Based upon the short story Star Gazing by Olderneighbor
The ad caught my eye: Be a Camp Counselor!
I frowned, imagining myself with a bunch of kids out of class. No way, I thought, shaking my head. I dropped the section on the floor and unfolded Sports. The Twins had won again and the Vikings lost. Not games, but personnel. Might as well be games, I thought.
An hour later I put all the sections together and dropped the newspaper on the end table, atop the rest of the week's papers headed for the recycle bin. That headline jumped out at me again.
Be a Camp Counselor!
No way, I repeated to myself. I didn't think of it again until the following day when I dropped the Saturday edition atop the pile. I picked it up again.
Be a Camp Counselor!
I'd been a teacher almost 30 years. I knew about kids. I was retired now; bored, gaining weight, losing my shape. I needed a gym and I needed a diet. I didn't need kids.
Sunday after church I bundled the papers together and walked them out to the laundry room and dropped them in the recycle bucket. Monday morning I carried the bucket out to the curb. At 10 A.M. I heard the roar of a diesel engine and the cascade of empty bottles, aluminum cans and other recyclables pouring into the metal bin. I don't know why, but I rushed outside and down the walk to the curb and retrieved the bundle of newspapers. I found the section with the ad and wrested it from the stack, just as a harried-looking Hispanic man walked up and grabbed the bin off the walk. I grinned at him, holding out the bundle which he took and carried to the back of the truck along with the bin. He looked at me non-committal, as though homeowners, especially eccentric gray-haired ones like me, met him at the curb every day. I returned to the house, feeling foolish.
I didn't call for a week. It was the last week of April and I figured any chance I had at the position had evaporated with my procrastination. On Monday morning I called anyway, got a woman named Peg, inquired without hope if any positions were left.
"How old are you?" she asked.
"How old am I?" I hadn't expected a question like that. I had expected to be let down easy with a Sorry, sir, but those positions were filled a week ago. You should have called earlier. "I'm 62," I replied defensively, not wanting to sound defensive.
"The reason I ask," she apologized, "is that too many positions are already filled by young adults. We're not supposed to ask your age, but we'd like to fill the remaining three positions with persons a little older than the children themselves." She laughed, which made me relax.
"I understand that," I admitted. "So you have three positions left?"
"Three," she concurred.
"And it's possible I could apply for one."
"With the right credentials," she agreed.
"I taught English for thirty years. Does that qualify?"
I could see a grin stretch her lips. "Can you be out here this afternoon? Say about two?"
"I would be delighted," I replied honestly. "Where is here?"
She gave me directions to Silver Lake.
At noon, I backed the Wrangler down the drive, put it in gear and headed out of town. I was nervous. I was antsy. I kept looking in my rear view mirror for cops with flashing lights, emergency vehicles, approaching flood waters. I was short of breath and had to stop twice on the way to go pee. I hadn't been this nervous since my last date, set up by my daughter. Never date anyone set up for you by your daughter.
I arrived in Silver Lake at 1:45 and followed her directions south on 45 to Wyoming Street, which I followed 3.2 miles to the intersection with Wicomico Drive. I almost turned back. My underarms itched and I had to go pee again. Setting my teeth, I turned right and drove the half mile to the given address. It was not the camp. It was the office of the administrators, Christian Youth Camps. A sign across the front windows declared so. I parked the Jeep and went inside to meet Peg.
"Mr. Burns? Hi, I'm Peg Barklay. Good to meet you." Peg was a redhead of 35, big-breasted in a billowy white blouse made to hide the fact. She wore black slacks and black shoes. Her hair was up, her makeup was so well applied as to be invisible. Her otherwise perfect features were marred by a scar across her right cheek, which only pointed out how attractive she was. A huge diamond lit her ring finger.
"Quite a drive," I commented. "Glad accommodations are at the camp. That's correct, right?" I wasn't driving four hours to and from camp every day.
"That's correct," she confirmed, smiling. A pretty smile. "Counselors are housed in separate quarters, and also in the bunkhouses."
