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What's Next ... for You?
The Gussin Guide to Big Changes, Big Decisions, & Big Fun
By Robert Gussin, Patricia Gussin
Oceanview PublishingCopyright © 2010 Robert Gussin and Patricia Gussin
All rights reserved.
I hit the off button on the clock radio and struggled out of bed at five thirty a.m. I glanced across at Pat, asleep like a baby with the covers pulled almost all the way over her head. I wished I could sleep like that. I shook my head and trudged off toward the bathroom, dreading my ninety-minute drive from our Yardley, Pennsylvania, condo, to my New Brunswick, New Jersey, office on this dark, chilly mid-February morning.
We'd given in and moved about a year earlier, from a spacious contemporary house on three woodsy acres in Worcester to the new Yardley place. I had to shorten my drive, Pat insisted, by at least a half hour. We actually moved farther from her office, but now she could avoid crowded back roads and take the highways, so her trip time stayed about the same ... forty-five minutes.
You may be wondering how we got into this horrendous commuting situation. It started in 1985 when we decided to move from our house in Hatboro, Pennsylvania, a house which had seen better days — before our rambunctious kids grew up there. That's when we stumbled across a beautiful contemporary house on three wooded acres in Worcester, and made a quick decision to buy it and move.
Actually, Pat stumbled across it when I was in Japan. She claimed to have read my mind from all the way across the Pacific; she was sure that I'd love the house so she signed on the dotted line. Then she held her breath until I got back. I can still hear her huge sigh of relief when I said I loved it, and I really did. With our two youngest sons, we moved out of the old neighborhood into the new.
The boys had to change school districts — a tragedy, they made clear — but the move hardly affected Pat's or my commute to our offices in two different suburbs of Philadelphia, each site a pleasant twenty-minute drive from our new home. I worked in Spring House as vice president for research and development at McNeil Pharmaceutical, and Pat in Fort Washington, as research and development vice president at McNeil Consumer Products.
But just a few weeks later, the parameters changed drastically when Jim Burke, the CEO and chairman of Johnson & Johnson, the parent company of our two McNeils, asked me to come to corporate headquarters in New Brunswick, New Jersey. That was when he offered me the job as corporate vice president for science and technology and chief scientific officer of Johnson & Johnson worldwide.
I'd oversee all the research and development efforts of the world's largest, most diversified healthcare company — several thousand scientists and physicians, all over the globe.
"This position will open the door for you," Jim Burke promised, "to every major university and research center in the world." The job also linked the Johnson & Johnson scientific community to the board of directors of the corporation. Overall, "the opportunity for interactions is endless."
This challenge was too good to turn down. I did hesitate because I was so happy at McNeil, but Pat informed me that if I refused that job it would convince her that I was totally insane. A very persuasive argument. And so, in early 1986, I began the nightmare commute: seventy miles and one and a half hours on the boring, congested Pennsylvania and New Jersey Turnpikes. Our move to Worcester actually had added another twenty miles — landing me squarely on the boys' side of the house controversy.
But, as usually happens, time passed — and we all adjusted. Our fourteen-year-old and twelve-year-old sons thrived in their new schools. Friends, parties, sports — football, basketball, baseball all came to pass, and in fairly short order, the boys loved our house in the woods. I adjusted to my drive, as well, thanks to audio books. When had I ever been handed three hours a day to "read" for pleasure?
Early in my corporate career, I'd dutifully tried listening to educational stuff like business tapes and scientific and medical tapes, and even foreign language lessons, but often I found myself so sleepy that I had to pull off the road. So then I stocked up on mystery and thriller novels, they not only kept me awake, but occasionally I even drove past our house, I was so into the story. Pat said that she always knew when I was at an exciting part in a book because she would hear the car enter the garage, but I wouldn't come into the house for another five or ten minutes.
We lived in that house for twelve happy years. Then, by nineteen ninety-seven, the boys had gone on to college, none of our seven kids lived at home anymore — and here came Pat's big job change. In her new job as worldwide vice president of research and development for Johnson & Johnson Consumer Pharmaceuticals, she'd be responsible for all of J&J's over-the-counter pharmaceutical products research, spending time in many countries around the world to develop formulations and products to satisfy each country's needs and unique regulatory requirements. Though she'd keep her main office in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania, she'd have to spend more time at the New Brunswick corporate headquarters, in central New Jersey.
