PAIR OF DEUCES, PART 3

Did I mention that 1994 was a busy year? Yes, I think I have, many times!

The trade shows that year were a hit! At the INTA trade show, I demoed our storied DOS program for trade marks and snagged a buyer. Too bad a minor bug in the program aborted the sale during the client install.

Soon after that botched installation, Dad and I were back in Washington in June for the AIPLA trade show. What INTA is for trade marks, AIPLA is for patents. That year, we had something that set us distinctly apart from the competition.

I mean, everyone had a DOS management system for patents. That’s where the fun began, of course. And then everyone had a fancy new Windows system as well. Windows had emerged as the ‘it’ system; everyone recognized it as the wave of the future. The version current at that time was Windows 3.1; Windows 95 was still a year away from introduction.

Only Olcott International had a third box, the cyclops eye of a computer system. An Apple Mac and a fully functional patent management system running on it.

BASELINE

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.

ASSEMBLY, PART 1

In the summer of 1966, I lived with Dad as an 8 year old in his temporary home in Morrisville, Pennsylvania. Sort of like today where I am a transient resident of nearby Reading (except now, I am seriously older than 8!)  Forget about the famous railroad company from ‘Monopoly,’ the Reading Railroad was closed years ago.

For whatever reason, I just keep coming back to the Keystone State.

One morning that year, I woke up to find, not to my surprise, that Dad had already been awake for several hours. This wasn’t unusual for him. He had bought some kind of model kit the day before for a pocket watch made out of hard blue plastic. Early that morning, while I was snoozing away, he had painstakingly detached all the pieces from the molds.

Then, carefully and slowly, Dad followed the detailed instructions to assemble the watch. All parts were made in the aforementioned blue plastic: the sprockets, cogs, case, the hour and minute hands, everything save for the spring and the clear transparent plastic cover that snapped into place over the clock face.

A BRIEF INTRODUCTION

Please allow me to introduce you to Bernard Olcott, 1918-2006, a man who led a legendary and iconoclastic American life.

Welcome to my blog.  My goal is to provide you with stories from times past by which you might catch glimpses of yourself, or of someone you know intimately. Bernard Olcott touched the world, from Japan to England to Egypt to Kansas to New Jersey. Maybe you know some of these places, too.

Every Thursday afternoon from 2015 through 2018, I presented you with a new story, some new adventure or insight, dusted with more than just a little modern context and quirky cultural references. Dad loved screwball humor; although he took himself seriously as an attorney, he wouldn’t stop laughing if you called him an ‘ambulance chaser.’  You see, this is the point: we can’t pick our parents, but we sure as hell can cherry pick their best qualities. And that, my friends, is what will set you free.  Since 2018, the blog is pretty much finished and I am compiling the stories in chronological order.  What you see below are the original posts.

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!

SOMETHING ABOUT DAD, PART 1: THE ZINGER

Today, another repeat for you.  You can also find this way down at the bottom of my home page, if you care to scroll all the way down.  It’s a two part series about how I could no longer deny that there really was “something” about my Dad that was, well, peculiar. 

1979 and 1980 were seminal years.  I was a senior in college and it was time to contemplate a career.  Of course, I had no idea what it was I wanted to do.  My roommate Dan, on the other hand, was feverishly interviewing at Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street firms.  He ultimately scored a great job and is now in charge of some place like Europe.  But for me, all I knew is that I wanted “something international” but was undecided between the public service arena (like the Foreign Service or the United Nations) or international business (I would land my dream internship at United Nations within 2 years to try it out).  My Dad had made many off-handed remarks to people over the years that I was to join him at Olcott International and “take it over.”  I think I was 6 the first time he said that to someone in my presence.  So I had grown up with this as a possible notion.  But now at 21 years of age, I was suddenly ambivalent.  There was something peculiar about Dad.

Over the last few years, things had changed between my Dad and his 4th wife Gloria.  When I first met Gloria in 1971, I was 13.  I was hardly mature but I could tell that they seemed to be happy together and the Olcott household was a cheerful one.  Gloria was funny, with it, traveled with Dad to Brazil and Japan, and even wrote me a poem for my 14th birthday, dedicated to me as the “stalwart lad.”  On top of that, they left me a stash of Playboys in my bedroom, though Gloria removed certain issues she felt were too racy.  It certainly seemed that just maybe Dad had turned a corner from 3 failed marriages and that the future was going to be more stable.  Hope had sprung eternal.  After all, Hope was Gloria’s middle name.

HONOR THY FATHERS

Just a special post this evening to render homage to my Father and Uncle — no matter their faults, quirks, or eccentricities.

When World War II presented our world with the fugly head of enslavement under fascism and nazism, Bernard Olcott joined the US Army, and his older brother Edward Olcott, the US Navy.

They heeded the call of patriotism and brought the fight to the doorstep of militarist Japan and Germany.

Today, because of their efforts and those of countless fighting men and women, Japan and Germany are free and civilized countries.

Thank you Dad and Uncle Ed, for your contribution as part of the US military against the purveyors of tyranny and slavery!

 

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.

THE CLICK OF MY CAR SEAT BUCKLE

Today’s guest post is written by another grandchild of Bernard Olcott, Grant.  In his essay, Grant sends the entire family up the Highway to Hell, seemingly always on yet another road-trip.  When not working as an investment analyst at Investure, Grant is a college student at Middlebury College.

I love cars. Well, I should rephrase that. I don’t know all the parts or mechanics of the automobile. I can’t say I have a clear picture of the new Ford Fusion in my mind. I’ve never been to a car show, and I’m only starting to understand the difference between a BMW and a Benz.

So why do I love cars? I love being inside them. I love the warm intimacy such an enclosed space creates between two people. I love the thrill of reaching a destination, the fighting over the radio station, the comfort of drifting in and out of a drowsy sleep in the back seat, and, especially, the long meandering talks, spur-of-the-moment debates, and random lectures shared among the four seats that draw my family closer and closer together with each click of the odometer.

BUCKED OFF!

‘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.