The Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Fires
Death of Denial
|Many types of smoke signals came from this Indian.|
I believe the statutes of limitations on getting in serious trouble have finally passed allowing me to admit there were several elements of unseemly behavior mixed in among the well meaning, if lunatic, other Up the Lake activities. Due to the nature of these tales, the participants shall not be named, for protection in case I am wrong about those statutes…or their parents are reading this. Although that hardly matters, as the only one who usually got in serious trouble was me. Honestly, I’d get punished for things those who shall not be named did which I had no part.
One evening two guys who shall not be named drove away from the Up the Lake mountain completely to link up with girls they’d met previously. (So they told me. We never seemed to meet girls when I was with them. I’m sure my own less than stellar solo record had something to do with that.) With them gone, I went to bed. Their parents were understandably concerned at having no idea where the hell they could be. My folks stopped in to ask if I knew their location. I told them I didn’t. In my defense, this was a true statement, because I obviously had no idea where they went when they actually did meet girls. Those who shall not be named came home exceedingly late into the evening, and their parents’ initial anger was blunted by deflecting jokes provided by an older sibling, who shall not be named, until the whole thing got laughed off. Me? I got in a giant amount of trouble for my technically accurate, but incomplete answer. (And they wondered why I never met any girls.)
Speaking of being in trouble, about the worst I ever got in was when I was accused of “drinking with one of the older guys.” I was completely incensed and offended by this accusation, mostly because by that point in our lives, the older guy who shall not be named was drinking with us. The more judgmental types will have to remember that it was a very different time. Almost every one of my Up the Lake crowd, who shall not be named, had older siblings or cousins, who also shall not be named (even though most of them were named "Joe"). These family members were from the generation that still remembered the eighteen year old drinking age, and were accustomed to an amount of teen imbibing that guaranteed “dry party” laws by the time I reached college. Their actions raised these laws to such an extent that alcohol was only allowed if you were in your room, alone, with the shades drawn, the lights out, and the phone stuffed in the refrigerator. These older relations, more than merely a supply source, also passed down their wisdom of acquisition to our group who shall not be named. Therefore by the time I was the age where I got caught, we had our own supply system covered. Getting busted worked out pretty well for college, above and beyond the dry laws, to help me focus on my studies. I didn't really drink anywhere else to begin with, and I have been told by a different group of those who shall not be named, that whenever I was offered a beer freshman year, I would appear to be about to accept it, and suddenly look like I had been slapped by an invisible hand, before refusing. Up the Lake also provided the skills and experience to prevent me from being one of the "first time sloshed" folks staggering and collapsing in the dorm hallway, and allow me to be one of the "steer the wandering inebriates out of harm's way" folks.
Yes, there was teenage drinking. I know, I know, this is a terrible surprise. At least it might be a surprise to anyone who witnessed my unparalleled skills at walking in a straight and confident line through the kitchen to my toothbrush on nights when it felt like the entire cabin was pitching like the S.S. Minnow. (Or possibly to anyone living in an industrial strength, extra thick mental bubble - at a level capable of generating questions like, “The Village People are gay?” - anyway.)
As “the good kid” (and more importantly, as the kid imbued with a healthy dose of fear about getting caught) I ended up learning a great deal about acquisition methods from those who shall not be named, which I would never have been exposed in my everyday life. (Starting, I believe, with the classiest and most posh of drinks: a communally shared Tupperware container full of gin.) In order to honor their abilities, I shall only detail one of their more basic systems.
The idea of taking only one beer per cabin (to avoid anyone noticing) worked only under certain conditions:
1) Choosing large, frequently refilled supplies.
2) Choosing coolers in out of the way places.
3) Choosing cabins that DO NOT keep a running count of what they have.
My cabin didn’t fall under ANY of these considerations. Sadly “those who shall not be named” were also, frequently, “those who did not listen to me explaining why their plans wouldn’t work.” Normally my explanations would involve which laws of physics they were trying to violate. In this case however, there were a couple of mornings after I hadn’t been with those who shall not be named where no physics violations were required to make it pretty tense when Dad noticed his count was off. (It also got tense later on when I relayed the morning tenseness to those who shall not be named, who would laugh at me – doing very little to decrease the tenseness.) Of course the number, fullness, and unguardedness of coolers around any of the Up the Lake parties made this trick rarely needed when hunting for beer, Champaign, or really anything marginally less volatile than Kerosene on those nights.
I won’t reveal any other secrets, except to state that I believe there are certain cabins which shall not be named where any adult who got drunk off of vodka, gin, or any other clear alcohol that one who shall not be named might say looked indistinguishable from water, was most definitely faking it.
