The Catskills: a summer long sociological study of frummies

Note: the links featured in this post are all to older posts that directly correspond to the terms used.

Directly in front of me large Huts ketchup cans were stacked neatly on top of each other, their metal tops glinted off the flickering fluorescent bulbs that had probably been flickering for years due to the neglect of the general area. Stacks of shrink wrapped Poland springs bottles of water, sitting in their cradles made of cardboard with various numbers and dates in black ink, sidled up against a wall waiting for the stocking guys from next door to seek them out. Various boxes and crates stood up against all the wall space forcing everyone to be right on top of each other, occasionally bumping into one another mid shuck.

A man with long curly peyos shook violently, without a siddur in his hands as his whole arms waved the air with each passing shuckel. Every few moments he would rapidly shake his whole body from side to side forcing his head to swivel like the turret on a tank. I am sure the person next to him was enjoying these shutters of madness, as the air was as thick as the shvitz room at any old Jewish center. All the air was still except for this man stirring it up and in the process fanning everyone who could get close enough to his long arms that continued their arc after every sway as if they were his jet thrusters that slowed him down from going through the stacks of Hunts ketchup cans.

The chazzan stood idly by as he slowly counted in his head who had taken whatever amount of the three steps back that was possible and who stood in their place, standing still but with words coming ever so slightly out of their mouths. The chazzan stood clenching the makeshift shtender that for tonight was in fact one of those push carts for wheeling in heavy boxes, his hands gripped the sides tightly as if a new shipment of flour had just come, except this time the cart was empty save for his hands holding a siddur between his white knuckles and the handles of the cart.

A Lubavitch man, judging by his steeply bent brim of the hat and the crushed aspect of the top- shifted from one leg to another and shifted the pages in his chitas trying to find a kapitel tehilim to bust out during the wait. Voices could be heard next door, and though they were mumbled- amid the cacophony of girls voices you could tell that a camp of some sort was getting ready to order everyone a slice of pizza and an ice cream cone. There is nothing quite like the experience of trying to order food amidst tens of screaming adolescent girls, skirts ruffling against my bare legs as I try to steer clear of the million little girl marches that take place in pizza stores throughout the Catskills. They just park the bus in the middle of the road and down run a whole bunch of screaming little girls with wads of money in hand and little colorful cell phones in the other, doing thirty things at once while trying to play Jewish geography with some women who claims to know their mother who caught them while they were walking into Mountain Fruit to buy some sour sticks.

The chazzan strikes up and his accent is so thick I can almost compare it to the stifling air that is holding everything in place besides the violent shuckelers peyos that continue their steady arc no matter how thick and humid the air may be, almost defying gravity they sway and during kedusha they momentarily stop their forward and backward motion to take place in an up and down strike with each raising of the toes.

I take respite outside in the cool damp air, the drizzle coming down is forming little puddles in the slight depressions in the street- undoubtedly due to the man y idling Monsey Trails and Short Line buses that stop in this very spot clogging up traffic for miles while they let out men with hat boxes and blackberries and women screaming into their cell phones and at their multitudes of children dressed in similar outfits just so they can save money and keep track of which ones are theirs. These buses stop in the middle of Route 42, spewing fumes into the air as the mechitzas can be seen ruffled in all the commotion that stirs them during the embarkation of the masses into the streets of Woodbourne. The buses sit their flashers on, polluting the air as the driver, surely a chasidish guy named Yoily gets out wearing a vest over a huge pair of woolen tzitzis and makes his way to Dougies holding a cell phone open and talking into the speaker phone as he nods and looks frustrated as he waves his arms in the air- screaming “Yuh” in rapid succession or “Ich Vies Nisht” into the open flip phone. Someone asks him to move his bus because they are parked behind it and he tells them to wait a few minutes while he greases his belly on some buffalo wings at Dougies.

I stand looking directly across the street at Woodbourne Kosher Pizza and think of all the fond memories that circle around this strip of the most ghetto ramshackle buildings on this side of Gary Indiana. I can hear them saying kadesh in the mincha minyan I just walked out of, a little sign reads that mincha and shachris are both at 8 every day. I could never imagine putting tefilin on in the storage room of the Kosher Inn Pizza store, mincha may be one thing, but shachris, I wonder if he sells any breakfast to the worshippers who prefer davening to be a chop chop affair, no long drawn out davening “git er done.”

I love coming to the frummy Catskills in the summer, its hilarious and way fun. The drivers can be a pain with their braking on the steep hills and going really slow on fast roads, the hitchhikers dressed in black waiting to be whacked by a semi screaming down Route 52 and wondering why all the deer around this place are black, not knowing that Jews like to defy the odds and venture onto the back roads wearing things that let them blend into the night which allows only Jewish drivers to stop for them.

