Sid Scumf*** wasn’t known by anything other than Sid Scumf***. He embraced the name to the point of having it tattooed across his knuckles, one letter to each finger. He was emaciated, a gaunt scarecrow wavering in the wind.
He wore a camouflage fishing cap with a blonde stringy mop stuffed under it descending into a blonde stringy beard jutting down over a limp vest emblazoned with dozens of gutter punk patches. He didn’t smell great.
I met up with Sid on the grassy median between the entrance and exit traffic of a Hannaford’s supermarket in Highland. Sid was flying a sign, which is gutterpunk/traveler lingo for begging via sign. Sid was particularly good at this because he claimed to be, and by all accounts was, an ex-Marine.
Sid’s Marine credentials and the fact that he looked like something that washed up from a swamp made flying signs surprisingly profitable. I got there three hours after he started, and he was pissed because he had made “only” $25. Also a sandwich, some fast food and a bunch of grapes.
Sid said he first arrived in New Paltz in 1997.
“I was passing through town with my band, and we heard about a frat party, so here was me and three other gutter punks on all kinds of drugs in a frat party pounding beer, and you guys couldn’t get rid of me since then,” he said. “I left, I went to the Marine Corp. I was out of the Marine Corp for about three months and I came back to New Paltz and stayed there.”
Sid was an integral part of what was known as “the stoop,” a gray flat of stone sticking out of a storefront that was always changing ownership while the stoop stayed the same. A cacophony of the weird congregated at the stoop every day, spouting madness and joy — gutter-punks, crusties, townies, travelers, SUNY arts students and the occasional street seer. It was like the neighborhood bar for people who couldn’t afford drinks by the pint.
“Yeah, the stoop was home,” Sid said.
The property the stoop laid on was eventually purchased by an angry little man named Bobby Downs.
“New Paltz is a very liberal and welcoming and accepting community, and he’s like the Grinch, y’know like, you can’t have somebody like that in a community like ours and y’know, expect them to be liked,” Sid said.
Sid had a political take on Downs.
“Because if this was an anarchist state, and I didn’t have to worry about it dude, I’d whoop his ass every time I seen him, just because he likes to hit women, he likes to hit dogs, he likes to lie on people to the cops,” Sid said. “Number one? Don’t call on the cops on nobody unless it’s a rapist, a child molester or a animal abuser — you gotta problem with another man, handle your own shit; be a man.”
A few of the New Paltz cops were friendly with the stoop kids. One in particular — whose name has been changed — would always come by and bullshit with them. But in a particularly dramatic stoop-kid episode, the cop snapped and punched one in the face.
The girl, Ari, had been swilling bottom-shelf vodka with a bunch of other stoop kids, then decided to top it off by popping a couple Ambien.
“Ari fell out,” Sid said. “I mean, not like an actual OD, she just passed out right by the stoop…a few people ran around and tried to get a hold of Karina (her sister) — ambulance got called, cops got called, everything.”
“Karina come walkin up the street, [Ari’s] already laid-out, she starts screaming ‘Ari, wake up, Ari wake up,’ which, y’know, whacha supposed to do?…that’s your sister,” Sid said.
Officer — let’s say Flemming — was there, and Karina asked if she could ride in the ambulance with her sister.
“And they’re like, ‘naw, we’re not gon’ let you do that,’ so she spit in [Flemming’s] face and then next thing I knew, like I blinked and she was on the ground with about three cops punching ‘er,” Sid said. “So as that went on, Hefe ran up and was about to kick Stauch in the head, and I had to run and tackle Hefe because I was like ‘y’know what? It’s just gonna make matters worse.’ So I grabbed Hefe and was like ‘yo, no good is gonna come outta you goin to jail right along with her.'”
The cops got Karina in the back of a cruiser, and the petite gutter punkess started stomping the shit out of the car’s side window until it shattered into a million bits and her foot stuck through.
The stoop might have been the central spot for the community, but you couldn’t exactly sleep there, so there was various other spots — grandmother’s house — “’cause it’s over the river and through the woods,” Sid said — the pirate house, and various tent cities that popped up in the summer.
Sid was living in a tent city back in the woods one summer when the occupants decided to create a living room set from shit they found in dumpsters.
“A couch, love seat, chairs, ottomans, TV, lamps, coffee table and end tables, the whole nine yards,” Sid said. “So we built a living room in the woods and we drew a little picture of a stick man throwing a football on the TV, then we cut little notches into the trees and plugged everything that plugged in into the trees.’’
Inevitably, the cops got called.
“He comes down and he’s just looking at us, ‘really guys, really…’ and there’s about three or four of us, sitting on the couch, drinking beers, staring at a TV that’s not turned on, and I forget exactly who it was, but somebody or other just looks at him and says ‘Shut up Pat! were trying to watch the game!'”
There were sad stories about the stoop too.
Sid told me about J-Bone, a central character in the stoop play. He called him “one of the finest human beings that ever lived.”
He lived in a punk house in New Paltz that was supposed to have 3 or 4 people living in it, but Sid said there were always at least a dozen crusties sprawled out every morning.
One morning, J-Bone woke up and convinced the masses on his floor to sweep up all of the sidewalks on Main Street, Sid said.
“Don’t ask me how he did it, no one will ever be able to do that again, there is no one with that much pull now,” he said.
J-Bone had a son of about 13, but this wasn’t enough to keep him from hanging himself one morning.
“Basically my thoughts on J-Bone…he realized he couldn’t do as much good in the community as he really wanted to and…his girlfriend broke up with him, he was losing [his] house, everything was crumbling under him at once, and just decided to end it,” Sid said. “I guess the only thing we can really do is accept his decision, because it’s not like we can bring him back.”
Sid said he doesn’t really drink anymore, and neither do most of the crazies he hopped up and down Main Street with back in the day. He views J-Bone’s suicide as a death knell for the stoop and the larger stoop kid community.
But the culture was in decline before that, Sid said.
“All I can tell you when I came there, 15 years ago…the people who were already there were like ‘aw man, it ain’t like it was 10 years ago.’ So I really feel like it’s been a downward spiral since at least the late 80s-early 90s, but it’s gotten really bad over maybe the past 5-6 years or so,” he said.
He still meets up with the stoop kids who haven’t passed, but he said it was weird to be around them sober. They mostly talked about the days when they were asshole drunks.
The stoop still exists, but no one hangs out there anymore. The lifestyle of a stoop kid isn’t physically sustainable for long, and the next generation have probably found somewhere else to spend their time.