HOW TO EXPLAIN THAT YOUR PARENT IS STRANGE

In a midtown Manhattan lawyer’s office in early 1995, I found myself sitting opposite from one of New York City’s sharpest legal minds. I had called Kord Lagemann a week or two earlier and asked for an appointment.  I had some important questions for him.  He had represented my Dad in his legal action (arbitration, actually) against Herby Wellington, the churning stock broker from “Slaminger” brokerage.  Kord had won a million dollar settlement in Dad’s favor, proving that he not only talked the talk but walked the walk.

Kord studied me intently as he lit his pipe. Although dressed professionally, he looked like he had stepped off a ferry at the Aker brygge ferry terminal in central Oslo.  Opening the meeting, I thanked him for his efforts on behalf of my Dad and the family.  After a serene pause, Kord responded that Slaminger’s actions and those of its broker had been clearly abusive and excessive.  He had been happy to help.

Pressing on, I explained to him the reason for my visit. My Dad had recently received a “present” consisting of a brand new red BMW from Herby. And, as a result, Dad had now reopened a stockbroking account with the aforementioned broker, the one that Kord had successfully sued.  Kord showed no reaction as he puffed on his pipe and listened to my concerns attentively.

“You’re right,” he told me, “There is reason for concern.” But there was nothing he or I could do.  Meeting over.  I was stunned.

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BRAND NEW RED CAR

The events recounted in my post last week, “PANOPLY OF SWAGGER, PART 2,” took place in the mid-to-late 1980s. It was a tumultuous time for me. I had finally taken my place in the family business — the one I had grown up in — only to discover that the business that bears my name turned out to be a toxic place for me personally.

Specifically, it wasn’t the business per se.  The work and the employees were cool.  Even Yoshi!

It was my Dad, the founder and CEO, the man I looked up to, who had sadly become erratic and “eccentric.” So much so that, with great reservations, I decided to leave the company and go back to school to earn my MBA.  One market crash later, I found that, much to my shock and chagrin, I was back at the very same company in the mid-1990s. Things had not improved.

Last time, I introduced a character named Herby Wellington, a world famous stockbroker and financial genius of the storied Wall Street firm, “Slaminger.¹”

I suspect that Herby persistently cold-called my Dad until he somehow got through. As a matter of course, Dad dodged such calls, occasionally yelling into the receiver and slamming it down in front of the staff at Olcott International.  Everybody was entertained.  Except, perhaps, for the cold caller broker.

PANOPLY OF SWAGGER, PART 2

This story elaborates on my post, “SCRATCH ON THE POOL TABLE OF LIFE,” and goes on from there.

People who marched to Dad’s doorstep with investment ideas, at first, were either extraordinarily interesting or entertaining.

Take Huntington Hartford, for instance. Though unknown to me, he was the storied scion of A&P. When I met him, I wasn’t aware of this, I thought he was just another eccentric inventor. Apparently, the world is full of them.  Huntington’s investment idea was a tennis-type game he had invented called “tennet.” As recounted in my post, “IN DEMAND, AND THEN NOT,” Dad and I drove to his apartment at the River House on Manhattan’s East Side. I played a game with Hartford (set in a squash court); he apparently made a pitch to my Dad to invest in his game. Dad said no. I forgot about this meeting until many years later, when I started writing this blog.

Ever heard of tennet?

I didn’t think so. Good thing my Dad passed on it.

CHICKEN LITTLE

Above illustration courtesy of Mabel Hill – http://www.romanceroundtable.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/barnesreader07.JPG, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10806723

Chicken Little was annoying for at least two reasons.

For those of you reading this blog from overseas, perhaps you may know this little fluff ball and the associated folk tale as Henny Penny or Chicken Lichen.

By way of review, the story goes like this.  Chicken Little (or Henny Penny) was a chick outside somewhere, probably in New Jersey, when all of a sudden she was hit on the head by a falling acorn.  Her gut reaction was to conclude that the sky was falling and that the king would benefit from a warning of this “fact.”  So, she embarks on an epic journey and persuades all that she encounters that, indeed, the “sky is falling.”  In this way, she is joined by other feathered friends like Ducky Lucky, Cocky Locky, Gander Lander, and so on.

Eventually, the flock encounters a clever fox who listens attentively, and then invites them all to his lair for some refreshments.  This turns out badly as the fox simply latches the door and devours them all.

In some versions, Cocky Locky manages to warn Chicken Little who escapes and lives happily ever after, most likely ending up in an EconoLodge outside Newark.

But I digress.

