There was one TV on the entire colony. It was in a small musty room
off the concession that was filled with spent, broken furniture that
emitted a cloud of dust every time someone collapsed into the sagging
seat cushions. The TV set was an ancient black and white job, a Philco
I think, with half the knobs either cracked or missing, and a permanent
haze about the screen. It managed to receive three channels-5, 7 and
11, and none of them very well. Watching a Yankee game one lost summer
evening, I recall it being intensely difficult to see the players on
the bases, let alone follow the flight of the ball.
We didn't have VCRs, or computers or boom boxes. Video games? Yeah,
we had a video game. It was called "Etch-A-Sketch," and if you possessed
typical acumen with the two little knobs, the furthest you advanced
was to make stairs.
Not that any of that mattered, because our days were more than filled
with swimming, fishing, softball, stickball, volleyball, building forts,
taking hikes to explore old, deserted and dilapidated bungalows and
hotels. Generally, we did what any normal city kid would with a two-month
reprieve to run wild and free in the summer.
Yet the activities we most cherished were conducted in the open air.
And, God knows the weather was not always conducive to outdoor activity.
Catskill summer storms are the stuff of legends. Remember 1969-- the
year men landed on the moon and the downpours were of biblical proportions?
We were half convinced the monsoons were induced by the introduction
of "moon rocks" to the earth's atmosphere. As glorious and wonderful
were the bungalow colonies in the sunshine, is how tedious and mundane
they easily became with the simple presence of more than two consecutive
days of rain.
Day camp turned into a horror show that Hitchcock would squirm at
retelling. Often there were three colony buildings available for indoor
activity-the camp house, the casino and the concession. How to divide
up an entire camp of kids of disparate ages? If the early summer were
particularly wet, the entire season's arts and crafts consignment was
exhausted in week one. Every bungalow became inundated with an invasion
of ice-cream stick jewelry boxes covered with glitter and tiny seashells,
copper face engravings, mobiles, collages made from old magazine clippings,
thousands of finger- paintings, and the ever ubiquitous ash-tray/candy-dish
fashioned from modeling clay, then painted and glazed in the oven. To
this day I can recall the singular, unpleasant odor of the camp-house
in the rain: thick and musty-part damp vegetation, part paste, part
finger paint, part human perspiration, part ennui.
In those pre-VCR days the appearance of a movie, to be run in the
casino, was a welcome event. But often every camp in the vicinity had
clamored for the same, and the movie-guy seldom could please everyone.
If we were fortunate enough to secure a film it was often something
we'd recently seen on the regular colony movie night, or, worse, an
"educational film", the type of which we'd been happy to desert with
the closing of school the previous June. If there were sufficient cars
and drivers on the colony we lucked out and often found ourselves shuttled
off to a bowling alley. There we joined other camps in a locust-like
descent that forced us to stack up eight or nine or ten to a lane, and
insured we would complete no more than a full ten frame game, if that,
before having to return to the colony. No matter, we had fun anyway,
and no one could beat the taste of bowling alley fries.
Other times, again, if transportation could be arranged, we schlepped
to the movies. From Mountaindale we negotiated a steep, winding and,
in looking back, most likely hazardous road, arriving in the valley
hamlet of Ellenville. Ellenville had two theaters-the Shadowland and
the Norwood, and each appeared to have been constructed by the same
contractor that helped Noah with the Ark. I remember my camp group piling
into the old Ford station wagon driven by Charlie, the colony owner.
Ten guys in the back, seats down, all knees and elbows and damp shorts
covered by musty yellow plastic rain- slickers. Oh, and did I forget
boots? How ridiculous we looked! Shorts and tee shirts, accompanied
by slick plastic boots and slickers or ponchos. Our moms cared little
for appearances, though, content that they'd done their best to ward
us off against summer viruses.
We sat in the dark in those old, withered and moth-eaten theaters,
gazing up at films like Torn Curtain, Von-Ryan's Express, Pillow Talk,
The Birds, and, of course, Hard Days Night. We negotiated intricate
sharing pacts-half a bag of popcorn for half a box of Juju-bees and
a half box of Goober's. Then, invariably, at the film's conclusion,
we exited outside to bright, blinding sunlight, and discovered the rain
had ceased just five minutes into the film and we might have been swimming
or playing ball all afternoon.
When camp was out and the rain was on, we had games. Board games,
mostly. There was Monopoly, which we played by the hour, and Life. There
was Clue and Careers. Also, there was marathon, and I mean four and
five hour battles, involving a game called RISK. "Attacking Kamchatka
with 7 armies..." Sitting in the kitchen of your best friends bungalow,
four kids around a RISK board, a freshly opened box of Oreo's at hand,
a container of Crowley's chocolate milk, the rain coming in torrents,
beating and drumming against the metal overhang on the porch like a
thousand needles, now didn't that just beat the hell out of Sony Play-Station
and Nintendo 64?