One Damn Thing After Another By Terry Wilson
It Ain’t Broke—Just Tweak It
I was back in London, almost 50 years of age, with no contacts in that area and, with two sons to support who were being looked after by my sister who herself needed financial contributions. I was down to my last few pounds and needed a job. A desperate situation demands desperate remedies, so I said yes I could do ‘it’, no matter what need any organisation had, as long as they were prepared to pay me to fulfil it, whatever their ‘it’ was. I ended up with a research company that had created an optical enlarger powered by an ultraviolet light source that supposedly was capable of projecting high resolution images of microfilms of engineering drawings onto diazo paper. This was the relatively inexpensive, light sensitive paper used in drawing offices to make contact prints of transparent engineering drawings. This material was the successor to what used to be the so called blueprint. The problem was the prints wanted by users of microfilm had to contain all the information that was in the film. It was no good if a speck of dust had turned a vital dimension from say 15 to 1.5. Cars might not run and planes might not fly. Could I help? I had no idea how.
The problems were manifold. Conventionally, to enlarge and print an image, the film is on a flat plane, the printing paper is on a parallel flat plane and the lens between, by having glasses of different refracting powers, gets into focus both the center of the image and the edges of the image at the same time, despite the fact that the film centre is nearer to the lens than is the outer edges of the film. The optical designers of this device could not use a lens made of different glasses because barely more than one would adequately transmit ultraviolet light. So instead the film went into a holder that supposedly bent the film to a concave shape to suit the lens. Fine in theory but flat pieces of film do not lend themselves to being bent into a concave shape to suit the limitations of a lens.
Problem number two. Microfilm records of engineering drawings are in negative form. Diazo paper maintains the ‘sign’ and would naturally produce a negative looking print—ie white lines on a dark background. This is not acceptable so an extra generation, together with potential generational losses, was introduced. The negatives were to be copied onto a UV sensitive film, heat developed that produced a positive image in the form of bubbles, voids called vesicles, in the film coating. These film duplicates were then put in the projectors, hopefully bent to shape to suit the lens limitations, and all being well a positive diazo print would result. Just what was needed. A quick, low cost printout that would eliminate Xerox and 3M Company from the market and leave a fortune in the hands of my entrepreneur.
Another supposedly minor problem was that many of the original drawings for filming, were not nice black lines on a white background. They were often dirty with faint grey pencil lines sometimes mixed with black India ink lines.
The millions of microfilm negatives of these drawings were therefore recorded in tones of grey not as clear lines on a black background. The combination of image generation via high contrast vesicular film and diazo paper was not suitable for reproducing such tones. The black lines of the original would reproduce as dark. The white background as white but the system could not cope with the range of grey pencil lines of the original. An analogue image was in effect being presented to a digital type black/white system.
And lastly, assuming all those problems had been solved the equipment and system was to be operated by unskilled people whose only contribution would be to press the right button at the right time. If I said, ‘Forget it. It won’t work,’ I would be out of a job.
To support my analysis of the insoluble problems I created a microfilm negative using lithographic film whereby all the data was recorded as clear film and the background was solid black. It went through the system and, with a bit of jiggling, produced a satisfactory print. The film image was no longer analogue; it was in effect digital. I then demonstrated this and pointed out to my employer, the entrepreneur who was financing the project, that his system would not work with most of the millions of negatives that Rolls Royce, General Motors and thousands of other engineering companies held as records of their engineering drawings. Their negatives were not like the one I had just created which even the worst reproduction system, his, could cope with.“Well, would our system work if you made the original microfilm negatives?”
I replied that by changing the film processing chemistry and adjusting the parameters to minimum exposure and maximum development I could produce negatives that stood a much better chance of working with his reproduction equipment. His idea of the market then changed. No longer was it for print out from the millions of archive negatives. Now the system was for future negatives and prints thereof. Make your negatives the Terry Wilson way and you have a foolproof economic system, was his idea.
