Monday, March 28, 2011


My Disney World working vacation with RBOY in 1974 was a tremendous experience. It was so great that the following summer, we tried for an instant replay. We returned to Kissimmee Florida and got an apartment. Unfortunately, the "magic" wasn't there and for several reasons, after a week, we flew home. Back in Brooklyn, towards the end of June, I realized that my peeps had jobs or were out of town. I had to plug myself in somewhere, fast. One of my friends (Danny) was a counselor at Camp Palindrome. It was near South Fallsburg and Monticello in upstate New York, so I had a sparse knowledge of the territory. Danny arranged an interview with preppy wannabe nerd, Jacob Fenster. His official camp title was division leader. Apparently, the qualifications to be a division leader was; being a year older than me, having been with the camp since he was in kindergarten and possessing such a swelled head that I would know he was a douche-bag within a minute of meeting him. I headed into the interview with the security of having prior camp counseling experience. But Danny assured me that even without experience, they were in desperate need of people and that the interview was merely a formality. Nevertheless, Fenster grilled me like I was a murder suspect. In a short time, it was pure tedium. At one point, I wanted to tell this pompous ass off but I swallowed my bile and controlled my temper. I was hired at $300.00 for the season. The first of the two major lies that Fenster told me was that all ten of my campers were seven. Actually, only one kid was...six were six, two were five and they threw in a four-year old for good measure. The second lie was that Fenster and I would be co-counselors. During the first day he disappeared, to devote his energies to his division leader duties. That left me spending way too much time organizing every kids things, tying sneakers and in some cases dressing these babies. THE ONLY PICTURE I HAVE WITH THIS MANY OF THEM...HARD TO BELIEVE EVEN THE FOUR-YEAR OLD IS OVER FORTY NOW. One of the moms drove her kid up. I nicknamed this bugger Moose because he looked like he could have been former major league all-star Bill "Moose" Skowron, as a five-year old. His mother took me aside and handed me a bunch of rubber sheets. I was so backwards that it wasn't until she said, "He shouldn't have any liquids after dinner," that I caught on to this added brick in my wall of plights. MOOSE DIDN'T DISAPPOINT, HE PEED IN HIS BED THE FIRST NIGHT. I found out quickly that I was mentally ill-equipped to handle ten spoiled, whining, homesick puppies, alone. It was terrible to hear Moose cry when everyone else was getting their late night cookies and milk and he couldn't have a drink. Plus, I didn't like explaining why his bedding was different. At meal time it was worse because the four-year old (who's mother worked at the camp) refused to eat. Then he'd cry when the other kids teased him. Hell, without a break in the continuous annoyance, I wanted to rag on this tyke too.

This arrangement didn't make sense. The youngest kids in the camp needed the most attention yet every other age group had two counselors. Within three days I was so stressed that one night I went to the bus terminal and got the Greyhound schedule to New York City.

Danny's friend Ari (an Israeli citizen) was the division leader of the oldest kids. He suggested that before I give up, I should go up "the hill." The hill was where the business offices were and where I would meet and present my raise or quit ultimatum to Oz himself, Murray Brandt, (Palindrome's resident director and majority owner).

Brandt was intimidating but I stated a solid case. I told him when I needed help from his lying, golden-boy, hands-off, division leader, my "co-counselor" was nowhere to be seen. And although I loved kids and knew I could do a great job...without help, I wouldn't be properly serving the needs of the campers, Palindrome or myself.

Murray said, "What do you want?" I said, "I have double the responsibility than I was told. I want a fifty-dollar raise." Murray chomped on his stinky cigar and said, "Fifty? That's a lot of money. But you have plenty of moxie. I like that. Tell you what, we'll split the difference." I pulled the Greyhound schedule from my pocket and said, "There's a bus leaving for Manhattan at noon..." He cut me off and called me a wise-guy. Then he said, "Go back to work and I'll make the change."

Ari called me a moron. He said, "Schmuck, you don't tell somebody you're doing double work and settle for peanuts. They're short-staffed and got their back to the wall. If you would have asked for me, you would have gotten every Shekel."

I was still stressed but I decided to make the best of a bad situation. I started my troop with daily shoe lace tying practice. Then I came up with creative ways to settle petty disputes and had the more savvy kids help dress the strugglers. WAY BEFORE THE MASON'S PLAGIARIZED THIS HANDSHAKE AND CALLED IT THEIR OWN, I INVENTED IT AND CALLED IT, "THE ARGUMENT ENDER."

