Man of Main

A journal
In which the Author recounts his return to summer camp
and learns a great many things.

Summer, 1992



Saturday, May 27th

I left for lifeguard training two hours earlier than I needed to--at 2:00--going west through Ft. Worth and Mineral Wells on my way past Graford, the town nearest to camp. The drive took about two and a half hours, mostly at high speed, with the last two miles on rough gravel and reddish soil. Most things seemed familiar: the hills, the mesquite trees, the edge of the lake. Ten-year-old memories flashed back. Rolling slowly down the last stretch of dirt road to the main dining hall, I was grinning like an idiot, thinking: Far-freakin-out, I am back.

Stylized map of Possum Kingdom
Camp Grady Spruce is a YMCA camp on the Possum Kingdom Lake peninsula in west Texas. It has three sites: Main for boys 8-12, Ray Bean for girls 8-12, and Frontier for girls and boys 13-16. Activities include canoeing, sailing, skiing, crafts, archery, riflery, and horseback riding. The campers go on hikes and barge trips and play games like Capture the Flag, Capture the Counselor, and Bombardment, a destructive competition with big red rubber balls. Directly across the lake from the Main dining hall is Devil's Island, with its eight-story vertical rock face and a hemispherical indentation in its side, known as the Amphitheater. This place is the site for frequent hiking expeditions, by way of a barge, and the legendary home of the local bogeyman, Scarface.

As a tyke I went to Main for three summer sessions and Frontier two. I always wanted to come back, but the allure of high-tech, high-paying jobs was too strong for the past five summers. This year I could finally afford to return. I'm a counselor at Main. The main camp is divided into three units: Indians are the youngest kids, who live in stone cabins to the west of the dining hall on the water; Ranchers live in tents on the hill behind the dining hall to the north, and Pathfinders, the oldest boys, live in the tents to the east. A tent is a green fiberglass roof over a concrete slab with some number of beds; restrooms and showers are in stone buildings adjacent to clusters of tents. The camp director at Main (and the instructor of the lifeguarding class) is Jay, a former counselor with many summers' experience here. He's tall, gangly, and twenty-six; he laughs a lot and seems easy to get along with. I really like Jay and am looking forward to spending more time with him. The leader of the Indian unit is named Michael, and he's in the lifeguarding class with me. He's twenty-two, a veteran counselor, skinny and earnest and serious--I think he'll be a decent boss. I have asked to work with the younger kids on the theory that they'll be less jaded and more enthusiastic and not taller than I am.

Lifeguard training alternated between learning interesting underwater wrestling moves and painfully boring discussions of the textbook. The weather was rotten: cold, rainy, windy. We sat in the lake for two- hour stretches practicing our skills and turning blue. One of the symptoms of hypothermia is impaired judgement, and I tried once to justify getting out of the pool by shouting, "I think I'm going to vote for Clinton!" The staff who are taking this class with me seem to be a decent bunch, though the majority of them are frat guys and sorority types from Texas Tech. I was stressing out about the practical test, as I thought I was going to have to wrestle a manic Jay in twenty feet of water, but I passed easily. All of us in the class did, in fact, except for one weenie girl who didn't even take the tests. I can't imagine going through all that grief and not even trying.

The class ended Wednesday at noon, giving me a few days to prepare for staff training on Saturday.

Staff Training

Saturday, May 30th

Got up at 6:00 AM. Ugh. Packed and hit the road at 7:30; arrived at camp at 10:00 sharp. I was handed a name tag (which said 'Mack') coded with various markings: a pound sign, a heart, a number 6. At the first gathering of the staff I noticed other symbols, some different, some the same. Oh boy, I thought, groups. Groups mean group games, group orientation, group this that and the other. After the first of what would be many pep talks, we played those tedious icebreaker games and had lunch.

The afternoon was spent in administrative tedium: infirmary orientation, office orientation, pool orientation. After lifeguard training, I can't believe I had to get in the damn lake again to prove that I could swim.

One thing that has not changed, for either Camp Grady Spruce or me, are camp songs. They still sing 'em and I still hate 'em. A dozen at least I learned and immediately forgot. "What is the purpose of camp songs?" asked Jay. People shouted various responses: bonding, sharing, blah blah blah. "To tire the kids out right before rest break," I hollered.

The thing I hear most is "Hands up!", as in, "When the hand goes up, the mouth goes shut." This phrase is going to drive me crazy.

Brochure propaganda
The evening brought "inspirational talks"--YMCA propaganda. A long-time staff member talked about the importance of the Ragger program, a seven-stage progression of spiritual and personal growth that involves peer counseling and symbolic bandanas. It's a Christian thing, and I'm not a Christian, so I guess I'm not getting any rags. I'll respect the rituals and keep quiet about my beliefs, but I'm puzzling over how I'm going to lead obligatory chapel services.

I don't want to stick out, so I'm keeping a lot of things to myself. But I won't lie if asked directly, so I get a progression of freaking out from: I'm twenty-four, I went to Rice, I majored in electrical engineering ... no, I won't tell you my SAT score. I want to be treated like a normal counselor, not a space alien. Of course, as soon as I refused to tell my SAT score, people started speculating that it was 1500+. Which of course it isn't.

We had to work in little groups on applying the mission of the YMCA. It's a seven-faceted program: learn new skills, appreciate diversity, have fun, etc. Some of the exercises were really dumb, though, like how does appreciation of diversity apply to canoeing? I couldn't make any sense out of most of the assignments. Plus, all this non-judgemental positive self-esteem squishiness tends to junk constructive criticism in favor of unconditional praise. If all you ever do is praise, what value can a compliment have? The funnest part of the evening was boasting quietly to the gal next to me how nobody beats me at Simon Sez at the beginning of the game and then winning.

I don't mean to make it sound like I'm not enjoying myself; I am, quite a bit, but the fun parts are not so easily transcribed: meeting the other staff, telling jokes, throwing the frisbee, taking in the view of the lake. I'm sure things will get better when the campers arrive.

Jay gave the counselors for main a pep talk about how the Grady Spruce experience was very personal to him. After years as camper and counselor, he went into the "real world." A year later he had broken up with his fiancee, was drinking too much and taking a lot of drugs. A genetic heart defect resulted in open heart surgery and a mechanical valve in his chest. He decided that he'd had enough of the "real world" and came back to the Y. I'm glad he did. He is the most personable of the senior staff: a big kid, like me.

Sunday, May 31st

It rained all day. I guess it beats being too hot. The morning was spent learning CPR, which I already knew. The afternoon was spent in basic first-aid, which all seemed like common sense. I should know from personal experience, though, that so-called common sense ain't so common.

I found a gal from Plano who will be going to Rice in the fall, Joanne. This is the girl to whom I boasted about Simon Sez. We've been hanging out and talking about the residential colleges and traditions and such. I'm glad I've found someone around whom I don't feel at all self-conscious. (Does that make me sound really full of myself?)

The problem with working with kids all the time is the tendency to talk to every person you encounter like they're a nine-year-old idiot. I'm getting really tired of the senior staff treating me like I'm in third grade, even when I'm not acting like I am.

Evening song time reminded me of the sort of collective brain-washing you might see in a documentary about Viet Nam P.O.W.'s or Green Beret training.

The child abuse seminar was depressing. "Dysfunctional family" or not, I come from an adequately healthy background. Statistics suggest that I'll get a few kids who are really screwed up, or rather have really screwed up parents. I can't know what that's like until it happens.

We were subjected to square-dancing tonight, which, I have to admit, was more fun than I thought it would be. My ability to mis-learn the steps was like a preemptive strike against people thinking I was a "brain": our square was mentally defective. It must have been painful for the instructors to watch. Somehow though, all the botched do-see-dos and mid- square collisions made it a lot more fun.

Monday, June 1st

"Competencies" are check marks, each of which means you've been shown how to do something obvious, like use a bow and arrow. The morning and afternoon were spent racking up these check marks for archery, riflery, the ropes course, the corral, and crafts. The crafts guy is new to the job, so about half the time there was spent instructing the instructor.

I'm going to need a "rag" for getting along with this one junior counselor ("jaycee") named Billy. He has no clue. Or, in camp phraseology, he failed to answer the clue phone, lost his clue letter, couldn't catch the clue truck, missed his clue-gram. He is a gawky, clumsy, red-headed misfit of sixteen, one of those people who does not know when to shut up. I used to be like that, and having now seen the other side, I think a lot of apologies are in order on my part. At least I have half a brain--I think what used to come out of my mouth made sense, even if it was unsolicited. Billy's most aggravating habit is repeating everything he thinks is funny. His second most aggravating habit is always asking me questions and then not believing my answers. He doesn't believe I'm twenty-four, doesn't believe I bought my computer ("Your mom must be rich!"), doesn't believe my answer to his question "Do I talk too much?" Sigh.

In the evening the Main staff migrated over to Main camp. We played a few more lame bonding games, which I'll admit did get me to learn a few names. One thing that was interesting was filling four quadrants of a page with pictures of (1) our family, (2) our favorite memory from the ages of eight to twelve, (3) where we'd like to go, and (4) where we see ourselves in ten years. I drew silly pictures of my immediate blood relatives, a scene from camp in which my friend Greg led us to victory in a capture-the-flag game, the space shuttle, and Texas. After that we had yet another session of Jay laying down the law, which is getting pretty old. I mean, I know we need to be informed of the rules, but the delivery required to convince a sixteen-year-old junior counselor is wasted on me. No swearin', foolin' around, dippin', drinkin', smokin', etc. etc. etc. The only rule that I'm worried about is not getting to use the camp phone, but I'm sure I can strike a deal due to my extenuating circumstances. (We may use this one pay phone, but I can't connect my computer to it.)

I was disappointed to discover that Scarface stories are off-limits. Some of my fondest memories of Grady Spruce involve going over to Devil's Island and seeing a staged Scarface assault. The rationale is that kids have a fantasy world with Freddy Kruger, and a real world potentially just as scary; they don't need to have us trying to scare their pants off, too.

Tuesday, June 2nd

The weather finally cleared, and it's beautiful out here: sunny, breezy, cool.

When the campers arrive, this place looks pretty manicured. Guess who the manicurists are. I think I mowed an acre, using an ornery push mower that I had to keep bolting back together. Other counselors cleaned bathrooms, swept offices, washed windows, moved half- ton benches around, fixed sailboats, and painted the docks.

Dinner was excellent: grilled marinated chicken, plus green beans, peas and broccoli stir-fried with Italian dressing. Though after seven hours of mowing, I would have eaten sticks and mud.

I learned that my off-time works like this: each day I get two hours to myself, alternating between rest period (1:00 to 3:00) and evening (9:00 to 11:00). Also, the summer is divided into nine-day periods, which do not coincide with camp sessions, during which I get one thirty-hour period off: from immediately after lunch on the first day until after dinner on the second.

After still more rules (like "Don't even bother trying to sneak over to the girls' camp, they're all blabbermouths and I'll find out") we had "role playing." We took turns being campers and counselors in hypothetical situations which will become quite real in a week: homesick kid, abused kid, the "crafts are for fags" kid, the drunk counselor, the friendless kid. Well, hopefully not all of these will come up. Jay also pointed out that pranks were generally off-limits. "This ain't 'Meatballs'," he said. I was a little disappointed, having rented that seminal summer-camp film just two weeks before (and having taken notes).

The only downside to the mild weather is shivering through cold showers. The cabins have no hot water. I almost passed out from involuntary hyperventilation.

Wednesday, June 3rd

One of the guys going through the training with us is a radio-television-film grad student from UNT who looks vaguely like Alec Baldwin, David, who is doing a video-journalism internship and recording bits and pieces of the session which will be mixed into a CGS video. The campers can buy them and the counselors get them free, I think. I'm glad, because that frees me from dragging my camera gear all over and will give a feel for the motion of the camp that still pictures can't.

Instead of manual labor, the powers-that-be (Ray) chose to harness my meager artistic ability to draw signs depicting the various activities. I'd have preferred more mowing. I do a three-quarters-ass job on this sort of task: I'm proud and fussy enough to not do a completely lame job, but not competent (or patient) enough to do a good job. I had some fun with it, though, with two imaginary Grady Spruce denizens, Counselor Bob and Camper Billy. Something was always going wrong: either they were facing opposite directions in their canoe, or one was on his horse backwards or bouncing helplessly behind a ski boat. I had to be a little subtle and self-censor certain ideas, like Billy looking sad because he'd accidentally shot a bird or Billy getting trampled by a horse. The parents might see these, and the rule of thumb here is: parents have no sense of humor.

The afternoon was spent getting checked out on the sailboats, canoes, barges, swimming area, and ski dock. Of course, we didn't get to ski or anything.

Buddy check!
The big grief with the swim area is pool searches. Grady Spruce has no swimming pool as such, only three sides of a square dock that enclose a length of shoreline. Possum Kingdom Lake is fairly clear, but not nearly clear enough to see the bottom, especially with forty kids kicking up the silt. If a camper disappears during swim time, all of the counselors swarm down to the dock, line up on the shore, and sweep the pool. Once we get past waist depth, we have to dive, swim two strokes, surface, and back up two steps. This is repeated until the entire pool is covered, and if the kid hasn't turned up, we go back from the deep end. If the kid has run off to a cabin to use the restroom, it will not be a happy time. Of course, it would be a less happy time if the kid turned up dead on the bottom of the pool. I don't think they've had to do a for-real pool search to find a body in a long time, but we have to be ready for anything.

I was loathing the canoe-barge-sailboat rotations because the dreaded Billy the jaycee was in my group. He turned out to be the most fun of the afternoon, though, as he drove the canoe instructor to near insanity during the un-tump-the-canoe exercise. I couldn't tell exactly what was going on, having righted my canoe and returned to the shore, but from a distance it looked like a Three Stooges outtake. By the time they made it back to shore, poor Rick was about ready to bite through his paddle. "C'mon, man, it was funny," said Billy over and over.

The rest of the orientations were uneventful. The waterfront looks to be the most happening place, and my goals are to master the Hobie Catamaran and learn to barefoot ski.

We had the evening off. I threw the disc, played volleyball, participated in a milk-and-chocolate-cake raid on the dining hall.

I'm a Powerbook ad, sitting here at 10:30 at night on a bench near the lake. Cabin lights are reflecting on the water, fish are jumping, crickets chirping. The stars are out: not tens of stars, not hundreds; tens of thousands seem visible to my naked eye, if only I had time to count them.

Every time I pause to look around for a moment, I'm struck by how good I feel being back here.

Thursday, June 4th

It's starting to feel like summer as the sun bakes out the camp and the air warms.

We had a sappy parable again in chapel this morning, but I guess sappy is better than deranged. I'm told that at Frontier camp the chapel team performed a skit that involved a Martian and an Earthling that ran as follows. The Martian came to visit earth to find out what made it special. After comparing notes on cuisine and sports, the only substantial difference the Earthling could come up with was that Earth had been visited by the Son of God. "Wow," said the Martian, "Did you have a big parade, a party, that sort of thing?" Said the Earthling: "Uh, no, we more sort of ... killed him." And that was the extent of the story. The moral was, apparently: "The Crucifixion: Don't let it happen again." This raises many interesting theological questions: Why didn't Christ go to Mars? Or did he, and they didn't notice? What are the Martian equivalents of the sacraments? Would a Martian Christ be crucified, or just left out overnight to freeze? "Father, forgive them, for ... damn, it's cold out here," or perhaps "It is f-f-f-f-finished."

I spent the morning hauling benches from place to place with no apparent pattern and finishing illustrations for the activities.

We did two more aggravating pool searches, received schedules and tent assignments, listened to several hours' worth of "last minute notes," then packed up and went back to the girls' camp for still more "last minute notes" and the staff photo. I had to hold my tongue as a dozen goofballs who thought they knew something about photography made pronouncements: We're not in the picture, it's dumb for him to use a flash, blah blah blah.