Granted, the crowds of screaming children, dirty garbage laden bungalows and weed strewn playing fields are not all that attractive, nor are the barbed wire fences surrounding the pools that resemble maximum security prisons are kind of weird as well, but the feelings of nostalgia, the massive amounts of cheap food and tons of hotties that swarm to the Catskills every summer make it all worthwhile. Plus New York State was generous to give me a pretty decent work whenever I want job that places me in the Catskills, pays for my food and hotel and allows me to hang out on the mean streets of Woodbourne, Monticello, Woodridge, South Fallsburg and Liberty to bring you a heads up scoop on all the action. Kind of sucks but I cannot really talk about what I do for the State due to confidentiality issues.

How I discovered Woodbourne:

I remember the first time I realized what the Catskills were all about. I had grown up thinking that the Catskills was all about Kutschers for Pesach- where I learned to ride a bike and the Concord Hotel for every other event- these were the only hotels we ever went to during my youth and I thought that was what the Catskills was, a bunch of old men watching acts like George Carlin and Donna Summer in the theater at the Concord Hotel and complaining about the Liberals. Little did I realize until about the age 15 or 16 that the Catskills was a whole different world to frummies, we modern ortho’s had no idea what we were missing.

One weekend me and my friend Jerry went with my dad to his friends trailer for shabbos, it was located in the town of Neversink- just up the road from Woodbourne, naturally Saturday night we ventured into Woodbourne with my father to check out the scene. The scene was huge, remember this was ten years ago at the height of the “kids at risk” phenomina that was just realized by the furm community. This was the period when Rabbis were banning yeshiva students from going to places like Woodbourne. Black Hattitude was in and the frum community discovered that “gasp” yeshiva guys and girls liked sex, drugs, alcohol and going against the rules. This was Woodbourne in its prime, when the girls put on pants under their skirts and wore pants just for Woodbourne. This was when the Neversink River park was filled with pot heads and guys hooking up with girls. This was the Woodbourne that hung out in the streets until 4 in the morning. This was when non-Jewish kids came to Woodbourne to hang out and score some action. These were the days of the true yeshiva rebel.

I guess I was lucky, because since I attended a semi-reject school I knew tons of folks that worked and hung out in Woodbourne. At the time I thought the scene was gay, but in hindsight it was hilarious- though I could never be a true yeshiva rebel I hung out with some popular folks. My buddies all worked in the Woodbourne Pizza store- so I had free food coming my way, some of them worked in the sforim store and some worked in the bakery driving the truck around. I could never be a true yeshiva rebel due to the fact that my father was probably one of the only parents who actually stayed around while the scene was a full swing and talked old school Jewish geography with his buddies over some pizza and seltzer. He always seem to know everyone from the old country which was Boro-Park.

The lights are forever turned off in the late great PJ’s game room, skiball and arcade games lit up the night as the sounds drifted to the streets and beaconed children to come in and waste their money trying to gather enough tickets for a glorified bic pen. People would shuffle in and out of the Woodbourne Kosher Grocery store noshing on some of the latest in paskez and blooms candy selections. I would usually eat at Woodbourne pizza over the kosher inn due to its size and vantage point. That’s why I think more people ate there, the food was the same, but people would come in and out many times every few minutes just looking for people they knew. This still happens in the day time, someone comes in looks around, peers into the greasy cracked glass case containing pizzas with the occasional large black fly crawling on the crust and leave.

With the proliferation of cell phones throughout the frum community, people started to hang outside more and more. Women are seen holding bags filled with goodies, sweat beads pouring out from under their sheitles and phones raised to the sky seeking a little extraterrestrial contact, or maybe just a signal, just a sign, one bar please. Men do the same thing, their peyos slant toward their large phones on an attempt to garner a signal, they walk up and down the block pointing their gazes down at their phones hoping that they didn’t miss too many calls. In front of Dougies which is home to the hottest guys in all of the Catskills according to one worker, they all sit and smoke and shmooze and reminisce of their glory days in Niveh. The past few years have seen in influx of post druggie kids who get hired up by all the stores in some sort of program that insures jobs for the kids being clean and abstaining from the ladies. Although my buddy says the Niveh guys get the most ass in all of the Catskills. I myself have seen the amount of fine young ladies on their own for the first times working as lifeguards in some bungalow wandering through Dougies one eye on their fire poppers and the other on the hot Niveh guys that man the counter and serve the food.

Dougies is really the ultimate in hangout, good food, reasonably priced and loads of room to watch from the raised deck. Their number one customers are mid 20s yeshiva hocker types that tend to be the maintenance crew for camps or the camp drivers. The other main customer are the teeny bopper guys and girls that make their way through the doors of Dougies to enjoy their world famous recipes that have been shunned by folks who can afford to eat in places like Le Merais and Prime Grill. Dougies is like a high class Subsational with a much more frummy crowd, and since subsational is majorly ghetto that is not saying much of Dougies.