Well I still needed a job. So I wrote a booklet on how to make microfilm negatives of engineering drawings. The entrepreneur called in potential customers to bring in their drawings so that I could film them my way and print them out on diazo paper before their very eyes. Of course the potential customers brought in all their worst drawings—pencil lines mixed with Indian ink, some tea stained and battered with an occasional good clean drawing amongst them. To overcome the impossibility of being able to present a fully automatic operating procedure, whilst he was entertaining the potential customers in his office, I would tweak a few knobs, selectively adjust a photo-cell and locally apply heat as required to the vesicular film copy. I then managed to print them out with virtually no loss of information. As they were coming off our dummy production line he would show this success to the potential clients together with his calculations of how much money they could save on their daily output of diazo prints from our equipment compared with 3M or Xerox systems.
On the strength of numerous ‘successful’ demonstrations he borrowed money and got into production. ‘No loss of information’ became the catch phrase. I was awarded a fellowship of the Association of Reprographic Technology. and was sent to New York to head up the USA division of his organisation. This was registered as a separate company so our entrepreneur could ship equipment to the USA whether it was sold or not and by so doing borrow money from the UK Export Credit Guarantee Organisation. In the meantime I sat in my NY office on the 24th floor of an East 42nd Street skyscraper and waited for the bubble to burst.
It did. The equipment was really not saleable in the USA. It did not come with a built in tweaker for every machine in every state. The Long Island storage depot was full of the machines and the Export Credit people in London wanted to know why the USA Company was not paying up. It had equipment not money. In fact the London company’s financial difficulties were such that I now had the job of selling the USA subsidiary and sending the money back to London. I, with some help from the London office, succeeded in selling the operation to a company in Boston leaving me out of a job in New York. But that is another different story.
Small Island of Many Worlds
During the hot summer of 1965 there was trouble in the streets of many US cities. Race riots in Los Angeles and Chicago and it was not unusual for the daily papers to report burning and looting. New York seemed to be fairly calm if such a hectic twenty four hour city can be described as calm. At least the island of Manhattan, my recently adopted home, went about its business as usual.
Manhattan has many different ethnic and social areas which uncomfortably rub shoulders with each other. The island is so small that the population has been compressed horizontally to expand upwards into skyscrapers, tower blocks and tenement buildings. This compression has resulted in there being little more than one city block between affluence and poverty, between one ethnic American group and another, between one police precinct and another. Perhaps the only common meeting ground is Central Park, although this is a no go area at night.
I was living on the East Side of the island on 49th Street and I had, at that time, a Mustang car that I used to get out of the city into the countryside of New York State or to the coast of Long Island each weekend. One day I was invited to spend an evening with an acquaintance who lived on one of the higher number streets on the West Side. The rush hour traffic had long since subsided so I drove my car through the park and on uptown until I found the apartment block in which my friend lived. Unfortunately there were no empty parking spaces in the street so I drove, block by block, further up town until eventually I found a parking space. It was only 5 minutes walk from my friend’s apartment where I spent a pleasant evening with him and his family.
There were the occasional sounds of ambulances and fire engines during the evening but such sounds were part of the normal background noises of the city. It was nearly midnight when I left to retrieve my car and drive home. The car was there and so was a crowd of people listening to someone addressing them from the steps of a rundown tenement block on the other side of the road. which I discovered was in Harlem.
The speaker was a coloured man and when he saw me he called out “Hey you whitey. Come over here.” I crossed towards him not knowing if he was referring to the colour of my hair or of my skin. “Don’t you think we should burn down these filthy hovels we live in?” he asked.
I studied the tawdry facade and said “Well you seem to have a point but why burn down the place you live in. Why not go and burn down Fifth Avenue if you want to make a point?”As I then returned towards my car one of New York’s policemen came round the corner. He called me over to him and his mate. Both impressive with sixshooters and other police equipment supported on their large stomachs.
“Hey Bud,” he said, “I thought we were going to have some trouble there. What were they saying to you?”
“They were asking my advice as to whether they should burn down their tenement block,” I replied.
“And what did you say?”
“I advised them to go and burn down Fifth Avenue instead.”
“Oh, that’s alright then. Fifth Avenue ain’t in my precinct,” he said.
