Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Another Chapter: T'was My Birthday & Dad Wrote a Poem

For those of you following my memories and musings on life with my unusual/difficult/weird/funny dad, here's a truly sweet poem he sent to me when I turned 45 (I just had my 50th birthday yesterday).

I left a typo in ("fourty" vs. "forty"), the math that didn't add up ("35 years" ago should have been "30 years" ago) and the "K.F." sign-off at the end (which stands for the "Kingfish," a moniker my dad quite fancied). Dad's PC Systems team once made a wooden plaque inscribed with "Kingfish" and he kept it with him always.

We often referred to my dad not as "Dad" but as the "Kingfish." Even Tess, who met my dad only at the end of his life, enjoys her striking memories of the "Kingfish." :-)

'Twas 35 years ago
    like yesterday it seems,
when I became a Father
    to a Daughter of fifteen.

I had no experience
    in parenting and such.
Something wonderful did happen
    so it didn't matter much.

We became close friends
    as the months rolled by,
and it surely will last
    'till the seas run dry.

My love for this girl
   (which at times I do hide)
is boundless for sure
   as it involves great pride

in a kid who has made it
   through times good and bad.
She's slayed all the dragons
   and guess what, I'm her Dad.

Now I am old.
   but feeling so alive.
My Gawd, can it be?
   My girl is fourty five!

I love you Cindy.


Monday, September 6, 2010

Chapter 5: When Dad Started PC Systems

Here's the next installment of my memories of my dad. Enough of my readers keep reading these posts and keep asking for more, so I will continue writing. :-)
After only a year with my dad, I went back to California, finished high school, went to U.C. Santa Barbara and studied geology and physical geography, and then, on a whim, signed up for the U.S. Navy. My older brother, Jim, went into the Navy and it sounded like an interesting adventure. Life with my father receded, although we did write the occasional old-fashioned letter, his always filled with amusing stories and sarcastic humor.

The Navy sent me to Monterey to study Russian (what a fabulous year, studying with Russian émigrés in a beautiful place!). I married a delightful New Englander, Jonathan Hilyard, and we moved to Rota, Spain for our first tour of duty. Dad had no interest in coming for a visit. If a casino didn’t “comp” him, travel didn’t appeal to him.

It was the mid-1980s, and my dad abruptly left the lecture circuit, where he had promoted his investment advice and his book, A License to Steal.  He traded the world of stocks and bonds--and troubling SEC oversight and penalties for his ways of trading--to start a fledgling computer business.  An early computer enthusiast, my dad fancied himself a nerd and programmer extraordinaire. He got excited, saying, “Computers are where cars were when the Model T came out!”  He saw nothing but dollar signs and talked about making millions. He took his passion for computers to market as PC Systems. 

My brothers joined PC Systems, with Dad leading sales and marketing and my brothers handling customer service, building and repairing computers and networks with the utmost care.  My brothers' bonuses in the early days gave me a twinge of envy, but I was never really tempted to join the family business.  I'll never forget hearing that my dad sometimes ate his employees’ lunches, without asking them, just because he saw something in the refrigerator that he wanted. Impulse control was not one of his strong suits. He could also get incredibly snippy when he sensed disrespect (think: someone forgot something he wanted--anything, no matter how trivial--and he could make the most rude comments). These things, and the story of how he administered lie detector tests to all the store managers at one point, including my brothers and step-sister, made me cringe. Trust, like impulse control, was not my dad's thing.

With PC Systems taking off like a bottle rocket, my dad suddenly needed help. He placed a Help Wanted ad for a “secretary to organize three messy men.”  Teri Cherry (our own Teri Edgell today), was then an upbeat blond who called it like she saw it and wasn't so sure about this guy, my dad, who she thought was a bit weird. Teri ultimately took the job supporting my dad and brothers, and she became the “voice” of PC Systems—answering phones, greeting customers, sending out bills, and making people, including Dad, laugh. Teri, to this day, has incredibly fond memories of the old man, who also made her laugh, pretty much every day. 

