Tales from Taconic High School


Muscling through the back streets of the hilly suburban landscape of Taconic Heights, NY in Mom and Dad’s station wagon on the way to pick up a friend or six and pack them in the back for the night’s frivolous unfettered funmaking.  Gossiping idly, looking for that golden, as yet undiscovered, coveted nugget with which to regale the girl of choice and in the telling would get to see her head thrown back in private laughter or ear-to-mouth whispering incredulous intimacy huddled against the blare of the electrified din.

No beer yet, or maybe a couple of strays left over from last weekend when the curfews cut short the drinking.  Looking for others in the same speculation situation.  Looking for something to do, not just something, but something else, and being not only the discoverer of such a scene – not too crowded, just the right mix of maidens to match the squires arriving through the fallen leaves of the powerful autumn chill, “Yeah, we checked out that other place – not much goin’ on there.  Where are her parents?” – not just a discoverer, but being recognized as a co-creator as well.

And so the nights go and go and go and go on in this petty pace and the exhibitionist gossip producers will perform for the community – performing each weekend for the adolescent gossip mill to reproduce into the halls and classrooms of the stillness stilted standing week.  The viscereality of it all is fragmentary, almost totally hidden from view.  Seconds, minutes, sometimes hours of real human interaction under a cloak of darkness; actual caring conversations are snatched from the jaws of the repressed gossiping values police.  In between the posturing and flirting there appears a genuine feeling – briefly acknowledged but then quickly stashed away.

During the week, all is back to normal.  Some truths which shone so brightly over the weekend disappear like the gray Manhattan snow.  These truths which appeared so fleetingly late in the beer smell Saturday night have no place in the fluorescent school-day hallway.

(San Francisco, March 1990)

To the Tune of Surfin’ USA by the Beach Boys
or Sweet Little Sixteen by Chuck Berry

Well if you work in the city, you’d wanna live up here.
Westchester County NY, instead of LA gear.
In all the forests and the meadows, we sit there drinkin beer.
The future is meaningless, we might as well be deer.

Mt Kisco and Bedford
Chappaqua and Rye
Lewisboro and Pound Ridge
Pleasantville School High
Hartsdale and Scarsdale
White Plains New York
Take the train to midtown
Every day to work.

Then you go to college – upstate New York
Oneonta and Cortland, and all the Great Lake ports
Albany and Binghamton – Saratoga Springs
Then its back to the county from which it all begins.

Irvington and Ardsley
Yonkers and Tarrytown
Tuckahoe and Bronxville
from Peekskill on down
Pocantico and Briarcliff
Larchmont and New Rochelle
Beats livin in the city
Some kind of living hell.

So you live with your parents, hang out with high school friends
Get a job in the city and follow all the trends
Move into a studio on the upper east side
You commute by subway and never go outside

But you dream of Croton
Shrub Oak and Yorktown Heights
Somers and Verplank
and quiet starry nights
Golden’s Bridge and Purdy’s
Connecticut state line
Go out to visit
Get a DUI …

Mt. Kisco and Bedford (etc)

(Oklahoma City, July 1991)

The Colonial Tavern appears as a minor character in this tale at various points…

Message from Gordo’s
“Reserving unto us our heirs & successors free egress of all our and their forces, horse or foot of our and their coaches, wagons horse of war ammunition.”

Not sticklers for spelling, but perhaps foreseeing the rebellion of the colonies, so reads the-lease of the land that is now home to Gordo’s Restaurant. The lease as between the King & Queen of England (Bill & Mary) and Fredrick Philipse of “Mannour” fame. The document was witnessed by Benjamin Fletcher, “our Captain General & Governor in Chief or our Province of New York, Province of Pennsylvania and Country of New Cassellâ?¦â?¦â?¦ “dated the 12th of March, 1694.

A spat with mum some eighty years later freed the property for a long succession of owners who built and operated a hotel, stagecoach stop and most likely, a house of ill-repute. The only building to survive the 200+ years was the hotel which forms the center section of today’s restaurant.

Frank Winzig, a powerfully built truck driver for a local bootlegger “Dutch” Frank, opened the Colonial Tavern at the repeal of prohibition. Mr. Winzig, a big man with a gruff exterior and a heart of gold, operated a hugely successful neighborhood tavern, restaurant for 37 years.

Current proprietors, Art Greason and Gordon Krueger, have been tinkering around Gordo’s since 1971.

It was in the winter of 1981, during my sophomore year in high school that I ended up with my brother and his friends going to see Altered States on mescaline.

