THE SOCIAL DIRECTOR
As the guy in charge I was expected to spend seven days a week on the Breezy Point beach. I don’t ever remember taking a day off, but that was ok. I loved the job. I met a lot of intriguing characters, some of whom are fodder for these memories.
Sammy Shore was a young stand-up comedian who was hired as Breezy’s ‘Social Director’. Sammy was what you might call a ‘Borsht Belt comedian in training’. During the day Sammy’s job was to mingle. He would go from umbrella to umbrella on the lawn or the beach, making small talk with the guests. He was doing Don Rickles before Rickles was doing Don Rickles. He would tease the guests, pick food off their plates, spill a drink on a bare leg, but unlike Rickles, never used an insult. He was indeed a great mingler, and guests would often ask my beach boys to send him over. His shtick was old and certainly borrowed, but they loved the attention.
Sammy had six nights worth of material which he dispatched every evening in the Grill Room. If you stayed over an extra night you would get the same act for a second time. That was ok because very few guests stayed more than a week.
Sammy’s audience’s favorite routine was titled “Hello Killer Hello Murder”. Sammy comes onto the stage with a two piece telephone and has an imaginary conversation with what we assume is someone planning to kill him. Sammy of course is trying to talk him out of it. In the conclusion the imaginary killer walks in. “Bang” says Sammy who does a major prat fall down and dies. There’s a round of applause; Sammy takes a bow and the act ends.
One night however Sammy had a little too much Bourbon and Seven, and his head hits on the edge of a table during his fall. The audience loved it. The cheering went on for what seemed like forever. Only this time Sammy didn’t get up to acknowledge the applause. This time, when they carried him off stage into the kitchen; he was out cold. “No curtain call tonight,” the stage manager announced. The audience thought it was all part of the act and begged for the new Hello Killer sketch every night thereafter.
Twenty years later my wife and I happened to catch his act in a little Hollywood club where he was working. He was wading through some of the his worn out Borsht Belt routines, when I slipped a note to our waiter to hand to Sammy. The comedian looked at the note, and then looking out into the audience with a big smile on his face said “the next routine is by request of an old buddy who likes to see me bleed”. He did “Hello Killer” better than ever before, this time without losing consciousness and the crowd loved it.
Sammy and his wife Milzi opened the Comedy Store on Sunset Blvd. It was a big hit and has helped launch the career of many of today’s top comedians including David Letterman, Eddie Murphy, Roseanne Barr, Robin Williams, Lily Tomlin and Whoopie Goldberg to name a few as well as Sammy and Mitzi’s son, Pauly Shore.
Management of the refreshment stand on the beach was one of my responsibilities, which I delegated to ‘Doc’. We would meet every afternoon to check our inventory and make a list of soft drinks, candies, peanuts, Eskimo pies, popsicles and other snacks needed for the following day. The prices we charged were outrageous, but for some reason, though we did a thorough accounting at the end of every week, the stand never made any money. Doc said to write it off as ‘spoilage’. I think Doc and his boys gave away as many sodas as they sold. Needless to say, the tips were generous.
One afternoon while rummaging in the old casino, Doc found a box containing six dozen empty 4oz bottles labeled ‘Breezy’. Nothing else on the label but the logo ‘Breezy’. Doc had an idea. The lodge of course sold sun tan lotions of all kinds at the newspaper stand in the lobby. However, we didn’t offer anything similar at the snack shack, though the sun on our beach got pretty hot, and the lotion washed off quickly after a dip of 10 minutes or more in Big Pelican Lake.
Doc saw a need, and the Breezy bottles were just the ticket. I’m not sure what he put in those empty bottles, but I know that mineral oil was the major ingredient, and I think he added iodine from the first aid kit for the color. Well, “Breezy” turned out to be a good seller and helped fill in the gaps in our weekly accounting.
Our creative sunburn remedy was a hit with everybody except the woman who ran the newsstand in the lobby. She didn’t appreciate the competition. Ultimately she is the one behind the rumor that ended our suntan lotion business.
