When I was growing up, I watched a lot of TV. It didn’t matter what was on TV, what mattered was that the TV was on. Just about anything would do.
I had preferences of, course. I chose The Addams Family over The Munsters, All in the Family over The Jeffersons, Gilligan’s Island over The Brady Bunch, and The Gong Show over The Newlywed Game, but I wasn’t going to get all bent out of shape searching for the perfect show because, well, there were no perfect shows when I was growing up. They were all varying degrees of crap.
But the best crap, the most eccentric crap could be found on the local TV stations. Those were the stations that ran ancient Betty Boop cartoons, Our Gang shorts, B movies, and silent films. They also aired original programming that looked like it was shot in some guy’s garage.
I was all over that stuff. When I controlled the TV dial, it almost always landed on WOR’s channel 9 or WPIX’s channel 11.
Watching local stations also meant watching lots of local commercials, which I found pretty cool. These businesses were just a short drive away; it was of like living next door to a celebrity.
But one commercial caught my attention like no other. Its catchy jingle wormed its way into my impressionable 12-year-old brain.
I’m not sure why it captivated me so, but whenever it aired, I had to share its information with the world.
“Mom!” I yelled one Saturday afternoon, my face inches away from the TV screen.
Mom’s reply came from some far, forgotten corner of the house. “Why aren’t you outside?” she yelled.
Oh, boy. I had violated a Cardinal Allegra Family Rule. On Saturdays I was supposed to be out of the house getting “Fresh Air.” It didn’t matter if it was sunny, hurricane-y, or raining fire, I was to follow The Rule. Always.
To be more accurate, I was supposed to follow four rules:
- Leave the house after breakfast.
- Return to the house at around noon for lunch and (if needed) first aid.
- Immediately leave the house again.
- Return to the house at 5:30 for dinner.
TV played no role in these rules whatsoever.
“Why aren’t you outside?” Mom repeated, her tone growing grouchier.
“Because there’s a helicopter outside spraying for gypsy moths!” I yelled.
This was true. Aerial-based poisoning was fairly common back then.
Mom sighed. As much as she wanted me out of the house, she understood that poison spray was the opposite of Fresh Air. Whether she liked it or not, she was stuck with me until the helicopter fluttered off to begin its attack on the neighboring town of Ho-Ho-Kus.
“Well, stop yelling!” Mom yelled. “If you want to talk to me, come here!”
I found her in Dad’s office (a room Dad never, ever used) wielding a rag and and can of Pledge. “Okay, what do you want,” she asked.
“I want to go to the Poconos!”
Mom was the only person in my family who didn’t think I was a weirdo. But once in a while my weirdness go so weird it was impossible for her to ignore.
The Pledge can halted in mid-spritz. “You want to go where?”
I couldn’t imagine a better time to burst into song: “At our host with the most in the Pocanooooooos! Beauuuuutiful Mount Airy Looooooodge!”
Mom peeked out the window to see if the pesticide helicopter had moved on. It hadn’t.
I interpreted Mom’s silence as genuine interest, so I kept going. “They have beautiful rooms! Fabulous food! And headline entertainment!”
“But…” Mom began. “Mount Airy Lodge?”
It was a valid question. Shouldn’t a 12-year old be begging to go to Disney World or Hawaii or something?
But if Mom had seen the commercials as many times as I had, she would’ve understood.
Mount Airy Lodge looked amazing! There was tennis! (I didn’t play tennis, but that didn’t matter.) They had a pond with paddle boats! (I wasn’t exactly fond of paddle boating; you had to expend way too much energy to move way too slowly. But that didn’t matter either.) And when the commercial said “headline entertainment” they showed a quick still image of a guy who just might’ve been Rodney Dangerfield. (I liked Rodney Dangerfield, but had no idea when or if he would ever appear at Mount Airy Lodge.) And I was certain that one of the commercials showed a bathtub shaped like a Champagne glass; I found this elegant instead of sleazy.
In retrospect, my passion for Mount Airy Lodge made no sense at all.
But I had planted a seed—a seed that I kept replanting anew every time I saw the commercial. Months went by. I hummed the jingle while brushing my teeth. I talked up the beauty of the Pocono Mountains at the dinner table.
I had gone insane.
And, yet, my tireless efforts paid off. At dinner one evening, it was announced that Mom, Dad, my older sister Gina, and I would spend a summer weekend at Mount Airy Lodge!
I don’t know why Mom listened to me. Maybe the price was right. Maybe she got caught up in my Mount Airy Madness. Or, most likely, she just got worn out by my relentless sales pitch.
But I didn’t care why! We were going! I couldn’t remember a time I felt so giddily and impossibly happy!
It would be the worst vacation of our lives.
Now that you’ve read that, read Part Two!