Hmm, I thought. Live with a lot of kids for an entire summer? I'd had no dealings with children to date, and worried I'd be terrible at making small children happy and/or obedient. Could I handle them at all, or would I just give up and sneak away into the woods one night, never to be seen again? Phrased another way, I had the same worries all expectant parents have when contemplating rearing children.
In the event, I accepted the job, and even talked them into taking me a week early since I had no place to go once Maryland closed down my dorm. The other counselors arrived at the end of my first week for a week of orientation. This involved learning things like how to canoe, set up a tent, shoot an arrow, etc. I'd been a Boy Scout when I lived in Japan, so some of these things were not new to me (though I was a sorry Boy Scout, spending over two years as a Tenderfoot); it also helped that I was a Red Cross-certified lifeguard. After my first two weeks at Jayson camps, the children arrived for the start of their eight week adventure. My co-counselor for Bunk 8 was a nice guy, but he couldn't take much of the eight nine-year-old boys we lived with. He had a hair-trigger temper, and, fearing he would strike one of them in a fit of frustration, he simply quit, leaving me with quite a handful for much of the summer.
But from the beginning I adored the kids. They were sweet, fun be with, and, with one or two minor exceptions, pliant and obedient. There were lots of interesting moments, and I did find myself saying the oddest things such as, "Even if he put your socks in the toilet you shouldn't have buried his glasses in the sandbox" or "I don't care what you heard, there can't be a bear in the bathroom!" The first day of archery went particularly well. Repeating the basic steps I'd been shown just the week before, I nocked an arrow, pointed at the target some fifteen feet or so away, and, talking as if I knew my subject, explained how to aim at the target. I then let it loose and—I'm not making this up—by happy accident the arrow flew smack into the middle of the bulls-eye. The kids almost gasped in admiration, but I pretended not to notice. Though they asked, they never saw me shoot another arrow.
During the first week of camp there came a rest day (Saturday, of course), so we could make our own schedules, and sleep in late (with bagels and cream cheese provided, along with lox,(which I'd never even seen before). My co-counselor and I were trying to nap while the kids were playing in the cabin, and I realized that since half of the kids bunked on his side of the room and half on mine, they'd decided to play a game of Jews v. Christians (he being Jewish and me, nominally, Catholic), but the enterprise fell apart because none of the boys wanted to the Christians. Oy vey!
I was also the drama counselor for the two camps (which were located next to each other, with a common messhall), and that meant I had to put on shows with children of various ages, all musicals. Both summers that I did this I wrote the musicals and the lyrics, but talented other counselors wrote the music and helped me stage the shows. Our presentations were amateur hour writ large, but the kids gave it their all. I have recordings of many of the shows, and I listen to them on the odd occasion with both pride in the kids and embarrassment at how bad some of the material was. Let me give you a sample. One of the girls' shows was called "After Ten in the Counselors' Den," and the campers, all about twelve years of age, acted the parts of counselors who had put their charges to bed and were meeting in the Counselors' Den and then going into the nearby town of Great Barrington (where the events of "Alice's Restaurant" once occurred). Were they meeting the male counselors there for good fun? No. Just as in real life they went to the laundromat to wash their clothes. So the girls sang:
|Great Barrington (population 7,527)|
METROPOLIS / CEMENT AND LIGHTS!
WE HEAR YOU CALL / YOU CALL US ALL
LAND OF ONE THOUSAND HAPPY NIGHTS!
(Scene: switches to a Laundromat)
LAUNDROMAT / MY WHAT A SNAZZY PLACE WE’RE AT!
GET OUT YOUR DRESS AND SUNDAY HAT / LAUNDROMAT!
WHAT A THRILLING THING WE’RE DOING
SUDSING, RINSING, BLEACHING, BLUING!
LAUNDROMAT / PERHAPS I’LL MEET MY TRUE LOVE HERE
I HOPE HE BRINGS A BOX OF CHEER / I’M SINCERE
CAMPERS THINK I’M OUT ROMANCING
WITH A BAG OF CLOTHES I’M DANCING
FOR AN EVENING FUN-SPOT THERE IS THAT
COMPLETELY AUTOMATED LAUNDROMAT!
Counselor Elaine Farrington put this lyric to a sexy rumba rhythm, and I staged it with the girls dancing around with bags of laundry; the audience loved it. Okay, it's hokey, and (sigh) I wrote a lot of these things. In the second summer I was at Jayson Camps we put on seven shows (six with campers, one with counselors), with seven songs a show, so 49 songs just for that summer. I learned a lot about writing, directing, producing, and staging shows at the Jayson Camps. It was valuable training for much of what I know about theater.
Parents Day arrived mid-summer, and I was pleased to me meet my boys' mothers and fathers, who were all very nice people, and who enjoyed hearing stories about their offsprings' adventures. (The camp made sure the kids constantly wrote letters home.) The parents all attended one of my shows, and the performing kids made them proud.
On the last day the parents showed up to collect their children, with a lot happy shouting and some tears as friends parted. One of my little boys wrapped his arms tightly around me and begged to go home with me, telling me tearfully that "I don't want to live with my parents!" Of course, there was no such option, and to this day I've wondered why he didn't want to go home—but I'm not sure I really want to know the answer. In any event, by this time I'd learned I wasn't afraid of dealing with children, and believed I had a good shot at being a decent parent when and if that arose. (You'll have to ask my son Clayton if it proved true.)
I enjoyed my summer so much that two years later, between my first and second year of law school, I came back and did it all again (and by that time I was of legal drinking age, which proved important). The picture at the start of this post is from the 1966 summer at Jayson Camps, and the man on the far right is Alfred Jayson ("Chief"), the owner (I'm second from the left). Once again I was one of the two counselors living for eight weeks with too many nine-year-olds. To this day if a nine-year-old boy comes within a hundred yards of me, my sixth sense begins to tingle (like Spiderman sensing evil), and I straighten up with a mixture of suspicion, fondness, and alarm.
"Catholicism and Me (Part One)," March 13, 2010
"Catholicism and Me (Part Two)," April 18, 2010
"The Boot Camp Fiasco," April 21, 2010
“Doug, Please Get My Clubs From the Trunk” August 20, 2010
"Charleyne and the Giant Cookie," September 19, 2010
"Strange Songs, Inc.," September 29, 2010
"The Evil Big Birthday Song," November 5, 2010
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013