Showing posts with label Richmond Hill High School. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Richmond Hill High School. 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

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

What Happened and What Will the Future Bring?

The question relates to the midterm elections and the answer comes via the oblique route of my 50th high school reunion. In the summer I was invited to the reunion but unfortunately I would not be able to attend.

My "old" classmate, Eileen, who did a yeoman's job organizing the reunion was disappointed (as was I), but told me that our grade advisor from those by-gone years, Mr. Brickner would be there. I was delighted to hear his name again and to learn he was well. She said she would be meeting with him to finalize plans and she was still having difficulty addressing him as "Roger" rather than Mr. Brickner. I know what she meant. Our class had tremendous respect for Roger Brickner. And, for me, he was not only my advisor, but an important mentor (probably unknown to him). My first three years in high school were mostly wasted opportunities, but when I had Mr. Brickner for Honor Economics, all that changed. I wrote to Eileen that “he is one of the few teachers I so clearly remember as being encouraging of my dormant academic abilities and I would love to be able to be in touch with him to thank him.”

Ellen passed on the information and one day I received a phone call. It was Mr. Brickner, animated and enthusiastic, exactly as I remembered him from fifty years ago. I had the opportunity to personally thank him for being such a supportive teacher and asked him whether he still wore his trademark bow tie (no). We exchanged email addresses.

Suddenly I began to receive broadcast emails from him about the, then, upcoming midterm elections, detailed analyses covering the house, senate, and gubernatorial races, state by state, projecting winners and the reasons why. I was stunned by the scope of his knowledge and asked whether he worked professionally in this area after teaching. He wrote back, "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. The key is understanding where the American people are each fall of a presidential year." Now I understood why he was the champion of mock political conventions in our high school. I participated in the one for 1960 and as I recall placed Margaret Chase Smith, the Senator from Maine, in nomination for the Presidency, which put me way ahead of the times (imagine, a woman President!).

His predictions were remarkably accurate, nailing almost all the races, and reading his forecasts was a better use of time than watching the network "calls" of the election. As the projections of all the major networks -- ABC, CBS, CNN, FOX, and NBC -- rely on the same exit poll information gathered by National Election Pool (NEP), their calls and analysis can be dully redundant. It was a breath of fresh air to read Roger's coverage and projections, all well before the exit polls gathered by NEP were distributed to the networks. After the election he sent a daily email dissecting the house, senate, and gubernatorial results. On November 9 he did an omnibus summary, musing about the possibilities for 2012, which I publish in its entirety as a valuable guest entry:


Dear Friends:

First and foremost, the election just concluded (with still a few undecided races) WAS truly a remarkable one. It tore down past records. The Republicans now have more state legislators than they have had since 1928. They have seized control of the House to a greater extent than they have had since 1946. Hardly a record, they added six seats in the Senate, remaining behind by a 53-47 margin. In number of governors they are very close to their all time highs of the 1970's and 1980's.

What caused this surge to the Republicans? The public never accepted the assurances of the President and the Congressional leaders that the Medical Care measure was in their interests. They were appalled by the dealings in congress and the twisting of arms. Standard behavior in Congress, but not appreciated by the public. But if the Medical Care bill hurt, it was the inability of the Administration to lower significantly unemployment. There also was the feeling that nothing was being done to limit the power and the machinations of Wall Street and Big Business. Not spoken about in the campaign I believe it was an underlying factor. It not only united the left with the populist tea party right, but it activated the latter while depressing the former.

The president himself was a substantial factor. Not that he did not achieve Congressional measures he fought for, but that he seemed not to be able to communicate to the public easily. He was viewed as being "an educated elitist" who was not comfortable with ordinary people. A bit like Adlai Stevenson.

Losses in key areas were devastating. He lost 21% of the over 65 voters, who voted in a greater proportion than in 2008. On the other end the under 30's held in their support BUT far fewer got out to vote. White men, white women, less educated all shifted strongly to the Republicans. Blacks remained loyal to the Dems. Their proportion of the vote dropped however.

