Category Archives: summer camp

Jews Gone Mild

I will start by saying that I’m totally projecting.  I’M the Jew who went slightly “mild,” AND, “mild” rhymes nicely with “wild” of the posts from two summers ago, “Jews Gone Wild Parts I and II.”  I can’t have a bunch of hysterical and defensive Jews on my hand.  Not with this hangover.

In all actuality, I wasn’t all THAT mild.  I did begin drinking (wine in stadium size cups) at noon.  Less than 2 hours later, I was asking around for a menthol cigarette with a slight tinge of desperation.  Like so many others, camp is the ONLY place I smoke, every two years.  I swore up and down that I wouldn’t this year and well, I found myself buying my first pack of cigarettes in two years ($9.45??????  I remember when they were 75 cents.  I say this with full knowledge that I’m dating myself.)  I ordered the most non-cigarette of cigarettes, the “un”-cigarette-Virgina Slims Ultra Lights, words that have never come out of my mouth.  A young gay man standing behind me who I hadn’t noticed, whispered in my ear “Those are girly cigarettes” and I said “OOOH, GURL, SNAP” and we sashayed out of the gas station like RuPaul.  Okay the sashaying part didn’t happen.  Maybe in Provincetown but certainly not in Winsted, Connecticut.

I have said this before and I will say it again–there is NOTHING like being at a place where I spent 15 summers of my life.  Being with these people is like being at Woodstock without the acid and tents, and no one is naked, at least in public.  It’s bear hugs and lip kisses and rotating one-on-one time, bringing each other up-to-speed on the things that have happened during the two years since we’ve all been together.  With the women, it’s talking about the onset of menopause and how we pee when we sneeze and laugh.  I’m not exactly sure what the men talk about.

For reasons I don’t quite understand, my dear friend Beth was hawking Tootsie Pop Drops like a secret plant from the company.  They’ve been around since the ’70s and I’m not quite sure how she didn’t know this.  She developed a sales pitch and offered them to everybody.  Nothing buffered her enthusiasm more than when one of the guys said “They’re like Tootsie Pops but you don’t have to fuck with the stick.”

We watched from the bleachers as middle-aged men played 1/2 court basketball.  They wheezed and sweat but didn’t let-up for a second.  Like years before, one of them ended up injured and Beth and I watched in awe as our camp mate chiropractor worked with great patience and care on the what seemed like a very painful injury.  I offered up the (prescribed) painkillers I travel with and within seconds our resident anesthesiologist was looking it up on a drug reference app to make sure he could take it with alcohol.

The success of some of these people is accompanied by a humility I’ve never seen before. The publisher of one of the most successful magazines today and the owner of the most famous bakery in New York City who kicked-off our country’s obsession with cupcakes are experiencing the weekend like the rest of us.  They sleep in the bunks with their friends and have beers in their hands, putting their busy lives behind them without a thought.  There are attorneys, hedge fund managers, professors, great parents and butchers and bakers and candlestick makers.  I’m collecting unemployment but people came up to me all weekend saying “I love your blog posts about prison,” or “I loved your post about your best friend,” and I had NO idea they even read my work.  Based on Facebook comments everyone said how happy they were for me that I had found my true love, and based on my husband’s comments knew that he is a great guy.

I shared a hotel room with my friend Beth who is pretty sure she was bitten by bed bugs all over her arms.  Judging by the MANY burn holes in our blankets it is entirely possible.  She knows me VERY well and got my full-on rules about how she needed to conduct herself in our room as to indulge my well-known high-maintenance need for sleep.  On the first night when she was reading a library book with a very crinkly book jacket I got slightly hysterical.  On the second night when she barreled into our room at 3:30 in the morning I considered getting up and driving home.  The following morning when she woke up making sounds like an old man in a nursing home I resolved to get my own room next time.  We laughed with each other all weekend.  Her Brooklyn girl appeared for 48  hours.  There’s nothing quite like the Brooklyn girl in Beth.

