Monday, March 9, 2009


The name BUCK'S ROCK WORK CAMP has a hostile ring to it. But nothing could be further from the truth. Buck's Rock was a sleep-away camp for the filthy rich. It was located in the foothills of Litchfield County, outside the little town, New Milford Connecticut, (not to be confused with Milford on the other side of the state which is an actual small city). In the summer of 1971, that camp was my first real work experience.

What separated this camp from all others was...sports, despite having facilities for them all, participating in them was beyond secondary. More specifically, this camp was intellectually motivated. Oddly, the campers weren't beset with rigid schedules either. The attendees were made aware of where and when activities took place and they came and went as they pleased. The camp was so laid back that if your kid was a loafer, nobody tried to get them off their butt.

I recall theatre productions, singing, dancing, pottery, wood shop, a radio station, construction teams, horse back riding, a farm where agricultural lessons were taught, photography, sewing, printing and so much more.

Camp management designed this keep me and my peers as far away from the campers as possible. Because, we were the kitchen utility crew! We did grunt labor (or as we called it; Bimmie-Work) around the mess hall which included: serving meals, pot washing, setting-up, cleaning up and re doing it all three times a day, seven times a week.

Somehow we managed to mingle with guests now and again.

It was a terrific experience with unforgettable memories and great people. Still, I was young and got homesick, (I had to use the bathroom, shower and let my mother do my laundry every so often...didn't I)? During the eight weeks, I probably went home on my one day off three of the eight times, (a co-worker with the same day off who lived in Canarsie had a car).

My other days off were spent at the camp where we had limited access to the activities. I remember how much fun it was to go with the garbage guy to McNulty's Dump. The garbage guy showed me all the sights including what 16 billion maggots in one spot looks like...I only went to the dump that one time .

The last time I performed on stage was at Buck's Rock, in a play called "EMPTINESSES." If you are familiar with my short stories, I stole that title for one of them. If you're interested, in that play, I portrayed a policeman who beat his wife and tried to reconcile with her.

On one day off, I ventured to New Milford with a friend/co-worker named Junior. The camp might have been dull, but the term "going to town" could NOT have possibly applied to New Milford. We got there at 11:AM. We saw that River Street was where the river was, Bank Street was where the bank was and that Center Street cut right through the middle of town.

Facing City Hall, there was a town square called The Green. It was a grassy rectangle with a raised gazebo on one end and a Revolutionary War era cannon on the other. Across from The Green, despite the stares we strangers encountered from the townsfolk, we ate a long lunch on Bank Street, in a ramshackle cafe. By one o'clock, we were back on the streets of small-town
U. S. A. and had completely taken in every point of interest it had to offer.


We turned onto River Street which was in the heart of the business district (if you could see what that town looked like 38 years ago, the phrase business district would be hard to say with a straight face). Surprisingly, River Street had a jewelry store which was next to a Laundromat. Through some shallow woods, you could see the little river in the gaps between the storefronts. On the other end of the roadway was the post office, a general store and Hurley's Bar. I thought it was kind of funny that in such a tiny municipality with so little commerce that Hurley's faced a real estate office that was attached in the same building to an Italian restaurant called Vesuvio's and another bar, coincidentally named Curley's.

Junior and I were both sixteen. Connecticut's drinking age was twenty-one and despite always looking older than I was...there was no way I could pass for twenty-one. Junior was six-three but he had a baby face.
He lit a Kool cigarette and said, "C'mon let's go for a drink."
It seemed exciting to go in and buy my first drink.
I said, "Okay."
He said, "Where should we go, Hurley's or Curley's?"

Coming from the bright sunshine, it was hard to see inside Hurley's. The Kingston Trio tune, "HANG DOWN YOUR HEAD TOM DOOLEY," was blaring from a transistor radio as we sauntered across the room. It was as if we had spurs on our sneakers because each step we took attracted more scrutiny from the three old-timers at the bar as well as the seventy-plus bartender. I guess they had a limited customer base or in summer, they were wary of underage patrons invading the joint, or maybe they were mesmerized by Junior's shaved head (way before head shaving was popular) or Junior was the first black man who EVER came in.

I wasn't as self assured as he was. I probably never finished a beer in my life and knew I was in over my head. Junior marched right to a stool and sat down. He then used his signature statement for calling people and summoned the bartender by saying , "Yo Zia."

The old bartender looked like a freight train conductor. He had thick wire-framed glasses, bib overalls and a blue gingham shirt as he limped over. His doubting stare was concentrated on Junior as he said, "Whaddya boys gonna have?" He called us boys, he was on to us and I was convinced that in any minute New Milford's finest was going to come in and some Don Knotts look-a-like patrolman named Cletis was going to slap the cuffs on us.

Junior smiled widely and said, "Rum and coke." It had never occurred to me, what to order. I was so nervous that I looked over my shoulder expecting a SWAT team to crash through the window and stick AK-47's in our faces. The barman impatiently said, "And you kid?" I knew we were cooked. In a cold sweat, I became flustered and couldn't think straight. "C'mon what do you want," he said. Looking for inspiration, I noticed the black screen of a small dusty TV mounted to the ceiling, a yellowed photo of baseball player Jimmy Piersall and then scanned the rows of liquor bottles. My throat was dry and all I could do was croak, "The same, sir."

I didn't relax even after we were alone. I stressed watching the bartender whisper to the other old men and I figured we were screwed. When another old geezer barged out from the restroom, I envisioned that he was leading a squad of Connecticut State Troopers emerging from the basement. I was so crazy with tension that I'm lucky I didn't soil myself. A minute later, the bartender delivered our drinks and said, "Sixty-five cents...each!"

Junior sucked his dry as if it was a Pepsi. I took a sip and thought I was getting poisoned. It was so sweet that I was nauseated. Even if I wasn't getting poisoned, I figured nothing so famous as a rum and coke could taste that bad. Certainly, the barman recognized us for what we were and wanted to teach us a lesson by loading it with bogus ingredients. I gave mine to Junior and it was downed in seconds.

At 1:20 we were back in the street. I was so relieved that the INS, ATF and IRS hadn't swooped down on us that I was tempted to get on my knees and kiss River Street.

The next week, a new McDonald's opened just out the other side of town, on I-84. I heard it was New Milford's event of the century! Ronald McDonald, a magician and a face-painter were all there. Plus there were games, drawings for free food and they were giving-out goldfish in baggies, hats, coloring books and other goodies.
I had had my fill of small town America and elected to miss-out on all the festivities. That day, I stayed on the camp's grounds and watched a cow give birth. Now THAT'S entertainment. Unfortunately because of that show, for a few days, I added milk to my list of drinks to avoid.

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