THE CHICAGO GUYS
The year was 1949. The country had made it through the Great Depression and World War II. The present owner of Breezy Point was Jack Beringer, a Chicago businessman of questionable reputation who owned a night club and a couple of restaurants in that city. Jack flew up to Breezy just about every weekend in his DC-3 with some of his pals and gals.
Visiting Breezy Point that summer was Jack’s brother George and his family, whose sons were swim students of mine. Unlike Jack, George was a well-respected businessman who lived in Beverly Hills. He was a great sports fan and was part owner of the Milwaukee Brewers baseball team. In fact a number of baseball and other sport celebrities visited Breezy that summer as guests of George.
Back to Jack and his guests. Also flying up with Jack was a series of rotating dining room hostesses. As one might expect, they were knockouts.
“Don’t even think about it,” said Vera that first night when I was checking out the place and happened to walk by the dining room on my way to catch Johnny in the piano lounge. “Those ladies are off limits,” she added. “They are here to accommodate the guests, Mr. Beringer’s guests in particular.” Besides, you’ll have your hands full this week. She was right.
Considering the plethora of potential female companions at Breezy, she had no reason to worry- at least not as far as I was concerned.
There was one incident however that took place on the beach one afternoon when, mistaking one of Jack’s ‘ladies’ for a regular guest, I went out of my way to make her comfortable, even hanging around for some small talk. Obviously somebody noticed, maybe even Jack Beringer himself. I was called into the manager’s office the next day and advised to be more selective with my attentions in the future. My job was certainly important to me. However, probably more worried about crossing Mr. Beringer or one of his ‘gentleman friends,’ I played by the rules.
One more thing relative to Jack’s Chicago crowd: Just about any evening of the week around 10:00 or 11:00 that group would go for a “late night skinny dip” on my beach. It was made very clear to me that no guards would be needed. God forbid one of those drunks should decide to swim out into the lake; no one would have noticed. We lost a kid once when I was guarding on a public beach in Minneapolis. It was a terrible experience, and I’ve never forgotten it.
Breezy Point managed to remain open every summer right on through the depression, closing down only during World War II when gas rationing clobbered the resort business. It went through several owners before the Chicago people. Though anyone over 21 could buy or drink liquor at that time, casino gambling was still illegal in the state of Minnesota. My head guy Doc knew every inch of the main lodge and a lot of the resort’s history. One day shortly after my arrival, he took me into the basement of the main lodge and, pressing a button on a wall someplace, he led me through an unseen door into a relatively large windowless room which when he switched on a light turned out to be what was once a casino. Roulette and crap tables were under dust covers, and slot machines lined the walls. Doc said that he didn’t think the casino had been used in years. What also caught my attention was a pile of little booklets on one of those tables. This was my first introduction to Captain Billy’s Whizbang. I brought a half dozen back to my room that night, and so began my fascination with Captain Billy and the history behind the place I was spending the rest of my summer.
I promised Doc I would keep quiet about the existence of the secret casino, and only on a few occasions did I break his trust, probably with some young lady I was trying to impress… or more.
South American dance music was all the rage in the late forties. By then, the rumba, samba and tango had given way to the new craze of the time, the mambo, which originated in Cuba. Breezy had brought in four professional dance instructors for their guests, and Latin music was everywhere day and night, or so it seemed.
One pair of instructors were imported so they say from Cuba. They were a man and wife team, real professionals, who danced beautifully together. All four dance instructors put on a show for the guests most evenings after dinner.
Tony Alzedo was a slender Latin with deep set dark eyes. He affected a superior attitude as if to say “I’m much too good to be teaching mambo at some summer resort in the woods.” His wife Alicia was petite and quite beautiful. Where her husband was aloof and self-important, Alicia was charming and playful. When they were dancing with guests during their lesson sessions Tony was constantly glancing over towards his wife and her lesson partner as if to let them know that he was keeping an eye on her.
The other couple, Charles and Irene, was not really a couple. In fact they were anything but. I remember little about where they came from. She, Irene, was a tall buxom blonde whose lower body was tailor made for the beat of South American music. They say she also gave “private” lessons after hours.
