Thus far, August is proving to be a rather drippy month here in the middle of Michigan. Which reminds me of that old Camp Granada song, and the promise that fun will be had once the weather clears up. And once they find that boy that’s gone missing.
Which is sort of how my experience of summer camp always went. My older sister – who has yet to realize that she has been living a somewhat charmed life – always loved summer camp. Looked forward to it every year. She would come home with these awesome stories about camp life that would send even the most flat-footed city kid into wilderness withdrawal. To hear her describe it, the summer camp she went to was about two yards away from the kingdom of heaven, and since they sold frosty cans of Mountain Dew in the snack shop she wasn’t that far off.
My sister has always been a popular and persuasive girl. While I was sort of an offbeat, spastic loner, Angie was all smiles, giggles, and unprecedented social savvy. She could befriend anyone immediately, despite the ginormous owl glasses she wore. And that shouldn’t be held against her, because giant, hubcap sized glasses were all the rage when we were junior high types. So despite her legally blind status, she had all the right pieces to play with: cool magnifying eyeballs, Farrah Fawcett feathered hair, and boobs the size of Texas. So she was POPular.
One year while she was enjoying the gloriousness of camp life, my sister and her BFF got a care package in the mail. Since kids were there for a whole week, and most parents rejoiced in the send off but missed their offspring just the same, there was a big “mail room” time every day. Kids sat around Indian style while a camp person shouted out names read from envelopes with hearts and stickers all over them. These letters came from moms and dads, grannies and aunties, and also girlfriends back home who wanted to make sure you weren’t making out with NEW girlfriends. Lots of kids got care packages as well, full of candy bars, snack foods, clean socks maybe. This particular year Angie and her friend got a package that had both of their names on the front. Sort of.
This package was labeled “Squeakers and Peekers”, and addressed to the camp site. The ’emcee’ had a good time with this, I’m sure, however I wasn’t there so can only imagine him calling out these names in a quizzical and humored type of voice. And giggling ensued, I’m sure. Angie and her friend went to retrieve the package, and the emcee asked about these nicknames. Well of course, my sister was Peekers, because of her giant plastic glasses. And once the emcee picked on the two girls for a bit, “Squeakers” started laughing, and the teeny tiny high-pitched giggle answered that question as well. So the rest of the week all the campers – and counselors as well – called out to them as they walked around, “Hey Squeakers! Hey Peekers!”. Instant fame and popularity, just from a package in the mail. Of course, the fact that they were both cute as hell and silly as loons didn’t hurt either.
Her other stories were just as charming and exciting; tales of stringing their counselor’s bra to the top of the flag pole, swimming for hours in little bikinis by the pool, and night time singing sessions by the big fire. Camp sounded so amazing when she talked about it. I was confused about how she always managed to get to camp, since we always checked the “poor as church mice” section of the Census. In fact, our official family motto was, “Money doesn’t grow on trees; that’s why we have this here metal detector”.
Luckily for us the church we were mouses at had nifty things like a used clothing box, and apparently a summer camp tuition account. Or maybe that’s just what my sister told me. Of course she lied to me all the time, but I actually went to summer camp a couple of times myself, so I tended to trust her on this one. Which was my big mistake.
Summer camp was in the mountains of California, which is where I grew up. I can only imagine you thinking I’ve lived in Michigan all my life, and claim to have been poor while I flew to sunny California every year for summer camp. Not so. I grew up in Southern California, in the funky part of Long Beach, and by funky I mean run down, bars on your windows, take you garden hose in at night or it will disappear kind of funky. We didn’t have a college fund set aside for anyone, or a retirement plan in the making. We were more of a “pork and beans three days a week” kind of family. But since the powers that be had smiled on us, summer camp became a reality for me as well.
And it all started off well. I experienced the fun story telling, song singing experience in the bus that Angie told me about. I spent hours riding along other stinky junior high kids, playing 21 questions, or slug bug, or whatever other travel games you play on the road. And I experienced the majestic and magical McDonald’s stop before we hit camp. Living in Long Beach in the seventies and eighties, I had no idea there were these things called MOUNTAINS close by. At that time Long Beach was under a constant layer of smog, which I innocently thought was nice beach side cloud cover. Once we were far enough along in our travels, we hit the famed McDonald’s stop and I knew what Angie was talking about. All the hype was real! Beautiful mountains on the horizon, that I could actually see with my eyeballs! French fries made of magical ingredients. Rowdy kids running loose in a confined environment. I couldn’t wait to get to camp!!
