Eighty New Yorkers, burdened with duffle bags and tennis rackets, fishing poles and Frisbees, lined up on the corner of 63rd and First Avenue. Their ages ranged from 26 to 50. It was a sweltering Friday afternoon. Soon enough, they boarded two luxury buses that then crossed town and rumbled over the George Washington Bridge.
At the front of one bus, Jason Nosenchuk, jolly, slim and balding, began to sing. He lurched his way through a couple of verses of “Sweet Caroline.” Then he announced that wine would shortly be served.
Many of those on board didn’t know what to expect from the trip, but a number of them had been to adult summer camp before.
Toward the back of the bus, Ken Wayne, 50, recently out of his second divorce, was thinking about how Club Getaway might have changed since his last visits, in 1988 and 1992.
“It’s kind of like a fantasy,” he said. “You get to go back to being a kid for a little while.”
Mr. Wayne grew up in South Orange, N.J., but has since relocated to Miami Beach. He looks like Brian Wilson and enjoys running a hand comb through his full hair.
“Staying in the cabin, with the lake and the trees, you know, it reminds you of when you were a kid and you went to summer camp–of that carefree time in your life that you wish never went away.”
He said that in the summer of ’88 at Club Getaway, a woman named Bambi had walked off the New York bus–they served champagne on board back then–and gone straight up to him and shoved her hand down his pants.
“She walked up to me and said, ‘Penis check! Just want to make sure you’ve got all the right equipment.’”
Behind Mr. Wayne sat a wide-eyed Wladimir Maldonado, 33, of Queens. Three years ago, Mr. Maldonado moved to New York from Ecuador.
“I found it in the Metro newspaper,” he said of the camp. “And I am so excited. And I decide to commit. We have camps in my country, but not like this. For kids, yes, but for adults, no.”
Mr. Maldonado is a chemical engineer at the Cumberland Packing Corporation. He said that his co-workers were envious. “They were like, ‘What’s this? I can’t believe you go there. For a lot of years, I want to go there. And you’ve only been here in the States for a short time!’”
Group singing never did coalesce. And on the other bus, a woman vomited down the center aisle. Still, all the campers rolled into the Berkshires camp at 7:30 p.m. Mr. Nosenchuk pointed out the trapeze set and the camp store at Moose Lodge. It sells bug repellent, sun block and condoms.
“Down there is the Boathouse,” said Mr. Nosenchuk, pointing toward the lake. “That’s where all the action is going to be happening at night.”
Camp looked like a vast movie set and smelled of pine needles. Another bus, from Boston, arrived. Chicken pillard, and more wine, was served in a large dining hall. Each table was fitted with a staff member to keep the conversation afloat. Then the campers made their way down a grassy hill to the Boathouse. It looked like a barn dressed up for a birthday party. There were balloons, streamers and oversized inflatable cakes.
This year is Camp Getaway’s 30th anniversary. Female staff members in skirts served as go-go dancers. Upbeat dance music played from a D.J. who, the rest of the year, works the bar-and-bat-mitzvah circuit in the triborough area. At around 10 p.m., camp owner Victor Fink was introduced onstage.
“Just a little history as we’re passing the champagne around,” said Mr. Fink, a petite, animated man with a clean-shaven pate and a salt-and-pepper mustache. “In the 1920’s, my dad was a camper here. He bought it as a children’s camp in 1946.”
Camp Leonard had been founded by Francis G. Gilius, an artist from New York City. It offered city children, only as old as 15, activities such as square dancing, dramatics and skating. “In the mid-70’s,” Mr. Fink said, “I went to Club Med on a vacation, and I said, ‘Why should camp be for kids? It should be for adults!’ That was the year we buried the bugle, we put in the bars–and the fun began.”
Dancing lasted until 2:30 a.m. Those left awake ended strung about a bonfire, someone strumming a guitar.
ON SATURDAY, NOONISH, UNDER A HOT SUN, Robin, Jen and Amy were in their bikinis, reclining in the middle of the lake on the Orbit, a large iPod-green futuristic floating craft.
“Amy and I went to camp at B’nai B’rith Perlman for a lot of years. We still go back for reunions every year,” said Robin, of Murray Hill.
“It was a Christian camp,” joked Jen, who had attended a neighboring camp in the same part of Pennsylvania. Jen is an athletic blond who works on Wall Street, and she was very impressed with the morning’s tennis instruction. “They could tone down the nightlife a little.”
