Farewell: Larry Leshay and other scouting greats

By Mitchell Slepian

Yesterday, I had the sad occasion to attend the memorial service for a dear friend and mentor “Scouuuut” Larry Leshay.  I first met Larry during the summer of 1983 when I went up to Chappy Hill, Ten Mile River Scout Camps (TMR). My parents drove me up to camp for the first time. We pulled into Kunatah and were given permission to drive on the dirt road over to Chappy.

We climbed muddy steps and went into the “Palace,” our camp’s office. There was Larry sitting at his desk with the camp bank and his Smith-Corona typewriter.  I made the rounds of the first day of camp and went to sleep. Actually, I didn’t sleep. I never slept in camp.

The next morning, I woke up much earlier than wakeup call and sat at the picnic table adjacent to the Palace and Larry’s leanto (a three walled structure with screening on the front that served as our sleeping quarters).  Larry was coming back from his morning shower. He saw me and said what are you doing here? I said, I got up early and came here. He decided I was a vampire.  And let the other scouuuts know.  From that morning on, I was Chappy’s vampire. That name stuck with me during my entire TMR experience.  Last summer, at the reunion weekend, people were talking about the day I became a vampire.

Under Larry’s leadership, I spent the best years of my life on the Hill. I became a patrol leader, senior patrol leader and was on staff for two years.  Larry and I had many adventures.  During my early years in camp, I earned several merit badges from him.  One winter, I mailed him merit badge work. I hand wrote it.  Those were the days before everyone had a printer or could email it. I didn’t have a typewriter as 12 or 13 year-old. My penmanship is poor. Up until the day we lost Larry, he still reminded me of the struggle he went through to read my work. He said I understood the badge requirements but it took him days to figure out my writing.

Every Saturday, we would swim in the Delaware and Ten Mile Rivers.  Most of us would hike to and from the rivers. Larry always got a ride in the “Whomobile” or whatever beat up auto served as the camp car.  Once Larry got back to the site, we would often stroll down to Rock Lake and I would paddle him around in a canoe.

Eventually, I was one of the people driving him around for the camp food pick-ups at the Kunatah or headquarters dining halls or the rides out to Peck’s and other stores. One day in the “Truckster,” a beat up blue station wagon, I got so lost. We wound up in Hawley, along the Lackawaxen River in Wayne County, Pennsylvania.  We laughed about that trip forever.

One of the finer things about Larry was his graciousness and love of his scouts or “little funkys” (he used to broadcast a weekly or daily show “Uncle Funky”).  I used to play Meteu in the Order of the Arrow ceremonies. So did he.  I did many ceremonies in TMR.  Sometimes older scouters would stand the during the ceremonies with the scripts and penlights to see how the kids playing the roles were doing. Then after the ceremony they’d tell you what mistakes you made. This infuriated Larry.  None of these people ever did a ceremony and in most cases that were the first time they ever looked the script.  Larry always let us know that. And let the kids know how well they did.

Our last summer was 1988, the OA’s highest honor, the Vigil was bestowed upon me three weeks before camp started.  Every Wednesday night was OA night. We wore our sashes to the dining hall.  Troops would line up and they would ask all of the Vigil members to march in first. There weren’t many.  One night it was only Larry and myself. Everyone knew being Vigil meant the world to me. Much more than being Eagle.  Of course, Larry helped me reach Eagle.  They asked all the Vigil member to walk in. I started walking and realized I was alone. Larry hid in the back with his sash.  He knew what it meant to me to be the only Vigil to enter when they called us.

That summer ended a few weeks later. But our friendship went on to the end.  I will always have him in my thoughts.

Larry’s passing leaves a huge hole in my soul. I feel like we have an empty bucket.  A little more than three years ago, Dr. Karl Bernstein, Larry’s closest friend passed away. Karl was TMR. In 2016, Staten Island Scouter Marty Poller left us. Marty, a Meteu taught me the role and how to build the fire. He was Aqeuhongian Lodge. His guidance when I was chief is immeasurable.

My dad passed away shortly before these great scouts.  Of course, he played a monumental role in my scouting career. He had a similar scouting history.

I feel empty. I cling so much to my childhood. I cherish the learning, love and fun times I had with all of them. Until we meet again. Keep the fire burning.

 

Advertisements

Camp Memories

By Mitchell Slepian

 

BlowhornNew Type Layer copy
Blowhorn Rock, Chappy

 

 

I recently spent five days in the place I called home as a teenager – Ten Mile River Scout Camps. It was a phenomenal experience. I saw people I haven’t since the 80s.

