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."