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Sugar Loaf Guild : The Hidden History of Sugar Loaf, NY


       Sugar Loaf, NY 10981

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  Updated October 30, 2022 | By Bob Fugett

    Truth - Beauty - Art

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Like the flickering of an old time movie the unstable nightrain compartment lights lifted me along a rumbling ascent out of the Grand Central Station tunnels and on toward Westchester.

It was near the time I once showed up for a voice lesson with my sleeves rolled down half an inch further than usual, hiding from my teacher the slender stripe of a bruise that was just beginning to point upwards toward the gleaming sharp guillotine always poised above my neck.

Soon the evening's final train departure was above the streets cruising the winding elevated rails easterly through the high-rise apartments, over the Harlem River then back west till up along the Hudson.

I was alone in the car unaware of the erratic compartment light winkings.

In 1973 before the slow on glow of eco-friendly light bulbs immediacy was expressed, "Like hitting a light switch," which meant faster than the blink of an eye, so momentary outages often went unnoticed.

In any case I was distracted by a deep roiling full body pain that kept shifting me in my seat searching for a contorted comfort.

Instead of my noticing them, the unstable lights merely focused my surroundings closer.

The rich blue vinyl curve of the passenger seat back thickened against my neck and shoulder, then against my cheek as I turned away from the aisle.

A conductor meandered through and accepted my ticket pinching the clipped stub into the seam between vinyl and seat frame.

Neither a word nor pause and he was gone.

I lay down across the seat as the broken lines of metallic trim running above the rowed windows narrowed perspective and began wrapping the walls around my head.

Advertising placards spooned my eyes.

I pressed a foot against the wall.

Everything moved up close and personal, and I was just another bolted down fixture.

The excruciating systemic misery masked the otherwise familiar ubiquitous smell of large fresh pretzels, snow, and old diesel fuel.

I always found that peculiar mixed fragrance appealing, the perfect enhancement to the odd pervasive staleness of aging city structures.

Usually the New York City waft followed me onto the train saturating until I got off at Ossining Station where the snow would dominate, but this night I only felt the grinding torment unaware of anything else.

Dangerous times, but this pain was not related to the danger implied later by the little bruise near the inside of my elbow.

This was not drug withdrawal: this was worse.

No quick fix detox was possible: it was my soul recoiling against itself.

I was returning home from an evening class in textile design at Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in Manhattan.

The class was paid for by Scarves and Blouses by Vera Newmann Industries—more particularly Printex—where I was working in the shipping department and taking advantage of the company policy paying for any garment industry classes that workers might choose to take.

If I had been plucked during that time the deep low note sounded would belie the extreme tautness to which I was tuned.

Under the best of circumstances I was a tight wire of anguish, and this was one of the worst.

It seems tawdry now, but the crux of that immediate malaise was merely the fact that another woman had, as the saying goes, "...done me wrong."

Actually, aside from it sounding like a joke (which it definitely is not), saying that I was done wrong is probably too strong a statement, because my recurring troubles were never so much cases of having been done wrong as not done right.

Woman after woman was misreading a situation no one could ever imagine, so no need trying to explain the pointless details here.

However, in contrast to my saying I had been done wrong being a slight overstatement, reporting that the result of such an event was always a full body onslaught would be a significant understatement.

Moreover it would also be misleading to imply that romantic entanglements were the only triggers of my psychic fracturings.

Be that as it may the pulverizing crush of this particular extended episode was definitely due to a woman.

My uneasiness was all encompassing though I did manage to make it through one day after another doing whatever was absolutely necessary.

As buildup to the late night metro event, I had already endured a distracted day's work, then a trip into the city wading through looks of horror from fellow fashion industry students as I walked and rode the escalator up to class.

I wore a dark scraggy heavy tweed winter coat from which the entrails of torn insulation hung through a gaping hole blowing out the entire left side panel.

My shoes were worse—glazed with a colorful toxic collage of splashed screen printing dyes—perfect boots for the busy factory floor.

I had little interest in fashion but the strongest interest in the arts, and the textile class was at its core an art class, so one might say I was an early pre-punk rocker all grunged up striding to school aloof. 

I never gave my disheveled clothes a thought before trying to figure out the covertly aghast glances from other fashion students in the city.

Of course there were women who found my look briefly intriguing until they realized it was a commitment not a contrivance.

The intent was to live as simply as possible in order to support my dreams.

I was living in a derelict third floor walk-up which was distinguished from the two floors and basement of junk shop below by lack of clutter alone.

A bed and couch of sorts, a couple of folding chairs, a barely functional piano (gifted to me), otherwise it was six empty squalid rooms rented for one eighth of union starting pay.

The kitchen and bathroom were marginally useful while the only heat was the kitchen stove.

Needless to say no air conditioning.