We went to the remains of our favorite sites: Chappegat Hill, Kunatah, Picture Window and Indian Cliffs. I can safely say for myself and the rest of the gang I was with, those sites will always be holy to us. Most of them are no longer operational. Being there flashed us back to our youth. That’s when the trails were teeming with scouts climbing the trail to Eagle.

While in camp, I spoke to current staff and campers. I relayed what we did. Bear in mind, this is when the whole world was not striving to be 100 percent politically correct. We were boys being boys. We wore our scout uniforms, Champion tee and sweat shirts, OP shorts, Gotchas and other 80s fashion. We blasted Squeeze’s “Pulling Mussel’s from the Shell” out of our leantos. If we won our competitions, earned our merit badges we got to go to Carousel Park, Beach Lake, Pa. and ride go karts and dune buggies. We got to eat the “red sauce” in the now closed El Monaco’s, White Lake, N.Y.

We gave each other nicknames. They were based on how we looked, acted and smelled. Some kids never showered. I’m sure that’s still the case. We roughed it. We threw each other out of canoes. No one ever got hurt. We all knew how to swim. In the middle of the night, we raided each other. We had food fights.

We had a five-seater tip pan latrine (the willy). Everyone sat down together to go. We played baseball in the willy. Scoring was based on what we produced… We took ice cold showers. That’s until we “housed” a hot water heater from an abandoned site. We ate gross camp food. Thankfully they still do.

Kids that misbehaved in the dining hall were “nuked”. They had to scrub the place after the meal or wash pots when we concluded our weekend BBQs. Some scouts spent all Saturday night at the willy’s sink scrubbing. As a camper and staff member, I dished out and suffered the punishment.

On our canoe trips, as we paddled down the Delaware River, we loaded up our canoes with dead fish. At different points, we bashed each other over the head with the fish. I still long for a dead fish fight.

While I was sitting in the new Keowa Dining Hall, I spoke about these memories with those around me. Their jaws dropped wide open. No one could believe me. Some were grossed out. I guess dead fish fights and old school willys don’t appeal to all. These days, the camp has flush toilets and traditional showers. I’ve heard their canoe trips are more traditional.

These days, the scouts have fun. Lots of fun. It is a little different. But it is their fun.   They are creating memories. They are soaring to the rank of Eagle Scout. Whose memories are the best? That is in the eye of the beholder. One day, these scouts will come to alumni events and tell their stories to the young staff and scouts. I’m sure things will have changed during that course of time. How much? Time will tell.

 

Mourning a New York Yankee hat

By Mitchell Slepian

About 12 years ago, maybe longer, I was with my dad in Tampa, Fla. We drove up to Legends Field, now Steinbrenner Field. It is the spring training field for the 27-time World Champion N.Y. Yankees and home to their single-A team, the Tampa Yankees.

It was my first time there. In the main lobby were several championship trophies. They are now in the museum in the Stadium. I was having a religious experience. We purchased tickets for the next day’s minor league game and I bought an official NY Yankee baseball hat.

I wore that hat nearly daily. It was like a body part. It has been to many Yankee games, including playoff games, Old Timer’s Day and Mariano Rivera’s last home game, BBQs, picnics, amusement park rides, etc. It was worn and torn for how much I wore it. And loved it.

Last week, it was on my head as I boarded Coney Island’s Cyclone. As the great coaster climbed the tracks it blew off my head. I got sick. Not from the ride. I’ve been on the Cyclone countless times. It is fun. But it is harmless. I was ready to puke over my missing hat. I figured it wound up in the empty seat behind me.

As soon as we pulled in after the ride, I looked and told the ride attendants. They looked in each car. It was missing. They told me to fill out a missing item report at guest services and they’d try to find it when they swept the tracks when the park closed at midnight.

I did exactly that. I was so sick. In tears, I filled out my form. I walked away. Five minutes later, I went back to make sure my awful penmanship was completely legible. The staff made some edits to make it easier to make out my phone number and email.

I went right back for another Cyclone ride. I don’t blame it. I blame me. The hat has survived many Cyclone and other rides. Perhaps its number was up. I don’t know.

For the next few hours, I droned around Luna Park like a dead person. I wound up winning a poop emoji and two Deadpools in the arcade. The emoji cheered me up. But not much.

A few hours later, I was seeing Echo and the Bunnymen and the Violent Femmes in the dump of a theater they built last year. The concert rocked. When it concluded, I went back to guest services. They said they called it in and they’d find it.

Days have passed. No word from Luna Park. My hat is somewhere along the tracks or in heaven for Yankee hats.