I'm in Indian cabin seven, which is the farthest west and a good third of a mile from the dining hall. My assigned activities for the first week are the ropes course (cool) and the riflery range (my least favorite of the activities), which of course are located at the far south end of camp.

I thought was going to be out of there at 3:00, but we were forced to stay through dinner so we could hear still more "last minute notes" and another inspirational talk, whose only redeeming feature was: it's the last one. I hope.

Boy, am I glad staff training over.

I have until noon Saturday for R&R, which will be spent shopping and sleeping.

Bring on the young'uns.

First Session

Saturday, June 6th

A genuine cowboy, Greg Tapp
I arrived at noon and was greeted by my buddy counselor Greg Tapp, a big friendly cowboy of twenty-five from Tarleton State U. His story is illustrative. His dad is dying of cancer, in terrible condition and not expected to make it through the summer. When the time came to decide on Tapp's summer job, his dad asked, "Son, if you stay and work in town, will you be proud of what you do?" He replied, "No sir." His dad asked again, "If you go out to Grady Spruce, will you be proud of what you do?" He replied, "Yes sir." His dad then said, "It sounds like we both know the right answer." And so Tapp is here.

Jay held a brief staff meeting before releasing us to our cabins. The last thing we did was have a thirty-second session during which we tried to get ten weeks' worth of cussing our of our systems.

Tapp and I set up and waited for our campers to be delivered. Oh boy, is my group a handful.

David could be the poster child for Ritalin. He's a spacey, skinny little blonde kid with his finger perpetually in his nose. His mother told me he has Attention Deficiency Disorder. I'm wary of parents who get Ritalin for their kids; I suspect that a lot of inattentive and lazy parents just stick any kid looking for attention on ludes. Actually, Ritalin is an amphetamine of sorts, a central nervous system stimulant; maybe it provides a controlled, steady release of energy. David is not too bad, really; he is a tad vacant and scatterbrained but reasonably stable. Having the first one to arrive be one of these shook me a little, though.

Dustin is a decent-natured kid, scrawny and sporting a Beatles haircut, but susceptible to the prevailing behavior. His mom warned me that he would be a handful.

Matt is like Dr. Jekyl. He's quite considerate and polite and sensitive up to a point, especially with me, but once he's crossed he'll go berserk: cussing, punching, moping around when disciplined. It confused me, at first, how I thought he was going to be the best-behaved one and then seemed to account for much more than his share of trouble.

Chaz has the best smile and brightest eyes, but he can be willful and belligerent. He's the biggest of the kids, almost ten years old, with a premature pudge belly. I gathered from his mother and grandmother that he lacks a male role model and substantial discipline.

Brenton is the biggest problem. He won't sit still. He won't follow directions. He fights, cusses, pushes, cries, and knows too much about human sexuality. This behavior, combined with his size (as big as Chaz) gives him a lot of influence over the other four. His medicine (hefty doses of Thorazine) came with a note from his mom: a month ago she was beaten senseless by her ex-boyfriend Mike, and they've had to flee to a battered women's shelter in Dallas; he's been uprooted from his school and his friends. "Brenton deserves a week of happy memories," she wrote. "Please try to make him your special friend." After reading this note over lunch, I had to go sit outside and stare at the lake for a while. I gave the note to Jay. "Whoah," he said. "Good luck with this one."

For some reason, all of them but Matt have those buzzed-on-the-side haircuts. There are only five kids in camp with this cut, and four of them are in my tent. I don't know how this happened, but I sensed trouble right away.

Man, do they ask a lot of questions. It's draining. I've had to re-allocate a section of my brain to make answering questions a reflex act.

We did a pool search and the swim test. David didn't pass: "I can't swim in cold water!" At first I was worried about what the heck I'd do with him during water activities, since he can't do 'em, but then I realized that it's not my problem: each activity period I'm running something, not taking the kids around. Brenton was the last kid to finish, but I'm proud of him because he stuck it out and didn't give up. Tapp coached him the final lap and a half.

Our evening activity was two-ball soccer. I couldn't get Brenton to play: he wanted to go on a nature walk. I sent him off with Jay, hoping that Jay would be able to adjust his attitude a little. No such luck; Brenton was just as belligerent when I next saw him.

Trying to get them to bed was a tedious affair. I don't have a repertoire of punishments with which to modify their behavior, so I abused the old standby of "store" privileges. (Once a day they may purchase a soda and candy, an activity I'd like to see abolished.) I hate enforcing discipline. If only the little sh--heads would listen to me the first time I said something, my job would be easy.

After breaking up a fight between Brenton and Matt, I had to have a little chat with Brenton out on the front porch. More information came out. He's afraid for his mother's life, is afraid for his life. He knows his behavior gets him into trouble and his temper is volatile, but seems unable to do anything about it. He's tried to kill himself on several occasions. This ripped me up. I sat there in the dark with him, tears leaking down my face.

This is much harder than I thought it would be. I want to go home and not deal with this.

Sunday, June 7th

Ack! I'm going crazy. They would not shut up last night. This was the first time most of them had been away from home, and, predictably, they stayed up most of the night. They took turns being "on patrol," watching for skunks and coyotes and whatever else they thought they might see. I had to get up in the middle of the night to confiscate a pocket knife one of them brought. Boy, wouldn't it be great to have my first night as a counselor end in a knife fight amongst a bunch of nine-year-olds.

At least today I escaped to the challenge course with another counselor, Ryan. The challenge course is a set of "elements", problems involving teamwork and climbing. A typical element is the mountain peaks. The team has to get from one platform to another ten feet away, and they have only two boards, four feet and eight feet, to assist them. The solution is to have some kids stand on the short board for leverage and suspend the long board from the short one and the other platform. You hear about these kind of ropes courses when people talk about camps that teach "problem kids" to work together and trust each other.

Two things that are helping me keep my sanity are support from other counselors and the free swim period. Word is out that I have the Cabin From Hell; the more experienced guys are backing me up and listening to me bitch. Free swim is fun because when I'm not lifeguarding I'm The Sea Monster. I stomp around with my arms in the air and my face twisted, alternately growling and declaring, "I am invincible!" The kids try to sit on my head, and I throw them in the air. I'll get fifteen or twenty clutching my shoulders before ducking under the water, escaping, and popping up somewhere else in the pool to start the cycle again. This helps me work out my frustrations. The only problem is that at all hours of the day I have kids yelling "monster!" and pouncing on my back.

It's amazing how many of those stupid rules and rituals I'll go along with to set a proper example for the campers. When someone calls "Hands up!" I put my hand up every single time. I don't think I did that once during staff training.

Brenton and I had a talk out on the porch after he got in a fight. "You're not my friend," he sobbed, "I always push people away." I had to think fast. "You won't be able to push me hard enough," I said. From his behavior, though, I wonder if he's really that aware of the link between his actions and their consequences. He might just be regurgitating psychobabble laid on him by therapists.

Monday, June 8th

I'm a lot less stressed out, having spent two days in the "normal" routine and having some decent rules in place. I'm feeling uninspired, but at least on my feet. The biggest discipline problem I have is not having a good set of rules, and since I didn't lay them down at first each of my charges is pushing to see what he can get away with. I will not make that mistake again. Sigh. Some of the lessons I'm having to learn are hard ones.

Climbing the Frontier wall
I'm having more fun with Ryan at the challenge course. Now in his introductory speech to the campers he says, "I'm Ryan, and I'm the challenge course director, and this is Mark, and he's an American Gladiator." I just sort of nod knowingly, and the campers will start looking me over with this critical eye. When they ask things like why haven't they seen me on TV, I mention than I'm a "second-string" gladiator and as soon as Nitro gets hurt or retires I'll get my chance. "You're not very tall," one kid said. "Tall? Are you kidding? Gladiators aren't so tall. TV makes you look tall. Didja see Batman? I'm as tall as that Michael Keaton guy," I reply, which is true. Nine-year-old kids, as I have probably mentioned, will believe anything. I've picked out my gladiator name, something related to my profession but not totally geeky: "Voltage".

Brenton is still bucking like a bronco, and will get into fits in which he hits himself on the head and talks about how messed up he is. These moments tear me up. I hate being the enforcer. If any of them were truly rotten, that would be one thing: I could just write them off. None of them are bad kids, really, I just let them get away with too much at first. At least Brenton has gotten into canoeing and has found a strong male figure in Rick the canoeing director.

I wrote a letter to Brenton's mom:

Thank you for your note explaining your situation. That took courage. I empathize with your difficulties and sincerely hope that this Mike guy ends up behind bars soon.

Brenton is obviously afraid for his safety and yours. His feelings make him a challenge to work with, but be assured that I do not give up easily. He'll say he hates it here from time to time, like when I have to enforce rules, but the other counselors and I have found things he enjoys: canoeing, nature hikes, swimming. (The swimming test was not easy, but he stuck it out and swam his laps.)

He says his behavior always "pushes his friends away." I told him he would not be able to push me hard enough. And I told him how smart he was for recognizing the link between his actions and their consequences. I'm sure he and I will make it through the week. We have both learned a lot from our time together.

I hope both your fortunes improve soon. I'll do what I can this week.

Brenton's counselor,

Abuse and battery seemed like somebody else's social problem until I encountered the results first-hand.

I'm finding that reason and logic are of limited use on eight-year-olds. In working with these kids, I'm learning valuable skills for dealing with fundamentalists and liberals.

We do not get enough time off: ninety minutes a day is typical. My evening off, from 10:15 to 11:45, was spent uneventfully at Ray Bean. We had a cool storm about 3:00 AM, with the wind blowing like stink and thunder and lightning crashing all around. The Pathfinder unit was on a campout on Belle Point and came straggling back at 3:45. What a mess: we found wet sleeping bags and pillows strewn all over the dining hall the next morning.

Tuesday, June 9th

Brenton has calmed down a good deal and gotten more or less into the routine. I'm pretty sure it's because I'm making sure he takes his Thorazine four times a day.

Riflery has turned out to be not nearly as bad as I thought it would be, as I get to sit around and talk to Adam. Although today the riflery activity was a "shirt shoot", which is exactly what it sounds like. The kids who came walked around the rest of the day wearing shirts riddled with bullet holes. I think it's appalling.

You know those experiments done to induce cancer in rats, where they feed them a lifetime's worth of some substance over the span of a week? These kids do it with cane sugar. Sugar goes in tea, on cereal, on toast, in the "bug juice" (glorified Kool-Aid). At lunch, somebody pulled a prank and put salt in the sugar dispenser, causing Dustin to nearly barf after ingesting salty tea. Serves you right, I thought silently to myself.

I slalom skied for the first time, getting up on my first try, a good start on my goal of being able to ski barefoot by the end of the summer.

Victory in Battle of Main
is signaled by the bell
The evening activity was the Battle of Main, in which the campers are divided into two groups and use the whole camp as a capture-the-flag arena. Naturally, I had a costume of sorts: my cleats, black spandex shorts with my stars-and-stripes boxers on the outside, a white tank-top, and one red and one blue bandana on my head. I was appointed one of the two generals. The strategy is an ancient one: put 3/4 in one huge roving offense group and 1/4 on defense. There are subtleties which excite the "soldiers", like secret hidden flags and small "strike forces." All I did was talk up a good show (using Schwartzkopf's Gulf War briefings as a model) and let the veteran counselors do all the work. I kept doing stupid things like going off by myself to chase enemy counselors, which got me "killed" every time. Due to the cooler heads possessed by my executive staff, we managed three victories, with one loss and one tie (a forfeit due to rule violations on both sides).

Wednesday, June 10th

They're still saluting me and calling me "General, sir!", especially this one funny precocious kid named Stewart.

The routine makes getting through the day easier. I'm much less stressed today.

These kids will fight over anything. Two identical red water bottles sat on the bed, with Dustin and Chaz each claiming that the one on the left was theirs. "Is not!" "Is too!" "Mine had an ant in it!" I grabbed both of the bottles, scrambled them behind my back, and presented one to Dustin. "Is this yours?" Nod. "Then this must be yours, Chaz." This satisfied both of them. They're insane.

One perk is free ice cream. When I have fifteen minutes or so to myself, typically once a day, I sneak off to the kitchen to fill a big plastic glass with three scoops of chocolate and a little milk. I sit silently in a corner of the dining hall, slowly eating my shake and staring at the floor.

At 4:00 in full sun we hiked the Ho Chi Minh trail to Ray Bean Camp for a social and dance. I heard all sorts of interesting advice about female relations. "What do you do if a girl kisses you?" asked one kid. "Faint," another said with authority. I was asked by several young girls why the boys were so weird. "Boys will always act stupid around girls," I said. We played more idiot mixer games before a dinner of nasty hot dogs. Dancing around was a lot of fun; I amused myself by mixing boys with girls, who were trying to cluster on opposite ends of the tennis court. Brenton's dire predictions about being rejected did not come true: he danced quite a bit and came home happy. Dustin and Chaz claimed to have scored kisses, even. "I can't stop dreaming about her," said Dustin with an expression of beatific joy.

Thursday, June 11th

I am exhausted in every way. Physically I get tired as a matter of course, but particularly today because of piggybacking, two hours of swimming, and a long session of spastic slalom skiing. Emotionally and mentally I've been all over. This will take some explaining. I'll go in chronological order, which puts the good parts first.

My group was at the challenge course and managed to behave for the most part. A couple had to sit out, but in the end all but one (Matt, who decided sulking was more fun) managed to get through the elements.

Lunch in the dining hall
We had Jello with lunch. I participated in a "Jello slurp," in which one counselor distracts a kid while another counselor sucks up all his Jello. Naturally I was the slurper. This is always a favorite with every other kid at the table. I think a few of the counselors were grossed out, too.

I went around to most of the counselors before lunch and told them, "You know, naval activity is at a peak on Thursdays," holding my forearm in the shape of a periscope. During lunch, I gave the signal, and half of the counselors jumped up simultaneously, pointed at the lake and yelled "Look! A submarine!" Every chair emptied as eighty kids (plus the new counselors) made a mad rush to press their faces against the window, lingering there for as long as five minutes pointing this way and that. Some were convinced they saw two or three, and we didn't hear the end of it for hours from the kids. Chaz said he wanted to spend rest period looking for them.

The indoctrination must actually be working on me. Of my own free will I got up and led a camp song after lunch: "Out the Window." The way this one works is this: you sing a nursery rhyme at random and right before you get to the last part you tack "... THROW it out the window" after any convenient conjunction. Then you sing, "The window, the window, the second story window: if you can't make it rhyme or sing it on time then THROW it out the window." The fun part about this song is that in any awkward situation you might find yourself in you can verbally escape with "THROW it out the window."

My after-lunch break was entirely too short, although I think I am getting the hang of this slalom thing.

Shoes must be worn everywhere because of an aggravating sort of plant that is covered with stickerburrs. One of my punishments is picking these plants. While waiting around to go to dinner, Brenton got caught in a fib of some sort by essentially all of cabins seven and eight. It prompted him to explode with a "F--- YOU!" that was probably audible from the office. "Fifty stickerburrs!" I yelled. Brenton stormed off, streaming tears, off to search the ground for the burrs. Tapp and I got him back and walked with him to dinner. He slammed us, the other kids in the tent, the camp, and, most painfully to my ears, himself. "I'm so messed up!" he yelled. "I've been in so many treatments, nobody likes me," etc. etc. All the while he was crying and stomping in circles. He hates not being able to work off his "debt to society" there and then: he wanted to ditch dinner to go pick them, then whined about missing his activity because it would take him so long to do his penance.

Brenton asked, "Man, why couldn't you keep them from teasing me?" This is the question that killed me. The biggest mistake I made this week was thrown in my face by a poor abused nine-year-old.

