“Life at Up Up and Away Investment Management International”: A Serialized Novel By Robert K. Stephen: Chapter 1


A little about myself

I suppose the veracity of this book will no doubt be filtered through some psychological analysis of the author. So that is why he was so bitter, angry, frustrated, insightful, mad or immature! Let me give you some fodder which might afford you an opportunity to better understand me so you can pat me on the back or snicker and say that this Hornet guy is a maniac or proverbially kick me in the ass. As far as I perceive it you are either on my side or not. I would consider it an honour if you consider me as a Holden Caufield of largecorp. “Catcher in the Rye” versus “Catcher of Largecorp”

My name is Tony Hornet. I was born in New Haven, Connecticut on August 2, 1953. A healthy and happy baby. A white Anglo Saxon Protestant otherwise known as a WASP. The WASPs were at the height of societal power in North America in those days. There was not even a whiff of decline of the WASP and the American Empire was vast and the American Dream that fueled it was pumping and gushing optimism particularly if you were white. The American “negro”, as we called blacks then, was not on this gravy train. The only seats on the train were for Caucasians.

My father, Bobby Hornet, was a successful insurance executive in New York City meaning we saw very little of him except on the weekends and holidays. He was picked up at our home by a car at 7 a.m. for his trip to Manhattan and dropped off back home around 7 p.m. for our family dinner. That family dinner was sacrosanct to him and he rarely missed it. He patiently listened to our stories without judgement or criticism instead proffering gentle advice. Of course, his pre dinner drink was a vodka martini.

My mother, Laura Hornet, was a stay at home as all mothers in our social circle were. Filipino nannies were about as common as a working mother in our suburban milieu. In other words, there were none of either in our upper middle-class milieu. My goodness how American and Canadian societies have changed!

It was wonderful being a WASP child in those days. How far one middle or upper middle-class income could go. We had no idea of the barbarities raging in the Southern United States.

We had a wonderful summer home in the Catskills where we spent idyllic summers fishing, hiking, exploring and experienced all the glories of a leisurely childhood in a privileged environment without realising how fortunate we were.

My father was a Second World War air force veteran who flew in the Battle of Britain with lots of memories of death, maiming and personal loss silently following him like a cloud of dirt follows Pig Pen in Snoopy. These were the days Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was simply not recognized. Whether he was afflicted by it I will never know. I am sure he loved me but being a “man” in those days compelled him to keep a stiff upper lip and display as little demonstrable affection as possible. When I was 8 he died an agonizing death of bladder cancer at the early age of 45 so being frank here I never really had the opportunity to know him. I just have remnants of a moment with him here and there. And aside from this personal loss I suffered a form of future corporate castration as not only my father died but my corporate connection did as well.

I do have memories about him of going golfing, fishing and eating chicken at our favorite chicken restaurant but they are all blurred. I was not even permitted to attend his funeral so to this day I lament the simple fact I never said good-bye to him. Aha! The seeds of bitterness sown?

I have told people I expressed no sorrow upon his death but rather a deep sense of embarrassment in social situations as I was the only boy without a father. You may call me cruel and callous, but this is what it is. Additionally, I was confused and befuddled about what had just happened. Death did not happen to good people especially when they were 45 years of age.

Speaking of death, I will always be grateful to him for saving my life as when I had measles I suffered an attack of encephalitis and had just lapsed into a coma and stopped breathing when he entered the room to check up on me. He opened the window took me by my ankles and shook me in the cold Connecticut winter air until I started to breathe. They packed me off in a big white Cadillac ambulance and I recovered and regained consciousness in the New Haven Pediatric Hospital a couple of days later.

The medical consensus was that it was a miracle I survived and an even greater one that I had no brain damage. Now after reading this book you might come to a different conclusion! This was my first of 4 narrow escapes from death. I often ponder why that huge metal fixture that came crashing down from the ceiling missed where I was standing by a couple of seconds or why the “swamp fever”, as the Catskill’s country doctor called it, didn’t stop my heart cold or why on a sharp turn when the car door flew open along with me following it until someone in the back seat grabbed me just before my head hit the pavement so I wasn’t thrown out on the roadway and killed. Perhaps my surviving these life-threatening situations enables me to tell you this story that will unfold in this book. Perhaps someone upstairs had a bigger plan for me than immediate death?

Oh, and I assure you after consulting several neurologists over the years they too confirmed my brain was not damaged.

