40 Years ago… Part 2

Part one of this story can be found here.

It was August, and after dropping a number of hints that I was unhappy being the children’s waiter, I was finally promoted to the main dining room, but as a busboy. In retrospect, I assume that my locally powerful uncle had something to do with getting me the promotion. In any case, I was glad to be rid of the spoiled brats.

It turned out that bussing the tables in the main dining room was no picnic either. The Granit, like many hotels in the Catskills at that time, was strictly Kosher. Breakfast was always a dairy meal. Lunch would alternate between meat and dairy, and dinner was always meat. One of the most popular items on the lunch menu was borscht. To this day I’ve never tasted it, but at the end of a long day, my shirt sleeves were stained red from carrying the busboxes that were half filled with sloshing leftover borsht.

Each week a new crop of guests would arrive, we’d be assigned a few tables, and we would hope that at the end of the week we would be generously tipped.  One day I was greeting the new guests at one of my assigned tables…and there was Sue Ann. She looked as if she was about my age (my real age) and throughout the meal, she was looking at me. After lunch was over, I was hanging out in back of the dining room with my waiter friend Bruce when Sue Ann rounded the corner with another girl. They came right over and started talking to us. I found out that Sue Ann was from Farmingdale,  Long Island, and that she was forced to be there with her parents and clearly wasn’t happy about it. The four of us sat under a tree and talked about music, movies and other stuff.  Bruce and the other girl seemed to be getting along.

At dinner, Bruce was pressing me to try and make a date with the two girls for later that evening. I managed to get Sue Ann’s attention without her parents  noticing and mouthed “see you later?” She nodded yes.

I ran back to the bungalow to change out of my uniform  and into something more fitting for a date.  The four of us met back at the tree behind the dining room and talked until most of the guests were asleep. Bruce and the other girl started to kiss, and Sue Ann was looking at me in expectation. Finally, she grabbed me and started kissing me. Bruce said he had an idea and told us to follow him.

There was a new building under construction that had been rising above the Granit all summer. In the last few weeks, it had taken shape and looked nearly finished. Bruce led us to a doorway and up a stairwell into the new building. We walked up a few floors and emerged into a hallway. Everything was freshly painted and there was brand new carpeting on the floors.  The doors to the rooms were open. They were completely empty of furniture and there was no electricity, but they were private. Bruce went into one of the rooms with his girl and I went into another with Sue Ann.

We got down on the carpeted floor and continued where we had left off. I kept reminding myself of what my uncle had told me and got up the nerve to try and make a move. Sue Ann immediately sat up and said “nope, that isn’t gonna happen.” I said “OK,”  and we fell asleep in each others arms.

There were no curtains or blinds on the windows, so when dawn broke, it was pretty obvious. I woke up Sue Ann and then we knocked on the other door. The girls had to sneak back into their rooms, and Bruce and I had to get ready for work.  He and I never discussed what went on in those empty hotel rooms. I assume that he assumed that I had gotten lucky. I certainly assumed that he did. In any case, I was smitten.

I ran to the bungalow and took a cold shower–not because I needed it, but rather because there still was no hot water.  Then I headed back to the hotel to work breakfast.

There was Sue Ann’s family, but no Sue Ann. Her dad looked angry. I started to feel guilty. Did I get her in trouble? From across the room, Bruce gives me a big thumbs up.

At lunch she showed up, looking a bit tired. I mouthed “later?” And she nodded yes.

We met at the tree and she told me her dad was pissed she had stayed out all night, although he didn’t know it was with me. He wasn’t happy about her hanging out with “the help,” and she was going to have to cool it. We exchanged addresses and phone numbers, and the next day Sue Ann and her family were gone.

The next weekend, when the crowd of new guests were due, it was surprisingly subdued. Very few guests were arriving and I began to hear rumors of  some kind of major traffic jam. Later that day, the waiters were all buzzing about this music festival that was going on. It was only about a 20-minute drive from the hotel and they were all planning to hop in a couple of cars and go check it out after dinner. They had heard that it had just been announced that the concert was now free. They asked if I wanted to go along.

At first I leaned toward going. I was flattered that they had asked me since, other than Bruce, they had not been very friendly toward me all summer.  Then, as I heard them planning how much beer they were taking with them — and one of them mentioned having some pot — I got nervous and decided I’d better not go. I told them I wasn’t feeling very well. I watched them speed off and then went back to my room and tuned in the Cubs game.

The next morning, I heard them come back. They were clearly loaded. I asked them how the concert was and they told me that they never got close enough. The crowds were clogging up the roads, so they ultimately turned around and came back. But their description of what they had seen made me feel like I had definitely missed something.

There were only two weeks left to the summer, but I was getting homesick. Bruce could tell that something was wrong, so he came up with another one of his brainstorms. “Let’s take a road trip to Long Island and visit Sue Ann; that’ll cheer you up. We can leave right after dinner, drive the three hours, pay a quick visit, and be back before breakfast.”  After having missed out on the prior week’s adventure, this sounded like a good idea to me, so I agreed to do it.