When I was leaving the Navy in 1987, Dad offered me a job at PC Systems. I  was on my way back to the States, with no other job offers and no clue what would be next (I passed on the Navy's offer to send me to a remote post in Sinop, Turkey). Nevertheless, I wasn’t that interested in computers (an understatement if there ever was one) and declined. Dad  accepted my decision with a shrug and a quip about his offer being "too good for me" anyway. I didn’t tell him I thought we would might kill each other if we ever worked together. 

Writing letters to my dad soon was replaced by email. He found his medium when he discovered email and then the Internet. Asynchronous, no complaints about his smoking, and no requirements to make small talk when he was cranky. He loved to be online in a way he never liked to hang out. 

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Chapter 4: Scrabble, Competition & Humor Transmission

Here you go, more memories of my dad:
     Off the tennis courts, Scrabble games also brought our competitive spirits out. We both studied the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary, memorizing the list of two-letter words. My dad preferred to play with his 1950s college version of Merriam Webster’s Dictionary as it had words or spellings that 1970s dictionaries no longer carried. We argued about dictionaries but mostly it didn’t matter, unless he was making up a word and I had to figure out whether to challenge him. We played a 10 point penalty for challenges that were wrong, and he was as likely to have made up a word to get out of a tight spot as to have played a perfectly legitimate word, so it was a guessing game when I didn’t know the word. When it came to tiles, we both angled for the seven-letter word set up, hoarding s’s and blanks and letters that made common endings like “ing” or “ion.” 
I trusted myself in Scrabble, it was me against my dad, wit against wit, both of us consistently making big scores and playing close games. We both liked to compete even though I cared more about the means and he was largely preoccupied with ends. We both liked to rely on ourselves and to be in control.  We both were quick studies and enjoyed mastering something new. We both loved words and language, although I was more literal in my young days and he was a born storyteller. I had begun to understand why I used to hear my mom say, “You’re just like your father.”
Still, there were some major differences. I count my friends as my greatest allies and supreme blessings, and I enjoy all sorts of people and their stories. My dad was an elitist and loner socially. Dad had many fans but didn't have real friends, as in none. Sure, he always had women to date (it didn't hurt that he bragged about being rich), but he trusted few, and none unconditionally, not even his kids.  
While I am a pretty straight-forward person (sometimes overly so), Dad frequently lived behind smoke and mirrors. He got lost in his own fantasies about the future and sometimes had trouble remembering what he had said or promised (it was never a good idea to challenge his revisionist histories though).  
On the other hand, when it came to numbers, Dad was pretty much a genius. In college, a math professor gave Dad's class a riddle that took ages for even the brightest students to solve. My dad loved numbers, lived to compete, and this was the kind of situation that allowed him to have Jedi-like concentration. Dad solved the problem in hours, flabbergasting his Southern Methodist University (SMU) professor. 
Me? I was always good enough at math but certainly not a math genius. When I took the GREs to get into grad school, my English and Logic scores brought honor to my family name; however, sigh, my math scores were merely "good enough."  
Meanwhile, an important difference between us was our basic temperament. I've had to work to free my sense of humor; alas, I was always dubbed the "serious" one in the family. Dad's irrepressible humor--ever-present, even in the most dire circumstances, such as when he went to jail for tax evasion--was the entertaining antidote that made up for his more anti-social side.  The Danish comedian, Victor Borges, perhaps said it best, "Laughter is the closest distance between two people."  So true! Humor was indeed how my dad connected in life. 
Over time, I got a kind of "transmission" of Dad's goofy, irreverent humor, talking in cartoon voices and using some of his signature phrases ("I always like a little blood in the street, even if some of it is my own"). These days, it's fun to see my dad's humor live on in the "kat's" writings (we have to channel my dad to get the kat's voice right). It's also fun to hear my dad's voice show up in my brother's, Teri's, and even Tess's language at times.   
Was he difficult at times? Good God, yes. More on that later. Was he also a true one of a kind? Yes, definitely that too. That’s why I can’t help but write about him and why you are here reading his story in chapters. J

