Thursday, July 05, 2012

The real world of Dirty Dancing

I have been reading some of the articles from the Catskill Institute. I arrived at the very end, and some of the famous places were closed when I arrived. I did stay at both the Concord and Grossingers as a guest. I stayed with my Grandparents at a bungalow on the site of the Hotel Gradus and visited them at the bungalow colony next to the Pines. I visited Stevensville and Kutshers many times.

The Catskill era was about a simpler time. Families went to a Hotel to be pampered. The food was excellent and the entertainment was world class. A comedian worked the pool and a Jazz Musician played his standards and the guests could have a meal on the patio on the pool where I worked for a few seasons.
I spent my nights at the coffee shop at a slow station or by the takeout area.

There were clear divisions between workers and guests. The owners didn't mind if the college students sunbathed on the cabana. An attractive 20 year old co-ed was a pleasant distraction and harmless. There were romances between the children of seasons guests and the college students. Most of the college students were from wealthy families.

There was an unwritten caste system. A college student could enjoy the cabana or was encouraged to visit the mixers on singles weekends. The next caste was the young townies. They were forbidden to be anywhere on the grounds. Romances between the college students and townies did happen but they were frowned upon by all. I found myself on the wrong end of one of these romances. When it went bad my heart was broken. Quietly while I went to school the hotel had fired this girlfriend. My heart was devastated and two young managers who were like sisters looked after me. To this day I remain grateful to Barbara and Dana who looked after me with my first broken heart. The girl was an alcoholic, but very beautiful. Even a local famous comedian quipped "hey kid why not make love to a bottle of cheap booze and cut out the middle man.." I always thought she was deceased but I found her name in a recent police report in Troy listed as homeless. A famous writers daughter who I thought of as flighty said "Beaky, she isn't for you. You are going on to other things and she will just drag you down and ruin you and kick you while you are down. The writers daughter was correct and in no definition flighty. She was a brilliant live wire who was smarter than you realized and had a huge heart. It was only in the Catskills that our paths would cross. She used drag me out when I wanted to work. I can't thank her because she passed away before her time in her 40's. I went to the funeral and sat near a neighbor who mistook me for a lawyer. I guess I don't carry the federal officer bit with bearing.

As a college student we lived and ate in different places than the others. There was a separate dinning area for the students. The place where the workers ate was called the bimi cafeteria. I loved the bimi cafeteria and looked forward on rare occasions eating the midnight meal with the workers. There were friends of mine who were stewards, security guards and others.  One special friend was named John Hyde who was a veteran of WW2. He was an army buddy of the owners nephew who ran the kitchen. He worked in the kitchen and described army life. He was a conservative who lived in the rooming house up the block. He worked in house keeping. One day in the eighties when I returned a security guard I used to chat with late nights told me "your friend died of a heart attack over the winter". I liked eating in the dreaded bimi cafeteria on the rare occasion I ate with the students it was usually the writers daughter dragging me kicking and screaming. I had a look that was frequently confused with a young Tony Curtis. It was not uncommon for one of the fellow students to take an interest and drag me around. They were beautiful special daughters from the best families, but my head was in a different place. I was really, not of their world as my family though locally prominent and respected was not in those stratospheres. I remember the writers daughter explaining to me everything was in my mind and I was one of them. Funny, but I didn't like the idea of being served. Later on when I lived briefly with a supermarket heiress I would create a stir by cooking my own meals and letting the cleaning woman eat with us. I learned the basics of cooking at the hotel and made world class meals on lower fifth where I lived briefly.

The building I lived in was called the Congress building. It was a short distance from the pool and coffee shop. The building was mostly similar college students. The exception were a famed Jazz musician in his later years, the planets best busboy who looked like Dan Hedaya and the infamous playboy I called Captain S. There was a notorious and nasty gay Captain who lived in the building. He used to try and peek
at the college students as they showered and was creepy. I later worked with many fine gay men in several jobs but this guy was seedy. The planets best busboy was a brilliant student who arrived in the 50's and never left. He hired me to help him out and was generous. His area had most of the season guest high rollers. One of them had two breath taking daughters and the youngest one went from ordinary to dreamy overnight. She was never snobby, but I kept my distance as her family was just in another world that I didn't belong in. The greatest busboy was someone I call the Great Mr. G. He was going to Brooklyn College and swore he couldn't learn languages. He stayed over the summer and promised he would go back to school thirty years later it never happened. He was a brilliant stock player and never needed to work. Somehow love never seemed to hit him and he just remained frozen in time collecting a huger portfolio and occasionally going to Florida on vacation. He got into a fight with the maitre d  a few years before the end and was spared seeing the last chapter.