Of course, my sister’s life was vastly different than my own, and I didn’t take that into account. While her experience was all summer fun, popularity and joyful singing to the Lord, mine was more like, I don’t know, a bad episode of the Three Stooges. My “best friend” didn’t run around and giggle with me, like Peekers and Squeakers did. She actually abandoned me right about an hour after we got there and went to find herself a new boyfriend and some “cool” people to hang out with. But that’s OK, because I liked solitude. And all the time alone gave me a chance to reflect on nature. Except that I was allergic to all this nature, and spent the better part of the night hours trying to find a way to breathe that didn’t involve my runny nose. But since I had asthma as well, and the trees were agitating my asthma, breathing was just right out.
And the next day, when we all were “supposed” to play kickball, they didn’t seem to want to let me off because of my asthma. It’s like the counselors I had were the Fun Police, and no kid was allowed to avoid fun for any reason. Even asthma. So I told them I was pigeon toed, and tried to explain the logic of NOT playing kick ball when you have this malady. Soon I was running the bases eating lots of dirt and wondering how Angie had so many great stories. But she had good stories about the pool, so I could always try that.
And I did. Only to see some guy hyperventilating after a swimming competition, and I didn’t have anything as fancy or expensive as an asthma inhaler, so swimming suddenly seemed less fun and more stressful. Maybe I could try the hiking part of the fun. Or did that involve twisting your ankles? Because no matter how short or long the distance, I would twist my ankles. I loved to run, but had these inexplicably weak and wobbly ankles that made me a no-go for soccer, track or – look at that – hiking! And running someone’s bra up the flag pole didn’t happen in my cabin, though I thought about giving it a try. When I thought of the bras in the area, it made me look in my own suitcase which, to my dismay, was packed with way fewer panties than I had thought. Which made me think of taking a shower, except that someone had barfed in the shower the other day, and since the plumbing was pretty slow and horrible, the barf just lay on top of the five inches of water climbing closer toward your knee caps, so wearing dirty underwear seemed somehow justifiable.
I went through the list of awesome stories my sister had told me about camp, wracking my brain for an activity that might work for me. And finally, by the end of the week, I had found my thing. Foosball! in the rec room of the snack shop. Here I could consume sugary, carbonated beverages, bump up next to other un-showered children, and play air hockey, table tennis, or the wondrous game of non-ankle-twisting soccer-with-plastic-people all day long if I wanted. And I wanted. Because I needed to have something about summer camp that was my own fun memory, even if it involved air conditioning, junk food and indoor allergens.
Ahhh…nothing quite like summer.
My sister, a dear friend of ours and I all went out to a little Italian restaurant for my birthday meal. I order my favorite Manicotti, which is freakishly delicious, and the fabulous tortellini soup. The food, as always, is scrumptious, but just as wonderful is the surprise entertainment we encounter. I guess I’ve never been to the restaurant on a Tuesday night at 8 PM, and we happened to sit in an area that was being serenaded by an older gentleman. Apparently, a gaggle of people come in every Tuesday, all old friends that have been frequenting the establishment for a number of years. After they have their meals, the one old guy starts singing show tunes for everyone, and I guess this is the weekly tradition. “Sing for your dinner” kind of thing. His beautiful baritone wafts through the house, and everyone on our side of the building claps their approval after every song is sung. He sings an old show tune, part of a romantic ballad, and then something in Italian. He crescendos and vibrattos and makes a delicious meal even more charming, with his enthusiastic performance to a familiar and well loved audience.
After the old crooners leave and we finish our meal, we start to walk across the street to the cyber café. I’m in the mood for a good round of foozball, and then some serious Facebooking. My Super Poke Pet is probably dirty and lonely. Walking part way across the street, I spy something shiny at my feet. I don’t know how I happen to see the glint of metal, as it is well past eight o’clock, and the sun has already put itself to bed. Yet somehow, with my less than eagle eyesight, I catch the little nod of a piece of something, winking up at me. Quickly, before the public bus can squash the Manicotti out of me, I snatch up my little find and scurry into the café, twirling this something in my hand. At first I think my new treasure might be a sobriety medal, which I find sad and funny at the same time, as the café is but two doors down from a bar. “Oh no,” I think, “the old guy just couldn’t pass up the weeknight special one day more”. It would be a sort of tragedy, and so much a part of life if it were true.
