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Sodom and Gomorrah

Decades ago there was a New Yorker cartoon depicting a middle-aged couple with their suitcases walking down a road leading to a town named Scarsdale. They had rejected the 2 other options on the signpost, one to Sodom and one to Gomorrah. "Lets hope" the man is saying to his wife "that our decision has not been too hasty."

I grew up in Scarsdale. We had that cartoon taped to our fridge for years, until it was frail and crumbling, the tape and paper dusty and desiccated, almost transparent from years of light and time. Once my mother had explained the cartoon to me and directed me to look up Sodom and Gomorrah in our Encyclopedia Britannica I found it hilarious.

Yes. Scarsdale in the 80s when I attended Scarsdale High School was wild compared to today's puritan standards. We could smoke cigarettes on school grounds, in front of the teachers if we wanted to. As long as we kept the smoke out of the cafeteria there didn't seem to be a problem with gaggles of 15-year-olds starting off illustrious smoking careers under the gaze of our loving professors.

There were several parking lots at Scarsdale High, for faculty and students alike. There was the teacher’s lot, the visitor’s lot, the senior lot, the junior lot and the drinking lot. Yes, that was its name. And it's not that my high achieving (but mildly feral) pack of friends and I named it that. NO, apparently it had been the drinking lot since as early as the sixties. A place for students to park but also to drink beers and smoke (cigarettes or weed) during the school day. Unsanctioned by the school board of course, it was just sort of lazily accepted by everyone at the school that that is what that particular plot of cracked asphalt was used for. It was not just the students who knew the drinking lot as such. The teachers knew and called it the drinking lot as well. One day, like all the rest, I had not done my Latin homework. Yes, Latin. I had been caught cheating one too many times in Spanish class and the teacher had flunked me AND kicked me out. So...Latin it was. Our teacher was just like that New Yorker cartoon, slowly fading to invisibility, stuck to our fridge at home. She was dry, dusty, desiccated, almost transparent. I always felt that if the light hit her just the right way in that stupefying classroom that I would be able see right through her. See her heart slowly starting to fail and her veins struggling mightily to keep the ounce of watery blood she had left in her ancient body circulating. Granted, I was high in almost every Latin class as they happened in the afternoon, usually after I had stopped by the drinking lot to smoke a little weed with my friends (or alone), but still…I think even if I hadn’t been high I would have seen the connection between Mrs. Murphy and that faded cartoon. So I was bluffing and stalling my way through my notebook as The Murph stood over me, next to my too small desk, glaring down at me. "Oh my goodness" I said. "I'm so sorry, I must have left it in my car." I sighed, batting my eyelashes at her in the hopes that she might feel some sapphic tingling and let me off the hook. But no luck. “Where is your car?" she snapped. "It's in the drinking lot" I said. "Well then go to the drinking lot and get it" she commanded, not concerned about the name of the lot at all but that I had, yet again, forgotten my homework.

I probably went out to the drinking lot, met some friends and possibly drank a beer or got high. I don't remember the rest of the story but there was absolutely no reason to go back to that class without my homework. No good reason at all.

There was another fabulous aspect to the drinking lot. It was discreetly hidden behind a tall hedge. The drinking lot was (and maybe still is?) the departure point for all of our Bronx runs. "Bronx run - 15 minutes", someone would whisper to me in the hallway and I would know to ditch whatever class I was meant to attend next and go straight to the drinking lot where we would undertake one of our several times monthly Bronx runs.

I drove an absolute jalopy in high school, a rusted out sad little piece of shit that brought with it great headaches and enormous shame. My friends drove Mercedes and Corvettes and other cool, racy little things. The spoils of a rich kid life. I was the not-rich kid. But I was lucky to have those friends. Because in those expensive, slick, German-engineered vehicles, taken with or without the parents’ permission, we could complete a Bronx run in as little as 45 minutes. How this is possible I don't know.

