LAKEVILLE, PA. -- Everything about Cove Haven, the Pocono Mountains' best-known honeymoon resort, is designed to convey a single, subtle message: Get naked!
Penthouse Forum, which can claim a certain expertise in these manners, has labeled the place "a sexual Disneyland."
The editors refer perhaps to the capacious round beds, the red velvet furnishings, the mirrors that offer more angles on the action than a Super Bowl broadcast.
Or, better still, to the heart-shaped bathtubs, the in-room pools and saunas, the whirlpool disguised as an enormous glass of champagne.
In the regal red and gold lobby a marble reproduction of the Apollo Belvedere stands beside a snowmobile. Naked. Through this ornate tableau strolls a young guest from California, video camera flush against his right eye.
"Here we are in the lobby in the Poconos," he says to the camera. "We're waiting for the bus."
Across the lobby, his wife of several days is sizing up a photo display of honeymoon couples lounging in their tubs, cuddling in their Champagne Towers. An excess of soap bubbles protects the delicate sensibilities of viewer and viewee.
"How cute," she says. "Do you like this, Al?"
Al has spotted the bus and is recording its arrival. He says hello to the driver and gets some good footage of the luggage being loaded. The bus is called the Love Machine.
After Al and his wife climb aboard, the bus cruises down Cove Haven's main street toward their room. A huge heart-shaped road sign welcomes them to "The Land of Love."
For 30 years newlyweds have begun their lives together at this resort on Lake Wallenpaupak in the northeastern corner of Pennsylvania about 30 miles from Scranton. What was once a boat dock backed by an 18-unit hotel is now a 130-acre resort with accommodations for 270 couples and enough indoor and outdoor activities to exhaust even the hyperactive.
You might ask yourself: What need would honeymooners have for an indoor boccie court?
You might ask yourself: What need would honeymooners have for an ice-skating rink?
You might say to yourself: Bows and arrows?
Yes, because as a wise man once put it: "They want to do something other than copulate continuously in their rooms. They have the rest of their lives to do that."
The man who spoke those words, or earthier ones to that effect, is Phil Policare, better known as Honest Phil. He is the human face of Cove Haven, otherwise known as the social director.
Tall, very thin, bearded and bespectacled, Honest Phil shows up for work in gray shorts and a red polo shirt. A whistle hangs around his neck. He carries a cup of coffee in one hand and a volleyball in the other. The motto on his baseball cap says: "Sex makes me insane. The more I get, the crazier I am about it."
"How many people weren't in the nightclub last night?" he asks an audience of about 25 couples assembled at the volleyball net.
About a dozen hands go up.
"That's okay," he says. "We know where you were. And we know what you were doing." He leers at them like a jaded camp counselor. "Horny people."
Each Sunday night in the Champagne Palace nightclub, Honest Phil welcomes new guests to Cove Haven and acquaints them with the resort. He reprises the speech on Monday morning for those who were otherwise occupied.
First he introduces the two staff photographers. "They will take your picture anywhere at any time," Phil says. "The question comes up, 'Do they take pictures in the nude?' Yes, they do. But you don't get in the nude, they do."
Next he explains volleyball, the Honest Phil way.
He divides the group into teams and arranges each team in three rows. When the ball is in play, he tells them, one person in each of the first two rows and two people in the last row must hit it before it can be batted back across the net.
"And girls," Honest Phil says, "I stick up for you. The guys will try to take over the court." (At Cove Haven women are girls and ladies. Men are guys.) To prevent male dominance Phil decrees that any girl who feels a guy has poached on her has the right to kick the poacher squarely in the behind. And, to make matters a bit more interesting, any time the ball clears the net without at least one woman touching it, every guy gets a kick in the backside.
Phil steps back and the game starts. Stops. Starts. The couples are having trouble getting the hang of it.
In situations like these Honest Phil used to scream a favorite obscenity. But some couples were offended and complained to the management. Now Phil sticks an ay at the end (darn-ay, for instance, instead of darn). "Who can be offended?" he says. "You're speaking French."
Every now and then he has everyone shout "Darn-ay" in unison. Doing mildly foolish things together builds camaraderie.
Cove Haven encourages camaraderie. Couples who make friends often return to the resort to celebrate anniversaries together. Seventy-five percent of Cove Haven's clientele are either referrals or returnees. Those who return three times are admitted to the Forever Lovers club. They get special rates on their drinks, upgrades on their rooms. Their names are flashed on the Cove Haven TV station.
After an hour of flailing and floundering, the 25 couples walk off the volleyball court laughing. They've introduced themselves to one another, shared a good time, and each of the wives has had several opportunities to kick other women's husbands in the behind.
