WELCOME TO NEW JERSEY!

It was mid June 1970.  I had just graduated from 6th Grade and had said good-bye to all my friends at Trinity Lutheran School in Orlando (who I never saw again spare one).  It was time to fly up to New York to be with Dad for the summer.

Mom drove me to McCoy Airport in Orlando for my flight up.  When we pulled up to the curb for Eastern Airlines departures, we looked at each other.  “Mom, do you have my ticket?”  She shouted something to the effect that she thought I had it.  We had 30 minutes until the flight left.  It was a 20 minute drive one way to get home.  “Put your seat belt on,” she said to me.  And then she hit the gas, real hard.

Traffic was moving serenely on I-4 that afternoon.  Except for one crazy lady in the brown Mercedes with the “lead foot.”  She drove hard on the left lane, up to the bumper of the car ahead.  She honked and shouted, “move it asshole!”  If asshole moved, she would race up ahead to the next asshole.  If asshole did not move, she would glance over her right shoulder, signal, and then the brown Benz would lurch over to the middle lane and race around asshole.

Not many people drove like that around Orlando.  Mom was the only one who ever honked.  I watched her masterfully maneuver the Benz like General Norman Schwarzkopf in the first Persian Gulf War; over, around, under any obstacle.  We reached our house, I raced inside, grabbed the ticket, and then back again to the car.  She roared down I-4 to chase more assholes down to McCoy.  I made the flight just in time.  I looked at my Mom with pride.  Homegirl could really bring it when needed.

WHAT’S IN A BORDER?

North of the Rio Grande River is a huge expanse of North America divided up into 49 states, 10 provinces, 3 territories, and 1 district.  Just about everywhere, the dividing lines are sleepy affairs.  No fences to block your way.  With a flashlight, you might find a surveyor’s marker under a bush assuming you knew where to look.  Typically, a sign is erected on the “border” welcoming you to the new jurisdiction.  Some places have signs to serve the opposite purpose, that is to say farewell to the hapless traveler.  In the Southern United States, it is possible to see a sign with the information “You are now leaving Bucksnort, Hurry Back!”

Technically, the most severe crossing is the one between the United States and Canada.  When Mrs. Findlay F. Traveler from the US drives over that line, she can expect to be interrogated by overly inquisitive Canadian custom agents eager to ascertain just exactly how many bottles of liquor and cartons of cigarettes are stashed in the trunk.  Any kind of vague answer will trigger an immediate request to pop that puppy open.  A precise inventory will be taken and the requisite CDN $38.50 levy lifted from the traveler’s credit card.  This interrogation is also offered in French as a sucker ploy.  If Mrs. Traveler chooses (poorly) to respond to any question using her middle school French, the agent’s eyes will harden with suspicion and the customs’ duty tagged with a 12% nuisance surcharge.  It has nothing to do with us in the US; it’s related to some kind of internal trauma up there.  It’s best to answer everything in English taking care to ask if the border station has a gift shop where you can buy the moose tee shirt.  Knowing the system thusly, you can be waved through in under 60 seconds.

Driving back into the US on the other hand is a quick passport sniff to insure that you are really from one of the 63 entities mentioned above (or Hawaii and a few other scattered islands).

All of this is relevant to The Bernard Olcott Story because of one peculiar exception to this peaceful patchwork littering the landscape from the Atlantic to the Pacific.  One border where the crossing is associated with profundity from a logistical, emotional, and psychic (perhaps even psychotic) point of view.

THE END OF AN ERA

As related in my post THE BIGGER IDEA (AND ME AS WINGBOY), Dad was slaying it in the late 1960s.  While he was enjoying a very active social life with his girlfriends Kay Kay and the two Jeannies, well, I was probably watching TV back at the apartment, a huge studio in the Peter Cooper Hotel on Lexington at 39th Street, just a short walk from the Pan Am Building.

One of the Public Service Announcements (PSA) running that summer on television featured the song “Get Together” by The Youngbloods.  The PSA was by the National Conference of Christians and Jews.