So, yah, I agree, I believe I could hang out witchoo guys.  It was my brother Hamish and his friends Jim Costa and Ed Hopp. All three were Taconic High class of ’81 and graduating in a few months.  So we’ll drive on down to Movieland (Central Ave. in Yonkers) to see the movie….I get in the car and right away my brother’s friend Hopper is like, Mitchie we’re tripping!!!

…..and I had heard of this and knew that it meant something but wasn’t sure what – so I looked to big bro and was like “Is this ok?” and he gave me the thumbs up so we each put a microdot in our Budweiser and drove on down to see the movie.

Everything was copacetic until we got to the theater and sat down, then the movie started and OHMYGOD this was something different, this was something else altogether

….as it went on we were there for each other and we all kept our shit together and when the movie ended we all stood up and looked at each other and just started to laugh because it was ALL TOO MUCH…we managed to make it out to the parking lot and I must credit my brother for driving because somehow we ended up on the highway driving home…

We stopped off at the Colonial Tavern in Hawthorne but didn’t stay all that long so then we made it on home and watched the original Alien on cable. I remember eating Swiss cheese and thinking scrumdeleeishess before I went to bed.

Later that spring, we read Rimbaud’s Bateau Ivre in French class…I still remember the procession of colors he describes throughout the poem seemed to me to match what I had experienced that night we went to see Altered States

Milky whites, blues, reds, “yellow-blue awakenings of singing phosphorus,” (l’éveil jaune et bleu des phosphores chanteurs), oceans and rainbows, then “Glaciers, suns of silver, waves of pearl, skies of red-hot coals,” blues, golds, flowers, violet, red electricity, ultrmarine…

But towards the end, he starts mixing in browns, blacks, the atrocious moon and bitter sun and cold black pools.

And somehow, when I read the poem, it reminded me of that piece of swiss cheese I had eaten that night, a little sliver of phosphorous in the black pool of 4am suburbia…

Also during the first six months of 1981, I was assigned a research paper in English class and I chose the topic of DRUGS…I closed my oral presentation with a quote from Margaret Mead that said “In a culture that has created in its people the need for mind expanding drugs there must be a place for these substances in the culture….” or words to that effect…This was the late winter of 1981…

Now Altered States is a one of a kind Ken Russell/Padddy Chayefsky tour de force. William Hurt plays a character that is some kind of amalgamation of John Lilly, Timothy Leary and Terence McKenna. There has never been a movie like it before or since. It can be a little overwrought and Chayefsky disavowed the film when it was released. But – the only movies I can think of that have a feel even close to Altered States are Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Oliver Stone’s The Doors.

We all felt it coming through the garage that night, or at least me and Dudley did.

There were about seven of us that had taken mushrooms that night and a few of us were standing by the keg there in Don Debitetto’s garage talking about who knows what.

But I’ll never forget that feeling, when suddenly, out of nowhere, I felt, and saw, a ripple in time.

It was more like a swell than a breaking wave, and it just moved through everything and was gone.

Dudley and I had stopped our conversation as it passed through, and afterwards we just looked at each other.

“Did you feel that?” I asked him.

“Yeah.”

soft breezes
rustle the August leaves.

lush canyons of fairway
framed by the thin barrier strips of native woodland.

cars rumble by
and are ignored.

There is only the ball, teed up
awaiting the final commitment
to swing.

A whoosh, a pop – then
white on blue, white on green
the walk and
the talk
about your lie
about your life

What would you hit from here?

(Charlottesville, Va., Spring 1987)

So that was Thanksgiving.  At the end of the first semester (December 1986), I was set to drive back to Westchester with Tom Matuzzi who was a year behind me at UVa. and also lived down the street from me in Taconic Heights.

We were going to pick up Brad, another friend from Taconic Heights, in D.C. and drive on back to N.Y.  The next day I was flying out to Los Angeles for the first time to spend Christmas with my father who had moved there the previous summer.

So I had a 9am final which I got finished with at like 10:30.  Tom had an afternoon final from 2-5pm so I had a long wait and nothing much to do as all of my roommates had already left for home.  However, we had had a party several weeks before which had not been as well attended as we would have liked.

The upside of this somewhat unsuccessful party was that we had about two gallons of vodka left over.  By the time everybody had left for Christmas break, there was only about a gallon left, but that was more than enough for me.  So, I started in on the vodka at about 11am and drank steadily by myself until Tom came to pick me up at around 5:30.

