Showing posts with label Roger Brickner. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Roger Brickner. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A Mentor’s Influence Never Stops



How many of us have had important mentors, without whom our lives may have turned out very differently?  When thinking about my own life, the first name that springs to my mind is Roger Brickner. I’ve written about him before, and this entry provides much of the background.  In short, he was my Honors Economics teacher and my grade advisor when I was a senior at Richmond Hill High School.  Miraculously, we reconnected 50 years later as he was the honorary chairman of my high school’s 1960 class 50th reunion, one I was unable to attend.  But since then we’ve been in touch by email, particularly during Presidential and mid-term elections.  You see Roger’s avocation – among other interests since retiring from teaching – is analyzing elections and projecting outcomes.  As he said “my interest in politics is an enthusiastic avocation. I began to predict presidential elections as a teenager and since I thought Dewey would win in 1948 I have been lucky to pick every winner since that time.”  That is, until the recent election. 

In addition, he is an amateur weatherman, taking after his own heroes, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, carefully recording the salient weather facts at his early 19th century home in the heart of Haverhill, NH.  And he still loves to travel, having been to more than 100 countries and to most U.S. states. 

Between our travels and his, we knew there would be a time they would intersect and yesterday was the day, as he and a friend were making their way south, having stayed in Charleston SC for a while, and now on their way to Deerfield Beach, FL.  So he called and I suggested we meet for lunch at The Cooper in Palm Beach Gardens.

It had been 57 years since I last saw him; he has the same energetic, optimistic personality.  But did he realize how important he was to me at a critical juncture in my life?  Clearly he did not.  I didn’t know why I was selected for his Honors Economics class as my status in high school in the first three years would be almost classified as juvenile delinquent (the same old story, rebelling from my parents, in with the wrong crowd, taking pleasure just getting by in class, all in preparation to enter my father’s photographic business, a tacit obligation as I would be the fourth generation to run the business). 

Roger said I was selected because he thought I was bright enough to do the work and with that encouragement I was turned on to learning, really for the first time in my life.  We were expected to do a term paper, just like in college!  I selected the topic of motivational research which at the time interested me.

So what did I bring when I saw Roger yesterday?  That paper.  He must have thought it bizarre that one would keep such a token of the distant past.  As a turning point in my life I obviously felt I should keep it (got an “A” by the way).  We were both amused to read my sophomoric conclusion: “Today [1959] motivational research is being used mainly to manipulate the consumer and slowly being used to direct the citizen.  Perhaps in the future manipulators will be trying to control every phase of our lives.”  Roger circled that and wrote boldly: “Surely you must have some comment on this.  Hitler, of course, was a master of these techniques – what shall we do about it?”  And now, we both agreed, perhaps that may be happening via social media, “fake news” etc.  So what should we do about it?

And that is Roger, always inspiring.  Without him, maybe I would have gone into my father’s business, which would have failed anyhow.  I still enjoy photography, but strictly as a hobby. So, I ended up doing what I loved, not photography or motivational research, but publishing. 

Then (from my HS Yearbook, my photo partially sullied by a classmate and Roger’s, one that I took as I was the photographer for the Yearbook)…
Roger Brickner

And now…..

Yesterday we talked a lot about Richmond Hill where we both grew up.  At one time he lived on the same street as my grandfather – 109th street off of Jamaica Avenue.  I spent my grammar school days at PS 90 right opposite my grandfather’s home which became my Uncle Phil’s.   

109th Street, Richmond Hill, NY

We moved to 115th Street and 84th Avenue right before I began High School – a long walk then as there were no school buses.  At one time Roger lived near Lefferts Blvd, which was near my home as well.  He went on to Queens College and then Columbia for his Master’s Degree with a nearly two year interlude in the army serving during the Korean War.

Reminiscing, we couldn’t help but think of Jahn’s as Roger had ordered The Cooper Sundae for dessert which was a dead ringer for Jahn’s infamous “Kitchen Sink.”

Good times, good talk, and it was great to see him 57 years later, and to thank him.

A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops. Henry Adams

Monday, May 6, 2013

Driving Through Diversity



My former high school teacher, a mentor to me at the time, Roger Brickner, took an ambitious trip this Spring, negotiating the old "Lincoln Highway" in his quest to discover the "real America."  This was our the first interstate highway system, fostered by the automobile industry before our entry into WWI.

Imagine making such a 3,000 mile journey back then in this powerful 66 HP 1911 Pierce-Arrow?  Not every part of the "highway" was paved.  Expect mud after a heavy rain.