Sadly, we have gotten to the age where we are starting to experience the death of many people we have known from summers past.  There are those who died in their twenties and those who have died in their ’70s.  We held a very touching candlelight memorial in their honor, floating lit candles, personal words written on paper plates, and floated them in the lake.  We used to do this on the last night of camp, writing memories of the summer just ending, so this time took on a very different meaning.  It moved us all as we thought silently of these significant losses.

We spent our last night at the same bar we had spent the night before, the hours ticking down until we had to re-enter our routines back home.  It’s a bizarro universe we’re in for 48 hours where full-on breakfasts for 5 people ends up under $40, and shots of tequila are served in little medicine cups.  Not only did I have my king-sized Tempur-Pedic beckoning me but I found myself really missing my husband, my daughter and even my lunatic dog.  With my head in his lap I showed my husband pictures and videos of the weekend on Facebook and I’m waiting for the onslaught that will appear today.  I will yell at my friends for posting bad pictures of me and force them to take them down.  I will get wistful for those lovely, smiling pictures of people whose faces haven’t changed in over 30 years.  It’s entirely possible that we will be doing this well into our 60s when we will still always feel like teenagers.

Jews Gone Wild: Phase II

First of all, my apologies to my friend, ummm…”Gladys” above (fake name used to protect the innocent.) We’ve known each other since we were four so chances are good that I’ve done much worse than this. No visual could quite exemplify the slow, yet temporary destruction of our middle-aged bodies than this picture taken by an equally hungover person on the ride home.

So, picking up where we left off:

My friend Lauren and I go back to our room at the Quality Inn, the highest of quality for us because we’ve landed the honeymoon suite(so-named because of a big hot tub in the middle of the room which quickly turned into a horrible looking mess after I dumped the melted ice out of my cooler, forgetting the bag of now-smooshed cheese Combos and M&M’s I put in there. I sheepishly call housekeeping and tell them that I’ll deal with the mess, and that no, no one threw up in it.

We get into our king-sized bed (well, the honeymoon suite would be sort of counter-intuitive with two fulls)and quickly fall asleep (Lauren and I both travel with our white-noise machines and worked out beforehand who would bring theirs–hers is much louder and fancier than mine, which come to think about it, pretty much sums up our friendship. She’s kind enough to let me drive her Lexus when she visits and I’m always telling her to stop yelling.)

After precisely one hour, our cellphones which have been charging across the room, start erupting with annoying and LOUD rings. Our friends, “Gladys” and Beth yell at us to get up and get moving. We model outfits for each other, flatiron each other’s hair, tell Lauren that everything she puts on is fabulous and doesn’t make her look fat (however, when she shows up at the bar after I do, she’s in a totally different ensemble from when I left her.)

Beth, some time before naps, calls Lauren in a panic saying she can’t find her phone. She asks Lauren if she left it in our room. “Gladys” overhears this and points out to Beth that she is, uh, USING her phone to call Lauren about her LOST phone. What’s a bit disconcerting about this is that Beth usually plays the role of the most clear-headed of the four of us.

Our organizers for the weekend provide a shuttle bus for those who are anticipating being too drunk to drive. There’s a group of those adventurous types (and a generation younger) who actually CHOOSE to sleep in the bunks at camp, who spill out of the bus in front of the bar. Another group is shuttled from the motel. (Truly, I know myself well enough to never get drunk enough not to drive, stopping hours before it’s time to go, so I drive into town, knowing that the bus is on hand in case I need to use it.)

I’m already sitting at the bar, surrounded by old and new faces. I’m being offered drinks literally, left and right. There’s a group of wonderful guys behind me whose names and faces I know, but have known little about throughout the years. They are wonderfully special to each other. Best men at each other’s weddings, investors and supporters in each other’s assorted businesses and ventures, the Jewish equivalent of godparents to each other’s children. One of them orders 10 shots of tequila. They toast to love and friendship. It gets me kind of misty (oh, and I get a shot too.)

