I attended a high school reunion this past weekend. It wasn’t mine—it was this guy Norman’s, and I had a great time absolutely ruining his reputation.
Just kidding. I attended my own high school reunion, of course (why would you attend someone else’s?), and it was a delightful, feel-good event. We met in Armonk, New York, a town 35 miles north of the city, which is odd, considering we all went to school in Groom, Texas, home of the second-largest cross in the Western hemisphere.
Of course I’m being silly—we are true-blue Armonkians, which is not to say we don’t have the greatest admiration for Groom, Texas and its giant cross.
Armonk: what an ugly name that is. I think the Siwanoy Indians who originally lived there really called the place something else, but as they were being evicted they thought they’d play a little prank on the Europeans.
“Oh yes,” the Siwanoy said as they handed the new settlers the keys, “it’s called Armonk. It means ‘Valley beneath the Full Moon.’” Then they walked off, snickering. God knows what Armonk really means.
Whatever it’s called, Armonk was a lovely place to grow up. There were woods all around my house, lakes in which to swim—well, New York City reservoirs—sorry, New York, for all the beer and urine! My brothers and I rode bicycles around town, were on a first-name basis with the shopkeepers in the village, ate well, went to good schools, and in general were only in danger when we put ourselves there. Living on our street was a plumber, a carpenter, a housepainter, a union organizer, an architect, a corporate executive, a newspaper editor, a policeman, and the owner of a barely surviving candy and newspaper store—really, an extraordinary mix compared to today’s economically segregated society.
This is not to say that Armonk was fully integrated. To say it was a white community is to understate the facts. The first black kid to attend our schools (at least in the twentieth century—I can’t speak for any earlier, regardless of how old my daughter Laura thinks I am) was Sydney Poitier’s daughter, who was “slumming it” in our public school.
Still, there was quite a variety of people living in Armonk when we were kids, and all of us benefited from an extraordinarily good public school system. For reasons that would take too much time to muddle through here, there was a stretch there when I was hell-bent on getting into as much trouble as possible, and I did a pretty damn good job. Let’s just say if you don’t have a good attendance record, as was the case with me for a short period there (6th grade through my fifth year in college)—and, while not attending class, you imbibe certain substances—or even when you do attend class you imbibe certain substances—eventually the piper will have to be paid (no pun intended).
In spite of my fun-loving ways (or in some cases because of them) I got along with folks and had good friends. One day I came to school to discover handmade signs lining the walls, proclaiming “Sam Who?” and “Vote for Sam!” and “Sam Barry for Class President!”
Someone was running a dadaesque student council campaign with me as the candidate. Later that day I ran into three members of a gang I ran with carrying more of said banners. For the purposes of this story let’s call them Erlend Kimmich, Regis Goodwin, and Ronny Long—three young gentlemen who were, if anything, worse than me about attending class or being clear-headed while doing so. I had discovered the culprits and my campaign committee. We gathered in the path behind the school to discuss tactics . . .
Eventually the time came for me to deliver my campaign speech. The occasion called for formal attire, but I was wearing my usual jeans, sneaker, and t-shirt combo. Fortunately, Ronny Long was wearing his Vietnam vet brother’s Army jacket. Always an improviser, Ronny took this garment off and draped it over my shoulders, and so I ascended the podium to speak to all my peers and teachers wearing a well-worn Army jacket that was 12 sizes too big for me. I also didn’t have the slightest idea what I was going to say.
Here ends Episode I of the Byram Hills High School Class of ’75 Reunion Trilogy, or maybe less, but trilogy sounds better. To learn more about the what happened at the Class of ’75 Reunion and to Regis Goodwin, Erlend Kimmich, Ronny Long, Armonk, New York, Serina Lancia, Kenneth Schweitzer, Jeff Hahn, Emily Walzer, Sam Okeefe, Bill O’Neill, Steven Viscusi, Grant Sturiale, renowned Hungarian composer Sara Helmrich Bartok, Fred Green, Mr. Moy, and (strike the music) Eric Wertheimer, read Episode II—after it gets written, that is.