Chapter 3: Turning 16 & Tennis with Dad

When I showed up in town, I had braces on my teeth and had that long, lean look of adolescence. It didn’t matter, my dad took me to a favorite bar of his with a little dance floor and live music. As I recall, a musician named Copeland Davis was playing that first night. My dad loved to dance and would teach me a little bit of swing dancing. I knew how to do the Hustle and so we traded dance steps. I have no idea why I wasn’t thrown out for being so obviously underage.  
For my birthday, Dad took me on my first cruise, to the Bahamas. The last day of our trip, I was walking with my dad when suddenly he said, “Wait!” He walked over to the roulette table and placed a bet on a number. Clueless about what he was doing, I watched the wheel slowly come to a stop—on his number. He had actually won! He said he sometimes just “got a feeling” and he always bet on those feelings.
My other birthday present involved tennis lessons. There were tennis courts on top of the parking structure where we lived, yet my dad preferred to play at the public courts, where he could pick up games near a little beachfront bar called The Greenhouse. He liked to challenge really good younger players to matches, knowing that they would consider him too old to be able to give them a workout. When they said “No thank you,” Dad would needle them, “Come on, just one set!” He would offer to wager a bet to get cocky players to play for easy money.  With his black socks and weird t-shirts (the Pink Panther and Superman themes were the tame ones), my dad looked anything but seriously competitive. 
My dad enjoyed helping me practice my strokes. Still, I was a beginner, and he grew bored whenever he wasn’t keeping score. With a sly look my way, he’d nod at the next court and say, “Let’s challenge them to a little doubles.”  I so didn't want to play. Dad never wore the proper tennis attire, said the most embarrassing things, and I also didn't really know how to play doubles. It didn’t matter, as Dad could be ridiculously persuasive. 
With lessons and Dad's coaching, I fast became a pretty good singles player (somehow I made the Santa Monica High School tennis team the next year when I returned to California). 
Doubles, however, never became my thing, perhaps because Dad drilled it into me to "stay out of the way" (so he could make heroic shots and win for two). The foreshadowing became clear only in retrospect: Dad liked to do things his way and collaboration would never be one of his favorite games.

Testing After Expiration Date: Constant Health Passes 2 Years Later!

Expiration dates are not all created equally. Not by a long shot. Many products don't meet label claims on the day of manufacture, much less some two or three years later at the so-called "expiration date."

We are a small company and independent laboratory testing adds costs to a quality control process, costs we consistently opt to make each time we produce a new batch of a products. We also opt to test when we want to resolve questions we have for ourselves--questions such as "How good is an 'expired' drink powder product?" We feel confident in our products because our manufacturers blend our formulas with about 5% more of each ingredient than our labels claim (to ensure they pass our independent laboratory tests). With our Constant Health product expiring this month, we decided to run a second test, two years later.

We sent a jar of Constant Health off to our independent laboratory testing director and asked him to suggest the best ingredients to analyze for oxidation or loss of potency. He recommended that we test the N-Acetyl-Cysteine, Vitamin E,  and Bioperine, the ingredients for which he would expect the highest rates of loss.

Here's what our independent laboratory test results for Constant Health on August 19, 2010 showed:

  • N-Acetyl-Cysteine at 151.6 mg / serving (still above label claim at 101%)
  • Vitamin E at 48.66 IU  /serving (a drop of only 2.68% over 2 years; this result would more than meet USP standards for even a newly manufactured product)
  • Bioperine at 10.82 mg / serving (still above label claim at 108%)

Proud. Proud. Proud. I could not be more proud. :-)

While our products consistently pass with flying colors at the time of manufacture, we (and you) can also trust that our products are still plenty potent even at the time of expiration!

Not all vitamin companies can say the same (just check out the latest news at and see how many big-name products regularly fail their independent lab testing program).

And tell your friends and family that they should catch on to the Co-op's great quality and great value. We have our big summer sale running right now, so it's a great time to stock up on our products and save a bunch (15% off orders and the Constant Health and Soothing Greens products are on clearance due to new inventory coming in next month).

We've gotta move the old stuff out to make room for the new batch. The products you buy have proven potency, so the savings you can get right now are really quite tremendous.

Meanwhile, stay tuned for the release of a small clinical study on Constant Health next month.