Roger and friend, however, had a BMW which took them to many out of the way places.  I've been to some, especially along the iconic Route 66, but most were new to me and as a "member" of his email distribution list, I received reports along his journey, which began in Times Square, the official start of the Lincoln Highway, on March 16, but unfortunately abruptly ended on April 17 with the missive: "Just want to let all of you know that we had a crash with the BMW in Utah on Sunday.   Both Lou and I are fine... not even a scratch... but the BMW was totalled.  I am back in NYC.... All's well that ends well. Roger" 

But his final report on the trip shows his continuing deep love of this country, our political system, and our diversity -- just as I remembered his passion from my now very distant high school years. One gets a real sense of the nation just from his few paragraphs.   I asked him whether I might include in here as a "guest piece" and he replied affirmatively, adding, "my views of America have not changed in fifty years, but the party of my heritage has."

Friends:

    My final report on the trip.   We left NYC, the nation's largest, one of the most Democratic voting cities in the country, the safest among the fifty largest cities in the USA, and the most diversive city IN THE WORLD.  (name another more diverse in significant numbers, if you wish to disagree).  It is indeed a special place to start on our transcontinental trip.  New Jersey, with its large Italian, Black and Hispanic groups showed the decided end to our industrial era as we traveled down the old routes of the Lincoln Hwy.  We drove through areas of  derelict abandoned factories, deteriorating homes and could just feel the poverty of the minority inhabitants of this once blue collar prosperous area. In Philadelphia in the near inner neighborhoods as well as on the old west side the same minorities lived in poverty and bleakness where once factories  provided a good working class life.   More proof that America's old 19th century industrial epoch is behind us.  After leaving along the old MAIN  LINE we entered the western suburbs which is the start of the vast German swarth which reaches across the northern part of the country clear to the Pacific Coast. Beginning in 1682 the "Pennsylvania Dutch" (the translation of the English speakers of  Deutsch) came to this country.  Even today some of the Amish still speak a form of German within their own communities. Here they remain farmers, but as you cross Pennsylvania more "secular" Germans can be seen as far west as Pittsburgh along the Lincoln Hwy (Route 30).  These are the "Eastern" Germans, but after Pittsburgh you sense you are in the Mid West where after the Revolution these Germans kept moving west in their Conestoga Wagons.  Now, the landscape flattens out and so does the mind set and attitudes of the people.  Here there is cheerfulness, but less imagination, it seems.  It is a BURGER KING, MC DONALDS and MOTEL 6 world here. It is hamburgers and HUGE servings of everything.  Only in the urban areas is there much sophistication.  Chicago is the great  exception. Just out of Chicago and to perhaps 50 miles out of St. Louis we are back to the German Mid West.  Subtly we sense a change in the inhabitants.  More and more and then dominantly we enter the region of the migrating Appalachian Scots-Irish heritage. This is the area, just south of the German swarth, where the Appalachian folk moved west out of their mountain strongholds after the Revolutionary War ended. These folk are even more insular, but with greater Hoop De La in their attitudes than with the Germans.  Cowboy talk increases , but the food remains the same... too much for too little cost and too many calories.  The proportion of Obese people increases. By Oklahoma the Native Americans and Mexicans are seen in large numbers, Their influence is cultural, but surely not political in this state. Politically, from mid-Missouri to all of Oklahoma the white population is about 80% Republican.  My Obama car sticker was not approved of by many.

    By the time we crossed the New Mexico border, the Hispanic and Native American population was even greater.  In Tucumcari it was still dominated by "Anglos"  most Appalachia folk and some Germans.  But by Santa Rosa and Santa Fe it was decidedly more Mexican, Spanish (the earliest settlers on what is now American soil) and Native American.  Here there seems to be a guarded acceptance of each other's culture. This was especially true in the Santa Fe area. Here Caucasian non- Spanish seem still to be the intruders in this Spanish Missionary culture.  Here it is easy to understand the great diversity of the country and the challenge it poses for our future.  Once in Northern Arizona Native Americans take firm hold and are the Majority,  Here few "Anglos" live anywhere but in the larger towns.

    In California we return to the sophisticated areas of the East and some Mid Western urban areas.  It is a nation sharply divided, and yet, it is a nation which prospers because of its diversity since the idea of ONE NATION, INDIVISIBLE is accepted by the vast majority.  Our nationalism is not, as in Europe and Asia, based on one ethnic group based on their own language, but a nation based on an idea not an ethnicity.

    Comments most welcome.  I hope I have not bored you with my thoughts

                                                                    Roger





Monday, April 22, 2013

Mentoring and Remembering



I didn't think I'd get around to writing anything for a while, but I can't let this go by.  There is a remarkably beautifully written piece by Philip Roth -- In Memory of a Friend, Teacher and Mentor -- in yesterday's New York Times, which one can read on several levels.  It is a eulogy, a profound testament to the power of mentoring, insight into the fine line between literature and non-fiction, and a condemnation of "the scum in power" -- what one could call government at certain stages of American history.  Roth is referring to the McCarthy era when his former high school teacher, mentor and friend, Dr. Bob Lowenstein was "mauled in Congress’s anti-Communist crusade of the 1940s and 1950s."

