BOOMERANG RETURNS!

Today the Bernard Olcott story returns to Vilnius, May 1985.  From my post “BOOMERANG THROWN,” you learned that I was in Lithuania for 5 days that year, hunting down my family roots.  The first day was remarkable.

My second day in Lithuania featured an old fashioned get-on-the-bus touristic outing with my Intourist group.  The destination was the town and castle at Trakai, about 30 km to the west of Vilnius.  Built in the 15th century as the home to the Lithuanian Grand Duke, it was considered as the unofficial capital of Lithuania, which, as part of the united Polish-Lithuanian kingdom, stretched from the Baltic to the Black Seas in its prime.  Today the ancient castle is in good condition – for a structure that is 600+ years old – and is scenically located on an island in a pristine clear water lake.

IN DEMAND, AND THEN NOT

Huntington Hartford and Andy Warhol.  Photo courtesy of Vanity Fair.

A couple of weeks ago, one Sunday evening, I was driving back to my home in New York City from Hunter Mountain in upstate New York.  Most of my drive home was spent on the New York State Thruway, the major vehicular artery connecting the city to the state capital, Albany, and then on to Montréal via a continuation called the Northway.

As I approached the New Jersey border (please see my post WHAT’S IN A BORDER) driving southbound, I passed by Schunemunk Mountain on my right and then a succession of some small hills and valleys.  I also drove under a pedestrian overpass where I used to play a silly game with my children; the object of the game was to cross directly over the path of an oncoming car and get ‘run over’ (except, of course, you are on the overpass above).  Small children love this game – the direct opposite of “don’t play in traffic” – as well as parents with the mind of a small child.

Before crossing the border, I passed through a small dreary rural town called Hillburn.  After crossing, the sprawl of suburbanization was immediately palpable.

The last 20 miles took me through the northwest corner of New Jersey.  One of my favorite stops is a well-stocked A&P Supermarket in Allendale.  Not only does it feature a great selection of grocery items at low prices, but also has an unexpectedly good selection of wines.  Like 10 year old Pauillacs, perfect for drinking, which cannot be found in Manhattan (at least not 10 year old ones – damn wine bitches teefed all the good stuff).

To my surprise, I pulled up to see that the familiar A&P moniker that used to grace the façade above the front doors had been replaced by the new name ACME.  A&P, a retail business since 1859, alas, was now defunct.

It reminded me of a strange business investment solicitation my Dad received in the early 1980s.  In this case, I was not the wingman, but the paddleman.  Let me explain.

GLORIA RATES MY T & A!

Above photo by Bernard Olcott

As explained in my post SURPRISE!!!, gosh was I ever!  A new step-mom.  I didn’t really get too anxious about meeting my new step-mom because I didn’t have time – it was to be in 3 days!  Her clothes were in the closet.  She had already traveled with Dad to Brazil and Japan.  Silk wedding gowns adorned the walls.

So Gloria joined our small Olcott nuclear family.  This meant that whenever we went out for a road trip, which was often – and something I continue to do to this day between Québec and North Carolina – I had the pleasure of her company in the car.  Gloria was an excellent conversationalist.  And we tested each other right away.

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.

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.

SOMETHING ABOUT DAD, PART 2: FREE PARKING

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!

YES DEPOSIT AND YES RETURN

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.