HOW TO EXPLAIN THAT YOUR PARENT IS STRANGE

In a midtown Manhattan lawyer’s office in early 1995, I found myself sitting opposite from one of New York City’s sharpest legal minds. I had called Kord Lagemann a week or two earlier and asked for an appointment.  I had some important questions for him.  He had represented my Dad in his legal action (arbitration, actually) against Herby Wellington, the churning stock broker from “Slaminger” brokerage.  Kord had won a million dollar settlement in Dad’s favor, proving that he not only talked the talk but walked the walk.

Kord studied me intently as he lit his pipe. Although dressed professionally, he looked like he had stepped off a ferry at the Aker brygge ferry terminal in central Oslo.  Opening the meeting, I thanked him for his efforts on behalf of my Dad and the family.  After a serene pause, Kord responded that Slaminger’s actions and those of its broker had been clearly abusive and excessive.  He had been happy to help.

Pressing on, I explained to him the reason for my visit. My Dad had recently received a “present” consisting of a brand new red BMW from Herby. And, as a result, Dad had now reopened a stockbroking account with the aforementioned broker, the one that Kord had successfully sued.  Kord showed no reaction as he puffed on his pipe and listened to my concerns attentively.

“You’re right,” he told me, “There is reason for concern.” But there was nothing he or I could do.  Meeting over.  I was stunned.

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DAD’S REAL WIFE

This week, another repeat.  This is the second most popular post on my site (after “WHAT’S IN A BORDER“) and I have to say it’s really gratifying. 

Because this one is all about my Dad in his prime, at the top of his game.  When he could do no wrong.  It’s me in kvell-mode.  Well, all right, three failed marriages by this time already.  Nobody’s perfect, even critics.

But in a certain sense, he was really only married once.

I’ll have a new, fresh story from this time period shortly.  And I’ll be back to those wretched investments in the mid-1990s before too long.

This week we go into why my Dad is famous, at least in the patent profession. The next three posts are about his greatest number one hit in the charts. And it’s big!

As you know by now, dear reader, Dad was married five times to five different women. But in a certain way, Dad was really only married once. It was not to a lady wearing a dress and lipstick (though there were more than a few of those around) but to a business soon to be called “Olcott International & Co.” It was his life, and his masterpiece, just as the Mona Lisa was to Leonardo da Vinci. (He greatly admired Leonardo and thought of himself easily as da Vinci’s equal). He could share this one true wife with no one and he guarded her with a jealous Latin-blooded fury. (As I and others would haplessly come to learn.)

BRAND NEW RED CAR

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.

PANOPLY OF SWAGGER, PART 2

This story elaborates on my post, “SCRATCH ON THE POOL TABLE OF LIFE,” and goes on from there.

People who marched to Dad’s doorstep with investment ideas, at first, were either extraordinarily interesting or entertaining.

Take Huntington Hartford, for instance. Though unknown to me, he was the storied scion of A&P. When I met him, I wasn’t aware of this, I thought he was just another eccentric inventor. Apparently, the world is full of them.  Huntington’s investment idea was a tennis-type game he had invented called “tennet.” As recounted in my post, “IN DEMAND, AND THEN NOT,” Dad and I drove to his apartment at the River House on Manhattan’s East Side. I played a game with Hartford (set in a squash court); he apparently made a pitch to my Dad to invest in his game. Dad said no. I forgot about this meeting until many years later, when I started writing this blog.

Ever heard of tennet?

I didn’t think so. Good thing my Dad passed on it.

ALCOHOL IS ONLY 1% OF THE GNP

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.

Big Bambu

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.

LOOKIN’ FOR THE EIFFEL TOWER

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.

CRASHES NEXT TO ROOM 31, REVISITED

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.