IT HAD BEEN A GREAT SUMMER. The stress of high school was behind me, and the demands of college were not yet known. It was my first summer without acne, baby fat, and the gawkiness of adolescence. I had discovered my dick some time ago. This was the summer that I shared my discovery. I was still a virgin, but the teenage girls on the beaches and boardwalks of Far Rockaway New York had provided ample opportunity towards changing that condition. My high school graduation had become a memory. The cockiness of a High School Senior soon gave way to the uncertainties of a college freshman.
My older brother Chuck was the first in our family to go to college. Our parents, barely one generation removed from Eastern Europe, toiled with the singular goal of helping us have a better life than they did. Education was the key, and college was the dream.
In the sixties, college for the children of Brooklyn's immigrant shop keepers and garment industry workers did not mean Harvard or Yale. Free admission to Brooklyn College, City College, or Queens College, was our only option. There would be no sororities or fraternities. There would be no dorms, no privacy, no independence, no flights home during the holidays. Little would mark the transition from High School to College. A fountain pen, not a sports car, would commemorate this milestone.
My first car was still two years away. I commuted to Brooklyn College on the Utica Avenue bus, the same bus I had been taking to high school for the past four years. Chuck and I still shared a room, in our parent's two bedroom, one bathroom apartment, the same room I that I had slept in for seventeen years. From High school to College, I had taken a major step, yet no perceptible distance had been traveled.
At college, the memories of my modest social conquests during July and August faded more quickly than my summer tan. I was among the youngest in attendance at Brooklyn College. Five thousand co-eds, and not one was younger than me. The idea of putting my fledgling sex life on hold for ten months was unthinkable. Even if I got a date, the potential embarrassment of taking a girl to the movies on the Church Avenue bus, would be unbearable.
Brooklyn College never claimed to be a 'party school', yet I was sure that I was the first Jewish freshman to consider joining a Monastery. Two months ago I was a 'big man' on my High school campus, now I had become an 'invisible boy' walking the quadrangle of a major University.
Just weeks ago I felt I could conquer the world, now I felt like I had the weight of world on my shoulders. I walked through the learned halls of this institute of higher education feeling quite institutionalized.
For most of my life sports had been positioned as the universal antidote for whatever ailed you, or for that matter, what ever ailed society. Boys Clubs and basketball could solve the drug problem, end juvenile delinquency, and curb a young man's sexual appetite. BULLSHIT. I was depressed, horny, and lonely. Shooting hoops was not the answer.
The sign posted on the door of the College Career Office deserved a second look.
Work weekends and holidays in the Catskill Resort Region.
The Gibber Hotel in Kiamesha Lake, New York, needs a Life Guard. Successful employment during the fall, winter, and spring can lead to a summer position as Head Lifeguard.
Respond; Gibber Hotel, Kiamesha Lake, N.Y.
attention Rose Gibber
or Call 914 675-4342
Weekends and Holidays at a Catskill resort, this job could be my social salvation. Bottom line, anything would be better than spending my weekends in Brooklyn, without a car or a girlfriend.
I looked forward to the weekend with the excitement of a tourist going to a resort, not the apprehension of a worker starting a new job. My thoughts were not of earnings, but of possible relationships. At Gibbers I could be any age I wished. No car? No license? It wouldn't matter.
Thoughts of the upcoming weekend would buttress this freshman's waning confidence. The sun's rays on the campus quadrangle no longer passed through me. If nothing more, my weekend's plan had provided me with enough substance to deflect light.
The college week passed quickly. English, French, chem, calculus, and now economics. The loud innocuous tone that signalled the end of Friday's Economics 101 class also heralded the beginning of the long, Columbus Day, holiday weekend. My Catskill adventure had begun.
The three o'clock bus to Monticello left New York City on time.
The bus was half full. Resort guests taking busses to their Catskill destinations had become rare. If you could afford a hotel, you could afford a car. My fellow travellers were bimys. Bimy was Catskill slang for kitchen workers, dishwashers, and janitors. I never knew the derivation of the term, but I knew keeping my distance from these transients was in my best interest.
Hotels needed seasonal workers or weekend help. People with normal lives and full-time commitments were just not available. Bimys were recruited by New York City's temporary help agencies from pools of out of work alcoholics, or worse yet, ex cons.
I had agreed to work weekends. Would the people at the hotel think I was a Bimy? Would I be sleeping in the Bimy shed? Would I be eating leftovers with the other Bimys?
Oh Shit! What did I get myself into? I started to formulate a list demands to be presented to my new employer. I would demand sleeping accommodations similar to the Musicians or the Maitre D. I would demand to be seated in the Main Dining Room, perhaps at the same table as the Social Director or the Band. No Bimy food for me!!
