“There is a certain bond, when you go to camp you are a part of a strong bond that cannot be broken. That spirit has prevailed.” In 1957, Malcolm Alter went to camp for the first time. His parents sent him to learn how to swim and to “toughen me up.” He grew up in tough neighborhoods in Mattapan and Dorchester and occasionally got into some scraps. Malcolm is very willing to admit his athletic shortcomings. He admitted, “I couldn’t even run away, so I had to talk my way out of trouble.”
Benjamin “Boozie” Alter wanted his son, Malcolm to go to camp, just as he had in the mid 1910s through the mid 1920s. Boozie was friends with George Kane and his brother Abe. So in 1957, Malcolm came to camp for the first time. “The camaraderie, everything about it. The lake is so beautiful. Being up there is a different world, so much fun.” Malcolm was a 5 year camper and a 3 year counselor. Malcolm’s West End story shows how any camper can thrive and how there is far more to camp than athletics. He admits readily that he was not the best athlete. “I was never into sports, I just didn’t care and it was more intense at camp. When they chose players, I was in the least athletic group.” He thought it was funny that he wasn’t even picked. “You got him” was how he learned what team he was on.
Malcolm’s first memory of camp was how afraid he was to jump off the dock into the water as Waterfront Director Buddy Viddum looked on. Then of course there is the famous camp picture in the Mess Hall of Malcolm being taught to swim by Lorie Leiberman. Malcolm loved to swim, shoot Archery and do Arts & Crafts. He would later become the Arts & Crafts Director because he said “I was the only one who knew how to start gimp.” Malcolm also loved free play, movie night and hanging out with his friends. He remembers listening to music during rest period and the great counselors he had like Ralph Santosuosso, Danny Leavitt, Skippy Skversky, Sid Boorstein, Mark Kaplan, Ira Nagle, Paul Levy, and the late Gerry Feld. “All great counselors and very entertaining.”
While Malcolm was not a sports star, he had his moments. He loved playing Softball because he could hit the ball. He remembers one time they put him so deep in the outfield he felt he was almost at the Volleyball court. “I caught the final out once by accident while shading my eyes from the sun. The ball landed in my glove and suddenly I was a hero.” Then he thought, “Oh no, they are going to expect me to do that again.” But sports like Volleyball were a struggle. It took him a while to accept his shortcomings. “The hand can’t do the job of a foot,” which is Malcolm’s way of saying there are certain things people can’t do. However, he could enjoy the wonderful cooking of legendary chef, Ralph Haliburton. “Unrivaled and the nicest guy too.” Malcolm has the controversial opinion that the Thursday lunch of turkey and stuffing was superior to the famous Friday lunch, tuna fish and fries. Maybe because he had other things on his mind on Friday nights. Malcolm became a CIT and conducted Friday Night Shabbat services. “The Catholic kids went to Limerick for Sunday mass.”
Most West Enders can recite their Color War team names like members of their family. Not the case for Malcolm, who struggled to remember his teams. While he disliked Color War, he was proud to have added value to his teams. He won the breath holding and spelling bee. “Until, finally, David Sellinger beat me with the word SHERBET.” Malcolm spelled it “Sherbert.” For song night, Malcolm would play the piano, “Poorly.” His favorite Color War team was “The Plaids,” the judges. “They had songs and cheers and played the fife and drum and made me laugh.” The campers were not allowed to talk at night and got penalty points for talking at night and at meals, but not The Plaid team. They would come around and offer one of their memorable cheers, “Mad, Mad, Mad, this is the plaid, crazy dad, WE DIG PLAID.” We think Malcolm’s Color War record was 2-3.
