CHANGE AND REBOUND

Life is not easy. We all have problems-even tragedies-to deal with, and luck has nothing to do with it. Bad luck is only the superstitious excuse for those who don’t have the wit to deal with the problems of life. ”
Joan Lowery Nixon, In The Face of Danger

Problems?  Yeah, I had a few.  But let’s be real.  My weird situations are nothing compared to many suffered by others.

Consider Denne Bart Petitclerc, journalist, author, producer.  When he was 5 years old in 1934, his father took him to downtown Seattle to admire the holiday decorations.  Stopping in front of the giant Christmas tree, his dad told him to “watch the angel (on top of the tree), I’ll be right back.”  He didn’t return.  He left his child there, abandoning him to be an orphan in the December night.

At least I had a Father to love, to admire, to tell me funny stories, to join in the family business, and then to, maddeningly, watch as he withered away.  There were many good years, regardless.

I think we’ve all had pivotal moments like that, when everything changes.  Today’s story, a repeat, is about my night when the sky was darkest, and most unfamiliar.  Merry Christmas and don’t forget to count your blessings (and not boobies)!  

In the spring of 1962, I turned 4 years old. Mom and Dad were living at 1050 Fifth Avenue and Central Park was my playground. In the evening, I would play in my room and when I heard the door open and Dad enter the apartment, I would thrust myself down the stairs, yelling “Daddy, Daddy!” One time I came down the stairs so fast, I tripped and fell. I arrived at the bottom in a tumbled mess.

My Dad would have a seat on the couch, maybe after turning on the hi-fi or plopping the Four Lads on the phonograph. Mom would serve him a Rheingold. “What’s that?” I asked. “Beer,” he said. “Can I try some?” “Sure.” I did, it was not to my taste.

I was oblivious to the fact that the marriage of my Mom and Dad was finished.

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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 INTERSECTION

On West 44th Street in midtown Manhattan, a few doors down from the Harvard Club, stands a stately landmark building.  Designed by the architectural firm of Warren and Wetmore – the same team that did Grand Central Station – the façade features both Beaux-Arts and nautical styles.  Three magnificent windows to the left of the entrance are crafted to resemble the sterns of 18th century galleons.

Lights pour in through those windows to illuminate one of the most curious chambers in the metropolis.  It’s a grand room where more than 150 years of sailing history is preserved.  Specifically, the main exhibit documents the competition for the America’s Cup sailing race from the first event in 1851 up to the present.  In each regatta, a replica of the American boat, known as the defender, (from the New York Yacht Club up until 1983) is presented alongside the main competitor, the challenger, always English (at least at the beginning).  The determining factor for the victor is not indicated but is usually visible.

As long as you know where to look.  Dad did.

MY DAD INVENTED THE INTERNET

Well, not exactly.  But he did, in the 1950s, come up with the idea under which a majority of equity and debt trades today are effected in current financial markets.  Not that the markets followed his proposal at the time.  Far from it.  But with this idea, my Dad did actually see around the corner.  Let me explain.

Dad was essentially an inventor at heart.  This is what engineers do, conceive of new things. As People’s Exhibit No. 1, consider the following work:

Motor Design Cover

This is the cover of a treatise entitled “Motor Design.” It was his final project for his first year at Cooper Union.  Dated May 18, 1938, it concerns engines for boats.  Of course boats!  What else would a waterman write about?

LAST CALL FOR EDWARD

Sun.  Sea Spray.  Hull smashing through rows of swells.  The ship’s deck heaving from and dropping into an endless parade of oncoming waves.  Turn your face towards the sun and catch a million dancing reflections on the water glistening back at you.

If you’re on a sailboat, there is no engine noise, just the sound of wind blowing through your hair.

Both Olcott brothers were watermen, even though they were descendants of the landlocked Dzūkija region of Lithuania.  I am a waterman too, raised on many afternoons of sailing on Shinnecock Bay, Long Island during my young summers in the 1960s with my Dad.

However, by the age of twelve, I had discovered a simple way to elevate the pleasure and excitement of wind, sea, and waves.  Instead of being on a boat in the water, how about doing away with the boat?  Watch sets of giant waves roll in while at sea level, exactly.  Body surfing.  Maximum exposure.  If you could time and catch them right, you could slide down a crystal slope while the tube of water breaks above and behind you.  The payoff is maybe eight seconds of pure exhilaration that seems to last perhaps up to half an hour.  You’ll never forget the view of giant slopes of water marching towards you, with the last wave looming higher over the others.  That last one, with the face of the sun sparkling back at you, will be the wave you want.  And sometimes, it will take a fair amount of courage to try to pick off that last wave, the king of the set.

But this was me in the water, maybe 30-50 yards away from the shore.  Both my Dad and his Brother crossed the oceans – what about seeing rogue waves 3,000 miles offshore?  I shudder to think what they must have gone through.

BOOMERANG IN THE AIR FROZEN

 

This blog ostensibly concerns my Father, Bernard, who passed away in 2006.  But I take many diversions along the way.  Today’s post is mostly about his 2nd wife, my Mom.  She is a spry 83 year old woman who brags about her ability to walk around the parking lot in front of her Assisted Living Residence “23 times” every day.  She is very specific about that number.

OK, so what do you do with your aging Mother when you bring her home for the weekend?  In my case, I take her for long walks.  Makes sense, right?

This past Sunday, I brought her and my cousin, Lise (visiting from Quebec City), for an excursion to the Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island.  It’s a stunning modern memorial to, in my opinion, the greatest President of our Republic.  Our very own Great Leader, the handicapped patrician who led our country through its darkest hour to supreme victory and ascendancy to superpower status, militarily, economically, and culturally.  FDR.  Now we have a Washington, DC-style monument in his honor, right here in the middle of the East River.

MING AND DARTH

Aside from World War II and the War of the Worlds broadcast, there were other haps in the 1930s and 1940s that informed my Dad’s interests and personality.  For example, as he told me numerous times, his favorite comic strip of the era was Flash Gordon.  Flash was big at the time.  Dad loved Flash so much, it was even his college nickname!

As I reviewed the original comic strip in preparation for this post, I was struck by how much it resembles Star Wars of my generation.  The action takes place on the planet Mongo, locale of kingdoms like Arboria (forests) and Frigia (ice).  Kings and Queens galore!  And the villain?  A bad guy with interesting headwear!

Ming the Merciless

Meet Ming the Merciless!

When looking at the above image of Ming, I am not sure if Darth Vader was ever so similar a lady killer.  Well, the young Jedi Anakin certainly was, in the prequels.  Unfortunately, he lost his man parts — GOP Presidential candidates please take note — on the lava planet (or moon, whichever) after losing the sword fight to Obi Wan.

On the other hand, what Flash didn’t have was the tiresome drama of Luke and Leia playing “who’s your daddy?”  Who needs parents anyway?  That’s right, you heard it asked here on the Bernard Olcott Story blog!