Dinner didn't help. We got the clean cabin award for an effort that was largely mine. I didn't even make them watch me clean the bathroom. Then Brenton grabbed the stick and wouldn't let anyone else see it. I tried to explain to Matt how I was trying to do Brenton a favor, that Brenton had a hard time. "That doesn't mean you should treat him differently," said Matt: another slap in my face. I was out of my mind with frustration because my attempts to fix the situation had made it worse, and stared at the table in a daze. I foolishly tried to assert that I should carry the goddamn stick back to the cabin because I'd done the bulk of the work. It must have been my anger and exhaustion that made me abandon what little I've learned of child psychology.

I sulked off to the office. Absorbed in self-pity, I decided: I can either wallow in this or suck it in and get back to work. I whined to Jay a little, getting a friendly ear but nothing constructive. When Jay couldn't help, it made me remember: some of these problems are too big for me.

The second Star Trek movie starts with students in a simulator, sent to rescue the freighter Kobiashi Maru. In hostile territory, the ship is outgunned three-to-one and destroyed. After the ship is destroyed, the frustrated cadet commander complains to the admiral. "There was no way to win," she says. "You're right," says Kirk, "We put students in the no-win scenario because each of us may have to face it." This is the unwinnable scenario, I've decided, my Kobiashi Maru.

At least I hope so. I escape with my dignity intact if I convince myself I can't win. Sometimes Brenton has me convinced.

Friday, June 12th

During riflery I had to yell at a kid today: "Hey, don't point that staple gun at your forehead!"

Riflery has not turned out to be so bad; Adam the director and I get to sit in the shade, making sure the kids do themselves no bodily harm. I even squeezed off a few rounds sometimes to amuse myself. It's nice having another adult to talk to. Adam has done this job before and handles the kids pretty well.

The last day, I kept telling myself, the last day. I'm getting numbed to the grief: KP duty, more fights, trips to the clinic, etc. etc. etc. Brenton continues to alternate between "You hate me!" and "Will you walk with me to the clinic?"

The closing campfire traditionally ends the session. The cabins and tents put on various skits and visual jokes, followed by Jay's "How I Came To Grady Spruce" story. We had no skit prepared, since we'd been spending our rest periods in disciplinary action. When the boys saw the other cabins performing and got jealous, I taught them a skit in about thirty seconds, one I remembered from my camp days, and we put it on. The administrative staff did all sorts of funny visual puns for humorous interludes between the cabin skits, like a knot of people poking the ground with branches admonishes the one guy doing it by himself: "Hey, we've gotta stick together." The campfire was fun. How did I get paid back for it? When we got back to the cabin, David peed into the shower and onto Matt and I had to send him to Michael the unit leader. The rest of them fought over the rules for Uno so loudly that I had to turn off the lights and tell them to shut the f--- up. Except I didn't say 'f---'.

Saturday, June 13th

I sat through breakfast thinking: when this is over, I'll never have to deal with the little bastards again. I've been continually restraining myself against letting them know what a rotten time I've had with them. After breakfast, they and I had activities all morning--I spent my time lounging around at riflery. At 1:10 I was on the road, a bat out of hell.

The good news is that second session has only forty kids, meaning they don't need all of the counselors. I'm taking second session off--two weeks. This will give me a chance to catch up on my life, get my car maintained, do journaling, consulting work, regain my sanity, etc. etc. etc.

When I get back, it won't be nearly as bad. I know it. The veterans told me you get one bad group per summer, and gosh, wasn't I lucky to have it out of the way so early? I have no doubts that the next sessions will be a lot more fun; we'll still play Battle of Main, ski, do the submarine joke. Plus, by god, I'll know my rules and my discipline. I accept my mistakes and won't make them again. I hope.

Whether Brenton, Dustin, David, Matt, and Chaz know it, they took something home with them from Grady Spruce, and I'm proud of my job.

A Typical Day

Having skipped out on the second session, and thus having no journal entries, I'll take this opportunity to describe a typical day at Grady Spruce to establish an idea of what it's like.

0700 KP bell
An unpleasant reminder that you'll have to get up soon. Or, if today is your tent's day for Kitchen Patrol, you have to scramble out of bed and scoot to the dining hall, set up the tables with silverware and whatnot, then scoot to chapel.

0715 Wake-up bell
Time to crawl out of bed. If you're going to make a serious attempt to win the Clean Cabin award, this is a good chance to get ahead.

0730 Chapel
Semi-religious eddification, generally involving a recycled skit to exemplify the Word of the Day. Usually the only time of day when the kids sit en masse quietly. This is more due to sleepiness than reverence, I think.

0745 Flag
The last quiet moment of the day. Each cabin stands in a line behind their counselor, while the "honor guard" (a pair o' kids chosen for behaving relatively well the day before) walks the flag down from the dining hall to the "Officer of the Day" (one of the ad-staff). The OD has an opportunity to say something deep or witty, occasionally (like Andy) both.

0750 Free period sign-up
The lull before the breakfast storm, during which Ray asks each activity leader, "What are we doing today in ... archery?" (for example). We have three morning activity periods; the first two are determined by a rotation system, so that everybody gets to each activity at least a couple of times. The running joke is to make up some bogus activity to get the kids' attention (or not), as in, "What are we doing today in ... bingo?"

0800 Breakfast
A mad dash for the Froot Loops. Yours truly watches in horror as piles of sugar are ingested like blood up a mosquito's proboscus, only noisier. Other stuff, like eggs or pancakes, is available, but frequently eaten only by counselors.

0840 Cabin cleaning
A bit of sorta-free time set aside for getting all the sand out of the cabin and making the beds. Also an opportunity to put on specialty clothing, if necessary (such as jeans for horse-riding).

0900 First period
1000 Second period
1100 Third period
Campers travel in groups, accompanied by jaycees, to the standard activities: canoeing, skiing, sailing, archery, crafts, riflery, horseback riding, and the 'challenge course'. Counselors run the activities and generally stay in one spot for three hours straight. The challenge course occupies both first and second period straight through, and isn't available third period.

1200 Free time
Time to get cleaned up for lunch. Hanging around outside the dining hall is usually mail-delivery time as well. If it's not too hot, impromptu games of various sorts break out. On a hot day everyone is pretty subdued at this point.

1230 Lunch
Mmmmm mmmm, nothin' better than camp food. One or two campers are designated food-getters, who have to go to retrieve the inital batch of food and whatever is to drink (usually some sort of punch called, for no reason that I could figure out, "bug juice"). There is an IN door and an OUT door, and all people anywhere in the vicinity of the doors take great pride in monitoring both doors and screaming "WROOOOOONG DOOOOOOR!" if you go in the out or out the in. Food fights are discouraged, 'cause whoever is KP has to clean the dining hall after the meal. Boy, do kids hate sweeping up all the sand that folks track in!

1315 Songs
A custom which I loathed as a camper, but, strangely, came to enjoy as a counselor. Songs usually involved standing and sitting and some occasional wild gesticulation. Whichever counselors are on Day Off (starting immediately after lunch) are required to lead the first song. This led to the bizzare practice of "speed singing", which is exactly what it sounds like.

1325 Rest period
The defense against the heat of the day, rest period is supposed to be spent in a slack fashion. Counselors trade off taking this time to go skiing or otherwise goof off. The kids usually write letters or play cards.

1530 Store
An opportunity to get recharged (sugared and caffinated) after rest period. Usually a good time to hang out, distribute mail, and maybe play tic-tac-toe.

1545 Free swim
Horsing around in the water, punctuated by "buddy checks" and ending with that awful alcohol junk in your ears (to keep the lake water from giving you an ear-infection). Counselors mostly have to stand around a lot and count kids over and over, plus enforce the buddy pairings. "Where's your buddy?" is frequently shouted at stray kids. The last free-swim of the session features a belly-flop contest.

1630 Cabin activity
A free-form outing of some sort; examples include hikes, barge trips, and makin' ice cream (the old-fashioned way with ice, salt, and elbow grease). Usually taken at slow speed 'cause it's so freakin' hot.

1730 Slack time
An opportunity to get cleaned up for dinner. People start filtering down to the dining hall and accumulating on the steps, regaling each other with the day's adventures, making up strange impromptu contests (e.g. tag), and occasional fighting.

1800 Dinner
Pretty much like lunch only less singing. The Clean Cabin Award and unit activity are announced.

1900 Evening activity
Same as the first, second and third activities: sailing, horses, skiing, or whatever.

2000 Unit activity
The entire unit (Indian, Rancher, or Pathfinder) gets together. Usually it's some sort of game, like Bombardment, or Two-Ball Soccer, or Capture the Counselor.

2100 Flag
The flag is lowered, much like the way it was raised. Afterwards we join hands in a big circle and sing Taps. Half the counselors are thinking about nothing but sleep, the other half about going over to the girl's camp.

2130 Bed
The kids are hustled through the showers and tooth-brushing. Usually followed by lights-out and a story. My favorite repository was a collection of Shel Silverstein poems.

2200 Sleep or night-off
If I didn't have the night off, I'd try to get to sleep ASAP. If not, I'd run to the office to get in the van for the obligatory run to Ray Bean (or wait at the office if the girlies were coming over).

Third Session

Saturday, June 27th

I'm back, and it feels good.

Well, not everything feels good. Today the first girl I ever thought I might marry married somebody else. And Tapp, my first buddy counselor, is gone because he's attending to the details of his father's funeral. But life goes on.

Atop the climbing wall
With me is my radio controlled submarine, built from scratch using off-the-shelf RC gear, PVC pipe, and lots of silicone. I spent most of my two-week break building this thing in response to the veteran campers who don't believe there is a submarine in Possum Kingdom lake. By god, next time we pull the submarine gag, there is going to be a submarine. The underwater part is about three feet long, with a two-foot keel for stability and a three-foot black periscope that sticks up out of the water. It has a small electric motor in back and a big rudder on the front, since there wasn't room in the back. It doesn't need much in the way of steering, anyway. I took it down to the swim dock for a test, but the motor disconnected from the driveshaft for some reason. I am frustrated, but I'm going to glue down the surgical-tubing U-joint and try again later. I also brought back other camp technological innovations: a big piece of posterboard to write the schedule on, and, better still, a plastic toilet seat to be worn by anybody with a "potty mouth." Personally, I don't care about cursing, but inflammatory speech of any sort is a problem with a bunch of kids around. Well, at any time, for that matter.

My new buddy counselor is Rick, from Kerrville, currently a Texas Tech frat boy civil engineer on his way--he claims--to the Naval academy. He's a good guy, if a little ornery: doesn't always follow the letter of the law and a potential bad influence on both the campers and me. He was in my lifeguarding class. I may be a little more critical of Rick than I might otherwise be because I am so fond of Tapp.

Better than Rick, from my viewpoint, is Jon, age 17, the junior counselor assigned to my tent. He's known as the best jaycee in camp: a big friendly guy who knows his job, which will make mine a lot easier, especially when I'm taking time off. He's also really easy to get along with. Having another sentient being at the dining table will make meals more enjoyable.

Jon and I have five charges, like last time. Unlike last time, they're not all instruments of my torture. Joey is one of those goofy, pudgy, bright sensitive kids: one of the ones with no friends but a great future. He's a do-gooder. I think the only trouble I'll have with him is consoling him when the others pick on him.

Casey goes to school with Joey, who describes him as "my only friend." Casey is a skinny, insecure, athletic kid with straight sandy hair and lots of freckles. He's a little vacuous, but generally good-natured.

Dennis is going to be the easiest but most annoying. He's dumb as a post, a thick blonde baby clone of Herman Munster. He'll ask the same question over and over. He's also a crybaby, whining about every physical contact. He's too simple to get mad at, though.

Damien is a dark, skinny little kid whose parents are from Costa Rica. I can't tell that much about him, other than he bitches and moans about KP duty and is really into the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Michael is another Costa Rican. He's a little bigger and filled out than Damien, belligerent and not afraid to back it up. He thinks he's a stud because he's studying kick-boxing. I think I'll be able to get his attention easily enough when I'm around, but he looks to be a merciless teaser.

Thank god they, my second bunch, didn't try to jump around the tent naked for half an hour after showering.

Sunday, June 28th

I don't know what is it about kids and lines. They'll line up for anything. If you told them to line up for beatings and only the first ten would get served, you'd have fifty kids climbing over each other to be first.

My activity for first and second period is water skiing. The waterfront is closed on the weekends because of the lake traffic, so I got to sit around and write letters.

Jermaine with Gary's dragon
Somehow I got stuck running archery third period and after dinner. Ugh! Not only do I dislike directing archery as much as riflery, I'm the friggin' director. And I don't get the increased pay, pitiful as it may be, that usually goes with the directorship. The usual guy, Jermaine, is off this session. As it turns out, it was probably best that he did. He took the (so-called) One Way Road to Ray Bean every night during second session, so I hear through the grapevine, which is supposed to be instant termination. But Jay made an exception and let him stay. This favoritism has several of the other counselors chafing. More aggravating, to me, is the fact that I have the same fifteen guys after dinner every night, and four of them are serious brats.

When I went up to archery for the first time, I had not been there in twelve years (having had no cause to go there first session.) On the inside of the door to the archery shed I found this amazing pencil drawing of a dragon--and it hit me immediately that I knew the artist. Sure enough, the autograph "Gary Kirchoff, 3rd '80" confirmed it. Gary, an architect from Texas Tech, was an Indian counselor when I was a Pathfinder, way back when; I had been impressed by his sketches and struck a fast friendship. He and I continued to correspond for several years afterwards, swapping ideas about sci-fi wargames and designs for spaceships. I still have a folder of his letters and drawings in my piles of memorabilia. Gary was one of my inspirations to come back.

Found out that Dennis' dad sexually abused him as an infant. Custody was given to his mom, who died, then to his grandparents, whom he calls "mom" and "dad", except that his grandfather died in March and it's just him and his grandma. At least he hasn't been exposed to a lot of violence. Plus, since he's so stupid, he doesn't know enough to pissed off at the world for it pissing on him, unlike Brenton. He follows me around and likes to hold my hand. I'm not sure how to treat this; I don't have a problem with holding a guy's hand, but I'm afraid he's setting himself up to be tormented by the others.

Michael is being a pain in the rump; he wouldn't shut up last night, so I had him picking stickerburrs today. I wish the little jerk would listen to me. In general, though, I have no major problems so far.

Monday, June 29th

We had no skiing second period today. Eddie the skiing director looked at the boat, looked at me, and said, "Let's go make sure the engine is running okay." We grabbed the other boat driver, Hans, and took off in search of calm water, out of sight of the camp. The two ski boats are called Nautiques: they're sleek, beautiful machines, made specifically for pulling skiers. I hopped out the back to practice slaloming. After a couple of stylin' wipeouts in which my back foot sprung loose, Eddie gave me his fancy ski with a full boot for the back foot--much better to ski on--and I did pretty well. I wore a maniac grin all the way back to camp, lolling out the back of the boat, bouncing gently along under the cottony clouds.

Boy, the kids were in injury city today: Dennis twisted his ankle, Casey had a stomach ache, Joey got bonked on the head, and a kid from another cabin got a nasty chemical burn from some sort of high-tech icepack.

The only cool thing about being stuck in archery after dinner is having two kids from Mexico, David and Xavier, each night--they're about the best behaved. Xavier is a skinny little kid who knows almost no English; Davíd, a little larger and solid, knows just enough to get by. I use him as "mi dictionario poquito"; now I can give the commands in Spanish. !Levantate los arcos! !Levantate una flecha! !Tirate a los blancos! I've been compiling a little dictionary in my notepad, and wrote home to see if I can get my mom to locate a Spanish text for me.

Tonight our unit activity, the event held nightly from 8:00 to 9:00, was a fierce game called Bombardment. The play involves two teams and two dozen red rubber balls used for smiting the opponents. The arena is a pair of tennis courts with the nets missing. If a thrown ball is caught, the thrower is out; counselors must throw underhand. This is one of the games I remember vividly from my stays here as a camper. Periodically the game leader will call "Everybody in!" to re-start the game, or "Three-quarters court!" to accelerate its end. This is the counselors' chance to work out frustrations on both campers and other counselors.