My father’s death put me into a mental fog. By today’s standards it would have meant off to a pediatric psychologist. And the bloody bastards at my private school failed me the year after he died. People with heart. It still bothers me. Their cruelty of failing a lost soul. I vowed never to fail academically again so I went to McGill University in Montreal with a full entrance scholarship and earned of Bachelor of Political Science in honours and three law degrees.

This determination to avoid failure is one of the reasons you are reading this book. It is high time that the heart and soul of largecorp be exposed. I have been ruminating about this for years but certain events, which you shall read about shortly, have compelled me to write this book. I had started it some 18 years ago but let it slip until I found a hard copy of the uncompleted manuscript in a toy chest.

My sister Susan, 10 years my older, was a bully but preferred my older brother Nelson, 5 years my older, as a victim. Susan attended an esteemed secretarial school in Boston and drifted into several mid level management jobs in New York City and we rarely saw her. True to her character she remains a bully today. Neither did she ever marry. I expect she was a terror for many a possible suitor. She hates children with a demonic passion even though she was godmother of my son Discus. Poor Discus never even receives a birthday present from Susan who is so wrapped up in herself she can’t see what a vicious and nasty beast she transformed into. As far as I am concerned her surname would be best described as “Selfish” and not Hornet.

I can’t say Nelson and I were close. In fact, due to some unknown beef against me I haven’t spoken to him in over 20 years. That rather pisses me off as I was responsible for him not being cut out from my mother’s will. A story he has not heard.

Nelson, being a teen, was terribly affected by my father’s death and ran away from home at 16! He returned years later after being in exile throughout the world but was fortunate to pick-up a trade in Australia. But he took off shortly thereafter never really to be seen from or heard from again except to attend my mother’s funeral and to ensure he received a cut of her estate. His selfish isolation has prevented me from meeting my nephew and for my children their cousin.

My father, being in the insurance industry, had an enormous life insurance policy, so we never really suffered terribly financially after his death just slipping from the upper middle class to the upper lower middle class. There was enough to send Nelson and me to different private schools. Worse of all Nelson went to a boarding school which is not the place to send a teen with phycological problems. Nelson was so torn up with my father’s death and the cruel discipline at his private school that he ran away as mentioned above, as we learnt years later, to Los Angeles.

Bluntly put Nelson was shredded and ripped up by my father’s death but I on the other hand was terribly befuddled.

I was too young to have run away anywhere but given the World War 2 scarred teaching staff of an all-boys school I attended, Penton Academy, it very well might have been advisable. The tough militaristic attitude at Penton Academy resulted in many beatings by a hockey goalie stick on my bottom which was not what was needed by a confused boy who just lost his father. Good friends, mostly outcasts, helped me manage my last few years in the Penton hell hole. We, the hippies. were very discrete unlike the liquored-up jocks who smoked cigarettes in the back alley and guzzled beer on occasion to show their manhood. Those wonderful people with a “Daddy connection” appeared later in some extremely high level largecorps in powerful positions. In a few cases it was the Daddy that owned the largecorp they ended up in. Quite frankly they were a little bunch of fascists, racists and homophobes. And as leaders of largecorp often fall within that category their slipping into largecorp was seamless.

Penton was one of many factories grooming young men for largecorp success and perhaps rejects like me that will tell you a far different story about Penton Academy than they would. Imagine a teacher who picks up a student in a rage and throws him through the wall, a gym teacher who punches a poor student in the testicles and says, “be a man” or the human relations teacher “studying” puberty takes grade 8 classes to swim naked the local YMCA pool. These are the people who taught the great leaders of largecorp in their formative years! Is it any surprise employees in largecorp are cannon fodder for the glories of largecorp’s Senior Management Team?

If there was any saving grace in my father’s death is that in some respects it liberated my mother who I view as a rather Auntie Mame type of character. She liked a good drink, a party and to have fun. Whether she was happy I am not sure.

She hooked up for a couple of years with Bill Rook an alcoholic on a rapid decline but Rook died in a horrific car accident after leaving in an inebriated state following a terrible argument with my mother in our Catskill’s summer home.

She eventually sold the Catskills home and decided she wanted to see Europe so for three summers in the early 1970’s we wandered throughout Greece, Yugoslavia and Germany. I mean in those early Greek tourist days in a couple of Greek islands we visited there were not even any hotels, so we stayed in rented rooms and in one instance stayed in cots under a grape arbour. Of course, there was bickering between us now and then but in retrospect it was a wonderful and incredible experience. I think it was my mother’s attempt at becoming a hippy. But it converted me from a suburban twit into a savvy traveller. It opened my eyes about how the world worked and how humans interacted. In fact, my early success at publishing travel articles as a teen got me hooked on writing.

