Thursday, July 28, 2011
In much the same way that going to college was never on the table for my mother, it was roundly assumed with more than a modicum of certainty by my parents that offering me the option of attending a sleep away camp would not be necessary.
I've always been a homebody, for as long as I can remember, and I am no different today, though the location of my home has changed by half a mile.
"Well," my mother said to me when I was eight, with a look that might suggest she were a oncologist confronting me with a terminal diagnosis, "we've got to do something with you this summer."
"Can't I just stay at home with you?" I asked, sitting on a piece of porch furniture, my legs crossed like a girl. It seemed like a sensible question to me.
"No, honey, you can't," she said, "I'm getting a job-- I'll be working."
Did. Not. Compute.
Why was she getting a job? As far as I knew, my mommy hadn't had a job since she was nineteen, when she worked leisurely hours stringing tennis rackets at a pro shop, my eldest sister playing with her stuffed animals under the store's counter. My eight-year-old brain almost imploded under the pressure of this new, unwelcome, cognitively dissonant information. She explained to me that she had gotten a job as a part-time librarian's assistant at the public library just up the street from our house. She looked at me intently, trying to discern my innermost thoughts through the windows of my eyes. I was trying to convince myself that she was serious and, simultaneously, trying not to pee in my overalls.
I think crossing my legs like a girl helped.
They sent me to a camp close by, probably in case I wigged, but I hated it. Every morning I asked if I had to go back, and the answer was always "yes", until the last day of camp, when I asked the question, just for the sake of consistency, and the answer was finally "no." The next summer, they sent me to the same camp, but enrolled me in the computer program, thinking that my newly-acquired eyeglasses must have meant that I would have some sort of aptitude for computers. Turned out, I had an aptitude for asking if I had to go back there the next day, too.
My tenth summer, they finally got it right. They took a big risk, though, because they sent me to a day camp that was approximately 45 minutes away. That was the down-side. The up-side was that it was a creative arts day camp, where awkward children flourished whilst engaging in activities such as ceramics, choir, circus arts, instrumental music lessons, and, of course, theatre. Basically, I could do whatever the hell I wanted, and I did. They mandated that you attend instructional swim, or your free swim privileges were revoked, but I reasoned with myself that I didn't give a shit about free swim, so I routinely cut instructional swim. At first, lifeguards fanned out across the camp looking for me, and I didn't bother hiding very well. Finally, they gave up, and I would go to the pool area and just hang around during the instructional swim period.
One day, three or four awkward boys between the ages of 11 and 13 were hanging around chatting in an elevated sort of tone, and, during a lull in their conversation, I randomly leaned in to them and out of my mouth popped the following gem:
"Excuse me, but did you know that John F. Kennedy had sex with Marilyn Monroe?"
Obviously, they took an immediate liking to me and accepted me into their little gang. In fact, their poolside pow-wow was actually a meeting to discuss plans to produce an original play of theirs called, "The Gang" and the most talented one of the group, a tall, bony kid with moderate acne and piercing eyes, agreed on the spot to write in a part in the show for me.
I stayed there for three summers as a camper, and returned to work there for four summers. I would still occasionally ask my mother if I had to go back, but I didn't do it every morning which, I guess, is a considerable improvement. Looking back on it now, I'm amazed that the late President Kennedy's sexual proclivities, in some circuitous way enabled me to experience my first and lasting summer friendships, but I'm grateful for that fact nonetheless. And I'm grateful that my parents didn't send me to overnight camp.
Who the hell knows what would have happened there?