Dateline: midnight at camp, and I am f---ing fit to be tied. The gal at Ray Bean who is going to Rice in the fall, Joanne, has "even" nights off, and I have "odd"--being in cabin seven--and I wanted to switch so I could hang out with her. So Rick, my buddy counselor, agreed to swap with me. Tonight, though, Jon the assistant counselor was returning from a day off and agreed to cover for Rick as well. When Rick and I showed up for the bus to Ray Bean, Michael and Ray got all indignant and told me to go back to the cabin. I can understand being miffed about not telling them first. But the other three gripes were absurd. Number one was a camper that didn't like sleeping without an adult around. No problem. Jon's there. Number two was: Jon is not eighteen. Bogus: other, younger jaycees cover cabins by themselves when one of the counselors has a full day off and another has an evening period off. Number three, and the one that bugs me the most is: it's even's night off, and you're an odd. This makes no sense to me. Who gives a f--- if buddy counselors trade, so long as each alternates? My uncle Bob said it well: "Rigid inflexibility is a denial of reason, the thing that makes us human. While a certain amount of it is necessary for order, it is a challenge to our leadership not use order as a reason to suppress our humanity. And it is a challenge to all of us to find creative ways to avoid enslavement and impoverishment by the hall monitors of the world without hurting others." Admittedly, not getting a night off is hardly "impoverishment." But the spirit of Bob's words holds true: mindless adherence to rules, the "hall monitor" mentality, drives me crazy.

Unfortunately, I was so mad that I couldn't react in a rational manner there in the staff tent. I said on my way out, "This strikes me as a mindless adherence to the rules." I was lame and did not make eye contact with Michael; I was too aggravated. I sulked all the way back to the cabin. My impulses were mostly childish. I wanted to get back at both Michael and Ray, to turn my reason on them in a fury. Don't you jerks realize I don't have to work for anyone? I can walk out of here in a moment if you're going to be pricks. Then I thought: I love this place. It made me even madder that I can't walk out of here in a moment, that in a way I've surrendered that power to them. I could probably "get back" in a dozen petty ways, and thinking of them and knowing I'm not going to do it makes me madder still.

What I figured I'd do is go to Michael the next day and restate my objections to his objections and go from there.

Tuesday, June 30th

I woke up pissed off and skulked around during breakfast. First period skiing was off, so Michael asked me to help him slice tomatoes and onions for the overnight trip planned for the evening.

I listed my four gripes. He conceded the first three but held fast on number four. "If Jay asks me why you're off when it's not your night, and you haven't told me, I look stupid," said Michael. We didn't finish before I had to go off to skiing.

At this point, I was even more annoyed, starting to admit that I was out of line, too. Having been told how "smart" I am my whole life, I am merciless on myself when I do make mistakes, which can put me in the blackest of moods. This was the mood I was in after archery, when I lay down in the office to take a cat-nap before lunch. Two minutes of Jay putzing around with the answering machine got me further irked, and when I made a teeny tiny complaint about it he said, "You could be in your cabin"--at the far end of camp, ha ha yuk yuk. Michael followed closely with "You could be down at the dining hall with your kids like you're supposed to be." Already in a bad mood, getting stepped on like this made me furious and I stormed down to the dining hall. Exploding like that was clearly a credibility-damaging move, but again, I figured it was better to vent my frustration on the door and nearby rocks than to jump in anybody's face. Michael and I finally got everything more or less settled after lunch. The swapped night off thing is resolved in my favor. That night off that I have coming, and seeing Joanne, should certainly be anticlimactic after all this fuss.

I think I'm getting the hang of this slalom thing. Eddie gave instructed me in the basics of cutting back and forth, and I managed twenty or so straight trips across the wake before getting too tired to keep it up. As in ice skating, you find lots of funny muscles that you didn't know about before. And I'm probably still "fighting the ski."

Instead of our normal dinner and after-dinner activities, we went on a overnight trip to a cove between the Pathfinder unit and the Ray Bean camp. Luggage was barged over, but the campers had to hoof it. It was the perfect opportunity to run the submarine, so I got permission and scooted back to camp. When I arrived at the swim dock to make another test, I assembled and did a pre-dunk test of the sub. Nothing happened. I checked the radio: the batteries were dead. "Grr!" I said as I sped down the rough road out of the empty camp, armed with $10 to buy eight new AA batteries. Returning with the goods, I did final test and assembly and plunked the u-boat in the lake. "Ahead slow," I muttered, goosing the stick. The sub started to move. "Aha! Ha! Ha ha!" I said, dancing around like an idiot. After one lap around the pool, I put it into second gear. It moved faster, turning left and right as I tweaked the rudder control. Hot damn! It was zipping through the pool at a good clip. As it passed me on the dock, I gave it full throttle. It shuddered and slowed, drifting to a halt. The motor had disconnected from the drive shaft--the surgical tubing which serves as the universal joint came off due to the torque. "Augh!" I hollered in frustration.

I returned to the scent of grilling onions and burgers. I try to avoid red meat, as a guideline, but at that point I would have eaten dog food.

When the sky got dark and the kids got in their sleeping bags, two of the counselors got up to tell a story. "Let's wing it," said Win. He and Barnes got up and started extemporizing about two Indian tribes, the Copenhagens and the Long Skoals. It started out as a Romeo and Juliet sort of story, with a prince and a princess from the two warring factions, but digressed into a thinly veiled introduction to political science and macroeconomics. As I felt myself dozing off, it occured to me: what a brilliant idea, putting the kids to sleep with the same techniques that were so effective on me.

Wednesday, July 1st

This morning, while sitting on the Throne of Deep Thoughts, I had a vision: a shorter piece of surgical tubing to keep the prop from disconnecting from the motor. "If you cut it, it will go." I must find time for more submarine hacking.

I had a talk with Joey after archery, where he shows up every third period. "Now they're mad at me because I was better at archery," he sobbed. The kid has it kinda rough: he's the funny-looking pudgy type, but with a sharp mind and a good heart. "I don't treat them that way! Why do they go out of their way to hurt my feelings?" It was frustrating for me to see, not knowing what to do. I couldn't make the other kids stop, give him special treatment. "I don't know how to tell you this, but I was a turbo nerd when I was your age. If you can just hold out ten years, you'll be in ... " I paused before saying 'fat city.' "... You'll be set. Trust me." Consoling him with the fact that he has more of a future than the punks that harass him seems pointless, but he appeared a little heartened. Sigh.

A great scam I've hit upon is boasting during store time that I cannot be beaten at Tic-Tac-Toe. I tell the kids that anyone who beats me gets an entire package of M&M's. The catch is, they have to pay three M&M's to play. What the little dopes haven't figured out is that it's possible to have an unbeatable strategy, if you always play for a draw. I made myself ill from so much candy.

They stuck this one brainless kid in archery after dinner: Jonathan. When I say brainless, I don't mean "dumb as a rock" like Dennis, who at least could follow simple commands like "go to the corral." Jonathan is eight years old with the mind of a four year old. I mean, for real. He is barely able to function normally; I don't know what he's doing at this camp. He got booted out of the corral for being able to follow instruction; he can't swim, can't do crafts, and would be dangerous with a rifle, so I'm stuck with him. Ugh.

Remember how I said my night off would likely be a let-down? Did I say anticlimactic? I just showed up over at Ray Bean only to find she's on a day off!

Okay, I had just pounded out that last line when Joanne sat down beside me and said, "Hi!" Psych! "What are you doing here?" I said in a particularly non-suave way. "We went into Weatherford, and there's only so much you can do while hanging out at the Wal-Mart," she said. We talked about Rice, aspirations, the heat, our kids, and how aggravatingly little time off we get. I showed her how I retrieve my e-mail--thirteen messages, which I didn't have time to read.

Thursday, July 2nd

An archer
Every morning before breakfast we have announcements for what is going during free choice, third period. We're supposed to make it sound interesting, but it's hard to get motivated to do so some mornings, especially if you can't stand what you're stuck at third period--like archery. Jermaine had been at Grady Spruce for many years, running archery, and was very popular; a number of campers were openly disappointed that he was not there to run the favorite game, Cutthroat. I confess, I'm an archery moron. So I got up in front of the kids and said, "I confess, I'm an archery moron. In fact, I was trying to find the archery range my first day and I got lost. I stumbled through the trees and brush, trying to find my way--but then I found this path, and I thought, 'Hmm, maybe this is Jermaine's Inspirational Path that he's told us about.' So I'm followin' this trail, and there's a bright light in my eyes and I hear a voice, a deep voice, and the voice is Jermaine's callin' to me from afar, and the voice says a single word, and the word is 'Cutthroat.'" Dramatic pause. "And the light in my eyes is blindin' me and I call out, 'Jermaine! Is this a sign?'" I dropped down on my knees and held my hands in the air. "And Jermaine said to me, 'Whatta you think, fool?'"

Man, it's hot as blazes today: one hundred and two, no clouds and humid. And no air conditioning, of course. The "heat index", I suppose the analogue of the wind-chill factor, was allegedly one hundred twenty. Gack. I'm told that heat like this is not uncommon, but usually we get some cloud cover and the occasional thunderstorm. I'm looking forward to those huge front lines that come stomping over the plains.

During skiing, I decided I must commit this fiendish chant to memory. It was one of the things we do at lunch, a nonsense song of sorts. "Waddat 'n choo," Ryan the counselor would shout. "Bobo skedeetin dattin waddat 'n choo," then, "Ish kiddly oaten-boaten bobo skedeetin dattin waddat 'n choo," and finally, "Hey diddly iddly fiddly ish kiddly oaten-boaten bobo skedeetin dattin waddat 'n choo." I felt a real sense of accomplishment when I got it down. I must be losing my mind. For those of you who want to try the "expert version," say it backwards: "Fiddly iddly diddly hey oaten-boaten kiddly ish datten deetin skeet 'n bobo choo dat 'n wat."

I tested my line theory at lunch. "Okay," I shouted, "Line up here for beatings. I have a baseball bat, I'm going to break both legs, and you won't be able to do any more activities. Just the first ten now, and we'll roll out those wheelchairs and splints and morphine needles." Twenty of them clambered for those first ten spots.

Ryan in the Nautique
I was sitting around at "store" today, pursuing my usual tic-tac-toe scam, but business was badly tapering off. The kids were finally catching on that I could play for a tie without fail. Dennis was so desperate to win that he whispered a bargain in my ear: "I'll buy you a shirt if you let me win." I stood up and loudly declared, "Dennis, I don't take bribes! I'm not going to lose to you for giving me a shirt!" He was humiliated. He slunk back to the end of the tic-tac-toe line. The next time he got up to the front of the line, I let him win. He lept around hollering, "I won! I won!" I made a big show of presenting him with a bag of M&M's. The other counselors and campers were hounding me about it, laughing at losing to the moron. I kept silent, knowing that people won't play a slot machine if it never pays off, but one jackpot will pay for itself ten times over. When word got out that Dennis had won -- and clearly he'd won clean, since I'd made such a stink about not taking bribes -- business returned to its previous brisk pace.

We had a chili cook-off for dinner. To supplant the beans and ground beef, Rick snuck into the kitchen to get extra ingredients, tomatoes and picante sauce, and most importantly, a skillet with which to brown the meat. We cooked up the goods in big tin cans over the grill in front of the cabin. Fortunately for Rick and myself, a fire will mesmerize a group of nine-year-olds. Whatever fault I might find with Rick as a counselor, the guy can sure cook. It was fine chili--judged by the ad staff as best in camp.

I had Fisher run archery while I journaled. Two of the archers, Preston and Brandon, insisted that their names appear in here so that someday I would remember them.

Friday, July 3rd

A storm crashed through last night, tumping the sailboats and carrying off canoes and knocking limbs off trees. It rained on into the morning, which closed down the waterfront and the challenge course. We cleared out the dining hall for a rousing game of broom hockey. This gave me a few precious minutes to sit out on the steps and write. Twenty-four hours until my day off, I'm thinking as I write this.

It cleared up in the afternoon and we went with the normal schedule. It was nice to still have some clouds; I'm getting tired of my daily UV overdose.

This strange kid who lives next door looks disconcertingly like Fred Savage, the little kid in "The Princess Bride". For some reason he keeps coming up to me and sniffing, then saying, "You stink," even when I don't. But he hates it even more when I make references to TV shows and movies which Fred Savage has been in. "Seen Princess Buttercup lately?" I'll ask.

Part of my poor discipline comes from the fact that my understanding of eight-year-old psychology is pretty poor. I'm finding things out by trial and error, and the things that do turn out to work sometimes amaze me. For instance, I had a "see who can go the longest without talking" contest for the four loudmouths at archery after dinner. To my total surprise, they were silent nearly the whole ninety minutes. The things that I don't know continue to amaze me.

Saturday, July 4th

Since the waterfront is closed on weekends, we spent the morning on a three-hour hike to Johnson's Peak, the local big hill. I guess it's eight-hundred feet or so above the lake level, and from the top we had an impressive view of the peninsula. The lake was crawling with boats, which were convening to see the fireworks display to be held directly across from the camp tonight.

Fireworks shot from Devil's Island
(picture taken following year)
However, I didn't stick around. I blew out of there in my road rocket to go meet up with the folks in Oklahoma. Being a camp counselor is like banging your head against a brick wall. It feels so good when you stop.

The first thing I noticed in the car was the music. Other than those fun fun fun camp songs, I don't get to listen to anything. I think I'm going to have to invest in a boom-box of some sort.

The second thing I noticed in the car, halfway to Weatherford, was the lurching. The car acted like someone was pinching the fuel line or throwing rocks in the turbo or something. Then it stopped. This put me in a panic: if I get stuck, I have no way to get home, no way to get back, and nobody is going to be open today or tomorrow to get this fixed. Then the car did it again, for a few seconds, then stopped. This was much-unneeded stress. I tried a couple of places in Weatherford, but everything was locked up tight. At that point, I decided to try to limp home to Dallas instead of Paul's Valley, Oklahoma, as originally planned.

Stewing over this aggravating turn of events, the engine decided to behave all the way into Ft. Worth. I decided to take a risk and hopped onto I-35 northbound. My destination was my cousin's ranch, which he calls "Fort Vaughn." The place is about an hour south of Oklahoma City, near Paul's Valley. The name of the owner is Tom Vaughn, but there were so many good ol' boy alcoholic attorney types running around, I'm not sure which one I was related to. Anyway, he's a lawyer in Houston with too much money. He spends it well, having added to the sizable land holdings of the Oklahoma branch of my family--he bought 500 acres of ranch land, built a house and a party barn, had a lake dug, and generally decked the place out in a ranchesque manner. There are cows and horses and pastures and farmhands--many of my Oklahoma cousins work the land--but I think at the Vaughn ranch they're just to give the place the proper atmosphere. Each summer he throws a Fourth of July bash and buys about $2000 worth of professional-grade fireworks to shoot off. I saw mom and my stepdad and my brother; we lolled around in the shade, drank lemonade, threw the frisbee, swam in the lake, and, when the sun went down, had an awesome fireworks show.

Sunday, July 5th

Spent the morning drooping around the house of my mom's great-aunt Mamie, who's 89 and still sharp and feisty. I was enjoying my state of no responsibility.

The turbo was still giving intermittent problems on the way back, but I enjoyed the ride--listened to my discs.

Got back in time for the tail-end of co-ed day; danced a little, had some punch, hit the sack hard. The kids appeared to be getting along okay, if only because they weren't in close quarters during the bulk of the day.

Monday, July 6th

We had chapel this morning; I handed it off to Jon. The kids did a skit on patience, "patience" being the Word for the Day. I sat and watched, feeling reluctant (as usual) to participate in this indoctrination. They did the "Frog in the Buttermilk" skit, an oldie-but-goodie. The story is about two frogs that fall into a pail of something. One frog decides that he'll never get out, gives up, and drowns. The other doesn't know how he's going to get out, but he doesn't give up. It turns out that the pail is full of buttermilk, and the frog's kicking eventually churns it into butter. He escapes. Thus, an object lesson on patience. So far I've seen the frog skit used to teach patience, determination, honor, and a bunch of other Words of the Day.

