by James Thurber. Reprinted from “Fables For Our Time” as published on http://english.glendale.cc.ca.us/unicorn1.html
Once upon a sunny morning a man who sat in a breakfast nook looked up from his scrambled eggs to see a white unicorn with a golden horn quietly cropping the roses in the garden. The man went up to the bedroom where his wife was still asleep and woke her. “There’s a unicorn in the garden,” he said. “Eating roses.” She opened one unfriendly eye and looked at him.
“The unicorn is a mythical beast,” she said, and turned her back on him. The man walked slowly downstairs and out into the garden. The unicorn was still there; now he was browsing among the tulips. “Here, unicorn,” said the man, and he pulled up a lily and gave it to him. The unicorn ate it gravely. With a high heart, because there was a unicorn in his garden, the man went upstairs and roused his wife again. “The unicorn,” he said,”ate a lily.” His wife sat up in bed and looked at him coldly. “You are a booby,” she said, “and I am going to have you put in the booby-hatch.”
Read More “THE UNICORN IN THE GARDEN”
The events recounted in my post last week, “PANOPLY OF SWAGGER, PART 2,” took place in the mid-to-late 1980s. It was a tumultuous time for me. I had finally taken my place in the family business — the one I had grown up in — only to discover that the business that bears my name turned out to be a toxic place for me personally.
Specifically, it wasn’t the business per se. The work and the employees were cool. Even Yoshi!
It was my Dad, the founder and CEO, the man I looked up to, who had sadly become erratic and “eccentric.” So much so that, with great reservations, I decided to leave the company and go back to school to earn my MBA. One market crash later, I found that, much to my shock and chagrin, I was back at the very same company in the mid-1990s. Things had not improved.
Last time, I introduced a character named Herby Wellington, a world famous stockbroker and financial genius of the storied Wall Street firm, “Slaminger.¹”
I suspect that Herby persistently cold-called my Dad until he somehow got through. As a matter of course, Dad dodged such calls, occasionally yelling into the receiver and slamming it down in front of the staff at Olcott International. Everybody was entertained. Except, perhaps, for the cold caller broker.
Read More “BRAND NEW RED CAR”
23 years after the events of my last story, “CRASHES NEXT TO ROOM 31,” would you know that your humble narrator is still plying the highways of the Garden State? In fact, I drive through the Lincoln Tunnel regularly on my way to work.
As I pondered this story, I was furtively glancing over my shoulder while exiting or entering the I-495 trench leading to the gaping hole of the Lincoln Tunnel. It’s a very busy place, a “great attractor” of traffic where cars merge and change lanes on a moment’s notice. I could only steal a glimpse or two safely of the former York Motel, more easily on the New York-bound side. It’s still there, looking much more polished in 2017 than it did in 1994 (or 1982). Gone is the sign advertising “hourly rates.” Up is the new logo of a national motel chain and what appears to be coat of fresh looking white paint.
I had never been a guest of the York Motel on a nightly – or otherwise – basis and thought that stopping by for a quick look around might be interesting. I wondered if I would be able to find the infamous room 31 and what the motel might look and feel like close up.
Read More “CRASHES NEXT TO ROOM 31, REVISITED”
By Jeff Flake, a Republican U.S. senator from Arizona. From the Washington Post today.
As I contemplate the Trump presidency, I cannot help but think of Joseph Welch.
On June 9, 1954, during the Army-McCarthy hearings, Welch, who was the chief counsel for the Army, famously asked the committee chairman if he might speak on a point of personal privilege. What he said that day was so profound that it has become enshrined as a pivotal moment in defense of American values against those who would lay waste to them. Welch was the son of a small prairie town in northwest Iowa, and the plaintive quality of his flat Midwestern accent is burned into American history. After asking Sen. Joseph McCarthy for his attention and telling him to listen with both ears, Welch spoke:
“Until this moment, senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty, or your recklessness.”
And then, in words that today echo from his time to ours, Welch delivered the coup de grace: “You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”
The moral power of Welch’s words ended McCarthy’s rampage on American values, and effectively his career as well.
