New Yorkers sometimes joke that the city's most ardent supporters spend little time there, fleeing town in the winters and vacationing entire summers away in the country.
Some Californians who grew up in New York have managed to evade the city's streets forever. Disparate in age and life style, they share a common bond, a nostalgia for the New York from which they escaped--expressed in their regular attendance at high school reunions.
Last Wednesday, alumni of two Bronx schools, Fieldston and Horace Mann, met at the Beverly Hilton hotel for a "first-ever reunion of old friendships and rivalries." Los Angeles City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter came to see "what became of those Fieldston people who I wondered about--what they would become. . . . Back in 1979, I discovered we had seven people from my class out here, so we did our own reunions."
Mover and shaker Marvin Davis (Horace Mann '43) dropped by with his son, Gregg, to lend support as did Ed Gottlieb of Malibu (Fieldston '38), who looks forward to attending his 50th next year. Actor Arthur Roberts joined Fieldston friends "for a sense of family, of roots, to find a sense of self in a cold alienating environment." (Roberts plays an alien in his next film, "Not of This Earth," scheduled for a February release.)
On Jan. 12, the Bronx's Taft High School will hold its reunion; Brooklyn's Lincoln High has scheduled its Feb. 11.
Keeping tabs on about 50 New York area high schools, including about 20 that are planning reunions next year, is Lou Zigman, 43, a Hollywood lawyer who organized New York Alumni in 1985.
Zigman recently announced that the "new home" of New York Alumni, transplanted New Yorkers "who keep the spirit of New York alive in California," will be the Century City Marketplace's Stage Deli, a clone of the New York food emporium. A bulletin board will post news of upcoming high school alumni events. Dave Davis, the deli's general manager, said that transplanted New Yorkers have already discovered the place. Davis quoted one breathless customer: " 'I've been waiting 20 years for this,' he said."
"When you're from Brooklyn, it's a special thing," Zigman said. Zigman's parents are among those who share his memories. Joe Zigman (Boys High) and his wife, Regina, (Erasmus Hall) moved to Beverly Hills in 1959. Although Lou Zigman attended Brooklyn's Lincoln High for only one year (graduating from Beverly Hills High), he maintains a mailing list of about 12,000 "to re-establish and share those old memories." Zigman believes that "there are probably more people in Los Angeles from New York than any other city."
"It takes a driven personality to spark plug these reunions," said Irwin Zucker, who has held annual get-togethers for Boys High since 1965. Zucker, 60, of Beverly Hills, threw a bash for 200 on Nov. 14 at the Sportsman's Lodge in honor of the longtime executive director of the City of Hope, Ben Horowitz, of the class of 1930. (Previous honorees at 23 consecutive man-of-the-year gatherings, which Zucker calls the "granddaddy of all New York reunions," have included comedian Alan King, lawyer Louis Nizer and philosopher Sidney Hook.)
Zigman and Dr. Steve Matlin began holding Lincoln reunions in 1979, donating proceeds to scholarships for students now attending the Brooklyn high school.
Zigman was also the ringleader of a more elaborate block party Sept. 26 at the California Mart, which was attended by more than 1,500 New Yorkers. Attendees sampled egg creams, knishes, and New Age salt-free chili from Brooklyn. "We've lived here for years," said Arlene Schacter of Northridge, "but we still have Mrs. Stahl's knishes flown out air freight from Brighton Beach."
People go to these gatherings, said Kelly Arnold, who came to Sherman Oaks from Brooklyn more than a decade ago, "to hear a thousand accents the same as mine."
For Beverly Field, who has lived in Los Angeles since the 1950s, the block party was a chance to recapture "the enormous amount of warmth I have missed. Maybe it's because New Yorkers don't have that much space. They have to get along. When a New Yorker says 'Let's have lunch,' he really means it."
'Garden of Nostalgia'
Perhaps on a less-conscious level, this common frame of reference represents "a child's garden of nostalgia," as Hollywood writer Stanley Ralph Ross described his own personal "Coney Island of the mind where I grew up." Ross, who graduated from Lincoln High in the 1950s, said: "We had a bond with each other and with the school. Our principal placed great emphasis on learning. Lincoln boasts many famous graduates including three Nobel Laureates in science and 60 members of the Writers Guild. And we were from a very poor neighborhood."
Referring to Woody Allen's movie "Radio Days," Ross said: "I lived 'Radio Days.' But we didn't know we were struggling. We were after all living in a resort, so the streets were filled with people having a good time."
The lure of street games is still a powerful memory for reunion die-hards.