A good manager, honorable salesman (my father)
"We never close deals, we open accounts." (RMcC)
As I have written elsewhere here, my parents did not know how to raise me. Their ignorance had consequences for myself and for them. However, my father, Robert Hubert McCormick, was a man of integrity, who did the best he could in his life. He was also intelligent (I.Q. 120?), at least as intelligence was ranked in a world in which not everybody's children were at least SAT "semifinalists" (that's a small exaggeration), like IBM Research.
My father "came from nothing". I know much about my mother's family of origin, and knew many of them. They were mostly hard working blue collar persons of Christian Polish extraction, including a gentle man, a tool and die maker ("Uncle Pete") who died by roadkill near his home, and my Uncle Isadore who invented the "star and bars". When I contacted another uncle, Walter, he began the conversation by telling me he had just finished making his first $1,000,000 and was on his way to making his second, and that, if they finished college, each of his children received a Lincoln Continental. He made his money by hard work, not by deal-making. I also seem to recall being told that my maternal grandfather, Victor Znamirowski, a carpenter whose physiognomy reminded me of a stereotypical Neanderthal and who died a terrible death from colon cancer, was a son of a mayor of Karkow, who had been shipped over here because he was incorrigible. My maternal grandmother was from peasant stock; she mailed with persons back in the old country.
I know almost nothing of my father's family of origin, because he was ashamed of them. I only knew about, and several times met, an exception: his younger brother, Charles, whom, as a child, when he [Charles] fell out of a tree, my father, then also a child, was the person who took him to the hospital. Charles was a one-armed non-CPA State of Maryland civil servant accountant, who was thrifty enough to retire young, and who did all his own maintenance on his base model, to me the only truly beautiful beautiful car I ever rode in, manual transmission Porsche (1960), which he raced in local road rallies. I was told my father had to go to court when his father sued him for support because he [my father] earned good money (did the man try to blackmail my father? I believe Yes); the case was decided in my father's favor.
As a youth before "the War" (World War II), my father worked in a [lead] paint factory. After the war he worked for many years as a paint salesman for the same company, H.B. [H for "Harry", B for "Braithwaite"] Davis Paint Company of Baltimore Maryland ("Pure paint products"). He earned promotion to Sales Manager, and eventually to Vice President of Sales, although I believe he ultimately lost that title thanks to our then incipiently rabid economy, in which "Davis Paints" merged with the Seidlitz Paint Company of Kansas City, Missouri which became ConChemCo (Consolidated Chemical Coatings) and that later merged with or was eaten by -- I don't know which -- Valspar. My father died, despite treatment at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, from liver cancer, aetas suae 63/64 ("Death of a Paint Sales Manager").
In any case, the picture above is from pre-Valspar days. My father rose fairly high. Item: He was a member of "The Center Club", a private restaurant on the top floor of the only Mies van der Rohe building in Baltimore. When programmers were still required to wear ties to work (miraculously they always allowed me to have my beard, although I still had to keep my hair cut short), I wore my father's hand-me-down Countess Mara ties. He gave me numerous of them but I only wore two or three, which were to my mind beautiful. I wore them until, worn by me to threadbare, they wore out. My father also kept a jar of "carbon tet" (tetrachloride) to clean his ties. I did not like it at the time; thinking of it now "gives me the creeps".
My father rose far above his origins. But he never rose so high that he was not able to give a person "below" him a hand up. "His men", i.e., the salesmen he managed, almost(?) adored him. For at least a couple of them, after his death, he was a legend ("paint salesman extraordinaire"...). One of his salesman was stricken with early-onset probably idiopathic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), a pathology similar to what would later be called "Mad Cow Disease". I do not recall the details, but I also do not recall my father abandoning the man (Sherman White). When my father did have to fire a salesman for incurable non-performance despite his efforts to help the man, it pained him.
During my school summer vacations, my father sometimes took me with him. I had to occupy myself during the day while he worked. I got to fly on pre-Jet Age commercial planes, including at least one DC-3 which flew through stormy darkness to successfully land at name-forgotten West Virginia airport. I recall one day, in the lobby of a hotel in Jacksonville, Florida, my father came back from work with his Florida salesman, who smoked cigars. I made a comment to the man. I don't recall how it began, but it ended: "A fire on one end, and a fool on the other". He "swallowed" that.
Back to Countess Mara. Because he came from nothing, my father always dressed well. I seem to remember the names of the brands of suits he wore (Hickey Freeman? Walter Morton? Oxxford?), but the following vignette will provide an index. After Davis merged with Seidlitz, the three Seidlitz brothers (who fancied themselves to be small-time Kennedy brothers) sent one of their employees (stoolie?) to manage my father. Joe C. Huntoon, a Texan who vaguely looked to me like Lyndon Johnson. My father told me about a salesman at Siedlitz who got promoted to Sales Manager because he was earning too much money [from commissions] as a salesman and they could cut his pay by the promotion.
My father wore expensive clothes but never talked about them. One day Mr. Huntoon ventured to ask my father about his suits. He [JCH] wore, I believe, Robert Hall suits ("We're saving on clothes for Christmas, at Robert Hall this year.... Robert Hall, this season, will show you the reason: low overhead, high qualitee"), which probably sold for <= $100. Embarrassed, my father did not lie. He [my father] told him [his boss, JCH] the brand and maybe even the price, which I think was about $400/450 (this would have been no later than the late 1960s). As I have said elsewhere here, my father paid my full Yale tuition ($4,000 per year). I'm not sure he ever graduated from college, but by projective identification he went to Yale, and hung my [by him well framed] diplomas on his office wall. (I had two diplomas: one for the B.A. degree, the other for "departmental honors" in Philosophy.)
As the Virginia Slims cigarette ad said: "You've come a long way, baby...." My father did not smoke.
