When I was 16, I worked as a counselor at Camp Holiday Trail in Hillsborough Upper Village.
The Head Counselor, Ken, and the Waterfront Director, Bob, were both several years older than I. They were smooth New York sophisticates, while I was a naïve Claremont teenager.
Ken told us he was directing an upcoming play starring the great blues singer Ethel Waters. Bob said he was engaged to Sandra Church, an up-and-coming Broadway actress. It never occurred to me to ask why such big shots were spending the summer at a boys’ camp in New Hampshire. And I took them at their word.
As the camp season wore on, problems developed between the two of them and the camp’s owners. I can’t remember what the issues were, but I was torn over where my loyalties should lie. On the one hand, the owners had been very decent to me and were paying my salary, $200 for the summer. On the other hand, Ken and Bob had become my friends. So, I did my best to stay neutral.
The rancor boiled over, and my friends got fired. Instead of packing up and returning to New York, one to work on his play and the other to be with his fiancé, they had to remain in New Hampshire. I think it had to do with waiting to pick up their laundry, though that sounds pretty lame now that I think about it. Whatever, I told them they were welcome to stay at my home in Claremont for a few days. I must have checked with my parents first, but that’s another detail I don’t remember.
The next thing I knew, they were installed in residence at what was then called Edgewood Circle. What I had assumed would be a couple of days turned into at least a week and, while I was still at Holiday Trail, my mother reported that they were “charming” and “entertaining” guests.
I’ll bet they were. Comfortable bedrooms, homemade meals, and no doubt access to the liquor cabinet, courtesy of my father. I’m foggy on whether there was some sort of “loan” (to pay for the laundry bill?), but you get the general idea.
This episode happened more than 65 years ago, and I hadn’t thought about it in a long time. But then I watched the Netflix series “Inventing Anna,” and my month-long acquaintance with Ken and Bob came to mind—not in a flood, but in bits and pieces, enough to connect them with the riveting story of “Anna Delvey,” born Anna Sorokin, the Russian-born woman who came to New York in her mid-20s, invented a new name and persona, and managed to flimflam lawyers, bankers, hotels, restaurants, airlines, and others.
How is it that people like Ken and Bob (who I ultimately concluded weren’t exactly what they said they were) and Anna manage to invent themselves? According to Anna’s lawyer, we all lie, one way or another.
One thing’s for sure. We’ve all been lied to. In the television show, some of Anna’s “victims” never accept the fact that she was a con artist who played them. I get that, because in a small way it happened to me. Like at least some of Anna’s New York “friends,” even to this day I want to believe that Ken had a forthcoming Broadway play and that Bob was engaged to marry a Broadway actress.
Lawyers would know better, but they don’t. I know of someone who flattered himself that a Dutch company had chosen him, by email, to handle the sale of a large piece of construction equipment. He even had numerous conversations with the supposed client in the Netherlands. When the dust settled, the lawyer’s firm had wired $330,000 to two banks in Asia, and poof! It was a sophisticated ruse. All the signs were there, but the lawyer hadn’t seen them.
P.T. Barnum once said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” We believe what we hear, especially when the speaker seems glamorous or well-connected. Maybe it’s because we hope that some of that glamor will rub off on us.
As for Ken and Bob, after that summer I never saw or heard from them again.