There was one TV in 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 PlayStation and Nintendo 64?