Thursday, July 17, 2014

"Summer Times - 'The Squelcher'"

When you are, let’s be generous and say “tentative” around women, it is not helpful for an interloping “Squelcher” to show up at exactly the wrong time and gum up the opportunity that has somehow miraculously fallen into your lap.  

But that’s exactly what we had at our camp.  In the form of an infuriating, insinuating camp director named Joe.

Joe had the, perhaps self-created, reputation of materializing exactly where and when you did not want him to, squelching what was looking “really good” and obliterating the possibility of “one of the greatest moments in my life.”  No wonder he was not entirely beloved.

Things happened at came.  Because it was camp.  No parents, and young people in “heat.”  Joe’s mission was to keep that “heat” under control.  The camp’s reputation – among the parents, not the counselors – was on the line.  “Hey, you can do stuff out there” was not the reputation that the parents were looking for.  They were looking for “It’s safe, and it’s clean”, “clean” meaning that campers would not see anything that would ever give them nightmares.  Or ideas.

The penalty for such forbidden activities was severe.  As a camper, on more than one occasion, my counselor had been sent home in “mid-season” for what was euphemistically described to the campers as “family troubles.”  Whose family, was never entirely made clear.

But now I’m a counselor, aged nineteen or twenty.  I’m on “Night Duty” with Mary Jo, a safely insulating pseudonym, because no Mary Jo ever attended our camp.  “Night Duty” was a rotating responsibility involving the after hours supervision of the unit, patrolling counselors available in case of unexpected emergencies, or bedwetting.

Normally, a male and female counselor would not serve on “Night Duty” together.  The “Girls” side was on the opposite side of the camp from the “Boys” side, the female counselors serving “Night Duty” for the “Girls” cabins, male counselors for the “Boys.”

The exception was the Junior Unit, ages six to nine, where the boys’ and girls’ cabins were integrated, thus integrating the “Night Duty” patrollers as well.  That’s how I, through a happenstance in scheduling, wound up partnered on “Night Duty” with Mary Jo.

Here’s the thing.  This is uncomfortable for me to write.  So you’ll be seeing narrative gaps and deflecting euphemisms.  Please excuse the indirectness.  But that is the only way I can write this.

Okay, how can I say this? 

Earier that summer, during a Junior unit-wide evening activity of “Bingo”, which Mary Jo and I were in charge of running, with me reading the numbers – “G – 48”; “O – 72”, and Mary Jo standing uncomfortably close to me repeating them, in front of fifty young children and their counselors, Mary Jo made a move which, if you were blind or totally inexperienced, you could still see was a signal that virtually everything in the…”inter-genderal” activities department, was unquestionably on the table.

That’s the best I can do with that.  The “move” was surprising.  It was wonderful.  And it was wrong.  Which is what made it wonderful.


Mary Jo and I are alone together on “Night Duty”, sitting side by side on a bench situated on the front porch of my cabin.  Though we had never spoken about it, there is the history of “The Bingo Incident” between us.

The night is cold.  I suggest a blanket.  My suggestion is accepted.  I exit into the cabin, emerging holding a large woolen blanket, lifted from my bed.  We wrap ourselves in the blanket, the move drawing us inevitably closer together.

We are sitting there on “Night Duty”, wrapped in the blanket, me at least, if not her as well, uncertain of the next move.  But the situation is electric.  A move, of some sort, is inevitable.

But before one can be made, “The Squelcher” appears out of nowhere, and, despite my lame excuse – “We’re cold, Joe” – insists on separate blankets.

And the moment is lost. 


That’s how you get the reputation as “The Squelcher.”  Maybe it wasn’t self-created.  Maybe he just instinctively knew.

A couple of weeks later, there was a scheduled Eclipse of the Sun.  To protect the eyes of the campers who might, out of curiosity, look up, the entire camp – everybody, campers and staff – were herded into the Dining Hall, required to do I don’t know what in there, until the Eclipse of the Sun was over.

The reason “I don’t know what” was because, having an imminent show to prepare for, I was excused from the Dining Hall internment to work in the office, putting the finishing touches on the script.  It was not just me, it was me and a young counselor assigned as my typist, Yolanda, also not her real name, nor even suggestive of her real name, as there are few to none – at our camp at least – Jewish Yolandas.

Yolanda and I, although acquaintances, had never come anywhere close to experiencing the move that Mary Jo had pulled off during “Bingo Night.”  But if there was a move to be made, even just a preliminary one, this was definitely the time.

It was a sweltering hot day.  I wore some lightweight shorts, Yolanda, an attractive red bathing suit.  And there you had it.  The situation-assuring privacy, the attractive red bathing suit, the single droplet of perspiration on Yolanda’s upper lip as she typed… I mean, come on, now.  I’m only human.

It was now or never.  “It Happened During The Solar Eclipse.”  It seemed the ideal summer blockbuster for 1965.

Nothing happened.

Why not?

The terror of “The Squelcher.”

That may be an excuse.  Rejection is even harder to survive than squelching.  But you have to believe me.  Despite the situation, in which simply going outside courted permanent blindness, there was the, albeit unlikely, possibility…

That we would nevertheless be interrupted. 

So not a thing took place.  There was no “move” whatsoever.  Yolanda kept typing.  And I tried to distract myself as best as I could, never entirely escaping my original impulse. 

Five minutes later, the office door flies open.

And in comes “The Squelcher.”

I do not, of course, know how either of those situations would have turned out.  But I do know this.  Were it not for “The Squelcher”, I could close my eyes today and think back on those memorable moments…

Man, I hate that guy. 

1 comment:

Rwithii Heinz said...

Wow. I don't know what else to say. So I won't.