There was a quality about the static—a texture, almost a character, that defined it beyond simply being dead air charged by electricity. It came loud and scratching, with a promise of names to be called, announcements and information to be dispensed, a call to our young ears to perk up and hold attention forth lest we miss some great and important pronouncement. More often than not the PA system was switched “on” to summon a tenant to one of the two or three extension lines of the single phone line that summer long serviced the entire bungalow colony. The voice was often nasal, sometimes crackling. “Tel-e-phhhonnnne Caaall,” it began, imbuing the two words with several extra syllables and an as yet unheard intonation. “For Sylvia Jacobs. Sylvia, dahhlliing, you have a phone call.” Then, every so often, came the supplemental, “Long distance, sweetheart.”
Then, from far flung corners and crevices of the colony, moms and matrons came springing forth like world class sprinters, house dresses flapping about their fleshy legs, or bountiful busts bouncing beneath a too-small bathing suit. They came directly from the poolside, or mah-jong and canasta games, or, sometimes, from a lawn front coffee-klatch where they’d been engrossed in predicting if their children were to become lawyers or doctors, and given the latter, surgeons or just run of the mill MDs.
A long distance call was an event, even though it was likely a quick message from a working husband who’d managed to dial the colony number on an office telephone while the boss was looking the other way. Announcements of phone calls for teenagers—especially the colony girls—were a significant designation of popularity and status. Suspicion abounded that the girls intermittently conspired to call and have each other paged in hopes of creating newfound popularity with the colony boys. How silly and juvenile, right? But it worked. The easy mystique lent by the simple possibility a girl was of interest to others never failed to garner a second or third look from the colony boys.
There were other announcements, of course, beside those summoning people for phone calls. There were numerous peddlers periodically visiting the colony. There was a jeans man, and a blouse man, the latter immortalized in Pamela Gray’s seminal film “A Walk on the Moon.” Although consensus holds that no peddler, of blouses or other items, ever resembled Viggo Mortensen. Dom DeLouise was much more likely. Other vendors hawked bathing suits, shoes, sneakers, handbags, tee shirts and sweatshirts. One guy had a brief run out of South Fallsburg moving “kosher socks.” The food peddlers were a summer mainstay, and included the fruit and vegetable man, the pickle man (Shimmey, the Pickle King), Chow-Chow Cup, and the legendary Ruby the Knishman, of blessed memory. Each vendor’s arrival on the grounds was proclaimed by an announcement—most short and unadorned—except for Ruby, whose announcements were a thing of beauty and remain a joy, forever.
The crackling, buzzing colony PA, usually referred to as “the mike,” each morning summoned us to camp, and in evening apprised us of starting times for bingo and movies. The days and early evenings were flavored with a ubiquitous harmonization of announcements.
“Seth and Eddie Cohen, go home. Seth and Eddie Cohen go home, your mother wants you.”
“Telephone call for the captain of the teenage softball team.”
“Tonight’s dinner special in the concession is meatloaf, with a salad, potato and vegetable, for three ninety-five.”
“Two seats available for half and a dollar poker in the card room in fifteen minutes.”
“Will the kids climbing the big tree behind the camp house please come down before someone gets killed.”
“Mail call. Mail call. The following people have mail at the concession: Finkelstein, Fried, Black, Schwartz, Clayman, Tech, Hershkowitz, Rosen, Kossower, Sultan, Elias, Blank, Kaufman, Streeter, Heiman, Greenberg. Please pick up your mail at the concession.”
“The New York Post is in. All those receiving the Post, it’s in.”
“Due to the cold weather, the afternoon camp swim is cancelled.”
“Yes, the plumbers have been called about the cesspool backup behind bungalow 23, so please stop calling to report it.”
“The senior boys softball team has just defeated the team from Ideal Bungalow Colony by the score of eight to six. Howie Tech had three doubles and Joel Rosen hit a home run.”
“Will all those who haven’t paid their charges please come in this afternoon and clear them up. You know who you are.”
“Kiddy movies will begin tonight at 7 pm, and the adult movie will start at 9. Tonight’s feature is The Guns of Navarrone, an exciting World War Two epic starring Gregory Peck and David Niven.”
“Two more cars are needed to pick up the kids tonight from Fun-Fare at about eleven o’clock. See Sally Greenberg in bungalow 8 to volunteer…”
“Big Julie is leaving for the track in ten minutes. Anyone who still wants to send in a bet for the daily double, see Julie in the parking lot.”
“Dancing to the Danny Mann Trio begins at 10 pm tonight in the casino. Tonight’s show starts at eleven and features song stylist Errol Dante, and comedian London Lee.”
“Anyone interested in purchasing tickets for the Maurice Stokes basketball game at Kutsher’s, see Dave Fried in bungalow 25.”
“A salamander sale will start in front of bungalow 11 in ten minutes. Salamanders for sale in front of bungalow 11.Three for a quarter.”
“Kiddie bingo tonight in the casino at 7pm.a quarter a card. Free ice cream to everyone.”
Each sensory memory is a link to others, like a line of twisting, turning dominos falling in upon themselves and leaving a collapsing procession. How many times have sights and scents triggered the opening of a trove—a rush of memory? The sounds, then, the sounds. Announcements, the voices over the bungalow colony PA, propel me back to a time when we were younger and our lives as yet untouched by all the marks to be left by the so many more years of living. Our world was small, and certain, and warm, nurturing and guarded. I’ve never forgotten those announcements, so much an indelible part of those summers, nor have I forgotten the voices that called to us over those speakers, though, I must admit, with every passing summer, they seem to fade just a little bit more.