Ace Up Our Sleeve
Home Is Where The Heart Isn't
By JOSEPH HANANIA
Published: October 6, 1996
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif.— THE idea was to supply a jolt of 212 energy to the laid-back land of 213, to bring the bumper-car mentality of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive to Rolls-Royce Rodeo Drive, to show some fondness for sack-suited Sutton Place in the natural-shoulder neighborhood of Melrose Place.
The occasion was the annual gathering of the New York Alumni Association, a nonprofit group with 17,000 members: transplanted, homesick New Yorkers longing for a taste of their beloved big city on the opposite coast. Literally. Why else would Californians stand around consuming egg creams, potato knishes and hot dogs loaded with sauerkraut, mustard and relish?
''California needs this infusion of New York mentality,'' Larry King, the Brooklyn-born talk-show host, said at the party. ''Being a New Yorker is being real.''
''Real'' was a word that kept coming up. Dick Van Patten, who played the father in the sitcom ''Eight Is Enough'' -- he and his wife, Pat, were this year's reunion honorees -- said that being a New Yorker meant having ''real neighbors.''
''Here, you don't know who your neighbors are,'' he said, ''and they look at you like you're crazy when you introduce yourself. All that stuff's still important to me. It's who I am.''
Like everyone else at the reunion, Mr. Van Patten was faultlessly polite; not a single Bronx cheer was heard. ''It's only the non-New Yorkers, those too dull to understand us, who think we're rude and overly assertive,'' said Gladys Charitan, a Bronx expatriate.
And then there were the strange games the 2,000 New Yorkers played at the party, held at Beverly Hills High School on Sept. 28. One guest wanted to make sure that New York traditions remained -- how to put this? -- uncorrupted after their cross-country journey.
Thus, she ''chalked a proper potsy'' (that's Brooklynese for hopscotch, she explained) smack in the middle of the 90210 schoolyard. And Marvin Kaminsky, who is from Brooklyn, helped set up a court for slap ball, a variation of stickball in which an open hand substitutes for a broomstick.
Fans of the game now include Brad Marks, a 13-year-old Angeleno, who accompanied his New York-born mother, Cara Marks, a portrait artist, to the reunion. ''This is a lot more fun than computer games,'' he said after scoring a home run. ''I'm going to introduce it to my classmates during recess.''
Although the alumni association is not primarily a charitable group, Lou Zigman, a Brooklyn native, who founded it 11 years ago, says that it has raised about $200,000 for scholarships at New York high schools, among them Lincoln in Coney Island, Erasmus Hall in Flatbush and the Professional Children's School in Manhattan.
The association also publishes The Eagle, a 32-page yearly newsletter, which is considered by many Californians to be the final word on all things New York, and maintains a site on the World Wide Web (www.nyalumni.com), where graduates of New York City high schools can track down fellow alumni and keep in touch with each other.
The group also puts on a stage show in Beverly Hills High School's auditorium. The show, an only-in-California cross between a Broadway musical, stand-up comedy routine and unruly political convention, outgrew its first home, a Los Angeles garment-district basement. The reunion now sells out in a few days; tickets are $30, $40, $50 and $100 (the higher-priced tickets get the better seats at the show).
Even 3,000 miles away, the Bronx is still up and the Battery is still down, and Irene Abrevaya, a Grand Concourse expatriate, said that being a New Yorker means ''knowing how to put two words together in a sentence.''
Lucas Van Patten, Mr. Van Patten's 9-year-old grandson, said his parents had brought him to the reunion to perfect the proper New York accent. But, he said, displaying a mastery of Queens-accented English, it's not the way ''real people'' talk.
''It sounds weird,'' he added.
So maybe New York is not for everyone. Martin Mayer admitted that he likes living on the beach in Santa Monica too much to think about moving back for good.
''Visiting New York is like having grandkids,'' he said. ''It's fun to see them, but then you want to go home again.''
Photos: Don Adams, who starred in ''Get Smart,'' joined the 2,000 expatriate New Yorkers at Beverly Hills High School for the New York Alumni Association's reunion. (Nathaniel Welch for The New York Times) (pg. 49); ''L.A.'s fine, but it ain't home'': dancing New Yorkers in Beverly Hills. (Nathaniel Welch for The New York Times) (pg. 52)
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