Every College Town Has a Gurdy

Gurdy’s driveway was so hard to find I drove past it twice. The winding road his house is off of was ten minutes past the last entrance to the college campus heading in, what I assumed was, south.

Gurdy’s house is in the woods but also only about a fifteen minute drive from civilization and by extension downtown New Paltz.

Gurdy’s black lab Daisy had been busy sticking her nose in a freshly planted bed of flowers and came over to greet me when I arrived with a few barks. From a top Gurdy’s front porch I saw the screen door swing open and a friendly smile and a wave.

It was misty and warm out. You could smell the sap from the trees. Cars from the nearby highway made a whirring sound that never stopped.

“I built the deck myself,” Gurdy mentioned to me after he noticed that I was staring at the woodwork on the handrails on his front patio. The patio kind of looked like the deck of a cruise ship. He had done quite a good job. Thick metal beams supported the handrail, which was sanded and then painted with a dark varnish. Underneath, cable wire was strung to give an element to the space between the handrail and the floorboards.

“I built the shed too,” Gurdy said as he gestured over to a structure that looked more like a barn than a shed. It was immaculately trimmed and painted with bright colors.

Trinkets hung from the ceiling inside his home. A few of the trinkets were Christmas ornaments; a Santa Claus, a North Star. A few other ones were lightbulbs with little ecosystems of dirt and plants in them. Posters of Metallica and Led Zeppelin clashed with framed photos of family relatives and Daisy the dog.

Their kitchen is painted a bright yellow that didn’t match the rest of the house. Their baby blue stove was so retro looking it could have been from the 50s.

Downstairs a pinball machine laid unplugged and tucked into the corner. Gurdy’s cat meowed at me when I entered the room. The room was damp and cooler than the rest of the house. Through the window I could start to see the rain pick up.

A simple peacefulness permeated the atmosphere at Gurdy’s. Gurdy, whose actual name is Mike Gurdin, liked it this way. He owned a home very close to his college town he had fallen in love with thirty years ago, and alongside his wife, seemed content.

It’s hard to describe what Gurdy is like without meeting him. Gurdy looks like someone straight out of the 80s, as do a lot of his friends and old fraternity brothers. Gurdy’s greying hair is complimented by his mullet. His sun-damaged skin is propped-up by the tight sleeveless shirts he wears.

Gurdy voice is loud and distinct. And his laugh is unforgettable. It’s not quite guttural but it comes from the diaphragm. When he finds something funny his absolute conviction in the delivery of the laugh almost forces you to laugh alongside him.

Gurdy is someone who, while in his mid fifties and has been done with taking college classes for decades, never really graduated. He still hangs out with his old college buddies. He still visits the fraternity house regularly and knows most of the active brothers by name. And still drinks beer and smokes cigarettes in volumes that a man in his fifties probably shouldn’t.

We stood on the porch together with a beer in hand while Gurdy told me about legendary toga parties the fraternity threw back in the 80s while Gurdy’s wife Liz was inside preparing dinner.

Liz and Gurdy got married fifteen years ago in New Paltz, New York and bought their home a few years after that. They met in college, where they were members of the same fraternity, which used to allow women to join.

When they first bought the house it needed a lot of work. They have been repairing and renovating the house for years, and still have an extensive list of projects they want to get to, like remodelling their 1950s kitchen. Since they bought the house they have built a shed, a deck, finished the basement, landscaped the front and backyard, bought a dog, and had tenants move into their guest house.

Gurdys in a band. His band plays mostly at Snugs Harbor Bar and Grill (which doesn't have a grill), a local dive on Main Street in New Paltz. A few months ago their band played at the Chance Theater in Poughkeepsie, which is on the other side of the Hudson River. The Chance is a cool place. It was originally a Vaudeville House from the 1920s. The interior is still draped in red velvet and it has become a well-known concert hall in the Hudson Valley.

Gurdy is the lead singer of the band. There’s a bassist, a guitarist, and a drummer, who is the owner of Main Street Bistro in New Paltz, a local favorite for breakfast, and is also fraternity brothers with Gurdy. They go way back.

I went to see Gurdy play at Snugs one night. After the bouncer scrutinized my ID for a few minutes (I was the youngest person there by probably 10 years) I walked inside and immediately locked eyes with Gurdy who on stage in the front performing.

“Casey!” he shouts on the mic as he points to me. “Thanks for coming!”

I see Liz who offers me a beer. “I’ll take one too!” Gurdy yells into the mic as he takes a break mid-song to say to Liz.

Gurdy and his band are playing heavy rock songs to an appreciative crowd. Gurdy’s energy is clearly the element keeping everything going. Gurdy takes breaks from singing to run into the crowd and offer other people the chance to fill in the rest of the words to the song. Even if no one knows the song the band is playing the person in the crowd makes it up with some hilarious outcomes.

Liz is clapping and cheering. The music is almost unbearably loud and the speakers are probably thirty years old. The speakers aren’t good but no one seems to mind and either way Gurdy’s band is undeniably fun to watch.

Gurdy is a character. I could see him in a past life being a court jester. Not a fool, but a trusted advisor to the king who would always know the right thing to say or to do at the right time.

You can almost see Gurdy in college in moments like these, where he is entertaining a group of people. He looks completely at home when all eyes are on him.

The fraternities today in the small college town of New Paltz don’t throw parties like the stories Gurdy told me about, but after hearing some of these stories from back in the day you can see why someone like him would thrive in that type of animal-house environment.

It’s no wonder Gurdy never left New Paltz. He is still doing the same thing today that he was back in college. Still the life of the party, still killing it, still has all eyes on him. Even if times have changed, Gurdy has figured out what makes him happy and has stuck with it.

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