Opinioln: Life in a suburban Petrie dish

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Carl Reiner has passed. By now, you have read countless accolades about this comic genius and have seen dozens of examples of his work. I have little more to add, except that Carl Reiner’s creation, “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” had a special significance in my life. In the comedy series, the Petries’ suburban home was portrayed as being in New Rochelle, N.Y., my birthplace and home for 30 years. It’s a bedroom community of 60,000, 20 miles north of New York City. Not only was I born and raised there, but I went back after college to New Rochelle High School to teach from 1969 to 1978.

All my adult life, when I’ve mentioned my hometown, the first thing people say is, “Oh, that’s where Rob and Laura Petrie lived.” Of course, they didn’t really, but lots of other famous people did, and below are some of my favorites.

Don Hewitt, creator and producer of “60 Minutes,” attended New Rochelle High School in the late ’30s and is considered the best-known graduate of all, according to a list compiled by one alumni association. Everyone else whose name appears in this column was on this list, as well, except me. I am unofficially considered the most famous person ever to teach sophomore English at NRHS.

Willie Mays, the New York Giants center fielder, and arguably the greatest player of all time, lived in New Rochelle for several years. I was a Dodgers fan, but I admired the “Say Hey Kid” and would drive past his house all the time with the hopes of seeing him. How many times did I catch a glimpse? Let’s just say I batted zero.

Dave Berg had an apartment in New Rochelle. He was a cartoonist for Mad Magazine and creator of the series titled “The Lighter Side of…,” which skewered life in suburbia. I didn’t know him, but I called him one day out of the blue and asked him to talk to my writing class at the high school. When we met, he told me I reminded him of Alfred E. Neuman. Other than that, I am glad I called.

During one parent/teacher night, a distinguished-looking man came into my classroom and told me his son was my student and that he had some concerns about how I was teaching my writing course. I expressed polite shock. He introduced himself as E.L. Doctorow. I realized he was the novelist who wrote “Ragtime,” an international bestseller. I had not connected the surname with his son. Now, I felt like Alfred E. Neuman.

Next week, Part 2


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