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 2

As I wrote last week, my Dad, like some of his contemporaries, resisted the advent of the PC age. It’s kind of a conundrum since he created a new industry on the back of new technology and thoroughly disrupted the patent renewal business thirty years hence. Once achieving ascendancy, however, he complacently resigned his role as innovator when he moved his booming company to New Jersey. But he still sought control over everything.

Sure enough, others, like Jerry Van Winter and Bob Gerhardt, arose to begin the next cycle of cannibalization in this niche marketplace. During the 1970s, the competitive pressures those gentlemen brought to bear on the market began to take its toll on Olcott International. This threatened Dad’s ability to maintain control.

When Bob Gerhardt became a free agent in the mid-1980s, Dad felt compelled to co-opt him. In “HIS NAME WAS BOB GERHARDT,” I wrote about how I lugged Bob’s Compaq laptop into the office one day in 1985.

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.

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.

YES DEPOSIT, YES RETURN

While I am busy writing my next story “PAIR OF DEUCES,” I offer up my very first post, written 3 years ago.  In fact, you can find it if you scroll all the way to the bottom.  I’m not sure if many readers do, so here it is.  It’s an amusing story about my Dad and some business he needed to conduct at Shop Rite one day in the 1980s.  I never saw this coming.  Not in a million years.  Hope you enjoy it!

No matter the routine, things could get crazy.  Fast.

Lunch with Bernard Olcott at Olcott International in 1983 followed a familiar routine.  At around maybe 11:45 AM, after a few hunger pangs had already hit me pretty hard, I would head up to the top floor, the level that actually connected to the street, and ask if he was ready to grab some lunch.  He would typically wave me off for another 10 to 15 minutes while he finished up some correspondence.  Finally, he would call me back upstairs.   We would then spend another 10 to 15 minutes looking for a pack-of-cards sized contraption holding perhaps 50 keys for the car, the house, the office, the boat, and God knew what else.  Oddly they were never in the same place twice.  And if not retrieved, well, that would have been the end of the world, as we knew it.

The next part of the routine would be to drive over to the Shop Rite supermarket on JFK Boulevard in Union City, New Jersey.  This was located in a bustling area with a huge parking lot in front.  However, it was only sensibly approachable from the southbound lane.  This presented an engineering problem to Dad, the kind he loved to solve.

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.

MINOU’S PREDICTION

The Adirondack Northway is one of America’s spectacular highways. I’ve driven it many times between New York City and Canada, usually en route to a ski vacation in the North Country.

It winds its way along the foothills of the High Peaks region. If you look over your left shoulder while driving north, you can make out the pyramid-shaped summit of Mt. Marcy looming in the distance, just as Mt. Everest (or Chomolungma, “Goddess Mother of the Mountains” to Mujibhar and his family in Nepal) towers over surrounding peaks on the other side of the world. Eventually, you arrive at the border, where I have already given advice on negotiating customs and border formalities.

Before most remaining gaps in the interstate highway were plugged in the 1960s, if you wanted to drive to Montréal from New York (or Weehawken, for that matter) in the 1950s, you would follow an older (obviously) 2 lane highway called US Route 9 as directed on your foldable Esso highway map (the one that said ‘Happy Motoring’ next to the tiger).

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.

THE SECRET TO SURFCASTING

Today, I bring you another guest post from Peter Cammann.  He knows a thing or two about fishing as his articles in in magazines like Field & Stream, Fly Fisherman Magazine, On the Water, Outdoor Life, and Vermont Life Magazine can attest. 

Peter’s post is a work of nonfiction about his own Dad, Fred Cammann.  Like me, Peter is from his Dad’s second marriage.

This story is of the Father-Son category.  I’ll be featuring more of these from an assortment of guest authors in the weeks to come.  Interspersed, naturally, with a few of my own as well.

Copyright 2008, 2013 by Peter Cammann

I did not grow up in a family that fished together. It’s true that my mother taught me the basics of the double haul cast during the summer I turned 12 (she handed me a seven and a half foot, five weight fly rod and bade me cast it into the heavily chlorinated waters of my grandfather’s backyard swimming pool, until I could do so without injuring myself or anyone within a thirty foot radius). In spite of this, “my people” were not of fishing stock. My two uncles were quite different stories. My father’s brother, George and I fished together quite a bit in the summer of 1969, when our family and his visited Montana, which was a real pleasure, although strangely enough, I have only fished with him one other time. My mother’s brother, Albie and I did a little surfcasting and hunting together when I was a kid as well, but again, infrequently.

My father, Fred had no real interest in the fishing, although he always encouraged me, in his own way. I remember something he once told me. “The secret to surfcasting,” he said when I was about 10 years old, “is that no one ever catches anything.”