I had not been to the Catskills since the summers of my childhood. I had never been there in the fall or winter. The Catskill Mountains of my youth, 'the Borscht Belt,' had been the exclusive province of Eastern European Jews escaping from the city and the summer's heat. In those days there was no Catskills in the fall or winter.
The roadside billboard read:
COME TO KUTCHERS HOTEL
INDOOR AND OUTDOOR SWIMMING
INDOOR AND OUTDOOR ICE SKATING
BROADWAY ENTERTAINMENT IN OUR NEW NIGHT CLUB
SKIING ON PREMISES
Skiing? I didn't know Jews were allowed to ski.
Sign after sign boasted of each hotel's latest addition. I scanned the road three, four signs ahead. There it was:
GIBBERS OF KIAMESHA LAKE
HAS IT ALL
The sign pictured indoor and outdoor swimming pools, nightclubs and all the rest. It would be the most extravagant hotel I had ever stayed at.
The bus slowed as it exited the highway. A trip that had been an all day event in my youth had become a 90-minute commute.
We had arrived at Monticello NY. The small town had not changed in the ten years since I had last seen it. Monticello was all of two blocks long with a store front Bus Terminal wedged between the hardware store and the Woolworth.
There was a pay phone in the Bus Terminal. I called the hotel as instructed. I explained that I was the new lifeguard and that I was waiting to be picked up at the terminal. After a few moments on hold, a reassuring voice responded telling me to "wait right there," and asking me to look around for a dishwasher named Pete who might have been on the same bus. I turned and asked,
"Any of you guys Pete?"
"Yeah I'm Pete who needs to know?" The king of the Bimys was heading my way. All my fears resurfaced.
In less than a half hour a pick-up truck with the 'Gibbers' name on the door rounded the corner. Pete spotted it before I did.
"Hey kid that's our ride."
The driver was unshaven. His jeans were torn and grease stained. They had not sent the Concierge to fetch Pete and me. We rode three across on the bench seat of the pick-up. I used the twenty minute ride to silently rehearse my I'm not a Bimy speech.
It was late afternoon and getting dark as we approached the hotel. The glass walls of the indoor pool permitted my first glimpse of my new, spectacular domain. Gibbers' new lifeguard had arrived.
As the pick-up pulled up to the front of the hotel I reached for my wallet. I knew how important tips were to everyone who worked in a hotel. Soon I'd be hustling for tips myself. With a crisp dollar bill in hand I motioned to the grease stained driver,
"Hey this is for you."
"That's 'OK' kid," the driver explained, "I'm Harold Gibber." Great start, I probably insulted the owner's son. "Business before pleasure."
I barely looked around as I approached the front desk. I introduced myself to the attractive woman who appeared to be in charge. She was in her late twenties, but to a teenager she was a mature woman. She turned and called to an unseen office,
"The new lifeguard is here." A voice of authority answered,
"Give him his key and tell him to see me in a half hour."
A key? I had a key. A bimy shed needed no key. Even the waiter's dorm had no key. I had a key. Room number 317 was my room. I ran up the two flights of stairs. Room 317 was one of forty rooms on the third floor. These were not staff rooms. The hallway was attractively decorated; the carpet was new, the fixtures were elegant. I checked my key again. The number was correct. I opened the door.
The Family Style hotels of my childhood were the only hotels that I had ever experienced. Those rooms were functionally appointed, their floors buckled with multiple layers of linoleum, the furniture had been repainted every year for thirty years, a Spartan metal bed frame, a mattress that had no good side, and a SHARED BATHROOM IN THE HALL. Those were the hotels of my youth.
Room 317, my room, was more than I could have imagined. Plush carpeting, draperies, matching bed spread, everything was new. The furniture was contemporary in style. This room was more attractive than my own at home. Two closets? No, the other door was to my private bathroom. A stall shower, a tiled bathtub, and a toilet, all for me, this was too good to be true.
There was a note on the dresser---
Welcome to the Gibbers Hotel. I am your chambermaid, Sarah. Your beds will be made while you're out. There are towels provided at the swimming pool. Please do not remove the guest towels from this room. If I can make your stay more pleasant in any way, don't hesitate to ask.
Guest? I'm not a guest. Perhaps I was in the wrong room. Maybe the woman at the desk gave me the wrong key. Maybe there's another room 317, perhaps in another building. Should I ask?
I was expected back at the desk in ten minutes for my meeting with the voice of authority. I left my suitcase on the bed, washed my face, combed my hair, and peed. It was my first pee in room 317, hopefully not my last. I went straight to the front desk. As I approached, the woman at the counter greeted me. "Hi Ken, everything OK with your room?" Without letting my excitement or my concern show I asked if it was the norm for staff to be given guest rooms. She explained that in the winter the only rooms that were heated were in the new main building, and that most key staff members were housed with the guests. Her name was Janet, and she asked me to have a seat in the lobby while I waited for Mrs. G., Mrs. Gibber.
