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Dog Days of Day Camp

Originally Posted: March 07, 2007

Lon S. Cohen

I sit on my deck and look at the woods across the bay where my I canoed with my son one brilliant summer day. We saw three doe come out of the brush right up to the water. Lazily my mind wanders and all I can think about are wedgies, the kind that tear the waistband off your Fruit of the Looms. While passing small greenery and scrub pines on the Paumanok Paths, my footfalls gently pressing on the carpet of brown pine needles, I am reminded of their bitter taste in my mouth. As the singsong play of children drifts on the air, I hear the echoes of the names they called me on the fields.

Handstands in the pool - nothing impressed my lifeguard beauty.

Yes, these are my childhood memories of summer camp. In March, when the snow was melting away and we let the cool breeze in through the screen door, I knew that the dreaded time was imminent when I had to go back to day camp.

Yet, ironically, my first memory of camp was the sweet innocence of puppy love. I fell in love with a teenage lifeguard at the swimming pool. I can still imagine the blue one-piece bathing suit, and the striped white marks from the imprint of her chair on the back of her legs whenever she stood up to call a kid out for horseplay.

I blame my torment and torture on my lifeguard beauty. She had me so enraptured with a buttery Coppertone scent, droplets of pool spray beading on her golden skin, and her long hair twisted up in a ponytail, that in those important initial moments, I was obtuse to the gangs of boys coalescing into informal power centers. I was left adrift. Love gets you every time.

Though I could run and play exactly like the others I never really got into the spirit of competition that defined day camp life. It was the sort of friendly competition akin to Marine boot camp or a first round NFL draft. The camp counselors were not fostering the spirit of teamwork, hard work, outdoorsman-ship and or creativity. They wanted the best group of eight to ten-year olds in the entire camp with the most first-place ribbons.

A little fun by the lake.

Teenage drill sergeants trying to find the coolest, fastest, strongest kids and make them into vicious dodge-ballers so in parking lots at night they could drink beer, listen to Led Zeppelin and brag about how their group of kids was the best at every sport. (Which in the end probably impressed the female counselors, leading back to my original problem from day one with my crush on the lifeguard.)

I'll admit, not all of day camp was unbearable. Just the parts where I got picked on, left out, picked last, pushed, shoved, dunked, tripped, and called names. I did enjoy some of the more serendipitous moments.

The highlight of Nature class was watching a snake eat a mouse and then watch as the lump in the middle digested over a period of days. That was cool.

In Leather Working class we hammered our names in fancy letters onto belts and wristbands. Not bad.

Then there was ice cream. At the end of every day! During those few moments of sugary bliss, we were all equals not matter what happened that day. (I think that every company should have ice cream at quitting time. Imagine the boost to morale.)

At least there was a sweet ending to every day.

Really, the best thing that happened in camp was meeting a couple of hippie counselors who taught me the finer points of Frisbee tricks. I learned a particular version of competitive Frisbee called Ultimate Frisbee. Believe me it is as cool as it sounds.

With those guys guiding me, I was able to learn one trick that still impresses the young kids even to this day. It helped elevate me from Untouchable on the caste system of rug rats to sitting with the Brahmans.

I learned to spin a Frisbee on its edge and keep it spinning for as long as I wanted by stirring it with my pointer finger. It's a pretty sight and a cool trick. Rest assured that it took hours of practice. It looks easy to do but first timers just end up poking the Frisbee to a stop with a meaty stab instead of the elegant addition of spin energy.

"How do you do that?" the kids would ask with awe. "Show me."

Once you can get the cool kids to say that in front of everyone else, it's smooth sailing. I have to say thanks to the cool, hippie, teenage, Frisbee-playing, camp counselors for the trick that saved me countless summers of injustice.

Thanks - wherever you are.

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