Her partner Charles could have doubled for Johnny Weismuller. He made the most of the resemblance by wearing leopard patterned briefs on the beach every day. “Tarzan”, as everyone called Charles, certainly attracted the lady guests. As it turned out however, Tarzan had other interests, in particular a wrangler friend who worked at the stables.
I was a terrible dancer at that time and still can’t move my feet to any beat, even today many years later. Though several of the Breezy girls had tried, I was a disaster as a student and much too embarrassed to ask for help from one of the professionals. There was however an occasion where the reverse occurred. I was approached one afternoon by Alicia Alzedo, who together with her husband used to sunbathe on the beach or at the end of the dock. I had just finished giving a lesson to a child and was still in the water when Alicia, looking great in her little pink bikini, leaned over and asked if I would help her learn how to swim. She admitted that as a child she was very much afraid of the water.
“You seem to make it so easy” she said “Could you teach me?” she asked looking over towards her husband for a nod of approval. She got nothing in return. Just the same stoic look he affected on the dance floor.
“Of course” I said, “We could actually try it right now; my next lesson isn’t for an hour. Let’s start in the shallow water by the beach. It’s a perfect place to take beginners.”
Like a dance instructor, I start the beginner with some basic steps. Not so easy however, Alicia’s first steps into the foot deep water were a real challenge. She insisted on holding my hand for support. As we waded further into water up to her knees I suggested that she splash the water in the air with both hands to encourage her to stand on her own. It wasn’t easy but soon we were splashing each other. We waded deeper until the water had reached her hips. She tightened up and grabbed my arm.
“It’s ok” I said, “You are doing great. Let’s walk for a while.” Well we walked and splashed and laughed out loud together. Little by little she was beginning to feel more secure. Someone threw us a beach ball and we played catch. “That’s enough for our first lesson” I said after about a half hour. “We can try again tomorrow if you wish.”
“Oh yes, yes!” She replied. “What do you charge?”
“In your case nothing, Alicia” I replied.
“Oh I must pay” she said, “You charge all your students.”
“Well, I have a proposal; you teach me how to dance the mambo, and I’ll make a swimmer out of you. Deal?”
“Deal” she replied thrusting out her petite hand.
That was it for Alicia’s first lesson which we both enjoyed. I had almost forgotten about her husband. When we first moved down the dock to deeper water he followed us at a not too discrete distance. In other words he watched every move we made. Though she looked over at him occasionally, hoping for encouragement, he didn’t so much as give her a nod.
It rained the next day but was sunny the day after. However, neither Alicia nor her husband came to the beach. I figured perhaps she had lost interest, or maybe he was the problem. On the third day though, they appeared once again and she headed straight for me.
“I’m so sorry I missed my lesson yesterday Senor Geoffrey.”
“That’s ok” I said when they reached the end of the dock, “We didn’t have a fixed appointment… Our arrangement is very informal. I have an opening after lunch, or if not a bit later in the afternoon?” She looked over at her stone-faced husband for his lead. He gave her a shoulder shrug, which she took for acquiescence. We decided on four o’clock and agreed to meet on the beach for an easy entry as before.
As I recall, that second lesson was not much more than a review and practice of what we had covered in the first. We splashed each other for a while, during which she covered her eyes tight.
“Look at me when you splash” I said, “Now look at me when I splash you.”
She tried of course but then caught a drop or two and rubbed her eyes with the back of her hands.
“That’s ok” I said, “You’ll actually be opening your eyes underwater in a few lessons. Now let’s blow some bubbles. Put your chin in the water as I do, and blow bubbles.”
She tried it, first for only a second or two but in time was actually, with eyes still closed tight, putting her face in the water. “That’s great! Do it again” I said, “This time see if you can hold your breath as I count to five.” She tried but only for a second or two. “That’s ok, let’s save it for your next lesson.”
Needless to say Alicia was very excited. “Can I come tomorrow?” she said this time, looking at me instead of her husband.
