The location in my dream about Carrick drowning was Lake Uncas in Livingston Manor, New York. Part of a gorgeous property of more than 1,000 acres owned by the Archdiocese of New York, it is presently inhabited by a group of cloistered nuns. People from around the world go there for retreats in rustic sheds. From 1907 until 1986, however, Lake Uncas was the heart of Camp Acadia for Boys. Acadia and its sister camp, Our Lady of Lourdes for Girls, were advertised for years in the back of The New York Times Sunday Magazine as "The Catholic Camps in the Catskills."
On July 3, 1963, I jumped off the dock at Lake Uncas to take a swimming test. It was my first summer at Acadia. I was 10. I had taken swimming lessons in the frigid salt-water pool at Jones Beach for several years and felt confident that I'd be able to do the two laps to the float and back — probably 100 yards total — with no problem. I ran into trouble posthaste. That evening, I wrote home to Mom and Pop:
This morning I tried to pass the swimming test and guess what? I failed with flying colors — and that's not all. When I got to the middle using a freestyle stroke, I tried to turn to do the back float. I didn't make it and began to swim under water, but it was too much excitement in 2 seconds for me. I went up and down bobbling in the water gasping for air. I tried to scream and after what seemed an hour to me, the instructor came to the save.
The cooking is okay and so is everything else ...
The water at Jones Beach shriveled my testicles and raised swirls on my fingertips, but Lake Uncas afflicted my psyche. From that day forward, I avoided all waterfront activities, except canoeing, with every contrivance I could scheme. In 1969, when I was a 16-year-old "senior" camper, I talked the head counselor, Walt Bahr, into taking the annual, much-hated, camp-wide trek to the Bearverkill campgrounds, a few miles over hills and dales, on a scorching day when our group was scheduled for a swim across Lake Uncas and back.
Three times that year — the summer of Woodstock — I was caught drinking or sneaking over to the girl's camp, or both, with my good friend Rich and some other sinners. The first time we were caught, the punishment was a time-honored camp tradition for transgressions of all kinds. We stood at the end of the dock.
"Assume the position," Bahr barked, a burned-out stogie wedged between his right lips.
He whacked our butts with a canoe paddle. But Bahr was an inherently good-hearted man, and the impact was light. We dove into the water nonetheless, trudged up the rickety wood ladder, and took another couple of shots for good measure, the sting supposedly intensified by the water.
The second time we were caught coming back from Our Lady of Lourdes at dawn, our punishment was a bit more creative. Counselors roused us several times during the night and force-marched us to the girl's camp and back. It was probably worse punishment for the counselors than it was for us, but it certainly prevented us from sneaking over that night.
The third time we were busted for drinking and carousing at Grossinger's, the fabled Jewish resort, where the older campers were taken annually for a day trip. That time we were threatened with expulsion, and our parents were notified by phone while we stood by and hung our heads, but it was all a bluff (and we knew it). We had a little pot that summer and popped some diet pills, too, and once experimented with smoking the cut up slivers of a ping-pong ball (it does not get you high, kids) but blessedly we were never caught with these "hard" drugs, which surely would have resulted in our exit.
A couple of weeks after the last escapade, I won the camp-wide "Mr. Tracy Most Representative Camper" award, as well as "Best Camper" for the senior (13-16 years old) division. Rich was runner-up in both categories. We both agreed that he should have won the awards, but what's the difference among drinking buddies?
Looking at the larger picture, of course, it's a travesty to suggest that either of us were representative of the precepts that the Archdiocese of New York espoused. There are, too, clearly issues of enabling. Were we just "boys being boys" (and girls being girls)? Or should we have been booted after the second, or third, transgression to, as they used to say, teach us a lesson.
I don't know if expulsion would have had any effect on my drinking in subsequent years. There were no re-habs, or wilderness therapy programs, or boot camps in those days (although I vaguely recall a threat of military school). As for Richie, to this day he is happily married to Marjorie, the girl he was visiting that summer on the dew-laden grass of the girl's hockey field.
How do you get beer and booze and pot at a camp that's in the middle of nowhere run by the Archdiocese? The same way you get it at rehabs, jails and in dry counties. You smuggle some in, or pay off the authorities.
The night before we boarded the busses at the George Washington Bridge Bus terminal at 181st St. in Manhattan in late June 1969, I met my friend Rich nearby. It was a 10-minute subway ride from W. 231st St. in the Bronx for me; Rich took a bus in from Dumont, N.J. We found a nearby liquor store and bought four pint bottles of Three Feathers Whiskey, a not-so-smooth rye, which we then put in a locker in the terminal for the night.
