Monday, August 4, 2008

"Summer Times - 'The Necktie Party'"

I don’t really want to write about the time my cabin mates tried to hang me. There are few humorous anecdotes stemming from the experience, and I’m afraid the trauma of the moment has seriously fuzzied my memory. But I said I would write about it, and the last thing I want is for this blog to develop a reputation for “bait and switch.”

“He promised a story about his cabin mates trying to hang him and instead gave us ‘Free Will and Determinism’. What a gyp!” (“Free Will and Determinism” – June 11.)

I will not be “The ‘Bait and Switch’ Blogger.” There are enough disappointments in the world as it is, and I have no desire to be the cause of another one. So here we go.

I just sighed.

As nine-year old Juniors, our cabin rule was that when we received food packages from home, they were to be surrendered and stored in a large trunk, to be doled out by our counselor at appropriate times, and shared equally.

In my brother’s Senior cabin, campers were responsible for their own food, consuming it whenever they saw fit.

So that’s the set-up. The Juniors had to pool their goodies; the Seniors got to keep their own.

Do you know what a wet bar of soap looks like when it falls on the ground? The fallen bar is immediately covered in twigs and sticks and leaves and moss and animal droppings and tree fungus, and it quickly loses any resemblance to a recognizable bar of soap.

The bar of soap’s owner is less than enthusiastic about picking the thing up, because it’s yucky. Once he finally musters the stomach for it, he has his work cut out for him, restoring that bar of soap to anything close to its original condition.

In reality, it’s impossible. As hard as you rub and scrape and pick at it, there will always be some residual non-soap-like material embedded in the bar. Only with continued usage, in its filthy and mutilated state, will the stuff that doesn’t belong there finally dislodge itself on its own.

In summary, a dropped bar of soap is never the same again.

As we returned to our cabin from the washhouse – along a wooded path – my cabin mates would angrily tug at my towel, with my soap wrapped inside it, eventually causing the slippery bar to tumble out and fall to the ground. This “brutalization of the bar” invariably occurred at night, so that not only was my soap permanently “shmutzed up”, it was also difficult to find.

My cabin mates were also in the habit of elbowing me – when I was wearing my spotless, new sneakers – into mud puddles, and body checking me into pine trees, which had thousands of pointy things sticking out of the branches.

In addition, my least favorite cabin mate, Marty, who slept in the lower bunk beneath my upper, regularly spent his post-lunch “rest hours” lifting both feet in the air and kicking me through the mattress.

Relevant Question: Why would I want to share my pretzels, potato chips, chocolate chip cookies and red licorice vines and with people who were mistreating me? Answer: I didn’t.

So what did I do? When I got a food parcel, I’d immediately take it to my brother’s cabin. My brother would hold on to my stash, and whenever I felt like it, I would go there and take whatever I wanted. And wouldn’t have to share it with my tormentors.

Does that seem wrong to you? Withholding my treats from people who were making my life a living hell? I’m not exactly objective on the matter. All I know is I was nine, I was angry, and that’s what I did.

And, one day, I got caught.

As a punishment, my cabin mates decided to string me up.

I don’t know where the rope came from. I don’t know where the chair came from. My only memory is of me, sitting on an unpainted kitchen chair, one end of a rope around my neck, and the other end looped over an overhanging rafter.

I remember making a lot of noise. It’s likely my cabin mates never planned to go all the way with their plan, but, at the moment, I really thought I was going to die.

My primal shrieks ultimately garnered outside attention. To my enormous relief, I could hear footsteps racing furiously towards our cabin. My ordeal would soon be over. I’d be rescued before I swung.

The cabin door flew open, bathing the crime scene in incriminating daylight. A staff member I didn’t recognize quickly surveyed the disturbing scene – me, with rope around my neck, my murderous cabin mates huddled around me. It was obvious what was going on. It was obvious how the staff member would respond.

The staff member did not respond the obvious way. Instead, he responded like this. After all these years, I still remember his exact words:

“Oh. It’s only Pomerantz.”

He then closed the door and headed away.

Their discovery ignited a fierce argument among the lynchers. Some of them believed I’d had enough, others were lobbying to go the distance. I was in no condition to focus on the proceedings, though I unquestionably sided with the faction that thought I’d had enough. Unwilling to sweat out the final returns, as my cabin mates vigorously debated my fate, I bolted out the cabin door to safety.

There would be no hanging that day.

That evening, our counselor, who’d been elsewhere during the festivities, required everyone in the cabin to sit on their beds and engage in an extended form group therapy session known at our camp as a “Good and Welfare.”

Both sides acknowledged their transgressions. I admitted to the infraction of hoarding my goodies. And my cabin mates apologized for trying to kill me.

It seemed as if the air had been cleared. It felt like the “Good and Welfare” would be a turning of the page, the first step in what, hopefully, would be a new beginning.

That feeling lasted until after “Lights out” that night, when Marty’s double-kick jolt through the mattress nearly bounced me out of my bed.

There should be no question that I am – not just in my case, but generally – unequivocally “anti lynching.” “Necktie Parties” – I’m against them. But I feel that this story would not be complete if I didn’t consider this question: Other than candy hoarding, was there anything in my behavior towards my cabin mates that might explain, if not justify, their homicidal retaliation?


Thank you, and good night.


Pidgy Gordon said...

You should have come to my would have been, totally!
I'll bet they're sorry now.

Anonymous said...

sounds like you felt like a "loner/outsider" during your time at camp...i'm surprised you became a counselor... when a counselor, did you look to help other kids that were like yourself?
i guess that kind of experience either makes you laugh at yourself and others, or become a serial killer....