The Captain across the hall was the planets most notorious playboy. He slept with everything but never more than once or twice. If a woman had a fantasy he lived it. He sunned himself on the cabana and went to Mambo night at the hotel up the road and every singles event at every hotel in the area. He literally farmed out his excess like an X rated version of Fonzi. His room had a mirrored foil and he had every novelty gag on the planet. We used to prank each other with stuff that was similar to MASH type stuff. Lets just say that the behaviors that went on there were on a par with XXX material from a cheesy porn flick. I can't ever complain about the guy as he used to set my social schedule. When my younger coworkers think I haven't lived a life of adventure I tell them about my days as a sometimes wing man of Captain S. Of course many of these people are sceptical and think that someone who behaved like the Captain should have been felled
by venereal disease, an outraged spouse or family member or psycho chick he picked up. The Captain stayed with the hotel until it ended and went to a resort in Florida where he remembers the good old days.
The captain was a real person who just defied every known law of mathematical probability. There were some younger college students he refused to sleep with because they were like kid sisters to him.  He has generations of new fans who think my descriptions are exaggerations. The secret was as a good hotel man the Captain grasped catering to his audiences desires and he did. He catered to whatever fantasies his women wanted. He was angry that a few times a woman he scheduled with me didn't bother with him when they returned. I guess my naive fresh enthusiasm had its uses. I was told that it had the illusion of something more but I was literally a #%$^^ buddy, but having someone who wasn't in a hurry to leave was appreciated. It wasn't real, but it conveyed the illusion of it. I was no angel and if my younger coworkers think they are all that they just would not think I was capable of doing things they only imagined with breath taking beauties.

The upper caste long term employees lived in an excellent place across the road from the employees entrance. No college students lived there to the best of my knowledge. It was a former hotel that was in much better condition than the congress building where I lived. Maybe the great Mr. G just came as a student and never left. The famous aging Jazz musician was a good friend who played a late night show would go to the coffee shop get a bite and go a short distance to the Congress building.

Long term employees who did menial jobs filled the next caste. I identified with these hard working simple folk. Most lived in town and had families. Underneath the huge kitchen they toiled in the pantry, bakery or butcher shop. The best of these were sent to the golf clubhouse or the patio kitchen. The most clean cut were sent there. Sometimes, I helped out in the pantry and met the Hispanics who ran the area in their chores. Later as a waiter they took good care of me. Many of these people were interesting. My cousin was a security guard and went onto a job as a correction officer in a facility nearby. I was friendly with many of the security guards as a result of that relationship. My cousin married a woman who worked behind the front desk.

The last caste were generously known as transients.  There were some dangerous criminals and I remember a young boss pointing out to me stay far away from that one, there is much you don't know. These transients lived in the bungalow down the road. I stayed there once when we had too many females in the congress building. By then I was a veteran at the Hotel and a tough customer. I didn't mind staying there but the folks in human resources moved me quickly. The workers drank and many were devoted to their cats.

Across the road was a former hotel where the really dangerous place. It was a former hotel that had a single entrance and was surrounded with a thick barbed wire fence. This place was so dangerous the security guards except for gung ho Nick never wanted to go there. When they went even former Vietnam vets went in pairs.  Allegedly, the place was full of drugs and violence. If you were homeless you could come here work as a dishwasher and make a few bucks for drugs or alcohol.

Down the road was a nasty bar where the hard core alcoholics would give the owner their whole paycheck. It was a nasty place down the road and some retirees were there. Oddly, when  the hotel was demolished and few structures remain this one is still there all boarded up. Across the road was the boarding house where my friend John Hyde lived.  That structure not only exists but appears in better shape than when John lived there.

