Our bungalow was the first on a run of four connected units, and as such shared with the last bungalow the luxury of an extra line of windows, which was advantageous in allowing the passing of a delightful and refreshing summer breeze. Outside the bungalow, on the side wall, facing the handball court, was a rusted switch that, when flipped on, started up a clunky old attic fan. The motor always started with clangs and groans, like an old man rising from a night’s sleep on too soft a bed. Still, it did succeed in creating a flow of cool air through the rafters atop the bungalows, which in turn took some of the heat from the rooms below. My first memories of this fan are so antiquated as to have me standing on a chair to reach the switch that my mom had asked me to turn on. I couldn’t have been older than five or six. Throughout ensuing summers, the fan continued as a reliable and serviceable old friend, and it’s cranky start up, and the unremitting whisper of its hoary blades cooling our few cramped summer rooms, remains etched as vividly as any other memory of my childhood summers.
The colony owned one telephone. Well, three, actually, but just one line. There was the phone in the store, and two extensions–one in the washroom and another in the middle of the colony, inside a narrow blue and white wooden booth that was more a breeding ground for spiders and wasps than a phone booth. Scattered and strewn through the summers of our past were innumerable pages, announcements, alerting our mothers to a phone call. We’d hear the crackling of the speaker as the PA came on, then the invariable whooshing drone created by blowing into the microphone, as if it were necessary to retest the system every five minutes. Then came the page. “Telephone call for Sylvia Goldberg…Sylvia, you have a phone call.” Then, sometimes, the significant, “Long distance!”
The average size colony received fifteen or twenty such calls a day, usually from dads working in the city, but sometimes from grandparents or other relatives. Moms vaulted up from the poolside, or mah-jongg games, or a kaffeeklatchs, as if prodded by an electric shock, and darted for the phone with the alacrity of an Olympic sprinter. Perhaps once in a summer you’d get a call–either from your dad or a friend in the city who’d managed to master the intricacies of long distance dialing. That was a very big deal, and for the balance of the day you were sort of a minor luminary among the colony kids. There were other phone pages, of course. Common to all colonies was the, “Telephone call for the captain of the men’s softball team,” and its variant, “Call for captain of the teenager’s softball team.” The teenagers, or “big kids,” used the phone to solicit games with other colonies, which, when arranged, were carried off replete with cheering squads, parental observers, and an “impartial” colony dad as umpire. Subsequent to the game, someone took to the colony PA to recap the final score, name the stars of the game, and, in the event of a dreaded defeat, to promise retribution on some future date.
Of course, nobody had a TV, as it was futile to even attempt gaining anything that resembled reception. There was one single set, usually in the colony store, or community room, or the main house, but it was no better than even money that anything but snow and static could be tuned in. Sometimes, when we were very lucky, channel 11, WPIX, appeared clearly enough to distinguish Mickey Mantle from Elston Howard, but even that was rare. Accordingly, for important events, we had to resort to means other than just reaching for the cable box. Annual baseball All-Star games were listened to on radio, and when they switched to evening play were viewed by sneaking into one of the local hotels and congregating around a large color console in their TV room. In 1969, when Neil Armstrong strode down the ladder of the Luna-lander and took a giant step for mankind, I was seated on the carpeting of Kutsher’s Country Club, surrounded by a few summer friends and perhaps 300 hotel guests. We held our collective breath and gazed in childlike awe and wonder at the flickering images coming from space to this communal room somewhere in the woods outside of Monticello.
Each weekend, our dads, happy and relieved to have shed their weekday work caste, held forth before grills like middle aged Jewish James Beards. The charcoal came from cumbersome sacks that we’d helped carry from Daitch-Shopwell. The briquettes were piled high, pyramid like, in the center of the grill, waiting for the traditional drizzling of the lighter fluid. The cans made a distinctive sound as dad squeezed the sides and set forth a stream of fluid. Then the striking of a safety match, tossed onto the mound, and a whoosh of flame as the coals ignited, reaching so high, so fast, you feared the bungalow would go along with the coals, and you’d be sleeping in the woods. It took a little while for the fire to touch all the coals-can’t cook too soon, your dad admonished–lest the food burn on the high flame. The trick was to wait till the coals were red hot and glowing. Then dad layered the grill top with steaks, lamb chops, burgers, hot dogs–all the goodies that we now rebuff for health reasons, but that were so savory when cooked over real charcoal. Then, after dinner, your friends gathered to toast marshmallows over the dying embers, as the last of the sun painted the sky, and you prepared for an evening of Ring-a-leevio, or Johnny on the Pony.
Nowadays our friends at the few remaining bungalow colonies brag to us of the conveniences. There is air-conditioning, and private phones in each bungalow. There is cable TV-complete with HBO–and everyone owns a gas grill. God, have you ever tried toasting a marshmallow on a gas grill!? They call it “progress.” I call it a damned shame.