A Bronx run would entail jumping into a car, screeching out of the drinking lot and hightailing it at 70-85 miles per hour, without seatbelts (I can't remember anyone wearing seatbelts in the 80s) to Decatur Avenue in the Bronx. There we would meet up with street drug dealers and buy the necessary supplies. When time was running out and there were no street dealers to be found we would go to the “red door” - also on Decatur Avenue. The red door was exactly what it sounded like, an oddly bright (against the hard bleak greyness of the Bronx) small red door in a row of derelict depressed tenement buildings. We would park in front of the red door and one of us would get out and knock. A little wooden window sawed into the door would slowly slide open and a pair of yellow ferocious bloodshot eyes would appear. "What?" they would say in a harsh but thrillingly exotic Jamaican lilt. "Uhm, Oh, hello. How are you today?" I might offer as a greeting. I did have manners after all. "Can I have 6 dime bags please?" Then the small window would jerk shut and after a minute or two the door would open a tiny crack and the weed would be passed out. Once the door opened a little wider than usual and I saw that my nearly nude, but for some ratty boxer shorts, Rastafarian friend was holding a large, newly sharpened (by the looks of the blade) machete. I found that hilarious. Now, with teenage children of my own, I find it blood curdling. What were we thinking? What must they have been thinking? These white boys and girls, packed into a something expensive-class Mercedes, listening to The Doors and buying weed in the Bronx. At 10 a.m. on a Wednesday. They probably found it hilarious. Selling us overpriced shit weed mixed with oregano and laughing at our complete and utter stupidity.

Out of curiosity I just Googled the driving time between Scarsdale High School and Decatur Avenue, near where the red door once was, to see how long it should take. Without traffic it’s 25 minutes. Another 25 minutes back. So 50 minutes just to get there and back, without traffic. But there was always traffic. Then add in driving around for 5 minutes looking for street dealers and then maybe 5 minutes at the red door. So those Bronx runs should have taken, at minimum, over an hour. By the end of our high school careers I clocked our fastest one at 45 minutes, round trip, mission accomplished. Harrowing to think about.

Several years ago one of my high school friends got married and we all gathered for the weekend. The morning after the wedding we were sitting around, laughing and discussing the thrilling tales of yore from our shared days at Scarsdale High. We were chuckling up a storm, impressed and rather proud of the audacity of our teenage years. My husband, who is not from Scarsdale, was silent. Until we were walking back to our hotel room. "That was hilarious" I said, still laughing at the memories. He said nothing. I glanced over and could see that he was deep in thought. "What's the matter?" I asked him. "That was terrifying to listen to" he said, "absolutely terrifying. The shit you got up to. The danger you placed your lives in. You were all complete maniacs. It's amazing to me that none of you died."

So we drank and got high a lot at Scarsdale High. On the grounds of the school and off. I had an absolute blast in high school. In some crazy way I'm grateful that I had weed and alcohol to help me during those years. High school, which is painful for so many, was bliss for me. Being high or drunk really allowed me to relax, to come out of my shell, to seriously not care what anyone thought about me. And that, especially during those teenage years, was an enormous blessing. I just floated through it. And I'm grateful that during those years drugs and alcohol worked FOR me, not against me as they started to do in the subsequent decade.

So that's what I mourn when I mourn drinking and drugs. Those years. Those high and drunk consequence-free wildly outrageous years. But I know that they are gone forever. I can never, ever, recapture those magic days or the magic interaction between my natural chemical balance and drugs and alcohol during that time. That's what I miss most. I had no idea I was an addict or alcoholic then. Looking back on it I see that of course I was. I smoked weed almost every single day my junior year, as sort of a self-challenge. Some other students were challenging themselves academically, athletically or socially during that time. Obviously I had other ideas.

So I have those terrifying and beautiful memories, and so many more from those years. And thank God most of us made it. Some of my dear friends from that time are dead now. Two, that I know of, from drug and alcohol related issues. I miss both of them. They were wonderful people, funny, smart, good friends. And in their sad and tragic later life stories I see that it’s incredible that I was able to get sober at all. I'm grateful that I, and almost all of my high school crew, got out alive. Its a miracle, and a blessing, that we did.


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