The tea party played a role in the 2010 election... it helped both the Republicans and the Democrats and it hurt both as well.. It is a dynamic loosely knit group of individuals motivated by a desire to change the way government has been going of late. It is quite the populist movement, hardly a sophisticated bloc of traditional activists tightly organized. It has had the effect of bringing out voters. It has encouraged participation of voters, particularly in Republican primaries, challenging both Conservative and Moderate party standards. In three cases it achieved the nomination of tea party types in areas where the general electorate not inclined to support them. They undoubtedly caused the Repubs. Senate seats in Delaware, Colorado and Nevada. Had the standard candidates run in these states the Senate would be 50-50. If Lieberman ( I-CT) or very conservative Ben Nelson ( D-NE) had switched to vote to organize for the Republicans it would be a different story. Tea party has surely hurt the Repubs. in these three states. The Dems. can see this as a ray of hope for them. However, the Republicans undoubtedly were invigorated by the support of many in the tea party. Perhaps now that they have a half dozen tea party Senators and perhaps 40-50 House members they will understand the process of politics more than their exuberant backers. Indeed, I see this Repub. bloc as I did the Blue Dog Dems in the last Congress. Many of the Blue Dogs lost as readers of these letters expected. Many of the tea party winners come from these Blue Dog CDs.

The tea party may become involved in the populist cause of punishing the greed on Wall Street and be joined by the left wing pseudo socialists in the President's party. Perhaps this unlikely coalition will be an interesting development of tea party influence. Keep watch for this.

As the lame duck Congress meets later this month, I shall return to the issues and the wisdom of how much a lame duck Congress should attempt especially after a watershed election.

What is in this election to help us understand the 2012 election? History tells us that presidents bounce back after major defeats in Congress after their first two years... TRUMAN, EISENHOWER, REAGAN, CLINTON. All were two term presidents (Truman less only 80+ days). Does this apply to Obama?? History says it may well. But, just to play the game of IF THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION WERE HELD TODAY WOULD YOU VOTE FOR OBAMA OR FOR ROMNEY? My guess is that would be an extremely close election with perhaps 1% separating the two. Electoral vote? Obama 271, Romney 267. that would see Obama losing four major states VA, NC, FL, OH. It would be a nail biting election. BUT the election is NOT now, it is in NOV 2012.

A POSSIBILITY for 2012 is for third party(s) may become significant. It would really shake things up. A centrist party a la Bloomberg or a frustrated Tea Party on the right could mess up anyone getting a majority of the electoral votes. If that happened then the House votes by delegation for one of the top 3 candidates popular vote. If that were to happen in 2012, the Repubs. would make the decision for they are in control of 33 state delegations and only 26 votes are needed. So given that reality, it would seem a Tea party third party is the more likely. A centrist party would have to win a majority of the votes for it to win, and if it ran and did not, the Repubs. would again be able to vote themselves in. THIS IS ALL CONSTITUTIONAL OK??

Time to take a break, Roger

Monday, August 30, 2010

Batter Up!

It is a moment one almost likens to tales of the unbelievable, news about one's 50th high school reunion. When I graduated from Richmond Hill High School in 1960, it would have been the class of 1910’s turn; it would never happen to us. Now in 2010, it is our turn, my generation no longer on deck, but in the batter’s box, approaching a full count. Baseball metaphors were in my thoughts as I held the invitation to my 50th HS reunion from one of my old classmates.

I had attended the 20th reunion and generally was not recognized or probably more aptly, not remembered. The surreal aspect of that gathering was it took place at the school itself, its hallways, classrooms, and the cafeteria where the reunion was celebrated, all seeming to be diminutive, as if we had either grown into giants or the rooms had shrunk. Recognizable was the old route to the high school, partially along Jamaica Avenue which connected my two childhood homes.

Richmond Hill was a working class community of mostly families of German, Italian and Irish heritage. A recent Wall Street Journal article described the evolutionary changes to what used to be called 'Berlin' in the 1800s. Although still a working class community of immigrants, it is now primarily populated by families from India and Guyana. So the baton of opportunity in the New World has been passed on to a new generation of immigrants.

