The Plot Thickens
I’d hired a guy named “Harry” to run Nemacolin for me, and a private eye named “Don” to check up on Harry, but I wasn’t a completely hands-off boss. As Harry began improving the ambience of the place, I got involved, changing the named from “Nemacolin” to “Nemacolin Woodlands” and sketching out a logo that we would use throughout the place, including on the new, expensive china we were ordering.
Previously in this series: Joe Hardy, Nemacolin and Me
I then hired an artist to do the final drawings and we began proudly stamping our new logo on everything: signs, rugs, dinner plates, coffee cups, and so on. After we’d spent a huge amount of money on all this, I received a not-very-nice letter from a big law firm, a so-called “cease and desist” letter.
What they were complaining about was the similarity of the new Nemacolin Woodlands logo to the logo that had been in use by the Rolling Rock Club for decades. The letter insisted that we cease conduct that was infringing the “image, brand and copyright” of the Club.
This put me in an intensely awkward position. In the first place, the letter had come from a law firm named Reed Smith, where I’d worked for years before joining the family office. In the second place, I was a member at Rolling Rock, as was everyone in the family I worked for.
Worst of all, the logo I’d designed for Nemacolin was in fact almost identical to the Rolling Rock logo – a ruffed grouse in flight (it was the Pennsylvania State Bird). The only significant difference was that the Club’s grouse was flying west and my grouse was flying east.
I hadn’t intended to copy the Club’s logo, but obviously I’d unintentionally done exactly that. And then I’d spent a small fortune putting the infringing logo on everything.
That left me with only two options. One, I could shoot myself and put an end to these miseries. Two, I could convene a high-level meeting and work out a compromise.
Fortunately for me, the head of the family office I was running possessed what is called “convening power” – if I called a meeting, most people would drop what they were doing and come. I therefore sat up a meeting with the chair of the Rolling Rock board and the head of the intellectual property group at Reed Smith. At this meeting I cleverly threw myself at their mercy, admitting that my logo infringed theirs, protesting that it was inadvertent, and pointing out that I’d spent a lot of money putting the logo everywhere.
I then suggested the compromise. Rolling Rock would allow me to continue to use the logo for one year, during which time I promised that (a) Nemacolin would not be open to the public but would be used only as a private retreat, (b) I would sell the damned place, and (c) once the place was sold I would donate to the Club everything that had the logo on it. That deal got done, but, alas, more trouble lay ahead.
While all this was happening, I was busily engaged in many other things, including trying to acquire control of a huge underground aquifer beneath a Spanish land grant in Colorado – possibly the largest aquifer in America. The family I worked for didn’t want to put up all the (massive) capital this would require, so I’d gone out seeking partners.
Two of the people I approached seemed interested and wanted to learn more, so I invited them to visit Nemacolin Woodlands for a series of meetings. One was Joe Williams, then Chairman of the Williams Companies, a big oil and gas outfit, and the other was Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett’s sidekick.
In addition to Joe and Charlie, two people who were advising us on the aquifer project would be at the meetings: Dick Lamm, Colorado’s Governor, and Bill Ruckelshaus, former Administrator of the US EPA and former FBI Director.
This was all going along swimmingly when I received a call from Don, my intrepid private eye. I’d paid for a weekend stay for Don at Nemacolin and given him two extra weeks to help me get to the bottom of the goings-on at Nemacolin, even though I wasn’t at all sure there were any goings-on to get to the bottom of. Naturally, Don instructed me to get to a safe phone and call him back.
When I got Don back on the line he told me matters at Nemacolin were “worse, much worse” than he’d imagined, and that I needed to “clean house immediately.” He wouldn’t go into detail on the phone, but insisted we meet at the Stone House Restaurant, a few miles from Nemacolin, and that I bring along “a big stack of pink slips.”
I’d been at the Stone House once before – the place had been there since 1822 and was now run by a lady named Fanny Ross – and the food had been good. But we hadn’t been at the restaurant very long before I lost my appetite.
Don told me that on his second visit to Nemacolin two remarkable things had happened. First, when he told Harry his price for the paper goods Don was supposedly selling, Harry informed Don that the price needed to be higher because a good portion of it needed to be kicked back to Harry if Don wanted the business.
Second, once Don and Harry had agreed on the size of the kickback, Harry suggested they celebrate by fixing Don up with a call girl, at Nemacolin’s expense. By discreetly asking around, Don learned that Harry routinely procured call girls for Nemacolin’s customers, and that Harry even drove up to Pittsburgh himself, picked up the girls, and brought them down to the lodge.
I was shocked into insensibility by all this. And Williams, Munger, Lamm, and Ruckelshaus were arriving in three days.
More blatant self-promotion. People have told me that my new poetry book, A Few Short Poems, was out of stock at Amazon. I naturally assumed this was because it’d made the New York Times best-seller list, but it turns out it was only Amazon’s mistake. It’s back in stock if you want to try again.
Next up: Joe Hardy, Nemacolin and Me, Part 3