My dear friends and followers, I admit that my recent posts have been heavy. Chalk it up to January being World Anti-trafficking Month. As you know, I take this to heart, being myself a survivor of homelessness, street life, and survival sex, which is a very low-pay form of prostitution.
So today I’m going to give y’all a break. We’re going to talk about that summer in 1972 when all of us worked at various summer camps in and around Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. Wolfeboro scatters itself around the shores of Lake Winnepesaukee, a magnificent waterscape populated with countless tiny islands, and marshlands filled with grebes, herons, loons, Canada geese, and all manner of small creatures upon which the former feed.
And the camps surround the lake like a string of pearls. There are private camps for the wealthy, many of which have been there since the 1800s, like the one where Sandy and Keith worked doing restoration construction on some of the older buildings that decrepitude was creeping up on. And there are summer camps for children, rich, like the one Martha worked at. And then there was Camp Urban Opportunity, where I worked. It was run by some philanthropic foundation, with the purpose of getting ghetto children out of the ghetto for two weeks in the summer.
All four of us were students at Elite School of Visual Arts, a small independent art school, the brainchild of a group of survivors of the Bauhaus Movement who had fled the confines of New York City for the broad vistas of small town New England. We four were chronic troublemakers even in this hyperliberal incubator, possibly because we all suffered from the combination of ADHD and too much marijuana. But that’s another story.
It was pure coincidence that the four of us ended up in the same general vicinity that summer. All of us had parents who were not pleased with our progress in some way or another, and for one reason or another we were disconnected from the familial money tit. Therefore it was necessary to make our own money.
Martha had actually tried turning tricks, but as she was a very large woman (she once came to my Halloween party dressed as a mattress), her market niche was too small, so in desperation she turned to legal work instead, which was much more healthy although less lucrative, at the end of the day. She worked at Camp Bambi, which catered to the horsey set, and even though no horse could handle Martha’s 300 pound frame, she held up the arts-and-crafts angle of the camp and was accepted as a Bohemian with her hand-made colorful flowing robes and long beaded earrings, her red-gold hair flowing loose down to the backs of her flesh-enfolded knees.
Sandy and Keith were both refugees from wealthy country club tennis families, and had learned the building trade as a means of rebellion and now worked together as restoration carpenters, doctoring New England’s ailing elderly buildings. They had been hired by Camp Longago, a private family camp, to repair leaky roofs and combat the inevitable dilapidation wrought by time and weather.
My position had evolved because of my previous employment at the YWCA in a down-at-heel section of Boston, where I worked as a breakfast cook for the women who were fortunate to get a $15 double room, breakfast included. I slung bacon and eggs, pancakes and sausage, from six to eight every morning, seven days a week. I was allowed to eat the oatmeal if there was any left, and there was always some left. ”The Oatmeal Diet,” I called it. I certainly lost weight on it. If you ever want to lost weight, try it. The problem was, I did not need to lose weight.
So when the notice came up on the YWCA bulletin board for a camp counsellor at the Y camp in Wolfeboro, I jumped on it. I had a hard time getting out of the clutches of Ms. Hardass, my supervisor in the kitchen, simply because I was a good egg-slinger and showed up every day, but she finally consented to write me a letter of recommendation, and I nailed the job.
I had to make my own way up to Wolfeboro from Boston. My other partners-in-crime came from other parts of New England: Keith from Maine, Sandy from Cape Ann, Martha from Vermont. We all hitch-hiked to our respective camps on Lake Winnepesaukee, and met up in Wolfeboro for one last brewski together before heading off to our summer fates.
My gig turned out to be much, much worse than the Y egg-slinging job. From 6 till 8 I cooked breakfast for the little darlings. Then from 9 till 10 I Washed. The. Fucking. Dishes. Then I went to the arts-and-crafts room, where I attempted to interest the little pigs in jewelry making, modeling clay, watercolor painting, macrame, origami, everything except for the various forms of murder upon which I continually fantasized so as not to actually commit it. At night I slept in one of the campers’ cabins along with eight of the little monsters. I never got any sleep because, being thirteen years old, they were continually crawling out the windows in order to rendezvous for the purpose of fornication with the boys from the “brother” camp down the road. Unfortunately, it was also part of my set of responsibilities to specifically prevent this, on pain of I-don’t-know-what if one of them turned up pregnant after camp.
I got one one half-day a week, and one weekend a month, off. My weekends were generally occupied in recklessly climbing the peaks of the Presidential Range, alone, without regard to life or limb. The worst that came of it was a sprained ankle that I got while running full out down Mount Madison in a terrifying lightning storm. I ended up spending the night rolled up in a tarp next to the road, awaking covered with mud and leaches. The kindly man who gave me a ride back to the camp shook his head and clucked all the way.
My half-days were my canoe days. I would borrow a canoe from the camp and slide out into the lake, taking compass bearings on the various islands; there were so many islands, and they looked so much alike, that one could easily get lost and spend days trying to find open water again. My favorite thing was to back into some back-water marsh and just sit and watch the life teaming around me. My very favorite moment was when I had gone out very early in the morning, when the mist was thick on the lake, and was sitting still on the water listening to the loons calling, when a whole family of the loons I had been listening to paddled up to my boat, looked at me with their red eyes, and sailed off again, calling with their eerie looney voices to others of their kind.
We did not spend that entire summer in isolation. Keith and Martha managed somehow, despite Martha’s bulk, to conceive a child in a canoe in the middle of the lake. Martha’s family was not at all happy about that situation and tried to make Keith pay for it in one way or another; but Martha was extremely pleased with having a child, and paid her family back by removing herself from their circle and arranging things with Keith so that he could be a father to his child, but that Martha retained her independence, which suited both of them perfectly.
Sandy and I had been friends and lovers already for a long time. We were friends all the time, and lovers when both of us were between other lovers. It worked out perfectly. So on a day when my afternoon off began a bit earlier that usual, I took a canoe and high-tailed it over to Sandy’s camp, where he was basically alone except for Keith, who was working on the other side of the camp that day.
Sandy and I got to fooling around, and since there was a camp mattress in the cabin he was working on, we consummated our mutual desire in a most satisfactory way. Afterwards, Sandy went for a dunk in the lake to clean up a bit, and I puttered about, naked as a jaybird, getting some lunch together.
There was a knock at the door. Damn, thought I, I must have accidentally locked Sandy out. So I unlocked the door and opened it. There stood, not Sandy, but the owner of the camp, who took one look at me and turned his back, muttering inaudibly. Then he opened his mouth and hollered, in his New Hampshire accent, SANDY? SANDY! THEY-AH’S A NAKED WOH-MAN IN HE-AH!