Stories of a Short Gay Camper
Stories of a short gay camper
By Rick Landman
As presented at the Camp Tarigo Reunion August 21, 2005
The following memories were presented at the Camp Tarigo Reunion on August 21, 2005 in the heart of the Catskills Mountains. Basically it is the venting of a short, unathletic, Jewish son of two Holocaust Survivors who was sent to a jock-inspired camp with his older brother (the All Around Camper type). I was there from 1961-1967 from the ages of 9 to 15. The stories are not in any particular order, this was just a random flow of consciousness.
How did the Reunion Come About?
Back in 1997, when the internet was coming in its own, I discovered Yahoo People Search and tried a unique name that popped into my mind. It was my camp buddy from 1961, Michael Yoss. I figured how many Yosses could there be? Well there was one in Atlanta Georgia and I called him up and he remembered me too. He commented that it was too bad that there was no Website for Camp Tarigo and the idea stuck in my mind.
That semester I took a course at NYU in HTML and as a class project I made a small website for Camp Tarigo. To my surprise I was getting hits from people who were searching for the words Camp Tarigo and mine was the only site that popped up. So I placed a Guestbook on my site and before long there were people asking for a Reunion. In 1997 I booked a block of rooms at the Nevele for August 2000. Over 250 people showed up and that is how the first Reunion came to be. So many people wanted another Reunion and so many new people only found out about the website years later that I agreed to do another Reunion in 2005.
This time with an email list of hundreds of names and everyone knowing about it for years, only around 75 people showed up, costing me around $4,600 for empty rooms in the block that I reserved. But that is another story in itself.
Neg Nord Nud
My parents sent me to a fine camp for athletically motivated children. My problem was that I was sports-challenged. I hated being rejected in the team selection process and then sitting in the outfield under a hot sun praying that no one would hit a ball to me so that I wouldn’t make a fool of myself. Every year as you will learn, I tried my best to find ways to get out of playing all together.
I hit on a great idea during my senior year in camp. There was a group that was started a few years earlier by my brother’s friends. It was called Neg Nord Nud and basically was a put-down for a bunch of nebbishes. But during my senior year, I turned it into a proper fraternity. I learned early on that the best way to get included into a group is to start it yourself!
So the first thing that I did was make a logo and flag for the Neg Nord Nud. The laundry got blamed for losing one pillow case that year. But we had a flag. Now I needed something from which to hang the flag… a flagpole! Something I could raise and lower the flag myself each day.
You see, raising and lowering the American flag from the camp’s main flagpole was a great bi-daily honor. One that I only got to do once in eight years. So with my own flagpole we would have a symbol of recognition for Neg Nord Nud and I could have the honor every day.
I went to the Nature and the Arts & Crafts counselors and was given a saw and hatchet and went out on the path towards the Indian Village in search of a tree. I found one and chopped it down. I do not remember if I carried it back or if the camp had a truck drag it.
But I do remember learning how to remove the bark and branches, and schmer on creosote with a brush and rag. Now we have to use gloves and goggles, etc. since the material is carcinogenic, but at that time no one knew. The whole idea would be a nightmare in today’s world of insurance and negligence lawsuits. Once the tree was covered with creosote, I dug the hole and attached the ropes and hooks, etc. The camp used a truck to help me raise the trunk of the tree and slide it into the hole, and then we poured concrete into the hole.
Now I had my own flagpole for Neg Nord Nud, and they still wanted me to re-join the campers for baseball games. So I started phase 2 of the project, namely making a Sundial. It was actually a great learning experience. First I had to find 12 large flat stones down by the lake and carry them up to the Arts & Crafts building. There I painted them white and placed a black Roman Numeral on top. Then I placed them equally on the ground like a clock. Whoops. That was when I learned the difference between a clock and a sundial.
On sunny days, I had to be at the pole every hour to be able to place the stone in the proper place. I would read a book during the rest of the 59 minutes. It was wonderful. On rainy days I didn’t have to worry about playing sports anyway. It was the best summer of all the eight years that I attended Tarigo. My parents should only know that they spent over $700 for me to build a flagpole.