While I was hiding out in the clinic to take a nap, Mark the nurse said, "If I could be any animal, it would be a sloth. There is a species of sloth that takes a dump once every two weeks, and it bears this beatific expression when delivering its load. It must enjoy the experience so much that it saves and saves for those two intervening weeks." To Mark I said, "You're a nut."

Michael called Joey a fag, so I got the first use of the potty seat today. At first, ho ho, it was fun and games, "Look, I'm weawing a toiwet," said Michael with his Elmer Fudd mush-mouth lisp. He wore it with pride down to the swim area, but decided, for whatever reason, to sit out. While I was lifeguarding, though, several times I saw a couple of other kids sneak up behind him and grab the lid--WHAP, right on his head. I carefully looked the other way, sitting on a huge laugh. He was a little more subdued during store time, and I let him take it off to go swimming in Pathfinder Lagoon for cabin activity. At dinner he'd begun to perk up again, as the Pathfinders started paying him a little attention. Just when he looked like he might start enjoying himself, Allan the jaycee stood up and bellowed across the dining hall: "HEY FISHER, HOW COME ONE OF YOUR CAMPERS IS WEARING A TOILET SEAT AROUND HIS HEAD?" I was over at the staff table at that moment, and I almost fell out of my chair from laughing so hard. Michael went ballistic, yanked the seat off and slammed it to the floor. Jon subdued him while I re-seated the seat. Boy, if looks could kill ... Anyway, I let him take it off after dinner and haven't had problems since. I brought back a Spanish textbook, courtesy my cousin Marin from Paul's Valley. Actually, her mom gave it to me; I have not seen Marin, who is my age, in as long as I can remember. Anyway, I have figured out a few more tenses and conjugations for talking with the Mexican kids. "Estoy apprendio Espanol," I told them, "Pero no tengo mucho tiempo para estudiar." "Si, si, bien" they said.

Tapp hosted a late-night talk in the chapel, in which he told the story of the prodigal son, then the Genesis account of the creation. The kids seemed to enjoy it; again, I felt a little uneasy. I'm respectful of other peoples' beliefs, but I wish ... well, that I didn't have to be a part of this. Some stories don't bother me--like telling the kids that the amphitheater was caused by an airplane crash, or that the big house on the opposite shore belongs to David Letterman. Others, handed down as Truth, are in another league.

Tuesday, July 7th

Lukas the waterfront director was up all night, chasing down a couple of runaways from Frontier. He asked me to cover him in sailing during first and second period. "I'll take the kids in pairs back and forth across the lake," I said to Lukas. "Are you checked out on these things?" he asked. "Sure," I said, a half-truth. Sure, I knew how to sail, all that jargon and stuff. Tacking. Reaching. Coming about. No problem. Well, it started out as no problem, as I took four pairs back and forth to Devil's Island and back. The fifth was the problem. The wind picked up; the waves had white caps; I had two eight-year-old incompetents in the boat. "Get off the rope!" I hollered, as the wind popped the sheet line taut and took the boat over and put me on top of these two kids. The wind took us farther and farther from the sailing area as we floundered around. I got the boat up okay, but in trying to get it turned around I left my passengers in the water. Then I tumped the boat again, totally my fault--the wind was really whipping by now. I lost my watch, then found it again, realized I was late, wet, and generally out of control.

Fortunately, a barge full of the adventure club guys was passing by; "Help!" I hollered. Tapp pulled us aboard, dispatched Allan, a "real sailor", to pilot the Sunfish back, and brought a very sheepish me back to the dock. "Hmm," I thought, "Better not tell this story to Joanne, so as not to lose face."

The kids were really on each other's case today, and it was a drag. There is a difference between mischievous and malignant, and Michael is definitely the latter. In a way, he's worse than any of the kids I had first session. At least I knew their stories, and was sympathetic to the really messed-up ones. Dunno what Mike's deal is; he won't tell me.

The unit activity was an amusing game called a greased-watermelon contest. You toss the kids in the deep end with life jackets and two butter-coated watermelons, and let them play rugby. The thing will bob under the water for long periods of time during the "scrum" and pop up halfway across the pool, followed by a mad scramble through the water and lots of splashing. After the game, each team gets to eat one of the balls.

I read Shel Silverstein poetry at bed-time. They enjoyed it, even Michael. I really enjoyed myself. I'd had that book since day one, but somehow had not gotten around to reading from it.

Tonight was to be a "travelling" night. Aggravatingly, the Beaners were having an overnight near our cabin, at Belle Point, and Joanne elected to stay and have camper-bonding. I approached the point stealthily--I wasn't really supposed to be there--and sat out on the road, listening to the conversations in the camp, hoping that Joanne would leave after her kids were asleep. Alas, I spent two hours staring at the stars and relaxing, alone.

Wednesday, July 8th

My mood has been rotten--dreading being with your campers has done this to me. I woke up feeling like I wanted to cry, and did so on the porch steps, before breakfast.

Then Dennis and Damien got into a fight over the bacon, so I made them each run a lap around the dining hall. Only Dennis couldn't manage to do it in under a minute, which is a "lap rule", so I had him run another. He walked it again, so I sent him on a third and watched him hobble around in tears. The other four were having too much fun with this, so I had him stop after three. I can't figure out why he didn't even try. Hurt feet? No sense of time? Didn't understand the word 'run'? He wouldn't tell me.

The little mental defective in archery after dinner went AWOL tonight. It was just after 7:30; Jonathan was supposed to be sitting outside because he had been ignoring (or unable to comprehend) the rules again. I had some of the kids hunting around the rancher unit there on the hillside looking for the little space cadet, to no avail. Eventually I sent the search party back, closed down archery, and had to run down to his cabin. He was hiding under the bed. I told him that if he did that again I'd tie him to a tree.

The rest of the day was uneventful. Except, of course, for stomping on Michael's little punk head for harassing the others.

Thursday, July 9th

After being in the depths of despair all day yesterday, I feel fine today. I think it's the psychology of being Thursday--in my mind they're practically already gone. The earthman Arthur Dent
"never could get the hang of Thursdays," but this one I've got.

The depths of Dennis' dumbness continue to amaze me. "Dennis, why aren't you wearing any socks?" I asked. "I thought they were already on," he said. "Dennis, why aren't you wearing any underwear?" I asked. "I forgot," he said.

I really let Michael have it during rest period. He wouldn't stop harassing the others, so I sent him out on the porch. Then he wouldn't stop poking his head in the window, so I had him run laps around the cabin, with me dogging him the whole way. I was in a foul mood because I had to sit on this punk instead of taking my afternoon nap. He kept talking about what a lousy place Grady Spruce is, "a living hell," etc. etc. etc. "You bring it all on yourself, kid," I told him. In one ear and out the other went that bit of advice, I think.

Cliff skiing
The skiing club put on a ski show during unit activity. To escape the wind, we took barges to the far side of the lake, to the cliffs. I was ecstatic, because I got to drive the "safety boat," a small fishing boat with a 25 HP engine. My job was to scoot around and pick up any skiers that fell, since the ski boats did not have time to do so. The show was fun: four skiers in a chain, two guys on different length ropes trading passing back and forth in front of each other, one kid skiing on a round board, another on trick skis, a counselor barefoot, tandem piggy-back skiing--way cool. I "rescued" one downed skier and one hat.

There was no travelling tonight due to ragger ceremonies. Grr. Instead I connected my computer to the phone line caught up on my electronic mail--gone six days and I had 24 messages--and wrote a note to Joanne, which I faxed to the Ray Bean fax machine. I love my Powerbook.

Friday, July 10th

Michael has been in an increasingly bad mood over the last couple of days, and Jon actually had to subdue him during a fight between first and second period. What a punk. I keep using that word, but it's just so apt. I told Jon that if he had any more problems, he should take Michael's lifejacket away, handcuff him, and throw him in the lake. I'm pretty much immune to his behavior, because I have less than twenty-four hours left with the little f---er.

This being the last day of the session, I was determined to make the sub work. Plastic baggies and rubber bands were to be the extra measure of sealant; the batteries were charged, all systems were 'go'. On my way to the dock, the periscope came disconnected from the rest of the hull and the sub clanged on the dock. A quick inspection revealed a bent drive shaft. I went nearly insane with frustration. I put the damn thing in the back of the car and sulked back to lunch. "I've found a name for my u-boat," I told Fisher. "Let it be forever known as 'Maxham's Folly'."

Instead of after-dinner club, the day before the end of the session we have an awards ceremony. Each kid gets a little certificate of accomplishment with their name, the counselor's name, little pictures of their activities, etc. I wrote short letters on the back of mine. To Joey I wrote, "Your smarts and your sensitivity may get you teased, but remember: they are your strengths. Don't let the jerks get you down." At first I wasn't going to write anything to Michael--since I couldn't think of a single nice thing to say--but finally came up with: "I hope you take home a few lessons from Grady Spruce. I don't know why you are so angry with everyone. You don't have to be, but if you surround yourself with hostility, that's all you'll get in return. People will be your friends if you give them the chance. If you can come back with a better attitude, I hope you do so."

We were supposed to get up and say something about each camper as we handed out the certificates. "What do I say about Michael?" I asked Fisher. "I can't think of anything nice either," he said, "But I'll make something up." I saw after the ceremony that Michael had wadded his up. "He says he's going to spend the bus ride home ripping it up," said Casey.

Saturday, July 11th

All I can say is: they're gone. And I had to sit in goddamn archery all morning and humor parents. Also: Jon found me before lunch; he said that Michael's parents came to pick him up. They're both anglo, so he must be adopted. He told them he had a wonderful time and wanted to come back. Go figure.

Next session will be a good one. I'm due.

Fourth Session

Saturday, July 11th

I got Tapp back as my buddy counselor, which is way cool; we're back in Indian seven and eight, at the far end of camp. Further, we both have jaycees. Greg has Allan, a football player and chorale singer from one of the high schools in my home town. This is the guy who shouts things like, "Hey Fisher, how come one of your campers is wearing a toilet seat on his head?" My jaycee is Dwight, whom I know little about, other than he's friendly and sharp and frequently sports a big white colonial hat that mail carriers wear. He begins his sentences with "My man," said with an aristocratic accent.

The first two to arrive were Matt and Decker, both from San Antonio, who started my session off with a bang. Decker is Super Camper: friendly, eager, trustworthy, smart, etc. etc. etc. This is his third year at Grady Spruce, so he knows the drill. He came equipped with craft supplies, a small tape player, comic books, camouflage gear and two-way radios to be used in the Battle of Main, sandals and hiking boots, candy--everything this year's fashionable camper wishes he had. I hit it off with him immediately. Matt is his friend, more of the sensitive type, also loaded with craft supplies. "Do you need someone to clean the toilets? I like to clean the toilets. Do you want me to make you a string bracelet?" Amazing. The tone for the session, I thought to myself, has been set. "All of us know each other," Decker said of the guys in the cabin. "I wrote a letter to Boo [last year's camp director] and asked us to be put together." I had a moment's panic at the though of the potential conspiracies--and my own memories the havoc generated when I was in a cabin with seven people I knew--but was soon assuaged by Decker. "All of us are good guys," he said. "We won't give you any trouble," added Matt. I couldn't help but be convinced by two pairs of eager blue eyes.

Brendon and Sterling are another buddy duo who live next door to each other in Dallas. Brendon has a blocky, freckled face, piercing eyes and a disciplined manner. Sterling is a little moody; he has longish dark hair and silvery eyes, giving him a spooky sort of beauty. His dad was both a camper and a counselor at Grady Spruce, making him a legacy of sorts. They're experts at lanyards and soccer.

Jeff is a quiet, reserved kid with a narrow frame, straight brown hair, glasses, and his nose usually in a book. He looks like he'll require the least effort to keep in line but will be the hardest to get to know.

Somehow I got stuck with another mental defective, this time by the name of Jayson. He's the odd man out in the cabin, both because he doesn't already know the other seven and because he's a retard. He doesn't seem to be able control the volume of his voice, his speech is slurred, his dark eyes wander, and you have to tell him everything over and over to get him to do it. Ugh. He might be marginally less annoying the Dennis, though, because he doesn't talk to me much. It will be hard for me to treat him properly and fairly, since the contrast between him and the others is so stark.

Horsies at Ray Bean
I'm supposed to get two more kids, but they haven't appeared so far. If everyone does show up, it's going to make for a crowded table at dinner, so I'm not complaining.

Dwight and I ran them through the first-day rotations: store, clinic, pool. Jayson did not pass his swim test--he couldn't dog-paddle three laps in the pool--which is again going to be a drag during cabin activities, since he won't be able to go in the water. Who sends a kid who doesn't know how to swim to a camp located on a lake?

But on the whole, they're a groovy group, and I'm psyched.

Sunday, July 12th

Breakfast went without complaints or fights or any of the crap to which I have grown accustomed. I was in such a good mood I danced most of the way back from breakfast, much to the amusement of my campers. The normal rotations began again without incident. I'm with Tapp at the ski dock first and second and with Steve B. at sailing third and fourth. Looks like another session of UV overdoses, but I love the waterfront. My two latecomers arrived just after dinner. Jack and Jon are two skinny little nine-year-olds, best friends from Dallas. They are cute and playful and squeaky and they smile a lot. Jon's parents are in Scotland, and he had to wait for Jack to get back from a track meet. Jack is a track jock. He runs the fastest mile, for his age, in Texas: five minutes and nineteen seconds. He looks to be my errand boy.

Man, can Dwight fart. Dwight was Decker's jaycee last year, too, and persuaded us to take up a farting contest. Ah, the joys of an all-male camp. The only rules are that a camper has to hear it for it to count. This makes the wind-breaking somewhat artificial, as both Dwight and I will sit around and squeeze out little ones instead of just letting go with a big brrrrap.

Monday, July 13th

Jayson only brought one pair of socks. Christ on a crutch! He presented this to me when we were supposed to be out the door on our way to breakfast. He was sitting on the floor staring at his shoes, as if he were trying to make socks appear through sheer force of will. Who sends their kid to camp with only one pair of socks?

I was standing around drying off after third period, talking to Decker. "We have fifteen minutes or so before we need to get started on KP," I said, "so you can go back to the cabin and change or whatever." He jumped up and said, "I'm dry. I'll go get started." Poof! He was gone. Unbelievable. It was halfway done by the time the rest of us showed up. All of them did a good job without complaining. Maybe I'm just used to having little monsters, but these guys seem almost too good to be true.

Free swim was fun--the Sea Monster again rose from the muddy lake bottom to hurl campers through the air.

Had a pleasant evening in sailing, checking pairs of kids out on the boats. I lay up at the front of the little Sunfish sailboats while the two campers in the cockpit piloted us around the lake. Cruising across the lake in the evening sun with no motor noise--this, I thought to myself, is the life.

Tuesday, July 14th

The morning went quickly; I farted sixteen times at lunch to overtake Dwight, 64 to 60. I made my exit from the dining hall at 12:59 to escape into my road rocket back to Dallas. The engine problems started up quickly and were worse than ever; at several points I didn't think I was going to make it back. I limped into the Mitsubishi dealership. "Bad timing, guy," said the burly shop manager. "Most of the staff is out at classes this week, so I won't even be able to look at it until next Monday." Ugh. "Well," I said, "It has to be fixed, so fix it." And the monitor on my Powerbook, after months of erratic behavior, finally failed, so I had to send it off for repairs.