I talked to Kathleen on the phone from about 2 until 4:30 in the afternoon that day which I would pay dearly for when the phone bill came the following month.  Two and a half hours from Virginia to Connecticut in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday – I think it came out to $20 for that one phone call.

So anyway, Tom finally shows up at 5:30 and we head on up to D.C. to pick up Brad.  Tom lets me know that he’s kind of bushed from finals and says that he’ll drive to D.C. but then I’ll have to drive from there.

I don’t mention to him that I’d been drinking vodka for the past six hours.

So up through the Piedmont we go – that drive up the rural 29 that takes you from Charlottesville to Washington in 2 hours (110 miles).  By the time we get to Washington, Tom has figured out that I am not in any kind of shape to be driving (or walking for that matter) and when he and Brad come back out to the car, Brad gets in the driver’s seat and off we go!

The rest of the night is a blur needless to say, but me and my sister had to leave the next day for Los Angeles.  The flight out was uneventful; Kathleen had given me her walkman and I remember listening to Dave Brubeck’s Take Five on the radio as we came in over Los Angeles.

I also remember hearing ads for eating disorder clinics and thinking, I’m definitely in L.A.

My dad had a little garden apartment out in Orange County and we did some sightseeing and just kind of hung out and visited.  I had made plans to visit a guy from UVa. who lived in Lakewood so I called him one night and we ended up going down to Tijuana with a girl who lived across the street from him and lord, we got loaded.

It was a beautiful warm night and the only time I’ve ever been to Mexico, although I don’t know if Tijuana really counts.  I threw up in a big plastic cup I found in the back seat on the ride home (it’s a good three hours each way), and then threw it out the window.

I went sailing the next day off of Marina Del Ray with my dad and sister and one of my dad’s lawyer buddies who could see I was little under the weather but was very relaxed about the whole thing.  He told me he had wanted nothing more than to be a bum when he finished college, but had ended up being a lawyer instead.

I flew back into New York on New Year’s Eve and headed right on up to Kathleen’s and it was party party party until it was time to go back to school.

On the Thursday night before Super Bowl Sunday in January 1987, it snowed about 18 inches in Virginia and classes were cancelled on Friday.  The radio said not to leave the house unless it was for necessities.

Well, me Tim and Doug drove over to the shopping center on Friday and bought a keg, a bottle of Yukon Jack and one of those jumbo 25 packs of Marlboros, so you can see we had our priorities straight at the time.

We had a little snow party at the Shady Rest and played some coed tackle football out in the yard that afternoon and just basically enjoyed ourselves.

On Saturday, Kathleen found somebody crazy enough to drive from Lynchburg up to Charlottesville despite the blizzard of the previous day, so we got to spend Saturday night together.

Sunday night was the Super Bowl and by the time the game started it was snowing again.  We got another 15 inches and Kathleen stayed over Sunday night.

I’ll never forget the blizzard of ’83 in NY which came in on a Friday night.  The weathermen had watched it all day and everybody knew it was coming.

I was a senior in high school then, and worked that afternoon packing up aquarium supplies for mail order.  I always remember loading up the UPS truck that afternoon and as the driver pulled his door down and jumped into the cab he yelled back to me, “Get snowed in with someone you love tonight!”

Now, here I was four years later and 500 miles away getting snowed in with someone I loved.

I was a little out of focus that semester.  Kathleen was a junior and had another year of school to go.  I, on the other hand, was graduating and tried as hard as I could not to think about it.

Just like my dad’s buddy, I wondered if there was a living in doing nothing.  The fact that the majority of my friends were not graduating on time (or graduating at all)  certainly did not help my motivation.

By the time spring break rolled around, I was a dedicated party boy, chasing my buzz just like The Swimmer of Cheever’s story.  Of course, I usually had plenty of company, which made it that much easier to ignore the despair inherent in such a pursuit.

That spring break of ’87 was spent in N.Y. with the time split between driving around looking for a party, actual parties and the hometown bar at Patsy’s Pub.

There were far too many people around at that point in my life to begin to get into their stories and describe who I was spending time with and talking to about what.

I think the most apt description is that of the Swimmer, and the coming fall and winter of 1987 would find me in exactly the same position I was in the spring, although in the Fall of ’87, I was a college gradaute, and there weren’t as many “friends” to hide behind and my hopelessness and desperation became far more apparent.

I would return to this state of realization periodically over the next seven years, first in the spring of 1989, next in the spring and summer of 1991, then the spring, summer and fall of 1993, and finally the summer of 1994 (the Summer of Drugs) until finally quitting the booze for seven years in October of 1994.

(Down East, Maine 1999)

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