From my questionable past, a cautionary tale for parents who plan to send youngsters to camp this summer.
You never know how well selected the monitors and staff are or just who is waiting for campers to arrive.
You could end up with me.
It was the summer after my freshman year in college and I got hired at Camp Hadar in Clinton, Connecticut as a tennis instructor because of my high school and college tennis experience. university.
That wasn’t the problem. I had no experience as a cabin counselor. I also had no idea how to handle eight teenagers as well as a surly, insurgent junior counselor, a portly guy from New Haven named Nathan, and, after a week or two, Fat Nat.
My charges were mostly children from New York and several from Connecticut, and the majority had been to camp before – in fact, this camp.
I was the main advisor to the cabin.
The co-ed camp, run by Max Kleiman and his wife Phyllis, offered all the usual amenities, including crafts, lake swimming, sports, a shooting range, nature hikes, musical and drama productions and outings. It was advertised as fun and full of fresh air.
It all started quite happily. I was busy with my duties as a tennis instructor, but I immediately took a liking to the shooting instructor, a camp veteran, whose younger brother was in my cabin. I spent my first few weeks training a lot at the shooting range.
Camp life was enjoyable. The food was good, the company friendly, and there were opportunities to travel. Carriages were available in the evenings for moonlit rides for pizza and, in this case, snuggling up in nearby old Saybrook.
I had no idea what Nat was planning. He was 16 and had gone through the summers from camper to junior counsellor, and perhaps resented serving under an 18-year-old hired from the outside with no experience but good service. At first he worked with the boys without complaining and deserved my accolades.
Although I was new to protocol, I was more than willing to be creative.
One weekend, for example, I was assigned to take Nat and the boys on a station wagon to Maine for a night in tents.
Upon reaching the designated forest in the late afternoon, I accidentally drove the vehicle onto a stump just off the road. The car was stuck. Needless to say I was a little distraught. Nat looked sympathetic.
While we were all rocking the vehicle, I grew tired of camping at dusk and decided that my young crew would much rather have a day at the beach than a night under the pines. So we turned around and drove all night to Cape Cod. We arrived at sunrise and crashed all day on the dunes.
Nothing was said about the detour via the Cape or the detour via the stump. A few days later, however, Max demanded an explanation. I couldn’t imagine him crawling under the station wagon. (I wasn’t dodging exactly. The car seemed to be working fine and the kids were enjoying the day in Cape Town. Why pester the director?) Then it occurred to me: Fat Nat.
Now the shack was plagued by dissent. Nat had his followers and I had mine.
Then comes the day of the parents’ visit, a scorching Sunday, three weeks after I started growing a beard, an afternoon when, for some reason, I wear a khaki shirt with the sleeves rolled up.
My girlfriend, the rifle instructor, her younger brother and Nat first greeted her parents, chatting, as they must have done on the same days in previous years. But something was wrong. My girlfriend later told me that her parents, who lived in Queens, NY, and, as I would see one day, covered all their furniture in plastic, thought I was a junkie. Otherwise, why, did they confront her, would I have my sleeves rolled up?
Irresponsible, more than likely; drugged, no.
Fat Nat and I, after Parents Weekend, were headed for a showdown.
For all my laissez-faire philosophy about what the camp experience should be – for campers too, you know – I insisted on a neat cabin. There was some sort of camp prize, extra dessert, or cleanest quarters announcement to be made, and I thought we should earn that praise. Something to write about the house.
I was all about hospital corners. The bunkeroos resisted, then protested. Fat Nat consoled them, then urged them to go public. Postcards are out. Little Kenny from Astoria. Little Mitchell, my girlfriend’s brother. They sent bloody notes to Queens about excessive discipline. The junkie has gone mad.
The cabin has turned into a war zone. Fat Nat and the seasoned New York kids against me and my Connecticut loyalists.
Finally, Max, the manager, removed Fat Nat, assigning him to an adjacent cabin. Several campers accompanied him. I did a lot of target shooting.
Labor Day arrived, and as the campers left and the counselors stopped by the manager’s office for the expected farewell and gratuities, Max simply shook my hand, then my head. I assumed he confiscated my tips, if in fact there were any.
I told him that I had enjoyed myself. It didn’t seem to amuse him. I was not invited back.
Nat I’m sure would be there next season. This portly Iago would be rewarded with what he deserved: to be a counselor at a summer camp.
Steven Slosberg lives in Stonington. He can be contacted at email@example.com.