DAD’S REAL WIFE

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.)

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SCRATCH ON THE POOL TABLE OF LIFE

Dad and Chicken Little were both right; the trick lay in the timing and this time, they both hit jackpot!

But, in the end, it had little to do with credit cards.  Instead of a payout in a real jackpot, it was more like a “scratch” on the pool table of life.

The underlying explanation of the 1987 crash was the US dollar.  You see, the greenback had been way too strong for way too long during the mid-1980s and had contributed to record trade deficits.  Meaning, foreign goods were cheap, relatively speaking, and the US was buying all it could get its hands on.  On the other hand, sales of American-made products were getting crushed around world due to the super-dollar’s sky-high value in other currencies.

Even I had been in on the game the previous year, loading up on British clothes with the pound at parity to the dollar.

Anyway, too many people chasing too few goods tends to stir inflation.  To tamp that down, the Fed raised the discount rate by 50 basis points in September 1987.  Equity markets really don’t like that.

Nudging the markets ever more off of a cliff, the Reagan administration made some critical misstatements affecting the currency markets.  In response to the financial news on October 14, 1987 that the US trade deficit had hit an all-time high, bond markets tanked and the DJIA dropped more than 150 points, a record drop.

It had been a long bull market since January 1985, more than 2½ years previous.  The DJIA had more than doubled despite naysayers, like my Dad, Bernard Olcott, claiming that market was gonna come tumbling down.

“Credit card debt!” “Credit card debt!” “The sky is falling!” “The market will crash!”

FALLING SKIES

Last week, I discussed cataclysmic instances of a falling sky.  Once every six billion years or so, you don’t want to be here (on Earth).

In the interest of full disclosure, there are other instances of falling sky which are not quite so universal, but just as terminal on a local basis.  Consider a neighborhood volcano that explodes.  Forget about ancient times like Mt. Vesuvius wiping out Pompeii in 79.  That’s year 79, not 1979.  How about the city of Plymouth, Montserrat in the West Indies (I used to renew trademark registrations here!)?  Founded in the 18th century, it served as the capital of this British Overseas Territory in the Caribbean for over 200 years.  Until it was wiped out by the Soufriere Hills volcano in 1997.  Today Plymouth is a ghost town, population zero.

My favorite “sky is falling” incident is the one that occurred in Peekskill, New York on October 9, 1992.  Earlier that week, a resident of that fair city, 18 year old Michelle Knapp scraped together $300 to buy her first car, a 12 year old used red Chevrolet Malibu.  She must have been excited to drive her prize back home and park it proudly in her driveway.

chevrolet-malibu-1980-1

Introducing Chevrolet’s 1980 Malibu. 

BOUNCE!

Photo above by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Policy Development and Research – Creating Defensible Space, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=803832

To all creatures great and small, anything, and everything, the solution to all of mankind’s issues, questions, traumas, and broken sump pumps was simply “August the 18th (1986).” Up to that date, work had been a long, worrisome slog at Olcott International with CEO Bernard Olcott.

Not only CEO, but also inventor of an entire industry!

Not only CEO, but my Dad who had brought me to the world’s most interesting places!

Not only CEO, but a real employer and engine of economic growth. A killer business! The embodiment of the great promise of small family owned enterprises in the USA!!

Yet an unparalleled brilliance without core beliefs — impossible to follow without getting whipsawed. Even in his personal life. Especially there! A lone eagle who had displayed lots of evidence that he was unwilling to work with anybody.

Someone increasingly distracted by side ventures to the detriment of that main engine of economic growth.  A quick and impatient mind more content to re-shuffle the deck than to manage, guide, dispense real wisdom, and evolve.

A guy who even returned condoms to the Shop Rite Pharmacy because they were too small or “made for midgets.”

DATE OF RECORD

In the run up to August 18th, 1986, the date of record for me, a typical training session that summer with my replacement Paul Campo went down something like this:

“OK, Paul, this is the computer inventory of all trademarks owned by The Wellcome Foundation.”  I put my hand down softly on a large green binder by my side.  Inside were hundreds of pages of green tractor-feed paper held together with white plastic paper ties.

Getting very little on the way of a reaction, I flipped through the pages making a ruffling noise.  “You see, the marks are organized by country.”

Again, no reaction.

Continuing to flip through the sheets, I stopped at one page.  “Here, this page is for Sudan.”

Paul looked lively all of a sudden.  “Dan who?” he asked.  “And I don’t know anyone named Sue,” he added.  A real comedian.

THE LIZARD

Monday, August 18th, year of Our Lord 1986.  That was to be my first day at Columbia Business School’s two week orientation for the incoming class of 1988.  As mentioned last week in “MURPHY AND HIS LAW,” it was to feature a boot camp for Mathematics and gettin’ jiggy with the Hewlett Packard 12c financial calculator.  Although that was the date of reference for me throughout the second quarter of the year – after I was notified of my acceptance in April – I suppose from my point of view the real date of reference for me was Friday, August 15th.  That was to be my last date at Olcott International.

I told Dad over lunch of my acceptance at Columbia.  He took the news quietly.  Why shouldn’t he?  After all, he had asked me to leave the company that past December.  We both agreed that it was important to find a replacement for me to insure a smooth transition.

For this task, Dad avoided placing a Help Wanted ad in the Hudson Dispatch or Bergen Record newspapers, his usual sources for potential office talent.  This time, he went to the Job Placement office of the US Trademark Association and found someone who, like Bob Gerhardt, had his favorite qualification – an actual Juris Doctor degree!  (Something I never had nor lusted after).

OF GIANTS AND DWARFS

Special note: Today is Dad’s 98th birthday!

As related in my last two posts, “THE NIGHT IS DARK AND FULL OF TERRORS,” and “FIRST TEST,” my full-time entry into the family business was marked by both gloom and doom on one hand, and affirmation on the other.

You could say it was a study of extremes. Like my Dad.

The location of the office was, well, anything but standard.  It was close to my home in Manhattan — five miles as the crow flies.  Just across the river, the first stop.

Yet, it was hideous from the point of view of public transportation.  Two subway lines to Times Square; a bus from the New Jersey Embassy (otherwise known as the Port Authority Bus Terminal); and then a quarter mile uphill slog.  This was a tough commute of one hour’s duration, each way.  It was the Goddamn bus that took the longest, inching its way through hellacious traffic to and from the Lincoln Tunnel.  If I could have walked on water, I could have hoofed the whole thing in just about the same amount of time.