Around 5 PM on an early summer’s day in the mid-1960s, Dad finished up his workday in his small suite in the Pan Am Building, towering above 42nd Street in mid-town Manhattan. I stared at him. It was the end of the day, and Lenny, Dad’s Pall Mall chain-smoking secretary, was long out the door.
I was hungry and ready for my supper. But, typically, Dad had just one more thing to do before Miller time (for him, not me). It was always a letter that had to be mailed, a thick fat one. Stuffed full of papers, the envelope sat on Lenny’s desk, already addressed to a foreign patent office. The zip code was an indecipherable jumble of numbers and letters. Festooned with large denomination stamps, the likes of which I had never seen before, this package of computer print-outs and a foreign currency bank draft was destined for the post office. And then some foreign patent office out in the big, wide world beyond!
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.)
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.
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!
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. 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.
It was good to be back at Olcott International despite certain ominous dark storm clouds. And the odd soul grinder.
For one thing, Bob Gerhardt continued to be browbeaten and didn’t seem to like it any more than when I had left him to his fate back in 1986. But still here he was, plodding along in Weehawken.
Bob continued to lead up the development of patent management software. But oddly, there seemed to be more than one software project in motion in what ostensibly was not exactly a Fortune 1000 company.
Bob and my Dad had teamed up together in the late 1980s to create OIPMS, a DOS based application designed to intelligently manage the complete life cycle of patents. These were classic black-screen applications with blinking white cursors. They weren’t pretty but the design was so good that one of my readers here – a patent attorney no less – still uses his copy to manage his portfolio. As this is being written in 2017, that’s saying something!
In April 1992, I had one foot in two worlds.
One foot was planted in the familiar lush flagship Polo Ralph Lauren store on Madison Avenue, a marvel of seductive, dazzling, stylish, and pricey eye-candy. The other was a run-down office precariously hugging a cliff on the anus-side¹ of the Lincoln Tunnel, overlooking the double helix resounding with the roar of vehicular traffic. I dubbed that sound in my post “THE NIGHT IS DARK AND FULL OF TERRORS,” as the ‘soul grinder.’
The first was glamorous, but offered me little future career growth. The second was pretty much its antithesis on both counts (except, sometimes, for the travel).
To aspire to my greatest future potential, I had to risk the crushing of my essence.