* * *
Too brief an encounter
It was New York in the late sixties. I was in charge of the USA subsidiary of a UK company that designed, manufactured and sold high-tech electro-optical equipment. Well perhaps medium-tech would be more honest. The parent UK company was having financial difficulties and one of its most saleable assets was its USA subsidiary. This consisted of the marketing rights for the products and a warehouse full of equipment on Long Island. Also, its occupancy of the 24th floor of a new skyscraper on East 42nd Street in Manhattan.
Negotiations were already progressing with one interested party, a large multi-national corporation whose vice-president in charge of acquisitions had already visited us on one occasion. He was a man short of height but immense in girth and importance to us. He was quite the roundest man I had ever seen.
His second, and hopefully deciding visit, was arranged for 10.30 am one Friday morning. First I had to visit the bank to arrange cash for our staff, so by coincidence both I and my visitor arrived together in the foyer of my skyscraper building. We recognised each other, went through the appropriate greetings and headed for the busy bank of elevators. Eventually one arrived. I stepped aside politely to allow him in first and followed him in. He, being first, reached for and pressed the button to take us to the 24th floor. Unfortunately, by mistake, he had pressed the 25th floor button. The elevator wooshed us upwards to the sound of muzak as we politely conversed and eventually came to a stop. My guest stomped out on his elephantine legs. I followed and to my surprise found we were one floor higher than we should be. I explained what had happened and we waited for another elevator. All three of them were busy below us. He became impatient. Time, he said, was short and murmured about another appointment for lunch.
Rather than wait for an elevator I said “Its only one floor down. Let’s take the stairs.”
He agreed and I pushed open the fire door adjacent to the elevator well. We went through, the door closed behind us and down the steps we went to the 24th floor. Unfortunately I was not aware that these doors were fire doors for egress only.
We could not get from the stair well into any of the floors.
We could only continue twenty four more floors down to the bottom.
My valued potential buyer was irate, apoplectic and, by the time we reached the bottom, incoherent. Despite my pleas and apologies and tentative attempt to suggest the event was funny he stomped off to catch a Yellow Cab. We did not sell the operation to that multi-national corporation.
A new apartment block, 333 East 49th Street, was between 2nd and 3rd Avenue not far from the United Nations building. My two rooms with kitchen and bathroom on the 8th floor had windows that were never opened. It was too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter. The air conditioning unit insulated me from all meteorological adversity and the doormen in the foyer insulated me from all human contact unless specifically invited by me and admitted by them. Occasionally, if they could make a fast buck out of it, it was the other way round.
There was also a back entrance on 50th Street. This was permanently locked although established residents each had a key. There was a TV camera positioned permanently watching this door. Its visual display unit was in the doorman’s cubicle at the main entrance. When stopping to chat to him one day I noticed that the camera was angled to display the top half of the back door and of course the top half of anyone who used it. I wondered if it was possible to reach up from a crawling position, undo the lock, open the door and crawl in beneath the field of the camera lens. I happened to mention this misalignment to an engineer who was staying a few nights with me. I had collected him from the airport the previous evening and we had entered by using my key to this back door. We also left by the same door the following morning to pick up my car that was parked nearby and go to the office. Later that morning my visitor needed something that he had left in his bag in my apartment. I was busy, the apartment was within walking distance so I gave him the key to my apartment that was on a key ring also holding a key to the back door.
When he arrived at the entrance to the apartment block the doorman in the foyer stopped him and asked who he was and where was he going. He explained the situation. The doorman phoned my apartment for clearance and got no reply. Even if the doorman on duty the previous night had seen him come in with me, he was no longer on duty. The day doorman could only have seen our backs on the screen as we left that morning. So the doorman refused him entry. My friend then remembered my remarks about the high angled camera at the back door and also that there was a back door key on the key ring.
He walked round the block to the back of the building, got down on his hands and knees, reached up, inserted the key and released the lock. He pushed the door open sufficiently to crawl through and was almost immediately faced with a large pair of polished shoes and a voice from above saying, “You didn’t get my message. Ugh, now we’ll call the cops.”
It took me almost half a day to extract him from the arms of the law. It also confirmed the doorman’s impression that all Englishmen were mad, not only King George from whom they had extricated themselves by the Declaration of Independence many years ago.
