Chapter 65

Good Morning, Sweetie Peach

Mornings in the penthouse suite at the Drake Hotel began pleasantly enough. “Good morning, Sweetie Peach,” Townsend Brown would say to his daughter as the family gathered around the breakfast table. “Did you sleep well?”

That first night back at the hotel — after spending most of her time since arriving in Philadelphia in the idyllic embrace of Morgan’s family farm, and after Morgan took the green light and walked more or less out of her life — Linda did not sleep all that well. “I pretty much cried all night,” she wrote, “I was so sure I’d just made the biggest mistake of my life.”

“I am feeling really displaced,” Linda wrote in her journal. “If I had said ‘Don’t go…’ to Morgan, we would probably have ‘set a date’ by now.  Maybe even be married by now.  What would I be doing?  Starting my new life as a bride? Living somewhere on the Main Line?  The last time we were together he drove me past that little brick house in Bryn Mawr.  The trees were blooming madly in the back yard and there was a mass of spring flowers in the front.  And he said, ‘This could be ours…’  I have never really had a home, and there it was, with roses starting to bloom for the summer.  A substantial little house in a lovely town.  I looked at him, tall and strong.  I could see our children.  I wanted that moment in time to freeze forever and never change…”

Instead, the moment spilled onto Linda’s pillow.  “It was all I could do not to reach for the phone, to call him, to ask him to look at that house in Bryn Mawr with me again,” she recalled later.  Of course, she never made that call, nor did Morgan call her.

* * *

Her father must have known exactly what had transpired, because he was prepared the next day with an offering intended to fill the void. “One of Daddy’s favorite things in the world was the white coat that he always wore when he was working at the lab,” Linda said. “The day after Morgan crossed the street without me, Daddy came home with a package under his arm.  He handed it to me. ‘Here, this is yours,’ he said.” 

When she opened the package, Linda discovered a neatly folded, starched, white lab coat, just like the one her father always wore, with a badge already sewn over the pocket.

“I really need you Sweetie,” Townsend said. “Please come to work for me.”

“Next to my horse,” Linda recalls, “that was the best gift he ever gave to me.” 

Linda had some idea what had been going on at the new lab while she spent those few weeks with Morgan.  Much of the operation — the “remote lab” — from Homestead had been relocated, and among the personnel now working beside her father were the venerable Puscheck and Spirito.  When she’d heard stories about how clever those two were, doing some of the tasks that had previously been Linda’s assignments, Linda felt like she’d been replaced.  But Josephine had assured her that her position was secure.  “It’s OK, Sweetheart," Josephine said while patting Linda affectionately on the knee, “it’s taken the two of them to take your place!”  

The next day began just as so many others would through the remainder of the spring and summer of 1966, with Linda joining her father at the sprawling Decker compound that occupied most of a hillside in the Philadelphia suburb of Bala-Cynwyd.

After breakfast — often fresh strawberries on a table Josephine had neatly arranged with fresh flowers — Linda and Townsend would gather their things and step into the hallway to wait for one of the elevators to open its doors.  “We preferred the one that was finished in fine walnut, with the tufted couch along one wall.  It was nicer than the other one; that one was finished in pine and had a mind of its own.  It would go up instead of down, or open its doors between floors, or not open them at all.   After a while we learned to just avoid that one, because Dad said the idea of going up and down in a pine box is not a comfortable situation to begin with!”

On the ground floor, they crossed the lobby — navigating their way through a roped off corridor with its ‘pardon our mess’ signs as the old building underwent a face lift — to the big brass, revolving doors.  “Good morning,” the doorman said, touching his finger to his cap as Browns, father and daughter, passed by on their way to the garage across the street where the Cadillac convertible was now kept.

“Sometimes we played silly games in the lobby of that parking garage,” Linda recalls.  “Like a game of cops and robbers.  He shocked me when he took off the first time, his long raincoat whipping in the breeze as he sprinted to a corner in the corridor, whipped around, and suddenly pointed his finger at me and shouted ‘Bang....Bang!’  Then he was gone again, racing down that long hallway! After that first time it became a race to see who could bolt first and get the advantage of being able to point and fire.  We laughed a lot but somehow we always managed to walk out into the garage lobby looking quite prim and proper.  But he and I knew that the game was always just beneath the surface!”

A valet brought the Cadillac down from one of the upper floors of the garage. Linda slipped into the driver’s seat, and they headed out of the garage and across the Schuykill River into the suburbs.  “We were fortunate because we are going out when everyone else is coming into their jobs in the city.” 

Going against the flow gave Linda plenty of opportunity to observe the city as she drove through it. “Benjamin Franklin Parkway is beautiful in the spring,” she wrote in her journal, and taking note of one particular statue with her trained equestrienne’s eye:  “I especially like the way the statue of Joan of Arc glistens in the morning sun. It is plated in gold and nothing can match that sight. Her war charger is enormous and impatient but is
obeying her firm light hand on the reins. She is sitting ramrod straight but there is something else there too. She is more than the bold, fearless leader of armies. She obviously is a young girl, young and frail and yes — a little afraid.”

