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!

A MAN OF LETTERS

Dad was a man of letters.  He loved to write to anybody and everybody.  Whether he was writing to one of the greatest minds of all time (Albert Einstein) or the Chief Patent Counsel of Apple Computers (Paul Carmichael), I was often astonished at the response rate (at least at the onset).

In fact, writing letters was his preferred and (for a while) just about sole marketing tactic for Olcott International in the 1980s and 1990s.  I recall that he really got started by composing a 4 page template on an Olivetti electric typewriter around 1982.  This sample letter, into which he could drop hundreds of names and addresses via mail-merge, was a direct and personal appeal to the Chief Patent Counsels of large corporations, the ultimate decision makers on the customer side.  Dad’s letters would, without much of an introduction, launch into 1) not-so-brief technical descriptions of his helicopter and air conditioning patents, 2) how he pioneered the concept of calendaring and paying patent renewals by computer in the early 1960s, and 3) how the Chief Patent Counsel’s company could save hundreds of thousands of dollars by delegating such to Olcott International.

For the convenience of the reader, I have boiled the letter down into those three sections.  In reality, it was a difficult-to-read, long, rambling, monster of a letter, replete with malapropisms.

FEAR AND LOATHING ON SECOND AVENUE

Storm clouds gather over Yorkshire Towers

Graciela Levi Castillo was Dad’s wife no. 3 – and my first stepmother.  Their marriage was very short, from January 1963 until January 1965.  Only a few memories of her remain intact from the summer of 1964.  You see, in 1963, my folks had just split up and had not yet worked out all the details.  Dad even came down with Graciela to see me in Orlando once or twice.  My Mom tells me she was very gracious with Graciela during those visits; still, it had to have been somewhat awkward with both parents parading their new spouses in front of the other.

What I remember most about Graciela was that she was as kind to me as she was garrulous.  Meaning, she was very, very kind!

In order to start his life anew with Graciela, Dad quit his apartment at 1050 Fifth Avenue (that he had shared with my Mom) and they moved into Yorkshire Towers, 305 East 86th Street, an immense white brick postwar building on the northeast corner of Second Avenue (see above picture).  As a newly completed building in 1964, deals were always available to new tenants willing to move in during construction.  Dad found such kind of bargains to be irresistible.  The new apartment had much of the same furniture as previously with my Mom, so it had an air of familiarity about it.