Monday, January 10, 2005


The more enraged and depressed I get about my job, the more I dwell on really old memories. Most are probably highly embellished and burnished by the passage of time. Nevertheless, I take some comfort in recalling days gone by when I was not shackled to a brain-dead micromanaging technophobe. Lately I've had dreams about summer camp, especially. Summer camp!
Summer camp was awesome. The camp I went to was a girls only YWCA camp on a lake. It was old (founded 1919!), and not aging gracefully. The structures were shabby and rickety. Anything not covered with eighteen layers of sticky gray paint showed tracks of woodworms or toothmarks from some nocturnal beast. There was a main lodge, where we took our meals, with a glorious old wraparound porch, which balanced precariously over a dry, patchy lawn, which I regarded as equal to the grounds of a royal palace. There was an arts and crafts building, which stood nestled against the forest of poison ivy that surrounded the camp. It had two stories, a narrow, creaky stairway between, and a couldn't-possibly-have-been-legal pottery kiln. There was another large, airy hall at the top of the hill, which was used for "drama class" and evening entertainments. At one end was a large closet filled with musty, torn costumes, matted wigs, and damaged props. The other end housed de-fletched arrows and out-of-fashion longbows for archery. The centerpiece of this building was an enormous, moth-eaten, mounted moose head, which hung crookedly over the unused fireplace. Some campers and counselors called the moose by name.
The first few years I went, the clay tennis courts were in decent shape, but the basketball courts, directly below them, looked more like ancient mayan ball courts than modern sports equipment. The baskets hung at angles, and knee-high weeds had forced their way through the cracked surface. In later years, the disrepair spread to the tennis courts, and the sports shed, which contained grimy tennis balls, deflated basketballs and creatively warped tennis rackets, remained locked.
There was also "lodge" for each age division: at one time, these had been charming cottages with fireplaces, chairs, and books to read on rainy days. During my tenure, they were used to store canoes, snorkeling gear, lawnmowers, broken furniture, and tents awaiting repair. The interior of the senior lodge was covered in decades of graffiti, in-jokes and nicknames long forgotten. I searched in vain for a trace of my mother, finding nothing due to her aversion to vandalism. I committed myself to ensuring that my own children would never search in vain, and painted my name in several locations for good measure. Campers lived not in cabins, like campers in movies and on television, but in platform tents along muddy tracks leading to the main road. The tents were standard army issue (circa 1936), and the platforms were in the same state as the rest of the camp. They were nearly all identical--some held 6 iron cots with thin mattresses; some held four; some were on the high side of the road; those on the low side filled with puddles when it rained. The front and back flaps could be tied open in hot weather, and the sides rolled up. In the rain, there was no point to tying them down, as the roof was filled with holes and de-waterproofed spots in the canvas. There was a bathhouse for each age group. These were brightly-painted, bat-filled, and had running water, hot and cold. My mother admired this advancement--during her camperhood, bathing was limited to sundays, in the lake, where their soap and shampoo possibly helped keep the weeds from choking the bay.

My favorite place was the rocky beach. There were huge stone steps leading down to the shale-covered sliver of shore. In the sun, the dark grey rocks were murder on bare feet. The swimming area had two floats at different distances from shore, and a roped-off area for weak swimmers. I was the most enthusiastic swimmer ever to fail to advance a swim level for five years straight, so I spent most of my time inside the rope, trying desperately to pass up to the next level, which would earn me a green latex bathing cap instead of the conspicuous red I wore.

Next up: meal rituals and mentally ill tentmates

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