August 17, 2009

The Club No-Pants Disaster

Now I’d never been to Club Getaway before, but it has a reputation in New York City. Club Getaway is in the Connecticut woods. Affectionately called “Club No-Pants” it’s one of those “meet markets disguised as a summer camp for adults.” Now it doesn’t say so in the brochure, but you know there’s a lot of hanky and an equal amount of panky going on after “lights out.” After doing shows for kids in schools for the last six months, it was going to be great to be able to get a bit raunchy on stage. In short, a perfect audience for us -- and we were the featured entertainment for the weekend.

Now the show was scheduled for Saturday night at 10:30, and due to the various schedules of the five of us, we couldn’t get up there until 3PM on Saturday… and we couldn’t stay overnight because Lynn-Marie had a 10AM flight on Sunday. “But that’s OK,” said Kenn, the only one of us who had been there before, “because they serve a ‘fine dinner’ and we’ll at least be able to get some swimming in.”

We set out on the road from Manhattan, and head for Club Getaway. The directions they had sent us were quite misleading, and although we should have arrived at three, we end up getting there at closer to 4:30… but still not so bad a trip. There was still plenty of time to go swimming and have a ‘fine dinner.’

We park in an area labeled “Free Parking” and proceed on foot to the Main Office to check in. As we walk, an old grizzled cowboy drives by in a pickup truck. The man at the office yells, “Hi, Slim.” Slim grumbles back “A-yuh” and proceeds to speed past us towards the basketball courts in the distance. The man at the office then turns his attention to us and, even after we introduce ourselves, has no idea who we are or why we’re there. He gets on his walkie-talkie and proceeds to speak in some sort of indecipherable code, and after a few minutes tells us to “go see Wally over at the Waterworks.” It is indeed at this point that my fears are confirmed, as I look past the man and see that the Main Office was in fact adorned with a wood-carved sign reading, “Community Chest.”

We travel past the many rows of – yep, you guessed it, red and green cabins until we reach the lake, a.k.a. “Waterworks.” Wally instantly comes over and greets us warmly, gives us the run of the joint, shows us the theater (directly adjacent to the lake, and right behind the basketball courts where Slim was busy unpacking large electronic things from his truck.)

Wally also gives each of us a handful of “Club Getaway Dollars,” which look suspiciously like the ones you probably have in your closet at home, in the board game box next to your Scrabble set. Of course, to make them “official” you’ll have to write “C.G.” on them with a green magic marker. Sadly Wally informs us that there is no room at the inn for us wayward travelers. We tell them that we’ll, at the very least, need a room to store our stuff and to change into our costumes before the show, and that we’re not planning to stay the night, so whatever space he can spare, it doesn’t need to be all that big, or even have a bed or anything like that. A roomy closet would suffice.

We ask again twenty minutes later, when it becomes apparent that Wally is drunk and has forgotten all about about us. Another twenty minutes pass and we are finally sharing “St. James Place 5” with three of the counselors.

Now, a quick note on the way the cabins are set up. Each cabin has four bedrooms, numbered (depending on the size of the cabin) 1 through 4, 5 through 8, and so on up to 17 through 20. There is also one bathroom within each cabin, predictably at this point, showcasing the “Utilities” logo on it. The only door in the interior of the cabin is the bathroom door, so “wandering” between rooms during the night is quite the easy task. Now, allegedly, if you wanted a door for privacy purposes, you’d have to pay for Pennsylvania Avenue, or at the very least, Illinois Avenue. (We didn’t see Baltic Avenue, but I’m pretty sure that was the cabin with the outdoor plumbing.)

So, it’s finally time to enjoy our time at Club Getaway. We’re told the lake is closed by now, so no swimming. But line dancing is still promised at seven. A “fine dinner” awaits us at 8. Slim’s Square Dancing Extravaganza is scheduled for 9:30 and then it’s us at 10:30 for our rollicking comedy improv show. I go off to play some tennis with Eris, while the others resign themselves to sit by the lake and enjoy what is left of a beautiful day. We return from tennis to find our three companions in quite a cranky mood. We were about to ask why, when we hear the voice on the loudspeaker kick in, “Let’s hear it for our swimmers!!!” and as we look past the giant gyroscopic exercise device (affectionately called “Jail”) there were twenty or so campers emerging from the water after a brisk swim. Apparently, “closed” is a relative term here reserved for those who haven’t paid for the privilege, but are merely “just visiting.” But hey, we still have that “fine dinner” to look forward to, so no griping.

Line dancing was uneventful, save for the fact that the guy leading it got confused and called out the wrong steps frequently. Still, it hardly mattered, as few of the people in attendance could dance. Ah, yes -- the people. The “swinging singles.” If you were to see pictures of these folks, you’d be convinced the vast majority of them had lived there for generations, and only now, after centuries of inbreeding had opened up the camp to outsiders. Line dancing? These people had trouble walking the hundred feet from the tented dance floor to “Go,” the ‘fine dining’ facility.

Now, if we hadn’t been able to figure it out from the numerous announcements, it was quite apparent from the piñatas, and all the red, green and yellow streamers hanging haphazardly from the rafters in “Go” that it was "Tex/Mex" night. Well, that and the canned mariachi music kind of gave it away. We were seated at one of the two tables with a window view – the perks of being featured performers, I guess – at a table that seated eight, though probably closer to six comfortably. The five of us are joined by two women who we learn are “quite enjoying their stay at Marvin Gardens 5,” and Ron. Who is Ron, you ask? Ron is our “Table Captain.” He’s there to make sure we all converse and get along. Well, that’s his job description anyway. It appears Ron is actually there to hit on the two girls from Marvin Gardens 5.

