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.”
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.
While on the topic of fathers and sons, I post for your delight this week another guest post from my high school classmate Ned McDonnell.
Drinking alcohol was against the rules at our boarding high school. Transgression resulted in an 10 days unanticipated visit home for the first offense. You could surprise the folks by coming home!!! And permanent banishment on the second. Since I was on my way to Theologian studies at the Vatican, I was never subjected to this harsh process.
Unfortunately for Ned, he got busted.
This is his story about going home and the reception that awaited him there.
My Far-away Father
My father, John Gordon McDonnell, was an engineer by training and a World War II Navy drill instructor. That made him a tenacious disciplinarian with a very cut-and-dried view of life. After we moved back to Pittsburgh from Sydney in 1968, my father and I did little together since he no longer needed a jib-man on his week-end sailing adventures. For a perfect snap-shot of our ‘rapport’, listen to “Earache My Eye” by Cheech and Chong.
The Plane! The Plane!
“Good afternoon, we are approaching Pittsburgh International Airport. Please make sure your seat-belts are fastened, seats upright and cigarettes extinguished. Skies are clear at thirty-five degrees. Thank you for travelling with Allegheny Airlines and we wish you a Happy Thanksgiving 1975. Go Steelers!”
As DC-9s were wont to do, this smaller jet rocked in the coming winter’s wind. That weaving legitimated a creeping, contingent nausea. No, I was physically in good shape after the extra day on campus laying down the varsity basketball court and the wrestling mats, etc. in the School’s gym. My defiant manner of that moment failed to hide my gnawing shame of letting my family down by facing expulsion from prep school and dishonoring my family.
When I review my site statistics, I notice which posts are most popular, and where most of the viewers come from. “LOOKIN’ FOR THE EIFFEL TOWER” is my third most popular post ever and it receives most views from France! Aside from some of my fans out there, I think most folks who stumbled across my post were probably Americans (and a few dizzy South Africans) looking for a famous monument in the City of Lights.
So while I am busy writing “PANOPLY OF SWAGGER, PART 2,” I repost for your enjoyment my number one hit from France. I recommend that you read this post while listening to my favorite station over there, TSFJazz (occasionally playing live, raging jazz from nightclubs all over Pair-ee!)
The events in this story are from July 1969, right after Neil Armstrong walked on the moon!
Dad and I boarded our Air France flight to Orly Airport and, as customary, I grabbed the window seat. I was only 11 but still I understood that Dad was looking after his business affairs while we were in Europe. We had visited one of his best English clients – Massey-Ferguson – and he had pushed his joint venture discussions forward with the senior partners from Marks & Clerk while in London. He had scouted out possible locations for the proposed operation in the Channel Islands. His work done, and the Apollo 11 astronauts back home safely, it was time to leave the Anglo-Saxon world behind and see something completely different.
France was an important country to my Dad’s business from an operational point of view. While he did not have any customers there, all of his clients (be they American, British, Italian, or Japanese) did have large portfolios of French patents on which renewal fees had to be paid annually in French Francs. Therefore when he went to the French Patent Office on the rue de Leningrad (later to be renamed rue de St. Petersbourg) earlier that decade to win acceptance for his bulk payment process, it was a real coup when they readily agreed to accept his bulk payment process. In fact, the top 3 countries in Europe for patent registrations – UK, West Germany, and France – all accepted his instructions direct from New York. Even though Dad only studied a little French in high school, he sure loved him some France as his operation there was a huge money maker.
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.
Crashes were not always relegated to software programs. Sometimes I experienced other kinds. And they often happened close to the office. Or next to scary places nearby.
In late spring 1994, Dad and I made a marketing call to a potential client without Bob. It was a major telecom company based in northern New Jersey, about an hour’s drive from Weehawken. The prospect was already running one of our competitor’s patent management systems, and wasn’t looking for a change. Rather, this was going to be a straight-up discussion about annuity payment services, right down Dad’s alley.
After some preparation, we plunked down inside my Dad’s lobotomized Mercedes Benz and traced our way to the company via the Garden State’s ribbon of expressways as guided by a crusty folded highway map. As mentioned in my post “HIS NAME WAS BOB GERHARDT,” Dad had a method of increasing gasoline efficiency in automobile engines. It involved disabling multiple cylinders within the engine based on the simple premise that each cylinder is a source of fuel consumption and combustion. If you can shut them off, you will consume less fuel.
What could be simpler?
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.