However the rooms were large, and I prized space above all, a holdover from being raised amidst Ohio corn fields where a back yard comes with its very own horizon.

My apartment with the antique shop below was a fantastical vast retro-peculiar rickety stowage that gave me my freedom: I loved it.

I believe part of the reason the rent was so cheap was because I occasionally helped the owner of the junk shop, my landlord Mitch Grossman, move around the continual flow of antiques coming in and out, or I went with him to help carry items purchased from estate sales and private homes.

Once, while driving us away from a Westchester mansion with several freshly purchased items, Mitch told me he did not do well with most of the articles but made up for it on a tiny statuette dancer.

It was an inconspicuous doorstop he ignored during negotiations to offhandedly bundle at the end.

I had not seen him look at it once.

"That figurine by your foot is 16th century. The woman didn't know what she had. I lost money on the other stuff, but the dancer is worth twelve thousand, so I should break even. Try not to step on it."

Another time I was paying my rent at his desk (raised on a platform at the back of his main showroom for best view of the shop) when we overheard a patron pick up an item and tell her friend, "Look at this. I just love these little junk shops."

He murmured, "Junk shop! Wait till you ask the price."

Mr. Grossman enjoyed a well deserved stellar reputation and never took advantage.

Still he managed to get by.

I think he considered my presence above his antique store as something akin to a night watchman.

Click for source
Mitch Grossman Antiques
Ossining, NY

Companion factory workers derided me for my rank accommodations and run down appearance, but I explained my priorities were to get better at art and music, so paying more for a nicer apartment (although it might attract women) or spending one penny on a new coat when the rags I wore already kept out most of the cold...well I had no interest.

Music lessons and a new guitar were my choice.

Still I would have been pleased to get rid of the bowel churning discomfort that racked my body much of the time.

Certainly that racking was paramount on the train the night so soon after my most recent breakup.

I even went to the extreme of taking a few days off work mid-summer to hitchhike half way cross the country and pin down beyond question just exactly what had happened.

Really: she hadn't even seen my apartment.

The letter said only, "I have decided to marry John. I hope you will understand."

It came after two years of routinely ardent correspondence, and no, I never even heard the name John before.

The last thing previously said to me was that she and I were to move in together soon as possible.

Fortunately I was a great employee, so when I told the plant manager I needed a few days off to go find out the truth, he didn't even ask what truth, just said, "Ok, go find truth and come back quickly."

Standing beside my backpack while being warmly spritzed in one of a thousand tiny gray drizzly Chicago suburbs I received my answer which was merely: whatever had happened was what had happened and there was neither a good answer for it nor any remedy.

At least I was absolutely certain there was no miscommunication, so I would not be haunted by it every day the rest of my life.

After a quick tearful peck then lingering hug goodbye, she haltingly turned away and walked off with every stitch of my eviscerated innards as if I were a spent honey bee.

I never saw her again.

A few grinding months later and I was on the night's last commuter train coming out of Grand Central, in a car alone, still going through a metamorphosis of agony beyond all hope of shedding my chrysalis shell.

The word brutal barely attests to the depth of my distress, not to mention it was a repeat of a situation happening all too often.

The whole thing was wearing me down.

Then right when I reached yet another grand crescendo of glass shard hopelessness, it happened.

The metal and glass walls did not recede, nor did the placards withdraw from my eyes, nor was the blue vinyl of the train bench failing to press into my contorted form, but in the midst of all that, every bit of the pain just...poof...disappeared.

Just like that, it was gone.

I breathed a few unlabored breaths and thought, "Wow, that was tough. Glad it's over...," and bang it was back like the lights flickering on.

Less than a second later the despair again whiffed away briefly before returning me to my normal tortured stasis.

Except now I was down to a level where I could think a little, so every thought turned toward, "What the fuck just happened!?"

Where did the pain go?

Brief as it was, a definite change of state with reversals.

How could that be?

Then I remembered something similar happened when I was returning from my hitchhike journey to the Midwest.

Broken by the goodbye I managed to hold myself somewhat together making small talk with the unnamed driver of the final car who picked me up in remote Pennsylvania and dropped me off near midnight overlooking an expanse of the vast sparkling New Jersey factory fields.

I stood on the side of the road surveying the shimmering night and braced myself for what was sure to be a severe blow when the pain unleashed, but as I looked around and took a deep breath I realized I was just glad to be there.

I was finally on my own years away from my youth and under my own control—far away from everything past.

Unfortunately the calm was brief, but it was significant enough to be remembered.

Months later enough of the memory remained to prompt a closer look when my Metro-North agony snapped away and stammered back a few times.

I thought, "Wait a minute. This has happened before. Something is definitely going on here. What is it...specifically?"

Next time the pain squelched I was ready watching.

I blurted a soundless, "No...really: that is what did it!? How could that be?"


I noticed the pain shimmered away exactly when I looked at one of the passenger car's interior design elements.