After graduating from Penton, I decided to move to Montreal, Quebec as a “foreign student” at McGill University. Tuition and accommodation was about half of what I would pay in the United States and my scholarship reduced costs even more.

Now it reached a point when I was in University I worked at part time jobs throughout the school year and used those savings to travel for 4 months every summer for 4 years. I covered just about every country in Europe other than the USSR. Eastern Europe, which was then behind the Iron Curtain, was fascinating to me particularly as I was studying its political system. Surprisingly despite being tailed a few times and the locals telling me frequently the police had told them not to associate with me I was left undisturbed and able to live on a few dollars a day.

I learnt quickly that communism had failed in Eastern Europe and that the Communist Party officials were the ruling class benefitting from many perks that ordinary working person was not entitled to. The high-level Communist Party officials were running Eastern European countries like they were largecorps.

After graduating from McGill University, I met a local girl Fay and a year later we married. At that time I was living in a low rent apartment complex in the North End of Montreal so Fay and I took up residence in this less than luxurious setting. It was full of Vietnamese boat people and a stubborn army of cockroaches. At least we had no student loans to pay off. So, I took off a year after my undergraduate degree to write a 236-page quasi political and science fiction satire of Canadian politics. Unfortunately, I had suspicions it was stolen, reworked and ended up as the beginning of a successful Hollywood franchise. After that fiasco I decided to apply to law school at McGill University and was accepted but I rejected the offer.

I decided instead to work as a casting agent with Brown and Brown in Montreal. It wasn’t long before I realized modelling and acting in Canada was no way to make a living. Success seemed limited to getting as many underwear adds in a Zeller’s flyer as possible. The big screen certainly was not in Montreal, so I applied again to McGill University law school and again was accepted.

My experience at law school was deadening. Massive amounts of work piled on with the excuse this was the type of pressure you could expect in the “real world” so get used to it and shut up. The academic leaning professors were the most interesting trying to explain why things were what they were in the legal world. Those part time professors working in the “real world” were very practical teaching you what they were using daily in their practice but even then it was teaching about what it was rather than why it was. Then there were the pricks just plain and nasty. I recall one professor used to fly in from another Canadian city twice a week where he worked as an in-house counsel for a Canadian Bank to teach civil procedure. His final exam had people in shock. Most of us only could finish half of it. We were all convinced of failure but to our surprise we all passed. He jokingly told us, “This is the type of pressure you’ll face out there. I just wanted to get you used to it.” Then he laughed. A stellar product of a largecorp.

And then there was the incident a friend told me of her seeing of a maintenance man in the law faculty handing what my friend alleged were advance copies of exams to a small group of students near exam time. My informant on this swears money changed hands. Truth or fiction? In any case many of the student recipients of these “papers” went to rise to the top of largecorps, top tier law firms and academia. Their suspiciously high marks no doubt helped them.

How did I fare? I walked away with three law degrees after 4 years and was rather burnt out. If anyone tells you law school is difficult let’s just say at McGill University that was an understatement. At least my wife was in it with me which made it more palatable.

My wife and I passed our bar exams with the New York State Bar and the Upper Canada Law Society in the late 1970’s and were ready for the real world. Quebec was embroiled in a nationalistic pogrom against the English and the ethnics so remaining in Montreal was not a viable option for anglophones. Along with 400,000 anglophones we fled out of Quebec to Toronto like refugees.

Then life really got started with the birth of our first child Lexia a cute as a button strawberry blonde. In a sense it was the beginning of the end. Welcome to real life!

(Please note that is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to real life characters is totally a coincidence)

Published by Robert K Sephen (CSW)

Robert K Stephen writes about food and drink, travel, and lifestyle issues. He is one of the few non-national writers to be certified as a wine specialist by the Society of Wine Educators, in Washington, DC. Robert was the first associate member of the Wine Writers’ Circle of Canada. He also holds a Mindfulness Certification from the University of Leiden and the University of Toronto. Be it Spanish cured meat, dried fruit, BBQ, or recycled bamboo place mats, Robert endeavours to escape the mundane, which is why he has established this publication. His motto is, "Have Story, Will Write."

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