Summers are already good, they embolden us with permission to show as much skin as we dare in public, to drink more, “We’re outside, for Pete’s sake!”, and to play childhood games that were dangerous then, and are now downright lunacy. (Think Lawn Darts.)
Occasionally one comes along that is more than good, it is magical. Mine came in 1985 and was called, “Camp Runamok”.
We were in our twenties, living in Manhattan in 5-floor walk-ups or tubs-in-kitchen or 300 sq. ft. rooms with Murphy beds. And no air conditioning. A summer share in the Hamptons was out of the question. So was staying in the City on 100 degree weekends. We found an affordable retreat in the form of a cabin on a creek in Phoenicia, New York. In the Catskills. Henny Youngman was extra and we were on a budget.
Every weekend we’d stop for corn, watermelon and some cases of Genesee Cream Ale, (brewed locally and dirt cheap), on the way upstate. The number of guests varied, but there was a core group who had all assigned themselves projects for the sojourn. Some busied themselves designing the perfect croquet obstacle course. In addition to the wickets, a successful round might include a pitch over the water hazard, (kiddie pool), a straight line descent down the slip n’ slide, and a tap on all four tires of the station wagon.
Others tended to our sustenance. Particularly getting the BBQ fire readied and keeping the watermelon properly marinating by pulling out a wedge and adding vodka periodically. No one was exclusively assigned this task, so efforts were often duplicated.
Third was the crew who had chosen hard labor. Beside the cabin was a brisk running creek that was no more than two or three feet deep. Their goal was to remove enough dirt and rocks to create a swimming hole. I’m not sure how successful they were, but we always had ice cold Genny Cream Ale.
July 4th was when the magic came into full bloom. It was four days of our own private Woodstock, “Caddyshack” and Coney Island Hot Dog Eating Contest. Allow me to introduce the players:
“The Bodacious Love Birds”
Since they were to be married in the Fall we gave them the honeymoon suite, (basement). Theirs was, and still is, a perfect, wacky union. A “Bewitched”, “Dancing in the Street”, “Diner” kind of love.
“The Affable Frat Boy”
Always happy due, in part, to “brewskies”. Very likeable due to his “yupper” attitude.
“The Iconoclasts In Training”
Chipping away at norms, this group happily mixed campy tradition with alternative world views. Fashion experimentation flourished, one member sported a pot on his head all weekend.
“The Be Frees”
These folk, with their unique personalities, weren’t so much trying to change the world, they were happy running alongside it.
With a backdrop of Americana, we played a combination of “Murder” and “Sardines” all night, invented the bacon-burger-dog, (thereby efficiently covering all the food groups), and held a watermelon seed spitting contest, (which fizzled due the lack of enthusiasm in letting go of any bits of the spirit-laden fruit).
We successfully shed the wet blanket of pressure-filled weekdays, defined by forced conformity and office politics. We were kids again. Kids who could drink, make love, go in the water right after eating and laugh ourselves silly during a game of beerminton.
We called our place “Camp Runamok”, but in truth, we knew exactly what we were doing. We were becoming bodacious, affable, iconoclastic free thinkers. Something that has stuck with us to this day.