A CAMPFIRE WITHOUT WEINERS: THE BLACK TABLE LADIES WAX OFF ON SUMMER CAMP.
|By Lynn Harris, Lindsay Robertson, Tracy Weiss, and Amy Blair||
I was a camp counselor for eight-year-old boys at Camp Tooksboochee.
Now get your head out of the gutter -- it was a day camp.
Mommies dropped off my little campers in the morning, with their little lunches and backpacks. Twenty of them. Among which was a pair of twins. Identical. I was in charge of these little fuckers every day and their mothers paid me to teach them all the kitschy camp stuff that eight-year-olds should know. The camp was really desperate for counselors, so I remember being hired without any kind of testing or training. You were just handed a rope, or a bow and arrow, or a boat, and you created fun, daylong lessons out of it.
Eventually I got the boat. I had to teach canoeing -- which I had never done -- and I was pretty sure I could fake it. As far as I knew, it was a simple right-left-right-repeat operation, and we'd all paddle around and be happy.
I was by myself in the special red counselor canoe and they were in pairs in the blue camper canoes. I showed them the right-left combo and they, in turn, clobbered each other over the head with their oars. I decided to show them how cool and fast they could go if they did the right-left, and set off across the lake. I turned back, and it was very quiet behind me. And all the little blue canoes were empty.
And then my oars were grabbed out of my hands and forty grimy eight-year-old hands pulled me into the water. The deep water.
In their desperate search for counselors, Camp Tooksbooche hadn't asked and I hadn't told them that I can't swim. It's not that I can't do certain advanced swimming strokes. Or that I still need to iron out finer points of my dive. I really can't swim. Or even dog paddle and keep my head above water.
They had removed my life jacket somehow, and I was dying, screaming, thrashing. Water was in my mouth and nose and ears and eyes and filling me up and sinking me. And then somehow, the forty little hands were grabbing and dragging and paddling me back to the shore where we all sat, gasping, and looking at the discarded floating life jackets and canoes. The canoes were red and blue and the lifejackets were yellow and orange.
The rest of the afternoon, they taught me how to swim.
Okay, so I was enrolled at the Chapel-Hill Chauncy-Hall Summer Theater School. How can you not love a camp where you can know the entire libretto of Oklahoma! and still be cool?
I went -- and roomed -- with my school friend Emily, and we were joined at the acid-washed hip. We decorated our bunks with streamers and announced in the first-night meeting that ours was "the party room!" We were the Hilton sisters of Waltham, Massachusetts.
I can't remember when I met Norman, but I can tell you he stood out at theater camp. Maybe that's because Norman was a gangly, grinning scholarship student from "the inner city" who totally went around calling himself the "Token Black."
I don't remember how Norman and I started dating, ("dating" in that we occasionally made out and could not do so with others) but he made his feelings for me clear. You know that exercise actors and singers do to warm up their diaphragms (not that kind, dirty birdie!) where they go, "MA! MA! MA!" from deep down in their torso? If I walked by when Norman was doing it with his cast -- he was Captain Hook in Peter Pan -- he'd switch to "LYNN! LYNN! LYNN!" He'd freestyle-rap about me on the spot -- and remember, this was a couple years before Beat Street, so hip-hop had yet to jump the shark.
Tall seen-it-all Norman's best camp pal was teeny Gabe (Peter Pan, natch), whose voice hadn't even changed -- those two were a buddy movie waiting to happen. At one cabaret night, Norman started singing "Maria," but then -- when Gabe handed him a bouquet -- he knelt, gave it to me, and switched to "Lynn Harris I just met a girl named Lynn Harris .".
I was 13. Norman was 15. At the time, there was no Internet to stay in touch with. Whatever promises you make, you write letters for only so long. But you know what?
I wrote the first paragraph of this article. I stepped away from the
keyboard. And I just called Norman. Called 411, and totally called him!
Out of the blue. Blew him away. He still lives in Alphabet City, where
he grew up, and now he's in a chef school (one funded, teeny world, by
an organization where two of my dear friends worked for years)! Also,
he spent two years winning a civil suit against the city for false charges
brought against him in a police sweep of his neighborhood. Oh yes, I think
part of all of us would like to be back at Chapel Hill -- where the only
"difference" that mattered was voice part, and when, now that
we think about it, Peter Pan was onto something.
Lynn Harris is the "Dating Dictionary" columnist for Glamour and co-creator of breakupgirl.net.
Summer camp gives you freedom to explore -- a place for firsts. In the woods of Kalkaska, Mich., I rode my first horse, got my first period and ate meat I couldn't recognize for the very first time. Ah, Camp Tanuga: Where you couldn't be the only Jewish kid without a pocket fan. This is where I taught my cabin what 69ing meant. Where hazing was A-OK and Tootsie Pops were their own brand of crack cocaine smuggled in hallowed-out stuffed animals.
It's also where I had my first real kiss.
He stood nearly 6'4" and towered over my slight 14-year-old frame. Steve had a goofy smile and a penchant for tossing me over his shoulder and depositing me in the lake. Daily. I loved every second of it. He was a master at mountain biking and always made a point of saving me a seat around the campfire. He was also my little brother's junior counselor.