Another incident that probably confirmed such an opinion started one evening when I went to buy some food at the nearby Italian grocer-cum-greengrocer shop on 3rd Avenue. I had never found them closed and this occasion was no different. Fabio accompanied me round the shop pointing out the merits of his goods and collected them item by item into empty Campbells Soup cardboard boxes. Because I was going on to consume a Campari soda and view the passing Manhattan scene from a sidewalk bar we agreed he would send the goods round later by his delivery boy. This was all part of the normal service and this delivery boy, who was about 70 years old, probably lived on tips from people like me.
When I got back to my apartment the doorman buzzed that my groceries were on their way up. I opened my door to the delivery boy who carried two loaded Campbell Soup boxes into my kitchen as he usually did and pocketed his tip and left.
I proceeded to decant the first box into my fridge and kitchen cabinets and felt slightly surprised to think there were more groceries to stack. However I filled my now empty cardboard box with surplus wrappings and outer cartons and some half-consumed mildewed pots of jam and other rejected items now newly replaced in my fridge.
I then looked at the second box and discovered it contained packets of Matzo biscuits and other consumables well blessed with Kosher labels. Obviously the delivery boy had delivered someone else’s goods to me by mistake. Then I saw, scribbled on the side of the box Mrs Finkelstein Apt 7B in an apartment block round the corner. I looked up Mrs Finkelstein’s number in the telephone directory. When she answered the phone I heard the frail but strident New York voice of an elderly lady. In my best English accent I explained that by accident I had her groceries and I would go round the block with them and give them to her doorman. I did not want to get the delivery boy into trouble, and carrying a cardboard box one block was no great effort. She had difficulty comprehending what was going on and seemed nervous about some strange sounding foreigner delivering something to her. So, giving up the problem of mutual understanding, I said I would drop them round and hung up my phone.
Then my phone rang. I had to deal with some business matters and telephone someone back etc. Time had gone by when I suddenly remembered my promise. I picked up the Campbell Soup box and delivered it to the doorman in the adjacent block with instruction to give it to Mrs Finkelstein. When I returned to my apartment intending to dump my rubbish down the 8th floor rubbish chute I discovered that I had delivered my rubbish to Mrs Finkelstein and her food purchases were still in my possession.
I dared not start the whole debacle again. So I took her goodies back to my Italian shop for them to deliver to their rightful owner. I cannot imagine what that old lady thought about receiving a carton of rubbish from some strange voiced foreigner.
My Ego Trip
The skyscraper lined caverns of Park and Madison Avenues loomed to the west. To the south was 42nd Street and Times Square with its tourists and streetwise parasites plying their legal and illegal trades amongst the gawking out-of-towners. To the north was the sedate Sutton Place followed by Harlem through which the yellow cabs that linked Manhattan’s disparate enclaves, rarely stopped. To the north and west past Columbus Circle one could dine in a glass-walled sidewalk cafe and watch muggers and prostitutes acquiring their daily bread. Away south, Wall Street was closed though its daily millions were still echoing round the world in those parts on which the sun still shone. Greenwich Village with its brownstone houses, shops and cafes was busy with its mix of locals and tourists and China Town flaunted its garish signs for all to see and be seduced by.
It was, in fact, a typical Friday evening in Manhattan. Between 5oth and 60th Streets on 3rd Avenue was the swinging East side. Yellow cabs were picking up and putting down elegantly attired people. Air hostesses no longer in uniform during their 24 hour stop-over; secretaries and executive had discarded their cardigans and jackets so necessary to keep them warm in their air-conditioned towers where they worked, and now, garbed in flimsy elegance they were heading for restaurants and singles bars to celebrate the end of the week.
Youth was the key here. The younger ones were trying to act sophisticated. Older ones adopted youthful styles that deluded neither themselves or anyone else. Middle-aged men in singles bars sometimes had medallions nestling amongst the hairs of their chests that had been covered up by the traditional grey Brooks Brothers suit and tie for the last 5 days. Now, let it all hang out was the common theme on Friday night in mid June in Manhattan’s East Side.
