Many of my happiest memories are of my times with the Studio artists at various conventions and most of all, in Woodstock.
Jeff and Vaughn took a house in Woodstock, and during 1972 and 1973, it was a gathering place for the young turks. High up on a mountainside, it was a hand-hewn stone house that F. Scott Fitzgerald had written in. It was a two-story structure that was tucked way-back in a lightly wooded area. An unpaved road of about a quarter-mile took you to the house and s drive that could only pass a single car at a time. Grape trellises lined two sides and they covered slate patios. Inside the front door, and to the left, was a large old-fashioned kitchen. Immediately to the right was a small sitting room that contained hand-carved furniture and Jeff's swipe file. Beyond the sitting room and to the right was a circular staircase. Straight ahead was the living room, and once in the living room Vaughn's room was first door on the left , and Jeff's was at the far end of the room, also on the left. Vaughn proudly showed me his erotic poster of a nun in some sexy set-up. The perverse nature of the two delighted him.
The living room was filled with overstuffed furniture and the couch faced a huge fireplace that was designed to steam heat the whole house. Even at full power we always froze our butts off when we slept upstairs. But, whenever company was over at night, the lights were down and the flames were up. The living room had a pair of glass doors that faced one of the covered patios. I remember one party on October 31, 1973, attending were Berni and his girlfriend Dee, Kaluta, Mark Hannerfeld, Bruce Jones, Steve Hickman, Dan Green, various girlfriends and maybe Jim Starlin. Carl Lundgren and I had driven up from Westchester County and when we got there, Bruce was telling a horror story to a group of the party goers. As per, the lights were out in the living room and the fire was giving a glow. Bruce was intensely putting over a tale of an ax murderer when the double doors crashed open and Berni entered the living room carrying an ax! Bruce commented that he'd wished Beni would have entered sooner because he was having trouble keeping his impromptu story going. Berni remarked that the story was so good he didn’t want to interrupt it.
Of all of my fond memories of that place, Thanksgiving, 1973 ranks uppermost in my mind. Vaughn Bode and I had become good friends and he invited Carl and me to attend a pot-luck Thanksgiving day dinner. It was cold and crisp as Carl and I left our apartment in Bedford Hills and headed north. We decided that our contribution would be three gallons of ice cream and stopped to pick it up. The trip upstate was breathtaking. Upstate New York is very dramatic.
We arrived at about 1:00 and the place was glowing with its old-fashioned charm. Over the next few hours, friends arrived, each carrying a selection of food. Mark Hannerfeld brought giant chocolate-chip cookies, Marv Wolfman and Len Wein were there, Howard Chaykin and his wife Dina brought kishka, Alan Weiss, Berni and Dee arrived late and Berni slapped his head when he remembered that they'd forgotten the four pies that they'd baked for the occasion.
Tables were set in the living room, and at the appointed time Vaughn, the Messiah, gave thanks and said some sort of grace. The room was full of late afternoon sun-light coming through the windows and double doors to the deck, and I felt the feeling no Rockwell painting could instill. Genuine thanks that I was were I was; lucky enough to be among the crowd I was with. As everyone bowed their head in prayer, I peeked, and told myself to remember the moment, looked hard again, dropped my head and gave a quick, but sincere thanks.
The rest of the day is a bit vague in my memory, but I do remember that we raided Jeff's swipe-file and ooohed over the simple scribbles of a horse that Frazetta had given him. Shot the breeze with our friends, and had one of those times you talk about later. The next morning, I went outside and worked my way down the hill through the woods. The temp was in the 20s and I eventually discovered a small frozen pond some distance from the house. About a block long and half a block wide, the ice was still shiny-new, and very pretty. I was aware of the perfect beauty, and thought I was alone, I felt a part of it. Almost respectful. At the edge, air pockets had formed and a layer of ice as thick as glass froze over them. With great care, I broke a piece about the size of a saucer and skipped it onto the ice. Shivering, I watched the ice slide on ice for what seemed forever, coming to a halt at the edge on the far side of the pond.
Great physics, and you'd never know I was there.
Out of the woods, Jim Starlin appeared and caught the tail end of my display. As I recall, we were at odds at the time so we only exchanged brief nods. Two Indians from different tribes sharing a common hunting ground. I continued around the pond to where my ice had ended up, thus giving Starlin, who was now where I'd broke ice, the chance to try it for himself. I wasn't sure I wanted to be with him, but I could tell that he wanted to try it too, so I offered the best advantage in an unspoken gesture of good-will. I watched as he carefully broke a piece of ice with the heel of his boot and skidded it my way. I chuckled a little, because his piece fell three feet short of mine.
Still, we were satisfied.
We'd both used the pond and still left it in its beautiful state. I felt a little respect for Starlin, too. By the time I had worked my way back to where I'd entered the pond, three or four of the other guests had appeared and all began breaking up the patterns of bubbles, crashing it on the glassy surface, covering it with broken shards and making a mess in general. It kind of depressed me and I went back to the house.
We never spoke about it, but I suspect that Jim was as appalled as I was.