A KNIFE AND A FORK IN A BOTTLE WITH A CORK THAT SPELLS NEW YORK

Fifth and Madison Avenues around 47th Street in the late 1960s were chock a block with small tawdry electronics stores.  Many of these shops still exist today in midtown.  Now however half of their shelves are filled with NYC tourist gimcrack like tee shirts, license plates, and miniature statuettes of the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty.

But back then, they almost always showcased a device in the window touted to be a “Pocket TV.”  To me it was the Holy Grail of futurism – a television you could keep in your pocket.  As you can see in the above picture, it was about half the size of carton of cigarettes, a little wider.  So technically, it was a completely portable TV, as long as you had a huge-ass pocket and an extra long extension cord.  Another drawback was the teeny screen, about 1½ inches in diameter.  The engineers who designed the thing affixed a magnifying lens to present a bigger image to the eye.  But it should be readily apparent that the tech recipe was overcooked any which way you looked at it.  I’m willing to bet that nobody got rich designing and manufacturing this thing.

At the time, I couldn’t care less about these shortcomings.  Every time we passed by any electronics shop on the way to the Automat or Bohack’s, I could immediately spot one in the window.  I would stop and point at it, just like an Irish Setter at a duck in a pond, and Dad would jolt me out of it, lugging me on towards our destination.  As explained in my post IS NOTHING SACRED?, I was helplessly attracted to any aspect of futurism.  It was in my DNA.

IS NOTHING SACRED?

I always regarded my Dad as some kind of futurist when growing up in the mid to late 1960s (and well afterwards).  As relayed in my post THE BIGGER IDEA (AND ME AS WINGBOY), he took me frequently to the PSI Computing Center on 42nd Street, a space-age looking place filled with refrigerator-sized computers.  Real ones, complete with periodically spinning tapes and blinking lights.  I had seen mock-ups on various science fiction shows on TV of course but there was nothing like the real thing.

If imitation is the greatest form of admiration, then I wanted to be forward seeing and thinking, too.

PIRATES’ WILD RIDE!

Photo courtesy of Victoria Olcott.

By the age of 19, my sister Victoria had seen the world with her mother Graciela Levi Castillo.  She was particularly fond of Italy, and early in the summer of 1982, she debuted at the Ball des Rosenkavaliers in Vienna.  Her mother was a world-class journalist and knew most if not all of Ecuador’s foreign legations from Tokyo to Rio de Janeiro.  Travel was not simply in her blood but in her work as well.  In Victoria’s case, the fruit did not fall from the tree.

There was however, just one small complication in all that itinerary planning.  Because of her mother’s antagonistic divorce from a certain New Yorker, Bernard Olcott, Graciela (not Victoria) was forbidden from landing at any US airport.  Victoria herself was born in New York from an American father.  However, she was spirited away to Guayaquil at the age of 14 months, and had never been back.   When traveling with her Mom, they were obliged to hop over the US and avoid travel hubs like JFK, Miami, or LA.

Even though technically a gringo, she grew up as a local in her native South America.  It must have been strange to have been an American – with a US passport – yet, due to no fault of her own, could not stop off in the land of her birth.  She claims it wasn’t so – to her it was fun!!!  Victoria is lots of kicks!

19 YEARS

My beguiling sister Victoria, with an admirer, sometime in the late 1980s.

As related in my post “Fear and Loathing on Second Avenue,” when I returned to New York in June 1965 for summer vacation, my stepmother Graciela was no longer there.  Dad’s third marriage had collapsed, fully and fitfully, a few months previously.  Her father had broken his hip in Ecuador that January and she had raced down there to be at his side.  From her point of view, what was the point in coming back to New York?

So Graciela became yet another void in my Dad’s life, one of many.  Whether it was the missing family in Lithuania, the Einstein letter, or the mystery of wife no. 1 (the one before my Mom), these black holes of his intrigued me, beckoning me to jump in.  I was learning that my leaps inside were dazzling experiences.

As for the mystery of wife no. 3, Graciela was actually one of two voids; with her on her trip home that winter was my infant sister Victoria.  I could remember her as a swaddling babe in her crib from the year before.  Little did I know that I would not see her again for 19 years!