While the least experienced, I did have one advantage in this non-approved pursuit: SIZE. A textbook tall and husky lad, I weighed as much as several of those who shall not be named combined. One skill I acquired fairly early on, due solely to the volume my oversized head could contain, was the ability to chug. In extreme cases I was faster than less cool members of the older generation who shall not be named. (Man, that scrawny guest dude looked like a frothy human geyser while he choked as I finished a nip when he was only half done…a truly proud moment, shared only with those who shall not be named.)
The greatest advantage of my size was combined with my natural paranoia. Because any alcohol was rationed evenly, I’d have proportionately less in my system to start with. That ratio mixed with the abject fear that would arise when those who shall not be named decided to do something dangerous, attention grabbing or unsanitary (often all three). In these cases I could snap back to soberness almost immediately, and usher, escort, or in extreme cases, physically lift and carry those who shall not be named to safer pastures.
People who are shaking their heads in abject disappointment and disgust at our behavior (Hi, Mom!) will be happy to know that there were instances of divine retribution. In an attempt to be mature, adult style fisherman, we hid a Michelob in the tackle box of one who shall not be named when the two of us went fishing on a beautiful, clear but cool afternoon. The temperature prevented anyone from swimming that day, yet we still had to be on full alert due to possible other fishermen who shall not be named. Therefore, the two of us took to the very mature and adult practice of trying to squoonch down as low as possible in the bathtub sized and shaped boat, which shall not be named, to pass back and forth, and drink the mature and adult beer. A large black cloud appeared over the far end of the lake, leading us to comment on how lucky we were that it was passing quickly. Imagine our shock at the divine comedy of an identical large black cloud that arrived and held its position directly over our little craft. The cloud brought with it (along with the laughter of the almighty) hellacious winds blowing in every direction at once and marble sized hail. The combination of the unstable boat in the storm, the squoonching, and the panicked rowing and screaming meant we were wearing most of the Michelob by the time we reached the dock. Sadly, we had to turn down a ride up to the cabin from the adult who shall not be named that pulled into shore ahead of us. We then climbed the hill at a leisurely pace, allowing the thunderous downpour to rinse the mature and adult smell off our teenaged hide, while the good Lord continued to pelt us with hailstones.
Another area that was viewed much differently than today is smoking. Yes, I know smoking is bad for you, anyone around you, and apparently anyone you’ve ever met. However, the anti-smoking sentiment in this country has reached irrational proportions. Disney movies, such as Pinocchio and Dumbo, have warnings about the evils of smoking portrayed in them before the films start. This is amazing, as there are no warnings about the evils of vandalism, riot level brawling, or threatening to chop someone up with an axe (Pinocchio) or the evils of intoxicating, throwing out a window and setting on fire an innocent infant animal (Dumbo). Kids my daughter’s age, when shown old films, ask in horror and disgust,
“Why is everyone smoking in this movie?”
“BECAUSE EVERYONE SMOKED!”
The past can’t be changed through censorship, digital editing, or rewriting history. It can only be understood and the knowledge applied to change the present. (OK, I’ve started to annoy even myself with this rant. Moving on…)
All of those who shall not be named smoked, I didn’t. This is not because of some keen insight into pulmonary health, or because my parent’s didn’t. (That would make acquisition slightly more difficult, but in those days far from impossible, as will be seen shortly.) I didn’t smoke because I was banned by those who shall not be named.
We were sitting atop Indian Rock, a spot chosen for the same reason all of our overgrown, bug infested, undersized hang outs were chosen: it was mostly out of sight of the parents. In the middle of the worst drought in years I tried to join in and light one up with those who shall not be named. A combination of my inexperience with sticking burning leaves in my mouth (thank you Bob Newhart) and my general spasticness when applied to paper matchbooks led to a near disaster. I managed to simultaneously cough and fumble with the matches sending the cigarette off the sheer cliff like edge of Indian Rock, where it landed in a pile of what was about to become some SERIOUSLY burning leaves.
One who shall not be named lept in free fall over the side into the pile, and performed a woodland flamenco to put them out. He then clambered back up across over a dozen feet of Native American face shaped stone, grabbed the remaining matches from my hand and yelled, “YOU! You can’t smoke anymore!”
Actually, since he likely not only saved the entire joint from burning down but also my lung oxygen capacity, this one shall be named… Thanks Nick!
By the way, there are aspects of smoking that can be beneficial.
In certain cases, smoking enhances the frequency and duration of cardiovascular exercise. In order to avoid repeatedly having to explain the large rectangular growth under his sock, one who shall not be named would engage in the following:
Every day- he would hide his cigarettes in his sister’s purse.
Every day- he would manage to get into an unparalleled screaming match with his sister (who also shall not be named).
Every day- at the height of the argument his sister would throw his entire pack into the lake.
Every day- he would fish the pack out of the lake and lay them in the sun in hopes of drying them to the point of usability.
Every day- he would try to light the newly crispy dry cigarettes, and they would flare up and burn away, cartoon like, almost instantly.
