In a midtown Manhattan lawyer’s office in early 1995, I found myself sitting opposite from one of New York City’s sharpest legal minds. I had called Kord Lagemann a week or two earlier and asked for an appointment. I had some important questions for him. He had represented my Dad in his legal action (arbitration, actually) against Herby Wellington, the churning stock broker from “Slaminger” brokerage. Kord had won a million dollar settlement in Dad’s favor, proving that he not only talked the talk but walked the walk.
Kord studied me intently as he lit his pipe. Although dressed professionally, he looked like he had stepped off a ferry at the Aker brygge ferry terminal in central Oslo. Opening the meeting, I thanked him for his efforts on behalf of my Dad and the family. After a serene pause, Kord responded that Slaminger’s actions and those of its broker had been clearly abusive and excessive. He had been happy to help.
Pressing on, I explained to him the reason for my visit. My Dad had recently received a “present” consisting of a brand new red BMW from Herby. And, as a result, Dad had now reopened a stockbroking account with the aforementioned broker, the one that Kord had successfully sued. Kord showed no reaction as he puffed on his pipe and listened to my concerns attentively.
“You’re right,” he told me, “There is reason for concern.” But there was nothing he or I could do. Meeting over. I was stunned.That wasn’t very helpful. All the same, we were right to be worried.
I went on to cross-check his response with other lawyers, this time with those that specialize in what’s known as elder care. You see, in the YOUnited States of America, you have the right to invest with whomever you please. Even with someone who defrauded you previously. Family members have no rights, no recourse, no way to step in and foil scammers.
The only way you could possibly protect an elderly family member is if, and only if, your elderly parent is lying on the floor in his own filth. That is a pretty heavy threshold. By 1994, Dad was already 77 years old. Physically, he was in excellent shape and looked at least 10 years younger (not counting the face-lifts). (Picking him up from cosmetic surgery was a tiresome task. It was beyond gruesome; his face looked like he had gotten his ass kicked. Hard.)
No, Dad looked great cuz he had himself some kind of wonder genes. It was the reason that I too, had always looked young for my age. A silver lining, perhaps. But it couldn’t help me in protecting him from predators. And they were coming. My last stop in this process was to try to influence my Dad through his friends.
Thus was a good idea.
One small problem.
Dad didn’t have any friends. True, there were his old patent colleagues like Dr. Guido Modiano of Milan or the Marquis of Cortina in Madrid. Dad used to socialize with these guys during his European sojourns in the 1960s. They were class acts. But that had been 30 years previous. Since moving to New Jersey in 1970, getting back to his old hang-outs in New York City – where he used to hang with pals like Nobo Ubayama at the Athletic Club – had proved to be too cumbersome due to hellacious traffic.
There was however one person left who fit the bill.
From time to time, Dad and a certain attorney named Frederic Gund called each other best friends. Freddie¹ was a cagey but oddly loquacious lawyer who had headed up Dad’s divorces against Gloria and Rosemary over the years. He continued to handle several important legal cases on Dad’s behalf as well as for Olcott International. They certainly didn’t hang every weekend, but they did socialize.
That didn’t prevent Dad from complaining about his “best friend” from time to time. He would bitch about how Fred was late in returning his messages; when Fred did call to the office, Dad would race up the stairs so as not to miss the call. He even used an ethnic epithet once or twice when he was pissed off enough. In any event, Fred was always ready to assure me privately that he, Fred, had Dad’s best interests at heart. Even if he would exaggerate at times the length of their relationship.
Obviously, I welcomed these assurances. Although I didn’t know Fred all that well, it was clear to me that he probably exerted the best conceivable influence on Dad. I called Freddie and asked if he might be willing to meet with me on “a delicate matter.” I was gladdened when he readily agreed and invited me to meet him in his office on a Saturday in suburban New Jersey.
That particular Saturday was a frigid day in the harsh, North Country winter of 1994/1995. I was joined in that car journey by my daughter, Celine (“THE PRIDE OF BERNARD OLCOTT”), who was all of 2 months old at the time. Infants find automobile rides to be very soothing; I figured that her Mom could use some extra rest. Besides, I thought it might be a good idea for Freddie to meet the rest of the family. Whatever he would tell me, he could tell her as well.
After arriving, I set Celine up in a Bjorn baby bouncer on the conference table, a contraption that allows babies to rock themselves while kicking. As the dear reader well knows, I CAN’T STOP MY LEG. And that most certainly applies to my children as well. Celine, in particular, would give the air constant kicks and twirls of her tiny legs. The motions caused the back support to bob up and down, providing hours of entertainment and comfort, as well as rest and relief to the Mom and Dad.
Wanna go for a ride?The baby strapped in, all the while cooing, kicking, and looking at me occasionally cross-eyed, I got to the matter at hand. How do you explain to someone that your parent could be strange? Well, as Celine looked out the window and then back at me intently, I figured that I might as well start at the beginning.
I reviewed a number of things that troubled me, like the zinger in the electric meter, the dangerous driving, the ridiculous fighting with Bob Gerhardt, the inability to manage software developments successfully, his catastrophic reaction to my suggestion to introduce e-mail at work, the dangerous environment in the office for me at times, and his general inclination to run interference against me in the office whenever I attempted to set something right over there.
Also, his reinvestment with a broker that had swindled him once already.
Celine caught my eyes and kicked her little foot in my direction.
“How can I protect my Dad from himself?” was the general question that I left hanging in the air.
Freddie, who was now several decades older (after listening to my concerns), gazed up silently towards the ceiling to collect his thoughts. He was well aware himself of some odd things about his friend, Bernard Olcott. He couldn’t tell me anything different that the Elder Law attorneys had told me. After reassuring me yet again that he had Dad’s (and, by consequence, the next two generations of the family) interests at heart, Freddie then pulled out a copy of my Dad’s will and tried to impress me with Dad’s bounty. I suppose his point was that, despite the many examples of weirdness that I had just expressed, nothing had changed in writing. I was, as Freddie was fond of saying, an “Olcott” and nothing would change that.
I looked at my baby and my baby looked at me. She pointed to the snowy vista outside while passing a mini-burp.
Nevertheless, I was left to ponder that a nest of promised boobies might not be worth all that much if every single chick were to be “liberated” in the meantime.
Except for the weird looking one that no one wanted to steal.
I am not a booby. Anyway, keep your paws off!
As I packed up my diaper-filled baby and solemnly drove back home to the ancestral home of the Olcotts — somewhere over the Hudson — I took some small satisfaction that, at the very least, Freddie understood my concerns. I wondered if my trust in him was well-placed. At least partially.
If any one could, he had some swing with Dad.
But the truth was, we were all limited.
¹ – Not his real name.