The No Swim List
Every morning after breakfast I would make my bed and sweep the bunk and then head up the hill to go to the infirmary. It was a large wooden lodge past the Arts & Craft building next to the tennis courts. You would have to sit outside on the porch as the other campers went in to be seen. Each morning I would have to think up another ailment to get on to the all important “No Swim List”. One day at the end of July, while I was contemplating if I had too many stomach aches or ear aches or head aches that week, I heard one of the young girls just walk in and tell the nurse, “It’s my time of the month” and she automatically went on the “No Swim List”. She didn’t even have to give an excuse to the doctor. I figured that everyone gets one free day each month not to have to go into that cold icky lake.
The nurse that year was Art Buchwald’s sister. A pleasant short woman with a kind smile and dark hair and eyes. So when it was my turn, I just walked up to her and said, “It’s my time of the month” and expected to be placed on the list and go back to reading my comic books. Instead she smiled at first and then realized that I didn’t understand what was going on. I was only nine years old and only understood some of the facts of life. Well, she took me into the office and explained to me the difference between how boys and girls worked. I remember telling everyone about this revelation in the bathroom that night before we went to sleep. Who says camp wasn’t educational?
Visiting Day – A Corvair in a sea of Cadillacs
Visiting Day was always special. All of the parents would drive up to the camp and bring “care packages” and watch us play sports. Even I would play sports on that day when I was younger. Sometimes it was the first time for that year. The parking lot looked like a sea of Cadillacs with one gold Corvair in the field. My family owned the Corvair.
On Visiting Day the camp was at its cleanest, and the camp owners tried their best to put their best face forward. The last year that I was there I was a waiter and Carol, the owner wanted us to not only serve the campers food, but also to clean toilets. That was where I drew the line since my parents were paying for this privilege of working as a waiter. So I went to the owner on the day before Visiting Day and told her that the waiters would walk out on strike if she continued with this idea of us cleaning toilets. We won our first labor victory. We didn’t have to clean anyone else’s toilets for the rest of the summer.
On Visiting Day parents would bring up “Care packages” for their children. My parents would bring me a new supply of Archie and Superman comic books and a German salami and licorice and fizzies, etc. But other campers got more elaborate packages. I remember one year a camper got a real cotton candy machine. The mice were in heaven. They also got their own row boat delivered by parcel post a few days later so that they would not have to wait their turn, but could have their own boat in the lake whenever they wanted to go boating.
Through the woods to grandmother’s hotel I go
My grandparents used to stay at a hotel in Pine Hill for the summer during the 1950’s and 1960’s. It was a simple hotel on the other side of the mountains from Fleischmanns. The older that I got the more frequent were my escapes to grandma and grandpa. I would drop to the end of the line while walking towards the lake or ballfields and then run for the woods. I could follow a path down to town without actually going on the asphalted road. This way if the counselors realized that I was gone and cared, they couldn’t pick me up as I walked down the road to town. Once in town I would head towards the Gulf Gas Station and wait for the Pine Hill-Kingston Bus to come and take me to the next town which is where my grandparents were. They were so happy to see me that they never really questioned how I got there. We would have lunch together and a special steak dinner and then they would call up the camp to pick me up. I think the camp was too embarrassed to say that they didn’t know that I ran away, so they would just come and pick me up and I would say that I wouldn’t do it again. But I did whenever things got too intense and I needed a break. Today I really appreciate the memories of those trips to visit my grandparents. I cherish them more than the memories of sitting on the benches during basketball games. I was usually the score keeper since I was too short and tired to run back and forth during the game.
Making beds for overnight trips
The counselors hated overnight trips, canoe trips, field trips, etc. and those were my favorite things. I liked walking in the woods at night or going away for a trip. So I usually had to do a lot of manipulating to get people to go. I remember one year making everyone’s beds and sweeping the bunk for my fellow campers and helping David Wadro pack in order to go on one of the overnights at the Indian Village. I loved sitting around the camp fire hearing stories about the Cropsey maniac and throwing cans of “bug juice” (actually fruit punch drink) into the fire and waiting for it to explode. Now that would be considered a terrorist training activity. Years later Iremember driving my car on the Belt Parkway and passing an exit in Brooklyn called Cropsey Avenue and wondering if the maniac story was just made up? Most of my counselors came from Brooklyn after all.
