Monday, October 12, 2009

But Most of All, It Lives Inside of You and Me

When I was 13 and 14, I spent my summers at Camp Komaroff in Lake Arrowhead. I don't know where the name comes from. But it's burned in my brain, along with the theme song we harmonized at every gathering:

Way up high, Camp Komaroff
Must be the sky, Camp Komaroff
There's a place where magic lives in every tree...

The song had a lot of verses, but that was no problem--by the end of the summer, we had memorized over 50 songs, because singing was a big deal. We sang at meals, on hikes, around the camp fire in the evening. We did a lot of dancing, too--Israeli dancing. I still recall this one dance with a very high side leap, and one time I landed on the edge of my wooden Dr. Scholl's and was in agony for the rest of the night. But I loved the dancing, and I loved our dance leader, David, even more. He played the flute, if I recall correctly, once directly in my ear as I burrowed in my sleeping bag during a marching band wake-up call. You know, camp spirit and all. Round the clock.

It was beautiful up there in the woods, alternately hot and freezing, and incredibly dirty. Our tents had no walls--just cement slabs with a tarp on poles. None of us knew how dirty we were until we got back to civilization, but we were all coated in a thin film of dust--skin, hair, clothes. And there was no laundry. You either swished your stuff around in the bathroom sink periodically, or you wore it dirty. No one cared.

The food was Survivor-like--there wasn't much of it, and it was dubious at best. The only meal I looked forward to was spaghetti, because at least I recognized it. It was not unusual for me to lose 10 or 15 pounds during my stay. One of the summers, some girls and I won a reward challenge and our counselor Glenn took us "into town" in his pick-up truck for ice cream, and said we could have anything. "Anything?" I said, and when he nodded, I ordered a sundae with fudge, marshmallow, butterscotch, caramel, strawberry and pineapple. Then threw up. I don't think I'd had sugar in weeks.

But really, we were too busy to think much about eating. Not with camp-type stuff. When I hear about other people's camps, seems they were doing sports and making crafts and rowing boats and having color wars. Maybe we did a few of those things. For a minute. But mostly I remember singing, dancing and making out. The making out was key. I might make out with three or four boys a session, or I might have one boyfriend the whole time (like when I met Dave Wolfson in the infirmary and we flirted even though we both had stomachaches. Hi, Dave, wherever you are!) The making out was very chaste, because there was no place to sit down that wasn't policed. You couldn't go to your tent, or you'd get busted. It was cold at night. You had to hide in the woods, and there was only so much you could do standing against a tree. People had a lot of hickeys, because the neck was the only body part exposed. That was my experience, anyway. If other people were more resourceful, I didn't hear about it.

On Friday evenings, you put on your least-filthy garments (complicated by the fact that they were supposed to be white, to greet the Sabbath) and waited outside your tent for Norman, the camp director, to come around with his retinue and wish everyone "Shabbat Shalom." Then he kissed us, one by one. Then we all kissed each other. What can I tell you? It wasn't the '70s, but the camp was founded during the era of free love. Everybody was kissing everybody all the time. In fact, the best way to get with someone you'd had your eye on was to wish them a Shabbat Shalom on Friday. Then they had to kiss you, or let you kiss them. Which was an effective way to break the ice, as you might imagine.

Now that we've entered the Age of Facebook (how many more minutes will it endure, I wonder?) it has suddenly become possible to reunite former Komaroffites in one, handy on-line locale. Someone (I think I made out with him, actually) had the idea to create a Camp Komaroff group--this was last summer--and it grew like the dogwoods of which we sang. I think there must be 500 people in this group. Most of them are unfamiliar to me, but some of the names make me smile. Before too long, some of the group's founders had another idea: throw a reunion! And so they did. They've been advertising it for nearly a year now, and this Friday? The time is nigh.

As the sun sets on a beautiful Southern California Shabbat evening, close to a hundred former campers will gather in Long Beach for dinner, singing and dancing. And who knows what else? Probably not making out, since most people will be with partners. There's even a family BBQ scheduled for Saturday, to keep the reunion going for a whole weekend.

