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.”
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.
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!
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.
‘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.
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!
In April 1992, I had one foot in two worlds.
One foot was planted in the familiar lush flagship Polo Ralph Lauren store on Madison Avenue, a marvel of seductive, dazzling, stylish, and pricey eye-candy. The other was a run-down office precariously hugging a cliff on the anus-side¹ of the Lincoln Tunnel, overlooking the double helix resounding with the roar of vehicular traffic. I dubbed that sound in my post “THE NIGHT IS DARK AND FULL OF TERRORS,” as the ‘soul grinder.’
The first was glamorous, but offered me little future career growth. The second was pretty much its antithesis on both counts (except, sometimes, for the travel).
To aspire to my greatest future potential, I had to risk the crushing of my essence.