The Decker compound occupied a hilltop in the suburban community of Bala-Cynwyd, about seven miles from the Drake.  “The lab seemed to take up one of the highest points,” Linda noted.  “You don't realize how high until you turn up the drive way and the grade nearly takes your breath away.”

There was a gatehouse at the entrance to the compound, where a guard named Sidney greeted Dr. Brown and Linda.   “We parked the car, and then returned to the gatehouse to sign in,” Linda said. “Dad always signed in with his long, elegant signature.”  Linda signed in after father, signing her own name and then just jotting “ditto, ditto, ditto” under all the other entries on the form.

Then “We put on our lab coats, which we carried with us from the car.”  Looking back on the situation years later, Linda notes that “no one got anywhere on the complex without the badges sewn into those lab coats.” 

In retrospect , Linda suddenly remembered that the badge sewn into her nifty lab coat was actually a device called a dosimeter — a detector that could measure any radioactivity in the environment. Even now, Linda still does not know why they were being monitored for radiation exposure.  “I noticed with displeasure that those little radiation tags were part of the badge,” she wrote.  “Everyone who is admitted to ‘the hill’ is required to wear one of those specially issued white lab coats.  No one without one of those coats is allowed past the front gate, which makes me nervous about what else this place is up to.”

Dr. Brown and Linda kept their coats there at the guard shack, putting them on in the morning, leaving them again each night. At the time, Linda thought it was great that she didn't have to worry about washing  or starching them, because that was always done for her by some mysterious service. But what was really happening was that each night, the dosimeters were analyzed.  Linda knew that in her father’s lab, high voltages were really the only major concern — not radiation.  Just what might be generating sufficient radiation that the entire staff needed to be monitored, nobody ever said.

  * * *

A stand of pear trees lined the sidewalk in front of the structure that housed Dr. Brown’s lab. “Building #4” was “big, modern and all ours,” Linda recorded. “It’s a far cry from the Homsestead lab. It’s full of
equipment, but Daddy still grumbles about the lack of proper small tools — things like sharp knives, or extra plugs, or even pliers that actually meet at the tips!”  She described the building itself as “large and airy but not cold. We are surrounded by enormous pine and oak trees and other woodsie plants, so it is quiet and seems very isolated up here — even if it is in the middle of a city. Yesterday I even watched a rabbit hop right up to our door and look in, as if to say, ‘Hey, neat.  You must be the new guys….’”

Of course, it never dawned on Linda either, when the rabbit disappeared, that she was the one in the rabbit hole.

Martin Decker himself was rare presence on the hilltop, apparently spending most of his time at an apartment he kept in a building he owned across the street from the complex.  But there was one constant reminder — an omen of sorts — of his looming presence.  “Mr. Decker keeps a gorgeously plumed peacock — in a cage — by the wall of our building,” Linda noted, unable to fathom why the colorful creature was caged up when “there is plenty of room here for him to roam safely and happily.”

Linda asked a guard why the bird was confined that way; The guard shrugged and said simply “Mr. Decker’s orders.”

Hearing that, her father “looked at that poor bird long and hard.  It had barely enough room to turn around,” and the cramped quarters were “wearing down its plumage.”  For some reason, the whole picture just seemed to exemplify the situation Dr. Brown had agreed to commit himself to at the behest of his Nassau colleagues.

“I think,” Townsend whispered to Linda, “we are in very big trouble.”

* * *

The ostensible reason why Brown had relocated his operations back to Philadelphia — and back under the wing of the mercurial Martin Decker — was to continue development of a loudspeaker version of the electrokinetic fan, to make it a commercially viable product that would finally squeeze some meaningful revenue out of Townsend Brown’s inventions. Linda, at least, believed that was what was going on, and by the middle of May she had settled into something of a routine.

“It looks like I’ll be here for a while,” Linda wrote, “but this is strictly a labor of love. I get no official paycheck, but Dad has made sure that I always have money in my pocket and anything that I have mentioned that I need he makes sure that I get. I have no expenses at home, so why shouldn't I spend my time at the Lab? If I was working somewhere else, could I contribute more? I don't think so, and my future is hanging by every thread of wire that I string.” 

“It’s amazing,” she marveled, “just a few months ago, while riding or going to a ‘dress dinner’ at Sem, I would never have imagined that my path would take me here…” — with a soldering gun in her hand every day.
                                               
Dr. Brown and his little team “worked very hard all summer to build this ‘theater-sized’ loud speaker,” Linda said. “It took up a whole side of the building.” Linda’s principle co-workers were Mr. Spirito and Mr. Puscheck — Nassau’s “men at Decker,” whatever that meant. “Mr. Puscheck showed me how things needed to be soldered,” Linda remembers, and she worked “all day long, every day, all summer,” with delicate filaments, wires the thickness of a human hair, that had to be strung very carefully through the enormous framework.

