20 Years in California

On August 26th, 1990, I boarded a plane from New York and landed in Los Angeles.

I landed, looked at the beautiful sky, looked at the postcards, did a triple take, and realized that everything I had been told was true.

The first words out of my mouth contained expletives.

“Holy (redacted), I am never (redacted) leaving.”

It was like God had created a perfect city for me to run and play in.

No more shoveling snow (although my dad would remind me that he shoveled it and I stayed indoors. I specifically remember shoveling it once or twice) ever again.

I remember culture shock and almost getting into a fistfight with a store clerk. He asked me to give him my bag, and I said no. It was explained to me by one of my new California college classmates that he would give me the bag back once I left the store. He was just trying to prevent shoplifting. I thought he was trying to rob me. I gave him the bag grudgingly, and checked my things thoroughly when I got my bag back. The classmate explained that I was from New York, as if I was the one acting strange and not him.

I remember November 13th, 1990 when the Los Angeles Raiders when into Miami against the 8-1 Dolphins on Monday Night Football and just rammed the ball down their throats. Bo Jackson and Marcus Allen ran right at them, and the defense hounded Dan Marino in a 13-10 Raiders win. That night in Los Angeles was the first day it rained, and I had been there almost 3 months!

Normally I hate the rain. LA was in the midst of a drought, or as I called it “nice weather.” Yet when everybody made a slip and slide on the grass, I took part. Hot rain is better than freezing rain.

I remember being in a Jacuzzi in the dead of what would normally be winter. I had my soda and my fake cigar, thinking that I was living like Robin Leach in “Lifestyle of the Rich and Famous,” while my relatives back in New York were freezing their hides off.

I remember going to the guys for a fraternity party and ending up in the wrong building, accidentally ending up at a sorority party. There were 500 giggling, tipsy girls, and 4 guys. One of my friends realized we were in the wrong building and suggested we should go. I looked at him and said, “Go? What is this ‘go’ thing you speak of? You mean stay.” We did end up leaving, although I enjoyed feeling my way through the crowd on the way out. My bad habit of forgetting to empty my pockets before doing laundry rendered the phone numbers I collected indecipherable.

Yet as August of 2010 comes and goes, I still find myself struggling to answer the basic question…where am I from?

It seems so easy to answer. Yet to this day I have never told people that I am a Californian or an Angeleno. It just never felt right.

Los Angeles has been very good to me. I have friends here I will have for life. One of them I met the day my plane landed, and another one I met a month later.

I was definitely not a Californian then. It would have made no sense. I told everybody I was a New Yorker, because that is all I ever knew.

Some people would insist that I was never a New Yorker because to them, Manhattan is New York. For the uneducated, New York City in terms of geography is a tiny sliver of New York State.

When people would ask me where I was from in New York, I would say “Brooklyn born, Long Island raised.”

I only lived in Brooklyn a few months. I lived on Long Island for 18 years. Yet I never really bonded with Long Island. To this day I tell people that if you have never been, save your money because there is no reason to go whatsoever. My home on Long Island was always 20 minutes away from “something.”

This is where the geographically uneducated would mention the Hamptons. That was where the wealthy people lived. I was middle class, and have only been to the Hamptons 2 or 3 times in my life. So again, Long Island really did not offer much. Manhattan did nothing for me, and I still find it overrated.

Having said that, my favorite comedy movie of all time came out days before I left New York in 1990. Bill Murray played a clown who robbed a bank in “Quick Change.” The reason he robs the bank to begin with is so he can have enough money to finance his escape from New York. Several times he looks out the window and says “God I hate this town.” That love-hate relationship with New York defines me. I prefer living in Los Angeles, but identify and bond more with New York.

Brooklyn is where my passion is. I am very proud of my Brooklyn heritage. I did not grow up there, but that is where I was born, and where much of my family lives today. All of my family lived there except m parents, who escaped to Long Island.

I still vacation in Brooklyn. I go to Coney Island, home of the Original Nathan’s Hot Dog stand and the Boardwalk.

To say I am a Brooklynite would not be honest. It had the biggest impact on me, but I was not raised there. I spent a lot of time there visiting my family. Although my grandparents are gone, I still feel their spirit inside of me when I go to the park. Some of the 90 year olds recognize me. To have those people come up, touch my check, and hug me, is warmth I cannot feel anywhere else. They tell me how much my grandparents meant to them, and how much I meant to them.

Yet now I am 38. I have lived in Los Angeles 20 years, more than the 18 in New York. My friends wonder when I will just say I am an Angeleno. Yet I still tell people I am a New Yorker living in Los Angeles. Would I live in New York again? No. The weather is horrible. I don’t do cold weather. I would be bicoastal between LA and Brooklyn. I would say it that way because between LA and NY sounds pretentious, and I am not some Upper Westside snob. Manhattan looks down on Brooklyn, but Brooklyn is as real as it gets.

While LA has a reputation for phoniness, my friends are real, and they were raised here. As one of my friends reminded me, Los Angeles has been very good to me.

I just know where my emotions are.

When the 1992 LA riots happened, I watched the city burn. I was in college, and only blocks from the burning. The city I lived in was on fire, but I was like “cool.” It was interesting to watch. There was no emotional connection.

When 9/11 happened, I was in Los Angeles. Even though the planes hit Manhattan and not Brooklyn, it was my city that was attacked. It was personal. My friends from Brooklyn and Long Island were attacked. Like when we were kids, if you attack one of us, you attack all of us.

As soon as I could I flew back to NY, and still fly every 9/11, usually to NY. 9/11 reaffirmed the bond I had with my home state. Terrorists did not just attack a state. They attacked mine. It was personal.

