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!

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PANOPLY OF SWAGGER

Pictured above, beautiful Stockholm.

Last week in my post “OF GIANTS AND DWARFS” I took you, the dear reader, back to 1966 to meet Lenny the check-forger.  But Lenny turned out to be a mere piker.  Compare him to Herby Fischer¹ – the stockbroker from American Express who churned Dad for over a million in the late 1980s.  Now that guy had a plunger.  A big one.

Strange thing was, after Dad took him to court and won, inexplicably, seeking no one’s advice but his own, Dad reinvested with Herby!  Everyone can get taken once.  But to go back to the same guy afterwards?

But Herby was ultimately not the biggest plunderer.  More about him later.

Neither gentleman made it to the letterhead of Olcott International, my employer as of 1983.  Based on the amount of cash they carried away, however, they should have — at least as cost centers.

Steven Sites¹, however, did make the letterhead.  He was on the famed pantheon of “Associates” thereon.  That meant he was a BIG, the real deal.

Soon after I started my first job, I mean, not simply a first job but one at the family business with Bernard Olcott as CEO, efficiency expert, attorney at law, certified engineer in three states, computer consultant, construction foreman, automotive engine and air conditioner mastermind, ladies’ man, and unfortunately, easy mark, a pudgy man waddled over to my desk on the lower level.  He extended his hand.  “I’m Stevie Sites,” he said.  I recognized the name immediately and stood up.  A giant had graced my stoop!

I told him that I recognized his name from the letterhead and asked him about his accounts.  I had no idea what he was about to tell me.

FIRST TEST

As I took my seat behind that wooden desk on the lower level in 1982, I began my training at Olcott International.

As discussed in numerous posts, Olcott International operates in a highly specialized field, one that most people do not understand.  My Dad had started his business in 1961 on the back of an advanced (for its time) computer program that could sort patent renewal data.

He offered this service to corporate patent owners that had live dockets of hundreds or thousands of registrations. Most of these required annual payments to maintain their validity. (Patents in the USA follow an extremely odd payment schedule, however).  After the 20th year, the patent would come to term and fall into the public domain, meaning that anyone could read the patent, make the thing (whatever it was), and sell it for a buck.

Generally, whenever I met people socially, and the conversation turned to work, describing this computer and legal-driven business quickly became a problem.  Most people have professions that can be easily pigeon-holed in simple terms, like “banker,” “teacher,” or “forklift driver.” Not I. In fact, it got so tedious for me to explain what I did for a living, I would typically bail and offer up that I was simply the hostess’ psychiatrist. Sometimes, I would even be asked if I was taking on new patients. I always made sure that I was available only on the most unsuitable night.

There are patents for all kinds of things. Some vital, like certain AIDS medications. Many are frivolous, like weird ribbing patterns on a condom. Most are a waste of money, patented by individuals for products with no commercial potential.

On the other hand, successful corporations, eg. Apple Computer, have dockets comprising thousands of valuable, revenue generating patents. Every one of them worth the $2,000 annual cost of renewal (thereabouts) annually in over 100 countries across this beautiful planet.

So what was the essence of my first job with Olcott International? Patents? No!

IS YOUR MEXICAN DIVORCE LEGAL?

Above: A beautiful view of Cuidad Juárez from El Paso earlier this week.  Photo by DLynne Morin.

By mid-1982, Dad’s marriage with Gloria had devolved into crass posturing for litigation in a divorce action.  After all, he had plenty of experience as he had been through this experience three times already.

The first had been 32 years earlier, in 1950.  His newly wed wife, Pat, returned home one evening to their Beekman Place neighborhood apartment.  As soon as she walked in, Bern hung up the phone.  “Who are you on the phone with, Dear?” she asked.  Oddly, Dad declined to say.  It took her a while to find out and it turned out to be her former best friend Connie Richards.   Pat had the marriage annulled within a few weeks via an expedited petition direct to the Vatican.

Dad never told me anything about his marriage with Pat.  Or Beekman Place, for that matter.  I had to find her 60 years later to ask her personally.  Remember, she was wife number one and my Mom was only the second.  Does that make Pat a stepmother?  The English language does not have a term to describe our relationship.

In any event, Pat was very annoyed with Bern (and went on to marry four more times herself).

THE BIGGER IDEA (AS TED’S WINGMAN)

As recounted in my last post ‘THE INTERSECTION,” Dad went back to the patent drawing board in 1998 (at the young age of 80).  He was intrigued by various developments in the America’s Cup race, and as a new member of the New York Yacht Club, he set out to prove his bona fides both as a sailor and as an inventor.  Accompanied by his usual gusto for going with what he knew.  Natch.

By 1998, there had already been four America’s Cup races since the New York Yacht Club lost it in 1983.  A new challenge was pending in 2000 and Dad wanted in.

The race in 1983 had been won by the yacht Australia II due to its specialized keel design.  In fact, when the boat was first brought over from down under, the keel was physically shrouded so that no one could see it!

What was the big secret?

THE FINEST ESCAPE!

The Bernard Olcott Story started off 2016 with a rewrite of my post “THE LOST WEEKEND” focusing on the Academy Award (and Cannes!) winning movie of the same name from 1946.  That post promised the following stories to come:

• the biggest movie of 1946 (THE LOST WEEKEND),
• the 3rd Avenue El (including an art house film),
• old style New Yorkers interacting in flavorful accents,
• a valuable lesson at Cooper Union
• a mysterious death in 1943 with what little facts are available, and
• a color-filled present with a shared activity across time.

All have been delivered, except for the last topic.  I did leave the 1940s to take you, the dear reader, on a color-filled ride 40 years later to Lithuania in 1985.  I framed my trip in terms of a Boomerang where I realized that my journey, as an effort to strengthen family ties, may have inadvertently reminded my Dad of his disadvantaged youth.  Both in terms of society – his immigrant household subject to prejudice – and family – where his brother was favored in the household.

But wait!  There’s more to that technicolor present!  Today’s post will wrap up both the Boomerang and 1940s themes with the following conclusion: my Dad escaped his unhappy situation 4 ways:

1. Becoming a sailor on the Merchant Marines and shipping off to Europe
2. Flying the coop to Cooper Union
3. Becoming a Technology Consultant
4. By engaging in a mystery activity (identified below), one that he and I both share.

BOOMERANG RETURNS!

Today the Bernard Olcott story returns to Vilnius, May 1985.  From my post “BOOMERANG THROWN,” you learned that I was in Lithuania for 5 days that year, hunting down my family roots.  The first day was remarkable.

My second day in Lithuania featured an old fashioned get-on-the-bus touristic outing with my Intourist group.  The destination was the town and castle at Trakai, about 30 km to the west of Vilnius.  Built in the 15th century as the home to the Lithuanian Grand Duke, it was considered as the unofficial capital of Lithuania, which, as part of the united Polish-Lithuanian kingdom, stretched from the Baltic to the Black Seas in its prime.  Today the ancient castle is in good condition – for a structure that is 600+ years old – and is scenically located on an island in a pristine clear water lake.