THE FINEST ESCAPE, PART 1

Yup, this is a repeat. But it sets the stage for my new story THE FINEST ESCAPE, PART 2 due next week.

The Bernard Olcott Story started off 2016 with a rewrite of my post “THE LOST WEEKEND” focusing on the Academy Award (and Cannes!) winning movie of the same name from 1946.  That post promised the following stories to come:

• the biggest movie of 1946 (THE LOST WEEKEND),
• the 3rd Avenue El (including an art house film),
• old style New Yorkers interacting in flavorful accents,
• a valuable lesson at Cooper Union
• a mysterious death in 1943 with what little facts are available, and
• a color-filled present with a shared activity across time.

All have been delivered, except for the last topic.  I did leave the 1940s to take you, the dear reader, on a color-filled ride 40 years later to Lithuania in 1985.  I framed my trip in terms of a Boomerang where I realized that my journey, as an effort to strengthen family ties, may have inadvertently reminded my Dad of his disadvantaged youth.  Both in terms of society – his immigrant household subject to prejudice – and family – where his brother was favored in the household.

But wait!  There’s more to that technicolor present!  Today’s post will wrap up both the Boomerang and 1940s themes with the following conclusion: my Dad escaped his unhappy situation 4 ways:

1. Becoming a sailor on the Merchant Marines and shipping off to Europe
2. Flying the coop to Cooper Union
3. Becoming a Technology Consultant
4. By engaging in a mystery activity (identified below), one that he and I both share.

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HONOR THY FATHERS

Just a special post this evening to render homage to my Father and Uncle — no matter their faults, quirks, or eccentricities.

When World War II presented our world with the fugly head of enslavement under fascism and nazism, Bernard Olcott joined the US Army, and his older brother Edward Olcott, the US Navy.

They heeded the call of patriotism and brought the fight to the doorstep of militarist Japan and Germany.

Today, because of their efforts and those of countless fighting men and women, Japan and Germany are free and civilized countries.

Thank you Dad and Uncle Ed, for your contribution as part of the US military against the purveyors of tyranny and slavery!

 

DEATH IN HONOLULU

There is a good reason why the Bernard Olcott Story, every so once in a while, makes a reference to the Aloha State.

On a late July 1977 morning, a slight man woke up in his modest efficiency apartment near Waikiki, the tourist district of Honolulu.  He was 61 years old, somewhat gaunt, barely five foot seven.  Wrinkles of a hard life lined his face as he switched on the radio after leaving his bed.  The weather forecast came on, as if it were the news.  For Honolulu it isn’t, since the weather is always the same, day in, day out.  Highs will be in the low 80s, lows in the middle 70s.  Winds are “trade.”  Winds are always trade in Hawai’i (unless a cyclone comes to visit, of course.)

The weathered man had lived some thirty years previous at 3169 Alika Avenue in the Nu’uana – Punchbowl neighborhood, an up country residential district.  The previous week, he had decided to travel from his current home in Exeter, New Hampshire to come back here to retrace his steps as a young naval officer and maybe plumb his soul.  It’s about the longest trip you can make in the USA and still remain in the land of the free.

He found himself later that morning on Ala Moana Boulevard wandering alone in the sunshine on Wednesday, the 26th of July in 1977.  As Honolulu is the southern-most metropolis in the nation, at these latitudes, the sun can cause a bad sunburn in as little as 15 minutes.  The fair skin of a new arrival from Northern New England is at particular risk.

The man stopped in his tracks, his pace suddenly unsteady.  As he wiped the sweat off his forehead, the traffic swirled around him and he became disoriented.  It wasn’t the bright sun that had gotten to him, but a sharp pain in his upper chest.  He gripped himself, but could only stagger forward and reach out vainly with his free arm.  When he dropped to the pavement, he cut his face on the sidewalk.  His last sight on this planet was the passing traffic – buses, trucks, cars – from ant level.

As the dying man went down, passersby unknown took advantage of his incapacity, rapidly relieving him of his wallet, cash, and watch.  By the time help arrived, the corpse on the sidewalk could no longer identify himself.

The Honolulu County Medical Examiner later that day fingerprinted “John Doe.”  A match came back the next day – from military records.

The man’s name was

MY DAD INVENTED THE INTERNET

Well, not exactly.  But he did, in the 1950s, come up with the idea under which a majority of equity and debt trades today are effected in current financial markets.  Not that the markets followed his proposal at the time.  Far from it.  But with this idea, my Dad did actually see around the corner.  Let me explain.

Dad was essentially an inventor at heart.  This is what engineers do, conceive of new things. As People’s Exhibit No. 1, consider the following work:

Motor Design Cover

This is the cover of a treatise entitled “Motor Design.” It was his final project for his first year at Cooper Union.  Dated May 18, 1938, it concerns engines for boats.  Of course boats!  What else would a waterman write about?

LAST CALL FOR EDWARD

Sun.  Sea Spray.  Hull smashing through rows of swells.  The ship’s deck heaving from and dropping into an endless parade of oncoming waves.  Turn your face towards the sun and catch a million dancing reflections on the water glistening back at you.

If you’re on a sailboat, there is no engine noise, just the sound of wind blowing through your hair.

Both Olcott brothers were watermen, even though they were descendants of the landlocked Dzūkija region of Lithuania.  I am a waterman too, raised on many afternoons of sailing on Shinnecock Bay, Long Island during my young summers in the 1960s with my Dad.

However, by the age of twelve, I had discovered a simple way to elevate the pleasure and excitement of wind, sea, and waves.  Instead of being on a boat in the water, how about doing away with the boat?  Watch sets of giant waves roll in while at sea level, exactly.  Body surfing.  Maximum exposure.  If you could time and catch them right, you could slide down a crystal slope while the tube of water breaks above and behind you.  The payoff is maybe eight seconds of pure exhilaration that seems to last perhaps up to half an hour.  You’ll never forget the view of giant slopes of water marching towards you, with the last wave looming higher over the others.  That last one, with the face of the sun sparkling back at you, will be the wave you want.  And sometimes, it will take a fair amount of courage to try to pick off that last wave, the king of the set.

But this was me in the water, maybe 30-50 yards away from the shore.  Both my Dad and his Brother crossed the oceans – what about seeing rogue waves 3,000 miles offshore?  I shudder to think what they must have gone through.

THE FINEST ESCAPE!

The Bernard Olcott Story started off 2016 with a rewrite of my post “THE LOST WEEKEND” focusing on the Academy Award (and Cannes!) winning movie of the same name from 1946.  That post promised the following stories to come:

• the biggest movie of 1946 (THE LOST WEEKEND),
• the 3rd Avenue El (including an art house film),
• old style New Yorkers interacting in flavorful accents,
• a valuable lesson at Cooper Union
• a mysterious death in 1943 with what little facts are available, and
• a color-filled present with a shared activity across time.

All have been delivered, except for the last topic.  I did leave the 1940s to take you, the dear reader, on a color-filled ride 40 years later to Lithuania in 1985.  I framed my trip in terms of a Boomerang where I realized that my journey, as an effort to strengthen family ties, may have inadvertently reminded my Dad of his disadvantaged youth.  Both in terms of society – his immigrant household subject to prejudice – and family – where his brother was favored in the household.

But wait!  There’s more to that technicolor present!  Today’s post will wrap up both the Boomerang and 1940s themes with the following conclusion: my Dad escaped his unhappy situation 4 ways:

1. Becoming a sailor on the Merchant Marines and shipping off to Europe
2. Flying the coop to Cooper Union
3. Becoming a Technology Consultant
4. By engaging in a mystery activity (identified below), one that he and I both share.