For some strange reason, my dear friend, Robbie,has taken the glasses off of one of the guys and is passing them around to us, and to assorted bar patrons, snapping pictures of each of us (later, these same glasses are photographed on top of a pizza.) We somehow all look really good in them (example above.)

We’re clustered around the front room of the bar waiting for our private room with a hired deejay. It sees like every one of the early-30s group of women is in black. We in our 40s are more like the Jewish version of Chico’s. The “townies” in the bar are either looking at us like we’re aliens, or not-so-subtly leering at us. We suspect that when the owners of the bar get wind that we’re in town, they water down the booze. The shots of tequila are in cups the size of those that are on the tops of children’s medicine. Methinks lots of money is exchanged that night.

We make our way to the back room. Lady Gaga, pop singer of the hour, and an artist that we really only know because our CHILDREN are listening to her, kicks-off the dancing. I am often amazed at how well some of these guys dance. My theory is that it’s because of all the bar and bat mitvahs they’ve attended. The women are fabulous and sexy. We totally let loose. I do my annual lap dance for my friend Robbie. I’m 45.

Camera flashes are everywhere. We’re captured in some not-so becoming angles. Within 24-hours of being home, there are HUNDREDS of pictures on facebook. We de-tag, we replace our profile pictures with a favorite from the weekend, we comment endlessly. Status updates all talk about how sad we are to be home, how re-entry into reality is really hard. Regional mini-reunions are planned to extend the one-of-a-kind feeling.

The night goes too quickly. Buses are reloaded. Eddie M., who I’ve known since he was about 6, and has turned into somewhat of an icon in one short weekend, gives me a ride to my car. I playfully turn his GPS to give directions in French. I follow him out and when I get to the on-ramp to get back to the motel he keeps going straight. I think that he must know a faster way. I pull in at the same time as the bus. We gather for an impromptu after-hours party in a gazebo on the motel’s lawn. A large bottle of vodka is being passed around. A joint travels around the opposite direction of the circle. I think someone has a video camera. Everyone’s starving. Lauren has four slices of pizza in her car. She shares.

After about 45 minutes, Eddie pulls in, not looking very happy. “Does anyone know French??” Ooops. I think he thinks he’ll never be able to get it back to English. Thank God I’m a good problem solver. He forgives me.

I think I get into bed at around 3:00 am. At home, I go to bed at 9:30 and read for an hour. I’ve smoked what feels like a carton of cigarettes. After we wake up and gather our stuff, we meet another group for breakfast down the road at a strip mall. A sign outside says “Voted Best Breakfast Buffet 3 years in a Row! Only $7.99!” That’s quite a statement for Torrington, Connecticut, and it takes Beth and me about 5 seconds to agree to try it, congealed bacon and all. Lauren declares the sausage, egg and cheese sandwich she’s ordered the best thing she’s ever eaten. We are hungover and hungry. We’d eat anything at this point.

It’s time for us to go. Lauren, Beth and “Gladys” pile into the rented maroon PT Cruiser to head back to Jersey. I have the shorter trip back to Boston. I have lied to my ex-husband in order to give myself a 3-hr stretch to nap before he drops off our daughter. It’s quiet. My head hurts. I expect there are about 125 or so people feeling exactly the same way, off in their corners of the real world. Again, facebook status updates for 48-hours talk about how exhausted we all are. What’s most impressive is that we’ll rally and do this all over again, undoubtedly in larger numbers, two years from now.

Until then, “Friends, friends, friends, we will always be…”

Jews Gone Wild: Phase 1

The wardrobe and weight loss hysteria starts about two weeks before the actual event. Like girls going to a school dance, middle-aged women trade e-mails and facebook posts about their outfits and where to find great sales on shoes (the guys are more interested in what time to meet on the basketball court and who is going to buy the first round of drinks (Incidentally, I make sure to hang around the guys who are buying.) I pretend that I couldn’t care less about what I look like, that these people wouldn’t notice if I came in pajamas because there is a TOTAL lack of judgment, but quite frankly, I berate myself for not starting a diet or exercise routine at least two months prior.