From the raft, the girls could see the red-and-green trim of the cabins that ran up the grassy hill on either side of the lake. Along the near waterfront was a manmade beach where lounging campers sipped umbrella drinks. To one side was the waterskiing canopy and dock, to the other side the Boathouse; just there and then, arts and crafts were underway.
Steve Gordon, a lawyer from downtown Manhattan, was resting his feet on the deck after an intensive speed-dating class, saving up energy for the Latin dance class later. “I honestly thought I might be too out of shape to come here,” said Mr. Gordon, 36, his chin resting on his neck. He surveyed the shoreline. “I’ve since learned otherwise.”
Mr. Gordon spoke approvingly of the diversity around him and said he’d come in lieu of more expensive options. (A weekend at the camp costs from $249 to $429. The camp declined to charge this reporter.)
“I’ve been to Club Med before, and there weren’t nearly as many African-Americans and Latina women there, which I think is a huge plus.” Lunch was a vast buffet of countless fruits and salads; a yards-long subway sandwich; a baked turkey or a brisket; an entire table dedicated to pies and cakes. Campers dined at long tables under a large circus tent.
The afternoon schedule was overwhelming. Would it be archery or Pilates at 2:30? Then kayaking–or the bungee trampoline?–at 4:00. Would that leave time for massage class with Randy at 4:30? The busy afternoon wore on, the hot sun softened, and the lake took on a glassy hue. The camp traded in its Boy Scout browns for a half-buttoned Hawaiian shirt. The blender at the Boathouse bar began to hum with $6 mudslides.
Mr. Fink was talking about camp. “When you’re sweating it up, playing volleyball together, it’s so natural.” The camp, he said, has been “very blessed” with full capacity over the last two summers. This period of time coincides with the dates Mr. Fink has run ads in New York Metro.
Nearby, friendly engineer Wladimir Maldonado was deep in conversation with an attractive young woman. She was from Philadelphia by way of Mexico. The gay divorcée, Mr. Wayne, had just lost a one-on-one basketball match with a female staffer.
“Now, given the prospect of having sex or playing basketball with her again, I’ll take the basketball, because that’s an issue for me,” said Mr. Wayne. He is a math tutor by trade. All weekend long he clutched a computer bag. He said it was full of paper. “I need to beat her in basketball much more than I need to have sex with her. And I’m giving her that offer, to play the game first, before we do the wild thing.”
At 5 p.m., barbecue equipment appeared at the waterfront. Burgers and kosher dogs constitute a daily meal between lunch and dinner. “Really and truly, what we’re living in is a lot of stress,” said Charmaine Findley, 33, of Manhattan. She was waiting in the grill line. “So you just want an opportunity to relax. What they’ve done here, they’ve put it all together. You have the beer, you have the wine, you have the activities, and you can just relax because when you get back to the office, you know, you’re a different person.”
“If you meet someone, well, that’s just an added bonus,” Ms. Findley said. She hails from the Canary Islands and slaves at a New York public-relations firm.
Saturday night’s meal was described as Margaritaville. Fried chicken and carne asada were to be washed down with pitchers of low-alcohol margaritas. And after dinner, the masses found that the Boathouse had been adorned with sombreros, inflatable palm trees and fake parrots. Images of tropical scenery shone on the screens. A rock band out of New York called Steve Marshall and the Deputies performed briefly.
By 11 p.m., the D.J. was back on the turntables to bring the eternally adolescent jams: Chic’s “Le Freak,” Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration.” The night got hectic. According to Michele Monteleone, the bonfire became a rager. The tender guitar stylings of Long Island optometrist Jeff Abrams were all it took to “seal the deal” for newly minted couples.
“From the fire pit to my cabin, every 10 feet was another couple making out in the grass. It was like make-out alley,” said Ms. Monteleone, 32, a production manager at The New York Times. “One guy came up to me and was like, ‘Perfect night, perfect weather.’ Then he was like, ‘Perfect weather for sleeping, eh?’ A lot of these guys are like literally, ‘Hey, I want to get laid.’ You know–not a lot of game.”
"AROUND 2 A.M., MY 50-YEAR-OLD ROOMMATE comes charging in, making all kinds of noise,” said Marcus Woods, of Saturday night, “and brags, ‘I just got laid in my car! I feel like I’m 21 again! Woo-whee!’”