It's not as sketchy as it sounds. I was a month from a birthday and he was barely 17. But the general rules frowned on such things. My cabinmates loved teasing me about my "older man." I denied it. Nothing had happened all summer, so he didn't really like me.
But I wanted him too.
My brother, almost four years younger, was amazed by my frequent visits to his cabin. He must have wondered why his counselor asked about his sister so often. He watched, baffled, by my insatiable demand for piggyback rides and massages. I lost gracefully at tetherball. I learned to look up shyly under my lashes and toss my permed blond hair. Little brother, be damned! I was shameless. And it paid off.
The night of the camp dance, I swayed to 10,000 Maniacs "Because the Night."
"Take me now baby here as I am/Pull me close, try and understand/Desire is hunger is the fire I breathe/Love is a banquet on which we feed"
Did I know what that meant? Hell no. Was it fucking lame? Obviously. But I believed Natalie Merchant at that moment. The night belonged to lovers -- the night belonged to me and Steve. So when he came to walk me home at the end of the night, I insisted we take the dark way back -- a path we called the "rape trail." This guy had mentally blue balled me for weeks, I had to provoke him into finishing the job. Not that I'd experienced the job.
Nervous, I dramatically relayed my daily antics. As I used my hands to demonstrate my point, Steve grabbed them in mid-air. He seized me and kissed me hard, rendering me silent -- a difficult task! Intrigued, I went in for another until I felt his tongue in my mouth. I was shocked! Appalled!
And embarrassed. After smooching, I realized I didn't like him so much. But I *definitely* liked the feel of his tongue. Thus, an addict was born. I would spend the next 10 years waiting for that intake of breath The moment where my heart beats too fast.
Sometimes, I still hear crickets.
Tracy Weiss loves to suck face. She intends to bite the tongues of the Black Table editors if they don't change her goddamned tagline already. Also, she has a shiny new job.
I went to camp in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York. Parents would send their kids to learn how to canoe and build fires and make nice with other people. Looking back, I'm pretty sure that we were supposed to be learning life lessons as well about respecting ourselves, respecting others, respecting the planet, and so on and so on. In reality, in those first glorious moments of post-puberty no-parents bliss, everybody was going gay. And what was so great was that, much like riding horses or scraping your own plate after dinner, it just seemed like anything else that you do when you are away at camp.
I was doing some Jaeger shots and watching The Hours the other night when I got to thinking about what little lesbians girls at sleep-away camp are. I can't speak for boys' experiences at camp, but I'll bet twenty dollars that even the most straight-laced straight girl you know has a couple of at least mildly lesbo experiences in her closet if she went to summer camp. I know I do.
My big lesbian fiesta happened on the last day of camp when I was fourteen
years old. We had just had the obligatory last-night-of-camp bonfire,
replete with lots of hugging and crying through warbly campfire renditions
of "You've Got A Friend." Afterwards, all of the girls in my
"village" got all weepy about going home and decided to go get
naked and jump in the lake and then take a shower together. An obvious
choice, for sure.
Amy Blair is one of the naughtiest women on the planet. When she's not dating homos or having orgasms of Biblical proportions, she's busy at work looking at Craig's List.
Three tiny camp stories:
--When I was 13, one of the girls in my cabin had stubble growing out of her foot. She explained that when she was little, her dad was mowing the lawn one day while she played with her dog, and she got too close to the mower and it chopped off the bottom of her heel, which was caught in mid-air and swallowed by the dog. They rushed her to the hospital and grafted some skin from her abdomen onto her foot. She showed me the scar on her stomach. When she started puberty, dark thick curly hair started growing from her foot, and she started shaving it. She let me touch it, and it was gross.
--A couple years ago, I met a girl named Sarah at a party in Queens. We hit it off immediately, and soon found ourselves having "one of those nights" where you stay up all night talking with a new person about everything. We went back to her house to continue the conversation with alcohol and drugs and cigarettes. Around 4 a.m., while comparing childhoods, we realized that we had gone to Christian summer camp in North Carolina together when we were kids. We were even in the same cabin, cabin Tennessee, and she was my junior counselor. And now, here we were, years later, in Brooklyn, drunkenly discovering our shared Christian heritage through a cloud of pot smoke.
--My last summer at camp, at 16, I struck up an unusual friendship with
the camp cook, a retired man in his 50's named Mr. Randall. The previous
summer, Mr. Randall's son had been my first-ever real kiss, but I never
mentioned that. Our friendship was based upon a mutual contempt for people
who didn't read books, a category which included almost everyone at this
particular Christian sports camp. We would hang out in the afternoons
in the dining hall, talking about the Beatniks and comparing stories about
the N.C. State frat boys and sorority girls who made up the camp staff.
He loved to pull pranks, like pulling a rubber glove over his head, or
gargling with hydrogen peroxide to make his tongue turn white, or laying
out pixie stick powder in lines and snorting it. On the last day of camp,
everyone exchanged goodbye letters. I still have his, which ends: "P.S.
You and me are the only two smart people at this camp."
Not only is Lindsay Robertson, fantastically wonderful, she's also the doyenne of her own Website, Lindsayism.
Get more of of our ladies here:
WHO'S HUMPIN'? THE LADIES!
OUR CREW OF SASSY BROADS TALK ABOUT SAFE SEX.