On the home front
My mother was probably an ambulatory schizophrenic, who died of alcoholism + anorexia just before I went to college because that impending event would have removed her last/only reason for living. My father's "territory" as a salesman was Virginia. My mother drank Virginia Gentleman bourbon. Once, when we lived on the ninth floor of a nice high-rise apartment building, my mother threw a lamp at my father and the lamp went out the window on a Galilean trajectory. When I was a teenager, my mother forbade me to pick my facial acne; only she was allowed to pick my pimples, which she would do upon my coming home from school. My childhood was sick. When once I asked my father about putting my mother in a mental institution, he silenced me by explaining that he only had enough money to send me to Yale or her to the hospital. (Note: My mother also had innate artistic/drawing talent, which I seem not to have inherited, and which she was unable to productively deploy/employ due to lack of education, lack of "connections", etc.)
Oops! After writing the paragraph that follows the present paragraph, I suddenly remember I had repressed my father's second wife, who, born and raised in the Punxsutawney Pennsylvania of groundhog fame, during World War II, saw her chance to escape by going to Washington (D.C.) to work (job unknown to me) and marry "up". One of her first husband's children was in my prep school class but he left before our senior year to reverse-snobbishly and with max PR attend a Baltimore City public high school; he was also in my class at Yale. The first husband himself came from money but was determined to prove himself; he died of a heart attack on his day of graduation from law school, on the law school steps, if I recall aright. The woman, after marrying my father, apparently decided he was "beneath" her, and she constantly berated him unto divorce. I seem to have heard she subsequently married a short of stature funeral home owner one of whose children had been a not shining light in my prep school class.
After I was in college -- scratch that: After divorcing from his second wife, my father remarried again. He was a handsome man, who had some choice of "ladies", including one I liked, Virginia Nestor, who worked for the telephone company in Roanoke Virginia. Another option was a woman who was a close friend of "Braith" Davis's wife, who owned a liquor distributorship in Savannah Georgia, who was OK by me even though she drank too much.
But he chose a woman I did not like and who did not like me, Melva. She did, however, both take good care of my father, including nursing him during his terminal cancer, and also take good care of their investments. She had a job as bookkeeper in a small-town but fairly big-time advertising agency some of whose clients were Republican politicians. The last time we met was over his hospital bed, when we agreed on one thing, namely, that the doctor should give him sufficiant medication to make him comfortable that night. Somehow I missed a phone call from the hospital, and went there the next morning to find in "his room" a freshly made empty bed. His will read: The wife was to get everything unless she died and then I would get everything and if I died his brother Charles would get everything. I got his G.I Life Insurance policy, which paid me $96 dollars and some odd cents each month for 4 years. Every little bit helps.
I feel sorry for my father. Had he come from something better, he would I think have made a fine IBM salesman, and he would likely not have died prematurely of liver cancer. (On the other hand, I would not have been born, which is something which is for me, as I seem to recall Sophocles wrote, "beyond thought and speech".) I also regret not asking my father about his military service. I heard or fantasized a few things, and, with the help of "somebody who knew somebody", I finally got a copy of his military record, which did not seem altogether credible to me, and which in any case did not seem to "explain everything". Item: Was there something about "Alamogordo, New Mexico" (near where the a-bomb was developed) which was not on the record? I also seem to recall I have a photograph of his B-29 with "B-50" written on the fuselage. I guess I also regret not fully reconciling with him (not that we ever fully split apart) -- despite Melva -- the summer before his death. It would not have cost me anything. I was still struggling with my childhood.
A true story
Because he "came from nothing", my father dressed well. In the early 1960's he wore $400 suits (Oxxford / Hickey Freeman / Walter Morton). That was a lot of money back then, when my Yale tuition + room + board was $4,000 per year. My father was both an honest and a humble man. One day when he was a sales manager (first-line manager) in the housepaint company, his boss asked him how much he paid for his suits. The boss shopped at "Robert Hall", where suits were $95.
My father was embarrassed to have to confess the truth to his boss, because my father wore the expensive suits because he liked to feel for himself he had worked his way up to a decent place in the world, not to impress anybody. His boss was a toadie dispatched by "the three Kennedy brothers", John, "Pete" (nee: Charles) and George Seidlitz who had eaten the company my father worked for, to monitor my father, because my father was not "one of them": Joe C. Huntoon. The Seidlitz brothers were just overhead (I would now call them: smiling faces), as far as I was concerned. One of them was born the same year as my father: 1920, but my father died in 1984 and this dude lived to 2014. Mr. Huntoon looked sort of like Lyndon Johnson but was no LBJ, and he had two grown daughters and an alcoholic wife who sort of looked like Lady Bird but was not one, who drank all day in their midscale ranch house somewhere on the slightly less high status side of Baltimore from where we lived. "Robert Hall this season, will show you the reason: High quality, economy...." (Defunct: 1977)
A man who could sell anything to anybody
My father once did something highly unethical and probably felonius: This was two decades before "911". He told me that once he and his third wife ("Melva the bitch") had ended a vacation on a Caribbean island and it was time to go home. Their flight was overbooked. But he got them two seats. How? He explained, probably to the ticketing agent, that he was with The FBI and needed to get back to Washington. He had no connection at all with any U.S. Government agency, at least that I as his son ever got wind of. He just wanted to get home. He did let on to me that he knew Henry Kissinger's brother.
Me? I intentionally know nothing about anything. Therefore I cannot be a security risk, can I? For all I could produce would be lies based on ignorance. I mean, like, is it forbidden to park maybe a few hundred yards outside the perimeter fence of NSA headquarters1 and try to look in with 8 X 40 binoculars and tell people what you think you can't see?
Thank you for reading. firstname.lastname@example.org