Though there was medical assistance in most of the small towns in Crow Wing County, Breezy Point provided its own nurse, who spent full time at the resort. Her name was Frieda. She was a big German woman in her 50s who had no personality at all, let alone bedside manner.
As happened one day a guest came to Frieda dragging a 10 year old boy with a rash. Frieda gave him some medicine and told him to keep out of the sun and stay away from other children. Fat chance! Telling a kid to stay out of the sun and away from other kids at a beach resort… never happens. A couple of days later two or three other mothers brought in kids to Frieda with similar problems. Right away Frieda figures we’ve got an epidemic at Breezy Point. She looks in her Red Cross manual and comes up with the diagnosis, ‘Impetigo’.
How? Where? When? Between Frieda and the newsstand lady they figured it out. It had to have been ‘Breezy’, our little homemade profit center.
“Impossible” said one of the guests, a dermatologist from Duluth, but the damage was done.
“Get rid of the stuff” we were told, “and in the future stick to soda pop.”
The epidemic quieted down in a few days. It turned out that the rash really was Impetigo, which is a highly contagious skin disease, especially among children. It’s identified by sores around the mouth and nose. The treatment involves the application of an antiseptic lotion. In those days purple coloring was added to discourage contact. Our ‘Breezy’ suntan lotion got a bad rap.
THE MAJOR LEAGUER
As was my routine I tried to be the last man off the beach everyday which was usually about 5:30 in the afternoon. Sometimes Doc or one of the other guards would close up, but on this particular day I assumed the responsibility.
All the mats and the umbrellas were in; no one was around the dock and only a few couples were hanging out on the lawn. I went down to make sure the guard boat was secured when I noticed someone swimming way out on the lake, must have been a quarter mile. “That’s definitely against the rules” I said to myself, and untied the boat and rowed out to bring that swimmer into shore.
As I got closer, I realized it was a guy. He seemed to be a big man with a strong stroke. I pulled up alongside of him and asked if he was a Breezy guest. He said he was new and had just arrived that day. I politely explained the rules, suggesting that he climb into the boat or hold onto the stern while I rowed us in.
“Thanks” he said, “but if you don’t mind I’d rather swim back myself”.
Hey, he was a guest; what could I say? So I followed him in. He headed for the ladder at the end of the dock and proceeded to climb up the stairs. Then I saw ‘it’ or rather not ‘it’. There was no ‘it’, he had only one leg. He introduced himself as Bill Veeck, a friend of George Beringer’s.
Well I knew of Bill Veeck. Anyone who followed major league baseball knew Bill Veeck. He once co-owned the Cleveland Indians, and was at that time owner the St. Louis Browns. His Browns actually got to the World Series in 1944 but lost to, of all teams, their local rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals. Veeck was the man who hired Satchel Page, the old pitcher from the negro leagues. Completely unpredictable, Veeck was the guy who once hired a midget as a pinch hitter. He was a legend, and later inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
I introduced myself and asked if I could help him. Not necessary “Nate”. (Where did he get the “Nate”? I thought.)
“I can handle it from here” he said walking over to a bench upon which lay an orthopedic device. He strapped on this peg leg and proceeded easily across the beach and lawn towards the main lodge.
“By the way, ‘Nate’” he called back pointing over to the tennis courts, “Do you know anyone who would like to hit some balls with me before breakfast tomorrow morning?”
I thought to myself; “This I’ve gotta see.”
“I’ll hit with you tomorrow,” I replied. “Let’s meet over there” (pointing) at the shack. “Eight o’clock ok?”
We met the following morning and every morning for the rest of the week. He had beautiful ground strokes, and we had some great rallies as long as I didn’t hit any cheap cuts, lobs or drop shots.
We became pals. “Tell me Nate” he said one morning, “did you ever play ball?”
“Nope” I said sadly; I tried out for my high school team but could never hit a curve. In fact, my specialty was a pop fly to right field.
Bill just shook his head and said, “Well you have a nice forehand.”