How did we buy it? Everyone had fake IDs in those days, of course — ranging from draft cards to driver's licenses to — in my case — a photocopy of the French Canadian birth certificate of my good friend Mark's older brother. The legal drinking age was 18 at the time, but anyone 14 or over with a reasonable stubble and some form of paper could usually get served. In my case, the bartenders and shopkeeps had no idea what they were looking at since it was all in French.
After we stashed the Three Feathers, Rich went home and I met my buddy Mark at the Greenwood, a bar near the terminus of the No. 1 subway line at 242nd St. and Broadway, across from Van Cortlandt Park. It was a typical Irish shot-and-beer joint near Manhattan College. Mark and I had just finished our junior year at Manhattan Prep, the high school affiliated with the college. As I recall, the college had recently been named a prominent "party" school by Playboy magazine or some similar authority, a distinction that I suspect did not please the Christian Brothers who ran the institution. (And make no mistake, the Prep was an institution, but that's another story, perhaps for one of the Quinn brothers to tell.)
Because the college year was over, the crowd in the Greenwood that night was sparse. Mark asked for a Seven and Seven — Seagram's Seven rye mixed with a Seven-Up soda. His dad, a stern Spaniard who lost the use of one eye while fighting with the Canadian army during World War II, was the general export manager for Seagram's in New York City, and Mark was loyal to the family brand. I ordered a Manhattan, not out of any affinity to our school but just because I though it was cool to drink Manhattans. I don't think it's a very popular drink today — it's basically bourbon with a splash of vermouth and a cocktail cherry on top. Pretty potent. I had another. Then another. Somewhere along the line, a geezer at the rail got a kick out of this kid downing Manhattans and he started to pick up the tab.
Not one to look a gift drink in the mouth (St. Jerome), I downed a dozen Manhattans in all. I think there was a wager involved, but maybe it was just bragadoccio. You'll forgive me if I forget, right? After all, I had a lot to drink. You can't hold me responsible for remembering something I did when I was drunk, right?
Anyway, I do remember that I drank twelve Manhattans. An even dozen. And I do remember staggering out of the bar and up the hill on the mile-or-so walk home somewhere before midnight. And I remember telling Mark that I just wanted to sit for a bit on a bench in the vest-pocket park across from the college to gather my wits. The next thing I knew, I was staring at the sickly off-white of a misty morning sky, sprawled on the grass, my clothes wet with dew. Mark was nowhere to be found. That was not the first, or last, time that Mark left me high, if not dry.
So I staggered home just in time to get in the car with my parents for the trip to the bus terminal. I'm not sure why they hadn't called the cops. Maybe they were getting used to my shenanigans. Much to my surprise, there were no histrionics. I got the silent treatment instead. My mother was one of the world's premier practitioners of the silent treatment. Years later I learned that my father had come home slightly stewed himself the night before. He obviously was in no position to lecture me on temperance. And my mother was surely using every ounce of will to hold herself together long enough to ship me to the safe environs of Camp Acadia.
Rich and I met up at the terminal, and we transferred the whiskey from the locker to the gym bags, wrapping them in some T-shirts and gym shorts. We each had two bottles. Then we went up to the platform where the busses were loading. I'll never forget the look on Rich's face when he dropped his gym bag on the concrete loading platform and we both heard clink. There were dozens of parents milling about. Counselors. Even a priest or two. The smell of whiskey seemed to permeate the bus terminal. We look at each other in horror. Rich grabbed the bag and ran to the men's room. I felt like I was on death row, just waiting for Msgr. Ruvo to tap me on the shoulder and say, "It's time, son."
But nothing happened. Rich came back. The bag still reeked, despite his repeated washings. Nobody said anything. He slipped me the unbroken bottle in case anyone decided to search his bag. We got on the bus. We had some lunch at the famed Red Apple restaurant on Route 17 and then, two hours later, arrived at Lake Uncas in Livingston Manor, N.Y., with three intact bottles of rye that we used to take the chill off before our 4 a.m. strolls to the girl's camp.
How else did we get alcohol that summer? Friendly counselors bought it for us. One, John M., was just a couple of years older and liked to party himself. Another, John B., our division's head counselor, was fired on the last morning of camp when he was found, fully clothed but totally blacked-out, on the floor of a tent in the girl's camp.
These are not things you read about in the brochure for "The Catholic Camps in the Catskills."