"Like in the army," I said.
"Like in the army," she agreed. "You served in Viet Nam?"
I nodded. "68 and 69. Your father did too, I bet."
She smiled again. "He was a major. He still complains about the weather and the people and the bugs. The enemy too, of course."
"The weather and people and bugs were the enemy," I said.
According to Peg, camp activities ran Monday through Saturday, with Sundays off. "It starts the 12th of June," she said, rotating the schedule on her desktop for me to examine, "and runs until August 15th. There are two separate groups; kids that stay the whole summer, and kids that rotate in and out every week. The facility consists of the boy's camp here--" She pointed out a red area blocked out on the map. "--and the girl's camp here." A yellow area blocked out was farther north on the lake edge. "Male counselors with the boys, female counselors with the girls. Simple as that," she added, smiling. "Interested?"
"You bet I am. What about entertainment?"
"I hope you like campfires," she said.
"I love campfires," I acknowledged.
"What about stars?"
"We need an astronomy instructor. Our usual volunteer is away on a sabbatical until school. He teaches English also, though of course, an English background is not required to be a star instructor."
"Of course not," I agreed.
"Of course not," she repeated, smiling again. This woman was flirting with me.
I got the position, star instructor and all, and even took home a textbook on constellations. I would need it, as it turned out.
June 10th I returned to Silver Lake for indoctrination. I met the other camp counselors, a surprising number in their early twenties. I was the only true adult, the only one over the age of 45, an old fogy. Being with those kids made me feel my age. I immediately began to question my judgment in wanting this position. Stupid shit, I thought. You're a grandfather.
The kids arrived in two days. Two days to familiarize ourselves with the camp layout, the peripheral staff (cooks, drivers, housekeepers, etc.), the mechanical equipment, the medical equipment, the lifesaving equipment, the surrounding property.
The age of our kids ran from 9 to 15 years old; most of the counselors were college students, only a few years older than the kids themselves. Kids in the boy's camp were not allowed to visit kids in the girls camp without special permission. They ate breakfast when they were told to, ate lunch when they were told to, ate dinner when they were told to, and performed activities they had signed up for or were assigned. Swimming in the lake was daily between 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM, with evening sessions three times a week. Girls swam in their waters; boys swam in theirs, separated by a half mile of rocky shoreline. Fraternization was discouraged. Copulation was extremely discouraged. Copulation occurred every summer anyway.
As the oldest person in camp, I received my own private accommodations. I would spend no time in the bunkhouses, I discovered my second day there. I didn't know whether to be relieved by that, or disappointed, steamed or joyous. I had a log cabin to myself, complete with bedroom, bathroom, dining room and kitchen. A handkerchief-sized living room fit a short couch, a coffee table and an end table into its confines. I had my own porch for when it rained. I had an air-conditioner. What more could I want?
The first week was rough. For everybody. Jody Cramer broke his arm tripping up the front steps of his bunkhouse. George Williams cracked his head falling from a tree he wasn't supposed to be climbing. Matthew Coleridge developed a string of bloody noses that had the nursing staff baffled. All the kids got spider bites, bee stings, poison ivy, chiggers, everything but menstrual problems, which I couldn't have dealt with anyway. We lost three counselors to various ailments, none of them life-threatening. Three boys were sent home for sneaking off to the girls camp after dark. One of our counselors suffered the same fate, as did one of theirs. Stupid kids.
One of the few activities boys and girls got to share was astronomy. This excited both groups, as the lessons were after dark and held in the stygian blackness of the boy's baseball field.
It's amazing what can be seen at night away from the city. Away from anything. We saw the Milky Way clear as day. Everyone oowed and awwed. I pointed out a hundred stars, dozens of constellations, the other planets. The female counselor assigned to me lasted a week. She'd rather party than accompany an old man around, pointing out stars and fantastical constellations. The day she resigned I was assigned a new counselor named Emily. She was a partier also. At least I took her to be. No one as gorgeous as Emily could be anything but. I gave her a week, tops.
.... There is more of this story ...