Bruce borrowed a car and, after dinner, off we went. We arrived in Farmingdale around 10:30pm. Bruce waited in the car while I went up to Sue Ann’s front door and rang the bell. Of course, her dad came to the door. I asked “Is Sue Ann home?” Without saying a word, he closed the door in my face. A few seconds later it re-opened and there was Sue Ann. “What are you doing here?” she asked.  “I missed you,” I responded. She rolled her eyes and said, “look, it was a fun couple of days, alright?” And she closed the door.

I slunked back to the car and Bruce asked, “How did it go?” I responded, “Let’s just go back.”

Labor Day weekend is the traditional end-of-the-summer season in the Catskills. At the Granit, they did it up big–all kinds of special activities and events and a bigger-name comedian in the nightclub. The culmination was a Saturday night dinner that was designed to be like New Year’s Eve. They hung decorations all over the dining room and, for the first time all summer, they served liquor at the meal. They brought over the cocktail waitresses from the night club to serve drinks while the waiters served the meals.

The cocktail waitress who was assigned to my station was someone I had gotten to know from my after-work visits to the club. She asked me very matter-of-factly if I’d like to have a drink or two during the meal. I said sure. And when asked what I’d like, I told her scotch. Why that came out of my mouth, I have no idea. I had never tasted scotch in my life, nor had I had any experience with hard liquor. She told me to put a juice glass on the server and that she’d fill it up every once in awhile through the evening.

My first sip of the scotch was a shock to the system. I had never tasted anything so awful, but I was too embarrassed say anything to her. I kept sipping though dinner, and after awhile it didn’t taste so bad. Every time I took a few sips, she filled up the glass. At one point, I suddenly realized that I was feeling very out of it. But I still had work to do. I took a glass of water and drank it down. Then I went over to my station and hoisted a completely full busbox onto my shoulder. The problem was that I actually hoisted it up and over my shoulder. It fell with a crashing sound like I’d never heard before, with dishes flying everywhere.  I looked down at the broken dishes on the floor and then I looked up. The entire dining room–all the guests and the staff–were all standing up and staring at me. And they were applauding.  It all seemed like it was happening in slow motion. I saw the waiters and busboys cleaning up the mess. I was brought into the kitchen and handed a cup of coffee.  I don’t remember anything else.

Of course I woke up with a hangover. I looked at my watch, and for the first time all summer, I was late for breakfast. I skipped the cold shower and ran up the hill to the hotel.  I was talking to myself the whole way, convinced that I was going to be immediately fired and never asked back again. “How could I be so stupid?” When I arrived, I was greeted with high fives from the  waiters. Clearly I was now one of the gang. To become one of them, all I had to do was exhibit some bad behavior. The boss never said a word.

Thus ended my summer adventure.

Within a month, another thing ended–the so-called Miracle Mets wiped out my Cubs and there went my baseball dreams.  I needn’t say more about that since there is plenty elsewhere on this blog.

In the months that followed, I started to complete the transformation that had begun at the Granit.  I started hanging out with a different crowd at school. I was feeling more confident about who I was.  I embraced the counter-culture with all the trimmings.

In March of 1970, the movie “Woodstock” was released. It opened at the Stanley Warner Theater in Paramus, which was a massive showcase theater that was one of only a few theaters in the NY area that would sometimes get films at the same time they opened in Manhattan. I was still feeling pangs about not having taken the invitation to go to Woodstock with the Granit waiters. I wanted to see the film on opening night.

I got together with some of my now-hippy friends and we drove to the theater. There was a traffic jam created by the crowds trying to get to the theater. How appropriate. When we got to the parking lot, there were police who were stopping every car and telling them that they were not allowing anyone under 18 into the theater, and that you had to present an I.D. to get a ticket. I started arguing with a cop. “How can you not let in people who were actually there?,” I exaggerated. I was genuinely pissed. Twice denied.

The next day, I got on a bus to Manhattan and went to the Trans Lux West on 49th and Broadway. They had a big fancy marquee with the logo of the film. No trouble buying a ticket in Manhattan! The lights went down, and I was blown away. It was the first time I had heard surround sound, the first time I had seen a documentary on the big screen, the first time I had seen these kind of performances (the ones you could never see on television). I became obsessed with the film and saw it so many times that I practically know it by heart.

So what I am I doing to celebrate the anniversary of my summer of 1969? Tonight I’m having some friends over and we’re going to watch the entire 4 hour director’s cut of “Woodstock.”

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One Response to 40 Years ago… Part 2

  1. howie wiseman says:

    love reading this shit. i was a teenager and hitch-hiked to the seattle pop festival in july 1969 before woodstock, all the way from winnipeg with my best buddy (ma he rest in peace). we saw the ‘guess who,’ from our home town, and sly, santana, vanilla fudge, mountain, jeff buckley swinging on the wings, in a goda davida (?), and 20 more amazing bands, hell’s angels befriending us cause we were two jewish kids from winnipeg, and the piece de resistance, jim morrison and the doors fly in to close the festival by heilcopter. one month later, woodstock makes history!
    b well,
    howie

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