Amongst this lively scene an average man strolled along 3rd Avenue. He was inconspicuous even though he flaunted none of the extravagances of those around him. One could say he was informally smart. He stopped at Mama Leone’s grocery store and restaurant to confer with Fabio as to what groceries and vegetables should be left with the doorman of his apartment block. As he strolled past the Green Derby, the pseudo Irish pub, where, by virtue of being foreign, stout and shepherd’s pie had acquired a status entirely out of proportion to their humble origins. He then made his way in to the Serendipity Singles Bar, perched on a bar stool and listened to the cackle of cliches around him, more as an observer than a participant whilst he sipped a Campari soda and nibbled a pretzel.
Sometimes in a crowded room there is a brief lull in conversation. Whether the entrance of two beautiful young women coincided with the lull or their sudden presence caused the lull as male eyes turned to appreciate the two new arrivals was not clear. The taller one was blond with a figure that could have been the inspiration for all Vargas illustrations. Her companion was perhaps a little younger and sparkled with youth and anticipation not yet dulled by the reality of experience. They occupied two seats at the bar and soon, like bees to the honey pot, stray males broke off from their groups to engage them in conversation. Jose, the Puerto Rican bar man, topped up the quiet man’s Campari and said, “What a built.” He never managed to get his English quite right.
Someone next to the quiet man agreed and said, “Wonder where they will end up tonight?”
“Not with anyone from this crowd,” said the quiet man.
“Oh, come on. They’re loving every minute of it.”
“Yes, but it’s trivial to them,” he replied. “In ten minutes, a sophisticated man with experience could walk out of here with those two on each arm.”“Oh yeah, like who? You?”
“Yes, even I, if I put my mind to it.”
“Well, let’s see you do it then. If you walk out with those two by 9 o’clock I’ll stand by the door and give you fifty bucks as you go by.”
“I will take you on, “ said the quiet man. “Not for the fifty bucks but to prove my point.”
The blonde and her companion made their way to the ladies room and when they returned their seats were occupied.
As they passed the quiet man, he rose from his bar stool and said, “Would you care to sit here?” They hesitated then accepted.
“Can I get you a drink?” he said, “or should we leave here and get a cab?”
She smiled and said, “Yes let’s do that.” And arm in arm they left the Serendipity.
“You owe him fifty bucks,” said Jose.
A few days later, Jose was serving the quiet man and said, “Man. How you pick up those two gorgeous pieces the other night? That’s style like I ain’t never seen.”
“Ah, well,” the quiet man said. “Hindsight is marvellous. I knew the result before I made the play.”
“Well, the blond is my goddaughter and her young companion is an Irish au pair girl just over from Ireland. Never had a boyfriend. Knows no one in New York so my goddaughter was introducing her to the Manhattan scene and I was just around to step into the breach and extricate them if things got difficult.”
Jose chuckled and said, “Hey, I got fifty bucks of yours.”
“Keep it,” said the quiet man. “I didn’t really earn it.”
At the time I was driving a classic early Mustang*. It was a car designed to impress those who were vulnerable to a sporty swashbuckling image. It was overpowered with a huge V8 engine that growled rather than purred and it was designed to comfortably carry two adults in the front and two dwarfs in the back. Its sound and appearance seemed to be an automatic challenge to the motoring youth of Pennsylvania as I commuted daily to and from work.
I had acquired it more or less by accident. The company division that I was responsible for had eight sales offices strategically placed around the USA. Each office had a salesman with his own local budget, sales forecast and sales target and his own car for the use of which the company reimbursed him. Some had saloon cars, some had station wagons and one had the Mustang. The Mustang owner was, of course, single with, as far as I could judge, a female companion in every town in his territory. The Mustang image was important to him.
From my ivory tower in the head office individual preferences for different car designs was not uppermost in my mind. What was uppermost was the fact that we had now developed a new small machine and the new marketing policy for this equipment was that each area salesman would have a demonstration unit to put in the back of his estate car. This, it was calculated, would save money on advertising and other types of ‘shotgun’ promotions. Instead the salesman could take it and demonstrate it to the potential customers in his sales area. It would just fit into the back of a station wagon.
Because not all the salesmen had estate cars, it was decided to negotiate a company lease arrangement for an estate car for each salesman. Those with families and those who had grown past worrying about their macho images did not object. But our man with the Mustang did object. He felt he could not swashbuckle around in a car designed to hold a wife and a clutch of kids. Unfortunately, not only could he sell himself to young ladies throughout his territory, he was also our best salesman. I could not afford to lose him and I finally got his agreement only by buying his Mustang from him at a price somewhat above its ‘book’ value.