The rest can be read here. Sometimes enough nonsense is enough.
As technology rolled into the mid-1990s, the price of IBM-compatible machines dropped precipitously at just about the same time that big boxes graced with cow motifs began to litter the floors of Olcott International.
It was the advent of Gateway Computers!
While Yoshi still felt he could build ‘em cheaper from scratch, there was no arguing that buying from vendors like Gateway saved both time and money. In the end, Yoshi didn’t complain about giving up one of his many jobs; he had enough to do in terms of managing the patent payment system and troubleshooting hardware from whatever vendor.
Soon after I returned to Olcott International in June 1992, my work PC was updated from DOS to Windows 3.1. In my recent post “ASSEMBLY, PART 2,” I marveled at Yoshi’s ability to build clones from scratch and soon thereafter sought the secret knowledge so I could do it myself too.
We had a lot of computers lying around in the “Computer Department.” In addition to my new Widows 3.1 machine, Steve, Peggy, Bob, and of course Yoshi had their own PCs, running both DOS and Windows. I needed both Operating Systems (“OS”) as I was creating data and testing our two Patent Management Systems (“PMS”) resident in both environments.
However, there was one more desktop machine in the “Computer Department.” A shiny box with a glittering and different OS. One that made ethereal sounds when booting up with a picture of a smiling face. In fact, it was no clone at all; it was made by the same company that jealously guarded its fancy-schmancy operating system and had popularized the use of a mouse in a point-and-click type of interface.
The Apple Macintosh computer. I mentioned this cult-in-a-box in my post “CUTTING EDGE AND TOTALLY COOL.”
Read More “PAIR OF DEUCES, PART 1”
The memory I recounted in my post Assembly, Part 1, about my Dad putting together a pocket watch for me is not a particularly strong one. In fact, it’s like an alternative recall that really doesn’t come readily to mind. For one thing, there’s not that much action in it, and certainly nothing approaching anything like real drama. Just a quiet moment in a temporary home, years ago, in the distant past.
I didn’t ask for a gift that morning and I had no idea one was coming my way. Like a faint shadow on old paint, it’s there to remind you if your eye happens to fall on it while you’re thinking about or doing something else.
For me, I have similar experiences sometimes while listening to music during long drives in my car. I hear the music, but I am focused on the road and other traffic. One of those melodies can suddenly appear front and center in my consciousness days later, and I am left with some chord structure or arrangement in endless mental repetition. The bad ones we call earworms, annoying feedback loops of muzak that would be better eaten by birds.
Read More “BASELINE”
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”
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. 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.
Read More “MA CHIGNY SITUATIONS”
‘Twas not all gloom and doom at Olcott International.
Upon my return to the office that spring of 1992, I started hearing odd noises upstairs and soon met Bobby Edwards, the Jewish cowboy. This wisecracker could make Dad laugh endlessly. Soon Dad asked me to get involved with his (minor) investments in the Kansas oil patch. “PANOLPY OF SWAGGER” recounts these welcome diversions. I remain grateful to the Jewish cowboy to this day.
Speaking of foreign countries, Japan has always been an important client base for Olcott International. I’ve written a number of posts about how my Dad conquered the land of the rising sun in the 1970s, a country where American culture was imported wholesale, albeit with many local twists.
Read More “BUCKED OFF!”
It was good to be back at Olcott International despite certain ominous dark storm clouds. And the odd soul grinder.
For one thing, Bob Gerhardt continued to be browbeaten and didn’t seem to like it any more than when I had left him to his fate back in 1986. But still here he was, plodding along in Weehawken.
Bob continued to lead up the development of patent management software. But oddly, there seemed to be more than one software project in motion in what ostensibly was not exactly a Fortune 1000 company.
Bob and my Dad had teamed up together in the late 1980s to create OIPMS, a DOS based application designed to intelligently manage the complete life cycle of patents. These were classic black-screen applications with blinking white cursors. They weren’t pretty but the design was so good that one of my readers here – a patent attorney no less – still uses his copy to manage his portfolio. As this is being written in 2017, that’s saying something!
Read More “BACK IN THE SADDLE”