Happens to be that only folks who aren’t too modern orthodox or too rich can appreciate the beauty of the whole Catskills scene. Folks that are offended by garbage strewn about while many children play in that same area and by folks who let their temporary dwellings become the most disgusting monstrosities you have ever seen should not even set foot out of their homes in the five towns. The Catskills is so ghetto it makes your skin crawl and makes Jews who are yearlong residents of the Catskills don their baseball caps in the summer and become self hating. Folks that dislike frummies should not venture into the Catskills either due to the fact that it will only exacerbate your ill feelings toward them.

Folks like me who relish in maximum security pools, turban wearing women jogging down a country road, Chasidim in pitch black outfits hitching in pitch black night, frummy rebels trying to hit on girls for the first time, buses of Sternberg councilors unloading for a fun filled Thursday night of bowling at Kiamesha Lanes, $50,000 cars parked in a weed filled parking lot strewn with empty boxes of bayer mayim soda and old packages of leibers potato chips next to a bungalow that would put the prison conditions in Sing-sing to shame- would definitely find the summer in the Catskills amusing.

Admittedly its not like it used to be, it used to be packed all the time and now its dwindled. Its dwindled in the amount of frummy rebels because frummy rebels have gone high tech and they prefer to snort their Vicadin and play video games then hanging out in front of stores like Jay and Silent Bob. The frummy rebels of yore were more action packed and that may be because merely venturing to Woodbourne or Kiamesha lanes on a Saturday night was rebellious in its own right.

A stack of crumpled red stained napkins sit piled up so high that it resembles mini pyramid. My hands are sticking to the napkins as I go through them like a conveyor belt. My mouth I imagine looks as if I tried to hard to rock the drag look and my stomach is praising me as I tear the flesh of another bony chicken wing, I let the pungent sweet and sour sauce fill my nostrils as the flesh of this newly dead creature makes its way via paralysis down my esophagus. I dip a piece of fried onion into the murky depths of the small cup of brownish honey mustard, it creates waves in its withdrawal as two small droplets of mustard sauce drift of the edge of the onion piece and meld back into their pool of sauce. The mustard waves lap the side of the cup causing a little to dribble on the edge like the overflowing action of the havdalah cup.

I hear my name called from behind a small partition and see a full on orgasm inducing steak sandwich headed my way. The succulent pieces of greased up meat are poking their heads through the steaming long white roll that is overflowing with gently fried onions. The onions and meat are enjoined in a matrimony of perfection, they glisten in the soft white light of the overhead bulbs as I slowly but methodically drizzle some of Dougies famous Barbecue sauce onto into the confines of these meaty delight. The roll refuses to let the sauce penetrate its shell at first and then slowly the sauce soaks in like a sponge, into the rolls thick walls storing the flavor for the onslaught that is about to take place. Droplets of drool form in the corners of my mouth as I start to pick the sandwich up, the size makes it awkward to hold it. Its just so big I think as I push the dirty thoughts out of my head that have begin to creep in as I try and hold the sandwich straight in front of my mouth. I am thankful I am not a girl and do not have to deal with such awkward situations, at least with a sandwich you can always cut it in half. Girls however don’t get that luxury unless your name has Lorraine Bobbit.

The first bite shattered the marriage of meat and onions causing the already lubricated onions to slip out of the rear of the sandwich amidst a storm of raining barbeque sauce and oil that drizzles between my already sticky fingers. Although the onions are lost, the meat bread and barbeque sauce all hit the spot and send waves of euphoria down my spine multiple times. I take a swig of tepid tap water and continue the Jihad against this sliced steak sandwich.

Off in the distance I can see a few guys outside smoking and talking about their girl catching. I can hear two guys arguing about the fastest way to get to Lakewood from Monroe. The static from a turned up hatzolah radio barks numbers and barely audible commands into the air amidst a wave of static while some guys have just pulled up in a delivery truck dressed in black pants and wet t-shirts that show their nipples, peyos tucked behind their ears and cigarettes dangling from their mouths they make small talk with the smokers about when Dougies opened up for the year.

In a few days the official start of summer will happen and Wal Mart will become a frenzy while Chevy Suburbans will speed past backed up Friday afternoon traffic in rush to a non-existent call somewhere up the road preferably past all the traffic. The ladies nights in Country café will start with their jewelry sales and sushi deals and in several Sundays from now the mountains as the frum folks call it will explode in a massive frenzy as hundreds of thousands of people visit those same garbage strewn camps and bungalows they themselves wouldn’t venture into if it were not for their kids summer homes.