In the light of the café, however, I notice that this something in my hand is worn and bent, dented and scratched. Looking at it closer, I see it is a St. Christopher medal. Or maybe I’m forgetting, I did show it to the man at the counter, perhaps he was the one who declared it the medal. Either way, it seemed a good find, and almost everyone I’ve told this story to has shared the sentiment: this is a sign of fortune. Good luck. The medal was meant for me.
And though I am not a Catholic or a Christian, I am spiritual. I do seem to have a connection to the “other side”, and it doesn’t really surprise me that a token of blessing would find its way into my hands. Nor does it surprise me that it should find it’s way to me via a pothole in the middle of a busy street that is home to a yummy restaurant, a comic book shop, a tattoo parlour and a bar. I could have found a nice shiny St. Christopher medal, that was new and unworn. But I like the fact that mine is beat to hell. It’s like someone used up all the three wishes out of the Jeanie bottle, and dropped the bottle to run off on their next adventure, leaving the treasure behind for the next guy. It’s a little worse for the wear, but I imagine if this medal could talk it would have many stories and adventures to share. And as I tucked it into my coin purse, and headed out into the night air, I started to think about all the new adventures that lay before me, and the many more stories it was about to absorb.
Love may be my greatest downfall.
That is not to say that love will be the thing that brings me down; my Achilles’ Heel; the thorn in my side.
For Love – I believe – will redeem me. Finally. And thoroughly. I believe it is with Love, and through Love that I will achieve my greatest deeds. Write the best poetry, the most exciting novels. Discover the most hidden truths, sharing them with my loved ones, and perhaps the world, if it decides to be nice to me. Love will help me to realize myself, and my true potential. And Love will give me the missing pieces, to help me complete the tasks I have yet to accomplish; like turning cheap flatware into silver medallions, and finally mixing my never ending potion of eternal life.
Love is the downfall IN me. Wait. Love is…if there is something … well yeah ok, I guess Love is my Achilles’ Heel. Fine. I was trying to read my “book of the month” club book. And I don’t often do this…in fact, I can’t remember when I’ve ever done this, but I read a fair amount, so I imagine I must have done it before. I flipped ahead! I flipped through pages and pages of the story, looking to see if they got together or not! This was not as easy a task as it could have been; this isn’t a romance we’re reading. This is an ensemble piece, story upon story of lives intertwining and lacing together like an ice skater’s boot. And people come and go and change, and the story doesn’t stop, just waits in the wings for a while, until the other players get the hell of stage finally, so the lovers can get back to canoodling or looking longingly at each other for two minutes before the next tragedy whisks them off stage again. And really, there hasn’t been canoodling. Or much long looking.
And maybe that’s what has me riveted, and cheating the author by skipping the other lives that exist in this novel, just to get to the lovers. But that’s the thing…he’s done it so well. He’s created the angst of love, and the anticipation so accurately.
It’s not a romance like out of the Harelequin novels…there’s no talk of pulsing neck veins, or throbbing…headaches, or voluptuous damsels. There aren’t wise cracking heroes or muscular main men that save the day or slay the dragon. Yes, there is talk of castles. A few of the characters happen to be Irish, and there are two love stories unfolding here. But these stories are REAL sounding. Two people falling in love, who are nobodies, and trying to live their lives, and afraid of committing to this love, but afraid of not committing. A love that is so intense it is palpable, and vibrates in the room, making others uncomfortably aware that something in the world is frenzied, and heated, and stifling…is it the weather? Longing that is so frustrating it makes your chest squeeze as you read about it, and makes your brow furrow as you nervously bite your nails, wondering if he will finally screw up his courage and stay with her in her life.
The whole book isn’t about this love, it maybe isn’t about love at all. Love is maybe just part of what happens, PART of life.
And that’s my problem, I guess.
I’m a romantic. When the story is unfolding around me, I want to see where the love is. When the movie is dancing across the screen, I look for the lovers.
It’s not like I think love is the only thing there is. But I seem to buy into that old Beatles tune, Love is all you need. Yes there is work, and politics. Yes there is school, and art, and self expression and writing until you aren’t sure what words mean anymore. There is food and wine, football and foosball (thank the gods) and all the things that make life beautiful and worth while. But love is in ALL of that. And without love, none of that would matter to me. I mean, I am able to enjoy all of these things whether single or happily involved. But love is what makes my heart get a beat on.
And so, I suppose, Love will be the end of me.