City's Class of '63 savors memories, not the wrinkles

MICHAEL OLESKER

May 04, 1993|By MICHAEL OLESKER

First I spotted Jake Oliver on the grass. Then Bob Miller spotted me. Then there was Quinton Pinkney, and then Victor Lieberman and Jim Gilliam and Dutch Ruppersberger and Tom Duley.

The world moves too quickly now. You spend years going to school with the same people and assuming they'll always be within reach and then, poof! Where does everybody go? Somebody hands out adulthood papers, and immediately people commence to vanish.

And you want to grab them to slow things down, to figure out what's happened to all our lives, and to find out if things actually happened back there the way we thought they did.

So we had this reunion Saturday night: Class of '63, City College, 30 years after the fact. Reunions are the postscripts of our youth. Everybody on the grass in front of the building, wondering when we stopped looking 17. Everybody trying to remember 300 different strangers we used to know well.

"Victor?"

Victor Lieberman seemed the golden boy of our era: A-course honor student, editor of the weekly school newspaper, president of the school. He was standing there beneath the City tower, a college professor now teaching the history of Southeast Asia to kids who probably never heard of a place called Vietnam.

"Victor?"

Across the grass came Jeffrey Drobis, and then Bob Miller. Drobis is a doctor now, and Miller's with the government. We were all on the school paper, The Collegian, three decades ago, before losing track of each other's lives.

"Remember Charlie Cherubin?"

Everybody had flashbacks: that Thanksgiving Day Tom Duley ran the kickoff back against Poly, or that October morning we thought the world was ending with the Cuban missile crisis.

"Cherubin, yeah."

Or how about Richard Bready? He'd spot you in the hallway and leap into your arms, shouting, "Michael, my long-lost brother who was captured by Gypsies." Or Jerry Nathanson, the track coach, declaring: "The hell with color or religion. You're either a man, or you're not."

Or Cherubin.

"Yeah, Cherubin."

Adviser to The Collegian. Columbia University said it was the finest high school paper in America, but Cherubin said it still wasn't good enough, and used his best weapon to threaten us: '' letters of recommendation to colleges.

"He called us into his office one day," somebody remembered, "and told us, 'The paper's not good enough. You're not working hard enough. You all want to get into a good college. Well, I have letters of recommendation in my desk that could get you into a convent."

"Yeah," Miller remembered, "he told me he had letters that could get Hitler into the Yeshiva."

We go back to the past to slow things down, to find out what happened back there that we never knew. Lieberman, the golden boy, remembering intense pressure to succeed. Quinton Pinkney, the basketball team's floor leader who seemed quintessentially cool, remembering the nausea before every game. Eddie Max, legendarily smart, shyly admitting now that, yes, he did have occasion to correct the textbooks.

Everybody talks about City College's specialness as this mecca of excellence, but I never entirely agreed with that. The specialness came with its diversity, its conglomerate of kids from every neighborhood in town. You felt as if you were taking part in America.

Youth is a country from which we are banished against our will. Reunions give us a temporary visa home. We gathered on the grass to watch new spotlights beamed on the City tower, a glow which will now become a permanent part of the city's nocturnal landscape.

The guy who put it together was Jim Freel. Until the reunion, Freel was best remembered for the time some Poly kids drove XTC along 33rd Street, yelling curses at City. Freel somehow had a raw egg in his hand and let it fly. It went through the car's open window and splattered everybody inside.

Here's the postscript: Freel left the reunion Saturday, drove by 33rd Street, heard something hit his car. Got home, checked it out: Somebody'd hit him with a raw egg.

It's either grand irony, or those guys from Poly getting even, 30 years after the fact.

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