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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YES DEPOSIT, YES RETURN

While I am busy writing my next story “PAIR OF DEUCES,” I offer up my very first post, written 3 years ago.  In fact, you can find it if you scroll all the way to the bottom.  I’m not sure if many readers do, so here it is.  It’s an amusing story about my Dad and some business he needed to conduct at Shop Rite one day in the 1980s.  I never saw this coming.  Not in a million years.  Hope you enjoy it!

No matter the routine, things could get crazy.  Fast.

Lunch with Bernard Olcott at Olcott International in 1983 followed a familiar routine.  At around maybe 11:45 AM, after a few hunger pangs had already hit me pretty hard, I would head up to the top floor, the level that actually connected to the street, and ask if he was ready to grab some lunch.  He would typically wave me off for another 10 to 15 minutes while he finished up some correspondence.  Finally, he would call me back upstairs.   We would then spend another 10 to 15 minutes looking for a pack-of-cards sized contraption holding perhaps 50 keys for the car, the house, the office, the boat, and God knew what else.  Oddly they were never in the same place twice.  And if not retrieved, well, that would have been the end of the world, as we knew it.

The next part of the routine would be to drive over to the Shop Rite supermarket on JFK Boulevard in Union City, New Jersey.  This was located in a bustling area with a huge parking lot in front.  However, it was only sensibly approachable from the southbound lane.  This presented an engineering problem to Dad, the kind he loved to solve.

CUSTOMER SIZES, PART 1

In my post last week, “ARRIVAL,” I cherry-picked some highlights from my career as a Men’s Furnishing salesman at Polo Ralph Lauren. And I will do so again today, with a bit more gravitas.  As well as a big surprise.

First, I should set the reader’s expectations correctly. I did not have Elton John walking in everyday to buy 20 neckties. You could grow old waiting for such a celebrity to walk on by. Generally, the most common occurrence on the sales floor would be the arrival of the Japanese. They would typically stroll in, in small groups, and were looking to buy 5-10 small keepsakes for the office mates back home. So everyone learned the greeting “konichi-wa!” and, to be honest, we the salesmen and saleswomen of PRL could get, well,  excessively “Japanese” with each other.

Meaning we would “konichi-wa!” the HELL out of each other.  In place of ‘z up!  Had to mix it up, ya know?

ARRIVAL

So in a sense, my second job out of Business School was selling Men’s shirts and ties at Polo Ralph Lauren. As employee no. 6 (just kidding).  Nonetheless, I certainly wasn’t limited to Men’s Furnishings. If I had customers who wanted to go upstairs, I could sell them Men’s suits, Ladies’ dresses, even a couch in the home furnishings section on the Fourth floor. In my first week at Polo, I had sold Ladies’ socks and had washed dishes on the Fifth floor, cleaning up after some VIP customers.

But the real story of my life at Polo is in two parts: first, my coworkers. The ones who made the job “effortless.” So today’s and next week’s posts take a complete diversion from my Dad, with whom things had markedly improved, anyway. These reminiscences are truly about paths less travelled.

Remember the long haired gentleman in my post last week “DESCENT INTO RETAIL,” who directed me to Sam when I walked in the store to make my initial inquiry? Turns out he was the First floor manager of Men’s Furnishings, a curiosity named Mr. Hollister Lowe. When I arrived on the First floor to take up my assignment, he looked me up and down and said that he knew “I would be good” for the store.

A few years older than me, Hollister volunteered that if he hadn’t been working for Polo, he would have been a photographer for a Men’s magazine. He was one of the funniest snarks I ever met. We soon got into the habit of goofing on each other, incessantly.

DESCENT INTO RETAIL

The Fall of 1988 was a troubling, uncertain time for me.  Sure, I resented Dad’s fantastic and intriguing family business not being my safe haven.  For reasons that well transcended any sense of fairness, I was now nevertheless physically apart from it.  It was a brutally hard decision.  And now, after the herculean effort of getting an MBA, the stock market crashed on me and the recruitment season at Columbia was a bust.  The demand for Wall Street jobs among my classmates and me well outstripped the supply.  I was on the wrong side.  End of story.

However, my relationship with my Dad was much improved since I had left the company on that infamous “DATE OF RECORD” of August 18th, 1986.  My Dad was just one of those people who needed to tie people up to a whipping post so he could lash the poor slobs constantly.  It’s kinda like our President; he is almost lost if he doesn’t have Hillary as a constant target.  (Incidentally, I am struck by how she has disappeared from public view.  Maybe former President Obama can pitch in?)  Over the years, I have known a few people like this.  Do they realize what they do?  I am not sure.  In my case, leaving Olcott International effectively removed me from the line of fire.  That sure worked for me as I had long come to tire of spitting out lead.

So this is the tale of my descent into the retail wilderness.  I became a “Polocaust” survivor.  Let me explain.

ANALYZE THIS!

On October 19, 1987, the stock market crashed hard.  Together with my Columbia Business School classmates, we watched the market news that day with both awe and no small measure of trepidation.

That Fall, I had taken the trouble to enroll in a class very heavy in demand – “Securities Analysis” taught by one very notable professor (among several) named Jimmy Rogers.  I have mentioned him numerous times in this blog because he shares an interesting commonality with my Dad, Bernard Olcott.

Jimmy hailed from Demopolis, Alabama (some stop-light out towards Mississippi) and was one of the few faculty members who didn’t speak in a flat Manhattan accent.  No Sirree, he spoke with what could almost be called a southern “coon-dawg” accent.  The opposite of a very different accent spoken by Professor Elliot Zupnick, whose cadence was marked by the thickest Bronx-ese, complete with “dese, dems, and doses.”

Jimmy’s solitary affectation was wearing bow-ties, a habit he had picked up as an Oxford student.  (Leaving aside his penchant for asking of the birth years of attractive female students in order to send his servant to the wine cellar of his home in search of that very vintage).

SCRATCH ON THE POOL TABLE OF LIFE

Dad and Chicken Little were both right; the trick lay in the timing and this time, they both hit jackpot!

But, in the end, it had little to do with credit cards.  Instead of a payout in a real jackpot, it was more like a “scratch” on the pool table of life.

The underlying explanation of the 1987 crash was the US dollar.  You see, the greenback had been way too strong for way too long during the mid-1980s and had contributed to record trade deficits.  Meaning, foreign goods were cheap, relatively speaking, and the US was buying all it could get its hands on.  On the other hand, sales of American-made products were getting crushed around world due to the super-dollar’s sky-high value in other currencies.

Even I had been in on the game the previous year, loading up on British clothes with the pound at parity to the dollar.

Anyway, too many people chasing too few goods tends to stir inflation.  To tamp that down, the Fed raised the discount rate by 50 basis points in September 1987.  Equity markets really don’t like that.

Nudging the markets ever more off of a cliff, the Reagan administration made some critical misstatements affecting the currency markets.  In response to the financial news on October 14, 1987 that the US trade deficit had hit an all-time high, bond markets tanked and the DJIA dropped more than 150 points, a record drop.

It had been a long bull market since January 1985, more than 2½ years previous.  The DJIA had more than doubled despite naysayers, like my Dad, Bernard Olcott, claiming that market was gonna come tumbling down.

“Credit card debt!” “Credit card debt!” “The sky is falling!” “The market will crash!”