Gone are the landmarks of my youth, in particular, Jahn’s where we spent our teenage after school time or the next door RKO Keith’s where as kids we were drawn to the Saturday matinees and the Triangle Hofbrau diagonally across the street, the restaurant where our family sometimes celebrated special occasions. My father, mother, uncle and aunts had all attended the same high school. Now they are all gone and most of the people I went to school with have migrated east to Long Island or west to New Jersey. Probably no one remains in the old neighborhood.

Our 8th grade graduation photo (I’m second from the right in the first row) shows us on the cusp of entering that high school, with our future selves lying before us. Now we look back and wonder how that deceptively eternal future suddenly became the past, the world of today not even imaginable then.


Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Before Consciousness

I was born prematurely and my mother spent ten days in the hospital. The bill she saved from Mary Immaculate Hospital in Jamaica, New York shows $85.00 for her room, $15.00 for the delivery room, $5.00 for laboratory fees, and 25 cents for “special medicine.” Dr. Siner’s bill for “confinement, prenatal and postnatal care” was $125.00, so it cost $230.25 to bring me into this world. This was 1942 when a new car was less than $1,000 and a gallon of gasoline was 15 cents.

It’s difficult to write with enthusiasm about something you’d like to forget. But a lot of life is about stupid choices and my high school years in particular seemed to have an abundance of those. I was a product of New York City schools, Public School 90 and Richmond Hill High School.

My early schooling was unexceptional and without much merit. My kindergarten report card revealed more about the times than me. I had high marks for posture and satisfactory ratings for cleanliness, and the ability to use a handkerchief and covering my mouth when coughing. I also displayed good working habits, showing improvement in the ability to express myself and to speak clearly. Unfortunately, I needed improvement in the ability to dress alone.

Going to and from school, walking along 107th Street to Jamaica Avenue and onto Public School 90 were social events, gathering friends for the hike. We talked mostly about vacations and the upcoming summer, plans of playing ball until dark, roaming the neighborhood on our bikes, or watching Captain Video and His Video Rangers and Hopalong Cassidy on our recently acquired DuMont TV.

For me, excelling at baseball and its variants, punch ball, stickball and stoopball, became a priority to compensate for being one of the younger kids in the neighborhood and being smaller. I learned to throw hard and accurately, throwing a baseball with my older, next-door friend, Skip, who settled behind a manhole, which became home plate. Put a rubber Spalding in my hand and I would whip it against the garage doors on 107th and Atlantic Avenue, side arm, overhead, fastball, curve or screwball, or throw it at the right angle on a stoop step for a home run.

During the first few years of schooling my most difficult “subject” was penmanship. I was one of the first generations where they no longer forced left-handers to become right-handers. Instead, we sat at right-handers’ desks but were nonetheless expected to produce perfect cursive handwriting. This problem came to a head when I nearly flunked the 5th grade because of my handwriting, but my Plaster of Paris rendition of a Mississippi river boat won awards, redemption, and allowed me to pass into the 6th grade.

One part of the summers I looked forward to was our annual two-week rental of a cottage in Sag Harbor, usually during the end of August. Mysteriously, the clouds of family conflict would clear briefly for that event and we would spend the days on Peconic Bay. There was a food shack on the beach, where we would get a frank or hamburger with salty French fries bathed in ketchup, listening to Teresa Brewer belting out “I don't want a ricochet romance, I don't want a ricochet love” on the jute box. It was in Sag Harbor where I developed a love of boating, renting a rowboat with a small Johnson outboard engine. It was also where I went through my first hurricane when Hurricane Carol in 1954 drove water into the first floor of our rental, blocks from the Bay.

I give my mother credit for buying a piano and insisting that I take lessons. I did so reluctantly and practiced as little as possible and after two years of occasional classical lessons, I was allowed to quit. A few years later, I voluntarily took guitar lessons hoping that some of Elvis’ charisma would magically materialize through me. When that did not happen, I quit those lessons too but that paved the way for learning what, at the time, was called “popular” piano – playing by improvising chords. To this day, piano is very much part of my life.

While posture, politeness and penmanship may have been the most admired childhood attributes of the post WW II era, McCarthyism, the Korean War, and the constant shadow of nuclear war with Russia lurked in the background. Frequent air raid drills disrupted our days, having to hibernate under our desks while shades were drawn, presumably to shield from the light and fallout of a nuclear blast. While this “protection” was preposterous, one has to wonder how those drills psychologically impacted our generation.

