You Nailed It
By Mort Laitner
Lathering my face, I glanced in the mirror and observed my first grey eyebrow hair. It sprouted out of a black forest like a seagull gliding through a flock of crows. I wondered if I should pluck it. This sign of aging made me reflect on the three items resting on the sink—the roll-on deodorant, cologne from Kenneth Cole’s Black collection and Old Spice shaving cream. All three products seemed to have lasted for well over two months. They showed no sign of graying. I wondered which would be the first to go.
I remembered smelling Old Spice for the first time in 1960 in Rashkin’s Pharmacy. I bought a dollar bottle of Old Spice aftershave for my Dad. I pulled the plastic grey stopper and inhaled the unmistakable sweet odor of Old Spice. It came in a buoy-shaped white glass bottle with a drawing of a clipper ship. On the bottle a strong wind filled the ship’s large sails. I recalled the TV commercial where a handsome sailor wearing a blue jacket and a cap swaggers off the ship with a duffle bag flung over the shoulder. His destination is an attractive woman. As I picture the sailor meandering through the streets. I started whistling the catchy nautical Old Spice jingle and remembered the first birthday present I ever gave my Dad.
For a month, I saved my meager twenty-five cent weekly allowance. My Dad seemed pleased when I handed the Old Spice. I said, “Happy Birthday Dad.” He replied with a firm hug, a kiss on my cheek and a twinkle in his eye and said, “I love your gift.” I nailed it.
That year my Dad decided to send me to Camp Alamac. I questioned his selection, but he knew the camp was within walking distance of our home and it served the campers the same hot lunch the hotel guests received. The summer was my father’s work-like-a- madman season. Our community grew from a few thousand to over twenty thousand. As one of the town doctors, he rose at six, was in the hospital by eight, back in his medical office seeing patients by eleven and then he did intermittent house calls until it became dark at nine. Camp would keep me out of his hair except for a quick dinner.
So every morning at 7:30 I sucked in the crisp mountain air and walked ten city blocks to camp. I strolled across the railroad tracks whistling, Someone is in the Kitchen with Dinah while observing the beauty of small town America. My mind wandered as I day-dreamed about fishing while listening to robins chirp and watching them wrestle worms from the ground.
Down Broadway toward the Glen Wild Road, I skipped with my only stops consisting of meeting and greeting fellow campers until I reached the camp.
Life was simple with no worries about satisfying the opposite sex. My goals were limited to pleasing my parents, friends and counselors. I never thought about school.
My daily camp activities were well organized: dodge ball, baseball, soccer, shuffle board, football and punch ball. There were color wars and arts and crafts. With pride I remembered braiding my own key chain lanyard. On rainy days, we played knock hockey or ping pong. Life was fun. CampAlamac had nailed it.
The Alamac was a fancy Catskills hotel with a small day camp. From June first till the day after Labor Day the hotel and day camp were packed with New York City tourists—city folk and Woodridge, New York campers—country folk. The hotel consisted of a large three story guest house, an Olympic-size pool which was landscaped by fifty-foot maples and our camp building.
A smattering of white Adirondack chairs rested on the green manicured lawn. The smell of the freshly cut grass filled your nostrils as quickly as an opened bottle of Old Spice. The property gave the appearance of wealth and class– a look desired by those tourists from New York City. They also loved the food. The three C’s meant nothing to them. Cholesterol, carbohydrates and calories were “future speak” and the average life span of those tourists was 65 years. A typical Alamac Hotel menu read:
Please make one choice from each course
Chopped liver appetizer with a freshly baked challah or bialy
Gefilte fish with purple horse radish
Chicken soup with yellow circles of molten chicken fat floating across its surface
A bowl of borsht with a glob of sour cream partially submerged in it as if a floating Iceberg in the dark North Atlantic.
Both entrees served with carrot tzimmes cooked in honey
No one ever left the table feeling hungry.
When it came to food the Alamac Hotel nailed it.
Forty years after I attended Camp Alamac my Dad passed away. Under his sink, I rummaged through and examined his toiletries. There stood his shaving cream, his deodorant and to my surprise, my gift, the Old Spice aftershave. I gently picked it up as if it were a valuable antique. I pulled out the stopper and inhaled a whiff. Memories of my father danced in my head. Based on the weight of the bottle I realized it was full. My Dad had never used the first present I ever gave him. I remembered the twinkle in his eye as I gave him the present and smiled realizing that my Dad had kept my gift for over forty years.