Sometimes, as we kicked our heels in that green room of summers-to-come, too old for camp but still too young to drive, we would find ourselves, three or four of us, baking in the sun at Baird State Park’s big swimming pool, while one or more of our mothers played eighteen holes on the Park’s golf course.
If the pool wasn’t crowded, we would take over a corner of the deep end, throw a quarter into the water, wait for it to land on the bottom, then race to see who could retrieve it. Usually it was crowded. Then we would sit and talk on one of the benches against the chain link fence that bounded the long sides of the pool. Being in the presence of a throng of half-naked hoi-polloi added a snide edge to our sophomoric banter.
Once in a while, from loudspeakers, one at the snack bar at one end of the pool and one outside the locker-room and showers at the other end, an authoritative voice would erupt: No food outside the green line! or Break it up, there! or The pool will close in fifteen minutes, and occasionally, a name, Gloria Modena, please come to the office. You have a phone call.
One day, under the spell of “Prufrock”, which I had just read for the first time, in a flash of inspiration I went through the locker rooms to a payphone outside and called the pool. The loudspeaker person answered, sans Olympian resonance. I asked for “J. Alfred Prufrock.” In a moment, the stentorian voice wafted over the crowd: J. Alfred Prufrock, please come to the office. You have a phone call. Then, once more, after a minute or two: J. Alfred Prufrock, you have a phone call.
“Not here,” I was told. I made sure to sound disappointed.
We were the only ones who got the joke, which we played just about every time we went to Baird.
Playful snobs, but still snobs.
Our snobbishness grew particularly ripe when we were inexplicably invited to Gordon Campbell’s house for lunch one Saturday – myself, Paul Eisenberg, Lauren Havener, William Langer, Deborah Lazar, and Mikey Stern.
The Campbell’s were genteel anti-Semites. Gordon had outed them, inadvertently, when one day he had drawn me aside to explain, out of the blue, as if from a guilty conscience, that the reason the Poughkeepsie Tennis Club did not accept Jewish members was that Jews were so smart that they would take it over. It was probably the best explanation his parents could come up with, when he had asked, unable to tell him what was closer to the truth, that the Poughkeepsie Tennis Club’s anti-Semitism, just like their own, was an old custom whose origins were lost in the mists of time.
For lunch, in an enclosed porch which the Campbell’s referred to as a conservatory, we were served chicken salad sandwiches on mayonnaise-slathered triangles of Wonder bread, the crusts removed, and macaroni salad, with a bottle of Hellman’s on the table, just in case more mayonnaise was required. We twinkled our eyes at each other across the table. The lunch perfectly fit our Wasp stereotype.
Afterward, we were invited into the living room. Mrs. Campbell said, “Gordon, why don’t you play something for your friends?”
The room, which otherwise was filled with exactly the cushiony chintz furniture we would have expected, was dominated by a Steinway Grand. Gordon sat down at it, mused for a moment (as if Wasps could muse!), tipped back his head of Viking-blond hair, his hands hovering before him then, bowing reverently over the keyboard, he launched into Chopin’s Polonaise in A-Flat Major. It was a magnificent performance, flawless (as far as we could tell) and passionate. We were astounded and spellbound. We would not have believed that anyone our age, much less someone from Poughkeepsie, much less Gordon Campbell, could perform Chopin like a Horowitz or a Rubinstein. I don’t know who Gordon’s piano teacher was, but it certainly was not Ginny Schwartz.
Gordon never became part of our group, if that was the Campbell’s aim, instead of showing us up for the snobs we were, which how we contritely saw it, but from then on, we treated Gordon with serious respect. Thanks to him, our political and social sophistication began to catch up with our precocious cultural sophistication.