Mr. Woods, of Washington, D.C., is 21 and an airman first class in the Air Force. He was annoyed for two reasons. First, he had been asleep in his bunk. Second, he was irritated by the fact that he himself had not scored. Mr. Woods said that he has only “technically” been laid once.
"It’s a great way to get away from the city. It’s all about having fun up here, and for us it’s free,” said Carol Zuckerman, a thirtysomething real-estate agent from the Upper West Side who was working as a weekend staffer.
A few dozen return campers are employed on weekends to help out with activities. In exchange for their services, they are allowed free room, board and booze.
Stafford Barzen, 40, a computer consultant from Brooklyn, recalled how, a few summers back, a fellow weekend staffer had been walking past a woman’s cabin. “She motioned for him to come over. So he came over, and when he started to ask her what she needed, she put her finger to her lips and pulled him inside.” Mr. Barzen smiled. “Some people come here for that kind of honesty. You can be a kid again. There’s no pressure here.” Oh.
Jason Nosenchuk was on the mike again, singing “Sweeeeet Caroline.” He dropped his Neil Diamond high jinks. He had a serious announcement to make, he said.
“A few of you have crossed the line,” he said, and that someone was very angry and had come a long way to deliver some stern words to the camp. A pot-bellied older man dressed in a felt Halloween-shop-quality Indian costume came to the stage. “I am here and I am not happy,” said the chief, his headdress quivering. “White man stole my land, of my tribe the Jewish Bagels. Yeah, with all the Indian tribes, you thought none of them was Jewish.”
The campers were giddy. “The time has come,” the chief said, “for a color war!” The camp was divided into four teams for tug of war, softball, an egg toss. Only half of the campers chose to compete. Lawyer Steve Gordon and P.R. girl Charmaine Findley, holding hands, joined another group for a walk to town. The two had met in the Latin dance class on Saturday. They quickly became inseparable, daring such activities as wine tasting and massage class together.
Robin, Amy and Jen were leaving too, but for good–they were taking the train back to the city. Saturday night was Jen’s 34th birthday. “I never thought I’d be celebrating my birthday at camp again,” she said, “but here I am.” Or there she was.
That night brought a big Italian feast of chicken, pasta and eggplant Parmesan. There were lots of little Italian flags everywhere. The theme song from The Godfather played. New groups of friends commandeered tables, and everyone sang “That’s Amore.” Lyric sheets were provided.
Two comics performed. “This place is fucking great,” said one of them, Jessica Kirson, later. She had began her set by screaming, “Where the fuck am I?” She was sharing a cigarette with the other comic, David Lee Nelson, outside. Mr. Woods had seen her before on Comedy Central and had come up for an autograph and some advice about camp. She assured him he would get laid–“maybe not with an A, but with a B or a C.” She advised him to “walk around and find some lonely girl crying against a tree.”
A White Party began at the Boathouse; the room, the campers, everything but the music was bathed in white. Rosey–who had played the fiery Indian chief–held court on the Boathouse’s deck, telling old camp stories and scrutinizing women’s bodies. He had been a counselor at Camp Leonard in the 60’s and early 70’s and is in “the horse-racing business.” He said Art Garfunkel had been a counselor at Camp Leonard too, but only until “Bridge Over Troubled
“He wasn’t a counselor after that,” he said. Mr. Woods, wine bottle in hand, came over to gush about how funny Ms. Kirson’s set had been.
“I wouldn’t fuck her with your dick,” said Rosey.
Another weekend staffer, Lou Solomon, 46, a computer consultant from Coney Island, was dripping with dance-floor sweat. “What’s beautiful is, I think people come here with fake identities and live a separate life to their weekends in the year,” Mr. Solomon said. He wore a white T-shirt wrapped around his bald head.
Again it was 2 a.m. at the fire pit. There were s’mores, hushed voices. Mr. Wayne, the math tutor, had found someone to sit in his lap. And Mr. Maldonado was watching the fire. Its light danced along the tips of his gelled hair. He’d exchanged e-mail addresses with a woman and made many new friends.
“The whole activities that this camp has is very good,” he said. “And I would like to come back here, because you know you can meet a lot of people here. And all the people are very friendly, and that’s good–because in New York for most of the time for me, it’s kind of hard to find people.”