I am mighty curious about how this will play out, and a little nervous, too. What if no one talks to me? I had that same worry each summer when my parents dropped me off at the bus that took us up the mountain: what if no talks to me? I will die of loneliness. This time, it's only one night, and we aren't teenagers anymore. This last part is clearly on more minds than just mine, as our last reunion bulletin said:

Let's remember we are all at least 25 years older than the last time we saw each other, so prepare yourself to see fat, bald, gray and old folks. But, our spirits are the same and we can look inside each others' eyes and see the teens and young adults we once were.

Is it just me, or is this incredibly depressing? I think maybe it's Jewish humor (self-deprecation, exaggeration, putting the dagger in the hand of the enemy, yada yada yada) to some extent, but there's a glimmer of sobering truth there.

As for me, I plan to be anything but bald. If all goes well, I'll be rooming with my old pal April, who is just about the chicest person I've ever met, so maybe some of that will rub off on me. She was the girl who brought a 7-product regimen of Erno Lazslo facial products to our sleepovers, and showed us how to scrub our faces with inky black mud soap, and massage various lotions into our pores to insure dewy complexions.

Of course, in those days, we really had no idea what all those products were for, and what exactly our faces needed with them. Now we do. And there's still the damaged little girl inside of me who was crushed to the soul when two nasty camp boys posted their weekly ranking of the "10 Hottest Komaroff Girls" and I was never on it. When I look back at camp photos now, I think what the hell? I was all kinds of hot.

And Friday night? I'm gonna dance, sing, schmooze, and behave like nothing's changed.

But no making out.


Prosy said...

I went to summer camp once and it was a nightmare. But church camp was where it was at, we were all getting some action. I wonder what it is about religion that gets the teens all fired up?

Robyn said...

Take my card with you. And drop it off with my new husband. :)


P.S. I have similar camp memories and I am envious that you get to go relive them soon. Have a blast!

Myrnie said...

Have fun at camp!

erin said...

That is soooo exciting!

My summer camp experiences were not so grand. They usually ended up with me sneaking up the road to a convenience store pay phone (back when a phone call was a quarter) and calling my best friend. Once I almost convinced her to steal her grandma's car to come and get me (we were 15). I hung up the phone and felt so guilty I called her right back and told her to forget it. She said, " didn't really expect me to do that did you?"

I hope you have loads of fun. And are you taking your husband? You can make out with him. I allow.

Aunt LoLo said...

Heh. Yeah, hubs might not appreciate the communal "making out" aspect of the reunion.

All the rest of it sounds like a blast, though! Hope you have fun. :-)

Sam said...

@Prosy: Good question! When I used to tell camp stories in college, my friends would say "Damn! Why wasn't I Jewish?" :)

@Robyn: I'm on it. I'll be scoping him out. ;)

@Erin: Sounds like you needed to make out more. ;) And yes, my husband will keep me in line. ;)

@Max: You make it sound like an orgy! :) Not quite. ;)

Anonymous said...

Loved this post. It reminded me of my days in camp, but then also of my days as a camp counselor -- and then you get a totally different perspective.

As a counselor, I had a whole cabin of 6, 7, and 8 year olds and I had to beg them to eat at meal times... or make them PB&J every meal! I just imagined their parents driving up from Manhattan (this was some fancy pants camp in Maine and the parents had apartments looking over Central Park with all kinds of doormen and nannies and tiny dogs and so forth) and saying to me "Did you STARVE my little darling all month?"

I also had to chase around my CIT (counselor in training, also known as a 16 year old who's too old for camp but still wants to come) who kept sneaking off to make out with the music counselor, this totally shady guy from Scotland who rumor had it was actually 28, not the 21 he was trying to pass off as, and had a Scottish wife and kid back home. I totally feared the moment when my little CIT would confess to me she was pregnant. Luckily, it didn't happen.

Ah, camp! :) Lix

The Wades said...

So very fascinating. I was a deprived child. I never got to go to camp, Disneyland,etc. I should write a book!

I think I must be part Jewish-"Is it just me, or is this incredibly depressing? I think maybe it's Jewish humor (self-deprecation, exaggeration, putting the dagger in the hand of the enemy, yada yada yada) to some extent, but there's a glimmer of sobering truth there."LOVE that!

Lion's Cub said...

okay, let me tell you that I've been working on two blogs related to CK. One started with the camp song and one started with two promises my husband and I made to each other before the boys were born. Couldn't decide which approach to take. And now I do... :)