THE QUÉBEC CONNECTION

So when my Dad put on his Dress Army Uniform that night in 1954 (to go out to the Stork), what the hell was he getting into?

The Quebec Connection, that’s what. Quebec City is a city but it ain’t New York City. In comparison, QC comes off as a sleepy government center with a walled old town (unique for a North American City) and a lingua franca that is neither English nor Spanish (again, very unusual in norteamérica). Both offer quaint streets and lots for tourists to see and eat. However, the most apparent difference is the money game that is the core of New York, New York and la Francophonie which is the heart of Québec, Québec.  NYC has culture too, but more in a polyglot way (and not so much French, although that is changing today as the economy in France continues to suck eggs)

That fateful night at The Stork Club, Dad was introduced to the retiring antiques sales clerk at Wally Findlay Gallery, my Mom Michele Rousseau. She came from a long line of Quebecers stretching back to the 17th century (which is very common north of the border). Like my Dad, she was the younger of two children born to her parents Margo Alain and Paul Rousseau.

As for Margo, she was also the youngest of seven and quite possibly the most ambitious. Together with her older brother Gaston, they were the only children that worked with their Father, my Great-Grandfather P.A. Alain (everyone called him P.A. which you have to say as “Pay Ah” in French). Margo had a private office in her Father’s salon de fourrures where, as my Mom tells it, she would “do nothing but just chat on the phone with her friends all day long.”

As the dear reader can infer, my Mom and her Mom had a complicated relationship.

THE HEIGHTS OF EXCLUSIVITY

3 East 53rd Street, back in the day.  Today this location is an attractive pocket park with a water fall.

Of all the gin mills on this planet, Humphrey Bogart got thrown out of this one in New York City in the 1950s.

You see, the owner Sherman Billingsley was “the man” of his times, the arbiter of who was in and who was out. His bar and restaurant, The Stork Club at 3 East 53rd Street, was the most prestigious nightclub in the city, frequented by celebrities, royals, sports figures, debutantes, and café society (except Bogey and a few other blacklisteds). Black tie (or military dress uniform) was standard wear, any night.  The bartender’s name was “Cookie.” Female patrons were given a small vial of “Stork Club” perfume and flowers. Also for the ladies, Sunday night was the balloon party; balloons would drop from the ceiling at a preset time filled with presents like folded $100 bills. If you needed a ride home, Sherman had a private car for use by preferred guests. Regular patrons received a case of champagne as a Christmas present every year. As he told his employees, “If you know them, they don’t belong in here.” There was a 14 karat gold chain at the entrance; if the doorman unclipped it for you, you were admitted.  Just don’t misbehave.

If there hadn’t been a Stork Club in the 1950s, you would be reading something else right now. Because that is where my Mom met my Dad sometime around 1954.

My Dad and Mom had interesting paths to that gold chain. Since Dad wasn’t high-born, he had to get there the hard way.

TALE OF TWO IMMIGRANTS

In the mid-1950s, Michele Rousseau was a beautiful, elegant girl working at Wally Findlay Galleries on East 57th Street. She was barely 20 when she was dragged out yet again one night to the Stork Club on East 53rd Street by her extroverted mother. There she met a handsome man in a uniform and her life would be changed forever as she would soon become wife no. 2.

I know more about Michele than any other wife for one simple reason. She was my Mom.

Like my Dad’s family, she was part of a family of immigrants. On both sides, my grandparents were foreign-born and had deep ties to the Old World. But on just about every other social, economic, or cultural basis, there the similarities ended. Whereas my Grandfather Mikas Arlauskas made the arduous sea voyage literally in steerage class in 1914 from Europe to New York, my Grandmother Marguerite Alain did the trip in first class in the other direction some ten years later to be married off to her fiancé Paul Rousseau in Paris.

Later on in 1948, my Mom arrived in New York, probably in her stepfather’s Cadillac, the hood hot from plying the New York State Thruway from Montréal.

THE NEW BUSINESS OF PATENT ANNUITIES

Above: Lincoln’s Inn as seen from Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London.

Up for today is my Harvard Business School (“the charm school on the Charles”) case study about the industry my Dad created — international patent renewals!

As the 1960s progressed, Dad’s new business quickly subsumed his “normal” patent practice. He did keep working for some select inventors who intrigued him but spent most of his time promoting his new renewal business as a modern, computerized clerical operation.

Corporate patent owners were delighted and sought him out.  On the other hand, foreign patent law firms worldwide were scandalized! The renewal work for them was heretofore easy money; it was a simple annual reminder operation that brought in huge fees for little work. They accused Dad of skimming the cream off their businesses. Many fought back, in some cases by petitioning their local patent offices NOT to accept such payment schedules sent in from foreign offices in New York. However, some savvy patent law offices quietly became clients, preferring to take advantage of the lower fees and passing them along to their clients to curry favor.

