Me — Then ’til Now

Recently I’ve decided to change doctors. I have decided to see a physician that has more knowledge about the specific needs of those of us who are aging. The medical history form for the UNC Geriatric Clinic requested that I tell them about myself. It is probably a bernieonstjohnlittle more lengthy than they required. Somehow it morphed into a blog post! So here goes.

I was born in Jersey City, New Jersey on January 7, 1928 at 25 minutes to midnight at 4 lbs/10 oz. Arriving two months earlier than expected, I had to be fed with an eye dropper. I went down to 3 lbs/13oz. before my weight started to pick up. I was told that I was wrapped in absorbent cotton and put into a cigar box. (I must admit I don’t remember any of it, but I guess that’s because of my aging.)

The family moved to Queens in New York City when I was six months old, first to Jackson Heights and then, in 1936, to Flushing. My younger brother, Arnie, was born when I was three. Like most other Queens kids most of those early years were spent in public schools. Summers were spent at camp. At 12 I became a Boy Scout in Queens Troop 45. The next three summers were spent at Ten Mile River Scout Camp Keowa in the Adirondacks. In my second year I was chosen for the Order of the Arrow, Scouting’s honor society. I became a Star Scout, but never made it to Life or Eagle Scout.

In June 1941, I completed the first half of the eighth grade. In September I was accepted by and went on to high school at Fieldston School in Riverdale. Fieldston is the educational arm of the Society for Ethical Culture. To avoid the long daily commute from Flushing to Fieldston, I boarded with a family in Riverdale during the week.

Most of my classmates had been together in Lower and Middle School. They had diverse backgrounds. I really enjoyed and did well in Science and Math with four years of each and in English, which, by the way, was not my favorite. There was also a weekly class in Ethics along with History, German, shop and gym. Another favorite were my art classes with Victor D’Amico, the educational director of the Museum of Modern Art. (But that’s a separate story.)

Fieldston was an enjoyable, exciting, challenging eye-opening experience. I made new friends, became the manager of the soccer team and was elected to the Student Council by my classmates at the end of our senior year. By the way, the soccer coach, Harold M. Jayson (a.k.a. Jay), was my Geometry teacher and we maintained our friendship after high school. The graduating class of 74 had 50 girls and 24 guys.

When I graduated in June 1945 I went directly on to the University of North Carolina — Chapel Hill. I wanted to get in as much education as possible before I expected to be drafted when I turned 18 the following January. As it turned out I was never drafted because of a medical problem.

My Dad’s company was called New York Drop Cloth Manufacturing Co. Dad took it over after his father died. The plant was located in a small loft at 148 S. Greene St. in Manhattan, just south of Houston St. — now called SOHO. At the time, painter’s drop cloths were made from canvas, twill and drill. Plastics weren’t around. Dad took the company from drop cloths to tarpaulins and then from tarpaulins to tents to camping equipment, knapsacks and haversacks. Today’s common “backpacks” did not exist at the time. In the 1930s and 40s any camping equipment that had the Boy Scout label on it was made by my Dad’s small company. (Now you can see why I became a Boy Scout.) When the war broke out in Europe in 1939 the company became involved in government contracting, including making bags for the Signal Corps and the litter covers for stretchers. The operations were moved to a larger plant in Long Island City. In 1945 plant operations were moved to Naples, NC. The company’s name was changed to Diamond Brand Canvas Products Co.

When I was 13 my Dad broke his arm. From then on, when I wasn’t in school, I worked in the business. That’s part of a whole ‘nother story! I started by sweeping floors, then went on to the shipping department, laying out and cutting the fabric, etc. Eventually I took on various office and sales functions. I enjoyed the work and especially liked developing an understanding of the production process of how one goes from raw materials to a delivered finished product. As the eldest son, I was expected to take over the business.

When I was 17 I had a run in with my Dad. (That’s another longer story.) The bottom line is that I came up with an idea of changing the flow of materials and all I got from him was a “No”. In 1947, at the beginning of my senior year, Dad came to Chapel Hill and asked me to drop out of school and come to work for him full-time. I said “No”. (As an aside, my parents got divorced in 1948.)