“Sure” I said. I didn’t look at the grouch either. We were doing great, and I was enjoying the lessons as much as she was. “Meet me at the end of the dock. Does four o’clock work for you?”
They were right on time the next day. He had brought his paper and settled into a lounge chair. “Maybe this stiff is learning to relax” I thought to myself. “His wife’s lessons would sure go a lot smoother if she didn’t have to constantly look back at him for the approval he never gave.”
Well today was the big day. I asked her to climb down the ladder into the water near the end of the dock where I was waiting. Here the water was little more than waist deep, her waist deep. It wasn’t easy as I helped her down the ladder. I realized that, whereas I had held her hands in mine in previous lessons, I was now placing both of my hands on her slender waist.
The water seemed deeper than she had expected. She reached back to the ladder for support. “It’s ok, you’re doing great. Here, take both my hands again and we will walk out a few steps.” She did it and began to relax. “Good.” I said as we moved out a few paces from the dock.
Not to digress but I often had an audience when my lessons took place near the end of the T-shaped portion of the dock. Today there must have been a dozen guests sitting on the dock’s edge or standing well away from us in the water offering Alicia encouragement. Everyone at the resort had fallen in love with her. She looked very much like Audrey Hepburn and danced beautifully. Today in her bikini she looked like a little water sprite.
I took both of her hands in mine. “Ok” I said, “Let’s blow some bubbles.” We blew bubbles together. “Now let’s put our faces in the water and count to five,” which we did also, still extending my hands to her. She did it to the cheers of the audience she had attracted. “Ok” I said, “we are going to go down underwater together and hold our breath.” I demonstrated by bending my waist and knees as I lowered my upper body and head underwater. “Think you can do it?” I said taking both hands again.
“I’ll try” she said excitedly.
We did it, a complete dunk together for a second or two. By now our audience was really into it.
“Good, now you’re going to do it by yourself. Count to three or even more. See how long you can hold your breath underwater. You will be on your own. I won’t be holding your hands. Are you ready?”
She nodded. Without saying a word she did exactly what I asked and stayed under for the full count of five, at the end of which she burst out of the water sputtering but with a big grin on her face.
The cheering started, and then stopped suddenly.
“My God!” said a woman. “Her bikini!” “Her bra!” someone else said.
I looked at Alicia and she looked down at herself. She was frozen. I was frozen. She crossed her arms across her bare breasts. I could see the bra underwater around her waist. I don’t know what made me do it, but facing Alicia I put my arms around her as if to hug her, offering protection or whatever. I don’t know how I did it, but somehow I was able to raise the bra up into position and tie it in back, in essence prolonging my emergency hug.
Terribly embarrassed Alicia ran back through the water to the shore where she was met by her asshole husband who had seen it all. He didn’t wait to start berating her as they hurried off to their cabin to the cheers of the crowd.
Actually the cheers were for me. “Mr. Cool” someone said. Someone else, another woman, said “You’re a hero Nate”. Next time I drop my bra I expect you to come to my rescue.”
I of course was mortified. There I was surrounded by a crowd of spectators and terribly embarrassed. The joshing continued. Someone asked if my briefs always “stand out like that”. There was with no place to hide. I dove into the water and swam a couple of hundred yards. It took some time before I cooled down.
Apart from those cheers or jeers that afternoon at the dock, no one made a big deal of it out of courtesy to the poor little Mambo lady. Sadly she was not at dinner that evening, nor was he. I presume they had room service. One of the bus boys said that they showed up for breakfast the next morning, and that she was sporting what was obviously a heavily made up black eye. When I found out I wanted to kill the little bastard.
As one would expect at a summer resort, things quieted down; everything came back to normal. Tony and Alicia continued to give Mambo lessons and danced as usual for the after-dinner set. However, they never came over to the beach preferring instead to stay under an umbrella on the lawn.
Alicia and I couldn’t help but run into each other several times during the rest of that season. Though we exchanged smiles, no conversation passed between us other than perhaps a “good morning” every now and then. I went out of my way to avoid the little bastard husband for fear I would probably strangle the guy.
Alicia never took another swim lesson that summer, and I never learned to Mambo.