I was looking at the bottom left curve of molding around the nearest window and comparing its transition from light to dark when the pain winked.

I tossed out another test glance just to check—this time toward the tight black curve of the seat frame in front of me: the pain left.

I allowed my eye to follow the burnished metal wall that transcended the half reflective midnight black windows where a distant light shone through one glass in passing to another: the pain, gone.

"That can't be!"

I looked at my shoe, watched it scrunch under the seat beneath me: the pain extinguished.

"Ok, maybe..."

Every time my focus moved to an object in the outside world, the pain vanished.

Click for source
Vintage Metro-North passenger car

I wish I could report, "How clever," and say I never had another bout of such pain for the rest of my life, but it doesn't work that way.

Even in that moment, once I caught on, it still took a concentrated effort to divert my suffering.

Later it would sometimes happen like magic with absolutely no effort, but mostly it took a great effort and was always temporary at best.

Plus I was not even sure if what I was experiencing was in any sense real, or repeatable in the long term, or what exactly was causing it.

I knew I seemed to have caught hold of some sort of technique or something, but maybe it was just wishful thinking.

Could I actually hold my demons at bay?

Not likely, certainly not for long.

I did not yet see the connection to my significant interest in the arts.

No matter, my interest in music and the other arts was strong, so my times of outward focus were slowly beginning to unfold into longer and longer intervals of rapt attention as I worked to create something excellent and outside of myself.

Fine tuning my understanding of music I soon realized that even during my sickest times (sick as in colds and the flu) I would drag myself upright in bed to practice guitar, but even on my healthiest days I would put off color matching for the textile design class.

A path was clearing.

Music was my ticket out of a lifestyle that was destroying my friends.

Most of the others stayed in an all out party mode each day after work then full time on weekends, and we were all averaging about two hours sleep a night.

Fortunately I had two additional appointments that required my rested best attention (and sobriety) twice a week—my Tuesday evening voice lesson and my Saturday morning guitar lesson.

In retrospect those sacrosanct appointments were just enough to keep me backed off the edge of the precipice.

Those twice weekly appointments became linchpins as the arc of my life changed.

The watershed was abrupt but not instant: somebody woke me one very late Friday night by sticking a needle in my arm. The explosive flip from deepest sleep to the most lucid awareness, well it...um...there wa...they phoooph! And somebody had some more, so I enjoyed watching the group descend into groveling rationalizations as to why each of them should be the one to enjoy the very last bit. I was maybe the most subtle among them wherein my distinct decision was, I thought, my intent, words, "We can get more. I've been saving for a guitar. The bank opens in a few hours. I'll get my money, and I, we, all of us will be set for the weekend! But right now, if I might be the one..."

And I passed out.

The alarm woke me with barely enough time to make it to my guitar lesson.

I hesitated thinking, "I can skip today (never have missed one)...go to the bank."

But my routine knee jerk habit was to headlong drag myself awake and carry my guitar two miles to my lesson, so I was half way through getting ready to leave before I made the actual decision, "Ok, the phrasing for the second verse has been driving me nuts. I guess I can go to my lesson and work on that first. Then straight to the bank."

Walking the two miles to my guitar lesson I started going over that week's epiphany about how a charming three times in a row perfect performance (relaxed, slow, and correct) was the secret for getting a phrase into my hands.

Then I thought about how much improvement I was getting from basic exercises where a simple essential skill smoothed out would permeate everything I played afterwards.

I casually reminded myself how I always wanted to keep looking for more generalized musical phrasing initiated through better intrinsic hand gestures identified by a steadily more efficient process of integration.

By the return trip walking back to my apartment I was thinking, "Why should I wait? I'll buy a new guitar today. I don't have enough money for the guitar I want, but I could get a pretty good one. I mean just last night I was going to throw it all away to extend that party for another ten minutes. Throwing it away on a guitar couldn't be any worse. Right? I deserve it, a favor to myself, and I'm getting it. Besides, who knows when I'll have this much money again. It was too fucking hard to save, and last night was too fucking close!"

At my voice lesson three days later I pulled my sleeve down a little more to hide my slender blue fading cocaine bruise while showing off my new richer sounding guitar and singing yet another song I was writing about some girl (though girl was never mentioned).

Nobody was the wiser...except for me of course.

And I am still shaking.

I didn't plan it, had no idea what it meant, didn't really know it was happening, but the arts were helping me avoid tragedy.

The night on the train where pure aesthetic pulled me out of pandemonium is a primary example of the intrinsic value of the arts, and it will be no surprise to therapists everywhere who are accustomed to accepting new patients into a mental health clinic and promptly ushering them into the day room for Occupational Therapy with arts and crafts.

On the other hand, the way the music, the art, the study, the longing, all combined to knock me like a billiard ball onto a different course, well I don't know.

