DUEL AND DEATH, THE AFTERMATH

This post continues the story from the last two week’s posts, “MINOU’S PREDICTION” and “REPRIEVE DENIED!

Yoshi marched outside with me hot on his heels. We took our positions out in the middle of Hackensack Plank Road like Hamilton vs. Burr almost 2 centuries before, me facing north, with the actual dueling grounds maybe a half mile away to my right. Yoshi was uphill from me looking south towards “The Shades” neighborhood of Weehawken, always in afternoon shadow at the extreme southern end of the Palisade Cliffs.

Fists raised, we glared at each other.

“C’mon James, take your best shot!” Yoshi taunted, lowering his arms and motioning me to take a swing. We started circling around each other like boxers, ready to land or parry a blow.

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REPRIEVE DENIED!

This post continues the story from last week’s “MINOU’S PREDICTION.”

“E-A-S-Y!” I said to Yoshi on the phone, “It’s just a report.”

It was February 3rd, 1994 in Weehawken, New Jersey.  It was rapidly turning into a bad day.

The line was, however, already dead. Behind me, I heard and felt a massive weight flying up the stairs from the basement. In an instant the door burst open, and there was Yoshi in my face, ranting and raving. Again, he repeated the line about me abusing my family name; just because it was “Olcott,” I had the right to treat others poorly.

Strange how that never occurred to me.  If he only knew what my last name really entitled me to!

But how could he, of course?

In any event, I saw an apoplectic 250 pound man in front of me, acting like he just got sprung from Dannemora, smashing his fist in his other hand repeatedly, all the while screaming at me. He wasn‘t just angry. This was harsher than the “if you want my sneakers, take ‘em” stare. This was “your ass, his foot.” I was being threatened.  Physically.

At least, I was used to being shouted at.

MINOU’S PREDICTION

The Adirondack Northway is one of America’s spectacular highways. I’ve driven it many times between New York City and Canada, usually en route to a ski vacation in the North Country.

It winds its way along the foothills of the High Peaks region. If you look over your left shoulder while driving north, you can make out the pyramid-shaped summit of Mt. Marcy looming in the distance, just as Mt. Everest (or Chomolungma, “Goddess Mother of the Mountains” to Mujibhar and his family in Nepal) towers over surrounding peaks on the other side of the world. Eventually, you arrive at the border, where I have already given advice on negotiating customs and border formalities.

Before most remaining gaps in the interstate highway were plugged in the 1960s, if you wanted to drive to Montréal from New York (or Weehawken, for that matter) in the 1950s, you would follow an older (obviously) 2 lane highway called US Route 9 as directed on your foldable Esso highway map (the one that said ‘Happy Motoring’ next to the tiger).

JOB WELL DONE. NOW STOP!

By 1994, I was not only loading patent data into 3 different Patent Management Systems (“PMS”) – one for DOS, a second for Windows, and a third for Mac – and going on the road to demo them, I was also seeking ways to leverage business trends of the day to the marketing advantage of Olcott International.

However, as my readers well know, I operated under some daunting limitations – I knew that if I went out on a limb in terms of my non-existent authority, I could be subjected to painful rebukes in front of the employees. My last name offered me no protection from the boss; it merely singled me out for extra abuse. After all, the family name didn’t save anybody from getting trolled in Jamaica (Queens, not the West Indies) in the 1920s, 1930s, or afterwards. Not by a long shot.

Getting poorly paid to do little in your job is akin to a short-term stay in a shabby motel room on the outskirts of Hell. You don’t know when or to where they will move you, but you’re sure to like it less.

PATENTS, MANAGEMENT, AND PROJECTS

(Not necessarily in that order.)

One day in 1993, my Dad came downstairs to the “computer department” at Olcott International somewhat agitated. He was upset that a function called “Prior Art” was not included in the patent management software. There were plenty of blank looks all around. “Prior Art? What’s that?” and “Why didn’t we know about this before?” were suddenly questions that hung in the air like old party balloons.

“You dumb bastards!” Dad shouted at the programmers. “You don’t know anything about patents!” At least not like him; after all, he was a high priest, a “made” patent attorney.

Bob Gerhardt took a shot at resolving the problem. “Bern,” he grunted as he worked that wad of gum in his mouth, “We can add Prior Art information in the header text field.” Reasonable, that.

Dad shot back, “Is it labelled ‘Prior Art’?” Although his knowledge of software was surprisingly spotty, he knew full well the answer to that question.

Bob grunted again, softer this time, “no.” He was beaten, again.

CUTTING EDGE AND TOTALLY COOL

Astute readers may recall my post, “A MAN OF LETTERS,” from August 2015. One of the points of the story was to explain my Dad’s preferred method of marketing Olcott International in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It wasn’t by way of a sophisticated advertising mix. After all, this wasn’t a service you could promote via highway billboards (not that that qualifies, but never mind).

The market for patent renewal servicing worldwide in countries from Nicaragua to North Korea (yes, there are a handful of foreign companies that register patents in North Korea!) was and still is not so big. It mainly consists of a tiny cadre of people working in large corporate legal (or more specifically, patent) departments. And the person calling the shots in such rarefied zones is none other than a pooh-bah called a “Chief Patent Counsel.”

That preferred marketing methodology referred to above was – wait for it – by direct snail US mail to every pooh-bah you could shake a stick at. He or she received a personally addressed letter through the miracle of mail merges via MS Word. Windows version, natch!

MA CHIGNY SITUATIONS

Battered and shattered, I fell to the canvas floor of my psychic boxing ring.  I had just been fired by my boss for sending a fax on the wrong stationery.  But this wasn’t just any boss.  This one was also my Father!  A total knock out!

The bow-tied referee, with either a halo over his head, or horns — I couldn’t tell which through the fog of broken dreams — stood over me counting to 15.  I couldn’t really hear him through the swirl of emotions pulsating through my head, body, or tendrils.  How exactly was I going to get a new job?  I had already made the supreme effort, by previously leaving this place of temporary employment.  Small businesses are the job creators of America, so the politicians always say.  Gee, I wish they could have created one for me.

Dazed, I made my way back home in the strangeness of an early afternoon.  What do you do when you get home after being fired for faxing a document with the wrong return address?  As a fan of film noir, I knew immediately.  I pulled out the Scotch bottle and poured a finger into a tumbler.  I sat on the couch and took a sip.  It tasted horrible.  I hate Scotch; I only keep this shit around for guests who like to drink it.

Film Noir au Pissoir

Film Noir au Pissoir.  Photograph by Robert Frank.

I sat there, immobile, until my wife got home.  It must have been a surprise for her to find me on the couch, drinking.  “Uh oh,” she said when she walked in, dropping her arms, “what’s wrong?”  She doesn’t miss a trick.

“I had a really bad day at work.”  I have always been fond of understatement.