SOMETHING ABOUT DAD, PART 2: FREE PARKING

Part 2 of the “SOMETHING ABOUT DAD” series.  Continues from last week.

During Christmas break in 1979, a trip was planned to the family houseboat, which was permanently moored at the Hurricane Hole Marina, under the Paradise Island Bridge on Paradise Island in glistening Nassau, the Bahamas.  I had never been there before but had heard a lot about it from Gloria and Dad so I was looking forward to going.

A day or two before, Gloria went to the Shop Rite supermarket in less-than-glistening Union City, to shop for groceries to bring on the plane to the Bahamas.

“What?!  Bring groceries on the plane?  Are you sure we need to do this?” I asked.

She assured me that supermarkets in Nassau were both terrible and overpriced.  And this is what they had done on previous trips.  I suspected that this was my Dad’s idea but anyway she seemed to be completely on board.  I tried to imagine what a terrible supermarket looked like and immediately thought of Shop Rite.  Could it be any worse?  Besides, I was weirded out with the idea of lugging brown paper supermarket bags filled with chopped meat and such onto the plane.  This was just about the turning point when airplanes came to be thought of as buses with wings.  And board that flying bus we did, complete with our groceries from Shop Rite!

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SOMETHING ABOUT DAD, PART 1: THE ZINGER

Today, another repeat for you.  You can also find this way down at the bottom of my home page, if you care to scroll all the way down.  It’s a two part series about how I could no longer deny that there really was “something” about my Dad that was, well, peculiar. 

1979 and 1980 were seminal years.  I was a senior in college and it was time to contemplate a career.  Of course, I had no idea what it was I wanted to do.  My roommate Dan, on the other hand, was feverishly interviewing at Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street firms.  He ultimately scored a great job and is now in charge of some place like Europe.  But for me, all I knew is that I wanted “something international” but was undecided between the public service arena (like the Foreign Service or the United Nations) or international business (I would land my dream internship at United Nations within 2 years to try it out).  My Dad had made many off-handed remarks to people over the years that I was to join him at Olcott International and “take it over.”  I think I was 6 the first time he said that to someone in my presence.  So I had grown up with this as a possible notion.  But now at 21 years of age, I was suddenly ambivalent.  There was something peculiar about Dad.

Over the last few years, things had changed between my Dad and his 4th wife Gloria.  When I first met Gloria in 1971, I was 13.  I was hardly mature but I could tell that they seemed to be happy together and the Olcott household was a cheerful one.  Gloria was funny, with it, traveled with Dad to Brazil and Japan, and even wrote me a poem for my 14th birthday, dedicated to me as the “stalwart lad.”  On top of that, they left me a stash of Playboys in my bedroom, though Gloria removed certain issues she felt were too racy.  It certainly seemed that just maybe Dad had turned a corner from 3 failed marriages and that the future was going to be more stable.  Hope had sprung eternal.  After all, Hope was Gloria’s middle name.

WHAT’S IN A BORDER?

Today, folks I run my first repeat.  Forget USA vs. Russia!  This post concerns the ongoing war between New York and New Jersey and is the all-time favorite among my readers (more than 1,000 views!).  Please share among your nutty friends who have a stake in this idiotic war!

North of the Rio Grande River is a huge expanse of North America divided up into 49 states, 10 provinces, 3 territories, and 1 district.  Just about everywhere, the dividing lines are sleepy affairs.  No fences to block your way.  With a flashlight, you might find a surveyor’s marker under a bush assuming you knew where to look.  Typically, a sign is erected on the “border” welcoming you to the new jurisdiction.  Some places have signs to serve the opposite purpose, that is to say farewell to the hapless traveler.  In the Southern United States, it is possible to see a sign with the information “You are now leaving Bucksnort, Hurry Back!”

Technically, the most severe crossing is the one between the United States and Canada.  When Mrs. Findlay F. Traveler from the US drives over that line, she can expect to be interrogated by overly inquisitive Canadian custom agents eager to ascertain just exactly how many bottles of liquor and cartons of cigarettes are stashed in the trunk.  Any kind of vague answer will trigger an immediate request to pop that puppy open.  A precise inventory will be taken and the requisite CDN $38.50 levy lifted from the traveler’s credit card.  This interrogation is also offered in French as a sucker ploy.  If Mrs. Traveler chooses (poorly) to respond to any question using her middle school French, the agent’s eyes will harden with suspicion and the customs’ duty tagged with a 12% nuisance surcharge.  It has nothing to do with us in the US; it’s related to some kind of internal trauma up there.  It’s best to answer everything in English taking care to ask if the border station has a gift shop where you can buy the moose tee shirt.  Knowing the system thusly, you can be waved through in under 60 seconds.

Driving back into the US on the other hand is a quick passport sniff to insure that you are really from one of the 63 entities mentioned above (or Hawaii and a few other scattered islands).