I also developed the "Ace-Man" program. That meant that I anointed the current best kid with the honor and privilege of standing behind me, while the other kids followed in a straight line. Without yelling or being militaristic, I had my guys walking in an orderly fashion from one activity to another. THE PHENOMENA OF IMPRINTING FEATURES DUCKS OR GEESE "IMPRINTED" WITH THE INSTINCT OF FOLLOWING THEIR FIRST LEADER...THIS LEADER IS NOT LIMITED TO THEIR MOM.

The Ace-Man program was groundbreaking and was considered impressive by Murray and his weaselly under boss/brother Normie. I remember them smiling at me as they drove their golf cart while my group, in route from arts-n-crafts to the nature shack, crossed their path behind the soccer field. At the same time, Lennart, the soccer counselor and former member of the Swedish National Team was demonstrating his striking technique to some older boys. He drilled the ball a zillion miles an hour past the outside of post and it hit a fifteen year-old walking along side us, in the face.

This counselor in training (CIT) was named Stanley Borden Stanley and his family were heirs to the Stanley Tool Company. The impact knocked Stan down hard and there was a trickle of blood by his left eye. He got up gingerly and groaned, "I'm okay." Normie patted him on the rump and said, "Swell, go back and do whatever you were doing." Big brother Murray looked at the welt developing on the boy's cheek and interceded, "No. Stanley, you go straight to the infirmary right now and I'll catch up with you."

Yvette, the camp nurse was another foreigner. She was a beautiful and friendly Haitian woman in her early twenties. The rumor was she was quite naive. Some of the counselors went to see her with phantom ailments relating to their penis. While no one got any "action," it was apparent that these geniuses thought it was cool to at least expose them self to her.

When Stanley arrived, Yvette was not there. Instead, Mandee, the nurse in training (NIT) was. She was a testy, overweight and socially awkward ex-camper. She was doing the job for high school credit and did little more than dispense aspirin and tidy up.

Later, Stanley told us that Mandee was aloof and had a bad attitude. She never looked directly at him as she twirled her stringy, peroxide blond hair with her finger and sighed, "Wanna Snoopy band-aid?" He wanted to teach her a lesson and said, "Can't you see, I was hit in the face with a soccer ball?" As if it was a hundred pounds, she reluctantly picked up the medical flashlight and looked in his eyes. She said, "Kid, I hate to tell you, but your left eye isn't dilating." Stanley said, "Really?" He then popped out his prosthetic left eye and said, "That's funny, it was dilating this morning." Mandee screamed and ran out.

In the first week, I befriended J. D., one of the counselors for the eight-year olds. Our groups were in the same building, separated by a double layer of closets and shared the same bathroom.

The second time Moose peed his bed, I vented to J. D., "Its probably all psychological and the camp environment only brings him more shame. Like when we had the thunder and lightning, all the kids buddied up and slept together. But I couldn't let Moose in someone else's bed or someone else in his. The poor little bastard felt like a leper."

J. D. pointed out one of his boys, "See that kid, (Wanamaker), he has rubber sheets too. He peed his bed the first night but I've been waking him up before I go to sleep. So far, so good." I said, "Wow." "Actually," J. D. added, "you got it better than me. I got an eight-year old going on thirty-eight named Igor." I said, "Igor?" He said, "Yeah scary name, scary kid. Aside from teaching my guys the highest levels of advanced profanity, Igor's psychotic and tortures all the kids especially Wanamaker."


J. D. and I made two identical charts and labeled them P, P and S, (Piss, Puke and Shit). They were numbered along the side 1- 10, to alphabetically encode each camper. We awarded each participant one point for peeing, two for crapping their pants and three for vomiting. We then agreed to wake Moose and Wanamaker at midnight every night. The chart was hidden in our after hours clubhouse...the room next to the shower stalls where the luggage was stored.

One night in late July, we were back there waiting to wake up our pissers. That's when we discovered that the daily mail had been late and was left back there. J. D. spotted a C.A.R.E. package for Igor and said, "His folks send the best snacks." We broke into it and were gorging ourselves on Ding Dings when who out of twenty kids wakes up to use the bathroom but Igor. This eight-year old pariah and projected lifelong criminal was rubbing his eyes as he focused on his snack cake thieves and said, "What the f***. Those are my Ring Dings!"

J. D. was unflappable, "Yes, they are yours. But first, as you know, we have to check every parcel for illegal drugs. If everything is okay, we'll release this box to you in the morning." Igor had anger issues so we cringed when he lurched forward. He grabbed between us and pulled a "STRETCH ARMSTRONG" action figure out of his slashed open carton and said, "Don't worry, Stretch don't use no drugs."