Malcolm’s last year on staff was in 1964, then in 1965 he drove to camp for Old Timers’ Weekend with his dad, Boozie and Wolfie Kogus. “I was by far the youngest Old Timer, so they put me in Gottlieb.” Malcolm’s favorite camp story was from when he worked Old Timers’ Week, as a counselor. He had a hard group of guys. He had to help out, be waiter, clean, sweep, make beds and when he was done he had to help move things around. One night, he was finally done with his work and he went to the Mess Hall, exhausted, to make himself a sandwich and a cup of coffee. The Old Timers noticed this and a line formed and Malcolm was all of a sudden making sandwiches and pouring coffee for everyone in the Mess Hall. When he was finally done, he took the second bite of his sandwich, second sip of his now cold coffee when the legend, George Kane, came in and said, “wash up all the dishes, would you.” Now Malcolm had to put all the dishes in the dishwasher. Exhausted, he FINALLY gets back to the bunk and he was asked if he used the orange or the green soap. The kitchen guys told him he used the wrong soap and that Alphonse always had a few dishes to wash from the night before. Malcolm panicked and went back down to the kitchen and intentionally messed up some of the dishes because he didn’t want the cooks to think the dishes he washed were all set, when he wasn’t sure if he used the correct soap. Then, after returning to the bunk he coughed laughing at what he had done and threw up on the floor. You can guess who had to mop that up. Rough evening. Malcolm came back to Old Timers’ Week in 1980 and has been back ever since.
Malcolm remembers the Camp Directors from his era, Larry Gerishaghti, Wally Rubin, Ed Nankin, Lou Fuccillo, and of course Allie Coles. Allie slept in the Rec Hall office and eventually moved to the Mendelson cabin. Malcolm recalled how the Bancroft cabin merged with Gottlieb to form the present footprint of Gottlieb. They raised both cabins off the ground to put them together. The Mendelson, Bancroft and Gottlieb cabins were called “The back bunks.” Malcolm got stuck in Bancroft, one year, and hated it. None of the back bunks had bathrooms, so Malcolm asked for anything else. Two weeks later he was moved to 1A and had Danny Leavitt as his counselor. Years later they reconnected and were close friends until Danny’s passing.
As for his good friend, Bill Margolin, “he’s the finest gentleman I’ve ever known. He walks on water.” They met in the Council Ring and became friends back in 1958. One time, outside of camp, while at the Solomon Lewenberg Junior High School in Mattapan, Malcolm was sent to Boston Latin to play the violin in the all city string orchestra. They had enough violin players, so they gave him a viola and sat him next to Bill Margolin who was very helpful in showing him how to play music written in the C clef. When Malcolm was a CIT, he shared the Counselors’ Room with Bill in the 5’s. “He has a dry sense of humor and is extremely creative.” Malcolm remembers that one time in Color War, Bill was the head coach of the Blue team and planned to do a rendition of the play “Oklahoma” for his skit on Song Night. “There was an old wagon across the road from the Pickled Fingers house and he managed to get the wagon into camp, painted it, and got it on stage. A camper played a horse. It was such a brilliant idea, coaches from the team helped him paint it.”
After his camp days and after graduating Boston English, Malcolm attended Emerson College. His time at Emerson ended in annoying fashion. Malcolm was told he needed a few more credits before graduation and one of them was in Physical Education, not a favorite. He jokingly said “Can I just do a few jumping jacks.” It did not work. So he had to take the course and he did some swimming to work out ½ of the course, but owed another ½ credit. So he went to the YMHA, where his father regularly went to the health club and had a connection to help him get that ½ credit. It seemed like he was finally going to graduate. However, his father’s connection at the YMHA passed away, on the handball court. Malcolm had to take a sailing course over the summer to finally graduate and get that extra ½ credit. Cruelly, a year later, the Physical Education requirement was dropped. During his years at Emerson, Malcolm hosted a jazz program on the college radio station WERS where he got interviews with jazz musicians who were appearing at Lennie’s on the Turnpike, Paul’s Mall, and the Jazz Workshop. Among them….Jon Hendricks, Count Basie, Bill Evans, Jackie Cain and Roy Kral, and Clark Terry. Malcolm was inducted to the WERS Hall of Fame in 2012 for his accomplishments in radio.
When his father “Boozie” passed away at the age of 73, Malcolm was dragged into running his father’s clothing factory, while at the same time working in radio. It was not a great business and a couple of years later, he shut it down.