Wednesday, July 15th

My brother Rus drove me back; he wanted to hang out and spend the evening. The kids were glad to see me--"Dwight was mean!" They were doubly glad when I told them I brought back a fan and a boom box. Eddie was at the staff table. I introduced Rus as "one of the members of the Ed Spragins Fan Club"; Ed claimed to recognize Rus from five summers ago, when Rus was here last. Dwight sat back and smiled as the kids announced that he had taken an enormous lead in the fart contest, which was now at 87-64. Damn, I thought, I farted left, right, and center while I was at home--but the U.N. inspectors weren't there to verify it. "Really, he farted a lot, just now in the car," said Rus.

Sailing after dinner is pretty easy once you get the kids trained; you can turn them loose in the boats and sit around and play lifeguard. Occasionally one group will get blown out of the sailing area and need retrieving, like tonight. James the jaycee (Joanne's little brother) and I had to go get them in the safety boat. Except we ran out of gas right after we got there. Jay's boss, Bill, happened to drive by and see us floundering in the lagoon. We surrendered our empty gas can and sat there feeling foolish. The pilots of the downed sailboat had already waded theirs back to the sailing area by the time we got back.

Rus spent the night; I was off and went to Ray Bean. Rus was talking to the Beaner ski director, who as it turns out went to my high school. I heard this voice say, "Not the Mark Maxham!" Apparently she was in the honors cliques at Pearce who paid attention to competitions like Academic Decathlon, which was my big thing, and I guess I had developed something of a reputation. "No," I said with a grin, "Just a Mark Maxham--haven't you heard?--I come in six-packs."

Thursday, July 16th

I woke up this morning with both a virus of some sort and pink-eye. Mark immediately quarantined me to the clinic. How ironic! I finally get a group I enjoy spending time with and I get locked up. I would have loved to have been locked up in the clinic first or third session. Even more aggravating is I probably shouldn't write letters--due to the contagiousness of the pink-eye--and can't do any useful work since my Mac is in the shop. This is probably for the best, actually, if I want to get an early start on beating the virus; I slept almost all day. Occasionally I would roll out of bed and talk to Mark the nurse, particularly when he brought me food.

Friday, July 17th

Lukas drove me into Mineral Wells to get my pink-eye checked out, which shot the morning. The technical term, in case you were wondering, is "conjunctivitis."

I've been away from the group so long, I'm sure Dwight is way out in front in the fart tally.

The young'uns and I joined up again for cabin activity: planning for the Grady Spruce olympiad. We toyed with various national identities, settling on Canada. I think the concensus was: they look like us, they more or less talk like us; all we have to do is end sentences in "eh?" and we're set. We went to crafts and made a fine Canadian flag. I wanted to make a "Greetings from Canada" banner, with a map and factoids: largest country in North America, biggest U.S. trading partner, Michael J. Fox, that sort of thing. Alas, we ran out of time.

Dwight and me, with Jon, Brendon, Matt, Jeff, Sterling,
Jack, Decker, and Jayson. Note fashionable bandanas.
I made a leap forward in bandana fashion technology today. It all started with rolling the bandana up instead of having it folded in half--a common mode of use--then rotating it 180 degrees so that the knot sat above the forehead. This had become the style around camp; "You can lie down and the knot doesn't dig in the back of your head," explained Eddie the ski director. But the sailing director, Steve, had big floppy rabbit ears coming out of his knot, while mine were dinky. We compared them, and his bandana was substantially larger. While pondering this, I noticed another bandana in my pocket--a white one. Aha, I thought, I could tie this white one to the red one I'm wearing ... voila, not only do I now have two huge rabbit ears, I have two colors. A revolution! My sense of achievement even exceeds that from the "waddat 'n choo" chant, when I mentioned for the first time that I must be losing my mind.

"I like that better," said Michael of the new style. "When you wore them the other way you looked like an outlaw or a maid or something."

The past few days I'd been making noises about being willing to give up my salary in exchange for not having to have my own cabin. I knew the fun times came when I wasn't required to be in charge of discipline; I thought maybe I could strike a deal in which I was just a "rover." The Pathfinder unit leader, Randy, found me tonight in the dining hall, effecting repairs to the sub. He was an effective and concerned listener; he suggested that I'm trying too hard and should not get so caught up in the situations. "Besides," he said, "next session is going to be a big one, and we can't do it without ya."

Saturday, July 18th

For reveille today I popped the "TV Tunes" CD into the boom-box and blasted the themes to "Fat Albert," "The Muppet Show," "Scooby Doo," and "The Love Boat." Then I played "Welcome Back Kotter," which struck me, personally, as appropriate:

Welcome back to the same old place that we laughed about
Well the names have all changed since you hung around
But those dreams have remained and they've turned around
Who'd have thought they'd lead ya
Back here where we need ya?
The olympic opening ceremonies went about as you might expect: a procession of cabin and tent groups displaying their flag and shouting their chant. Most of the countries were made up; only three real countries were represented: Italy, England, and Canada (us). The English team all dressed up like Mark the British nurse, with huge muttonchop sideburns and beat-up hats that said "Goodyear," both of which he prominently wears. We got up there with our really cool Canadian flag and borrowed the song from SCTV's "Great White North" (Apologies to my Canadian friends):

Take off,
To the great white north,
Take off,
It's a beauty way to go,
Take off,
To the great white north,
Koo loo koo koo koo koo koo koo,
Koo loo koo koo koo koo koo koo.
The random countries included Aggierica, Limbo, Texaco (with a flag half Texan and half Mexican), Copenhagen (from one of the nicotine-addict counselors), and Hooterville: "We're sensitive, but firm." To complete the ceremony, Randy the Pathfinder unit leader came jogging up with a torch, a yellow balloon with orange streamers, with which he "lit" a fan: more orange and yellow streamers jitterbugged in the air.

The scoring system is designed to provide a balanced playing field for a variety of athletic abilities. Instead of simply outperforming the opponent, you must guesstimate what you will be able to do--what time in which to run a race, how far to jump--and then do it. The team who gets closest to their guess wins. This seems like an absurdly simple system to beat, especially if you have any sort of time-sense. The reality is that even after you've explained the rules to the kids, they'll still estimate something difficult to reach and then run like the dickens. This is, I guess, as it should be.

Instead of the usual activities, we took morning and afternoon periods and rotated buddy-cabin groups through seven events. I was assigned to the midpoint of the four-man relay; all I had to do was sit on a bench at the halfway point and watch the baton hand-off. This turned into a series of twenty-minute naps, useful because I'm still trying to fight off that virus. I sat under an enormous oak tree and reclined on a picnic bench, enjoying the cool weather and breeze.

At the lunch mail call, I got a card from my friend Penny addressed to "Voltage of the American Gladiators." I "accidentally" let a few of the kids see the envelope while I muttered, "I asked her not to put my Gladiator name on my letters." This sort of lame cover-up attempt is an excellent way to convince the campers.

Rus arrived for a weekend visit at about 3:30, bringing my Powerbook back. Apple's service is amazing: I called them Wednesday, they sent an overnight delivery box to my mom's house Thursday, and it arrived back, repaired, Saturday morning. Free. Unbelievable. Rus also brought cookies, lawn furniture, a frisbee, and his combat kite. Cool stuff. We hung out in the clinic during the intermittent light rain.

Cabin seven (us) competed directly against cabin eight (Tapp) during the rotations, scoring fairly decisive victories in six of seven events. My guys are pretty bright, while Tapp's bunch are mostly low-watt bulbs, so this did not surprise me. It was cool to have my boys running up to me at various points during the day and describing their latest win.

The evening was spent in track and field events, ranging from the traditional (long jump) to the untraditional (frisbee toss) to the spine-injury-looking-for-a-place-to-happen (high jump) to the strange (a distance race involving blowing up and releasing balloons). I don't know how we did; the awards ceremony was postponed indefinitely. It was getting dark, and everybody was ready to hit the showers.

Sunday, July 19th

Last night at flag, program director Ray said we'd get to sleep late and be served breakfast in bed by the ad staff. The former, I knew about, but the latter sounded like the sort of cruel hoax that he is likely to perpetrate. I would have ignored it, but we had KP today. So at 8:00 I trudged in down to the dining hall in the borrowed scrubs that are my pajamas. "Go back to bed," said Ray. Woo hoo! This is excellent. This is also co-ed day, so we don't have to do breakfast or dinner, and today is our last day of KP duty. Ah, the simple pleasures of camp life ...

We spent the morning playing Battle of Main. The two hours only afforded three games, partly because the flags were hidden better, but also because the generals, Win and Jermaine, were screwing around with the two-way radios they confiscated from Decker. I had words with them about this and got stomped on, much in the way I did when at one point I criticized Rick's cutting-in-line at the water fountain in front of campers. I admit that I saw the situation from Decker's viewpoint: his resourcefulness was being rubbed in his face. I'm probably biased because I like the kid so much. Anyway, the games were fun. The first game I took an "elite strike force" (the fast kids) and snuck deep into enemy territory; the search seemed to take forever, but I finally found the flag. Then I had to go looking for a camper to carry the thing, since counselors may not. An exciting dash through the trees ended with a very satisfying bell-ringing. We lost the second game and sort of drew the third (which degraded into a sock-pulling contest.) So, as with almost all competitions at Grady Spruce, it was a tie.

A Battle of Main melee
Co-ed day, after another Long March to Ray Bean, was vile and degrading. We have so-called "games" traditionally used to keep the kids busy and get the boys and girls to mingle; these games are planned and organized by the jaycees. Somebody had the bright idea to have a "get the counselors as messy as possible" contest, composed of several disgusting events. The kids stood around and "coached", which, I'm told, bored them silly. First I was subjected to a short obstacle course--carrying a quart-size lump of ice cream, which thoroughly numbed my hand. Then someone coated me in shaving cream and cheese balls, then in baby oil and beach sand. I could hardly believe that I was being subjected to this; at one point, unable to see from the shaving cream and being led by the hand, I hollered, "I am an engineer, not some side-show freak!" Naturally, this prompted campers to approach me the rest of the evening and say, "Are you a side-show freak? You sure look like one." The one cool thing about being all gross like that was getting to (literally) mess with people who teased me.

Rus and I had fun at the dance, though I was at reduced speed due to the continuing effects of my virus. We loaned the dee-Jay several CD's. Jay played some Go-Go's, Madonna, and Duran Duran from my collection. For some reason he didn't play any of the Rush discs, but there's no accounting for taste. Joanne was there, but I still couldn't get her to dance with me. She claimed she was too shy to dance with anyone but her campers. Rus seemed to hit it off with one of the Beaner jaycees, whom I observed asking him when he was coming back. He took off directly from Ray Bean after telling nearly every other counselor to pass me a message: "Tell Mark I'll that I can come Tuesday if he needs me to, and that I love him." Seven different people delivered the message over the next twenty-four hours. That boy, what a goof.

Monday, July 20th

One of the so-called inspirational stories we were told during staff training concerned the approach to helping kids that have problems of one sort or another. I got the impression that the veteran staff had heard this one many times. It ran something like this:

Sometimes starfish will get washed ashore in bulk due to storms and die of exposure. After one such storm, a man was walking along the beach, looking at the doomed starfish, when he found a boy picking up the starfish, one by one, and flinging them into the surf. The man stopped and watched the boy for a moment, then said, "There are thousands of starfish here. You can't possibly save all of them." The boy did not stop throwing. "No," he said, picking up another, "But I saved this one." He sent it into the waves. "And this one."

I recount the story because Greg (not Tapp, the other one) got up today at breakfast to sell the kids on his third-period free-choice activity, adventure club. "Tapp and I went fishing the other day," said Greg, "And we had been out for an hour or so before dawn when the water in front of me began to boil." Greg is a preacher's son, so he is a good orator. "And the churning waters were filled with fish, and I cast my line and pulled out a fish. I again cast my line and pulled out another fish, bigger than the first. And again and again I cast my line and pulled a fish from the lake. Tapp did not have his pole, and stared in amazement as my pile of fish grew and grew. 'You can't possibly catch all those fish,' said Tapp. 'No,' I said to him, 'But I caught that one. And that one. And that one.'" The rest of the staff was rolling on the porch steps.

Almost nothing to speak of happened today, believe it or not: same old routine. We cleaned the cabin. Free swim was cancelled on account of lightning; the cloud formations were complicated and varied today. Sterling had to go into Mineral Wells to have a cavity re-filled. Dwight had to yell at Matt for cutting up during flag. The breeze is cool and dry, it's a perfect night for sleeping, and I'm going to do so.

Tuesday, July 21st

While I was working out on the ski dock this morning, Mark came down to hang out. "Have you noticed," I asked, "How many really dumb kids there are this session?" "Oh yeah," said Mark, "I had one come to the clinic yesterday holding his hand up. He said he thought there was an ant on it, but didn't know if it he'd been bitten. 'Does it sting? Is it swelling?' He looked at his hand and said, 'No.' I asked him, 'Well what's wrong, then?' He said, 'I didn't know if it was an ant or a piece of wood.'"

Atop Devil's Island
It was that day-off time again; Rus came out to retrieve me. He had lunch with us and then we cruised at 1:00 sharp. Getting chauffeured back and forth from camp is definitely the way to go. I retrieved the Eclipse, fuel injectors freshly unclogged, and drove home to go sleep.

Wednesday, July 22nd

I dropped by the hobby shop on my way out of town to get a new driveshaft for the sub, but they were out. The guy who sold me the radio said he'd find another prop assembly and mail it to me. It doesn't look like I'll get the part by Friday afternoon, unfortunately.

Jayson finally passed his swim test. It should not have taken this long, but Lukas must have reached his little brain though excruciating repetition.

Michael approached me at the staff table over dinner and said, "Win the clean cabin award." The unstated implication was that we were in line for the honor cabin award, but you just can't win honor cabin if you don't win the clean cabin award at least once. "I want to see if they're capable," said Michael.

The unit activity was a lip-sync contest. Some of the acts were extremely lame, with slow songs (e.g. Under the Bridge by the Red Hot Chili Peppers) or campers who seemed unclear on the concept (e.g. the eight-year-olds in cabin one.) Some were funny, including an operatic piece starring a Pavarotti imitator with a pillow under his belt. The staff hammed it up; for some reason Andy, Michael, and Randy all dressed up like women to act as judges. It was bizarre. Jon Fisher got up and sang "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling", which got great audience participation. Ray announced that Ryan and Chris were going to get up and do something from Spinal Tap; I asked if they were doing "Big Bottom," and sure enough, they were. I asked if I could join them. They said yes. So I got up there with my air guitar (a broom) and unbuttoned my shirt and threw my hair around. I didn't really think about the song contents at the time, what with the various sorts of innuendo in many of the others. I especially wasn't thinking when, at the end of the song (with our butts pointed toward the audience) Ryan suggested we moon 'em and we did. Jay was pissed. It didn't help that Jay's boss, Bill, was there. I spent an uncomfortable few minutes with the other counselors, discussing unemployment. Fortunately, Jay had to run off to some sort of budget meeting and hasn't chewed me out as of this writing. Anyway, our group got up last and acted out the story in "The Devil Went Down To Georgia." I tried a little theatrical coaching beforehand: "Big exaggerated motions, keep moving," that sort of thing, but I don't think it sunk it. We had a blast, jumping around, playing air-fiddle on our collection of broken brooms. We got three 9's from the judges, winning the contest.

Thursday, July 23rd

I got the kids up at 6:45 and made 'em clean the cabin. Ugh. We made the place shine. Personally, I think that if you win the clean cabin award, you're spending too much time cleaning the cabin. But I have to admit that I've learned the value of not allowing candy (a rule I bent for this group) and making them leave all of their shoes on the front porch. And I want to win honor cabin once this summer.

We didn't have skiing today; Eddie was on a day off. Hans, Tapp, Allan his jaycee, and I went out in a Nautique. I was eager to try out the advice Eddie gave me last time about staying balanced and over the back of the ski while crossing the wake. It was a thrill. The water was perfect; I was jamming back and forth, putting up rooster-tails, and of course making spectacular wipe-outs when I bit it. My neck is still stiff from one of those Superman-style crashes.