THE HOLEY LAND, PART 2

Meanwhile, back in Kansas…

After barking orders to Luke and Roy to fix whatever was wrong with the non-working pump jack, Bobby Edwards proceeded to drive me around southeastern Kansas to the other leases.  As it was a half hour to 45 minutes to any of the others, Bobby and me spent the rest of the week in the truck driving around the stark landscape.

Typically, we would arrive at some desolate farmland, turn off the paved road, and then drive around farm roads for a while, with Bobby looking here and there for familiar markers.  Occasionally, we were at risk for getting stuck in the mud in the middle of nowhere.  If the truck started to slip and spin, Bobby would mutter “cocksucker!” in his raspy voice, jam the truck into reverse, slam back into drive, and rock the truck out of the mud.  The mud, thus insulted, would always relent.  (And I survived to write the tale!)

Then, suddenly, Bobby would say, “We’re here!” put the truck in park, and lurch out of the truck.  I would study the outside, quizzically.  Just empty fields, maybe a tree line marking a boundary.  Then I would hop out and walk around the truck to see Bobby pointing downwards at a hole in the ground.  There would be an eight inch well casing or pipe extending several inches up off the ground. Looking down the casing, it would be just a dark hole running towards the center of the earth; the average depth of oil wells in this area would run maybe 1,000 feet.  Bobby would explain how, to start with, these abandoned holes had to be cleaned out due to “kids throwing stones and bottles down them.”  Once cleared and re-drilled to find the oil reservoir, only then could a pump jack and piping be set up to bring up, hopefully, as the Beverly Hillbillies would say, the “black gold.”

The extraction process had not been started for the first hole.  Nor for about 39 others.

THE HOLEY LAND, PART 1

Above photo of Kansas highway courtesy of Erik Trautman

The following Monday morning, I got up a little earlier than usual in my apartment in Yorkville, Manhattan.  I put on a pair of jeans and my Timberland boots as this here urban cowboy was going to work on the oil field for the week.  Well ok, maybe not exactly.  I was really going to be a tag-along on the oil patch.  To be on the heels of the world-famous Jewish cowboy and oil rustler, Bobby Edwards!

I grabbed a cab and directed the driver to Bobby’s place on East 86th Street.  As we pulled up to the awning on Bobby’s building, he was, of course, nowhere to be seen.  We waited as the doorman called up.  “Mr. Edwards will be right down.”  I wondered if everyone’s workweek on the oil patch started this way.

After a few moments, Bobby arrived at the car, huffing and puffing with his suitcase.  “LaGuardia Airport for TWA Airlines, please,” he barked to the driver in his raspy voice as he staggered into the cab.  We were on our way to an 8AM flight to Kansas City International Airport.  “Wait ‘til you see Kansas, kid,” he laughed and coughed.  “Looks just like 86th Street.”

Doesn’t everywhere?

Once at the Central Terminal (which, at LaGuardia, is Terminal B, not C: go figure), I followed Bobby to the check-in counter at our gate.  He slouched up against it and whipped out a money clip.  On one side were several Gold and Platinum ‘Elite’ TWA Frequent Flyer cards.  On the other side were several Benjis ($100 bills).  Bobby winked at me as he addressed the check-in agent while clicking the clip on the desk.  “Hi Linda, how are you this morning,” he said as if he had played doctor with Linda in kindergarten.

benji

“Fine, Mr. Edwards.  How are you?” she said pleasantly if nonchalantly as the printer spat out two boarding passes.  After handing him our seat assignments, we soon took our coach places towards the rear of the empty aircraft.

CHIGGERS AND STRIPPERS

Above: Stripper wells, courtesy of http://www.energyindustryphotos.com/texas_oil_well_photos.htm

East 86th Street figures prominently in The Bernard Olcott Story.  First, my Dad lived on the corner of Fifth Avenue with his second wife and baby, James.  Several years later, he moved further east to Second where he lived with his third wife and baby, Victoria.  (The aforementioned son lived with this growing and eclectic family during summers).

Had you kept going further east, you would arrive at the residence of one Robert Edwards, otherwise known as “Bobby.”  Whereas other residents of Yorkville typically wore suits during the workday, Bobby always looked like he was going to a rodeo.

As introduced in last week’s story, “MR. SWAGGER’S PUMP AND DUMP,” Bobby was probably the most colorful character ever to have enjoyed the select distinction of “Business Partner of Bernard Olcott.”

By the early 1980s, Dad already had experience in investing in oil and gas exploration.  It was one of the best tax shelters in that the entire investment could be written off as an “intangible drilling” deduction.  Then, later on, after you would have drilled for oil, found some (there are no guarantees), extracted it via a pump jack into a tank, and finally have Enron come buy it from you, you could claim it as income at reduced capital gains rate.

Potential problems?  Of course there is always the possibility of a fly in the ointment.