GREEN EGGS AND HAM

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 in 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.

Advertisements

ALL MY ROADS LEAD TO ROME

Ahhh! April flowers. The trees are budding. Boids are choiping psychotically.

Springtime, it’s often said, brings together hopes and promises. Well, why not? April’s the month of my birthday. Sometimes, when the weather is right, the trees bud and bloom in the latter part of the month, right around when I appeared at Mount Sinai Hospital, 103rd Street and Fifth Avenue some 50 (or so) years ago.

Spring in 1992 was an exceptionally golden era for me, especially at Polo Ralph Lauren, a company I never expected to end up in after leaving the family business and graduating from Business School. It was survival by wit, guile, charm, and, to speak plainly, a shitload of style. Ralph made sure of that!  And it was often a lot of effortless fun as well!

In addition to my triumph at Polo, several other things were going very well in my life in early 1992.

RUNNING OF THE BULLS

As an MBA business school student in the fall of 1987, in the middle of a raging bull stock market, I was in receipt of a very strong sell signal. In all honesty, I had been for a long time.

Was it from Herby Fischer, my own (and Dad’s) stock broker? (I had a very small account with one holding, Wix, which promptly went down after Herby bought it for me).  No.

Was it from Ira KawallerJimmy Rogers, Jim Freeman, John Whitney or any of the other great business school professors at Columbia Business School? Nope.

How about my pal, Arch Crawford, the famous stock prognosticator who predicted future DJIA index levels by Astrology? Nice try. But wrong.

Ok. Ya think the source could have been someone who had no experience whatsoever in portfolio theory, Elliot wave, or value investing? Someone who never quoted Peter Lynch, Warren Buffet, or even read Alan Abelson’s column in Barron’s?

Yes, it was. None other than the namesake of this blog. My own Dad, Bernard Olcott. Only problem was, he was predicting that the stock market was going to crash. Every. Single. Day. So each evening, I would review the financial news and remark to myself, boy oh boy, that stock market just keeps climbing like gangbusters!

MY FRIEND IN JERSEY

Astute readers will notice that, in the last few posts, I have been jumping back and forth from the 1980s to the 1990s and back again.  At the core of these stories is my conflicted search to reconcile my Father with the very different man in front of me.  After all, parents are our archetypes.  They are part of us.

I simply couldn’t believe what I was seeing when I started working in the 1980s.  It was convenient to ignore or turn a blind eye to Dad’s episodic incongruent behavior, especially at first.  Back then I was young and inexperienced with no idea of what happens in offices around the world.  People can be strange sometimes and certainly this can be reflected in the workplace.

Now, in 2016, as an IT consultant, I can look back at my career.  I have worked in more than 26 companies from Polo Ralph Lauren to Heineken to AmerisourceBergen to Mitsubishi.  I have had my own desk in Ankara, Tokyo, Sydney, Prestwick, and Totowa (New Jersey).  Without a doubt, what I witnessed in Weehawken during the 1980s and 1990s was truly staggering.  And that’s leaving aside the emotional component that my bullying boss was my cherished parent!  The man who took me to the heights of the heliport, England, and exclusivity.

BUSINESS PARTNERS

The events in my last post, “TWO RABBITS, ONE DEAD,” recount the events of one bleak day in January 1995.

Everyone is entitled to a bad day once in a while.  If those events of 21 years ago had represented just one isolated blip in the story of a triumphal family saga, it wouldn’t have been that big of a deal.

Sadly, it wasn’t just a one-off but was part of a frequently distressing pattern.

It didn’t start off that way, of course, when I began my career at Olcott International a different January a dozen years before that, in 1983.

As I have written in various posts like “SOMETHING ABOUT DAD, PARTS 1 AND 2” and “HEARTBREAKER,” Dad wanted me to join the family business even though various warning signs made me ambivalent toward the idea.  After all, you should always know who your business partners are.  If they’re your parents, you don’t need to do a background check to find out.

As an example, I can perform due diligence in my case by asking a few questions:

IS YOUR MEXICAN DIVORCE LEGAL?

Above: A beautiful view of Cuidad Juárez from El Paso earlier this week.  Photo by DLynne Morin.

By mid-1982, Dad’s marriage with Gloria had devolved into crass posturing for litigation in a divorce action.  After all, he had plenty of experience as he had been through this experience three times already.

The first had been 32 years earlier, in 1950.  His newly wed wife, Pat, returned home one evening to their Beekman Place neighborhood apartment.  As soon as she walked in, Bern hung up the phone.  “Who are you on the phone with, Dear?” she asked.  Oddly, Dad declined to say.  It took her a while to find out and it turned out to be her former best friend Connie Richards.   Pat had the marriage annulled within a few weeks via an expedited petition direct to the Vatican.

Dad never told me anything about his marriage with Pat.  Or Beekman Place, for that matter.  I had to find her 60 years later to ask her personally.  Remember, she was wife number one and my Mom was only the second.  Does that make Pat a stepmother?  The English language does not have a term to describe our relationship.

In any event, Pat was very annoyed with Bern (and went on to marry four more times herself).

PAYING THE COST

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.