembled a side of hanging beef that one day unhooks himself to go take names and numbers. Most people would just as soon not be so accosted.
One day, prior to the events in this story, we were chatting and I mentioned some article I had read somewhere about “rules to follow in prison.” These were of interest to me, for some strange reason. One of those was “never accept a present.” A corollary of which was “be wary of unsolicited compliments.”
In fact, you can always tell what kind of a neighborhood a girl grew up in by complimenting her on her dress. “Why thank you!” Buffy from Gross Pointe, Michigan will say while blushing. But Rosie from North Bergen, New Jersey? She will instinctively check her purse while looking at you blankly, and ask you what you really want.
Now Yoshi was no girl. And he had spent some time in the Big House. Or maybe it was just an over-night lock-up, I’m not sure. The “prison rules” I cited elicited a memory from him which he shared with me. He said that once, while lounging in a cell, one of his cellmates walked up to him, and complimented him on his sneakers. Yoshi thanked the man for his nice words. “I mean, they’re really nice.” The man cooed.
After a few awkward moments, the ruffian continued, this time with a sharp tone. “No, I don’t think you understand,” he continued. “Give ‘em to me!” He made a ‘gimme’ motion with his hand. It was not a suggestion, but a command!
Yoshi got the message and stood up, to his full height, a few inches north of 6 feet. He looked down on his new BFF, folded his arms, and simply said, “you want ‘em, go ahead and take ‘em.” Yoshi stood in front of me and demonstrated his stare. Completely intimidating. I asked Yoshi what happened next. He shrugged his shoulders and said nothing much; his new friend seemed suddenly to forget the matter.
February 3rd was a Thursday. Right around 11 AM, I was on the second floor, waiting on Yoshi to print up the new updated Fee File. That week, Dad and I were working on scoring an important large potential customer, First Amalgamated Manufacturing (“FAM”)¹, with its thousands of annual payments. “The mother lode,” as Paul Campo would say. The negotiations had gotten to the point where they asked us for a price list. As you say in marketing, this was now a “qualified opportunity.”
To create a price list, I needed the updated Fee File with all official fees converted from pounds, francs, yen, etc. to dollars as of that date. This would be the basis on which I would add our service fees on a per country basis. Once I had that report, it would take me the better part of two days to comb through every single country and detail all correct charges. So I was already crushed for time to get this done by Friday, the next day. I had asked Yoshi for this the day before, Wednesday, and he had promised this for me the first thing that day, Thursday.
After arriving that morning, I gave Yoshi an hour before checking in with him at 9AM. “James, I’m on it. There’s a report I have to run for Mike first. I’ll get it to you by 10AM, max” he assured me.
10 AM rolled by. 10:30 AM. Dad rang me up around 11 AM. “James, do you have that price report ready yet for FAM?” he asked.
“No, Dad, Yoshi promised it for me first thing this morning and I still don’t have it.”
“Get on it! We need to send this to FAM!” he commanded and then hung up. This story is full of commands, you see.
After rolling my eyes, I clicked the phone and then dialed Yoshi’s extension. “Hey Yoshi,” I started, “Do you have that Fee File ready yet? My Dad just…”
I never finished the sentence as Yoshi shouted into the phone sharply, “You think just because your name is Olcott that you can harass me?”
Next Week: The story continues as REPRIEVE DENIED!
¹ – Not real names.