My graduation from the 8th grade and my choice of Latin as my foreign language put me directly into Richmond Hill High School instead of the “Annex” where most freshman went. I would have been better off staying with my class plus at that time we moved to another home in Richmond Hill, near Kew Gardens, leaving my neighborhood friends.

Unfortunately, I squandered the first few high school years mostly because fleeing my house was my highest priority -- anything to escape the litany of strife between my parents. In another era, my parents would have divorced, but instead they stayed together and were at constant war, with the fallout on my sister and myself.

My poor mother; she never really understood her self-imposed prison of a marriage. She was racked with guilt and rage, constantly trying to “justify” herself in the eyes of my sister and myself. Who was “right” and who was at “fault” obsessed her (and, in a more passive way, my father as well). Her letter to me, written soon after I graduated from college, shows her ongoing misery. It is a deeply sorrowful letter, but I share it below as it ties together much of my youth.

My solution was to disappear, onto the subways of New York, into sports, to my neighbors, out on the streets, or setting pins at the bowling alley of a local men’s club. I finally fell in with the “wrong crowd” – a group of kids who were hell bent on destroying their lives in some way.

One of them, Paul, was my best friend during my early high school years. He was a rebel with a James Dean aura. In later life Paul became a psychedelic artist. His road to that distinction was paved when he first learned to carve simple tattoos into himself using India Ink, graduating to having professional tattoos injected all over his body. He and I would go off to a Coney Island tattoo parlor on the subway for those. For some reason, I hesitated doing the same (probably because it was painful). When I read John Irving's haunting and enigmatic Until I Find You I couldn’t help but think of Paul.

We were members of a small “gang” along with Livio and John. Livio’s parents had a small shed in the back of their house, which we turned into a clubhouse. There we smoked, drank and did other stuff our parents would disapprove of; when we finally got caught we built an underground clubhouse in Forest Park, near the railroad tracks where we could hide and continue our antics.

It wasn’t until Paul’s tattoos were “discovered” by his parents (they were under his clothes, never exposed) and John got into trouble with the law that the clubhouse started to disintegrate. Finally, as a junior in high school, I was free of that influence.

Luckily for me, a “new kid” on the block moved in around the corner at about that time. Ed did not go to my school but instead commuted to Brooklyn Tech. His family had cultural values that were new to me. Whereas most of my generation worshiped Elvis and the like, Ed was into Frank Sinatra and jazz. I’ll never forget the first time I heard his recording of Ahmad Jamal at the Pershing playing But Not for Me. I called him “Ed Cool.”

I grew up in a household where most of the books were the Reader’s Digest condensed version, along with a collection of zither music on vinyl 78s. We never went to the theatre but instead watched TV, Milton Berle’s Texaco Star Theater, Sid Caesar's Show of Shows, and The Ed Sullivan Show. So, I found my own voice and cultural interests through others. In fact, having now escaped my “clubhouse” friends, I befriended neighborhood kids who excelled at school, Ed, Bud, and Ken, and adopted their families.

Bud lived immediately next door and we played on the same church basketball team. We also threw a baseball until dark during summer days, or we would shoot hoops at the backboard over his garage door. He was one grade ahead of me, and he was allowed to drive his father’s T-bird. That opened new geographic as well as social vistas. Bud and sports had a steadying influence at the time.

Ken was an honors student who lived in an apartment house up the street. We watched Sputnik on his rooftop and shared the sense of wonder that accompanied that feat. Little did we realize at the time how much that would change our lives.

By my senior year, I made honor classes in literature and economics (still, may favorite interests). For the first time I also became active in high school activities, becoming one of the school yearbook photographers, using the same Speed Graphic camera my father had during the war. With that camera I prowled the halls like a professional journalist. I began to date and finally had a social life. Judy and I danced to the Theme from Summer Place.

Unfortunately, by this time my three somnambulistic years of high school resulted in a mediocre scholastic average. That, combined with my parents parochial outlook towards schooling left me with few choices for college.

