The events in my last post, “TWO RABBITS, ONE DEAD,” recount the events of one bleak day in January 1995.
Everyone is entitled to a bad day once in a while. If those events of 21 years ago had represented just one isolated blip in the story of a triumphal family saga, it wouldn’t have been that big of a deal.
Sadly, it wasn’t just a one-off but was part of a frequently distressing pattern.
It didn’t start off that way, of course, when I began my career at Olcott International a different January a dozen years before that, in 1983.
As I have written in various posts like “SOMETHING ABOUT DAD, PARTS 1 AND 2” and “HEARTBREAKER,” Dad wanted me to join the family business even though various warning signs made me ambivalent toward the idea. After all, you should always know who your business partners are. If they’re your parents, you don’t need to do a background check to find out.
As an example, I can perform due diligence in my case by asking a few questions:
Read More “BUSINESS PARTNERS”
So after glory on trips away, say in London as described last week in my post “ODD THINGS ABOUT TRIPS,” what was life like back in the office in Weehawken?
The following story sums it up.
One day in January¹ 1995, my Dad and Olcott International CEO Bernard Olcott came down to the second floor, where I was working at the time and insisted to Steve², the lead computer programmer that a granted European Patent be placed in a list (actually, a test database) of payable items as an “EPO item.” Now, please bear with me on the details that follow; they are important.
The problem was, once a European patent is granted and “goes national,” it is no longer payable as an “EPO item” – it becomes payable at each national patent office, like UK, France, or Germany as a British, French, German item or patent. Only as a pending application in the European Patent Office is it payable as an “EPO item.”
Just the kind of distinction Dad loved to make. He prided himself immensely on his profound, perhaps photographic, recall of such details for patent renewals among countries. After all, he wrote the book on patent renewals!
In this case, though, he was oddly off. It was unusual, bordering on the weird.
Read More “TWO RABBITS, ONE DEAD”
A reader commented last week “James, you had a very difficult childhood/teenage. Your father obviously had some issues.”
I disagree with the first statement. Leaving aside the fact that my Dad had divorced and remarried twice by the time I reached my 18th birthday, I think my childhood was often charmed, even privileged. As you can see from my picture in last week’s post “WHEN A CHORE IS NOT A CHORE PART 2,” Dad and I had a lot of fun together.
The Father who took that picture is the man I miss terribly today.
It was only in my later adolescence that ominous signs about Dad became known to me from the new vibrant presence in our lives, Gloria. Like any child, I refused to believe at first that my Dad could have had issues.
Read More “PAYING THE COST”
After a few months at 974 Boulevard East in 1970, Dad found a new location for both his residence and the offices of Olcott International. It was in a triple decker, similar to the millions that form the housing stock of Boston and environs. But unlike the wooden ones in Massachusetts, this was constructed out of gold brick. According to Dad, there were three layers of outer walls. No wolf was ever gonna blow that house down!
It was on Weehawken’s eponymous Hamilton Avenue, the road atop the cliffs. Across the street from the house, the cracked sidewalk and the rusting iron wrought fence gave way to an expansive view of the Hudson River and the west side of Manhattan.
Dad rented the first floor for the office and staked out the top floor, the third, as the residence. The landlord lived in the apartment on the second, sandwiched, as it were, by Olcott rentals.
For years, Dad had rented bachelor style accommodations in New York and then in New Jersey when he moved to 974 Boulevard East. No more. The third floor was like the Taj Mahal in terms of spaciousness compared to the cramped quarters of times past. There were multiple bedrooms, a central hall as well as separate living and dining rooms. As this was the top floor, the ceiling everywhere was gabled into sharp points.
And yes, there was a kitchen! A real one!
Read More “WHEN A CHORE IS NOT A CHORE PART 1”
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.
Read More “THE FINEST ESCAPE!”
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.
Read More “BOOMERANG RETURNS!”
The past 5 posts describe the first of the 5 days staying at the Hotel Lithuania (not to be confused with the Hotel California). In Vilnius, Soviet occupied Lithuania during May 1985. Intermingled in the details were other anecdotes about my stay in Moscow the prior week.
My view out the window of the Hotel Lietuva. The Neris River is in the foreground and the Old Town behind.
For the sake of repetition, my primary purpose in going to Lithuania was to meet my Father’s family, his uncle and cousins. Our roots in this small, little-known country in Eastern Europe was something we shared. Plain and simple.
The author with Eugenija’s son (and my cousin) Vytas. At least I figured out where my curly hair came from!
When I got there, I discovered insights into what exactly constitutes oppression. Some of it boomeranged to hit me in strange ways.
Read More “BOOMERANG THROWN”
Ponary Death Pit (photo courtesy of Juliux from Wikipedia – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0)
Courtesy of my driver Boris and his lead foot, fueled by my Al Green cassette tape, our Russian Volga sedan resumed its cruise down the A4 highway towards my lunch appointment with my father’s family in Varena, Lithuania. We had just survived a traffic stop a few moments earlier where Boris effectively told the zit-faced highway patroller to go fuck himself. The USSR seemed to have a great surfeit of immature officers populating the police, immigration, customs, animal control, and doubtlessly numerous other constabularies.
My very first experience of the Soviet Union the previous week was instructive of this very point. It was upon my arrival into the USSR on an Air France nonstop flight from Charles de Gaulle to Sheremetyevo airports.
It was May 1985, and, as a student of history and world politics, I was excited to be flying into a very different kind of country. I had had some extensive experiences in Europe already, but this, the USSR was to be verily alien. As a kicker, I would be meeting my Father’s family in Lithuania after a week in Moscow.
In preparation for my trip, I read everything I could about Russians (inhabitants of the world’s largest country), Lithuanians (great basketball players), and the Baltics (I would also be passing through Riga, Latvia). Hedrick Smith’s “The Russians” had earned a prized place in my personal library, with dog-ears on the dog-ears.
Read More “(SOUR) LESSON OF HISTORY”