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Round-Trip

A generation of Scarsdale sons and daughters, motivated by quality-of-life issues and perhaps by a Nick at Nite-ish nostalgia for the leafy utopia of their youth, have gone home again. What it means to accept, even embrace, the suburbanite within.

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"What was your yearbook quote, Judd?" Rippy Philipps is saying. " 'I've got some beer and the highway's free'?"

It's a Monday night, and on a porch in Scarsdale littered with empty pizza boxes, bowls of popcorn, and cans of Budweiser, Philipps, a barrel-chested 35-year-old, is in the midst of his biweekly low-stakes poker game with five other guys his age -- three of whom were his teammates on the Scarsdale High football team, class of 1981. Ignoring Philipps's inquiry, Judd Marmon puffs at his cigar and deals the next hand onto the green felt table. So Steve Friedlander joins in the guessing game: " 'It's a town full of losers and I'm pulling out of here to win'?"

"I think everybody at this table quoted Springsteen," says Paul Bauersfeld.

"Mine was Dan Fogelberg," counters the bearded Friedlander. " 'Lessons learned are like bridges burned -- you only need to cross them but once.' "

Actually, that's a principle Friedlander's three classmates seem not to have heeded. In the past few years, Philipps, Marmon, and Bauersfeld have fled Manhattan (or, in Bauersfeld's case, San Carlos, California) and crossed back over the burned bridge of teenagerhood to buy houses in the fabled suburban utopia of their youth. Bauersfeld, a software designer at Nickelodeon, even married his high-school girlfriend, and now lives across the street from Philipps.

The guys reunite frequently. For instance, last summer, down by the Bronx River, they reenacted the night twenty years ago when each had chugged a six-pack and scribbled down where he thought he'd end up.

If their drunken scrawls could be deciphered, it's unlikely that in 1978 any of them would have predicted "Back in Scarsdale" -- except Philipps, a senior VP at a major Wall Street firm, who's such a Scarsdale booster that his brother Michael, who also moved back, jokes, "Rippy wears maroon-and-white the school colors underwear." Marmon swore up and down he wouldn't be back. But he ended up in the family vitamin business in Queens, and when he'd had enough of city life, he realized that "the traffic in Westchester is so much better than Long Island or New Jersey" -- and that he'd be among friends.

Even Friedlander hasn't strayed that far -- only to Greenwich, to his stepmother's jewelry-manufacturing business -- and tonight's poker game is being hosted by the guy who married Friedlander's prom date, Lorie Stewart (then Piro).

While the boys play cards, Stewart's out with two of her female Scarsdale High friends, attending a Marshall Tucker Band concert at a dinner theater in Elmsford. ("You can't make that up!" Philipps remarks.)

Sometimes it all seems a little Twilight Zone. During one of their first poker get-togethers, Philipps recalls, "we were in the backyard drinking beers and smoking cigars, and we all kind of looked at each other at the same time and said, 'Is this really going on, seventeen years after the fact? We don't have to worry about our parents anymore?' "

If you grew up in Scarsdale in the past several decades (as I did, graduating in the class of 1979) and someone asked you where you were from, you'd probably mumble "Westchester" and avoid eye contact. The town's name is saddled with the baggage of surreal wealth (kids who get a BMW or a nose job on their 16th birthday), academic hegemony (a public high school whose college placement rivals that of private schools), and racial imbalance (the 1990 census tallied 2 percent of the 17,000 residents as black -- a figure probably inflated by live-in help; the high school has since the sixties participated in a scholarship-like program that imports a few black students a year from the South.)


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