I met Edie Semat in Chapel Hill; and we got married on July 3, 1948. After completing the work for my BS in Commerce in December, we moved to Charlotte where I got a job as a rate revision clerk for Associated Transport, Inc. AT was the largest motor freight carrier in the East. My idea was to learn the freight business so I could get a job as a purchasing agent.

Instead, I applied for and got a Fellowship in Economics at Vanderbilt University. I had always been interested in cartel behavior and the fellowship gave me the opportunity to work with Prof. George W Stocking. He had just completed a book entitled, “Monopoly and Free Enterprise”. It was the last of a trilogy about cartels and monopolies behavior.

My intent was to get a Masters in Economics and go to work for the Federal Trade Commission. Effectively I had a second major in economics at UNC, so no additional course work was required for the Masters degree, so off we went to Nashville.

At the end of the first year they asked me to stay on for my doctorate and offered to make me Dr. Stocking’s research assistant. Of course I accepted. During the second year he sent me to the Federal Trade Commission to work on a basing point pricing project. Because the department had an unsatisfactory experience with one of the doctoral candidates, they changed the rules for getting a degree and made them retroactive. I called one of my contacts at the FTC and got a job as an economic analyst in the Division of Economic Evidence with a GS-9 rating. Off we went to Washington in the fall of 1951.

Section 7 of the Clayton Act had recently been enacted to cover corporate mergers. That’s what I worked on. I really enjoyed the work and the attorneys that I worked with liked my work as well. Traditionally when you got a job with the US government, you were either a permanent or temporary employee. In the post-World War II era they added an additional category — “temporary indefinite”. Even though I was hired as a permanent employee, they decided to go back to the old rules. I had no military service, and even though I was specially trained for the job and had performed satisfactorily, I was fired. I found out later that I was replaced by someone from the Office of Price Administration who had no training or experience in merger activity. In 1953 we went back to Vandy and I pursued my doctorate.

By 1955, when I finished up everything except for the dissertation, I got a teaching and research position at Northwestern University. In 1957, after completing the degree, I accepted an offer as an Assistant Professor at Michigan State University. By then our son, Steve, was born so there were three of us that went off to East Lansing where we stayed until 1962. Our other two sons, Paul and Sid, were born there.

I never thought of becoming a professor. I realized, however, that I really enjoyed teaching, interacting with the students, and learning from the experience. In 1962 I took  the position of research analyst in MIT’s Operations Research Institute (ORIi). It was taken over by the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia and renamed the Center for Naval Analysis (CNA), the Navy’s equivalent of the RAND Corporation. My primary responsibility was working with the Logistics Office to analyze the markets in which the Navy purchased its inputs

From 1965 to 1972 I was an Acting Professor of Economics at Temple University in Philadelphia. (I didn’t get tenure but that’s another long story.) Edie and I divorced in 1969, after 20 1/2 years of marriage. I have no regrets for our time together or since. The timing was right.

In 1973 I went on to George Washington University’s Medical School as an economist, where I participated in the Robert Woods Johnson Clinical Scholars program. I also worked with the FDA and specialized in the economics of the pharmaceutical industry and health-care. While there, to maintain my economics credentials, I taught in Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University’s (VPI&SU) Northern Virginia Graduate Program. Later I took over as Acting Director of their Economics section and retired in 1985.

By then I had shifted my focus to the economics of high-end crafts. I analyzed those markets and for two years wandered around the country giving lectures and assisting artists and craftspersons. In the summer of 1987 I moved to St. John, USVI where I continued to work with the artists and craftspersons and studied the culture that lead to the production of their fine crafts over centuries. While there I also taught part-time at the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI).

For me St. John was an ideal place to live. The island’s physical beauty; the tropical climate with 85°F temperature, summer and winter, along with the sea breeze; the saltwater pool they call the ocean; and the island’s history and culture made it a delightful place to be. But most of all it was the people, many of whom were descendants of families who had lived “on island” for generations, even centuries. They had managed to survive in spite of the isolated and austere conditions. I met many who became colleagues and some who became treasured friends, including Mr. Guy H Benjamin

Bernie and his good friend, Mr. Guy H. Benjamin (Benji), who he met while living in the USVI.