As most people are aware, Malcolm has been doing traffic reporting since 1982. He was working in radio, doing news and as his first job, was the producer for famous Red Sox announcing legend, Sherm Feller back in the mid 70’s at WRYT, now WROL. He worked on other radio stations doing news when he got a call from Metro Traffic Control. He is STILL working for them today. The company changed names as it was sold a few times. “I was a victim of dumb luck. This company puts you on any station they want.” At one point, he was on 5 stations at once doing traffic reports from a helicopter out of Beverly Airport. “I couldn’t chase myself around the dial fast enough.” Working a split shift, morning and afternoon drive, he would drive to Beverly Airport twice a day. He recalls how cold his feet would get. A concerned listener sent him a package with one battery operated sock. He didn’t know which foot to wear it on, so “I bought a pair of battery heated socks, but the batteries were expensive, so I went back to just flexing my toes.” He still does 30 hours a week from his home using the traffic cameras that are mounted across the city along with closed circuit websites.
When asked about the worst accidents, Malcolm was quick to say, “the tractor trailer rollovers, they are the worst.” He recalled seeing one of the worst traffic jams ever when a truck crashed on the lower deck of Rt 93 and the lumber aboard landed not only on the road, but in the mouth of the Charles River below. “Lumber Jerk” was the headline in the paper the next day. When he knew nobody was injured, Malcolm would insert a timely pun. There was the time a truck crashed full of oranges and on the radio he said “traffic is squeezing through on one lane and it’s really the pits. I’m going back there to get a Bird’s Eye view.” When a truck filled with coffee rolled over, Malcolm noted “traffic has come to a grinding halt and is filtering through in the left lane.” The most common and frustrating traffic inducing crash is the trucks that fail to make it under the BU bridge. Trucks aren’t allowed on Soldiers Field Road and Storrow Drive and for some reason they ignore the big sign that reads “CARS ONLY.” One time in Wilmington a group of cows were running loose on the highway. “They were stopped for a mooing violation.” Malcolm has a quirky sense of humor.
For those who know Malcolm, one of his patented pranks is to randomly play the sound “BOING” over the loud speaker during Old Timers’ Week. I was excited to delve into this topic and of course there was a story behind it. The sound, “BOING,” comes from a Jaws Harp also known as the Jews Harp. After extensive research, you can here the “BOING” sound clearly in many famous songs including “Give it Away” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers (listen at 15 seconds into the song). Beloved New York radio raconteur, the late Jean Sheppard, who is famous for writing and narrating “The Christmas Story,” played it during radio shows and used it as a prop. Malcolm loved it. He bought one and used it for 50 years before it broke. “I lost my best friend.” Malcolm took joy in knowing that former Camp Director, Steve Lepler, thought it was annoying and told him he could only do it once a day. He said he bought a new one because “I had to keep annoying Lepler.” Malcolm also used his cell phone app to get a “BOING” during Old Timers’ Week. At a recent camp get together, Malcolm’s phone rang at an inopportune time. “BOING, BOING, BOING, BOING” is of course, his ring tone. When asked “Malcolm doesn’t that annoy your wife?” Malcolm said, “She has the dog barking sound, which is worse.” Malcolm has been happily married to his wife, Susan for 38 years.
“Camaraderie” is the word that Malcolm uses most often to describe the uniqueness of West End House Camp. Henry Barr, Freddie London, and Alan Alpert are among the great friends he has made through the years and his bunkmates in the Burnes Cabin during Old Timers’ Week. He is a great example of how everyone can find their niche at camp and in life. “I thought I wasn’t successful, but I found the things I could do. I’m proud of my non-athletic ability.” Thank you Malcolm Alter for Remembering with Ryan. Malcolm asked that everyone reading this piece check out the following website.
An addendum: For the past 5 years, Malcolm has been raising money for the Michael J. Fox Foundation and riding his bike in the New England Parkinson’s Ride in Old Orchard Beach, the weekend after Labor Day. He does 10 miles, which he thinks is sufficient and does his best to bring in as much money as possible. Malcolm is passionate and finds this to be a very important and worthy cause given the fact that some of his close friends have been afflicted with Parkinson’s Disease.