CRASHES NEXT TO ROOM 31

Today, on tap for you is a repeat, my number one post from last year.  Please do continue to look under those motel mattresses, if you are a road warrior.

Crashes were not always relegated to software programs. Sometimes I experienced other kinds.  And they often happened close to the office.  Or next to scary places nearby.

In late spring 1994, Dad and I made a marketing call to a potential client without Bob. It was a major telecom company based in northern New Jersey, about an hour’s drive from Weehawken. The prospect was already running one of our competitor’s patent management systems, and wasn’t looking for a change. Rather, this was going to be a straight-up discussion about annuity payment services, right down Dad’s alley.

After some preparation, we plunked down inside my Dad’s lobotomized Mercedes Benz and traced our way to the company via the Garden State’s ribbon of expressways as guided by a crusty folded highway map.  As mentioned in my post “HIS NAME WAS BOB GERHARDT,” Dad had a method of increasing gasoline efficiency in automobile engines. It involved disabling multiple cylinders within the engine based on the simple premise that each cylinder is a source of fuel consumption and combustion. If you can shut them off, you will consume less fuel.

What could be simpler?

CRASHES NEXT TO ROOM 31

Crashes were not always relegated to software programs. Sometimes I experienced other kinds.  And they often happened close to the office.  Or next to scary places nearby.

In late spring 1994, Dad and I made a marketing call to a potential client without Bob. It was a major telecom company based in northern New Jersey, about an hour’s drive from Weehawken. The prospect was already running one of our competitor’s patent management systems, and wasn’t looking for a change. Rather, this was going to be a straight-up discussion about annuity payment services, right down Dad’s alley.

After some preparation, we plunked down inside my Dad’s lobotomized Mercedes Benz and traced our way to the company via the Garden State’s ribbon of expressways as guided by a crusty folded highway map.  As mentioned in my post “HIS NAME WAS BOB GERHARDT,” Dad had a method of increasing gasoline efficiency in automobile engines. It involved disabling multiple cylinders within the engine based on the simple premise that each cylinder is a source of fuel consumption and combustion. If you can shut them off, you will consume less fuel.

What could be simpler?

YES DEPOSIT, YES RETURN

While I am busy writing my next story “PAIR OF DEUCES,” I offer up my very first post, written 3 years ago.  In fact, you can find it if you scroll all the way to the bottom.  I’m not sure if many readers do, so here it is.  It’s an amusing story about my Dad and some business he needed to conduct at Shop Rite one day in the 1980s.  I never saw this coming.  Not in a million years.  Hope you enjoy it!

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.

MR. SWAGGER’S PUMP AND DUMP

Although my office was on the lowest of three levels, during that first year on the job, I would occasionally hear strange noises filtering down from the top floor. Often these indistinct sounds would mimic fanciful imagery like, I kid you not, cattle rustling with an occasional hoof stomp. Other times, the herd would be in full stampede. A cowboy could be heard running after them, shouting and hacking from a bad cough.

Quick reality check: the office was in Weehawken, New Jersey with a glorious view of the Manhattan skyline and the giant double helix of the Lincoln Tunnel. The latter emitted the roar of machinery, the giant soul crusher as featured in my post “THE NIGHT IS DARK AND FULL OF TERRORS.” It was very far from Marlboro country, campfires, and cowboys yodeling ah-hee-ho!”

The bumps, shouts, and herd noises were discordant and weird.  What the fuck was going on up there? Sometimes, I would climb the stairs to snoop around. At first, doors would be closed as soon as I reached the top. Sometimes, I could see out of the corner of my eye,  through a partially open door, something resembling a nose, or maybe some wrinkled skin. It was as if the stable master had asked the illegal stallion to settle down in his stall so as to hide from a passerby.

Nose and wrinkled skin? Was Dad hiding an elephant from me? Wouldn’t it fall through the floor of our ramshackle building?

OF GIANTS AND DWARFS

Special note: Today is Dad’s 98th birthday!

As related in my last two posts, “THE NIGHT IS DARK AND FULL OF TERRORS,” and “FIRST TEST,” my full-time entry into the family business was marked by both gloom and doom on one hand, and affirmation on the other.

You could say it was a study of extremes. Like my Dad.

The location of the office was, well, anything but standard.  It was close to my home in Manhattan — five miles as the crow flies.  Just across the river, the first stop.

Yet, it was hideous from the point of view of public transportation.  Two subway lines to Times Square; a bus from the New Jersey Embassy (otherwise known as the Port Authority Bus Terminal); and then a quarter mile uphill slog.  This was a tough commute of one hour’s duration, each way.  It was the Goddamn bus that took the longest, inching its way through hellacious traffic to and from the Lincoln Tunnel.  If I could have walked on water, I could have hoofed the whole thing in just about the same amount of time.

THE NIGHT IS DARK AND FULL OF TERRORS

“What did he fear? It was not fear or dread. It was a nothing that he knew too well. It was all a nothing and a man was nothing too. It was only that and light was all it needed and a certain cleanness and order. Some lived in it and never felt it but he knew it was already nada y pues nada y pues nada. Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada. Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada; pues nada. Hail nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee.”

-Ernest Hemingway, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”

In 1982, Dad was suing Gloria for divorce.  Or more accurately, he forced her to sue him.  As the defendant, he and his lawyers threatened her with an illegal prior divorce and effectively slaughtered her (see my post last week “IS YOUR MEXICAN DIVORCE LEGAL?”).

During that Fall, I started working at Olcott International part-time, one day a week, on Fridays, when I had no classes at Columbia University’s Graduate School of International Affairs (SIA).  It was the last in a string of temporary or part-time jobs held down since my last year of college in 1980.

As a college senior, I created a job for myself as an organizer for Teddy Kennedy’s presidential campaign in 1979 and 1980.  Teddy didn’t win, as you recall.  Then, I worked as the New York State College Coordinator for John Anderson’s Presidential campaign in the Fall of 1980.  John didn’t win either.  Later on, at SIA, I had summer jobs at Société Générale and the United Nations.  Great experiences all.

John Anderson

The highlight of my experience in John’s campaign was when he took the time to call me one day to thank me for my efforts.

But now Dad had offered me full-time employment at Olcott International starting January 1983.  This was to be my first time working in a job for a paycheck.  To be supporting myself like a real person.

As mentioned in previous posts, I had my reasons to be nervous.  The puffed-up title of Assistant Vice President did little to assuage my concerns.

PAYING THE COST

A reader commented last week “James, you had a very difficult childhood/teenage. Your father obviously had some issues.”

I disagree with the first statement.  Leaving aside the fact that my Dad had divorced and remarried twice by the time I reached my 18th birthday, I think my childhood was often charmed, even privileged.  As you can see from my picture in last week’s post “WHEN A CHORE IS NOT A CHORE PART 2,” Dad and I had a lot of fun together.

The Father who took that picture is the man I miss terribly today.

It was only in my later adolescence that ominous signs about Dad became known to me from the new vibrant presence in our lives, Gloria.  Like any child, I refused to believe at first that my Dad could have had issues.