After Stuyvesant I spent a somewhat aimless four or five years before winding up at Cornell Law School. My only noteworthy accomplishment during my first year at law school was winning Cornell’s three-rail billiard championship. Looking back at my favorite Stuyvesant experiences — I especially remember an old socialist English teacher who taught me how to write a research paper, a dynamic teacher of world history, and Mr. Jacob, who taught American history…
During this time I got interested in Irish music, and the concertina so when I turned 26 I quit my job and went to Ireland for a year to explore the music scene in County Clare. Here’s ma [picture from 1976, after returned to Berkeley.] I did not have a job, so I thought, U C Berkeley is right down the street; how hard could sanitary engineering be?
By my junior year, however, I realized that, while I loved learning foreign languages, I wanted to spend my life using them, not studying them. So I majored in Political Science, with a sub-specialty in Soviet politics.
The real killer was “Double Zero” period in the winter in order to have indoor baseball practice, starting at 7:15am (Do the math). I hated that half-mile walk to my first station at Ditmas Avenue, the cold wind hitting me in the face and getting down my neck. Was it worth it? Well, to quote Roy Hobbs, “God, I love baseball!”
But at Stuyvesant I enjoyed life and did just OK academically. Eddie Sirota, Les Martin and I started a fraternity and we actually met girls! I had fun in the clever Mr Liebel’s class where we learned “the truth about pasta”.
I escaped JHS128 and completed my public education at Stuyvesant. I believed I got on the SHS “accept” list through a clerical error, a grading machine glitch, or mafia intervention. I now expect the mob to call in a favor. I had not planned to go to college, but Stuyvesant pushed me in the right direction, at least at first Cornell BS (1966) and Duke PhD (1971) in Biochemistry, Chemistry, and Genetics.
In my dotage, I muse about the usual things: roads not taken, Martin’s questionable behavior, various successes and failures, resonant people in the “crowd” and the evolution of my family. Stuyvesant pops into mind occasionally in the strangest ways…
After Stuyvesant I went to CCNY, it was free and close to the Heights, for the 5-year architecture program (which I took 6 years to finish). I relaxed academically after the pressure of Stuyvesant and this was the ‘60s with lots to protest, Then even before finishing, I no longer wanted be an architect.
After my first year I was accepted into the laboratory of the Departmental Chair, Samuel F. Conti- an earlier Stuyvesant grad! He eventually admitted being a fellow Stuyvesant graduate was one factor in his decision to be my mentor.
After graduating from Stuyvesant, I decamped to the University of Rochester, majoring in economics. A brief stint working as an economist convinced me that my future lay in the relatively new field of computer programming. After joining a tech startup that failed, then spending a few years in the corporate world, I was hired by another startup company to serve as their rep in Rochester.
In the spring of 1959, I was called in to Stuyvesant to audition on clarinet for John Bart, the Stuyvesant Band Director. I was accepted into the concert band and also played saxophone in the Stuyvesant jazz band directed by Mo Chusid. Every summer from 1962 to 1969 I worked as a saxophone player in resort hotels in the Catskills. It launched my professional career.
The accompanying photo was taken on our balcony. I was wearing my Brooklyn Dodgers cap to test the depth of the commitment of my neighbors in the Bronx to cultural diversity.
Military service changed my world view. When I returned home, I completed a BA in American History at City College. I wanted to teach middle school social studies. While draft deferments and budget cuts closed that door, an adjacent one led to a satisfying career in financial services as a business systems analyst in the training department of a major life insurance company.
Sputnik was launched nearly one year before I entered Stuyvesant in 1958 in one of the four 9th grade official classes. The launch of Sputnik influenced me to consider becoming a scientist. Having Mr. Schindelheim as my homeroom teacher for four years, and doing well in his course on Qualitative Analysis, influenced me to pursue chemistry.
I grew up in a part of Queens called Cambria Heights. It took me about an hour and fifteen minutes to get into Stuyvesant—a bus and then three subway trains. The commute wasn’t fun, but deciding to go to Stuyvesant was probably the best decision I ever made in my life. I felt like the world was suddenly opening up for me—I felt like I was finally coming alive. I don’t remember too many things, but I do recall with great fondness the knishes sold from a cart near the subway stop on First Avenue and Fourteenth Street. You can’t get good knishes where I live now.
Greatly inspired by my friends Michael Silverstein and Michael Ackerman and doing abominably in sciences at Stuyvesant, I turned to languages, and daringly ventured west of the Hudson for a PhD in linguistics at the University of Chicago, where I participated in the Chicago riots of 1968, getting teargassed twice, and learned programming as a research assistant in a project on computer translation, in the days when you handed in your program as a metal drawer full of punch cards to an operator at 3 in the morning so you could get decent turn-around time, and mice ate the cores in the room-sized computer.
After much thought and discussion with friends I decided that what I liked best about engineering was designing an electronic circuit on paper to achieve a specific outcome and then building a circuit board and testing that concoction of capacitors , resistors, inductors, transistors, integrated circuits etc. to be sure that the paper design actually worked I enjoyed a combination of thought and manual dexterity. I therefore decided to change professions and become a dentist. I enrolled at NYU College of Dentistry and completed a DDS program in three years.
When Unilever bought out Chesebrough I left for a company in Tennessee where I learned the secrets of making cosmetic pencils. I loved Nashville and enjoyed the Southern culture of country music, flea markets, comfort food (fried catfish and hush puppies), and the new experience of a whole stadium rising to its feet to the national anthem. It was also a bit of culture shock to have strangers greet me and look me straight in the eye as I was trained as a New Yorker to avoid direct eye contact.
Stuyvesant meant a lot because it taught me not to get too worked up over grades, but to enjoy trying to learn and remember to stop and go out – to the theater, the movies, the museums, the whatever (bars I found a bit boring). In other words, I tried to follow the words our classmate Evan Williams inscribed in my Indicator – “Have a ball!”
I knew we were smart but did not realize how truly bright we were, until years later as I learned the accomplishments of my classmates. Our strong band of 1962 produced countless Ph.D.’s, physicians, attorneys and business executives, not to mention an astronaut and a rock star. My three years at Stuyvesant are a period of which I am very proud. I never again encountered so much brainpower. Academics aside, I remember our gym and my initial, dare I say terrifying, encounter with the rope climb, which I eventually climbed with ease, albeit with hands and feet… We were the sons and grandsons of immigrants who came to this country with little but gave everything to their children.