Sunday, March 25, 2012

Where Have You Gone, Bobby Weinstein?

Camp Tamarac's Yokum Pond
I met Bobby during the summer of 1959 at Camp Tamarac in Becket, Massachusetts. I was ten years old. He was twelve. He came from Riverdale, in the Bronx, a glamorous world of apartment buildings, impossibly far from the Long Island split level where I lived with my family.

Bobby had dark hair, which he wore in a pompadour, Elvis-style. I stole glances at him when we gathered at the flagpole for Taps each evening. Camp Tamarac was a coed camp, but the girls and boys lived and played at opposite ends of its grounds on the shore of Yokum Pond. The girls didn't see the boys during the day, but the entire camp came together in the morning and evening, when we raised and lowered the flag. We shared the same dining hall, too, though the girls sat on one side, the boys on the other. We girls spent meals singing songs at the top of our lungs, trying to attract the boys' attention.

The sexes also came together in the social hall, a big all-purpose building that served as the dividing line between the boys and girls camps. Used for rainy-day activities and religious services, it was also the setting for camp "socials," as well as for performances, which ranged from musicals to talent shows to competitive "sings."

I learned many skills at Camp Tamarac, among them swimming, tennis, basketball, and riflery (to my own surprise, I was a crack shot). Camp Tamarac also taught me about boys. It was at Tamarac that I awakened to the idea of a boyfriend. Though only ten years old and not yet ruled by surging hormones, I suddenly found boys mysterious and alluring. Added to this was the thrill of the forbidden, since our counselors endeavored assiduously to keep us apart, except at socials. During those awkward, well-chaperoned events, I prayed that Bobby Weinstein would ask me to dance.

Not that I had much to recommend me. My wavy brown hair was cut short and stuck out at odd angles. My teeth hadn't yet been straightened. And my skinny legs had earned me the nickname "chicken legs." During one of our all-too-frequent bull sessions, the girls in my bunk pronounced that while I was not yet pretty, I had potential. I took this snarky compliment as the highest praise, so desperate was I to be that pretty girl with whom Bobby Weinstein would want to dance. But, at social after social, nothing happened. As the eight weeks of camp season ebbed away, my hope faded that Bobby would ever notice me.

It was announced that there would be a talent show the last Saturday evening of camp, followed by the final camp social. When the lights went down onstage, out stepped Bobby Weinstein to perform "Kookie, Kookie, Lend Me Your Comb." The original had been sung by Connie Stevens and Edd "Kookie" Byrnes, of 77 Sunset Strip fame. No real singing was required, since "Kookie" was more of an early rap number, complete with hip lyrics of the day. You can see and hear "Kookie" in its full glory by clicking the following link: Kookie, Kookie, Lend Me Your Comb.

I can't recall whether there was a girl onstage with Bobby or if he merely lip-synched the recorded words to an invisible Connie Stevens. What I do remember is that the song fit Bobby to a tee, as it involved a really cool guy constantly combing his hair. Bobby looked right at home running a comb through his gorgeous brown pompadour.

His performance was a hit. The audience swooned over Bobby, or maybe only I swooned. In any event, the applause was deafening. But all that was nothing compared to what happened next, at the final camp social. Bobby asked me to dance. To a slow dance! I tried not to step on his feet as we swayed back and forth. When the music ended, Bobby kept his arms around me and looked at me. "I like you, too," he said. And then he kissed me.

My first kiss. And, other than a glimpse of him at the final flag raising, the last time I ever saw Bobby Weinstein.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Forty Years Ago

Today marks the fortieth anniversary of the day I moved in with E. My mother worried that our relationship wouldn't last a month. She feared that E. would break up with me and I'd be devastated. Our friend, Hoyt, didn't give us six months. I wasn't worried. I just wanted to be with E. and wasn't thinking more than a day ahead.

I arrived in Northampton, Massachusetts from New York City on a Peter Pan bus. E. picked me up and we headed over to the apartment of our college friends, Tad and Abby. Abby had prepared a Chinese dinner. I was impressed by their domesticity. While living in New York, I had almost never cooked. I either dined at my favorite Greek taverna in the Village or ate a bowl of granola for supper.

The farmhouse as it looks today.
After dinner, E. and I headed home to Hadley, where E. shared a farmhouse on West Street with several friends. Behind the house stretched asparagus fields farmed by our landlord, Mr. Kozera, who lived next door. In a fit of feminism, I had insisted on having my own room, for which I paid rent. Not that I ever slept there, but it did give me a place to keep my clothes.

Mostly, I remember the music. E. had an amazing collection of LPs and in fact at the time ran a used-record business. I would listen to Taj Mahal singing Corinna for hours on end, punctuated by Paul Siebel crooning Jasper and the Miners. (Click on the links to hear the songs.) Years later, we decided that if we ever had a baby girl, we would name her Corinna.