So now I was driving along route one towards my Philadelphia office one morning, when I stopped at the traffic lights. Along came a modified car containing five youths. The front of their car had been lowered, the back had been raised. Fluorescent streaks decorated its sides and, judging by the sound, most of its muffler had been removed.
At the sight of my sporty Mustang they came alongside and, mainly by gestures, challenged me to race across the lights when they turned to green. I had no intention of accepting the challenge but I did see that they had stopped about two feet ahead of me. With gestures and pointing I indicated this to them and they reversed back to line up with my Mustang. They assumed I had accepted their challenge whereas I was only pointing out the unfairness of it.
The lights changed to green and I went forward decorously. The driver of the custom car put his foot right down to the floor and they shot backwards into a poor commuter behind them. My challenger had left his monstrosity in reverse.The sound of breaking head lamps and crumpling sheet metal was worse than the reality. They had only gone back about three feet and the damage was more to their ego and to the patience of the owner of the car they had backed into.
It was one of those flights. There were delays to the take-off in Chicago. The plane was full. I had failed to get either a window or an aisle seat. The passenger to my left overflowed his seat into the minuscule territory allocated me by the airline. He was large in girth and thirst and seemingly small in bladder capacity because, about every 400 miles, he climbed over me to get to and from the toilets. On my right was a lady with a very small child who obviously disliked the journey as much as I. The child however was unendingly vocal about it whereas I suffered in stoic silence throughout the night flight.
After arrival in Cologne my bag was the penultimate piece of luggage off the carousel and the taxi driver passed Cologne cathedral twice before he deposited me at the Hotel Excelsior Ernst. The hotel was opulent in a solid German style. Marble halls, high ceilings, furniture with billiard table legs, all succeeded in creating an impression of affluent solidity and correctness. My bedroom was of the same generous teutonic style and after the petty tribulations of the last nine hours I saw it as a haven of refuge. In particular the large tiled bathroom that housed a bath tub of generous proportions above which was a shelf of toiletries, unguents and bath additives designed to relax and revive the most jaded of travellers. Just what I needed.
I could not locate the light switch for the bathroom but, with the door open, there was enough light from the bedroom for me to fill the bath with hot water made aromatic with generous quantities from most of the bottles on the shelf. I stripped off and lowered myself into the warm embracing water that was deep enough to make me feel almost weightless and allowed all the stresses and tensions of my journey to ooze out of me.
Whilst laying back in an aromatic daze I noticed above me what I assumed was the elusive light switch in the form of a pull cord hanging down above my head. I reached up and gave it a smart pull. Nothing happened. No light came on so I ignored it and continued to wallow in my liquid luxury. Then I heard the outer door to my room open and heavy foot steps presaged the arrival of a very large ‘Brunhilde’ of a woman wearing a nurses uniform and a no-nonsense look. With consummate skill and strength she lifted my wet, soapy, wiggling body from the bath and deposited me naked and protesting on the bed in the next room. It seemed what I had thought to be the light switch was the alarm pull for persons suffering a heart attack or other incapacitating ailments that are prone to attack Germans when they have a bath. I spoke no German. She spoke no English. Our communication was at a very low level and she clearly considered herself in charge. Also she was both clothed and larger than me. Whereas I was wet and naked. Under such circumstances it is difficult to adopt a position of authority. All my attempts failed and my protests were ignored. It was only when she released me to get some sort of instrument from her bag on the floor that I managed to leap off the bed and dodge behind an armchair to reach the telephone.
Then, before her arms could reach out and immobilise me against her starch covered bosom, I got through to the front desk operator who spoke English. He asked me to put my Amazon on the phone and after a series of Yahs Neins and Achs she put down the receiver, pulled me to the bathroom, pointed to the pull cord and said “nein”. Then showed me one of the white tiles on the wall that operated a rocker type mechanism that switched the light on and off. Then with the dignity of a galleon in full sail she swept out.