It is very hard for anyone who has never been to camp, spent 2 months away from home, living in a bare-bones bunk with about 20 people who end up becoming life-long friends, to understand a weekend like this, something akin to being on ecstasy without the ecstasy (DISCLAIMER–I have never taken ecstasy, and to my knowledge, there wasn’t any at the reunion weekend.)

What’s always been most impressive to me is that everyone remembers the summers they spent there: “I was there from 1974-1981.” I can barely remember what I did yesterday, but I know that I was at Camp Delaware from 1967-1982. 15 summers. Yeah. I started when I was three.

Okay, so I know that sounds nuts, and when my daughter was three the last thing in the world I could imagine doing was sending her to sleepaway camp (she cried after two days of day camp when she was 6, so clearly, she inherited her father’s goyish sensibilities.) The story goes that I came up on Visiting Day, always held smack-dab in the middle of summer, to visit my brother and sister and begged my parents to let me stay. When I type that, it sounds preposterous. Do three-year olds even BEG? So, like all good parents, they left me there (To be fair, my father knew the owners very well, having been there as a camper, and, there was in fact a bunk for the kids of staff, so, there was a place for me.)

This particular bunk was co-ed. I vividly remember a male counselor showering with us with a very skimpy towel wrapped around his waist. Now as an adult, this clearly sounds very suspect. I remember sextuplets (who the hell knows, maybe they were just triplets but that’s how I remember it) and I remember a swingset coming out of the ground, tipping backwards, and Regina Cooper gashing her chin. I remember us walking in a line to the dining hall and everyone telling us how cute we were.

I spent 30 months of my life there, a total of 2.5 years. Suffice it to say, I know every inch of that place, I knew where to go to stalk the guys I had crushes on, where to go for some peace and quiet. It was the one place where I was a star of the plays and “lyricist” of winning Color War songs. It was the kind of place where no matter how popular or picked-on you were in the “real world”, noone gave a fuck. The playing field was level from the get-go (except for the girl’s softball field which is still a mass of mounds and divots.) But I digress.

It might appear politically incorrect, but “Jews Gone Wild” is what these reunion weekends are all about. Held every other summer on the grounds of our old camp, where over the years bunks and structures have literally fallen in on themselves and subsequently have been demolished, a sample of 4 decades of tri-state area Jews (some with tri-state origins have moved to Florida, perpetuating a cliche that makes me smile) come together, no spouses, no kids, no tagalong friends, to morph into a combination of the “then” them and the “now” them. The accents remain priceless.

Faces are unchanged. “You look EXACTLY the same” is exclaimed hundreds of times, addressed at everyone being seen for the first time by someone new. And you know what? It’s true. Our faces really DON’T change. Bodies, maybe. Some noses and breasts tweaked, sure. But, if I were to post a collage of us then, and us now, and had you draw lines between the two, it could be done in minutes.

Sitting on the very strategically-placed porch on Girl’s Side, a group of us sit in great anticipation watching as people arrive. We see legs first then bodies from far away, our older eyes straining to see who it is (oh, and also because most of us have smoked endless amounts of pot.) And then “OH MY GOD’s” erupt, woman spring from their benches and chairs and get up to hug their favorite old friends. There is the equivalent on Boy’s Side, enthusiastic hugs and endless grins. They run up and down the basketball court like they’re in their teens, but a bit more slowly. Star athletes from back then often end up with ice packs on their knees or a lingering limp, but this is THEIR highlight, their ultimate joy of the weekend.

Small pockets of friends form in circles, scattered around the lawn, porches, bleachers, or sit on the hard wooden ping-pong tables. Cameras are EVERYWHERE often with one person snapping one group shot out of seven different cameras (this is the reason almost all the group shots look exactly the same on facebook.)

