Remember that scene from “The Wizard of Oz” where, after the tornado, Dorothy gets out of her black and white bed, walks over to the front door, opens it to find the technicolor scene of Munchkin land?
The moment when Dad and Gloria opened the door was kind of like that for me. As Gloria walked in to say hi, it was very much a wild segue in my life from “On The Waterfront” to “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” complete with sitars playing. Today, I think of that door opening as the transition in my life from ancient to modern times. All memories before, stained in sepia tones. And everything afterwards, vibrating colors! My modern era. After all, I was 13 in 1971. On with the show!
I have written earlier that I knew wife no. 2 best because she was my Mom. Gloria and Rosemary, wives nos. 4 and 5, were modern era experiences for me and I got to know them both very well. Graciela, at no. 3, was way before, owing to both the shortness of their marriage and to my tender years (though I got to know her better later on). But wife no. 1 was always shrouded in mystery to me, until I finally met her on Dad’s 95th birthday.
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.
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.
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.