To help ease my depression, I went to the Yankee store on 49th Street, NYC and bought a new one. I tried on dozens of official hats to find the one with the best fit. I asked everyone in the store, which looked best. I explained my situation. They all consoled me. I walked up to register, swiped my credit card and put the new one on my head. I hope this one lives up to the old one.

I am not done mourning my old hat. But the new one is striving to take its place.Newhat copy

Does my father want to go on a Norwegian Cruise? Does he want burial in Riverside Cemetery?

By Mitchell Slepian

The answer to does he want to take a Norwegian Cruise is one hundred percent, yes. Maybe even one million percent. As for the next questions, does he want to be buried in Riverside Cemetery in New Jersey, does he want FIOS, a new health care program or a hearing aid?

As for FIOS, not sure if it is offered in his area. But if it is, he might want it. Does he want burial in Riverside Cemetery? He does not. Sadly, he’s been buried in Mt. Hebron Cemetery since April 2014.

But everyday mail comes to my residence asking these questions. When he passed away, I had his mail forwarded to my address. I received his bills, magazines and junk mail from his Plant City, Fla. mailing address.

I was happy with the welcome to the community coupons from Bed, Bath and Beyond and other local businesses.

I get very little mail. Days can go by when there is nothing in my mailbox with my name on it. But my dad gets lots of mail.

The bigger culprits are the cruise lines. It hurts every time he gets their brochures. I know he would have been sailing. He loved cruises. He participated in every activity. He often won t-shirts, drinks, etc. from the cheesy games you can play with your shipmates.

As for the healthcare program being better than his current one, at this stage, I don’t think so. However, I called them and said, “I am calling on behalf of my dad. He’s older and asked me to field a few questions and then we’d decide.” The ever sweet woman on the phone told me to ask. I said, “Does it cover pre-existing conditions?” She said, “What?” I said, “He’s deceased.” She was aghast. After a few seconds of deafening silence, she apologized for the mailing and said she’d remove his name.

As for the cemetery, I did the same. I called them. I got a very pleasant woman well trained in talking with people who are preparing for their burials. We made some small talk at the beginning. I said what can you offer my dad better than where he has his plot? She read me the standard corporate line. I said “That’s nice. But he’s been buried in Mt. Hebron for over two years. What can you do better? And why are you sending this?” Again, the silence was deafening. Then she stuttered her way through saying she’d remove his name from the mailing list and hung up.

I didn’t bother calling the hearing aid company. I trust he’s listening to me when I speak to him and he hears me loud and clear.

Let’s face it we all get mail we don’t want or need. I get mail addressed to the people who lived in my apartment 15 years before I lived here. I toss it. But companies should really do their due diligence before they send their junk. So many of them talk of cost cutting. Just think of the postage and production costs they’d save if they did some quick research. Then they wouldn’t annoy people and may gain a customer or two.

 

 

 

Bleach Monster, Part XII

bleaching-powder-250x250

Their dead on deep stare was very scary.  Neither Murray nor Mark moved. It was like a dual to see who would break first.  Murray would never break. Too much was riding on this.

 

It was business as usual for everyone else in the area, while the two men stood there. Mark was telling himself to remain strong. His stomach turned and he was drenched in sweat.

 

Murray was cool as a cucumber. Mark then suddenly realized he had a key position in D.C. He could have Murray removed from the area. But he had to act with prudence. Failure to do so would wreck everything he worked for.

 

Mark’s eyes moved slightly.  Murray’s did not.

 

Mark waved his arms toward his buddy, Jerry, a capital police officer.  Leisurely Jerry strolled over.  Mark wanted to do this on a friendly basis. He figured he’d make introductions. Say Murray is an old friend and a sports freak. The two would get engaged in a conversation about baseball and Mark would sneak on into the House.

 

Mark was trying to prove how grown up was.  But why should he have to prove anything?  Yeah, he had a very rough teenage life. But he turned everything around. He got a good job, made new friends that really care about him and did a lot of interesting things. But for some reason, these blasts from the past unnerved him.  He was much stronger. But he was not strong enough.  Or maybe he still had hidden fears of his past lodged deeply within him.

 

Anyway, Jerry came by.  Quick introductions were made.  But Murray was onto Mark. Murray quickly brought up his pain over all the injuries his beloved Bronx Bombers had. But then he brought up how it was such a beautiful summer day and the memories he had of spending his teen years in summer camp.

 

Mark panicked.  He started to shake.  About 10 feet away, Dani was watching this all. She was ready to strike if need be. But somehow she knew Murray was in control.

 

Mark’s body was twisted.  His conscience was telling him to stand tall. Tears were coming out of his eyes in buckets.