The midshipmen--those in sailing every night after dinner--went on their cook-out. We trekked to one of the remote campsites in sailboats. Steve and I took the safety boat laden with supplies ahead to the site. I built the fire and cooked. We had chicken breasts, still with bones and skin, but marinaded in Italian dressing and roasted on the grill. The blackened meat got a lot of suspicious looks from the campers, but boy, under the burned parts was incredibly juicy chicken. We also had broccoli, green beans, and peas, also stir-fried in Italian dressing. All these kids were telling me how they hate veggies but were surprised by (and devouring) my cooking. This was quite cool. "I'm impressed," said Joanne, whose presence was one of the reasons I lobbied to be in sailing in the first place. Dessert was cookies (with milk, natch).

Jayson told me what part of his problem is: he's another Ritalin kid. Except that the Ritalin did not come out to camp with him. If he had never had the drug, he might have been simply a little difficult to communicate with. But no doubt he was used to the stuff and missing the chemical crutch that had been imposed on him. I'm told that kids experience amplified mood swings when they come off Ritalin. He wasn't a bad kid, you just had to tell him everything over and over for it to sink in. In fact, I got into this pattern when talking to Jayson: if I had something to say to him, I'd automatically repeat it three times: "Jayson, get in bed. Jayson, get in bed. Jayson, get in bed." If I didn't, I discovered, nothing would happen.

Friday, July 24th

My boys finally made it down to the ski dock second period today, and almost all of them wimped out. Decker did really well on two skis, but Matt gave some lame excuse about not being ready. There was a moment of panic when one of the dunces from Tapp's cabin--after being repeatedly told to sit down--accidentally kicked Jeff's glasses off the dock. Now, Jeff is a pretty reserved kid, but between the cost of the glasses being $150 and Jeff being blind without them, he sat on the dock and bawled. Between second and third activity period, I considered the problem for a moment; it was only about ten feet of water, and they couldn't have gone very far. Without telling Jeff (and without him being able to see me), I slipped into the water in the berth where the glasses had gone over, under one of the ski boats. It only took two dives to locate the glasses. I dried them off and put them on his nose before he could react. He had a 100-watt smile.

As with the last day of each session, we spent free swim deciding who was the belly-flop champion. It's a curious pain-inducing ritual of honor, I guess like those Indian initiation ceremonies I heard about when I was a kid. I was trying to catch a cat-nap, but Michael ragged me out for slacking, and as a point of honor I felt compelled to give the demonstration dive. Man, did that sting! Brendon followed in Joey's footsteps from last session and took first place. Skinny Jeff made an impressive showing in fourth place. The big win for this contest, from my point of view, is that most of the counselors get to sit and watch--which I did, nursing my pink stomach.

A package arrived today for Jayson: five pair of socks.

We had a lot of fun during cabin activity: I taught them my sign language. This is an alphabet of baseball-style gestures I came up with after watching the World Series. It's fun because the uninitiated think you're just signing nonsense. All during dinner, they signed p-a-s-s t-h-e j-u-i-c-e and such.

Matt made a string bracelet of blue and gray for my wrist. Decker made me an ankle bracelet of black and gold seed-beads, tiny things strung on fishing line. I'm not much into body-adornment, but getting such a gift from any of my campers is somehow different. One is on my wrist and the other on my ankle.

After dinner we had the awards ceremony. I passed out each "certificate of achievement", again with a letter I had written on the back, only this time I didn't have to tool my wording to make it seem like I was glad I'd had them when I wasn't. Well, except for Jayson. I made the mistake of publicly calling Decker what I had always thought of him as--Super Camper--which apparently hurt some feelings among the other seven. Michael pointed out that he saw Jeff looking particularly crestfallen, and I felt bad. But I praised all of them, even Jayson, who had finally passed his swim test.

On the way to the closing campfire, Matt was lamenting how we didn't deserve the honor cabin award. "We've been really mean to Jayson," he said. He was right; even I was guilty, a little. But all in all, I liked the group. My extreme bias towards Decker had me hoping for the award, fully deserved or not. The closing campfire skits were uniformly lame; I think the counselors have heard all their own jokes enough times. Our skit--"The Royal Papers," in which the King wants not contracts or treaties but T.P.--got stolen yet again, so we elected to punt. Finally we got to the announcement of the honor cabin, which I'd honestly forgotten about because I was still viral and my butt hurt. "I believe," said Ray, "it was Indian cabin seven." The kids roared and jumped around and slapped each other on the back. I was tired, but happy.

Saturday, July 25th

Got up early to do KP--the kids did such a great job the other times, I said I'd do breakfast on the last day myself. My virus is dogging me, and I feel pretty run-down, so I kinda regret that decision.

Here it is the last day, and I'm sorry to see the little guys go. Except maybe for Jayson, who was in tears because he though he had lost his shoe, which turned out to be in his trunk. Gawd. On the way to the office to sign the canoe paddle that is the honor cabin award, Matt remarked (again) that maybe we didn't deserve it because of how much Jayson got picked on. I dunno. What do you do with a kid that won't shut up and won't listen? Job would have felt like kicking him in the ass, too.

We never did make a final tally in the fart contest. I spent the morning at sailing, which is stressful on a parents' day--they'll do like I did ("Sure, I know how to sail") and then we have to go pull them out of the water with the safety boat. Actually, it was an uneventful three hours. All of my guys came by to see me before they left; I got in one more hand-shake and pat on the back. I told Decker to send me a couple of the group pictures he took. He smiled and said good-bye, and without a backwards glance trotted off to his dad's van. My eyes might have leaked a little, but I'm not sure.

Fifth Session

This entry is long overdue. I had planned to continue my normal journals through the fifth session, and had been keeping my scrawled notes about daily goings-on, but, alas, I lost that particular piece of paper. If it ever shows up, I'll go back and make up the entries. For now, I'll see what I can remember. There are still some things to tell, even if they're not given as a daily chronology.

The group I had the next summer
Fifth session found me and Tapp back in the boonies, that time with no jaycee. Well, we sorta had a jaycee: Billy. He was a dishwasher, which normally would mean that all he had to do is wash dishes, but that session had 144 kids, so everyone was pulling extra duty. Michael, Randy, and Lukas had their own tents for the first time that summer; the Rancher unit was open, with Steve B. serving as unit leader and Winfield taking over as sailing director.

Fifth was the last session that I had my own cabin; I had a family reunion in Pittsburgh which took two days each out of the last two one-week sessions. The nice thing about turnover is a clean slate. I rearranged the beds, implemented a new shoe policy (leave 'em on the porch), even changed my personality and name--switching to Max, since one of my kids is named Mark. (Boy, did they give me sh-- for that at the staff meeting. "This session, call me Fellatio," said Barnes.) The personality thing was a little more subtle; I was trying to be more of a hard-ass, having (slowly) learned the lessons of giving them much slack. I got incrementally better at my job as the rules become second-nature. I did not miss the irony of finally figuring this out just in time for the last real session. The afternoon of introductions and orientations went well; I managed to keep my energy level up, despite the infection that was still lurking in my adnoids. I liked these kids, though I was a little worried about them at first.

Peter was a big, dark and menacing looking, a three-year veteran. My initial appraisal of him was way off; he was definitely a great kid. Jim was this skinny Scandinavian kid who smiled a lot, in a shy way, but hardly ever said anything. Jason and Chafin were best-buds from the same hometown, sorta friendly and goofy. Jason is a sleepwalker, warned his mom. "No problem," I said.

Nick was an incredibly uppity little brat, immediately pushing the boundaries of what he could get away with. However, I knew enough at this point to know to push back, and I had little trouble with him. I had to condition him not to punch me on the arm to express disapproval. Hitting was punishable by an "under-arm hair check," which involved me holding the victim's arms vertical while the rest of the campers "counted hairs"--tickled fiendishly. Once we understood each other, we got along well. Nick is playful and bright, and responds to my outlandish behavior by rolling his eyes and saying, "Oh, Max!" David worried me. He was a big pudgy kid who said the only kind of music he liked was country, in sharp contrast to everyone except Tapp. Worse, he picked the cursed bed adjacent to mine, which had previously housed Dennis and Jayson. "You're not a bed wetter or anything like that, are you?" I asked. He looked at me with his bug-eyes poking out over his cheeks with this "What kind of stupid question is that?" look.

Michael was the cutest of the bunch, a short athletic kid with a buzz-cut. He was uncertain about being at camp; his mom said he is an incredibly fussy eater. I set out to engage his enthusiasm, if I could find it.

Holy sh--, they brought a TON of candy. I told them I had to confiscate it and gave them the scare story about skunks. Then I felt like being a softie--they'd seemed like a good bunch, plus this was one more possible thing to use as incentive or punishment--I pooled the loot into one bag and hung it over my bed. They were up at 6:40 the first morning, having a heated whispering debate about submarines in Possum Kingdom. I hoped to surprise them sometime that week. I had dropped by the hobby shop on the way out of town and explained my dilemma; the guy mailed me the replacement parts, which arrived that past Saturday.

One afternoon during mail call, Jason got a MAD Magazine. I thumbed through it and was surprised to find it pretty funny--MAD has a lot of political humor that probably goes right over the heads of most of its audience. The social commentary in the Batman Returns parody was amusing, too. "Didn't you male chauvinists learn anything from the Anita Hill Senate hearings?" asks pre-Catwoman after being propositioned by her boss. "Sure did!," he responds, "When Clarence Thomas was approved as a Supreme Court justice, it taught us that we could get away with things like this!" In another funny set of exchanges, Batman asks how Catwoman came to be so good at kicking butts. "A mistake," she says. "I went to go rent a Jane Fonda tape and got a Chuck Norris film instead." When asked about her militant feminism, she says, "That was another mistake. I was going to rent a Chuck Norris tape and got Thelma and Louise instead." And when prompted about his plan to kill Gotham's firstborn, the Penguin says, "I went out to rent a copy of The Birds but I picked up a copy of The Ten Commandments instead."

At sailing on Monday, Win said he had this great idea to make a million bucks. "I'm going to write a novel, Gay Love Story. The fags will buy it--that's ten percent of the population. Then I'll go public and say 'I hate fags' and get on all the talk shows discussing how I wrote this book while despising homosexuals. Then I'll renounce that, say I don't really hate fags, and write a book on how I did it just to scam the talk show circuit. Then I'll give a series of seminars on how you too can scam talk-shows, and when I get my students in there I'll make 'em get up and sing camp songs."

The only problem at that point in the session was Michael (the camper, not the Indian unit leader) vomiting repeatedly. Mark the nurse and I couldn't figure it out--food, virus, homesickness, what? Aside from that, I did have anything to worry about; the kids minded me, pretty much, sat still at flag, cleaned the cabin--such a deal. We racked up two clean cabin awards that session, partly due to the new floor plan and the outside-shoes rule.

Flag ceremony, with Steve Baum
Since my kids had me in a consistent good mood, I was uninhibited around shower time. Now I don't mean I started streaking or anything--I'm talking about dancing. I'd pick some tunes and go to town, pausing occasionally to prod the next kid to get in the shower. (The "let's see how fast we can get showers done" game was effective this session.) I have this tape from a band called Cosmic Chimp--my sister used to date the lead singer--and it has one particularly fast and fun song called "I'm Turning to Sandstone." It caught on with the kids, for some reason, and it became our "Time to Go" song, kind of like a two-minute warning. "Play that sandstone song again," Nick would insist. And away we'd go, me playing the air guitar: "I'm turning to sand stone, I'm turning to sand stone, I'm turning to sand stone for YOU!" Bump-bud-dap "For YOU!"

My morning assignment that session was "games." Sometimes we played "Simon Sez"--I was practicing my delivery. The best tactic I found was saying one thing and doing something similar but slightly different. Other times we'd play Hide 'n Go Seek in the Pathfinder unit, where we started out with one "it", and as soon as someone got tagged he joined forces as another "it" until the last guy got nailed. This was a great game, because I'd turn them loose and not see them for twenty minutes. For games Wednesday morning I had two tents of Pathfinders put on life jackets and play Marco Polo in the swim area. This was ideal, as I got to sit and dangle my feet in the water for fifty minutes. For the last five minutes, I changed the name of the game to "Pee Wee Herman," with the only rule change being instead of "fish out of water" you yell "fish out of boxers."

By Tuesday, Michael was totally homesick, and ill to boot--he threw up five times. He wouldn't eat the food, either, which makes me wonder what it is he was throwing up. He said he wanted to go home to "civilized food", get away from the heat, blah blah blah. I didn't know how to deal with it, so I handed the problem off to Tapp for a while. We finally got some food down him at lunch--he consented to eat a peanut- butter and jelly sandwich, so I raided the big fridge for supplies. When the others protested that they wanted PB&J too, I told them that they had to starve themselves for two straight meals to prove that they couldn't stomach camp food. I had three or four claim they were going to do just that, then promptly eat mounds of macaroni.

I scored some antibiotics from Winfield Tuesday night; my neck stopped hurting almost immediately. I'm normally not one to play fast and loose with pharmaceuticals, but I wasn't going to wait for my day off to pay $35 for a doctor to prescribe me what I had there in my pocket. I felt much better.

In the wee hours of Wednesday morning, Jason the sleepwalker was halfway out the door of the cabin at three in the morning when I grabbed him by the seat of the pants. "Wake up, dude," I said in his ear. "Sorry," he said, and hopped back in bed. Normally I sleep like a rock--some sort of sixth sense had me up. I wonder what he would have done if he had gotten loose.

Wednesday morning was overcast; when the waterfront closed down due to lightning, everyone got sent up to me at games. I was trying to get a game of Bombardment started, but this one kid was trying to kill another one, and I attempted to physically intervene by standing between the two of them. But this kid, Lucas, had this amazing non-linear anger response and just went berserk. He started throwing punches on me; I wrapped him up to hold him still. Then he told me that nobody was allowed to touch him. "I can, if you can't control yourself," I said. This was beyond what I knew how to deal with, so I hearded him off towards the office for a talk with Jay. "No!" he said angrily, and took off. I chased him down to the clinic and said he would walk towards the office or I would carry him. "No!" he screeched again. I was trying to position myself so that he could only move towards the office, with limited success. "Look," I said, "I told you I'd carry you." "F--- YOU!" he bellowed, leaking tears. I threw him over my shoulder, thinking, uh oh, another mom forgot to send the Ritalin. I carried him to the office, confined him there, and sent Eddie up to deal with him. Ed returned later. "What did you do?" I asked. "I just sort of followed him around camp while he told me about how he has a problem with his temper. It took about half an hour to get it out of his system, and he knows you weren't singling him out or anything ... I think he'll be okay." I was relieved--but I stayed away from the kid the rest of the session anyway.

Michael settled into the routine after I started supplying him with regular doses of PB&J. He still dragged his feet a little and was slow to join in with group activities, but he never thought of me as the enemy. I'd find him from time to time and rub is fuzzy head. "Ahhhhh," I'd say, while he sat and rolled his eyes.

The dances are starting to get a little old, because Jay has a limited set of songs to choose from. Some of this music, like a current popular tune called "Smells Like Teen Spirit", will forever be associated in my mind with tennis-court slam-dancing. Other tunes I never get tired of, like the old Village People song "YMCA".

Wednesday night I was wandering back from night-off in the darkness, under a cloudy an moonless night. I'd learned to navigate the camp effectively in total darkness. I was approaching the old homestead, Indian 7, when I heard a snort, followed by a thunderous stampede all around me! I had wandered straight into a herd of deer, who had stood quietly until I had gotten too close. Then they surged to the left and right of me in escape. I experienced long moments of sheer terror, since I expected death and couldn't see a thing. Fortunately, the deer managed to not run me down. It was a long time before I got to sleep, though.