I wanted this job. I wanted that room. Not just for this weekend, but forever! In a few minutes I'd be meeting Mrs. G. What would she ask me? Please God don't let her ask me my age, or worse yet for I D. I could pass for nineteen.
Nineteen was the right age for a lifeguard. Nineteen was the right age to be single with your own room at a New Catskill Resort.
Mrs. G. needed no introduction. She was a handsome woman in her sixties. Her blue-gray hair flattered her. It did not age her. She was in charge. She had an aura of control and competency about her. I'd keep the bullshit to a minimum and the enthusiasm high.
There was small talk. She wanted to know about my family. We talked about the hotels I stayed in as a kid. She knew them all. She wanted to know where I had worked as a lifeguard. I explained that I had worked as a counsellor at a summer camp. I got my lifesaving certificate there, and would often cover for the head lifeguard during his breaks and days off. Mrs. G. seemed satisfied. She was obviously more interested in who I was, and how I would relate to her guests, than how many years I had sat at poolside. She explained my hours, 10:00am until 12:30 and 2: 00pm until 5:30pm. I learned that Gibbers lifeguard's most important responsibility would be to insure that no pool towels left the pool area. With my new duties clearly communicated I was asked if I had any questions.
It was time for me to sell me. I asked Mrs. G. if they often had late night swims, cocktail parties at poolside, teen dances at the pool, and aquatic competition like water polo. Before she had time to answer I assured Mrs. G. that I would be glad to organize and serve as lifeguard for these activities. The ideas came from hotel brochures I read at the bus terminal, and they struck a cord with Mrs. G. She could barely contain her enthusiasm. The indoor pool was brand new. This was its inaugural season. I would be its first Lifeguard.
Mrs. G. explained that tomorrow morning I would meet yet another Gibber, Sol Gibber. He would go over the pool's maintenance needs and procedures. Sol would be my fourth Gibber. There was Harold who met me at the terminal, Harold's wife Janet, the woman at the counter, and Rose, "Mrs. G."
When Mrs. G. offered to show me where the staff dining room was, I interrupted her telling her that I anticipated eating in the Main Dining Room, perhaps at the same table as the Band or Social Director. She paused for a long moment and then asked if I had appropriate clothing. I assured her that I did. She asked me if I understood that I would be expected to tip my waiter and busboy. I assured her that I would.
Mrs. G. agreed, I would be sitting in the Main Dining Room.
I had my own room.
I would be eating at the Band's table in the Main Dining Room.
Gibbers' new lifeguard and 'key' employee had arrived.
The pressures of first encounters were over and I reflected on my conversion with Mrs. Gibber. Mrs. G. had asked me if I had any questions, and I answered do you have pool parties? I never asked, and I had no idea, what I was getting paid. I realized that I didn't really care. Why was I here? Don't get me wrong; I liked money as much as the next teenager, but clearly that was not my motivation. I was here to be on vacation, TO PARTY. I hoped that a year's worth of weekend adventures, and a summer at poolside, would be ahead of me. Mrs. G. knew where I was coming from even before I did. She would motivate her new lifeguard, not with money, but with the privileges and services usually offered to her guests.
Dinner would be served in an hour. I'd be eating in the Main Dining Room and wanted to look sharp. I went back to my room to shit shower and shave. I realized that the evening was mine.
It was Friday night. There would be dancing followed by a show. For the first time all day my thoughts turned to girls. For me that was a record. As a teenager I spent every waking moment thinking about girls, sex, and love, usually in that order. I'd had my share of encounters, but bottom line, I was still a virgin.
I had packed as a guest, not as a staff member. I put on a blue blazer, white shirt, red tie, and gray slacks. I looked great. Mrs. G. would be impressed.
I left room 317, thirty minutes early for dinner. I began to explore the hotel for the first time. The lobbies and furnishings were impressive. Contemporary fixtures juxtaposed to classic art. Carpets were sculptured to parallel the curves of the lighting soffits above them. Block long windows looked out onto rolling meadows. The indoor pool, my pool, was lit with under water lights making the whole body of water glow. Unlike Alice in Wonderland, I had intentionally jumped through the rabbit hole. I was eager to explore the new world beyond
I approached the dining room, joining the throng of guests who were waiting for the massive doors to swing open. The guests were elegantly dressed, meticulously groomed, looking more like movie stars than vacationing New Yorkers.
I scanned the crowed, hoping to find age appropriate prospects to hit-on that evening. My dating experience had been with girls fifteen to eighteen. I hoped that my Catskill age, nineteen, would significantly increase my range and my chances.
The dining room doors opened and the crowd swarmed in.