LEADING TO WAR

Over the past few weeks, I have written a lot about the 1940s, an era well before my time.  It was, by any measure, a very scary decade.

In my travels across Europe, I have gone looking for the remnants of World War II.  (Interestingly, none are visible in Japan, except for the gradual realization that all architecture is post 1950.)  There is the tour of Churchill’s bunker on King Charles Street in London.  Walking around Paris, you can’t help but notice the historical markers here and there memorializing the location where a patriot was shot by the Nazis.  In both cities, I have walked down certain streets and noticed numerous pockmarks on the graceful facades.¹

At times, I have looked up into the sky and tried to imagine the sounds of bombers, the rumble of artillery, or the rat-a-tat-tat of machine gun fire.  From the damage to the buildings around me, I could tell I was standing in the very places where hell reigned.  But, in every case, I failed to feel it.  Just cloudy skies above, and the sounds of traffic around me.  I could sense the highs and graces of Europe, but I just couldn’t visualize or feel the war that was very real.

The drumbeat to the war is best documented, in my opinion, in William L. Shirer’s remarkable tome The Rise and Fall of The Third Reich.  A bigoted politician – whose ancestor had fortuitously changed the family name from something sounding silly ² – built a national campaign scapegoating minorities to win an election in a major European state.  He successfully manipulated the new media of the era – radio and motion pictures – to win the adulation of the masses.³

Sound familiar?  Can’t happen here, right?

WORKING BIRDS AND THE MASTER FISHERMAN

For your Thanksgiving feast today, let me regale you with a story about working birds, not the ones you eat, but the ones that bring you food.  My Dad liked it when people were working.  This apparently applied to birds, too.

He often described to me his visits to Japan and the marvels that he was privileged to witness there.  Obviously, these trips reached him on some deep level.  Looking back, I can piece together several of these sojourns to the land of the rising sun, based on memory and souvenirs.  In my post last week HE WAS RICHLY STUNNED, I recounted how the currency exchange clerk followed him back to his hotel to refund him 50¢ in overcharges.  Dad was not the only one who was touched by his experiences in Japan – Gloria was too, and I will circle back to her at the end of this post.

The Japanese have a custom where they give each other small presents or keepsakes on the occasion of significant meet-ups.  It denotes respect and dignity for the relationship in a culture that is not outwardly expressive of such emotions.  Once, for example, while I was working at Mitsubishi International, my boss’ boss took a personal vacation to Mexico.  On his return, he presented every member of the entire department staff – including me – with a small bottle of Mexican hot sauce.  In fact, the verb in the Japanese language “to give” is hardwired to imply that one gives upwards to the receiver (ie., the giver is small).  Likewise, when you receive a gift, it is understood that you are receiving down (ie., the opposite, the receiver is small).  Harmony and grace are the operative assumptions of a culture where the population is crowded together in large cities and personal space is minimal.

HE WAS RICHLY STUNNED!

There was a knock on the door of a guestroom at the New Otani Hotel in the Kiocho district of Tokyo.  It was early 1971 and Mr. and Mrs. Bernard Olcott were relaxing on their first full day after arriving the day before from JFK.  Dad had just come back to the room.  He had gone downstairs to exchange $80 into yen, the local currency.

“Were you expecting anyone?”  Gloria whispered to Dad.  He shook his head and wandered over to the door.  He had brought Gloria with him to Japan as part of his 1971-72 world tour to roll out his new wife (number 4).  See my post THE BALLAD OF BERN AND GLORIA as to exactly how I had been informed of the new marriage.

There was another quick rapping on the door.  Dad hastened his pace and opened it to see a diminutive bespectacled middle aged woman, bowing profusely.  “Yes?”

She rattled away in Japanese, and with more bowing, gave him a receipt and 60 yen in coins (worth less than 50 cents).  Dad recognized her as the lady at the counter at the Bureau de Change, where he just been not more than 20 minutes ago. 

TALE OF TWO IMMIGRANTS

In the mid-1950s, Michele Rousseau was a beautiful, elegant girl working at Wally Findlay Galleries on East 57th Street. She was barely 20 when she was dragged out yet again one night to the Stork Club on East 53rd Street by her extroverted mother. There she met a handsome man in a uniform and her life would be changed forever as she would soon become wife no. 2.

I know more about Michele than any other wife for one simple reason. She was my Mom.

Like my Dad’s family, she was part of a family of immigrants. On both sides, my grandparents were foreign-born and had deep ties to the Old World. But on just about every other social, economic, or cultural basis, there the similarities ended. Whereas my Grandfather Mikas Arlauskas made the arduous sea voyage literally in steerage class in 1914 from Europe to New York, my Grandmother Marguerite Alain did the trip in first class in the other direction some ten years later to be married off to her fiancé Paul Rousseau in Paris.

Later on in 1948, my Mom arrived in New York, probably in her stepfather’s Cadillac, the hood hot from plying the New York State Thruway from Montréal.

THE NEW BUSINESS OF PATENT ANNUITIES

Above: Lincoln’s Inn as seen from Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London.

Up for today is my Harvard Business School (“the charm school on the Charles”) case study about the industry my Dad created — international patent renewals!

As the 1960s progressed, Dad’s new business quickly subsumed his “normal” patent practice. He did keep working for some select inventors who intrigued him but spent most of his time promoting his new renewal business as a modern, computerized clerical operation.

Corporate patent owners were delighted and sought him out.  On the other hand, foreign patent law firms worldwide were scandalized! The renewal work for them was heretofore easy money; it was a simple annual reminder operation that brought in huge fees for little work. They accused Dad of skimming the cream off their businesses. Many fought back, in some cases by petitioning their local patent offices NOT to accept such payment schedules sent in from foreign offices in New York. However, some savvy patent law offices quietly became clients, preferring to take advantage of the lower fees and passing them along to their clients to curry favor.