Every day- his friends (all of us who shall not be named…except me, obviously, not like there’s a ghost writer working here) would pick up the cigarettes one at a time and flick them lightly, causing large brown and white showers of confetti.
Every day- we would have to walk to the Three Mile Stand in order for him to buy a new pack…which he would hide in his sister’s purse the next day.
For a while, the Three Mile Stand was closed for refurbishment and we had to walk to other stores, in one case SEVEN miles away. As you can see, smoking gave us much more exercise than we would have otherwise had. (As a non smoker, I still didn’t complain, as the Stand sold comic books…we all have our addictions.)
This supposedly bad habit also encouraged creativity and inventiveness. I remember watching one who shall not be named studiously write a single word as neatly as possible on a piece of paper, and fold it carefully into a pocket that shall not be named. As we walked the three miles (which would be the distance to the Three Mile Stand - frankly, I don’t care what your GPS or odometer says, it’s three miles…so zip it) he practiced over and over again pronouncing “Marlboro” incorrectly, in order to pretend to read it off the paper that his “mother” provided so that he could buy them “for her.” If only he’d used his powers for good…think of the benefits to society! Of course, based on the frequency of our visits, and his propensity to often light up on the porch on our way out (when he finally got his hands on some non lake dipped smokes), the ruse may not have worked on the counter clerk, who shall not be named. (It was a different time.)
The creativity came out in other strange ways as well. Before heading to the beach one who shall not be named called out, “Can you get my c…,” and before he could get to the “igarettes,” his mother, who shall not be named, walked into the cabin. He spread the opening sound of the word out for about an hour, until he brilliantly completed it with,
For that summer, and only that summer, the code words for cigarettes became Suntan Lotion. We who shall not be named milked this for all it was worth. Such freedom was found to discuss the secret vice in front of anyone. The code even extended to include extra items.
“I’ve got the suntan lotion but I can’t find the cap.”
“The cigarettes are in the purse, but I have no matches.”
It may have even reached the point where twist on or snap caps would designate the difference between a lighter and matches. It was brilliant, it was perfect, and it was unbreakable…
Except that we used it just as frequently at night. Add in the ability to see the glowing tip of a butt from nearly a mile away at night in the woods, and I’m starting to wonder how many adults we actually fooled; especially after hearing the following exchange from two Dads who shall not be named when I passed a party on my way from one of our secluded rocks,
“Look at those two idiots smoking over there. They think we can’t see them.”
Did I mention it was a different time?
Of course, I managed to nearly get in trouble for smoking once, even though I didn’t. All I can figure is I was holding a cigarette for someone who shall not be named when they were climbing out of the boat or attempting to unsnarl my reel again. Perhaps I held one in order to flick it into confetti. My grandfather informed my mother that someone had seen me smoking out on the lake. After a bit of explanation I cleared my name and we found out who the informer was. He shall be named, because his name was Mike Fish. Mike lived in the cabin up the hill from us with his wife, Jean Fish. This is what everyone called him throughout my entire childhood, and well before. It never occurred to me that it was only his nickname. (Especially since there was a Mrs. Fish.) I didn’t find out that wasn’t his real last name until many years later. My mother, who shall not be named, explained that he got the name from his job. This confused me even further and I asked.
“Didn’t he work as a school custodian?”
She answered, “Yes, but owned a store before that.”
“Ah,” I cleverly replied, “What kind of store?”
“A chicken market.”
OK, now I forgot what I was talking about.
|A fire in it's natural habitat.|
While I lacked some other rule breaking abilities, I was definitely part of those who shall not be named when it came to making fires outside of their natural habitats of shopping carts in fireplaces. We made fires everywhere.
I’m not sure if that statement was clear enough…
We made fires EVERYWHERE.
This is not counting accidental ones, like my previously mentioned coughing fit. This is also not counting experiments by those who shall not be named gone awry. An example of the latter would be when the ash tray containing the flaming nail polish remover flipped unceremoniously off of the kitchen table on to the floor of a cabin which shall not be named. While I was focusing on stopping the one who shall not be named from getting a gallon of water to throw on it, the other who shall not be named decided to try to stomp it out. Before I could finish saying, “Don’t step on it, it’ll …”
He slid his sneaker across it, tripling the area of the floor covered with burning liquid.
That year’s drought worked in our favor, since there was enough dry, dusty dirt outside to smother the thing before it damaged the linoleum that shall not be named.
Accidents like that were surprisingly few and far between. (Especially considering the drinking and smoking mentioned above.) The reason for this is all of us who shall not be named were well versed in campfire making and controlling craft from the moment we were able to say the word “marshmallow”.