Praying for Rainy Days
Everyone else hated rainy days, but not me. On sunny days we had to go swimming and play ball, but on rainy days we could go to Arts & Crafts or the Rec. Hall for roller skating or games. Sometimes they played dodge ball and that didn’t bother me much because I would just go up and get hit and then spend the rest of the day exploring the building. I would climb up to the light booth on top of the stage or just sit around smoozing. We actually were scheduled to go to Arts & Crafts on sunny days once and a while but the counselors would take a vote if we wanted to play an extra ball game instead, and they would usually carry the vote. But some of my best memories were sitting under a tree and making a blue and white lanyard that matched my favorite bathing suit.
Girlfriend with benefits
Wednesday night was Movie Night. When you were younger you would watch the “Flower Drum Song” at the Rec. Hall, but when you got older, and if you had a girlfriend, you could go down the road to town and see a real movie at the Onteora Theater. I loved the walk back up the hill in the dark. It was sort of scary and exciting and I could play my favorite game of “escape from the Nazis”.
So early on I learned that having a girl friend came with benefits. Not the kind of benefits that kids consider today, but the ability not to stay on the campus and to get down to town for movies.
Deep Water Test
I am not a good swimmer. Actually, I hate the water and get very tired quickly. So for years I had to go to the lake and stay in what they called the “Crib”. It was the area of the dock closet to the shoreline where the babies swam. My parents would pay the counselors an extra tip if they would teach me how to swim, but I would give them my candy bars if they would let me skip the lessons, and you already heard how I used the infirmary to get out of the daily swim most days.
Well, my older brother was dating one of the female waterfront counselors. Her name was Zena and she had a younger cute sister named Carol. I dated Carol. We went to the movies together and I even gave her my ID bracelet.
As I was now around 12 years old, I was embarrassed to be in the “Crib”, but couldn’t pass the “Deep Water Test”. In order to do that you had to swim out to the first raft, then the second raft, then the water slide and back without stopping. So after Carol complained to her sister that her boyfriend couldn’t join in on any swim activities with her, she persuaded her to give me a private test. When everyone else went back to the bunks I jumped in to the water and swam to the first raft and got up and rested for a while and then jumped in again and swam to the second raft and rested etc. I finally got back to the dock and Zena told me that I passed the “Deep Water Test”. My parents were so proud, and it looked like I knew how to swim. To this day, I hate cold water swimming and can only swim on my back or side stroke. If it involves breathing in the water, forget about it.
Some of the most exciting nights involved escaping from the bunk at 2 am and visiting the girls’ bunk for a “raid”. This wasn’t like a fraternity raid where panties were stolen, it was a semi-sensual raid where boys would meet their “girlfriends”. Since I loved going to the movies in town and loved the middle of the night raids, I tried to always have a girlfriend.
I would be one of the main organizers for the raid. I was always good at planning. We would not put on our pajamas, but would keep our clothes on when we went to sleep. It was usually my job to wake up in the middle of the night and wake the others. Then we would try to slip out without waking up our counselors or the other campers. I think we woke them up, but they pretended not to know.
Then we would open the squeaky door and make sure that it would not slam shut and then run around the back of the bunks like prisoners of war about to escape Stalag 17. When we got to the bunk we would try to open the door without making much noise and then find our girlfriends’ beds without waking up their counselors. Again, I think that they pretended not to hear us entering.
I would bring a deck of cards or just talk, but the others said that they would cope a feel and would usually leave the bunk with the obligatory gesture of closing one’s zipper. But I doubt that much went on. Then we would sneak up before the sun rose to try to get back into bed without waking anyone else.
I loved the early morning smells and sounds and the excitement of doing something wrong. It also played into my Holocaust mentality of fleeing from the enemy.
I was at camp for 8 years and I was on the losing Color War team for the first 7 years. During those years I actually did try to win. But the last year, my brother was the General for the other team, and I thought it was more important that he won as general, then I won as a misfit. So I really didn’t try to hard. I even think that I blew away the riflery competition on purpose.