Maybe it was the twenty-seven Ring Dings I ate the previous night or my overall exhaustion catching up with me. Because the next day, I woke with a sour stomach, a pounding head and body aches. Then the blare of the morning announcements included that our morning swim in the lake was postponed till after lunch because the temperature was below 70.

I told my unit that it was cold outside and jokingly told them to wear two pairs of underwear. After breakfast with my belly churning, I led my single-file legion to the lake for fishing. Together with the swimming counselor, Bubbles from the Bahamas, we helped my boys put live worms on their hook. The process was exasperating my queasiness, so I was thrilled I wouldn't have to repeat the procedure ten times.

Bubbles was in her mid-thirties and her tan looked dynamite against her skimpy, yellow string bikini. Our mutual baiting mission got off to a great start until Peter the Scottish tennis coach came by to hit on her. They wandered to the end of the wharf and left me to do the rest.

In a short time, the sway of the dock made my condition unbearable. I was getting the cold sweats and the harsh glare of the sun off the glass-like lake made me feel dizzy. To clear my head, I looked away. That's when I noticed Peter's hand firmly on Bubbles hip as he whispered in her ear. From the marina, further down the shoreline, it must have looked like they were necking because Patrick the English canoe instructor was charging towards them.

Patrick had bought Bubbles drinks at Rourk's but he never got anywhere with her. Still, he felt he had some sort of a stake in her. He and Peter exchanged harsh words that insulted their specific U. K. ancestries. When Peter called Patrick a "tosser," they started pushing each other. Suddenly, from behind me, Moose let out primal scream. I went to him and saw his fish hook imbedded in his palm. It was easy to pull out but he was bleeding like a hemophiliac. I picked him up, called to Bubbles to watch my group and ran him over to the nurse's hut.

On my way, I had no way of knowing that twenty-one year old Ari was a lady's man. Considering how ugly he was, it had to be his gift of gab and ability to present himself as important that had him wowing a gorgeous yet under-developed sixteen year-old CIT named Tobi. In addition to many perfunctory romantic liaisons, Ari eventually deflowered her in a hidden corner of a nearby rock quarry.


Through Danny, I not only found this all out but that Ari set his sights on the far more voluptuous Nurse Yvette. But when he tried his luck at the nurse's station, Yvette wasn't in. When confronted with oafish Mandee he stared at her over sized breasts and stuttered, "T-t-this is embarrassing, I-I-I'm experiencing some discomfort." Mandee barked, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, your penis burns when you pee, too?" "No, no of course not," he said. "I think I was stung by a bee." "And I'm guessing you were stung on the penis?" "No ma'am," Ari chirped, "on the scrotum." "And I suppose you want me to take a look at it?" He gulped, "Uh huh." Mandee said, "Drop your shorts." She caressed his sac, scooted in close and said, "I don't see..." He interrupted and made a carnal suggestion.FOR A WEEK, MANDEE AND ARI MADE A GREAT COUPLE. WHEN SHE GOT TIRED OF THE ROCK QUARRY, THEY CRISS-CROSSED SULLIVAN COUNTY LOOKING FOR MOTELS WITH HOURLY RATES IN HIS BEAT-UP, MAROON, 1971 OPEL KADET.

When I showed up with Moose at the infirmary, Nurse Yvette swabbed disinfectant into his wound and applied a gauze bandage. Then she alarmingly looked at me and put her hand on my forehead. In seconds, I had a thermometer in my mouth. I was told I was running a contagious fever and must stay over a night or two until I'm well.

After dinner J. D. came by to drop-off get-well trinkets from both bunks and tell me his Phillip got on the PP&S scoreboard by crapping his pants during kickball. He then said, "By the way. This is crazy but when they re-scheduled your boys for an afternoon swim, I noticed they were all wearing two pairs of underwear?" Innocently, I shrugged.

Nurse Yvette had her own tiny cottage on the hill behind the offices. But Mandee slept in a room at the nurse's station. In retrospect, I'm guessing that her experience with Ari helped her sexual awareness blossom. Because at 2:00AM, by the light of a red night-light, after I returned from a trip to the bathroom, she came out of her room.