The size of our fires varied by location. Any fire could potentially be viewed from several cabins if in locations such as Indian Rock, the Rocks off the fields, or the Throne Rock atop the Rock Mountain behind our kitchen. (While very creative in rule violation pursuits, we were less creative when it came to naming things.) Therefore, in those spots, the fire was tiny and usually contained in a hubcap rescued from the dump. Though small, they burned very hot and efficient, insuring a minimum of smoke to prevent any long distance visibility. Clean up was always complete, and (with the exception of the occasional cave painting like charcoal marks on the rocks) left nary a trace.
When we were well out of eyeshot (being a relative term, since there isn’t really anywhere up there completely out of eyeshot) the fires got bigger. We had full size bonfires on multiple occasions down at the beach, where our mere presence after dark was a major rule violation. Always completely in control, and thanks to the lake itself and the borrowing of sand toys left at the beach by small children who shall not be named, even less evidence remained behind than the small fires. Each log was thoroughly splashed, soaked and finally submerged before being hidden back in the woods. Each bit of ash was spread to the four winds, or buried in holes deeper than any sand castle construction group would dig. Each beer bottle was tossed as far as possible into the saturated underbrush behind the dock, insuring no discoveries. (Although due to the sheer volume of that practice, passed from one generation who shall not be named to the next, if archaeologists ever explore Up the Lake hundreds of years in the future, they will come to the inevitable conclusion that the Black Label and Schaefer Breweries’ main headquarters were located in that swamp.)
There was even a giant fire in The Pines. The Pines are a group of…
Take a guess, anyone? It’s not like we’re complicated when we name things Up the Lake.
That’s right, pine trees. They were located at one of the main intersections of the dirt road between the gate and the cabins. Around the trees sat multiple boulders (more rocks), which made excellent sitting places, and also a good base for a fire. Technically, the sheer amount of dry pine needles on the ground, and the proximity to a relatively well travelled road might taint one’s opinion of how “good” a base it was. One would, however, not be acquainted with we who shall not be named’s excellence in fire construction, handling, and elimination. We kept the blaze going while playing air instruments and singing along to “Eye of the Tiger” upwards of forty thousand times. Any time we’d hear a car, we’d douse the flames, (often using biological methods which shall not be named) and cover it up completely. After the vehicle passed, to borrow from Johnny Storm, “Flame On.”
Note that the repeated playing of that song was not unusual, for it was pretty much the only song we listened to in July of 1982. (Those who shall not be named were huge Rocky fans.) The unusual part was what we discovered walking up from the gate singing it without a radio. Despite hearing the song more times than Survivor’s sound check guy, not a single one of us knew the words to the second verse. This may explain why several girls who shall not be named took it upon themselves to listen to “Eye of the Tiger”s replacement song for August, “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash, in five second increments until they confirmed every verse and chorus. Their work allowed all the the kids Up the Lake who shall not be named, from high school age down to kindergarten, to know all the words to this Hip Hop classic: a song that tells a story similar to “In the Ghetto” but with more drugs, pimps and subway dismemberment. Up the Lake is a very family oriented place.
Although, those girls who managed to work out all that phrasing were the same ones who shall not be named that convinced me in June of the same year the words to the Human League hit were:
“Don’t you want me baby…Don’t you want me El-mo!”
It may be wiser to check those lyrics up on-line.
Oddly, there was no alcohol involved for one mixture of the other two travesties. It occurred at an abandonedish house behind one of our hang out spots on the lake which shall not be named. Upon exploring it one day, we found a trap door in the floor of the main room. Unable to contain our curiosity, we peeked in. One who shall not be named managed to drop a cigarette lighter down the revealed stairs while attempting to see better into the darkness below. Knowing how this tale ends in retrospect, it must have been either a lucky lighter or, more likely, a lighter belonging to an adult relative who shall not be named, because rescuing it became a priority. Using another fire generation source (making the lighter that shall not be named redundant) someone (who REALLY shall not be named, as I don’t remember, due to the Up the Lake code of Omerta ingrained on my mind) turned a nearby old broom into a light source. Like an incredibly stupid episode of Scooby Doo that shall not be named, armed with our rapidly vanishing straw and wood torch we were able to descend into the pit, rescue the lighter and get ourselves out and the broom into the lake with no damages. Again, we who shall not be named may have been insane, but possessed amazing fire handling skills.
Reliving these tales of those who shall not be named makes me realize the “not be naming” might be a tad pointless. Anyone of the true Up the Lake people will know EXACTLY the identity of each person who shall not be named…
And I have first hand evidence that most non Up the Lake people think the whole place is a figment of my imagination.
Believe what you wish, but remember this -
If you’re driving on a dirt road in the New York woods and you see a fire which mysteriously vanishes when you get out to look around, leaving behind only a faint smell of nicotine and the distant clink of beer bottles; get back in your car and drive on.
Those who shall not be named are not fans of uninvited guests, and you may just feel:
“It’s like a Jungle sometimes, it makes me wonder how I keep from goin’ under.”
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