Back towards the hotel was a bar that at one time was topless. Above it was a smaller hotel where some workers lived. It was said to be owned by the nasty son in law of the owner. His wife and daughter were such wonderful people. Some of the higher class transients lived there and there was plenty of alcohol and sexual activities of all type. This was where the ill fated girl of my romance lived with her breath taking red head sister. The sisters violent boyfriend fancied himself a drummer. They disappeared and I hope she ditched this guy as she was sweet in her own way.

The owners son in law was a Dr. and a first class jerk. He used to do an absurd physical. Lift your shirt drop your pants turn your head cough. He would frequently make rude comments. I joked that I had been through the physical so many times the Dr had probably seen my privates more than a few girl friends.

The owners sons were okay. The second one was just a decent guy who married an exceptional wife. His wife exuded beauty, grace, poise and charm. She was the queen of the hotel and her smile and warmth were genuine. She helped many people and her children had the best of her qualities.

In general my place in this world was probably higher on the food chain than I was aware of. Then again I was petrified of falling in love with a super wealthy girl and not fitting in that world. As a business scool student the townies were not really my world either. Some strange marriages too place that were the exception like a friends brother who married a sweet but slow coffee shop waitress. She really was a townie but her brother likely enjoyed her good natured personality.

Long term relationships between the seasons guests and the staff were frowned upon. There was no shortage of flings and people breaking every vow imaginable.

I miss those days and I am thankful to see it even if it was right before the curtain dropped.


Ducky's here said...

It would have been quicker to just read Goodbye Columbus.

beakerkin said...


When people think of that lost world
today they think of the entertainers
who tuned their acts there and Dirty Dancing. I am floored how even
Chinese immigrants with no English are floored by that film.

In that world a fling between a higher caste woman and a dance instructor would be no great deal.
There were plenty of adulterous liasions that I can attest to first hand. The husbands in many cases had their office flings. In the world of pre Anita Hill it was just a given and not all of it was non consentual.

Now when you get to an actual romantic relationship this stretches
the reality I knew. This type of stuff almost never happened even with the college students who in many cases were parentally approved.

Some of these parents were self made wealthy. They viewed hard working college students as soul mates for their spoiled children. The problem there was many of the students wanted nothing to do with
these daughters who were spoiled. A
smarter student would have realized
the connections go along way in life.

Then again there was so much sex being thrown at the workers it made
such a relationship tenuous at best.

The Captian was no dummy. While he did sleep with plenty of guests he tended to leave coworkers out of the mix. He viewed most of the college students as little sisters.
Those that approached him knew what he was about. To the best of my knowledge he avoided anything with long term coworkers.

The post is long, but it was not intended for the regular audience. It was left as a historical observation in case a curious person
wonders about the era.

I think tonight I will write a post
that is related about cinema and reality. When films are created they
tend to be superficial explorations
of a subject because you have 90 minutes to convey a story. Thus the world of the transients is unlikely to ever turn up in film. There just isn't time.

Now the reason for the failure of the TV series and the sequel to Dirty dancing is obvious. The sequel
was set in Havana and basically you
have seen the story before.

A TV series really needs more than just an improbable romance to hold
your attention. Thus there is room
for a TV show about the era. Unfortunately, the actual writers of such an enterprise really wouldn't have the grasp of the subject to convey it. There were plenty of archetypes like the all knowing Maitre D. The Owners wife who was in every way superior to Pricess Diana. She was grace, heart and brilliant without letting you know it. There was the sexual pirate
the Captain. Of course young students of all types. Spoiled sons and daughters of guests. Lonely singles desperate for Mr. Right but settling for Mr Right Now before they returned.

There were odd gangsters who passed in and out quickly. One would see this story line associated with the tansients.

I could probably write this type of sitcom but the story lines would be
too racy and end up on HBO. The Maitre D and the Owners Wife would be the voices of reason in contrast
to the debauched fun loving Captain.

Lets just say with some of the junk
on TV like Cop Rock it could hardly be worse.

Always On Watch said...

I am enjoying your "memoir" posts!

beakerkin said...


I was somewhat surprised that this ground was not covered by others. There are wonderful essays from many at the Catskill Institute.

Unfortunately while there are memoirs of owners, entertainers and guests there seems to be zero discussion about transients or even the long term workers like the cooks. Where did they go when it ended?

Most of the transients are likely dead as alcohol and drugs kill them rapidly.They never seem to make 60