 

Jerry was perplexed.  Murray smiled. Jerry asked Mark what was wrong. Mark tried to speak. But all that came out of his mouth was gibberish.  He put his head down into his hands.

 

Jerry was thinking about radioing for an ambulance.  Murray chatted with Jerry for a brief moment.  They spoke about A-Rod’s constant mishaps.  Of course one could discuss that for much more than a brief moment.  A guy was having convulsions in front of them. But bring up baseball and that takes the stage.

 

Dani was in awe of Murray and the control he exhibited. It was almost as if the Force was truly channeling through him.  She knew know that their little group was unstoppable.

 

Murray shook Jerry’s hand, told Mark to calm down and said he’d text him later and wandered off to a hot dog stand.

Bleach Monster, Part XI

 

 

Mark woke up from a miserable night’s sleep.  He had an important committee meeting today. It could make or break the legislative work he’d be involved with for the last few months.

 

His poor night’s sleep had nothing to do with that. He had dreams of his teenage years.  He dreamt about his years in summer camp.  They were awful. He had very few friends. He was very awkward around people.  He got caught doing things that really made him look like a sicko. He wasn’t really a bad kid. His parents loved and supported him.  They still do.

 

Years of therapy paid off. He had a good job that paid well. He had a few friends that he trusted.  He had moved so far away from those dark times. But suddenly they were back. He thought he was stronger. But when he saw Murray inside he cringed.

 

Murray strolled over to the Supreme Court Building. He had his reservations about his next steps? Should he really have made Dani bring the troops to DC? Or should he have handled things the way he usually did, on his own? But what’s done is done. He now had to live with the consequences. He walked toward the Capitol Building.

 

Mark arrived at the Capitol Building. He lingered around the tourists before he went in.  Murray, Dani, Danny and Tony were mixed in with the tourists. They had their cameras, maps, bottled water and were wearing baseball caps.

 

Murray used his keen hearing to listen into a conversation Mark had with a security guard. Nothing important was said. They were talking about last night’s Nationals game.  Mark mentioned how much he missed being in NYC, where his beloved Bronx Bombers played. At least Mark likes the Yankees. Probably the only thing he and his adversary shared a love for.

 

Mark stood outside for a few minutes and sipped his coffee. He calmed himself down.  He knew he had work to do.  He truly believed he was serving his country and that Americans benefited from his toils.

 

He was about to go in when he heard someone scream out his name.

 

He turned around.  But he saw no one.  He waited about a minute and went back to the door. He brushed this off to nerves.  He figured with all the tourists one of the parents was yelling at one their kids, who just happened to share his name.

 

Of course, Dani was calling Tony, Mark. It worked.  They didn’t get him to look around more carefully. They slowed him down. That was all they needed.

 

Murray snuck around to the staff entrance and hid in an alcove near the door. As Mark was about to walk in, Dani once again screamed out his name.  Mark stopped dead in his tracks.

 

He started to shiver.   He saw Dani and Tony. But thought it was a boy named, Mark with his mom. He smiled and walked toward the door. They smiled back.

 

He got closer.  Just as he got to the doorway, Murray jumped into his path.

 

The two froze.

Bleach Monster, Part X

Murray left the Seaport.  The others stayed. He raced up to Penn Station.  He received an urgent message from an old friend. He needed to be in DC immediately.

 

A ticket for an Amtrak Acela was waiting for him. He got to Penn. Swiped his card in the Amtrak machine and out popped his ticket.  He sat in the passengers waiting area for about 15 minutes and boarded Amtrak Train 2167 to our nation’s capital.

 

Murray sat in the train’s quiet car and prayed no loud mouths that didn’t care about the rules would be sitting there with him.  For once, he lucked out.

 

It was a smooth ride.  Three hours later he was in Union Station, Washington, D.C.  He hopped on the Red-Line toward Shady Grove and found his friend, Arnold on Pennsylvania Avenue and 11 Street. He was in all black and was drenched in sweat.

 

“What’s wrong?”

 

Arnold stood silently for minutes.

 

Then he spoke.

 

“We have issues.  Remember the old days when we were in camp?”

 

“’Of course.  Those were the best years of our lives.”

 

“The crazy counselor who used to give out pots when we were bad now has a high ranking staff position on the Senate Finance Committee.  Apparently, he cleaned up his nutty act and did quite well in school. He wound up rising up through the legislative staff ranks rather quickly. But I’ve heard he cannot be trusted.”

 

“What do you expect me to do?”

 

“I’ve read stories about what’s going on in NYC.  Specifically in Staten Island, Forest Hills, 161 Street and in Central Park. “

 

“What stories?”