If you are curious to know who is smoking all the pot and cigarettes in this country, truly “representing,” come to Winsted, CT the first weekend of June every two years. I, for instance, smoke once every two years, at camp. That’s it. I smoke my brains out and don’t do it again until the next time. Trying to justify this is futile, I know.

Instead of wallet-sized pictures of our children, we use our cellphones, digital cameras, Blackberrys and i-phones, passing them around to the oohs and aahs of our friends. Unlike in past years, there is cell service on the grounds, and in some strange unplanned ritual, people use the softball field, walking around the bases with their phones up to their ears. A friend observing this said “Hey, it’s the phone lap.” I equated it with the scene in Midnight Express when the prisoners are walking around in a circle pushing that thing that hangs down. I don’t know why. It wasn’t like that at all. Except for the walking in circles part.

The new owners of the camp make us a barbeque lunch giving us a central gathering place to greet all the people who have initially been missed. More pictures. More memories shared. More “nice to meet yous.” We scatter, we nap, we shower, we dress for phase 2.

Visiting Day for a Chubby Kid

On the morning of the most anticipated day of the summer, there is, quite literally, nothing that can hold us back. We’re like Beatle’s fans breaking through the barrier, and all attempts to keep us in order are futile.

From the top of the hill we can see cars pulling into the parking lot at the bottom, one after the other, a parade of tri-state area license plates. “There’s my mom” someone would yell and go bursting down the hill into the arms of their parents. “That’s my dog!” Another one.

Visting Day at camp was a day like no other. Smack, dab in the middle of the summer, it was like what visiting hours must feel like at a prison or hospital. Now, don’t get me wrong, camp was like Disney–“the happiest place on earth,” but it was rather odd to have the real world infiltrate for a day, glamorous, Jewish mothers, cigar-smoking fathers, luxury cars and jewelry, a stark contrast to our tube socks and sweat-shorts. And then, there were the brown paper grocery bags.

To be honest (and camp friends feel free to dispute this) Visiting Day was about FOOD. PACKAGED, store-bought FOOD. We judged the luckiest, most-loved kids by the number of bags their parents carried, (didn’t we?) For those of us who had been bunkmates for years, we knew who would get the best stuff and who would share and who wouldn’t, who would hide their shit and who would dump it on their beds and divvy it up among us.

There would be Pringles and Freihoffers and Yodels and fruit pies and tuna and cup a soup and squeeze cheese and Ritz crackers and candy and the ripest of peaches and plums. My friend Robin always got bakery cookies from a family-owned bakery in a box tied with red and white string. It was a magical and heady day.

But here’s the catch: I didn’t get that stuff. I was a bit of a formless and overweight kid and my parent never really let me forget that, even for a day. (My camp friends and I recently discussed this impression that I’ve had forever of myself as this lumpy behemouth of a pre-teen and teenager. What they said, and I loved this, is that I’ve grown curves. I’m no longer formless. I’m all curve. Or something like that.) At home, sweets were hidden from me (not very well, I might add) and I was forced to try things like Alba 77 for breakfast (who remembers that?)

Anyway, I would get some fruit and some books. Maybe some lifesavers. I MAY have gotten cheese doodles one year (but it could also be that I’m conjuring those up because I’ve been wanting some for weeks.)

But, I will NEVER forget the one year, that my dear, always-sweet-and-kind brother Mark, when his day off as a counselor fell within a day or two of Visiting Day, sat down with me on the steps of my bunk with a brown, paper bag. What I remember is that with great fanfare, Mark pulling out a big bag of Tootsie Pop Drops like it was serious contraband. I rememeber thinking that this was the kindest gesture that anyone had ever done for me (and his wife has outdone even that by doing an overnight feeding for me when Amelia was an infant). It’s been a lifetime of kind gestures from Mark, but, in his way, he was saying that I was worthy, just like everyone else, of a special treat on Visiting Day.