Bill and I also saw each other every afternoon after lunch when the guests played the employees in a win-or-else 16 inch Chicago-style softball game on the grass field at the other side of the lodge. Bill was a great hitter and everyone marveled in awe at the way that amazing man ran those bases with his wooden peg leg.
Bill Veeck stayed active in baseball for many years. A heavy smoker and drinker however, he fought cancer for the latter part of his life, finally playing out his “last inning” in 1986 at the age of 71.
THE DOC INCIDENT
Back to Doc, my right-hand man on the beach, for a moment: He was an interesting guy and obviously well educated. He was very articulate, and I assume well-read. On the other hand I knew nothing of his background including his winters in Miami Beach. Doc could discourse freely on virtually any subject, but very seldom talked about himself.
Doc wasn’t exactly a loner. He hung out with the guy who ran the stables and spent many evenings around Johnny Davis’s piano bar in the lounge. Like Johnny, he knew the words to most of the pop songs of the 30s and 40s, and the women guests loved him. The piano bar was off limits to the employees at Breezy Point. On the other hand the management recognized the special appeal that Doc brought to the place, and he was encouraged to hang out anytime. According to Johnny, “Doc never had to pay for a drink.”
Though Doc’s job description wasn’t considered ‘senior’ staff, he enjoyed all the senior staff privileges and shared a cabin with his buddy “The Wrangler”. It was a good pairing; they were both into horses, and though some people rumored that the two men had something else in common, I didn’t know, and I didn’t care.
I guess I was naïve about those things at the time. Come to think of it however, there was that Spanish teacher in the 10th grade who wanted to take me to Mexico one summer, and I was ready to go until my mother got involved.
“How many of your classmates is he taking?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” I replied. “I guess it’s only me.”
“Tell him you are already committed, that you will be guarding again this year at Cedar Beach.” which wasn’t a lie, because I had already agreed to return again to Cedar.
Back to Doc: It happened one evening late in the season at Bar Harbor of all places. Doc came in that night with a couple of his stable buddies and some girls from the dining room. Among his other talents, Doc was a great dancer. He could do all the Latin steps as well as what they called in those days, “Rhythm and Blues”.
I think I was out on the Bar Harbor dock that night with a lady friend when someone came out and called, “Come quickly; something is happening to Doc”. I broke through a circle of people to find Doc on the ground shaking all over. I mean his whole body. And his face was terribly distorted. I looked around and seeing a wooden drink stirrer at a nearby table, I grabbed it and proceeded to force it width-wise between his jaws. Thank God for my boy scout and Red Cross training. I yelled for someone to call for an ambulance.
I explained that I was almost sure that Doc was having an epileptic fit, a seizure. I asked everyone to return to the dance floor and suggested that his buddies carry him outside and place him on one of the lounges. Fortunately there was a small emergency medical facility in the little town of Nisswa nearby. A medic arrived in less than 10 minutes, gave Doc a shot of something and the tremors stopped almost immediately. They drove off with a semi-conscious Doc to the hospital in Brainerd.
The activities never really picked up again that night at Bar Harbor. Bob Crown brought me a big stiff glass of Chivas and we discussed the episode with our ladies and a few friends.
“What’s with the stick?” asked the Pro.
I explained that when someone has an epileptic fit there is a possibility that he could swallow his tongue and choke to death. I learned that as a boy scout but had never seen one before.
The story of the “Doc” incident got out of course, and for a few days I guess I was thought of as some sort of a hero. As a matter of fact, for the first time since the day of my arrival two months earlier, I was called to the manager’s office and thanked for the “good job I was doing”. Walsh actually asked me if I was coming back next year.
“Guarantee me a healthy head beach guy named Doc” I thought to myself, “and you’ve got a deal.”
Doc never did return, for the last ten days of the season or for the close-down afterwards. In fact, I never saw or heard anything about Doc again, nor to my knowledge did anyone else on the Breezy staff.
I understand that epilepsy is a neurological disorder that can be controlled by specific medications taken on a regular basis. Also I have been told that alcohol can have a reactionary effect on epileptics, perhaps even trigger what happened to Doc.