Adrian Blevins: My Mother’s First Husband

Absolutely right-on description as to how people accommodate the crazy.

Vox Populi

My mother’s first husband, who was the first mentally ill person I ever met, rents storage spaces all over D.C. He saves in crate after carton after crate: paper towel tubes, his son’s second grade science projects and college term papers, broken air conditioners, hammers, screwdrivers, curtain rods, weights, spatulas, pots and pans, old cans of paint, drills, sandwich bags, magazines and books and paper clips, window panes and big, long rolls of pink insulation and leather gloves and half-empty cans of shoe polish and arm chairs and tube tops and baby aspirin and vinyl records as well as the files of the court records (as well as their Xeroxes) of what was said before the judge between he and my mother more than forty years ago. When I saw him a couple of years ago, he was standing in my sister’s dining room organizing boxes of National Geographic, which…

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THE BIGGER IDEA (AND ME AS WINGBOY)

So Dad got the idea for a fantastic business related to patent filings and infringements, kind of an amalgam between legal and IT but not a legal practice, strictly speaking.   As I am able to remember it, he had become friendly with Ed Greer, who was head patent counsel for the Union Carbide Corporation. Union Carbide was one of the biggest chemical corporations of the day and was headquartered in their own magnificent skyscraper two blocks up Park Avenue from the Pan Am Building.

It was a probably a simple matter for Dad to put it together that large corporate patent owners could benefit from some form of computer calendaring.

Keep in mind that a large company like Union Carbide owned a large portfolio of patents. They would initially file patent applications in the home country, USA for Union Carbide. And as they were a large multinational corporation selling their wares everywhere, once the patent applications were accepted here at home, they would then engage in an international filing program elsewhere, typically the largest 15 countries in Western Europe and then Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and maybe Brazil and South Africa to boot.

DAD’S REAL WIFE

This week we go into why my Dad is famous, at least in the patent profession. The next three posts are about his greatest number one hit in the charts. And it’s big!

As you know by now, dear reader, Dad was married five times to five different women. But in a certain way, Dad was really only married once. It was not to a lady wearing a dress and lipstick (though there were more than a few of those around) but to a business soon to be called “Olcott International & Co.” It was his life, and his masterpiece, just as the Mona Lisa was to Leonardo da Vinci. (He greatly admired Leonardo and thought of himself easily as da Vinci’s equal). He could share this one true wife with no one and he guarded her with a jealous Latin-blooded fury. (As I and others would haplessly come to learn).

DAD AND HIS NEST: FAMILY DYNAMICS, PART 2

Later in life, Bernard Olcott (left) was definitely ascendant in comparison with his older brother Edward (right).

Given what Dad said, together with Michael’s move out of Richmond Hill, he very well may have been a bit of, as we say in the 21st century, a “troll.” Meaning that he was prone to saying outrageous things, just for the delight (and the attention) in seeing other people’s reactions. Such trait was not unknown in Dad himself, especially as he grew older.

So I suspect that Dad did not enjoy that same glowing, beaming face of Michael Olcott that I enjoyed as a kid. On the contrary, it seems that Dad was constantly criticized in his own home, both for real and exaggerated shortcomings. From his Mom and Dad both. That had to be harsh. In such adversity, just like Avis Rent-A-Cars, Dad had to try a little harder.

DAD AND HIS NEST: FAMILY DYNAMICS, PART 1

So, what gives with all those dinners with me, my Dad, and my Grandfather ending in something less than a sweet goodbye? What were the nature of the barbs being flung wide and far, and why so often? Dad himself was a class act concerning his own folks; he never complained to me about them, at least not directly.

A clue to understanding these dynamics has come from my friend, Dr. Giedre Kumpikas, President of the Lithuanian National Foundation and host of the Lithuanian Radio Hour here in New York. She tells me that in the Lithuanian-American community, the eldest son typically occupied a special place of prominence and favoritism.

Michael and Patricia Olcott had two boys, Edward and Bernard, in that order. Was Edward openly favored?

MY GRANDFATHER AND THE DOOR TO THE OLD WORLD, PART 2

For my entertainment, Michael would utter a few worlds of both Lithuanian and Russian.  I would repeat and try to commit them to memory to dazzle my pals back in Florida whom, I was sure, had never heard any words of either.  But it was impossible to remember.  The only word I could grasp was the Russian word for pussycat — “koshechka.”  He grinned widely at me when he said it.

After dinner and just before dessert, Michael would produce a fresh five dollar bill and present it to me, just as the Lord must have presented the tablets to Moses.  And like Moses, I was transfixed by the vision of the prideful face looking down at me from the other side of the dining table.  No one had ever glowed at me like that.  All of a sudden, Dad would nudge me and ask, “what do you say?”  He was a little annoyed as if I had no manners (or had forgotten them).  Immediately, I would snap out of my reverie and say “thank you Grandfather.”