ALPO’S APPEAL

Once in a purple moon, we had a new hire. Like the time I had to (extremely) vet my own replacement, Paul Campo, in 1986.

Do I just train someone who was going to be taking my place and throw him to the wolves?  Many of my readers would be quick to answer, “Yes!”

However, that is a sure way to run low on wolf chow.  I always thought that hurling virgins into volcanos was a much better path to karma.

But I digress.

For the love of Pete, I owed it to Paul to explain or at least give him a brief warning about Dad’s “quirks,” to put it mildly. Even though I had not yet worked in many different work environments, I knew intuitively that bosses don’t typically act like my Dad did normally.

Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of bad bosses out there. The ones that do things behind your back, and then have the nerve to call you “sneaky.” Or the screamers. Or maybe a good boss one day turns bad the next. A good boss will always be happy to discuss anything with you — after all, information is their currency in trade. But what if they deny a meeting request to consider some changes because they “had already discussed it with you.”  Really?  Not so good.

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JOB WELL DONE. NOW STOP!

By 1994, I was not only loading patent data into 3 different Patent Management Systems (“PMS”) – one for DOS, a second for Windows, and a third for Mac – and going on the road to demo them, I was also seeking ways to leverage business trends of the day to the marketing advantage of Olcott International.

However, as my readers well know, I operated under some daunting limitations – I knew that if I went out on a limb in terms of my non-existent authority, I could be subjected to painful rebukes in front of the employees. My last name offered me no protection from the boss; it merely singled me out for extra abuse. After all, the family name didn’t save anybody from getting trolled in Jamaica (Queens, not the West Indies) in the 1920s, 1930s, or afterwards. Not by a long shot.

Getting poorly paid to do little in your job is akin to a short-term stay in a shabby motel room on the outskirts of Hell. You don’t know when or to where they will move you, but you’re sure to like it less.

ENVIABLE PATENTS

As discussed in the comments section last time, the problem with my Mom’s and Grandmother’s “invention” back in the late 1980s was that it wasn’t an invention. It was just an idea, which cannot be patented.

All patents start with one, of course.

Dog waste on the streets of any big city, like New York, is a very special problem in the summer time, when the city becomes a tropical “paradise,” albeit with world-class dining and entertainment, together with daily bus tours.  Before the “pick up after your pooch” laws were enacted some 15 years ago, the heat could “cook” the waste, rendering the streets virtually unpassable to pedestrians. Except for real New Yorkers, of course!

As one reader, or expert, commented two weeks ago, dog waste will naturally decay into dust. But this process can take weeks, which would seem like centuries to New Yorkers. The public interest is to get rid of it instantly. It would be possible, for example, to torch it with flame throwers, but this could introduce new, stranger, potentially unsafe possibilities.

PATENTS, MANAGEMENT, AND PROJECTS

(Not necessarily in that order.)

One day in 1993, my Dad came downstairs to the “computer department” at Olcott International somewhat agitated. He was upset that a function called “Prior Art” was not included in the patent management software. There were plenty of blank looks all around. “Prior Art? What’s that?” and “Why didn’t we know about this before?” were suddenly questions that hung in the air like old party balloons.

“You dumb bastards!” Dad shouted at the programmers. “You don’t know anything about patents!” At least not like him; after all, he was a high priest, a “made” patent attorney.

Bob Gerhardt took a shot at resolving the problem. “Bern,” he grunted as he worked that wad of gum in his mouth, “We can add Prior Art information in the header text field.” Reasonable, that.

Dad shot back, “Is it labelled ‘Prior Art’?” Although his knowledge of software was surprisingly spotty, he knew full well the answer to that question.

Bob grunted again, softer this time, “no.” He was beaten, again.

CUTTING EDGE AND TOTALLY COOL

Astute readers may recall my post, “A MAN OF LETTERS,” from August 2015. One of the points of the story was to explain my Dad’s preferred method of marketing Olcott International in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It wasn’t by way of a sophisticated advertising mix. After all, this wasn’t a service you could promote via highway billboards (not that that qualifies, but never mind).

The market for patent renewal servicing worldwide in countries from Nicaragua to North Korea (yes, there are a handful of foreign companies that register patents in North Korea!) was and still is not so big. It mainly consists of a tiny cadre of people working in large corporate legal (or more specifically, patent) departments. And the person calling the shots in such rarefied zones is none other than a pooh-bah called a “Chief Patent Counsel.”

That preferred marketing methodology referred to above was – wait for it – by direct snail US mail to every pooh-bah you could shake a stick at. He or she received a personally addressed letter through the miracle of mail merges via MS Word. Windows version, natch!

MA CHIGNY SITUATIONS

Battered and shattered, I fell to the canvas floor of my psychic boxing ring.  I had just been fired by my boss for sending a fax on the wrong stationery.  But this wasn’t just any boss.  This one was also my Father!  A total knock out!

The bow-tied referee, with either a halo over his head, or horns — I couldn’t tell which through the fog of broken dreams — stood over me counting to 15.  I couldn’t really hear him through the swirl of emotions pulsating through my head, body, or tendrils.  How exactly was I going to get a new job?  I had already made the supreme effort, by previously leaving this place of temporary employment.  Small businesses are the job creators of America, so the politicians always say.  Gee, I wish they could have created one for me.

Dazed, I made my way back home in the strangeness of an early afternoon.  What do you do when you get home after being fired for faxing a document with the wrong return address?  As a fan of film noir, I knew immediately.  I pulled out the Scotch bottle and poured a finger into a tumbler.  I sat on the couch and took a sip.  It tasted horrible.  I hate Scotch; I only keep this shit around for guests who like to drink it.

Film Noir au Pissoir

Film Noir au Pissoir.  Photograph by Robert Frank.

I sat there, immobile, until my wife got home.  It must have been a surprise for her to find me on the couch, drinking.  “Uh oh,” she said when she walked in, dropping her arms, “what’s wrong?”  She doesn’t miss a trick.

“I had a really bad day at work.”  I have always been fond of understatement.

BUCKED OFF!

‘Twas not all gloom and doom at Olcott International.

Upon my return to the office that spring of 1992, I started hearing odd noises upstairs and soon met Bobby Edwards, the Jewish cowboy. This wisecracker could make Dad laugh endlessly. Soon Dad asked me to get involved with his (minor) investments in the Kansas oil patch.  “PANOLPY OF SWAGGER” recounts these welcome diversions.  I remain grateful to the Jewish cowboy to this day.

Speaking of foreign countries, Japan has always been an important client base for Olcott International. I’ve written a number of posts about how my Dad conquered the land of the rising sun in the 1970s, a country where American culture was imported wholesale, albeit with many local twists.