I've taken my fun where I've found it...
Rudyard Kipling - The Ladies (1895)
If a man insisted always upon being serious,
and never allowed himself a bit of fun and relaxation,
he would go mad or become unstable without knowing it.
Herodotus - Book II (5th Century BC)
HANGIN' TIGHT, HANGIN' LOOSE AND HANGIN' ON
Hangin' Out and Having Fun in the Meadow
I remember quite well, one afternoon in my office during my Marine Corps recruiting days.
The girlfriend of a potential recruit was boasting about how much fun it was to hang out at the mall with her friends and make fun of the nerds who went shopping with their parents. When I asked her if that was the best she could think of to do with her free time, she seemed offended that I didn't think she was just about the coolest social development since cherry cola.
"What did you do for fun back in the old days?" she wanted to know.
If by the "old days" she meant the '60s, the answer was simple. Back in the meadow, everything we did was for fun. But then again, some fun was a lot more memorable than the rest. It was a matter of when and where you did your gardening.
Living in Connecticut, New Jersey, New York or eastern Pennsylvania provided countless opportunities for free-time fun and enjoyment but I recall two particular places with a special fondness.
Greenwood Lake is a former summer habitat that lies on the New York-New Jersey border. In the '60s and early '70s, a large portion of the homes around the lake were summer residences for some of the more or less affluent families from the New York metropolitan area. There were several beaches and marinas, a few hotels and motels, some really great restaurants, a fist-full of neighborhood bars that catered to the local trade and on the New York side, an arm-full of considerably larger establishments that made a fortune on kids from North Jersey who could pass for the legal New York State alcoholic beverage consumption age of eighteen.
I remember the names of several of the more popular ones the same way I remember the names of my teachers in high school who constantly warned us of the dangers of drinking and driving. Actually, they just warned us about going up to "the Lake", but Greenwood Lake was synonymous with drinking and driving. However, it wasn't just the availability of alcohol that made the weekend ride across the state line the thing to do.
Any resourceful fifteen-year-old who felt a need to imbibe could always find a way to get a six pack and take it out in the woods.
Kids went to "the Lake" because that's where the action was.
That was where everything was happening on Friday and Saturday night. And while a few parents knew that Dick and Jane were hoisting beers, whiskey sours and rum and colas at the Emerald, the Yellow Submarine and the Pussycat Lounge, more often than not they believed that Jack and Susie were at the bowling alley or roller skating rink having a grand old time downing burgers and fries and "Un-Cola."
And even if you didn't go to the lake, you still told everyone you went. You didn't want anyone to know that you weren't as cool as the rest of the crowd.
But just to make sure, you always asked where they went before committing yourself to a lie.
"Oh. You went to the Orange Room? Gee, I was over at Point Lookout. At least I think it was Point Lookout. After my fifteenth 'Boiler Maker" I lost track of where I was."
Looking back now, I don't really know for sure just how many of my peers were telling the truth about how often they went to the lake or how much they drank when they got there. In fact, now that I think about it, if they were all really being honest about how much booze they consumed on a single night, there's no way any of them could ever have driven back home. That was long before designated drivers were acceptable.
If Greenwood Lake was the dream haven for the in-crowd, then New York City was the Mecca for the rebel and the elite among us.
In the 'City', you could visit dozens of museums, art galleries, concert halls and libraries.
There were the Bronx Zoo, the Central Park Zoo, the Botanical Gardens, Empire State Building and Statute of Liberty.
You could easily spend eight hours in one place and have plenty left over to see. With the nominal admission fees, anyone could afford a good time. Throw in a couple of hot dogs, sodas and giant pretzels from a street vendor and you had the perfect day-long date for ten bucks plus bus fare.
And then there was the 'Village'.
Greenwich Village was more than just a collection of coffee houses and bookstores.
It was history.
It was culture.
It was counter-culture.
It was a living, breathing entity with a personality unlike anything in suburbia.
The Village was in the Meadow long before the Meadow even bloomed and it's still in the Meadow today. Well, perhaps not in exactly the same way, but it's as close as we'll get for a while.
I remember sitting for hours, drinking cheap espresso while listening to off-beat poets and philosophers expound on the state of the world.
There were some coffee-houses where well-known folk singers would entertain for free and aspiring talents would sing for whatever you threw in the hat when it was passed.
I have a vivid recollection of visiting the legendary 'Cafe Wah' and listening to a group with the unlikely name of 'Beau Grumpus'. They sounded like any of a dozen British groups and they had a flashing light-show that made me wonder if someone hadn't slipped something in my drink.
The restaurants in the Village had a special charm.
They were often small, usually friendly, occasionally quiet and they always had good service. You could get just about any cuisine that existed and some drinks that I'm sure were invented on the spot.
But my happiest memories are of Washington Square Park on Friday nights and Saturday afternoons in summer and fall.
I'd listen to the amateur folk singers, playing their guitars, banjos and harmonicas, doing credible imitations of Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Judy Collins and just about every popular or unknown performer who ever sang about freedom, struggle, peace, war and unrequited love.
After a while, I began to bring my guitar or banjo with me. Sometimes I'd join in with a few of the others and on occasion, I'd even have an audience of my own.
It was a place and a time where music was a bond and anyone who cared to belong was welcome.
You could hear a message or preach one.
You could sing a song or live one.
You could listen to a poet or you could be one.
You could watch a celebration of life and take an active part in it.
You could be happy, sad, angry, relaxed, motivated or inspired.
You could be anything but bored. Bored didn't grow in that part of the Meadow.
Today when I visit Greenwich Village I see a rebirth taking place.
It isn't the Meadow of the '60s and '70s, but a new one with new blossoms.
It's called the New Age as a matter of fact and although the flowers are different, the colors are still the same.
The espresso houses are still there, but health food shops and natural juice bars have taken hold. The head shops that sold hash pipes and rolling papers are being replaced by crystal shops and stores that specialize in books about herbal medicine, natural healing, getting back to nature, pre-Christian traditions and religions, and how to use colors, scents and sounds to feel good without drugs or alcohol.
I have to take issue with the idea that it's a New Age though.
I believe instead that the seeds of the old Meadow have just been carried to a new place on the winds of time and the new soil they seem to have taken root in has better nutrients (and a little less fertilizer) that produces an improved bloom.
Maybe if we take good care of them and don't forget what we learned in the old Meadow, we can make the new one last longer and spread farther.
As long as we remember to have fun, if we don't forget to take some time and enjoy the little things that can make life such a joyous venture, there will always be fresh flowers in the Meadow.