Dementia is a dreary affair or topic in life, much less a blog.
My readers will appreciate that I have tried to dress it up by adding all kind of stories about nostalgic New York, travelogues on Kansas, Japan, the Bahamas, and Lithuania, multiple marriages, the America’s Cup, and business school write-ups of niche industries.
But dementia remains the overriding issue that I have tried to address in my writings; and I have sought to do so as humanely as possible. It afflicted my Father, after all. I make a point out of capitalizing the words “Father” and “Dad” out of respect for him personally, for the role he played in my life, and for the enormous personal success he achieved in life, surmounting so many challenges.
Yet my Dad succumbed to a crippling illness over the course of many years. At the outset, I reiterate that I had neither special expertise nor basic knowledge of this affliction or of elder-care issues in general. Truthfully, I learned the hard way by surviving a family business, albeit with my insanity intact.
My ‘normal’ was my Dad’s successful international company, the standard by which I judged the world and work environments around me.
I guess solutions to problems make themselves known in the strangest and the most unexpected of circumstances. Like flying mouses.
Take my Dad, for example (or Please!). He had made his greatest escape from his under-privileged origins as a Merchant Marine. Sailor that he was, though, he was not able to elude the imprisonment of old age infirmities. In later life, as my prison warden, I, too, was obligated to escape. I had no choice in the matter but to throw the chair through the office window and climb out.
To put it simply, he was killing me!
The PANOPLY OF SWAGGER series charted both my Dad’s incremental decline and my concomitant exits from Olcott International. In the initial installment, I recounted how Dad started neglecting his beautiful business in the slightest of ways. By shorting one of his top salesmen of his commission. Maybe it was a one-off? Ultimately, it wasn’t. The same thing happened with others, like Bob Gerhardt, in the harshest of ways.
In the second, I regaled my readers with the beginnings of a horned parade of spurious investment ideas beating a path to my Dad’s doorstep. It all started innocuously enough. A table game with Huntington Hartford. Oil drilling in Kansas. But it didn’t stop there. It accelerated whereby Dad got churned for a million by a stockbroker. He had the good sense to sue for his money back. But when he prevailed in court, he turned around and reinvested with the very same advisor!
Tail chasing eats up valuable time.
In the third part, I tried in vain to get my Dad’s eye back on the eight ball. Instead, I was reduced to pleading in his kangaroo court, where the appellate judge was either the cleaning lady or my drug-addicted colleague. By hook or by crook, I did everything I could to draw his attention to where it should have been.
Life goes on. Several months later, on May 18th, 1995, I was in my Ford Escort wagon with Peter Fennel, Chief Patent Counsel of Robinson Proprietary Limited, a new potential client based in Sydney, Australia. He was one of the many leads I had developed from the annual International Trade Mark Association (“INTA”) meeting held every Spring.
Robinson had a medium-sized portfolio of patents to renew in some 35 countries every year. We had sprung up a conversation during the INTA meeting a few weeks earlier and, as it turned out, he was actively looking for an outside service such as Olcott International to outsource his renewal hassles. A couple of e-mails back and forth made clear that he was soon be in New York; he asked “would my Dad and I be available for a meeting?”
Of course! I invited him across the Hudson River for a meeting and then lunch. Peter even brought us a copy of his patent inventory which allowed us to provide a precise quote for all Robinson renewals starting the next year, in 1996.
Dad was his usual uneven self, asking many questions that struck me as needless. Much time was spent on revising the quote simply because, as I surmised, I was the one who had prepared it (which meant it had to be suspect in his eyes). The changes provided zero value added, from our point of view as well as Peter’s.
The end point to this Phase One of the Story will be November 1995. I have been building up to it for 3 years now. We’re just about there. I’ve got one story written, another one started, and the end in sight.
By Jeff Flake, a Republican U.S. senator from Arizona. From the Washington Post today.
As I contemplate the Trump presidency, I cannot help but think of Joseph Welch.
On June 9, 1954, during the Army-McCarthy hearings, Welch, who was the chief counsel for the Army, famously asked the committee chairman if he might speak on a point of personal privilege. What he said that day was so profound that it has become enshrined as a pivotal moment in defense of American values against those who would lay waste to them. Welch was the son of a small prairie town in northwest Iowa, and the plaintive quality of his flat Midwestern accent is burned into American history. After asking Sen. Joseph McCarthy for his attention and telling him to listen with both ears, Welch spoke:
“Until this moment, senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty, or your recklessness.”
And then, in words that today echo from his time to ours, Welch delivered the coup de grace: “You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”
The moral power of Welch’s words ended McCarthy’s rampage on American values, and effectively his career as well.
Reader’s note: I was very flattered by Ned’s guest post last week. I mean, who wouldn’t be? I was compared to some of the greatest minds in human history like Carl Jung and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin!
One bad hangover later, I am not sure I measure up to such greatness. So in the interest of balance, I present to you another guest post, this one by Peter Cammann. Peter’s articles about fishing have appeared in magazines like Field & Stream, Fly Fisherman Magazine, On the Water, Outdoor Life, and Vermont Life Magazine. He is the author of several books, one of which, a fictional work called Slipnot!, also deals with one of my favorite topics, the vagaries of workplace environments.