In fact, the “plan” was not to go to college at all. After all, no one from my family other than my Uncle had gone past high school. My father favored my going into the army to learn more about photography so he could ultimately pass on the family photography business (see:

The 1960 Archway yearbook entry reveals much about my limited outlook: “Bob, a member of the Union Cong. Basketball team…most pleasant experience will be graduating…holder of 2 attendance certificates…favorites – H.G. Wells, Yankees, English, all sports…hopes to become photographer. Next stop: Army”

Nonetheless, at the twelfth hour I convinced my father that if I went to college, I could still learn what I needed about photography on the job (as I did during my many years of working with him during the summers). Between my grades, my parents’ reluctance to send me out of state, and my late application, I was accepted on probation as a business major (from which I switched to psychology and eventually literature) at Long Island University in Brooklyn. I commuted there for my first year by subway, worked during the summers, and used my earnings to finally move into the dormitory the second year. That began a new chapter in my life.

October 21, 1964

Dear Bob,

Last night’s conversation with your Father gives me an opportunity to finally explain something to you.

I hope you are aware of his everyday twisting, exaggerations and distortion of every subject and everybody. I hope you are aware, as you saw last night, that he always needs a defender when he has a family discussion or fight. I was put on that telephone last night to back him up; if you recall, you or your sister were always called for help when we had a discussion or fight.

I realized after getting on the phone that I should not have, because I was the one who always ended up having a fight with either you or your sister when I never started it.

I realized after getting on the phone and the recalling of the fact that he did forbid you to continue with the club, and you, of your own effort did so, but later thanked him for having the interest to forbid you.

Your Father’s remembrance of the smoke filled room took place when he helped you boys move the radio and phonograph combo down to the club, but since he is so prone to distortion and exaggeration, this vision exists in his mind as the day, HE flew bodily down to the club and broke it up to teensy weensy bits, took you bodily out and closed up the shack like a GI catching the Gestapo. Pray tell I’ve heard the story enough.

I silently gave you the credit and was happy your Father took the initiative.

I know you don’t want to go further but I hope you read further; I should once in my lifetime be able to explain how his behavior has affected us all.

Your Father has been a good provider and doesn’t spend on “wine women and song.” A lot of men are good providers. But I am reminded daily of this day in and day out.

Do you remember when you children would say to me, “Oh Mommy this cake or cookies or dinner is delicious” and was reminded by him that if it wasn’t for the money he gave me, you wouldn’t have the cookies. The attention then focused upon him – oh isn’t Daddy wonderful, completely pushed me out of the picture and no one gave a damn how many hours it took to make this treat.

When I brought clothes for you children – and I did buy you nice things once – and wanted to display them to your Father at night, and have you go over the thrill of owning them – we were reminded again that if it wasn’t for the money he gave me, you wouldn’t have the clothes.

Your teeth were fixed because he gave you the money; not because I faithfully every six months took you both there. I worked at being a Mother. That WAS my job.

The birthday parties, the Christmas parties and all the other things I did to the best of my ability only existed because your Father gave me money. Little can you Father see that no matter what, I would have given these things even without his money.

Little by little I began to withdraw from doing the things I loved to do. I baked less, I shopped less, I took less interest in the type of clothes I bought for you both. I wouldn’t show them to him. It gets to a point when you get no credit, you don’t give an ounce of care.

When I screamed for credit I was told, “who are you”.

I was brainwashed into “who are you”. Confusion reigned until I realized I didn’t even have the respect or love of my children.

Confusion reigned until I didn’t know how to chose friends anymore. No matter who they were, good, bad or indifferent, they were bums. I was even called a bum by one of my kids.

Perhaps you don’t recall during your high school days you were brainwashed with “who are you” and “what the hell do you know.” You can’t convince me that your high school work suffered from lack of brains; it only suffered from your feeling of nothingness pounded into you by the same brainwashing I received.

We start on your sister now. “Who are you and what the hell do you know,” was her daily message too.

I lost my ability to fight anymore and tried escaping listening to “who are we”.

You rose above all this garbage and did a great job at college. Your Father will take credit for that too. I only hope your sister will do it too. I know she will.

Love, Mom