(A Lake Boy Tale)
Gayle Road is a steeply graded street located on the east side of Skaneateles Lake; on the outer Eastern border but still within the village limits.
Lined on either side with relatively modest ranch style homes, the street descends sharply in altitude, curves suddenly to the south at a ninety degree angle, turns into a dirt trail, and winds up basically at the shore; a small sixty foot slice of beach side real estate that is shared by all of Gayle Road’s residents.
In the days of my youth, most of the homeowners were of the same age, with children that were all mostly the same age too. It was a little tract of about fifteen homes and fifteen nuclear families; our own little private Utopia within the utopian confines of the village of Skaneateles.
There were cocktail parties hosted in a different home every weekend. It was always an exciting event when it was my mother’s turn to throw a party. The house bustled with major activity during the day; a blur of super-charged anal-retentive cleaning, errand running, hair dresser appointments, liquor deliveries and strange ritualistic preparations of tiny bite sized food.
Around five pm, my brother Alfie, my sister Becky, and myself were scrupulously
scrubbed, dressed for bed, and then fed some gawd-awful “quick” repast, usually Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks and tater tots accompanied by the pre-requisite glop of ketchup on the side (parties were usually thrown on Fridays, hence “Catholic food” that passed for fish).
Then that wonderful hour before guests were scheduled to arrive, where Pops did the final tweaking chores of preparing the bar (A six foot sheet metal folding table with kidney-shaped "parameciums" printed on it; covered in an exquisite table cloth.)Dansk ice bucket filled: Check. Exotic fruits cut, lemons peeled: Check. Maraschino cherries and green olives with pimentos jammed inside: Check. Cocktail napkins: Check. Tooth Picks: Check.
It was very quiet, but the anticipatory tension in the house was palpably increasing by the minute, the smell of warming cocktail weenies wrapped in pastry permeating our family quarters. Then my mother’s magic metamorphosis would unfold.
I used to marvel at my mother’s ability to transform herself from a drill sergeant barking out marching orders with militaristic precision in preparation for the upcoming Bacchanalian onslaught to an absolute knockout “Betty”.
I would lay on the linoleum floor of our garishly pink tiled bathroom, watching her carefully in a state of awe: wrapped in a towel, freshly bathed, her coiffed hair wrapped in a protective plastic mushroom cloud of a shower cap, sitting on her green upholstered vanity pouf, applying her war paint with a vast array of strange tools (The curved eyelash curler was always an implement that I found particularly compelling); the application ritual of the smearing of frosted pink lipstick (which seemed to me to resemble a disembodied, rotating doggie penis within a large caliber bullet casing) and then the “kissing” of a Kleenex tissue to set it, smacking her lips; and finally dousing herself in a copious amount of Estee Lauder’s “Youth Dew”, a perfume that was so overwhelmingly noxious that I would almost pass out from the intoxicating fumes. My first foray into the world of “huffing”, I suppose.
In the enchanted pre-party “calm before the storm”, as my Pops would zip up her up in some latest designer cocktail dress and they’d give each other the once over to make sure they were sharp, straight and good to go. They would fixedly look each other in the eye in silent pause, and a deep breath of relaxation would be collectively shared.
And then they would tenderly kiss as the first of a stack of L.P.'s would mysteriously slide down the spindle and plop down on the turntable, my mother's right knee bending, her high heel ascending heavenward in the embrace; the music would start and the doorbell would automatically ring as if on cue.
Here we go.
This was the age where the men wore tailored suits and the women dressed to the nines with teased-to-the-stratosphere beehive hair helmets and rhinestone studded cat’s eye goggles. Martinis, Scotch and Sodas, Manhattans, and Whiskey Sours for the ladies were the libations of choice coupled with the sounds of atomic lounge, “Birth of the Cool”, Frank Sinatra, and calypso music functioning as the soundtrack as it burbled through “hi-fi” stereo speakers.
I didn’t know what was going on, but I did know that I wanted to be in the middle of those wing dings, not on the periphery. I especially hated the collective sibling “trot out” right before bedtime, where all the Gayle Road women cooed collective “oohhhs” and “ahhhs” and then we would be hustled off to bed. I would try to fall asleep to the muffled sounds of Harry Belafonte singing the Banana Boat Song coupled with the amazing booze fueled detonations of cackling laughter that would periodically explode out of the living room.
I remember sneaking around and hiding under the table cloth that draped the bar in my footie pajamas trying to discern just what was going on in that blue haze. Instinctively at age three I knew that staying up late smoking cigarettes, listening to weird music, and drunkenly trying to play grab ass with your neighbor’s wife whilst doing the rhumba to the sounds of Acker Bilk was way more fun then the existence I was currently living, which mainly consisted of a steady diet of toys, “Romper Room”, “Captain Kangaroo”, and “The Silly Book”; my musical fare consisting of songs like “Itsy Bitsy Spider” or worse, and not being old enough to play with most of the other kids on the street.
It was like watching Martians. All I wanted to do was go to Mars in a suit, hair helmet, and a pair of cats-eyed rhinestone studded goggles of my own.
But there I was, up way past my bed-time; crew-cutted and goggle-less, in a set of blue “one-sie” pajamas with pink bunnies printed on them feeling like the plastic treaded soles of my jammies were permanently glued to the slate stone floor of our dining room. Hopelessly Earth-bound.
Not for long.