Peter’s post is a work of nonfiction.
James and I have been friends for about 40 years and we’ve spent (or wasted, depending on how you view it) many fruitless hours together, fishing. One unusually warm day in November, we set out in my canoe on Apponagansett Bay in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, in search of fish, any fish – given how late in the year it was. The tide was coming in and even though there was almost no wind, it took us a while to paddle out beyond the breakwater of the harbor. We found a marker buoy in the middle of the channel and I tied up to it, using the stern line to anchor us.
We’d packed along some small live crabs and our plan was to do a little lazy bottom fishing for tatoug, which are also known as blackfish. These bottom feeding fish are a lot of fun to catch, particularly in the early spring or late fall, when nothing else is really all that active. We rigged our lines with large, galvanized treble hooks, attached the crabs and lowered away.
Ahhh! April flowers. The trees are budding. Boids are choiping psychotically.
Springtime, it’s often said, brings together hopes and promises. Well, why not? April’s the month of my birthday. Sometimes, when the weather is right, the trees bud and bloom in the latter part of the month, right around when I appeared at Mount Sinai Hospital, 103rd Street and Fifth Avenue some 50 (or so) years ago.
Spring in 1992 was an exceptionally golden era for me, especially at Polo Ralph Lauren, a company I never expected to end up in after leaving the family business and graduating from Business School. It was survival by wit, guile, charm, and, to speak plainly, a shitload of style. Ralph made sure of that! And it was often a lot of effortless fun as well!
In addition to my triumph at Polo, several other things were going very well in my life in early 1992.
When I wrote my last story, “CUSTOMER SIZES, PART 1” my first inclination was to regard my encounter with Carl as a curiosity, much in the same way as the one I had had earlier with Elton John (as featured in my story “ARRIVAL”). Carl’s book, Cosmos, was a favorite nighttime read of mine. Pondering other places (and times) in the universe had always sent my imagination soaring.
But halfway in writing this post, I came to realize that Carl’s brief and sudden appearance in my life was much more significant. His was an unexpected voice from the outside, the beyond, on an otherwise dull and dreary night at work. An incoming message far from random chatter that nevertheless pointed the way out of my predicament.
I don’t believe that I am extraordinary or special in this way. I think messages like this bounce around us all endlessly. The trick is in recognizing and decoding the signal. It makes no difference if you do this consciously or unconsciously. For me, I acted on it unconsciously. And only now, 27 years later, I can see the link.
And it all had to do with my flippant comment about running a regression to determine my favorite author’s true waist size. You see: the size of the customer. This is part two.
So in a sense, my second job out of Business School was selling Men’s shirts and ties at Polo Ralph Lauren. As employee no. 6 (just kidding). Nonetheless, I certainly wasn’t limited to Men’s Furnishings. If I had customers who wanted to go upstairs, I could sell them Men’s suits, Ladies’ dresses, even a couch in the home furnishings section on the Fourth floor. In my first week at Polo, I had sold Ladies’ socks and had washed dishes on the Fifth floor, cleaning up after some VIP customers.
But the real story of my life at Polo is in two parts: first, my coworkers. The ones who made the job “effortless.” So today’s and next week’s posts take a complete diversion from my Dad, with whom things had markedly improved, anyway. These reminiscences are truly about paths less travelled.
Remember the long haired gentleman in my post last week “DESCENT INTO RETAIL,” who directed me to Sam when I walked in the store to make my initial inquiry? Turns out he was the First floor manager of Men’s Furnishings, a curiosity named Mr. Hollister Lowe. When I arrived on the First floor to take up my assignment, he looked me up and down and said that he knew “I would be good” for the store.
A few years older than me, Hollister volunteered that if he hadn’t been working for Polo, he would have been a photographer for a Men’s magazine. He was one of the funniest snarks I ever met. We soon got into the habit of goofing on each other, incessantly.
The Fall of 1988 was a troubling, uncertain time for me. Sure, I resented Dad’s fantastic and intriguing family business not being my safe haven. For reasons that well transcended any sense of fairness, I was now nevertheless physically apart from it. It was a brutally hard decision. And now, after the herculean effort of getting an MBA, the stock market crashed on me and the recruitment season at Columbia was a bust. The demand for Wall Street jobs among my classmates and me well outstripped the supply. I was on the wrong side. End of story.
However, my relationship with my Dad was much improved since I had left the company on that infamous “DATE OF RECORD” of August 18th, 1986. My Dad was just one of those people who needed to tie people up to a whipping post so he could lash the poor slobs constantly. It’s kinda like our President; he is almost lost if he doesn’t have Hillary as a constant target. (Incidentally, I am struck by how she has disappeared from public view. Maybe former President Obama can pitch in?) Over the years, I have known a few people like this. Do they realize what they do? I am not sure. In my case, leaving Olcott International effectively removed me from the line of fire. That sure worked for me as I had long come to tire of spitting out lead.
So this is the tale of my descent into the retail wilderness. I became a “Polocaust” survivor. Let me explain.