Cove Haven was not always the honeymoon paradise of the working class. But in the early '60s, owner Morris Wilkins scouted out his competition and spotted a crucial weakness.
"The bathrooms were always kind of schlocky," his son Michael Wilkins says. This led Morris Wilkins, whom his son calls Mr. Flamboyant, to make his seminal contribution to the American honeymoon: the heart-shaped tub.
"That really put the Poconos on the map," his son says.
The tubs debuted in 1963. In 1971 Life magazine introduced them to the world. Wilkins had to borrow $10,000 the next week just to print extra brochures. He'd sold Cove Haven to Caesars World Inc. in 1969, but stayed on to manage the property and invent dizzying new accouterments for newlyweds.
"Once you get in the public eye as something, you have to back it up," Michael Wilkins says.
First there was the in-room pool. Then the in-room pool beside a fireplace. Then, the Champagne Towers.
Michael Wilkins says it was "really comical" standing in front of a row of strait-laced corporate types making the case for putting a whirlpool into a 6 1/2-foot-tall plastic tower designed to look like a champagne glass. "But they gave us the go-ahead."
Good thing too. The Tower rooms were booked for 18 solid months before the first one opened.
"Romance is always part of it," Michael Wilkins says. "I think the rooms bring that out in you."
If the rooms don't, the gift shop will. The Ship's Galley stocks an impressive array of electronic stimulants, as well as manuals ("The Marriage Bed Fully Illustrated"); amusements (The Game of World Sex Records); and ointments (Joy Jelly, Motion Lotion -- "warms to the touch").
"People always send us baby pictures," Wilkins says. " 'We conceived Johnny here.' I don't know how many babies we've conceived here. It must be an army."
Honest Phil sits on the stage in the Lookout Lounge, an audience of about 200 arrayed at the tables before him. He is holding a balloon between thumb and forefinger. "Know why they tie the umbilical cord on a baby?" he asks before releasing the balloon.
This is Honest Phil's Game Party, "the big icebreaker," as the master of ceremonies refers to it. For the next hour, the 150 people in this room will engage in feats sillier than anything they've ever dreamed of.
The best of the games involve ping-pong balls. For instance, stuff a ping-pong ball down your spouse's shirt, roll it down his body, into his pants and out his pant leg. (This is more fun if he's wearing tight jeans.) Then it's his turn.
The finale is Honest Phil's version of musical chairs. Women put their right arms around their husbands. Easy enough so far. Then they thrust their right hand into his pants and out his zipper.
"Now shake hands with the girl next to you," Phil says. "You have to be able to shake hands."
Because if you can't you won't be able to handle the ping-pong ball she hands you. The ball is passed, woman to woman, but only after every couple that touches the ball spins itself in a complete circle. If you are holding the ball when Honest Phil shouts "Pregnant," his all-purpose curse, you are out.
Now you may have the impression that Phil Policare has the soul of a lounge lizard. You might think that at 43, he's become a bit cynical. That attitude would be of a piece with the surroundings. But it wouldn't be of a piece with Honest Phil. He sees himself as a missionary of sorts. A 20th-century troubadour set down in the kingdom of newlyweds.
"It's not just a job," he says. "It's a religion."
Comedian, magician, cut-rate sage Phil Policare is a Pocono Mountains success story. He started in the resort business 20 years ago as a bellhop who did a little magic on the side. His rapport with the audience was so good that Cove Haven hired him as an assistant social director in 1971 and promoted him to the top job a year later.
For all his leering humor, he believes in the importance of the honeymoon. "It's got to be a good foothold," he says. And he does everything in his power to make sure Cove Haven couples start out right.
"When I get to the Cove Haven sign, I could be in a very pissed-off mood, but as soon as I walk on the property, look at those faces," he says. "They're happy. I can't come in with a pissed-off attitude."
On a rainy Tuesday afternoon about 90 couples have congregated in the Lookout Lounge for Honest Phil's version of "The Newlywed Game." The lounge is every bit as subtle as the rest of the Cove.
"Guess What We Were Keeping Score Of?" reads the legend on the scarlet napkins. There are 330 tallies on each.
Five couples are on the dance floor, the men seated, the women standing behind them. They are honeymooners, and an audience of about 150 strangers has learned a great deal about them.
Take Couple No. 1: She isn't wearing any underwear. Or Couple No. 2: They were once arrested for making love in a public park. Or Couple No. 3, who have just disclosed the role of the sauna in their recent intimacies.
Honest Phil has asked the male contestants which fruit their wives' breasts remind them of.
"God help us," says the middle-aged fellow from Delaware who earlier misunderstood a question about his inseam and earned himself the nickname "Six Inches." He seems to be enjoying his embarrassment. They all do.