Mandee was wearing a short red satin nightie, (in that light everything looked red but I really think it was red anyway). She stood next to my cot and cooed, "Are you okay?" I said, "Yeah." She put her hand on my forehead and said, "Your fever is down." She then said, "Are you still feeling the body aches." At the same time that I said, "No," she reached under the sheet. Mandee stroked my stomach. She continued lower, fondled my abdomen down to the pubic line and said, "I know how to speed-up your recovery." I stirred, pulled her hand out and said, "Really, I'm fine." She turned away and righted the waste paper basket next to my bed. Her fully exposed bare bottom was inches from my face when she said, "Are you sure I can't do ANYTHING for you." I said, "No thanks." Before she entered the hall to return to her room she said, "If you change your mind and want some TLC, I'll leave my door unlocked."

In the morning, I begged Nurse Yvette and she released me at noon. In the rare privacy of our empty bunk, I decided to take a shower. Along the way, I noticed that someone had vomited in the sink. If this was some budding Einstein's idea of a was effective because my scant glance gave me a spontaneous electrical impulse of nausea that nearly triggered a relapse.


Since the sink disaster happened on J. D.'s watch, I decided to ignore it. But when I came out of the shower, I noticed Stretch Armstrong hung in effigy above that sink. On closer scruntiny, I saw that it wasn't vomit. Instead that knucklehead Igor had spilled a little box of Rice Krispies in the sink and the water he added had mostly drained away.

The rest of the summer went smoothly. I think I may have helped cure Moose of his enuresis as he did not have a single accident in August. This paved the way for Wanamaker to win our PP&S contest by a large margin because he was peeing the bed three times a week. J. D. and I agreed that Igor's constant taunting was a contributing factor to his unwanted victory.

No one could get through to Igor. This was proven in the last week of camp when Murray and Normie made the mighty gesture of driving their golf cart and personally delivering the nightly milk and cookies. Coincidentally, Fenster the ultimate ass-kisser, who was missing in action for the entire summer made sure he was present for this big event.

Murray and Normie were going in descending order so J. D.'s bunk was served before us. While the Brandt brothers were handing me the tray, Igor burst out of his bunk naked. He splatter spit his chocolate milk out towards Fenster and screamed, "This f***ing shit is warm." It was extra funny because Fenster had backed away from handling the soggy milk tray to avoid soiling his Izod, periwinkle cardigan. But I could see that Igor had succeeded in dotting his sleeve with plenty of brown spots.

Normie, the epitome of the underling, yelled back at Igor, "You're on report, young man!" Fenster saw the stains on his arm and gasped, "You're parents are going to..." Murray rolled his eyes and wryly said to Fenster, "Shut up! And when you finish shutting up...why don't you run back to the kitchen, quick as a bunny, and get Igor a fresh chocolate milk." The elder Brandt then turned to Normie and shook his head, "Please, let's not forget that my man Igor here has a brother and sister that are staunchy respected campers here too?"

Before they left, Normie took me aside. He was having trouble lighting a cigar. When he finally gave up, he asked about the year-end plaque that I was required to make. In honor of the following year's bi-centennial, it was supposed to include all the campers names, typify the spirit of the bunk and include a patriotic theme. Normie then said, "I don't understand the slogan you used."

I had commissioned a couple of aspiring artists to paint a picture of a toilet with an American revolutionary-era lantern over it. The lettering included our group number, Fenster's name above mine and all the kids names. To cap off the masterpiece, this catchphrase cascaded in a red, white and blue banner across the top, "Two if by land and one if by sea." Normie gave me a queer look when I said, "That slogan? Isn't that what Paul Revere said?"

During the last dinner at camp, they announced the award winners. Palindrome was so cheap that the winners simply stood up, acknowledged the applause and sat back down. This was especially iritating to me when I was announced as the Counselor of the Year.

One night the following January, I got a call from Danny. He and Ari were going to the Brandt brothers father's funeral. I only tagged along because we were going to shoot pool afterwards. They picked me up in Ari's Opel and I squashed myself into the infantestimal back seat.

At the mortuary, I was minding my own business just waiting to leave when Normie Brandt approached me. He whispered in my ear, "Coming here tonight virtually guarantees you a spot back at Palindrome for next year."


Anonymous said...

Did you steal the Mason's handshake from Monty Python? The naive Haitian and Utica Club beer were they in there for my benefit...if so RIGHT ON!

I also liked your clever choice of the name Igor.

Too bad the camp owners were such insincere, money grubbing cheapskates...even a little plastic "Counselor of the Year," trophy would have been a decent momento. --- FARNSWORTH

Anonymous said...

I think I've read every issue of MGTP you've ever written. And I think this was not only the longest but the best. Of course with all the photots you included, this column could have been better if you had a snapshot of the Haitian nurse. --- WTW