The Smudge Remembers:
By Scott Salad
Published March 13th, 2016
CLIFTON PARK — If you grew up in the Capital Region in the 80's like I did, you probably remember hearing about a Clifton Park hangout called Lollipop Park.
“It's a magical place for men just like me,” my dad, Carl, told me one morning when I was 11.
I remember thinking: It must be a bar, like Cheers.
I got used to seeing my anxious Dad come home from work, put on dark clothing and leave for Lollipop Park. Then, hours later, he'd return relaxed, like a weight had been lifted.
That was the routine until my mom — a semi-professional bowler and full-time librarian named Meg — divorced him in 1987.
Over the next two decades, I split holidays between her home in Saratoga and the meticulous Orlando, Florida bungalow my Dad purchased with his best friend, a great guy named Glen Soup. (Yeah, I know, “Soup and Salad.” Hilarious, huh?) I'd also get married, start a family and embark on a career as a fake journalist.
Still, I always wondered what happened to Lollipop Park. Did it close? Was it sold and rebranded for a hip, younger crowd? I had no idea.
Then in February, a make-believe source fell through and I missed an important make-believe deadline. Suffice it to say, I returned home in a snit, threatening to sell my children's toys on Craigslist and break every damn one of my wife's antique figurines.
As I fought the urge to smash a Hummel of two Bavarian children and their first dance, the thought of my dad returning from Lollipop Park calm and collected surfaced in my mind. What happened to it? Suddenly I needed to know.
So to the tune of one bewildered wife and three sobbing children, I left for Clifton Park.
Unfortunately, my first stop — the Southern Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce — proved to be a dead end. There was no listing for a business called Lollipop Park.
Frustrated, I called my Father.
“Oh,” he said, sounding surprised. “That was a long time ago.”
I pressed him further but he continued to dodge the subject. Then Glen got on the line.
“I'll tell you where it was,” he whispered. “But you owe me.”
Five minutes later I was standing in front of the State Police substation located at the northbound I-87 rest area between exits 10 and 11.
“Yeah, this was Lollipop Park,” said Sgt. Peter Hopscotch. “It was a gay hang-out. Guys met here, and then walked off into the woods together. It was a real problem, so they sent in undercovers to bust things up. Then they cut down the trees and built this place.”
Stunned, I followed Sgt. Hopscotch outside to a barren hill, enclosed by a high-security, chain-link fence overlooking the Northway.
As I stood there I thought about my dad, his forays to Lollipop Park, the sense of calm that followed him home, the divorce — and finally the apartment in Florida. Then it hit me. I raced back to my car and placed another call to Florida.
“Dad, is there something you want to tell me?” I asked.
“Uh, yeah,” he hesitated. “I guess it's time I came clean. I... Uh... I...”
Hating to hear him squirm, I cut him off.
“I know Dad, you were an undercover cop.”
Silence. And then…
“Huh?” he asked. “A cop? Oh... Uh... Yes! Yes, Scott, how did you know?”
It was now my turn to confess something. On a recent visit to Florida, while he and Glen were out shopping, I found myself rummaging through their shared closet. Among the frilly velvet vests, leather biker hats and assless chaps, I discovered something odd: A policeman's uniform complete with handcuffs and a Billy club.
“You caught me red-handed,” my father chuckled. Then, after making me swear I'd never set foot inside his closet again, he gave me his standard “too-da-loo, my darling” sign-off and hung up.
As I drove home, thoughts of my dad playing a part in the cleanup of a local rest area made me proud, and a bit relieved. I gotta say, after seeing that uniform, I thought maybe he and Glen were… well... you know.