But the second to last night of the War the camp played a game called Human Anagrams. Each camper would get a letter to hold and the judges would ask each team a question, and the first team to spell out the answer correctly, would win the points.
The question was what are the basic building blocks of nature. I jumped up and told our leaders that it was DNA. So we got the “D” and the “N” and the “A” person up, but were told that we had to spell out the entire word. No one else knew what it was but me. So I slowly went up to people and made them turn their letters towards their chest and spelt out “Deoxyribonucleic acid”. Then at my signal everyone turned their letters over and we won the game.
The next morning was the first and only time that I rose the American flag at the main gathering before breakfast in honor of my skill at the game. I don’t know who raised the flag for Neg Nord Nud that day. I probably raised both flags that day. But that year, I won Color War and my brother lost.
Wayne’s bed next to me- baseball glove
Every year I always slept in the same bunk position. My bed was next to the windows furthest away from the bathroom, with a counselor on one side and the most attractive boy on the other side. When we would get out of the bus, I would rush up the hill and usually be the first one in the bunk and would choose the bunk. It seems that a baseball glove could actually be useful. If you would leave it on a bunk, it counted as a reservation. So I would reserve the bed until a cute boy came in and then I would take it off and help the boy with his bags. It worked every year. For the first few years Jake slept next to me and then Wayne did. Another strange fact is that both Jake and Wayne had the same girlfriend (Robyn). I haven’t figured that one out yet.
Playing Far Rightfield
Sports were not my thing. Baseball was especially not my thing. But being so tiny, it was impossible for a pitcher to be able to throw a ball and have it come across between my elbow and knees. That would only leave about 4 inches and a major league pitcher would have a hard time doing that. So after a few years at camp, my reputation would get around and people knew that was not athletic. I would be placed on the ”B” team or even later on on the “C” team. Only one problem, there were not enough campers for 3 sets of teams. So I was a permanent fixture in out out right field. It was the theoretical place were some lefty might hit if he was a major league player. I rarely would have to catch anything or throw anything, so it was a safe place to be. I would sit with my glove next to me and read my comic books. If a ball would get by the right fielder I would hear people yelling at me to put down the comic book and get the ball and throw it to someone. I hated those days. I throw like a heterosexual girl. It would go ten feet and drop on the ground. I would then have to run and pick it up again and try to throw it further. I could have walked it back to home place faster. So the hitter usually had a home run if it got out to me.
But then it would come my teams turn at bat. But I also remember days when I was the official out out right fielder for both teams and wouldn’t have to even come in to hit anything at all. But usually at Color War they would make me play a real game.
So we had an unofficial rule. If I wanted to walk, all I would have to do is stand still and not swing at any ball. The pitcher would not be able to throw 3 strikes in between my elbows and knees. So I would walk to first base. If I would try to swing, then I would strike out after three attempts.
So I would negotiate with the team if I was to walk or strike out. It depended on the weather and how interested I was in the game that day.
I’m not going!
Although this story does sound terrible, I am including it because it is the first time that I remember that my parents apologized to me for part of my upbringing and it involved Camp Tarigo. As I said, I felt like a stranger in a strange land most of the time at camp. I was not athletic, or straight or comfortable there most of the time. By the third year I really disliked the idea of going to camp and I asked if I could skip it all together. My parents agreed to my pleas and said that I didn’t have to go. I looked forward to staying home and playing in my garden and watching television.
I watched how my parents and brother packed his trunk and felt happy that I didn’t have to participate in that endeavor. Little did I know that my trunk was being packed next door and stored there for the its pick up.
When the day of departure arrived, my parents asked me to get into the car to drive to Valley Streams parking lot to say good bye to Bobby. I did and even looked forward to seeing a few friends and wasn’t nervous at all, because I thought that I would be coming back home that day with my folks.
The buses were all there and the campers were milling around and I said good bye to Bobby, when an older man with a clipboard came up to me and asked me my name. I said, “Ricky Landman, but I’m not going to camp this year.”
He looked at the clipboard and said, “Your name is on my list. I’m Artie Barrel and I’m your counselor.”
