Part 3 of Camp Life
(Warning: Explicit Language)
All points lead to hell and there’s no escape, that’s for sure. And it’s especially true of my time at Camp Prison-Shit, because, dammit, we were in wild country, where anything can happen including night terrors and bumping into maniacs on the loose. Otherwise known as Middle of Nowhere, USA. Or, Upstate New York.
And, if you know anything about New Yorkers from the city. They don’t venture upstate.
But there we were, living like the misfits of society–miscreants, losers, wise guys and clowns, that’s what we were. You name it. Ipso facto.
If you ask me, it all started with the cursing and the sassy attitude among the children. Not just our seven and eight-year-old campers, God bless them, but the whole lot of them that would arrive in all their cranky, smart-mouth glory. It soon transformed itself into a resentful, bitter attitude among the counselors. Seemingly overnight, we’d become bitchy, loony and wary of just about everyone.
Why’d you look at me that way, bitch?
I wasn’t lookin’ at nobody.
Yez you were and I din’t like it!
And on and on it went.
We acted tough, but most of us were terrified of the woods at night and, trust me, we were surrounded by woods. We were kidding no one but ourselves with our wise guy attitude. That’s what having street smarts out in the country will do to you. Makes you think you’re all that when really, you’re not. As for me, I didn’t grow up in the city–unless you count the first nine years of my life which I spent in Queens–and most people don’t count that at all. Anyway, Queens was pretty tame compared to the Bronx, where Denise and Yolanda, my co-counselors were from.
None of us were used to this camp stuff, not one iota. It was the first time out of the city for the kids. As for the counselors, many of us had never been to sleep-away camp before, and wondered what we got ourselves into.
Shoot, I’d never even gone camping in the woods as a kid. Doing that was against my family’s religion. Heck, we’d sooner stay in the cheapest, bug-ridden motel then go camping in the you’ve-got-to-be-insane-to-go-into the woods. It just wasn’t in our vernacular. It’s not what Latino families did. Period. Don’t ask me why.
Being in charge of the seven and eight year old’s had its downside. Heck, everything had its downside there. But it was thought to be safer for our girls to be in cabins that were set further away from the older campers. We ended up being so far removed, though, that It didn’t feel safer so much as isolated. Like we were living in exile or something. Which meant we were impossibly far from the bathroom facilities, if you catch my drift. And downwind, you certainly could.
So that meant, if any of our campers needed to make a run to the bathroom at night, they had two choices. Go alone and risk encountering an escaped convict killer from the men’s prison that rumor had it was 20 miles down the road, or go in the shrubs just behind your cabin. We were soon swiping rolls of toilet paper to keep on-hand for those late night calls to nature. Cause nobody, not the kids and especially not us counselors who knew better, wanted to be out and about late at night. After all, we’d seen what happened to Scout and her brother when they walked home through the woods in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” No good comes from throwing caution to the wind, that’s for sure.
So instead we stayed in the far reaches of the camp by our lonesome, coming out only during the day and at night we switched into survival mode. Scared straight with no one in charge. You could say, “Lord of the Flies” was alive and well at Camp Prison-Shit, and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, look it up.
I cursed like a sailor that summer, like I’d never cursed before. I was spitting out cuss words left and right, like the dam had broke and there was no stopping the floodgates. I felt myself spiraling into something I did not like but could not control. With civilization out the window, nothing could shock or make me feel bad, anymore. Act tough, I’d say to myself, just so I could get through the day, while I counted all the other days left until the end of summer.
I was hating what we’d become but there seemed to be no way out. I was convinced all the vile language had made me hit rock-bottom. Without simple civilities we were nothing but scalawags, from the counselors to the campers. Spewing shit you never heard of and no one cared. We were just mean and vicious.
Denise started bugging me. She sweet-talked me into lending her money on our night off. We hitchhiked and got a ride into town, standing in the back of a freezing meat truck in nothing but our jean shorts and halter tops. We found a club where we could dance. Denise used my hard-earned money to buy drinks all night for herself and the fella that was hanging out at the bar. She promised to pay it back when next we got paid. Well, let’s just say, I stopped waiting for that payback long ago and ate the craw stuck in my throat. It wasn’t pretty.
Denise did get the girls under control, but at what cost? Those girls were scared of her and they also thought Yolanda and I were pushovers. They had us sneaking them extra popsicles at dinner-time, knowing we could get in trouble for doing so, but they didn’t care and neither did we. Anything to shut them up for a few minutes.
Our girls hated crafts, but they liked making lanyards, so that’s all we’d do. I, too, would make lanyards each time it was our turn to do crafts. We went bat-shit crazy making them. As if we needed them to help with our escape plan. Which we didn’t have, of course. That would’ve required cooperation.
I learned how to paddle a canoe that summer. The girls were afraid of the water, so they’d sit on the rocks and watch us go canoeing. When we got to the middle of the lake, Denise would pull out her pack of menthol’s and light one. I tried one but it made me light-headed. Yolanda kept a stash of pot and wait until we were out on the lake to smoke a joint. She’d give me a puff, but not much more than that. It wasn’t in our nature to share.
Denise had a pocket knife and told the girls, “Touch my cigs and watch me cut your damn finger off.”
They never did touch her smokes.
Every two weeks, we’d get a new set of campers. Once campers left, they weren’t allowed to return. That was the policy. Yet there was one who always tried. Charmaine, an 11 year old. She would leave on the bus for the ride back to the city like she was supposed to, but two days later she’d be back with the next influx of girls, having stowed away on the bus. We’d send her right back on the Greyhound, knowing we hadn’t seen the last of her. It was a vicious cycle.
In between sessions, the counselors had two days off. Vacation, they called it. We called it furlough.
Through all this mayhem I met him. The one and only, with his thick black hair, his red paisley kerchief casually tied around his neck and his drop-dead eyes that always looked forlorn.
Oh I know what you’re thinking.
That he was some sexy guy who rescued me and took me away from all this prison shit. Well, it wasn’t like that at all.
Not exactly, anyway.
It wasn’t him that turned my camp life around. Not Jon, the hired hand who was in charge of all the farm animals–a goat, a hog, a cow and an assortment of ducks and chickens.
Jon, who stayed in a room right off the barn, away from all the girls who’d pine for him, me included.
Jon, who was the spitting image of his namesake, Jon Denver, and who was the only guy at camp, not counting Old Man McDonough, who was in charge of maintenance.
Jon, who was nice and all. A good kisser, too. Yeah, he liked me. Go figure. Still, it wasn’t him who I remember with deep affection.
It was his dog, Lucas.
Lucas, a German Shepherd who pulled me out of the abyss of Camp Prison-Shit and gave me hope.
I kid you not.
To Be Continued…