Dinner is served. Moist tacos. Overcooked chicken. Undercooked rice. Um, yum? To make matters worse, all the counselors burst in to the room suddenly, already drunk, shrieking “Tequila!” at the top of their lungs, dressed in flamenco shirts and wearing sombreros. They weave in and out and around the tables in a staggering conga line, offering tequila shots to all who desire them. We, of course, cannot partake in the liquid merriment, as we must perform in two hours time.

Looking back on it today, I’m not exactly sure when we became aware of the wall of flame creeping towards us. It was definitely before the “tequila boys” did, I know that much. But there, outside the window, it was quite clear that several of the cabins were engulfed in flames, and equally clear that between us and the cabins lay a nice supply of highly flammable sticks and twigs. It was coming.

Quickly, Wally’s wife, Sara, gets on the microphone and says, “People, please relax. As some of you may have noticed, there is a fire. But the fire department is already here. Everything is under control. Please stay seated. Remain calm. Stay here so we know everyone is accounted for.” At least that’s what I think she said. It was difficult to hear her clearly over the flamenco dancers running around willy-nilly outside “Go,” screaming “Oh, my God! We’re all going to die!!!”

Thirty minutes later, I see the fire department actually arrive. This was two Sara pep talks later. She then announces to the group that the fire was in Marvin Gardens 1 through 4. Anyone from these cabins was requested to come into the next room to talk. “Everyone else should stay put.” Ron consoles our MG5 tablemates, “Clearly the fact that we can see the blaze is still raging wildly, and the fact that your cabin shares a wall with MG4… well that’s no reason to believe that any of YOUR stuff has burned up.”

The next announcement comes soon after. “Ladies and gentlemen, the power is going to be turned off. This is a planned event. Do not panic. The fire department wants us to do this, since this may be an electrical fire.” Sara has now accomplished two things: 1) She has instilled a fresh wave of panic in the campers, as those who were not near the windows now realize she was lying all this time about the fire having been under control. 2) She has further intensified this fresh wave of panic in the campers, as they all now believe that their cabins might burst into flames during the night as they sleep due to faulty wiring.

Another half-hour comes and goes. The fire is indeed under control. More words of wisdom from Wally’s wife. “Ladies and gentlemen, thanks for your patience and understanding. You may go outside if you wish, but please stand under the main tent and don’t wander. And may I please see anyone who was staying in Marvin Gardens or Pennsylvania Avenue?”

“Which cabins?”

“All of them.”

Outside near the lake, it is quite chilly as a brisk wind blows. I see Wally for the first time in hours, jumping into the lake for a swim. Sara, finally having had surgery to remove the portable microphone from her body, quietly approaches us. “Do you think you can do the show out here?” We tell her it’s pretty cold out, and does she really think wacky comedy is appropriate right now, and besides still, there’s NO power and it is pitch black, save for the glow of Kenn and Christine’s cigarettes, and does she REALLY think wacky comedy is appropriate right now??? She thinks for a moment, and I can actually see her thoughts – the wasted dollar signs she spent for us to perform tonight running through her mind.

“Alright. We’ll cancel the show.”

That would have been the end of the day. And the end of the story. It should have been. Except…

The Fire Department was still putting out the last remnants of the fire, and the only way to get back to our car was to pass their giant Hook and Ladders. Currently, they weren’t letting anybody through just yet, so while some campers began an impromptu sing along to the guitar strumming of one of the other guests, we stayed outside to drink the free beer being passed around and wait until we could go.

It was just after Midnight when the power suddenly and without warning, comes back on, both startling and blinding us all. Sara rushes over, her “microphonitis” no longer in remission. “I’ve just made an announcement in the theater. You go on in ten minutes.”

We were shocked. We were angry. We were tipsy. But we were still there. We had no choice.

We passed Slim on the way to the theater. He just finished loading all of his electronic stuff back into his truck. Apparently, Slim would NOT be going on as promised. “Hey, Slim,” we said. “A-yuh,” he grumbled as he got into his truck and sped off. Oh yes, it appeared the road was now free and clear of any large red, hose-toting vehicles and cars were free to go on their way.

The guests were filing into the theater, many of whom no longer had any other place at Club Getaway to go. Due to the fire, there was an open bar – “No need to use your Club Getaway Dollars,” even if you hadn’t left them in your cabin. I was drunk. I was tired. I don’t remember much about the show itself or the drive home afterwards for that matter. In fact, the last thing I do recall, before I went completely numb was Sara’s introduction.

“Folks, I know we’ve been through a lot today. If any of you can spare some extra toothbrushes, toothpaste, contact lens solution, a T-shirt or two, underwear… anything really. Anything at all. These people lost everything they had in the fire… And now, Freestyle Repertory Theatre!”

But I’m sure it was a fine show… about as fine as the dinner, anyway.

1 comment:

  1. Ah, what memories. I had totally forgotten the stories I'd heard about this show. Can't believe I wasn't there. When I saw you labeled it as the worst improv show ever, I thought sure I'd been in it.

    thanks for the rueful chuckles.