PANOPLY OF SWAGGER, PART 1

A big task just fell on my desk, which will take up all of my spare time for the next few weeks.  So it’s back to the repeats.  My next story, THE CALL, is in my head, I just need to find the time to write it.  in the meantime, I will rerun THE PANOPLY OF SWAGGER stories as a sequential series. They are important to The Bernard Olcott Story.

Pictured above, beautiful Stockholm.

Last week in my post “OF GIANTS AND DWARFS” I took you, the dear reader, back to 1966 to meet Lenny the check-forger.  But Lenny turned out to be a mere piker.  Compare him to Herby Fischer¹ – the stockbroker from American Express who churned Dad for over a million in the late 1980s.  Now that guy had a plunger.  A big one.

Strange thing was, after Dad took him to court and won, inexplicably, seeking no one’s advice but his own, Dad reinvested with Herby!  Everyone can get taken once.  But to go back to the same guy afterwards?

But Herby was ultimately not the biggest plunderer.  More about him later.

Neither gentleman made it to the letterhead of Olcott International, my employer as of 1983.  Based on the amount of cash they carried away, however, they should have — at least as cost centers.

Steven Sites¹, however, did make the letterhead.  He was on the famed pantheon of “Associates” thereon.  That meant he was a BIG, the real deal.

Soon after I started my first job, I mean, not simply a first job but one at the family business with Bernard Olcott as CEO, efficiency expert, attorney at law, certified engineer in three states, computer consultant, construction foreman, automotive engine and air conditioner mastermind, ladies’ man, and unfortunately, easy mark, a pudgy man waddled over to my desk on the lower level.  He extended his hand.  “I’m Stevie Sites,” he said.  I recognized the name immediately and stood up.  A giant had graced my stoop!

I told him that I recognized his name from the letterhead and asked him about his accounts.  I had no idea what he was about to tell me.

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?

THE BIGGER IDEA (AND ME AS WINGBOY)

Everyone has a shining moment. My Dad’s bears repeating. He really slayed it!

So Dad got the idea for a fantastic business related to patent filings and infringements, kind of an amalgam between legal and IT but not a legal practice, strictly speaking. As I am able to remember it, he had become friendly with Ed Greer, who was head patent counsel for the Union Carbide Corporation. Union Carbide was one of the biggest chemical corporations of the day and was headquartered in their own magnificent skyscraper two blocks up Park Avenue from the Pan Am Building.

It was a probably a simple matter for Dad to put it together that large corporate patent owners could benefit from some form of computer calendaring.
Keep in mind that a large company like Union Carbide owned a large portfolio of patents. They would initially file patent applications in the home country, USA for Union Carbide. And as they were a large multinational corporation selling their wares everywhere, once the patent applications were accepted here at home, they would then engage in an international filing program elsewhere, typically the largest 15 countries in Western Europe and then Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and maybe Brazil and South Africa to boot.

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?

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?

PANOPLY OF SWAGGER

Pictured above, beautiful Stockholm.

Last week in my post “OF GIANTS AND DWARFS” I took you, the dear reader, back to 1966 to meet Lenny the check-forger.  But Lenny turned out to be a mere piker.  Compare him to Herby Fischer¹ – the stockbroker from American Express who churned Dad for over a million in the late 1980s.  Now that guy had a plunger.  A big one.

Strange thing was, after Dad took him to court and won, inexplicably, seeking no one’s advice but his own, Dad reinvested with Herby!  Everyone can get taken once.  But to go back to the same guy afterwards?

But Herby was ultimately not the biggest plunderer.  More about him later.

Neither gentleman made it to the letterhead of Olcott International, my employer as of 1983.  Based on the amount of cash they carried away, however, they should have — at least as cost centers.

Steven Sites¹, however, did make the letterhead.  He was on the famed pantheon of “Associates” thereon.  That meant he was a BIG, the real deal.

Soon after I started my first job, I mean, not simply a first job but one at the family business with Bernard Olcott as CEO, efficiency expert, attorney at law, certified engineer in three states, computer consultant, construction foreman, automotive engine and air conditioner mastermind, ladies’ man, and unfortunately, easy mark, a pudgy man waddled over to my desk on the lower level.  He extended his hand.  “I’m Stevie Sites,” he said.  I recognized the name immediately and stood up.  A giant had graced my stoop!

I told him that I recognized his name from the letterhead and asked him about his accounts.  I had no idea what he was about to tell me.

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.

FIRST TEST

As I took my seat behind that wooden desk on the lower level in 1982, I began my training at Olcott International.

As discussed in numerous posts, Olcott International operates in a highly specialized field, one that most people do not understand.  My Dad had started his business in 1961 on the back of an advanced (for its time) computer program that could sort patent renewal data.

He offered this service to corporate patent owners that had live dockets of hundreds or thousands of registrations. Most of these required annual payments to maintain their validity. (Patents in the USA follow an extremely odd payment schedule, however).  After the 20th year, the patent would come to term and fall into the public domain, meaning that anyone could read the patent, make the thing (whatever it was), and sell it for a buck.

Generally, whenever I met people socially, and the conversation turned to work, describing this computer and legal-driven business quickly became a problem.  Most people have professions that can be easily pigeon-holed in simple terms, like “banker,” “teacher,” or “forklift driver.” Not I. In fact, it got so tedious for me to explain what I did for a living, I would typically bail and offer up that I was simply the hostess’ psychiatrist. Sometimes, I would even be asked if I was taking on new patients. I always made sure that I was available only on the most unsuitable night.

There are patents for all kinds of things. Some vital, like certain AIDS medications. Many are frivolous, like weird ribbing patterns on a condom. Most are a waste of money, patented by individuals for products with no commercial potential.

On the other hand, successful corporations, eg. Apple Computer, have dockets comprising thousands of valuable, revenue generating patents. Every one of them worth the $2,000 annual cost of renewal (thereabouts) annually in over 100 countries across this beautiful planet.

So what was the essence of my first job with Olcott International? Patents? No!

IS YOUR MEXICAN DIVORCE LEGAL?

Above: A beautiful view of Cuidad Juárez from El Paso earlier this week.  Photo by DLynne Morin.

By mid-1982, Dad’s marriage with Gloria had devolved into crass posturing for litigation in a divorce action.  After all, he had plenty of experience as he had been through this experience three times already.

The first had been 32 years earlier, in 1950.  His newly wed wife, Pat, returned home one evening to their Beekman Place neighborhood apartment.  As soon as she walked in, Bern hung up the phone.  “Who are you on the phone with, Dear?” she asked.  Oddly, Dad declined to say.  It took her a while to find out and it turned out to be her former best friend Connie Richards.   Pat had the marriage annulled within a few weeks via an expedited petition direct to the Vatican.

Dad never told me anything about his marriage with Pat.  Or Connie Richards, for that matter.  I had to find Pat 60 years later to ask her personally.  Remember, she was wife number one and my Mom was only the second.  Does that make Pat a stepmother?  The English language does not have a term to describe our relationship.

In any event, Pat was very annoyed with Bern (and went on to marry four more times herself).

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.