This past Saturday night at approximately 1:30 in the morning, I found myself on my back, on a concrete basketball court, staring at an endless sky of stars. This is not where I would ever expect to find myself at one in the morning (let alone be up and semi-functioning) but my friend Beth urged me down, pulling on the hem of the long dress I was wearing until I was lying next to her. A few paces from us we could hear 50 Cent being played by a deejay and the muffled revelry of our fellow camp mates, gathered on a porch drinking and laughing until they cried.
I’ve written before about our bi-annual camp weekends, how nobody who hasn’t gone to summer camp can possibly understand what this means to us. In no way was this year any different from years past but for me, at 49, I found myself more comfortable in my skin, assessing the scene in a more cerebral way, probably preparing for this post that people have come to expect from me.
I’m used to making the 2-hour drive from Boston by myself smiling at what I know awaits. This year, my friend Beth, who had spent 4-days at my house prior to the weekend was with me, her smile getting wider as we approached the curve in the road, that last stretch to our destination. We screamed and sang with pure glee to Pharell William’s “Happy,” the joy captured on an i-phone video not destined to go viral. Armed and steeled by a shot of tequila in the parking lot, we trudged our way up to camp grounds, a walk we could do blindfolded.
We were greeted by the usual smiling faces coming and going through doors, as if some phantom director yelled “action” as we got there. We had played this scene before and all was familiar. The huge cooler on the ground sat in the same place as always, filled with cans of soda, beer and the biggest bottle of Patron I have ever scene. On a folding card table was the usual bar set-up, mixers, Dollar Store shot glasses and the ubiquitous red cups. Under the table there was an endless number of cases of bottled water. As the organizer of the booze run said to me, “This ain’t my first rode0,” and I handed her my twenty dollar bill for the equivalent of a weekend long Country Buffet of booze. I dumped some wine in a plastic cup and as I caught my first glimpse of the boys, now men, playing basketball, I was struck and amused how it was a sea of gray-haired heads running up and down the court like they had done, with much darker and more hair, hundreds of times before.
The bleachers where people sit and watch and talk and laugh had turned into a bit of a medical marijuana dispensary, on-deck for the injured knees and ankles that are inevitable every year. (I am of course twisting the truth to avoid alienating some readers–and even though it’s KIND of true, uninjured and fully intact people passed some crazy vaporized pipe filled with hash oil back and forth, while others smoked the old-fashioned way, out of pipes and joints, warning each other of the potency by saying “one and done” which many clearly ignored.)
As we do every year, we packed the local bar in town, the regulars at the bar watching, stunned or stony faced, at the sudden horde of loud tri-state area men and women. Our guys hug and kiss and the women sometimes sit on each others laps. If the locals were smart, they would have sent out group texts to their friends to be part of something that happens only once every two years, or to say, “Stay the fuck away from Mario’s tonight.”
As always, I leave a bit earlier than most, sober enough to drive myself back to the hotel as opposed to taking the hired bus that shuttles others back and forth between camp, town and the hotel. This year, I was okay with missing the second part of the night. From my hotel bed, I followed what was happening on facebook, more of the wonderful same that I had left. Beth, who came back on the bus an hour or two later, filled me in on the important details knowing there would be a full-on repeat the next day.
Unlike other years, a new concept, introduced via facebook, caused a bit of discord (I realized after my emcee gig that came later I said “discourse,” pissed at myself for getting it wrong. In thinking about it though, both describe the patter and banter that occurred, in the virtual world of facebook .) A wonderful man and a fixture at camp for MANY years decided to launch something called “The Camp Delaware Hall of Fame.” The first group of inductees was announced and many disparate opinions were posted immediately. It would be impossible to please hundreds of past campers and as one of those being inducted, I can say that it was an incredible honor. When I saw my name as one of the second group, I stared at it, and then ran laps around my living room scaring my husband, daughter and dog. It really is the most passive achievement to date in my life, as crazy as that sounds. (I say passive because I have given birth to a child and fallen deeply in love, both things that have expended energy in an entirely different way.)
By last-minute default I very happily orchestrated and emceed the ceremony which, as I knew and others were dubious about, turned into a beautiful and emotional experience. I said, and I will say it again, a million times over, that no single person was more worthy of being honored than anyone else. Most of us inducted are either old or dead, so chances are good that everyone will be pleased in successive years.
The homages to the inductees, some who have died and others living legends, were introduced by friends they have known for 40+ years, some choking up as they gave and received. I was put in a bit of an awkward and self-serving position of having to introduce my friend Beth to present to me, but she did a magnificent job and I am grateful for the effort she put into her words.
I was really the opening act for a band made up of cousins, in-laws and brothers, two of whom used to sit on my lap when they were about 7-years old. They have turned into the loveliest of men and I found myself holding their chins in my hand like a Jewish grandmother. Whatever. It’s that much love. The band was PHENOMENAL, I think better than anyone could have anticipated (I know at one point I tiptoed over some wires to sing “Your Song” on the mic, and I apologize to you all for being pretty bad.)
While the band played I found myself hovering around a mostly uneaten cake with a man I’ve known for years, shoveling it into our faces with forks. We probably would have saved time by just sticking our heads in it. I became hero to many by pulling out the massive bag of M&Ms and Chex mix I was carrying, a bunch of very stoned 50+ year olds digging into the bags with youthful and familiar relish. We laughed and crumbled to the floor as stray bits of Rice Chex landed on each others clothes and hair, projected out of our mouths in hysterical laughter.
The next morning over a quiet breakfast with two men who I had the great pleasure to get to know better, three of us shared pictures of our children and spouses while the other was very proud to show us a picture of the steak, “perfectly seared” he had made for himself the day before. These are just my flashcard moments–the ones I can access out of hundreds. They are endless and they are priceless.
At the end of the evening, after staring at the stars, Beth and I worked our way back to the car, using her fading iphone as a flashlight. (Gone are the days of $10 metal flashlights that we would bang on our palms in hopes of bringing them back to life.) We navigated through tree roots and brick walkways. It was then, because of this huge accomplishment that I suggested we try out for “The Amazing Race,” making Beth snort and laugh until she cried.
We got in my car somewhere around 2:00 am and as I opened the sunroof I said to Beth, “Close your eyes and look at the stars.” Clearly, I would make a very bad “Amazing Race” partner, but in thinking about the statement the next day, I realized it was sort of poetic, and like all of these weekends, the poetry is improvised and unintentional.