There is only one success--to be able to spend your life in your own way.-Christopher Morley
It Was Twenty-Eight Years Ago
Posted June 25, 2010
The time is twenty-eight years ago and the place is the Catskill Mountains in Upstate New York. One of my best friends, Jonathan and I escape the hot, humid haze and the inevitable boredom of summertime in Brooklyn and the Bronx, respectively. We're dressed in worn jeans, cowboy boots, and Grateful Dead concert t-shirts featuring dancing skeletons and red roses. Not unlike those skeletons, we're two skinny, scrappy teens looking for adventure, good times, and maybe just a little cash.
Jonathan is scheduled to work at a concession in a popular bungalow colony called Clearview, and I'm set to be the lifeguard at another bungalow colony. At this point, I'm not sure if it was Julene's where I worked for the first two summers or Vacation Village where I spent the latter two. In any event, before starting our "regular" summer jobs, Jonathan and I manage to snag a one-week gig setting up a grocery store in a forlorn dusty old building somewhere on Route 17 near Monticello. We unpack palettes of groceries, gingerly arrange them on shelves, sweep and tidy up until the place is fit to properly greet customers. At night, we crash on the floor in sleeping bags, drinking cheap beer, pretending to like it until we actually did, and we talk about all the girls we're sure to impress with our fine New York City charm.
We talk about how we want to be wealthy one day, and how we would always remain Grateful Deadheads and drink the same beer as we are at the moment. We're sure that although we haven't yet achieved our fame and fortune, we undoubtedly have the integrity needed to stay "real," just in case. In reality, we both know that we have a much better chance of impressing the female counselors this summer than ever becoming wealthy. Nonetheless, that little detail doesn't stop us from dreaming out loud.
Today, 28 years later, Jonathan is a New York-based real-estate mogul and entrepreneur. I'm also financially comfortable. Just as originally planned, we both switch on the Grateful Dead channel on XM radio from time to time, and when we get together these days we talk about many of the same topics we covered back then. We don't drink Genesee Ale, though, but maybe one day we will...
A year or two earlier, I was up at Julene's the week before camp started, getting the pool ready, cleaning it, adjusting the chlorine to levels tolerable by most humans, and making sure we had all the first-aid equipment needed for a summer of sunburns, scrapes, and cuts. I remember one incredibly stormy afternoon during that week. The rain pounded the flimsy wooden roof of the bungalow I occupied. There were no electronic games, no TV, just a book and plenty of time. I was bored.
Map of the Catskills, the scene of the crime, or was it the counselors' bungalow?
Just then, I hear voices outside, then a knock on the door. I see a teenage boy peering into the glass panel on the door and people I believe to be his parents. They seem to be noisily arguing with their son. I frown at the ruckus, pause to consider my options, then tentatively open the door, and the boy enters. He introduces himself as Adam, the first counselor to arrive at Julene's that summer. He will be my roommate until my buddy Lenny arrives in a few days. Adam is obviously a smart guy and has a dry but good sense of humor. The ability to make friends instantly has left me throughout the years, but on that summer afternoon I welcome Adam and enjoy the company. I establish that he's interested in girls, drinks beer, and is entertaining, so it's all good.
As one of the most amazing chapters of my life is about to unfold, little do I know that I will learn one of the more serious lessons of my life concerning my regretful treatment of Adam, something that will occur to me for decades.
Throughout that summer, I was involved in playing a few cruel practical jokes on Adam. At the time, it all seemed to be in good fun -- just a bunch of teenagers left to their own devices without proper supervision. But as he correctly said much later in life, it was beyond the pale.
Twenty-eight years later, Adam turns out to be a renowned journalist, blessed with great friends, loved and admired by his wonderful family. As luck would have it, I have some indirect contact with him in the professional arena. But the real lesson I learned from Adam is that I should have treated everyone from those days with respect and friendship. The price I've paid, other than ongoing regret, is the loss of a friendship that would have enriched my own life and which started that rainy day but was lost shortly thereafter because of my poor judgment. It was my loss.
* * *
In total, I was a lifeguard in the Catskills for four summers. More like three and a half, actually, as I was unceremoniously kicked out by the owners of the Vacation Village bungalow colony in the middle of my second summer there. Something having to do with my repeated visits to the female counselors' bungalow after dark, something that was strictly forbidden, with good reason.
In some ways, the first summer was the most notable for me, although the other summers gave me the advantage of experience gained by knowing the lay of the land.
Most of all, there was a sense of great adventure as it was my first time being away from home for months. Until then, my world consisted mainly of the brown jumble of graffitti-covered inner city buildings in the Bronx. But as we drove upstate, I had a sense of wonder of the open fields and mountains that lined the country roads. The Catskill Mountains region is a truly beautiful place and the sense of freedom was intoxicating to me.
During those summers I met great people and found myself at the center of a group of fellow-adventurers. I introduced most of those people to the routine of going to the Rocki Horror Show on Saturday nights, and they introduced me to dancing at the local hotels. We went roller skating, sock hopping, and dating in a place not patrolled by parents, teachers or any other credible authority figures. We were a bunch of teenagers set loose to live out our dreams for the summer, and we took full advantage of that opportunity. We seized the moment and lived life to the fullest extent we could.
We all knew that when the summer would end, we would all return to the drudgery of high-school and the monotony of being cooped up at home during the bitterly cold New York City Winters. For me, I would return to public high-school in the Bronx where I would do my best to fit into an unfriendly environment full of strangers, ethnic violence, over-crowded classrooms, and unmotivated teachers.
But for now, I was starting the best summer of my life. I couldn't wait to live the adventure. Ah... the anticipation was awesome!
About Double Triangle
Double Triangle is my personal blog and is mostly about family life in the Los Angeles area. It also serves to record some of my thoughts in a format that can be easily accessed by my family and friends, as well as by anyone else who cares to read it.
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