THE HEIGHTS OF THE HELIPORT

Today, we’ll set the way-back machine to 1965 when I was 7 years old.  My Dad had recently moved into the brand new Pan Am building (today the MetLife Building), his first year sharing space with the Taylor, Scholl, Ferencz, & Simon Law Firm in Suite 3219.  He would move to his own suite the following year.

I have written previously how I marveled at the modernity of the Pan Am building – to me, it was a vision of the future, please see my post DAD’S REAL WIFE.

Feast your peepers on the opening picture above.  Today’s story is about helicopters.

One of the most notable aspects of this building was the roof, which was completely flat except for a small enclosure housing the staircase down to the access gate and lounge.  As Pan Am was the owner, they had an innovative use for that real estate – a working heliport to ferry first-class passengers from midtown to JFK Airport!  Is that completely cool or what?  More lubricating than the switch downstairs from the Lexington IRT Express to the Local, right?

WORKING BIRDS AND THE MASTER FISHERMAN

For your Thanksgiving feast today, let me regale you with a story about working birds, not the ones you eat, but the ones that bring you food.  My Dad liked it when people were working.  This apparently applied to birds, too.

He often described to me his visits to Japan and the marvels that he was privileged to witness there.  Obviously, these trips reached him on some deep level.  Looking back, I can piece together several of these sojourns to the land of the rising sun, based on memory and souvenirs.  In my post last week HE WAS RICHLY STUNNED, I recounted how the currency exchange clerk followed him back to his hotel to refund him 50¢ in overcharges.  Dad was not the only one who was touched by his experiences in Japan – Gloria was too, and I will circle back to her at the end of this post.

The Japanese have a custom where they give each other small presents or keepsakes on the occasion of significant meet-ups.  It denotes respect and dignity for the relationship in a culture that is not outwardly expressive of such emotions.  Once, for example, while I was working at Mitsubishi International, my boss’ boss took a personal vacation to Mexico.  On his return, he presented every member of the entire department staff – including me – with a small bottle of Mexican hot sauce.  In fact, the verb in the Japanese language “to give” is hardwired to imply that one gives upwards to the receiver (ie., the giver is small).  Likewise, when you receive a gift, it is understood that you are receiving down (ie., the opposite, the receiver is small).  Harmony and grace are the operative assumptions of a culture where the population is crowded together in large cities and personal space is minimal.

HE WAS RICHLY STUNNED!

There was a knock on the door of a guestroom at the New Otani Hotel in the Kiocho district of Tokyo.  It was early 1971 and Mr. and Mrs. Bernard Olcott were relaxing on their first full day after arriving the day before from JFK.  Dad had just come back to the room.  He had gone downstairs to exchange $80 into yen, the local currency.

“Were you expecting anyone?”  Gloria whispered to Dad.  He shook his head and wandered over to the door.  He had brought Gloria with him to Japan as part of his 1971-72 world tour to roll out his new wife (number 4).  See my post THE BALLAD OF BERN AND GLORIA as to exactly how I had been informed of the new marriage.

There was another quick rapping on the door.  Dad hastened his pace and opened it to see a diminutive bespectacled middle aged woman, bowing profusely.  “Yes?”

She rattled away in Japanese, and with more bowing, gave him a receipt and 60 yen in coins (worth less than 50 cents).  Dad recognized her as the lady at the counter at the Bureau de Change, where he just been not more than 20 minutes ago. 

SURPRISE!!!

It was early summer 1971.  School was out.  Time for my annual flight from Orlando to New York, uh, I mean New Jersey.  I rode the plane up North like a nice person (as usual).  Disembarked at the brand new terminal at Newark Airport.  Ran into my Dad’s arms.  We got into the car.  Everything normal.

“How was your flight?” Dad asked as he tried to merge into the right lane, some angry driver honking furiously.  I looked to my right to see a cobra-faced man spewing venom in the car next to me.  Reflexively, I turned my gaze away, out the front.  A flock of New Jersey state birds let loose and took to the skies.

“Great,” I lied.  Seventh grade had been a tough year at Trinity Prep School, my new school that year.  What exactly had been “great” was that it was summer vacation and it was over.  On the last day of class, everybody had tossed their books to Hoe Brown, the class beast, who manually tore up each one into several strips of paper.

“How are things with you?” I asked.

Dad grinned.

He ignored my question and said, “I have something to tell you.” He looked at me for a moment.  We had survived the merge okay and were headed northbound on the New Jersey Turnpike, toward the glistening swamps and after that Weehawken.

SOMETHING ABOUT DAD, PART 2: FREE PARKING

Above from left, my Mom, Gloria, and I.  Graduation Day at Tufts, May 1980. After everyone left the next day, I fell ill with German Measles and stayed in Somerville for a week to recover.

During Christmas break in 1979, a trip was planned to the family houseboat, which was permanently moored at the Hurricane Hole Marina, under the Paradise Island Bridge on Paradise Island in glistening Nassau, the Bahamas.  I had never been there before but had heard a lot about it from Gloria and Dad so I was looking forward to going.

A day or two before, Gloria went to the Shop Rite supermarket in less-than-glistening Union City, to shop for groceries to bring on the plane to the Bahamas.

“What?!  Bring groceries on the plane?  Are you sure we need to do this?” I asked.

She assured me that supermarkets in Nassau were both terrible and overpriced.  And this is what they had done on previous trips.  I suspected that this was my Dad’s idea but anyway she seemed to be completely on board.  I tried to imagine what a terrible supermarket looked like and immediately thought of Shop Rite.  Could it be any worse?  Besides, I was weirded out with the idea of lugging brown paper supermarket bags filled with chopped meat and such onto the plane.  This was just about the turning point when airplanes came to be thought of as buses with wings.  And board that flying bus we did, complete with our groceries from Shop Rite!

SOMETHING ABOUT DAD, PART 1: THE ZINGER

Above from left, Dad, Addie, Uncle Ritchie, Me, and Gloria in the late 1970s.

1979 and 1980 were seminal years.  I was a senior in college and it was time to contemplate a career.  Of course, I had no idea what it was I wanted to do.  My roommate Dan, on the other hand, was feverishly interviewing at Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street firms.  He ultimately scored a great job and is now in charge of some place like Europe.  But for me, all I knew is that I wanted “something international” but was undecided between the public service arena (like the Foreign Service or the United Nations) or international business (I would land my dream internship at United Nations within 2 years to try it out).  My Dad had made many off-handed remarks to people over the years that I was to join him at Olcott International and “take it over.”  I think I was 6 the first time he said that to someone in my presence.  So I had grown up with this as a possible notion.  But now at 21 years of age, I was suddenly ambivalent.  There was something peculiar about Dad.

Over the last few years, things had changed between my Dad and his 4th wife Gloria.  When I first met Gloria in 1971, I was 13.  I was hardly mature but I could tell that they seemed to be happy together and the Olcott household was a cheerful one.  Gloria was funny, with it, traveled with Dad to Brazil and Japan, and even wrote me a poem for my 14th birthday, dedicated to me as the “stalwart lad.”  On top of that, they left me a stash of Playboys in my bedroom, though Gloria removed certain issues she felt were too racy.  It certainly seemed that just maybe Dad had turned a corner from 3 failed marriages and that the future was going to be more stable.  Hope had sprung eternal.  After all, Hope was Gloria’s middle name.