I was living near Chads Ford in Pennsylvania close to the Delaware border. The house was about thirty minutes drive from the outskirts of Philadelphia where I was in charge of a manufacturing operation that produced products for the microfilm industry. My responsibilities included salesmen and their offices strategically located across the USA and a Research and Development and equipment manufacturing operation in California. As an entity it was a division of a larger corporation. We had built up the operation to a size that the owner of the parent company could sell at a nice profit to a multi national corporation. Our products were the market leaders. This was what attracted the purchaser. The deal was consummated at corporate levels and the practical aspects of the take-over began.
First the new owners in Chicago sent a father figure to visit our two main sites. His role was to assure everyone that they had nothing to fear now that they were working for a new and highly ethical generous company.
Then all the signs and corporate names were changed. This was followed by their hatchet man’s arrival. He only asked questions and took notes. All our queries, he said, should be addressed to the father figure who had long since disappeared. Then the division’s accounting, billing and purchasing operation was consolidated into the Chicago headquarters.
Then the hatchet man wielded his axe. All functions that could be handled from Chicago were transferred there and personnel then redundant were laid off’.
I, being General Manager, had a more sensitive finger on the pulse of the division. But, of course, the General Manager in Chicago does not want another General Manager in Philadelphia. Demoting me to be a local Philadelphia manager was not a good solution because that would leave no knowledgeable manager for the important equipment operation in California. The solution was to make no immediate decision but, because I was still officially designated General Manager, I was issued with a large new company car. I was also presented with a bound volume, at least six inches thick, that contained company instructions and policies for, it seemed to me, every human activity that any employee or manager could possibly encounter. It was accompanied by a form asking me to read and understand the whole thing and sign and return the form to Chicago acknowledging that all had been read, understood and would, as necessary, be put into effect.I returned the volume and the form unsigned but with a note saying that, as I was planning to leave as soon as possible, perhaps they would like to give this to someone else. This was not a false threat. I and an associate of mine already had plans for a next generation of equipment. Who knows how to make a better ‘mousetrap’ than the people who already make the best one?I continued to look after the operations as best I could for my new master when I was informed that in two days time two VIPs from the Chicago office would be visiting our operation. They wished to familiarise themselves with our ultrasonic welding technique and would I, as General Manager, meet them at the airport.
My house in Chads Ford was set in a clearing in a stand of walnut, hickory and dogwood trees. Bette and I shared this location with a range of wild life including salamanders, a snapping turtle, forest tortoises, fireflies and cicadas and hordes of butterflies and other insects and lots of field mice. If possible, I neither kill nor harm any living thing. This goes for mice too.
The winter months in Pennsylvania are cold and often frozen. My house with its heated basement became a haven for field mice each winter. I did not mind them in the basement but occasionally their numbers were such that I had to trap a few in cage type traps that did not harm them. These I decanted into the shed at the bottom of the driveway as I left for work. At times it became a daily routine with as much as five or six mice to deal with each morning.
It was in January when my VIPs from Chicago were due. The mice abounded and the morning I was due to collect my visitors from the airport I slightly overslept. I hurriedly dressed, gathered up my mice, jumped into the shiny new car allocated to me, and drove down the driveway to the shed at the road junction. To my horror I discovered that the mice had escaped from their container and I had no time to search for them. I threw out their container and the empty cage traps and headed for the airport.
The plane arrived on time and I introduced myself to two smartly dressed, briefcase armed, corporate imaged executives from Chicago. We proceeded to my parked car and I drove towards our factory.
They sat back and relaxed, asked a few questions about the factory and the one in the front passenger seat lit a cigarette. He took a few puffs and pulled out the car ash tray. Out leaped a mouse.
He uttered an amazed, “My God there’s a mouse in here.”
His companion in the back seat leaned forward better to see, being unable to believe what he was hearing. To his surprise another mouse appeared from beneath the rain coat he had beside him.“There’s another one here. What the hell’s going on?”
“Oh,” I said in my best plummy English accent, “we get a lot of mice round here.”
I think the mouse infested journey overshadowed their entire visit to the factory. At the end of the day they insisted on a taxi back to the airport. I wonder what went into their report to their corporate supervisors. I really did not care. My house was for sale hopefully to produce the capital needed to develop and manufacture my own ‘better mousetrap’.