I ran to my folks who now came clean and explained how it was hot in the City (pre-air conditioning days) and how I really didn’t have any friends at home anyway and how I’d make new friends at camp. And that I was going! It wasn’t a pretty scene, but I did get on to the bus and went to camp that year.
The lesson of this story is that it took a few decades, but my folks have apologized for the way they handled this situation. It is nice to know that they are not perfect, but that is the only really bad thing that I can think of that they did. So all in all, they were really good parents and I respect that they could apologize for their mistake.
“They are the Queers of TARIGO"
One of the sadder things that I remember is a cruel song that the counselors made up concerning some of my fellow campers. Being in the closet I was afraid to make too much of a stink over the song. It went like this:
They are the queers of Tarigo you hear so much about, there’s XXXX, XXXX and then there’s XXXXXX. They’re all so close, they’re all so near, that’s because they’re so god damn queer. Hail, hail the gangs all here and we welcome you to Tarigo.
40 years later and it still bothers me. Oddly enough, I have spoken to all three people listed in the song and two are gay today. So people were able to tell that we were gay at 10 years old. The third is straight, so they were off base on that one.
The NRA and my Draft Board
This story was not mentioned at the Reunion, but it is one of my favorites.
At camp there were very few things that I did well. Riflery was one of them. I seemed to have a knack for walking up the hill next to the infirmary carrying a 22 caliber rifle and shooting a some poor piece of paper. Each time I went I would score high enough for a little badge or certificate and at the end of the year I would get a pin from the NRA. That is right. My Jewish summer camp gave the honor to say that I am a Sharpshooter 3rd bar from the National Rifle Association.
Now speed up a few years to my college days and my need to go to the Draft Board and register for the military services. I was already the president of the Gay Liberation Front in my college, but the Draft Board didn’t care. All they wanted to know is if I could shoot. I knew I could because I was a sharpshooter with a NRA pin, but I told the man that I wouldn’t shoot at someone who was cute. He told me that I would only have to shoot at “gooks”. Then I told him that I was attracted to short men.
Even though my lottery number was 8 and others my age had to go to Viet Nam, I started college so early in my life that I got a retroactive 1-H deferment and didn’t have to join the army as long as I stayed in school.
Hot Pie Watermelon
My brother’s name is Bobby Landman, but they called him Lance. This was a bit confusing because there was a Lance in camp, but to make matters worse, my first year at camp people called me “Little Lance”. They figured that since I was Bobby’s kid brother that I was also athletic and interested in sports and girls. I wasn’t.
After lunch we had a nice rest hour followed by a period of sports and then Hobby Hour. I liked Hobby Hour as much as the rest period after lunch. You could read comic books, or do nothing, or go to Arts & Crafts or the Nature Lodge etc. But that was also when they had another round of baseball called “Hot Pie Watermelon”. The name came from what they would give the winning team. You would win either a piece of hot pie, or a piece of watermelon.
The teams were for all ages from 8-15. Since people thought that I was “Little Lance” they put me on their team that first year. Poor fools! Not only did I hate giving up my Hobby Hour, but I stunk at ball.
The problem got resolved the next year. I just denounced that Bobby was my brother. I told people that we weren’t even related. We just had the same last name. I was no longer pressured to play at “Hot Pie Watermelon” and could go to Arts & Crafts or pick up a comic book (or regular book) and read under a tree until I would fall asleep. That is still one of my favorite things to do.
By the way, I also read the Source by James Michener one summer. I remember getting it for my Bar Mitzvah. That was a special year for me. I remember helping out with the fake color war break because the book had so many great names for phony teams.
The Milk Bar
After dinner and after the evening activity we would walk by this little gazebo like booth next to the Head Counselor’s Cabin called the “Milk Bar”. At night, only if your parents asked, you were given milk before you went to sleep. I think it was meant for skinny campers, but my folks were nice enough to put my name on the list so I would be able to get a carton of chocolate milk every night. I was the chubbiest little kid getting chocolate milk every night, but it was one of the things that I liked best about the camp.
Actually, the food wasn’t so bad at all. I still remember the taste of the drinks, the hot cocoa on cold days, rolls with butter, wheatena, Chinese food and even pizza. But I didn’t like the pizza much. It was hard and a bit bland.
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