(Benji), who had been the Assistant Secretary for Education for St. Thomas-St. John. I felt accepted by the people there and felt that I was making a contribution to them. They certainly contributed much to me and really enriched my life. I never expected to leave.

In January 1999 I had what turned out to be a heart attack. I was sent over to the hospital on St. Thomas in an ambulance boat. The doctor misdiagnosed the condition. He said it was a liver problem and sent me home. I had to wait at the dock in Red Hook from 1 AM to 6 AM before I could catch a ferry back to St. John. When the problem got worse, I went through the routine all over again. The second time they put me in intensive care at the St. Thomas Hospital. When I recovered sufficiently I flew up to the States to get it checked out at Duke Hospital. The gray-faced 60-year-old cardiologist threw me into the hospital and had the cardiac surgeon change his schedule so that I was first on the table the next morning. I had to have a four vessel coronary bypass (CAB4X) operation. After recovering I went back to St. John. (That’s the short version.)

After a few years splitting my time between St. John and Chapel Hill-Carrboro, I moved back to Chapel Hill permanently in 2003. Two of my sons, Steve and Paul, lived in the area. Sid lives in Boca Raton. Paul died of renal failure in May, 2009.

Since returning and now at 90, I’m doing just fine and have been actively engaged in a number of different projects. In 2001 Erin Coyle and I met. We began working together and developed into a team. We came up with the idea for of a series of books, with me providing the sayings and Erin creating the images. The series is entitled “Drawing from the Well”. We just published the first book entitled “Making Space for Yourself.”  The book is available through Amazon. There’s more to come. It is something that neither of us could have done alone. Even though Erin is is about half my age and a full two generations behind me, in some ways, she’s ahead of me as well. Working with her is a delight. We made a video about St. John Baskets. You can learn more about my basket collection and watch the video here.

I’ve also just finished the manuscript for what I initially thought of as a paper entitled, Making the Poor Richer: The Causes, Consequences and Suggested Remedies for the Greater Inequality in the Income Distribution. It begins at the end of World War II, just after I graduated from high school at Fieldston, and explains how the significant changes since then have brought us to where we are now. For those of you who are not aware, TVs had just come on the market and there were no computers, no Internet, no GPS, no iPhones and no Apps. Can you imagine? The book also provides some suggestions on how to correct the problems the changes brought about. At 150 pages long I have to admit that the paper morphed into a book! I am trying to work out what forms the book should take and how to reach the audience that might be interested in this day and age. (I’m open to ideas, by the way.)

I also put together a pricing manual for artists and craftspersons. It is designed to help them to understand what they should take into consideration when they decide to market their work. That includes their objective, which markets to consider, the factors that influence buyers’ decisions, and how to determine the asking and the final price. The 60 page book is entitled, “An Economist’s Take on Pricing Art and Craft –A Pricing Manual”. I am trying to determine how it should be published too.

I have also learned, partly as a result of Erin’s experience with her Mom, that now is the time for me to take responsibility for and to take care of myself. And not to put that responsibility on to anyone else. While I’m still alive it is important to me, since I am using society’s resources, that I use my background, skills, training, experience, and expertise and some of my time, energy, resources and funds (TERF) to create things that will be of value to others and to help make their lives better. That will be my legacy.

And of course there’s always my blog. Somehow I keep coming up with ideas for other projects as well. Thank you all for taking an interest in what I have to say. You are all a part of my legacy as well. And I hope that you find something of use or value through my contribution. Until next time!



4 thoughts on “Me — Then ’til Now

  1. Thanks, Bernie, for another wonderful post. Always great to see what you’re up to. Your point of view is invaluable. Whenever I see you talk about St. John, I realize how fortunate I am to have not only met you, but to have met at a time the Caribbean culture was guiding us both. Thank you for sharing. And I’m so glad Erin is helping you share with a wider audience!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.