Dad didn’t have an iPod, of course. But he did have a relationship with music.
When married to my Mom, there was a large wooden cabinet with french legs in the living room that was actually a large monaural speaker. On top was an amplifier which took a while to turn on (see “tubes“). It was connected to the speaker and a record player that had a deep and penetrating plastic-type smell that can only be described as “late 1950s turntable.”
Back in the early 1960s, there was no such thing as a “stereo,” of course, but there were high fidelity home sound systems, or “hi-fi” for short. So Dad had one. And what did he listen to? Well, I went plunging around on YouTube and found four tracks from Dad’s presumptive iPod — if he had one — with which to serenade you!
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!
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.
On November 17, 1949, Bernard Olcott and his dashing first wife Patricia Terry of Larchmont, New York spend the evening out on the town. It looks like the wide striped banquet seating of El Morocco but Pat tells me that no, they only hung at The Stork Club or 21. In any event, this is one of my favorite pictures of Dad, earnest, engaged, and involved. And looking sharp!
Pat was the first of 5 wives and 5 divorces. The next wife was an import, a young lady from Quebec City, Canada, my mother Michele. Number three was another import, this time Graciela from Guayaquil, Ecuador, mother of my sister Victoria. Like Pat’s, that was another short-lived marriage, lasting about 3 years. Dad returned to domestic varieties for the last two. Gloria from Bay Ridge and Stony Brook, Long Island, mother of my sister Blair. And ending with Rosemary from Washington Heights, NYC (and raised in Metuchen, New Jersey). Dad was a romantic, to be sure, but he was worse than clueless after marriage. In fact, there is a strong argument to be made that he was just plain misogynist. For example, he never ever spoke about his own mother, a mysterious lady named “Patricia Regas.” I use quotes because she was a Lithuanian immigrant (like his Dad) and I have no idea about what her real name was or anything. At all. But more on that later.
No matter the routine, things could get crazy. Fast.
Lunch with Bernard Olcott at Olcott International in 1983 followed a familiar routine. At around maybe 11:45 AM, after a few hunger pangs had already hit me pretty hard, I would head up to the top floor, the level that actually connected to the street, and ask if he was ready to grab some lunch. He would typically wave me off for another 10 to 15 minutes while he finished up some correspondence. Finally, he would call me back upstairs. We would then spend another 10 to 15 minutes looking for a pack-of-cards sized contraption holding perhaps 50 keys for the car, the house, the office, the boat, and God knew what else. Oddly they were never in the same place twice. And if not retrieved, well, that would have been the end of the world, as we knew it.
The next part of the routine would be to drive over to the Shop Rite supermarket on JFK Boulevard in Union City, New Jersey. This was located in a bustling area with a huge parking lot in front. However, it was only sensibly approachable from the southbound lane. This presented an engineering problem to Dad, the kind he loved to solve.