All summer long, they used the soundtracks from the movies Camelot and The Sound of Music to demonstrate the system’s brilliant sound reproduction qualities.  But crystal clear sound was only one of the characteristics of the this speaker with no moving parts.  It could also project sound so that it was difficult to tell exactly where it was coming from: If you stood with your nose practically touching the speaker, it sounded like the sound was coming from ten feet in front of you. In fact, no matter where you stood, it sounded like the sound was coming from ten feet in front of you; but the volume and sound quality remained consistent even if you wer sixty feet away.

Linda’s daily presence in the lab turned out to be an essential ingredient in keeping her equally hard-working father healthy and strong.  Every day, they would work straight through the morning and well past noon, “until sometime after one, when the hunger pains would make me complain.  Then Dad would finally be forced to stop what he was doing to feed his daughter and, yes, by the way, to eat something himself.”

Often, they drove a few miles to a local inn that had a nice lunchroom.  Linda would order the club sandwich, while her father would eat “as if he was starved — and I thought I was the one who was hungry!”  But Linda came to the realization that her father would have ignored his own hunger before he’d take a break of his own accord. “I realized after a couple of days that he would not take that break if I were not there to insist on
it. And I realized that it has been like this probably for years.  Mother was the only one who could keep him eating on any kind of regular schedule.  I am sure that if we weren't there to accompany him — and to insist that we were hungry — he probably would half starve... or live on peanut butter…”

Back at the lab, the crew struggled to eliminate a hissing sound that the system had developed.  “The music isn't as clear as we know that it can be and that hiss has me purely frustrated,” Linda wrote. “I can't find it either and I can't stand that sound. It just sets my teeth to aching. I know that Daddy will find the trouble spot and we will go on but I hate to see him so agitated and I HATE that sound.”

Sometime during the summer, a solution presented itself and the hissing was eliminated.  “OK,” Linda noted, “one bug squashed and she is running smoothly now. It’s marvelous music anyway — The Sound of Music with Julie Andrews.”  Then Linda remembers that The Sound of Music was the first music that anybody ever heard from the loudspeaker:

“Let’s see,” she wrote, “that was 1962.  It’s been four years already.  Damn, where did all the time go?”  And then she begins to think about all the things that had happened in the four years since she had first heard that music — the whole relationship with Morgan that had come on like summer thunder and then fizzled out over the horizon.  “My mind flashed on everything that had gone on between me and Morgan since then,” she wrote, “and my heart aches suddenly…”

* * *

“Daddy seems so much happier than he was in Florida,” Linda observed in the middle of May, 1966, but life at the Decker lab was not without its trials and tribulations. Not the least among them was the irritating influence of Martin Decker’s management team.  In addition to whatever technical difficulties the team encountered in the process of perfecting the electrokinetic loudspeaker, there were the management conflicts with the people Martin Decker had assigned to supervise Dr. Brown’s work.

Mr. Decker had appointed a bean-counter named Ron Moyer as the president of the company, and Moyer proved to be precisely the kind of cost-conscious bureaucrat whose management style consisted mostly of making a nuisance of himself.  Lacking any background in science or electronics, it was easy for Mr. Moyer to exasperate Dr. Brown with capricious executive decrees — “sophomoric,” Dr. Brown called them. And he was insulting to the two men who served as Brown’s lab assistants, telling them at one point that they were entirely “dispensable.” Of course, Mr. Moyer did not know that those “assistants” — Mr. Puscheck and Mr. Spirito — were also major stockholders in the Decker corporation who had also been identified by the Nassau group as “our men at Decker’s.”

Not content to meddle with those he regarded as the hired help, Mr. Moyer also demonstrated that he could be equally insulting to Dr. Brown. 

On one occasion, when Dr. Brown commented about the improved quality of the sound coming from one of the new speakers, Moyer dismissed the remark by saying “Oh, you’re just saying that because you invented it.”

Dr. Brown turned slowly and took a long look at Moyer before replying. “Well Ron,” he said, “that’s not necessarily true.  I would think it was good even if you had invented it…”

Nor did Mr. Moyer have much regard for Dr. Brown’s newest assistant when she was introduced, despite her naturally industrious work habits. 

In her first few days on the job, Linda wired one whole side of one fan-loudspeaker and assembled the framework for a new “honeycomb” design for the loudspeaker.  “This work is not physical,” she noted, “but the stress level is high.  Mr. Moyer came flipping through the lab and Dad introduced me as his assistant,” leaving out the part about Linda also being his daughter.  “Right away, Moyer’s eyes got a little steely, assuming that I was on the payroll and he hadn’t been informed about it.”