To this day, I travel all across America. People ask me where I am from. I start out by saying that I live in Los Angeles. Yet then I quickly tell them, “but I was born and raised in New York.”

Los Angeles is associated with Hollywood and the entertainment industry, which I loathe. Los Angeles has the Lakers, who I detest. New York has Wall Street, which runs through my blood. I love it. I was a Wall Street guy for 15 years, although my dislike of cold weather had me working out of my firms’ LA offices most of the time. Yet sometimes I did work on the actual Wall Street itself, and it was a rush. Nevertheless, I am a car guy, not a train guy.

Everything about LA appeals to me in terms of lifestyle more than NY. Although I live in a highrise condo building in a nice area. My NY friends tell me that for a guy who would never live in Manhattan, I sure live like an Upper Westside guy. That is one step less revolting than being from Hollywood. Hollywood is 15 minutes East of me, and my car only goes West.

My NY accent was less thick than my cousins because my parents were schoolteachers. My mother taught English, and “gangster talk” was not permitted in the house. I once said “nevah” and my mother explained that it was pronounced “never.” I learned quickly to round off my r’s properly.  My accent comes out when I get angry or excited. When watching football, the accent comes out strong, although my cousins still think I have gone soft living in LA.
Living in NY, I was always a Raiders fan because as a kid I liked the logo. In 1980 the Jets and Giants were both 4-12 while the Raiders were about to win the Super Bowl.

(I do root for the NY teams to do well in every sport, preferring the Mets to the Yankees since my grandfather loved the Mets. I am fine with the Knicks. I prefer the Rangers over the Islanders, again my bond to the city being more than where I grew up. Yes, I hated the Islanders when they were winning championships every year. I am no bandwagon fan. )

Yet even though I had never been to California, they were always the Oakland Raiders to me, not the Los Angeles Raiders. I enjoyed seeing their games in LA, but was glad they moved back to Oakland because of tradition.

Tradition. That is what it is all about. Tradition is the way that Nathan’s Hot Dog tastes on the Boardwalk. It is how real NY Pizza tastes.

It is how I feel when sitting around the table with cousins for the Jewish holidays. They still live across the street from where my grandparents lived. That is how it should be.

I have a great life in Los Angeles. I have the best friends a guy could ask for. My children will be Angelenos, although we will vacation in Brooklyn on occasion so they can get a taste of their heritage.

Yet 30 years from now I just don’t see myself being an Angeleno. My parents retired to South Florida, but I am not a Floridian. I’ve never lived there.

As 20 years has turned me from a college kid into a young man, I freely admit that I love living in Los Angeles. Yet who I am runs deeper.

I am a New Yorker living in Los Angeles.

I am Brooklyn born, Long Island raised.

I was Brooklyn born near Coney Island, not too far from Sheep’s Head Bay, still vacationing by Neptune and West 5th St, walking distance to the Nathan’s and the Boardwalk.

That is my story. That is who I am. That is where I am from.

Once  a New Yorker…a Brooklynite…a Coney Island kid…always.


2 Responses to “20 Years in California”

  1. Wow. I just can’t tell you how much I enjoyed reading this. Wonderful!

    I too am “Brooklyn born,” but New Jersey raised. I too always felt the connection to the city, and though I spent a lot of time in Brooklyn as a child, when I was older I became a Manhattan kid, hanging around The Village and Spanish Harlem. My family is a Mets/Jets/Knicks family who just ignore hockey entirely. Speaking of LA and NYC, I remember watching the Knicks in the playoffs all those years ago when OJ got into his infamously silly car chase and they kept interupting the game on TV for coverage of it. We were sardonically urging OJ on, to do something, anything, like, for instance, maybe drive a little faster!

    I lived in the LA area for a couple of years back in the late 80’s. As I was leaving, you were arriving (I am, after all, 3 (or so) years older than you). I remember the Steve Martin movie LA Story, and the opening scene with the commuters shooting at each other in the freeway. I lived there and commuted those freeways back when that was really happening. I remember when the movie Colors came out, and how we had to be careful where to go to the movies for a while. I remember the party kids doing cocaine everywhere – everywhere. There wasn’t a restroom in the LA area that didn’t have a line of guys snorting along the sinks. I remember Westwood, and what a fun place that was. My uncle had an office near there. My cousin and I would occasionally go up there to set up meeting rooms and such. The very first party I attended featured a demo tape by a new band that I was told was gonna be the next big thing – it was five songs by a new up-and-coming band called Guns ‘n Roses. I was blown away. Everywhere I’d drive, as the kids all hung out outside at the strip malls, food joints, clubs, there’d be that Guns ‘n Roses demo blasting for all to hear.

    Thanks for the walk down memory lane, man. And don’t ever doubt that you are and will always be a New Yorker. You can’t hide that accent from me, man. ;)


  2. Micky 2 says:

    I spent a little less than two years in NYC.
    When I got back my dad said I sounded like a Puerto Rican New Yorker.
    My roomate in the Bronx was Purto Rican
    Its hard telling folks you’re from Hawaii.
    Whenever I go to the mainland everyone asks and says the stupidest things.

    “Are the girls still running around topless ?”
    “You dont look Hawaiian”
    “Arent you scared of the volcano” ?
    “Do you eat Poi” ?

    One guy in Michigan who was a potential employer didnt even believe that I could come from Hawaii and asked me to leave.

    I guess you cant blame them. Were the only state without a pro football team or a pro baseball team. The sports highlights on our evening news(yeah, we have televisions) focuses on the high school and college teams, even little league gets significant time aired. Its kind of embarrasing.
    I’d like to live anywhere on the mainland right now just so I could drive without ending up where I started in an hour

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.