The Man At the Top of the Stairs


I’d stand, leaning on the hot metal counter, filling in little bubbles with a blunt golf pencil ordering the greasiest most fattening food to my heart’s content from the poolside snack bar. The college student working the grill never judged me while passing me my cheeseburger, fries and Hoodsie cup. No money ever exchanged hands and the total charge would eventually end up on my parent’s account. I was living the life of a member of Shelter Rock Tennis Club on Long Island.

It struck me only a few years ago the irony that the Club shared a gravelly unpaved parking lot with our temple. We certainly weren’t regular temple goers but there were a handful of times, after Sunday school (which was really nothing more than a group of restless teens wasting time in the basement of the temple) that I would trudge up the pebbled hill to meet my mother after her first tennis game of the day.

The Club was little more than just a constant reminder of how unfit I was, a super-sized version of most of my same-aged peers who hung out by the pool. There was a pair of identical twins who would move so fast in their bikinis that I got tired just following them with my eyes. There was another girl, built like a giraffe, who walked around scowling at the world (In a bit of astonishing irony, her father and my mother would ultimately die together in a double-suicide.) There were pruney and tanned older women and women in Pucci cover-ups. There was smoking and card playing and impressive dives from the high diving board.

I do remember rather fondly one of my very first crushes, a boy named David Kelman, surprisingly very blonde for a Jewish kid. One day we went off to trudge around the woods and swung at a cocoon on the verge of bursting, whacking at it with a long tree branch. I really had no idea that we undoubtedly interrupted some really critical life cycle, BUT for some reason, this made David want to hold my hand. Now, every time I see a cocoon, I think of the happy transformed lives about to enter into their new world.

I remember the “pop” sound of tennis balls in a state-of-the-art tennis bubble, the sucking of the heavy metal door in the steam room, and occasionally watching men play squash through a window in a separate building. I also remember walking into the men’s locker room at about 5 or 6 and my father SCREAMING at me while standing in his white briefs. I never did that again.

Between tennis games, men and women would eat lunch in the dining room. Most of the women would order the “diet plate,” a hamburger patty, side of cottage cheese and one half of a cling peach. My mother didn’t have to worry about what she ate, and actually, most of these women didn’t either. Even though I rather enjoyed scraping out grapefruit sections with a serrated spoon, when my mother and her friends weren’t around I certainly wouldn’t be eating a grapefruit for lunch. Again, when I’d eat with my friends, I’d sign a receipt and never think twice about the cost.

At the edge of the dining room, separating it from the lobby was a very large wooden, polished spiral staircase. On the day that I learned that the head chef lived up there I was completely fascinated and even slightly jealous. Every time I was there, I would tip my head to see if he was up there, willing this phantom man to appear. Would he look like the chef from Sesame Street who fell down the stairs with a stack of pies? Would he be old and black like our “chef” from camp who made the best fried chicken that to this day, is the best I’ve ever tasted? One lucky day, he DID appear, in his chef whites, his name embroidered on his chest pocket. I think he waved and then ducked back behind his secret door. (I think the waving and ducking part might be a false part of the memory.)

I tried to find the current yearly dues for the Club online, but to no avail. I know this was a privilege of upper-middle class life but one that really sort of bored me. However, I certainly wouldn’t turn down the opportunity to fill in little circles on an old fashioned looking computer card, have someone hand me a burger and fries, never to see the check.

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4 Comments

  1. I remember those days too, Gayle. What a post -especially the astonishing irony part. I have the utmost admiration of your writing skills and the capacity to share the more vulnerable parts of yourself and your life. Sorry you had to deal with such a trauma. You're amazing!

  2. Ditto! Blast from the past, Gayle. While never a member, I often was a guest of the Bergmans or the Breitkopfs.I hope you are as well as you look and sound. My memories of you are only the fondest.Warmest regards,Evan Lieberman

  3. Sure Gayle, we were members and I even had my Bar Mitzvah reception there. (We walked between the temple and the club). As often as I remember hearing the "pop" of the tennis club, I remember the card games that my father played all day long with the cigar smoke filled room. We would often play football on the field between the two with Evan, my brother Matthew and friends we had at the club. And, of course, I remember writing down your lunch order and holding up the card (with your account number on it) for someone to pick it up. Seems like a lifetime ago,…

  4. Thank you for the good writeup. It in fact was a amusement account it. Look advanced to more added agreeable from you! By the way, how could we communicate?Carbign Craft CBE-WRXALT Carbon Fiber Alternator Cover for Subaru WRX

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