Since we were both now heading east and north, we figured that Yardley seemed like a good, convenient location. And did I mention that it was a townhouse? Not only an easier drive, but no more yard work. Oh, and by then two of our older sons had recycled to live at home. Too bad, boys, we're downsizing. Not enough room, time for you to move into your own places.CHAPTER 2
Tough daily commutes aside, we loved our jobs. Pat and I both had plenty of responsibility and plenty of freedom to lead our organizations. No complaints, except that both of us were travelling — sometimes together, but mostly separately. Sometimes we saw each other only as much as the time it took to repack our suitcases. Once we realized two days before separate business trips to Europe that each of us was scheduled to be in Paris on the same evening with reservations in separate hotels one street apart. We fixed that situation in a hurry. Imagine if we'd bumped into each other on the Champs Elysées or walking on the quays by the Seine.
When we weren't traveling, we spent weeknights in our Yardley condo, weekends at the beach house we'd decided on impulse to begin building in the summer of nineteen ninety-one, in Amagansett, New York. The small village of Amagansett is known as one of the Hamptons, the fabled celebrity summer refuge near the eastern end of the south shore of Long Island. Our white modern house sits among sand dunes facing the Atlantic Ocean. We're surrounded by two acres of beauty beyond words. Pat and I still can't believe the place is ours, and we joke about when will the real owners come and kick us out.
We were so anxious to spend time at the beach, that we developed a crazy routine to get us out there and back every weekend that we weren't traveling on business or pleasure. Late every Friday afternoon, we drove the 150 miles in some of the country's worst traffic. Pat would drive from her office in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania, to mine in New Brunswick. At about six-thirty, she parked her car in the Johnson and Johnson garage and we took off in mine for the remaining 100-mile drive to the Hamptons. We'd stop for a late dinner and arrive in our Amagansett neighborhood about eleven.
Then after a glorious stay on Saturday and Sunday, we would get up at three a.m. Monday and leave the house about three forty-five a.m. I drove empty roads about two and a half hours to New Brunswick while Pat snoozed. Then Pat would awaken, get in her car, and drive to her office in Fort Washington to arrive at eight a.m., just in time to start the workday. But I was early. Arriving around six-thirty a.m., I'd close my office door, lean back in my desk chair, feet on desk, and sleep till I heard people coming in between seven-thirty and eight o'clock. I'd get up, switch on the office fluorescents, open the door, and greet my colleagues as they arrived.
Getting to Amagansett and back was a little rough, but our weekends at the beach house were well worth it. We were sure happy to get to bed early on those Monday nights.
Sometimes when we think back to how we came to build our house in the dunes, we're struck by how impulsive we were and still are. We defend our approach by calling our decision-making style "thoughtful impulsiveness." It was 1991, we'd been enjoying a three-day July weekend, living the Hamptons life. Days on the sparkling sand beaches, evenings dining out, nights at the Southampton Inn, and mornings sleeping till whenever we woke up. The wide beaches, the quaint shops, all sorts of wonderful restaurants, the fascinating Hamptons people watching — were so seductive.
On that particular weekend on Friday night, over halibut for me and lobster for Pat at the unparalled Della Femina restaurant, we began talking about how perfect it would be to retire, someday, to that area. Pat said she liked it better than any other place that we had taken shore vacations, and I couldn't disagree. So, the next morning, we decided to drive around neighborhoods and try to get a feel for what living there really might be like. We didn't figure that the decision would have a dramatic impact on our lives.CHAPTER 3
The lot was one of the greatest locations imaginable. Rolling sand dunes extended to a wide, pristine beach with that dazzling, nearly white sand meeting the waves of a sparkling blue-green ocean. At ten a.m. on Saturday, maybe half a dozen people were visible on the beach in the distance, both directions. We were enchanted by the beauty, the power and immensity of the ocean vista. A FOR SALE sign gave a realtor's phone number.
We took in our immediate surroundings. A beautiful contemporary house sat on the opposite side of a narrow boardwalk-style walkway that led to a set of wooden steps down to the beach. Another strikingly beautiful, white contemporary house sat behind the first, and another gray-tinged beauty behind that. All had generous lots with large spaces between the houses. Directly behind the lot on which we stood, we saw another empty lot with a Sold sign — and behind that, a pretty, gray-shingled older house.
I looked at Pat and shrugged my shoulders. "Should I call?"
She was tentative, too. We did not intend to retire for ten to fifteen years, the location was a significant distance from our Pennsylvania house, and did not seem a feasible weekend shore spot. We already owned a house in Pennsylvania, and a small condo on the Gulf Coast in Florida, so we were neither financially nor mentally ready for another investment.