Later that day, Linda overheard her father telling Moyer, “It’s none of your concern.  This is Foundation business and she works directly for me.”   Hearing this, Linda looked up to see Puscheck and Spirito smiling. “After all,” she remembers, “they had been told that they were dispensable, too.”

“If this sort of thing continues,” Linda wrote in her journal, “it’s going to be a very interesting summer.”

* * *

Compared to dealing with the likes of Ron Moyer, things started out quite encouragingly with the development of the actual fan, and Linda harbored quiet aspirations for its ultimate commercial potential.

“The loudspeaker is testing magnificently,” Linda notes in a late-May journal entry. “Dad sparkles when he talks of it, and I love seeing him this way.  It’s as if we are all out of that rut that we were in back in Florida.  With this amount of enthusiasm, how can we possibly lose out this time?  I can’t imagine how he can fail.” 

But a just a couple of weeks later, the project suffered a serious setback.   Mr. Spirito had been running endurance tests on the “honeycomb plastic” design of the speaker matrix, but after less than 48 hours of run time, the apparatus started to fall apart, “becoming absolutely worthless.”

“Things went from good to bad at the lab today,” Linda noted. “In one single day we felt that the world had suddenly come to an end, as if we had been on the wrong track and some giant power had slammed us into a stone wall. We had all been so sure of it! Daddy, too! He was floored!"

Mr. Puscheck was even more disappointed. “I can remember him saying he hoped he never saw that material ever again,” Linda recalled later, “and furthermore he didn't even like bees anymore, either!"

But, in the mystic art and supernatural science that is the process of invention, success is often the phoenix that rises from the ashes of failure.

In the same reserved way that he usually expressed his own frustrations, Dr. Brown “just threw his glasses down on his desk and walked out to the shade of the trees outside,” and everybody knew enough to leave him alone with his thoughts. 

After about an hour, Dr. Brown returned to the lab and said, “You know, I’ve been thinking…” Linda ran for a pad and pencil, and Puscheck and Spirito gathered around his big desk as Dr. Brown started to sketch out a new idea. Soon Spirito was on the phone to a company in New Jersey dictating the specifications for some material to be machined over night and delivered in the morning.

“So tomorrow we start all over,” Linda wrote that evening in her journal, “with a brand new design. It’s the most amazing thing when you see that process unfold.”

* * *

And at the end of every day, Linda and her father were always the last to leave the lab. “Stepping into the sunshine is always so nice,” Linda noted, “and it gives me a moment to shake off the atmosphere of tension that I usually feel inside.”

Whatever tension Linda was able to cast aside at the end of every day, she observed that her father was not as fortunate. “I do that,” she wrote, "but Daddy kind of carries it with him.  It’s harder to detach when it is a mental thing. Luckily I am not that involved.  Not in this situation, anyway. I understand though what Dad goes through.  The thoughts, the unfinished business, are always right there. And Daddy is always operating as if he is always behind schedule, as if he is acutely aware that the time is short and he hasn't gotten finished what he needs to finish. He has been working practically non stop on the speaker since we got here...he even comes in on Sunday.”

The day the honeycomb fell apart and Dr. Brown came up with his revised design, Linda says she “came home from the Lab absolutely drained and opted for a nap while Mom and Dad went out to dinner. Dad was still pumped up and he wanted to ‘tell Jo about it.’  All I wanted to do was sleep.  I realized that he needed to decompress.  And he was terribly hungry. Once we drove away from the lab we both realized that neither one of us had eaten all day.”

By the time they got home, Linda was too exhausted to eat, but Josephine needed to get out after being in the apartment all day.  “So it was good timing, and when whey came home, I was up and wanted to go out.  So Daddy headed for bed, and Mom turned right around and went out again with me!  We had one of the nicest visits that Mom and I have ever had.”

They talked about what had happened at the lab that day and how pleased they both were that Townsend had been able “to pull the fat out of the fire.”

“I don’t even know what that expression means,” Linda wrote in her journal, “but I got the gist of it. It was a rare moment for us.  Suddenly I was aware that Mom was treating me as a grown woman, not the girl who was her daughter. We talked about our hopes for the future. She asked me how I liked my job.”

And then Josephine asked about Morgan. “How long will he be in Virginia?”

“I don’t know,” was all Linda could manage to answer. “I got the impression that he was going to be away at least until September.”

“And then what?” Josephine asked.

And again, all Linda could muster was another “I don’t know.”

Josephine tried to be comforting. “It’s a strange world we live in,” she said quietly “and sometimes I think it’s better just to go along with everybody else.  Knowing too much can be painful...”

Many years later, Linda would poignantly recall this conversation. 

“I realize now how very much more she could have told me,” Linda wrote, “But I guess I had to learn it at my own speed…”

 


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