I could easily recount another dozen situations of equal importance each with a different nexus.

So maybe it is not the answer for everybody, nor even the monolithic exclusionary answer for those who find it very helpful, but making (or doing) something artistic and worthwhile with your hands is a superbly healthy activity trending toward wellness and psychic health.

Should it be any surprise that the arts (including music) are of equal importance to sports and more traditional studies in the best schools?

I wonder how many disinterested kids struggling to find a success to build on (in anything) have found the arts overwhelmingly attractive and through the pursuit of making their own art learned the fundamentals of success (in everything).

My understanding of the fortuitous and unpredictably happy results possible established my orientation toward students the two decades I taught private music lessons.

Whatever music a student wanted to play, absolutely, but we used that music to learn the fundamentals of commitment, focus, and problem solving.

Time after time I watched as what first seemed exorbitantly impossible for a student routinely became a banal triviality: difficult passages succumbing to structured study.

I saw student after student succeed in a steady stream of long term projects where problems of performance were presented and overcome in a logical step by step fashion.

Even with those students who were not high achievers I always knew: "Granted you can lead a horse to water, and you can't make it drink, but if it ever gets thirsty it will know exactly where the water is."

Even better: the healthful benefits provided by the arts are not reserved for artists alone.

Those who appreciate the art of others can receive much of the same boon.

Just like my experience on the night train.

Could there be a better vehicle towards a healthy psyche than beautifully refined art (or loathsomely chaotic art) which draws a person out of themselves?

SPOILER ALERT: Here comes the sales pitch.

My wife is a full time career watercolor artist, and a number of her collectors have a distinct physical reaction to her work.

They visually flush on seeing a new piece they love.

Thousands of people have taken her paintings home to live with and enhance their feeling of well being by viewing them whenever they want.

Their experience is very much like mine on the night train when I was transfixed by design elements provided by highly skilled artisans.

I myself continue to receive thank you's for a special music album I composed more than a quarter century ago, plus a book on musical process I wrote soon afterwards. 

Those works were based on, and supported by, similar work I did for almost two decades prior, and much of that work was done while being privileged to live in a community of like minded artisans.

Not only does my own work provide significant health giving benefits directly to me while I am producing it, I also enjoy the side effects of seeing similar work done by more than a dozen other artisans living around me who are just as committed to achieving excellence in their own fields.

I must mention that after my brief time in the shipping department at Vera, I became Assistant Studio Coordinator for their art department (more good that came out of my interest in the arts), and our art and music studio in Sugar Loaf is highly based on the fundamentals of vertical manufacturing and marketing that I learned at Printex in a very short amount of time.

As of this writing I have been a resident of Sugar Loaf, NY for 37 years—a community unparalleled for the density of resident full time working artisans who provide an artistic boost for the entire world.

A tiny Mecca for the arts.

The aggregate collection of resident Sugar Loaf artisans, each working in their own specialty, has attracted an international following to the hamlet, and that broad following not only intensifies the effects of the art being created here today but also enhances the potential for similar work to continue being produced in the future.

The core community of Sugar Loaf artisans is not some false promotional product of a socially engineered high powered planned development project; but rather, it is the natural organic growth of a community arising where like minded individuals found a way to come together and enhance the visibility, prosperity, and potential of all.

And for those who go even further and breach the boundaries of any particular work's embodiment to enjoy the extra fortune of being transported by pure aesthetic alone (artisan or not)...could we be luckier?

Great work is produced in Sugar Loaf, and it continues to be fully appreciated by thousands of people from all over the world who do themselves the favor of purchasing it.

Do yourself a favor and shop Sugar Loaf...or just come look.


Click and drag image to rotate old timey 360°
feels like those flickering train lights in the story above


CAVEAT (10/08/13): As the readership of this page has grown significantly, it has come to my attention that some people assume it is a description of my life as a junky with a miraculous salvation due to a musical epiphany.

Nothing could be further from the truth, so I should clarify.

The time of the cocaine use was really less than two weeks total, and it was before we came to Sugar Loaf where we took the opportunity to never mention we had ever done drugs so as to avoid people continually asking for us to join in the party.

Described above is just a moment where I realized that I was on a very dangerous edge and took action to avoid going over it.

As happy as that lucky event was, it should certainly not imply that a junkie one day woke up and said, "Enough is enough," and just walked away from an addiction.

It doesn't work that way.

Therefore anybody with a substance abuse problem (acknowledged or suspected) who may read this and be hoping for their own awakening should stop right now and go seek help.

These things are not easily overcome, I was just lucky that my intense interest in music (already established) allowed me by dumb luck and chance to avoid a horrible possibility.

On the other hand, drug and alcohol addiction is no joke, so stop laughing and ask somebody much wiser than I am about it.

Make sure the somebody you ask is a professional counselor and not just one of your friends ... who is probably part of your problem.

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