I felt I should get a job, though I had no particular desire to work. When I learned that an old-fashioned ice cream parlor was opening up nearby, I thought that might be the perfect spot for me. After all, I loved ice cream. During my interview with the manager, I enthusiastically told him about my fondness for ice cream. Immediately, I realized my mistake. I could see from his expression that he envisioned me eating all the profits.

Instead, I got a position as a stringer for the Daily Hampshire Gazette, reporting on meetings of various local government entities. The most memorable was a raucous Northampton Zoning Board hearing that featured a supposedly-liberal Smith College faculty member protesting the use of a home in his neighborhood as a halfway house, my first encounter with the NIMBY phenomenon.

Not having a car, I had boldly stated my determination to hitchhike to my assignments. That lasted about a week. After a creepy-looking guy tried to get me to climb into his pickup truck, I asked E. if he would give me a lift to future assignments. I wasn't ready to drive his Saab Sonett sports car myself (and he wasn't quite ready to let me).

Within a month, E. had asked me to marry him. We picked a date in June. And we decided not to tell anyone about our upcoming nuptials. But that's another story, already recounted in Anatomy of a Wedding, Part One and Anatomy of a Wedding, Part Two. (Click on the links to read the story.)

Since our marriage was to be a secret, we realized that we would have no one at the ceremony to take our photograph. One of our housemates was an aspiring photographer, so a day or two before the wedding, we asked him to take a picture of us. The result was the portrait below, kind of an updated American Gothic. I like to think that it captures our state of mind as well as the zeitgeist of the era—a little spaced out, with a dash of counterculture, and a strong belief that love can save the world.

Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Photograph by Steve Horn

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Road Taken

On a frigid winter day in 1972, I went for a ride with a friend. It changed my life. He had suggested that we drive from New York City upstate to Bear Mountain. But a fork in the road took us in a different direction, one that has made all the difference to me.

I hadn't quite turned 23 and was living in New York City. I shared a two-bedroom apartment with three friends in the Vermeer, a nice building at the corner of 14th Street and 7th Avenue. I could walk out my door and down the stairs to the IRT subway, which would take me uptown to my job in the Personnel Department at Columbia's Teachers College.

The job wasn't what I'd had in mind when I graduated from Smith College the year before. Actually, I hadn't had much in mind. I loved college and longed to stay there. In fact, I interviewed for a position helping to run the Five-College Consortium, a group which included Smith as well as Amherst, where I'd spent my junior year. I was offered the job, then panicked because all my friends were leaving the area, several of them heading to New York. I followed them there, signed up as a part-time graduate student in the English department at Teachers College and got a mind-numbing day job there that, at $100 per week, barely covered my rent, food, and classes. My first day on the job, a campus police officer ran up to my desk and grabbed the phone. "We got a guy outside with a sawed-off shotgun," he said. Welcome to Manhattan in the 1970s.

The best part of my job was the IBM Selectric, an electric typewriter with a self-correcting feature that eliminated the need for Wite-Out. I used it to type office correspondence but, in every spare moment I could find, I also typed poems. The words poured out of me, full of loneliness and angst. I wondered in verse who I was and what exactly I was doing on West 120th Street.

In early January, my friend, Steven, suggested we take that drive to Bear Mountain. I accepted enthusiastically, delighted at the chance to escape the city for a day. Steven was younger than me, a junior in college, home on Long Island for his winter break. I knew he liked me. I liked him, too, but not in that way. Still, it was fun to put the anguished poems in a drawer and pull out my flirty alter-ego.

So, there we were, heading north on the New York Thruway, listening to Don McLean singing "Bye, Bye, Miss American Pie," when I spotted a road sign—left for Bear Mountain, right for Amherst, Massachusetts. Seized by a sudden fit of nostalgia for Amherst College, I said to Steven, "Let's go to Amherst instead. I'll show you the campus. It's really beautiful." Steven obligingly careened across several lanes of traffic and took the right fork.

As easy as three lanes, the course of my life changed. When we arrived in Amherst, I took Steven to see Memorial Hill, with its splendid view of the Holyoke Range. I showed him around the rest of the campus, which was almost deserted during winter break. Its classic brick architecture glowed with an austere beauty in the weak winter sunlight. After we walked around for a while, I suggested we head to the snack bar. I had whiled away many an afternoon there when I was a student.

The snack bar was open but empty. We checked the menu, then decided we weren't hungry after all. As we started to leave, I heard someone call my name. The next thing I knew, E. was hugging me and I was hugging him right back. He and his friend, Brian, had been sitting at a table in the far corner of the snack bar and I hadn't noticed them. E., sitting with his back to me, hadn't seen me either, but Brian had. "Isn't that a girl you used to date?"  he asked.

We had dated during our sophomore year and it hadn't ended well. E., who had barely spoken to me for two years, jumped up and called my name. In that moment, I saw my future and embraced it. Less than six months later we were married.