Sky Masterson: "You have wished yourself a Scarsdale Galahad, the breakfast-eating, Brooks Brothers type."
Sarah Brown: "Yes! And I shall meet him when the time is right."
--- "I'll Know," Guys and Dolls
Boy those were the days.
On April 19, a Scarsdale mother was arrested after becoming so exasperated with her bickering daughters (aged 10 and 12) that she ordered them from her car and drove off. A week later, another Scarsdale woman was charged with smuggling $12 million in gold in the lining of her purse from the jewelry manufacturer where she had worked for 28 years. Earlier in the month, police accused a Scarsdale dentist of defrauding a life insurance company of over $15,000. Then last week, a former Bear Stearns employee--also a Scarsdalian--sued for a $2 million bonus after his wife reportedly traded down their Mercedes SUV for a Honda.
I grew up in Scarsdale, in a stucco house across the street from where the Hollywood writer Aaron Sorkin grew up. As can be expected, there was some truth to the stereotype of Scarsdale--its place in the pantheon of suburban decadence was all but assured when hundreds of inebriated high schoolers flooded the Homecoming Dance in 2002, prompting some parents to send their drivers to collect the young sots--but aside from the occasional bacchanal, and a sex scandal here or there, it was a wholesome upbringing.
Scarsdale, a town of some 17,000, has always traded on its education system--and hence, its values. By 1925, over 70 percent of denizens occupied the upper-middle class, and so "demanded private school results from the public school system," according to one village history. That much is unchanged; in the wake of the Homecoming debacle, a New York Times reporter called Scarsdale a "bastion of high incomes and test scores." Added a senior at the high school, "We are supposed to be Scarsdale, the rich people, the good people, the studious."
The newspapers had choice words for Madlyn Primoff, the "drive-away mom"--and none so superlative. As the Times pointed out, Primoff's pedigree--"Scarsdale, Park Avenue, Columbia Law School"--worked against her and her family, with the New York Post reporting that Primoff was "busted after tossing her bratty 10- and 12-year-old daughters out of her car" on the way home to the family's "$2 million spread in Scarsdale." What frightened so many Scarsdalians (and I suspect others across the country) was the familiarity, if not the outcome, of the situation; that every parent has teetered on the edge, and just barely made it back on the road with kids in tow.
And what of the upsurge in thievery, these crimes that make Teri Hatcher and co.'s seem petty by comparison? Dr. Joanne Baker, for one, is denying all charges. Said attorney George Rosenbaum of his dentist client: "We will fight tooth and nail to prove her innocence." Teresa Tambunting, the jeweler, took the opposite tack. After she caught wind of the investigation, Tambunting arrived at her former employer's with a suitcase carrying 66 pounds of gold. A subsequent investigation of her home yielded another 447 pounds.
Then there's Gary Reback, notable mostly among the malefactors of suburbia for lacking a criminal record. Reback earned a $4 million bonus in 2007, the highest in all of his years of collecting a $250,000 base salary. Unsatisfied with the terms of his dismissal, Reback filed suit against Bear Stearns and J.P. Morgan Chase, which purchased Bear in a fire sale last year, requesting $1.1 million in severance pay, and another $2 million in bonuses. Attorney Jonathan Sack, speaking on behalf of Reback, was hardly the first to accuse an investment bank this year of "shocking, bad faith behavior." Of course the upside is that children of privilege will more willingly flee a Honda than a Benz.
Perhaps moral decay has seeped outward from the metropolis. Populist anger certainly has, its schadenfreude falling indiscriminately across the greater New York area, particularly on those enclaves of privilege where bonus money seems to reside. Or maybe Scarsdale was always a sordid place, its faults and fragilities only illuminated by the recession. As the Times said of Primoff, "If she had been a clerk who left her kids at a Costco in Fargo, N.D., what happened in Fargo would have stayed in Fargo." Yet I suspect in desperate times, these worst of times, people from Fargo to Farmington to Folsom resort to desperate measures.
The Scarsdale I remember is impregnable snow forts, bike rides to the Kensico Dam, fireflies fading into the gloaming, and an impromptu gathering on the school playground after 9/11. Sure, Galahad was a bastard child, but after all, he found the Holy Grail.