I continue from last week’s post FLIGHTS OF FANCY, PART 1 with Bill’s very unexpected description of my Grandmother, Margaux Alain, at work in her salon. Notice the use of the Prussian Frau Landlady as a foil:
The French dressmaker was a constant revelation to Frau Landlady. In the coldest days of winter, the dressmaker would be bitching up a storm about the lack of heat when the landlady would come tramping down the stairs lit by a fifteen-watt bulb, her body covered with heavy wooly underwear and layers of sweaters, bearing a huge thermometer in her fist to prove to the French madame that there was ample heat. When the landlady would tap at the door, she always got the shock of her life to find the French madame running around on ten-degree-cold days with just a bra and panties. She couldn’t design fully clothed; she found inspiration only flowed to her fingers when she was almost naked. Of course, the landlady would hit the ceiling, wildly screaming, scaring my customers out of their wits.
I remember my Grandmother at her sewing machine, cigarette in mouth, wearing a bathrobe with, I guess, nothing else on but just a bra and panties. Now I know that she didn’t bother to wear that bathrobe when I wasn’t around.
Read More “FLIGHTS OF FANCY, PART 2”
The main point from part one is that Dad’s favorite song, of all time, is…
wait for it…
“You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine” by Lou Rawls. It’s a rich piece of music. There’s a wall of sound and verve that just swirls behind the track. Love oozing out, dripping on the floor underneath your speaker. Soaring vocals. Subtle piano to build up the tension…
Read More “FIVE SELECTIONS FROM DAD’S IPOD, PART DEUX!”
Today, my x-rated repeat from 2 years ago about Dad’s 4th wife. She was a beauty! Her Mom (my Step-Grandmother, as it were) was also blessed with much largesse; this included a sense of humor. Once at the Christmas table, she told a story about how she had changed her shirt and brassiere in front of a neighbor’s 4 year old boy. She thought nothing of it; he was very young. “Addie,” the boy exclaimed, wide-eyed, “you have TITS!” Addie wasn’t able to stop giggling after recounting that tale. To tell ya the truth, neither could I. Enjoy! Over 18 only, please.
As explained in my post SURPRISE!!!, gosh was I ever! A new step-mom. I didn’t really get too anxious about meeting my new step-mom because I didn’t have time – it was to be in 3 days! Her clothes were in the closet. She had already traveled with Dad to Brazil and Japan. Silk wedding gowns adorned the walls.
So Gloria joined our small Olcott nuclear family. This meant that whenever we went out for a road trip, which was often – and something I continue to do to this day between Québec and North Carolina – I had the pleasure of her company in the car. Gloria was an excellent conversationalist. And we tested each other right away.
The author, Gloria, and Dad. Photo by Addie Lundberg.
Something else was new for me. Up until the Gloria years, I came back to New York City region only during summers. In December 1971, I hopped a plane to come up North for my first snowy Christmas since 1961. Ten years for a 13 year old is a long time; I had forgotten what snow looked and felt like, in its various forms.
Read More “GLORIA RATES MY T & A!”
While on the topic of fathers and sons, I post for your delight this week another guest post from my high school classmate Ned McDonnell.
Drinking alcohol was against the rules at our boarding high school. Transgression resulted in an 10 days unanticipated visit home for the first offense. You could surprise the folks by coming home!!! And permanent banishment on the second. Since I was on my way to Theologian studies at the Vatican, I was never subjected to this harsh process.
Unfortunately for Ned, he got busted.
This is his story about going home and the reception that awaited him there.
My Far-away Father
My father, John Gordon McDonnell, was an engineer by training and a World War II Navy drill instructor. That made him a tenacious disciplinarian with a very cut-and-dried view of life. After we moved back to Pittsburgh from Sydney in 1968, my father and I did little together since he no longer needed a jib-man on his week-end sailing adventures. For a perfect snap-shot of our ‘rapport’, listen to “Earache My Eye” by Cheech and Chong.
The Plane! The Plane!
“Good afternoon, we are approaching Pittsburgh International Airport. Please make sure your seat-belts are fastened, seats upright and cigarettes extinguished. Skies are clear at thirty-five degrees. Thank you for travelling with Allegheny Airlines and we wish you a Happy Thanksgiving 1975. Go Steelers!”
As DC-9s were wont to do, this smaller jet rocked in the coming winter’s wind. That weaving legitimated a creeping, contingent nausea. No, I was physically in good shape after the extra day on campus laying down the varsity basketball court and the wrestling mats, etc. in the School’s gym. My defiant manner of that moment failed to hide my gnawing shame of letting my family down by facing expulsion from prep school and dishonoring my family.
Read More “ALCOHOL IS ONLY 1% OF THE GNP”
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!
Read More “SOMETHING ABOUT DAD, PART 2: FREE PARKING”
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.
Read More “SOMETHING ABOUT DAD, PART 1: THE ZINGER”
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.
Read More “WHAT’S IN A BORDER?”
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.
Read More “PAYING THE COST”
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!
Read More “WHEN A CHORE IS NOT A CHORE PART 1”