The Rifleman
On Thursday, Adam the riflery director rented scuba gear on his break. Possum Kingdom is the second-clearest lake in Texas, so I'm told (and no, I still don't know the first clearest) and is a great place to dive. Being a man-made lake, it covers many houses and barns and such, which would be cool to dive in. Adam had a hunch that many pairs of expensive sunglasses lay underneath the ski dock. He didn't find anything, then let me use the equipment. I didn't discover any Ray-Bans, but I found soda bottles, silverware, and an old rusting slimy folding chair. I set the chair up on the ski dock. At one point during my search pattern, I got off course and came up directly under one of the docked ski boats and bumped my head. I freaked and dove like crazy--I thought for a second that I was in open water and had come up under Eddie. Adam let me implement an idea he'd had early in the summer, a little while later at free swim. I waited until the kids were in the pool, then approached from underwater and came up right in the middle of the pool. A number of the kids were bug-eyed and excited, but for some reason, quite a few were nonplussed. It was still fun, though.

My sleepwalker continued to be a slight pain in the side. He'd start talking out loud in the middle of the night while dreaming. Then I had to talk him awake, and I wasn't in the most coherent of states, either.

Friday was going to be the day, dammit, that I got my submarine working. Armed with a tube of silicone and my Swiss Army knife, I had been up late the night before installing the new driveshaft. I had my old jaycee Jon watch my campers and the lake while I motored the sub in front of the dining hall during lunch. Batteries: check. Servos: check. Motor: check. Seals: check. I lowered her into the water and set it in motion toward the swim dock. She was well under way and moving at a good clip when I heard this mortifying gurgling noise and saw the sub lurch to a stop--obviously losing buoyancy. I put down the radio and leapt into the water after the sub. It was a close call; the hull was taking on water at an alarming rate. I arrived just in time to prevent $100 worth of radio gear from going to the bottom of Possum Kingdom. After I had secured all my gear back in my car, I hollered in frustration loud enough to be heard across the lake, I'm sure.

The honor cabin award is supposed to be non-political, but it rarely turns out that way: counselors who think they have a shot at it will direct the unit leader to watch their kids, and those who think they don't have a shot will tend to lie low. I made something of a stink last session to get the award for my kids--they were awesome compared to my previous batches, and I figured they would be my only shot. But in fifth session I was faced with a bunch that was even better behaved (especially without a Jayson or a Dennis to pick on), and won the clean cabin award more to boot. They were really gunning for the award, too, as I had made heavy mention of it during the first couple of days of the session. Hopes were high going into the closing campfire. Alas, another counselor with a good group--and, more importantly, who had not yet won the award--got the honor cabin. My boys were subdued during the walk back afterwards. I had a bad taste in my mouth, and the Matt's words from last session in my ears: "We really don't deserve honor cabin, do we?" After showers we had lights-out. I gave a brief speech. "I know y'all are disappointed. But I can tell you truthfully that I have not had a finer group this summer. Y'all are my honor cabin."

Saturday morning, seven short days after they arrived, it was time for them to go. I was down at the sailing area again, ogling the attractive mothers with Winfield. All eight of my campers came to say goodbye. Nick hung out with me most of the morning, waiting for his parents. I sat there, regretting that this bunch I only had for a week. Peter was the last to deliver his goodbye. It was brief and to the point. He squeezed my hand, said "See you," and gave me this look that I'll never forget. He conveyed friendship, admiration, regret that the session was over. His face said, "I look up to you." It was a moment that justified every bit of work and effort I had put into being a counselor.

Sixth and Seventh Sessions

I hadn't intended to write any more about the summer--I had no more cabins of my own, I kept no notes at all--but an October weekend spent at main, working with the Indian Guides, got me thinking again.

At the end of fifth session, I took off for home and then to Denton. My first girlfriend, Julie, was getting married. My experiences with Julie are a set of funny stories unto themselves, but the gist is that her parents ran me off way back when, and we've kept in touch--a little. Shoot, that reminds me, I still owe them a wedding present.

Sixth session felt funny--not only because I came back at night, not only because I didn't have my own crew, not only because there were girls in camp--but it was strangely cloudy and windy and cold. It was the last session at Main, co-ed because of a low turnout at Ray Bean. Many of the Texas public schools had moved up the start of the fall semester so that final exams could be over before Christmas; as a result, the last two sessions were abnormally sparse. Some of the counselors had already gone back to college; some who had been in the Indian unit all summer were Pathfinders, and vice-versa; the girls occupied the Indian unit, and the youngest boys were on Rancher hill. With so many things obviously different, it strongly felt like the summer had moved into its last phase.

I was assigned to cover a Rancher jaycee who had not shown, so I trudged up near the archery range with my stuff. My sandals had been causing cracks in my heels, so I wore my old tennies for a few days--and never saw my Tevas again. I'm sure some camper walked off with them, so to speak.

Skiing on the boom, dining hall in background
As the counselor with no campers, I covered other counselors on days off. I ended up covering nearly every activity in camp during the week, which was a nice change of pace. The best part was that I didn't constantly have a particular duty, so I had blocks of time to myself to spend on photography. I had a page of notes, compiled over the course of the summer, of images I wanted to get: a skier on the boom, a camper aiming an arrow, sailboats, Lukas on the swim dock with the setting sun making his fine tan glow. The ad staff was nominally cool about letting me stalk shots.

The first morning I was back, the Rancher counselors convinced all their campers to put their underwear on the outside of their shorts. "C'mon, man," said Barnes, my co-counselor, to the kids, "This is the normal way to do this on Monday mornings here at camp. You'd better do it or everyone will think you're a freak." Sure enough, we all showed up with underwear in plain sight, for the girls to see and laugh at. I have this funny picture of all of us counselors posing with our exterior skivvies.

Much to my relief, Brett the jaycee showed up and relieved me of having my own tent. I had been taking the same off-time as Joanne, which did not happen to coincide with the "normal" routine for someone in Rancher Eight--but meant that when Chris wasn't there, I was. Ray had made a stink about me taking time off without regard for the official schedule, as if I was going to take more than my share. "I don't think it's fair," he said. Funny, none of the counselors seemed to feel that way--they were glad to have me there to cover for them at a moment's notice. Which I did, almost immediately after migrating my stuff down to the clinic: Ryan broke his hand during a vigorous game of Battle of Main and had to go into town to have it set and wrapped. I lived in the Pathfinder unit for a day with a bunch of belligerent twelve-year-olds. After that, I stayed out of Ray's sight during off time and goose-stepped behind his back.

Having girls constantly in camp was a fun change of pace. I got to ham it up in front of them at meals and activities, flirt with the counselors, that sort of thing. I got to see a lot more of Joanne, but she's not the flirting type, so I spent that energy elsewhere. The strange thing was the way the ten-year-old girls dealt with me. I enjoyed playing with them--tag, keep- away, general horseplay--but pretty soon they were literally all over me. When I'd pay any attention to one of them, the rest would try to jump on my back or pull my hair or swipe my bandana. They didn't freakin' know when to stop, and they wouldn't listen to me. "Pick ME up," "Let ME on your shoulders," "Swing ME around," me, me, me--the only out was to run away. And then they'd follow and assault me on the dining hall steps. These were not the twelve-year-olds, of course, who were much too mature and cool to attempt this sort of direct approach. They'd sit in a knot and stare at the guy counselors from across the dining hall and pretend like they weren't looking at us. Joanne, who was in charge of these more mature campers, would report back who scored the high marks (Ryan) and who didn't (I decline to name names).

Michael and Adam got into a big argument early in the session. Neither had really liked each other from the beginning: Michael didn't think Adam was enthusiastic enough, Adam thought Michael was an officious little weenie. Both had their valid points; Michael, for instance, would take his psychology degree and analyze trouble campers instead of putting the fear of God into them like Jay would. We learned early that it was much more effective to send the tough ones to Jay. Anyway, Adam reported to me that in their, uh, discussion, Michael had threatened to replace Adam with me. "Please work it out," I said. In retaliation, every Rancher tent--except Michael's--went on an overnight Wednesday night. Adam left for school, as planned, at the end of the week, so that was the end of that.

Living in the clinic was not too bad. I got to talk to Mark the nurse and take occasional naps in his air-conditioned bedroom. My roommate was a Japanese fellow named Masako--he was an exchange counselor, of sorts, from the Tokyo YMCA. That session had a dozen or so Japanese, for whom Masako was acting as translator. Though twenty-one, he was short and had a squeaky voice; I'm not sure the other counselors took him seriously. His English was decent, and we hit it off. I asked him about Japanese language and culture, and what he thought of his camp experience. "Fun," he said. "Very big, very hot," he added. All I can remember of his language lessons was "Konichi wa," which is the beginning of the sentence "Today is a good day." He gave me a Japanese 100-yen coin, an origami swan, and a "Tokyo YMCA" sticker, which was in English.

We have special lunch-gags for the occasional co-ed lunch days. One of them is an oldie but goodie, numbered jokes. The setup goes like this: Ray would get up on the staff table and explain how we have many favorite jokes, and we've heard them so many times that to save time, they're just numbered. Ray demonstrates. "Joke number five!" he says, and we all laugh and laugh. Then they make some nine-year-old girl get up and tell "joke number twelve" or somesuch. In response, everyone groans and yells, "You tell it all wrong!"

Successful bobbing
Wednesday saw the final dance of the summer. In addition to the usual flailing and slam-dancing activities, some of the jaycees did "magic shows," face painting, and other carnival-sideshow stuff. I took this excellent picture of a counselor with a boy sporting a heart painted on his face, with her name, "April." He's trying to act casual, while she's got this great smile; half the boys had puppy love for her. I also took funny pictures of the staff, particularly Jay: I caught him goofing off and dancing while playing deejay. Another new feature of that dance was "marriage certificates" which a pair of jaycees were handing out. They were only good for half an hour, but I had to fend off a dozen little girls with the phrase, "I'm not into commitment." Actually, I did get "hitched" to this one counselor-in-training named Shannon, who sort of forced it on me and then proceeded to blow me off. "What, no honeymoon?!" I said. Women--go figure. (Actually, I got a nice letter from her two weeks later.)

I left Thursday to go visit my Pittsburgh relatives--Dad's side of the family has an annual family reunion early each August with fifty-odd people (and I do mean "odd".) We went to Kennywood amusement park and rode the roller coasters Saturday, played softball on Sunday, stuffed ourselves to the gills with cousin Nancy's cooking the whole time.

When I returned to Ray Bean for the seventh and final session of the summer, the end was obviously near, and it had a certain symmetry--my summer started and ended with unnaturally cool weather, living at the girls' camp. I was paired with Ryan, which was to my liking. Ryan is a good guy, and I hadn't spent any substantial time with him since first session at the ropes course.

Before I could ask anybody "What's it like over here?" I kinda got my answer when Tina the Ray Bean director sat us down at an impromptu staff meeting and ranted about slacking. At Ray Bean, the bulk of the cabins are within sight of each other, so during the ten-to-midnight off-time, apparently everybody was hanging out at the crafts hut. Tina was trying to keep us from blowing off the rules with camp's end so close, but her unprofessional delivery just convinced people that she was at our mercy, not the other way around. The only control she held at that point was the final paycheck. Bean camp did have some nice policies, like afternoon break--we really did get from 1:00 to 3:00, for example. Every other day the staff didn't have to stay after lunch for songs. Good thing, too, because they'd sing annoying girl-songs like "Teen Angel", as opposed to our manly songs like "I'm Looking Over My Dead Dog Rover". And, of course, the bulk of the counselors continued to take every night off; they just moved from the crafts hut to under a tree (from which you could still see and hear all of the cabins).

Tapp was still around, running the riflery range for the session. He and I had a lot of fun in a sailboat during one of our afternoons off. Two other staff boats were out. We got the urge to play pirate, so we assaulted and tumped our victims. We came up with a killer tactic that involved Tapp making a fast pass, me leaping upon and tumping the other boat, and Tapp swinging around at best speed to pick me up as I swam from the conquered. We were a goofy pair of pirates, him in his black cowboy hat and Terminator sunglasses, me in my swimsuit and brightly-colored bandana, laughing my fool head off.

Another afternoon off found me, Tapp, Chris, and Winfield in the safety boat cruising Possum Kingdom for action. We were checking out the lakefront houses a mile or two away from camp and found a group of natives with a pool slide. It was perched on a "boat garage," a two-story dock. Their boat was parked below, the sun deck, diving board, and slide were on top. "Hey!" yelled Winfield. "Can we play on your slide?" "Shore thang," said the native, obviously from around those parts, "C'mon up." They were a trio of real rodeo cowboys like Tapp, and they'd get up on top of their slide like they were on a steer. One would sit on the slide, grabbing his hat and his crotch (as if he were holding reins) and screw his face up and take deep breaths, while another would chant some sort of countdown. Then away the rider would go, kicking his imaginary spurs and flailing in the air, while everybody whooped and hollered. It was quite a sight. Tapp immediately jumped up and did the same thing, then Chris, then Winfield. I just watched; I was wearing jeans. Also watching with amusement were two houseguests from Munich, vacationing in Texas. My sister was about to leave for her junior year abroad in Berlin. "Meine Schwester geht nach Deutschland im August," I managed to say. "Sie ist en die Institute für Europächien Studien larhnen," I added. My experience with German consists of one year in high school and an old roommate who was taking it--but I managed to be understood. Barely, I'm sure. Anyway, our hosts asked us where were from, and we told them. "Grady Spruce is a faahn place, yup," they said. After an hour of horsing around and trying to figure out how late we could hang around and still make it back by 3:00, we took off. "Y'all come around any ol' time, now," they said.

My slaloming continued to improve with Eddie's instruction ... too bad the summer had to end just as I was becoming competent.

During sixth session I compiled a phrase list from the Men of Main. I tried to get all the things we'd been hearing all summer: "Hands up!"--"First period starts and nine o'clock"--"Look! A submarine!" I appended the names of the staff at the end, and finally the phrase that ended each and every meal: "KP stay seated!" After I got back from Pittsburgh I printed it out and had fifty copies on cardstock made. I passed these out to the staff on Friday, much to the collective amusement.

Jay handed out our way-cool staff t-shirts. They're black XXL's with a big peace sign in white surrounded by Jay's favorite trio of words: "peace, love, happiness". One sleeve has a yellow smiley-face, the other has a big red heart. The back says "You can take the Man out of Main, but you can't take Main out of the Man."

Saturday it did finally end. The kids were gone by noon; I swept some cabins, helped Tapp clean rifles, mopped the dining hall, knocked down wasp nests. Nobody said much. About 2:30, Tina deemed the camp adequately clean, and POOF--we were gone.

The first stop outside of camp was the first grocery store we could find, where Chris bought beer. We hung around outside, Chris with a beer in hand, waiting for some of the other counselors to catch up. The one shot I wish I'd gotten, but didn't, was the busses passing by on their way back to Dallas--and Chris saluting them with his beer.

We stopped at every liquor store between camp and Weatherford, where the unofficial staff party was to be. The Pinto, a traditional hang-out for off-duty staff, was wise (someone must have sent them a "clue-gram") to the plans and, with only four cars in the parking lot, claimed to be full. The caravan went elsewhere and got a group of rooms at another motel. The first thing they did was fill up a bathtub with ice and deposit the vast volumes of alcohol.

I saw where this was going. The party was to be a collective release of three months' pent-up debauchery. I thought about this for a while in one of the smoke-filled rooms, and decided I didn't want to remember those people in that way. Besides, I thought, this time tomorrow I need to be in Houston, unpacking and starting back on grad school. I bailed and boogied back to Dallas.

Four of my pictures found their way into next year's camp brochure, and I may get to be the official camp photographer for next summer. I see Joanne from time to time at school and swap stories. Matt's lanyard is tied to my clipboard, and I'm still wearing the ankle bracelet that Decker made me. And sometimes I find myself singing those infernal songs.

How to sum it all up? Jay stated it best in the letter I got with my contract. "You should all prepare yourselves," he wrote, "for the hardest summer you'll ever love."

Copyright (c) 1992-1996 by
Mark Maxham