But this two-acre lot was spectacular. Magic. Could not have been more beautiful if it had been dropped from heaven before our eyes. We looked at each other for a couple of silent seconds, and I reached through the open car door for the phone.
We were at the location, I told the realtor, and found it appealing. I did my best not to jump up and down and tell her it was the most gorgeous property I'd ever seen — for fear she'd raise the price. I tried to keep my voice unemotional as I asked, How much? She was wiser. Come to her office, and we'd discuss it. She added that the parcel was the finest to come on the market in months and one of the very few remaining oceanfront properties in the Hamptons. I saw multiplying dollar signs as Pat and I drove off to her office.
The price? Worse even than I expected. I was living in another world — a world long past. But I was stoic — no tears; I just told the realtor we would think about it and get back to her.
Saturday evening dinner at Bobby Van's restaurant in Bridgehampton was not a joyous occasion even though the food was delightful. I moped, Pat was practical. She shocked me by claiming that the property could be within our reach if we looked at it as an investment. I contended that if we bought the land, judging by the surrounding houses, we'd never be able to afford to build a house on it. The neighbors wouldn't appreciate a trailer or a tent, I joked. Pat, calm and logical as usual, said we could buy the lot — and keep it for ten years. The land surely would appreciate in value; and then, when we were close to retirement, we could decide whether to sell it or build a house. Sensible, but I continued sullen through the Sunday drive home.
Monday morning, I awoke with a flicker of optimism, and had barely walked into my office when I called the realtor. She'd told us the developer was in financial crisis and that was why the oceanfront gem now was for sale. He'd been keeping the property for himself, but as his finances deteriorated, had reluctantly put it on the market. Only the day before we called her, she announced — lucky for us, he'd halved the price to get a deal. That's why and how the price came down to the figure that'd all but knocked me out of my chair in her office that Saturday. In fact, she was telling the truth about the price history — confirmed soon after in a local news story that chronicled the developer's woes.
Anyway, I made a lowball offer. The realtor said she didn't think my bid would be acceptable, but that the development company board was to meet that morning, and she'd mention the figure. About four hours later, she called back and said no go, but they would consider a figure midway between my offer and the asking price. In an instant of manic insanity I said, "I'll take it."
She said she would fax a contract; we hung up. I felt like I didn't know whether to dance around the office or hide in the closet for fear of divulging my condition that could only have resulted from ingesting some psychedelic substance. I could barely hit the phone buttons to call Pat's office. Her assistant put me through. "We got it!" I shouted. Silence on the other end.
"We did? The lot?"
"Yes" — still shouting — "it's ours." Then I calmed down and replayed the details.CHAPTER 4
For a year after we bought the Amagansett property, we made the drive to Long Island often, for weekends. We slept in hotels, but we spent hours sitting on our dune gazing at the ocean. We even bought French bread sandwiches and a bottle of wine and picnicked on the lot or on the beach. The high water mark was the property line — so the beach was our front- or backyard, depending on your point of view.
Logical thoughts, as often happens, give way to impulsive, illogical, even antilogical actions. At our first homeowners' association meeting, we met our six neighbors. Everyone was excited that all seven lots were now sold, and we had a complete community. As we talked, they encouraged, just about badgered, us to build sooner than we planned. In fact, they wanted us to build immediately. Our responses were vague. Little did they know that our plan was to wait ten years.
Then we made the impulsive move that started the snowball rolling downhill. Why not talk to an architect, we figured, just to get some ideas. That was in autumn, nineteen ninety-two, and our house was completed in April, nineteen ninety-four. So much for logical approaches and sensible plans. Not only did we build ten years early, but we went from a two bedroom oceanside cottage to a six-bedroom house — our family was growing, not only our children, but at that time seven grandchildren, too — and we put in a pool, apprehensive about little grandchildren swimming in the ocean. Good-bye to savings and hello to a big mortgage.
Looking back, our decision-making process involved much emotion and little logic. How did it turn out to be among the best decisions we ever made? There's something to be said for what eventually we began to call "thoughtful impulsiveness." Superficially, it's easy to conclude that Pat provides the thoughtfulness, and I add the impulsiveness, but, realistically, I'd say we each contribute some of both.
Excerpted from What's Next ... for You? by Robert Gussin, Patricia Gussin. Copyright © 2010 Robert Gussin and Patricia Gussin. Excerpted by permission of Oceanview Publishing.
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