 

“Stories were written about people with special powers.  There were only three.  But something tells me you were involved.”

 

“Me?”

 

“Yeah. You.”

 

The two made idle chatter for the next 20 minutes. Murray denied knowing anything about the Bleach Monster.  Wine-Girl, Blubber Boy, and Tear-Water Boy never made it to the press.

 

Murray suggested they grab a beer.  Arnold agreed.  They walked over to a bar not far from the Ronald Reagan Office Building.

 

One beer turned into another, coupled with an order of wings and fries.  Two hours later a few shots of Arrack were poured.  They paid their bill with a generous tip and departed.

 

A plan was hatched to take out the obnoxious camp counselor.  You see they didn’t wish him harm. The camp days were way gone. But they knew this wacko, despite his cleaned up act was still a nut.  Heaven help our country with the counsel he’ll give our senators.

 

Murray didn’t explain anything about his empire to Arnold. He just said he would figure out a way to take care of Mark. This guy liked to rock-n-roll. He needed to closely study the situation

 

Murray was calm. But he was a little nervous. He never finalized the creation of his empire at the South Street Seaport. He knew Dani would be waiting for his next move.  He trusted her to an extent.  But knew she’d try to take him out if he wasn’t careful. So much for sibling love.

 

Arnold went home. Murray checked in at the J.W. Marriott.  He took a shower and began texting Dani.  She was still up. He gave her a heads up on what was going down in D.C.  He told her to stay on guard for instructions. She got excited.

 

She knew an empire was in the works.   Although she wasn’t the official leader, she knew she would run it anyway.  She was happy to let Murray think he was in control.

 

Murray went to J. Crew and purchased a suit. He went as a visitor to the next Senate Finance Committee meeting. He saw the loony, Mark that he hadn’t seen in over 25 years.  Murray remained unnoticed.

 

Mark looked good.  Brooks Brothers suit. He appeared to be in good shape and was speaking very clearly. But there was still a twinge of crazy in his eyes.  If you didn’t know him back in the day you wouldn’t notice.  You might think he eyes were red due to allergies or other issues.  The meeting concluded.  Everyone scurried out.

 

Murray got a drink of water and called Arnold Everything seems quite normal. But Murray sensed Mark would turn into Mark and start giving out pots. Not the kind he gave out him camp. Heck, those were dirty old pots that good ‘ole camp grub was cooked in.  The new pots could be amendments to financial bills that will wreak havoc on our great American lifestyle.

 

Mark could be a convincing person.

 

He needed to be stopped.

 

He and Murray walked right by each other. Mark was oblivious.

 

A few days passed. Murray was ready to strike.  He went to Senate committee’s website and found Mark’s email. He sent him a cordial email telling him how he’s in town and it has been over two decades since they’ve seen each other.  He suggested they meet in front of the Air and Space Museum.

 

Mark agreed. He was a little nervous. But figured his interactions with Murray were so dated it wouldn’t matter. You see when Mark tried to give Murray and Arnold a million pots after they raided him in his sleep. They moved him while he was sound asleep on his cot and placed him in the latrine above the willy holes.   Mark woke up screaming. He was never mean to any camper again.

 

Mark knew those days were gone. He straightened his life out. He did well at Wharton and had a great job.  But he knew his crazy streak was just waiting to strike.

 

The two arrived at the Air and Space meeting.  As usual, the Hare Krishnas were nearby.  They grabbed Dove ice cream bars from the refreshment stand and began to chat.  Mark told Murray how he still has nightmares about waking up above the Willy holes in camp.  Murray smiled.  He said he feels bad. But hey that was over two decades ago and he would never apologize for his teen craziness.

 

Mark went on to explain how crazy camp situations helped him evolve into the man he is today.  Murray knew right there that Mark was likely to go crazy.  Some of it was his fault. Some were due to the environment they were placed in.

 

The conversation ended. They shook hands and went their separate ways.

 

Murray texted Arnold. They had to get their plan into high gear.  Murray realized the way some things were phrased that trouble was brewing.

 

The next few days may change the shape of the universe.

 

Murray needed Dani and his other powerful little friends at his side. He purchased tickets for them to arrive in DC that evening. He outlined the structure of “Murray’s Empire” in a cryptic email.  They swore their allegiance. Basically, they were to use their “powers” for good.

 

He told them to go straight to the Supreme Court upon arrival.

 

Murray got together with Arnold. They began mapping out their attack plan.

 

Murray’s major concern was how to fight without the use of their powers. Could he do it with tricky speech? Or would his empire descend upon Washington in full light?