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.)
Read More “DAD’S REAL WIFE”
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.
Read More “BRAND NEW RED CAR”
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.
Read More “PANOPLY OF SWAGGER, PART 2”
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.
Read More “ALCOHOL IS ONLY 1% OF THE GNP”
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.
Read More “LOOKIN’ FOR THE EIFFEL TOWER”
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.
Read More “CRASHES NEXT TO ROOM 31, REVISITED”
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?
Read More “CRASHES NEXT TO ROOM 31”
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.
Read More “PAIR OF DEUCES, PART 3”
A software installation is the natural follow-on event to testing and demonstrating. Both start with a lot of preparation.
I love the analogy of an honest-to-goodness dog and pony show. Set up and rehearsal are key. The poodles are washed and clipped, their manes and tails festooned with ribbons. Ponies, for their part, are brushed and adorned with headdresses. The hoops are lit up just before the show.
The secret sauce is figuring out which doggie biscuits (or horse apples) the little bastards will die for. Once known, the tricks and jumps will be perfect.
It’s the practice, of course, that makes everything run like clockwork. You get to see the idiosyncrasies of all performers, providing the necessary insight to separate those that don’t play nice with each other. And, of course, you lead with the pairs that shine together.
Read More “PAIR OF DEUCES, PART 2”
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.”
Read More “PAIR OF DEUCES, PART 1”