The summer camp I went to, at least in my mind, was something more akin to a Nazi concentration camp.
As a grown-up I might like to spend some time amongst the pines, “roughing it,” swimming in the lake, fishing, engaging in manly sport and jocular good cheer with fellows.
As an eight-year-old child, I was put on a transport vehicle, slept on one-inch thick mattresses and had forced work details for insubordination: “green buckets” that had to be filled with either pine needles, pine cones, or (hardest to come by in the immaculate woods) trash.
As a grown-up I can see how this very camp helped shape David Mamet’s love of guns and cabins in the woods (he went there and I’m sure he loved it; in my mind he might have been a capo, collaborating with the authorities as some sort of “counselor in training”).
As a child I could hardly conceive of how long eight weeks really was, struggling to even count off the agonizing march of endless days.
As a grown-up what I wouldn’t do for two whole months of repose—Walden Pond, Thich Nhat Hahn, Om Namaste.
As a kid I tried literally to escape, but was caught on the one long dirt trail out to the two lane highway where I planned to hitch a ride with locals who no-doubt insisted that “they did not know” where those greyhound busses with all those children actually went.
The director severely reprimanded me and confined me to my cabin, he refused my rights to call the outside world and say what was happening. I had seen kids literally spanked with canoe paddles while holding their ankles. For some reason I wasn’t beaten, but I sense they wanted to keep me alive for some reason. Maybe it was my small fingers put to use at “arts and crafts,” who knows what we were actually making.
As a kid I nearly drowned at this camp, trapped beneath a dock. It left me traumatized, clear that one could die in such a place. This, I later learned, merited a carefully worded letter to my parents, to the outside world—a cover your ass move if I ever saw one—like “visiting day” when everything was made lovely, and then we had two hours after the parents left to consume all our treats or turn them in.
As a kid I stood in line on a fly-buzzing morning before a concrete shed where “haircuts” meant that three-fingered-Louie sheared you with clippers.
As a kid we were given steak one time in eight weeks at an outdoor cookout. Mine fell off my paper plate, my eight-year-old hands trying to pick the dirt and grit back out of the cheap cut of meat. When I asked for another instead, I was turned away. I can still remember the texture of grit mixed with beef between my teeth.
My favorite momentary escape from this halcyon hell was movie night in the mess hall. Waiting in line to see part II of Exodus a boy cut the line in front of me and kept bumping into me. I lost it and wrestled him to the ground, for which I was sent alone to my cabin for the night, never getting to see the end of Exodus much less being able to make my own exodus.
I was liberated from the camp, returning home to mournful flags of those on my street who had lost kids in Viet Nam. I remained gripped by deep dread and depression for an entire year. I begged never to be sent back, but I was.
Maybe if there had been a camp for Marcel Duchamp and James Joyce I too would have loved it and begged to be sent back. As a so-called grown-up I am old enough now to understand my differences from the group. At camp I never had a nickname, unlike all the other kids, and I wanted one so badly.
I realize that as a child I resented my parents for sending me to camp, but they did not send me to the camp I went to. My parents did not live in the world I live in. And while few people do live in the world I live in, I love when others drop into my world for a chat. And when I meet a true Anam Cara along the way, I am blessed many times over. There were many Anam Cara up in those north woods, only I was too young to see them back then—they were, or rather are, the Native American spirits still roaming the land: The Chippewa, the Sioux and others.
And in my yard in Studio City I sense the Chumash, coming with the rains, gathering what they need and leaving the land as they found it (unlike us, not yet evolved souls).
Maybe “my camp” was a past life tracing. Maybe it was a genetic memory of the Shadow of the human experience. Maybe it was a zeitgeist of Viet Nam infusing my nascent psyche.
Maybe camp was a perfect part of my initiatory journey through fear, pain, alienation, inadequacy, loneliness and feelings of being strange and unlikable. Like so many things, camp is something that I could not imagine being who I am without that experience, even if I hated it as it occurred.
At camp there was a cave of roots by a far and un-visited cliff over the lake. I would go and sit in the cave of roots and stare out over the water, feeling connected with the light and the insects and the spirits that I could not name. There I was happy.
As parents we do the very best we can for our kids. I accept my path and my parents’ parenting of me, without saying that it was all fun and games. In this virtual, perhaps sacred, space of our blogging, where I meet more Anam Cara than I can shake a shamanic stick at, I am happy to be both alive and oddly dead in some sense, or ethereal, torn between the veils of worlds, but at least free to speak my heart-mind.
As a grown-up I never pushed my own kids to the camp I went to, but then again they never got to go to their own camp, not sleep-away camp anyway. Maybe they’ll one day realize that they were over-protected and need to resent childhood for awhile, and then they will become solid and find that their path too was perfect, not because of Andy and I, not despite Andy and I, but interwoven inextricably with Andy and I—and our one world (past, present and future).