The main character in Roth's I Married a Communist was shaped by his friend and Roth says "the book is, at bottom, education, tutelage, mentorship, in particular the education of an eager, earnest and impressionable adolescent in how to become — as well as how not to become — a bold and honorable and effective man."  But it is also about that era when his friend and mentor was branded as "political deviant" and lost his job as a teacher for six years: "I refer now not to a boy’s but to an adult’s education: in loss, grief and, that inescapable component of living, betrayal. Bob had iron in him and he resisted the outrage of the injustice with extraordinary courage and bravery, but he was a man, and he felt it as a man, and so he suffered too."

Being a teacher, Bob was in the position of being a mentor to many.  I had had thoughts of going into teaching instead of publishing (actually, I had no thoughts about the latter, I just needed to work when I got out of college -- I think of myself as an "accidental publisher").
 
Good teachers are mentors by design and I have been lucky enough to have two during my impressionable high school and college years, and remarkably we are still in touch and continue to be part of my life, my high school economics and political science teacher, Roger Brickner, and my college English teacher Martin Tucker.

But I've been a mentor too in my career (and have been mentored by others in the publishing world) and although I rarely see them, I am lucky enough to have an email relationship with several former colleagues, some of whom I've known almost from the beginning.  The last entry made an oblique reference to one who contacted me after 44 years, Mary.  Well, hat tip to her for passing on this brilliant piece of satire by Andy Borowitz of The New Yorker, which sort of ties everything up regarding this entry -- a new shameful era in our political history, the Senate having the "the courage and grit to stand up to the overwhelming wishes of the American people."

When President Obama delivered his State of the Union address, he said that the people of Newtown, Connecticut "deserve a vote" on gun control, little did he imagine that a watered down version that focuses mainly on background checks would fail -- a shameful example of NRA's control of our politicians  We got our vote.  Hopefully, all will remember when those Senators are up for reelection.

And to the city of Boston, great sighs of relief to the refrains of Sweet Caroline.....

And when I hurt,
Hurtin' runs off my shoulders






Friday, November 16, 2012

Whither Go Republicans...or Will They Just Wither?

A Guest Editorial by Roger Brickner



My high school teacher from years and years ago, a Republican all his life, expressed his dismay at what has happened to his party in an email to friends, and I have his permission to share it. Roger has studied the American political scene for more than sixty years now, more than 25% of the lifetime of the Union itself.  His observations are truly first hand and astute....

The party wasn't always like that. From 1861-1913 they lost to only one Democrat.  Their major successful policies during that period included, the winning of the Civil War, the ending of slavery, the supremacy of the union, meaning the central federal government, the opening up of western lands to pioneers, both domestic and immigrant (Homestead Act), the opening up of the west by encouraging entrepreneurs to build the infrastructure of the transcontinental railway, the land grants to states to establish free state colleges (Morrill Act), the control of greedy capitalists who sought to take at others expense (Trust Busting), they laid the ground and finally passed the Suffrage Act of 1919 giving women the right to vote, they encouraged Prohibition  as a way to lessen the effects of wife beating.  (not all their efforts succeeded).  Almost all of these measures, including the last two, were opposed  by the Democrats. This was a formula of beliefs which worked for Republicans.  Why has the party of today strayed from these successful principles which spawned their own party?

These are questions about their own party which they must answer. It was a party which combined what was good for America with care and compassion with the people they ruled. Why is it so different today?  Part of it is that their vision is blurred as they do not fully understand the origins of  their own party. Part of it is because policies initiated in the late 1960's moved them away from their roots.  Pres. Nixon's "Southern strategy" worked all too well. For 108 years the SOLID SOUTH  held for the Democratic party.  Since then the South has voted overwhelmingly Republican. What an incredible reversal! It has transformed the Republican party on racial and states' rights policies. It's earlier openness to the needs of a diverse nation has become crabbed and resentful.

Given the ever evolving aspect of America it will become more and more diverse ethnically. We are a nation based on the concept that we are united as a democratic society, not as a nation based on one ethnicity.  We are therefore not a carbon copy of how Europe views itself.  Europe sees itself as countries of a single cultural identity, in spite of their rather unsuccessful attempts to integrate other cultures into their societies.  To illustrate, I ask: "when will England have a Pakistani ethnic become PM, when will the French have an Algerian ethnic become their leader, and when will Germany have a Turkish ethnic become their Chancellor?   Don't hold your breath.

Unless and until the Republican party...the party of my own proud heritage...realize who they are and embraces in its heart ALL Americans, I foresee them becoming like the old Whig party which shunned the issues of the day and allowed the great Republican party to succeed it.

When Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt can be found again in Republican circles, they may once again become relevant today. Until that happens those great Republican presidents are better reflected in the Democratic party.