All of this is relevant to The Bernard Olcott Story because of one peculiar exception to this peaceful patchwork littering the landscape from the Atlantic to the Pacific.  One border where the crossing is associated with profundity from a logistical, emotional, and psychic (perhaps even psychotic) point of view.

PAYING THE COST

A reader commented last week “James, you had a very difficult childhood/teenage. Your father obviously had some issues.”

I disagree with the first statement.  Leaving aside the fact that my Dad had divorced and remarried twice by the time I reached my 18th birthday, I think my childhood was often charmed, even privileged.  As you can see from my picture in last week’s post “WHEN A CHORE IS NOT A CHORE PART 2,” Dad and I had a lot of fun together.

The Father who took that picture is the man I miss terribly today.

It was only in my later adolescence that ominous signs about Dad became known to me from the new vibrant presence in our lives, Gloria.  Like any child, I refused to believe at first that my Dad could have had issues.

WHEN A CHORE IS NOT A CHORE PART 2

Oddly, though, within a year or two of marriage to Gloria, Dad took on this disconcerting habit of assigning all kinds of imposing chores to me, typically without any advance notice.  Almost always when I was just about out the door to explore the world and to create my own life as a teenager.

Case in point.  Dad and Gloria built a summer house in Shinnecock Hills in 1973.  It was a prefab Lindal homemade of cedar planks looking more like a Hunter Mountain ski chalet than a tumbledown wood-shingled cottage with white shutters.  No Hamptons-style lawn either; the grounds were entangled with bittersweet vines, nasty and thorny.

On one of our very first weekends there, the lot was still somewhat of a construction site.  I had invited one of my friends over, Dee Dee, to celebrate the move-in by spending the night.  After breakfast the next morning, as we were both getting ready to go to the beach, Dad came over to ask — I mean, insist — that we take two shovels “as strong men” and plough down a huge pile of sand left behind by the excavation of the foundation from the past Spring, when the house was built.

“Huh, what?” I said, looking at the 15 foot high pile.  It was the first weekend of summer and Dee Dee and I were both anxious to go see our seasonal friends after a long school year of drudgery.

“Gloria wants you to do it!” he snapped.  Of course, Gloria and Rosemary never had anything to do with such spontaneous insanity.

Did I mention that Dee Dee and I thought we were on our way to the beach?

WHEN A CHORE IS NOT A CHORE PART 1

After a few months at 974 Boulevard East in 1970, Dad found a new location for both his residence and the offices of Olcott International.  It was in a triple decker, similar to the millions that form the housing stock of Boston and environs.  But unlike the wooden ones in Massachusetts, this was constructed out of gold brick.  According to Dad, there were three layers of outer walls.  No wolf was ever gonna blow that house down!

It was on Weehawken’s eponymous Hamilton Avenue, the road atop the cliffs.  Across the street from the house, the cracked sidewalk and the rusting iron wrought fence gave way to an expansive view of the Hudson River and the west side of Manhattan.

Dad rented the first floor for the office and staked out the top floor, the third, as the residence.  The landlord lived in the apartment on the second, sandwiched, as it were, by Olcott rentals.

For years, Dad had rented bachelor style accommodations in New York and then in New Jersey when he moved to 974 Boulevard East.  No more.  The third floor was like the Taj Mahal in terms of spaciousness compared to the cramped quarters of times past.  There were multiple bedrooms, a central hall as well as separate living and dining rooms.  As this was the top floor, the ceiling everywhere was gabled into sharp points.

And yes, there was a kitchen!  A real one!

FROM HAWAI’I WITH LOVE

Notifying a distant family member of the passing of one of their own in the Aloha State is one of the least favorite tasks of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of Honolulu County, Hawai’i.  It’s typically done by telephone; calls are made in the morning local time to account for the time difference back on the mainland.

The script is very simple and to the point.  “This is Betty from the Medical Examiner’s Office in Honolulu, Hawai’i.  Mr. Olcott, I’m very sorry to inform you that your brother has died here in Hawai’i.”

In Edward Olcott’s passing, an additional explanation was necessary.  “Your brother passed away last week.  I apologize for the delay in notifying you but we were unable to identify your brother because he expired on the street and was found without any identification.  We surmise that his wallet was stolen when he died.  We had to send his fingerprints to the FBI and we just got the results back this morning.”

Next are the questions about medical history.  “Did your brother suffer from heart disease?  Did he use drugs?”  These are used to confirm the autopsy results.  In Ed’s case, it was a heart attack.

Finally, the key question.  “How will you be taking care of funeral arrangements?”
Now that involves potential cost to the family member answering the phone.  Bernard Olcott never liked to be left with the bill.  He liked it least of all when stuck with the check from the person he had fought so much over so little.  His own brother.