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Catskills Notes


Jay and the Americans performed "Brown Eyed Girl" one New Year's Eve, I think at the Fallsview Hotel. Or maybe that year was Kutscher's, where the leaks in the roof had gotten so bad that paint buckets filling with water lined an unheated hallway between the main lobby and the dining room.

The Castkills! Every year between Christmas and New Year's. Whitefish on Sunday morning and shuffleboard all afternoon. The Catskills! Where my grandparents seemed not to notice the stains on the carpets and the bacon wasn't bacon (it was bacos, and I've never looked up what that is, out of a preference to leave certain things mysterious.

Disaster always befell us in these upstate New York mountains, these hotel mausoleums, falling apart at their seams. At the Concord, I fell and hit my head on the ice ten minutes after arrival and the paramedics had to come and check me for a concussion. On the same trip, my sister came down with a high fever and spent much of a weekend holed up in the room with my mother. When she did emerge to eat breakfast with us one morning, one of the servers spilled an entire tray of orange juice on her. She bore the brunt of the catastrophes. Fifty yards into our family's first (and last) experiment with cross country skiing, she cracked one of her half-century old wooden skis in half. My father had denied insurance. He instructed us to wait outside while he went into the hut, carried in the splintered ski, and screamed at the staff.

That was a particularly bad weekend for skiing. On the downhill slope later on that trip, my father and I -- distracted and bickering at the top of a lift -- dismounted directly off of a ten foot ledge, tumbled down a slope, and ended up in a pile of Aronstein. We were tangled enough that I had to remove not just the skis, but the ski boots to get free of him as he tried to strangle me.

One time, waiting in the lobby for dinner in my uncomfortable tweed jacket, my hair gelled to the side, one of the octogenarian guests -- perturbed at a comment about his age, or dementia, or the food, or the terrible accommodations, I guess -- screamed at his wife "You know why Jewish men die before their wives? They want to." And he stormed off, and she was crying, and I stood in the lobby, looking at the cracks in the ceiling and wondering why it was taking so long for my father to come out of the bathroom. Cinematic tears. In the fuzzy haze of ten-year-old memory, she had both hands on her face and her shoulders heaved.

"Jesus, what the hell happened here?" my father asked when he came out of the bathroom.

"I think she's mad at her husband," I said.

"That'd figure," he said. "By the way, don't tell your mother, but a slab of the ceiling almost just killed me in there."

There was dust on his suit jacket.