LUCINDA, JACK-O, CONRAD AND MICK
The Poison Oak and Swimmer’s Ear Camp for Wayward and Delinquent Youths is located in the Middle of Nowhere. I mean, absolutely nowhere. They didn’t have to blind fold us to get us there, we never would have found our way out of that woody prison setting.
Marion and Arnold had driven me to a parking lot of an A&W Root Beer stand in Stevens Point where we were to be met by a bus containing a few other apparently rabid children, just waiting to be healed by the magical powers of fresh air and fun activities. We were sentenced to be there a full week.
Even I knew that was nowhere near long enough.
While we were waiting, another car pulled up and a woman got out with a girl about my age, twelve. It was summer between sixth and seventh grade. Apparently a few people(adults)thought I needed a little more structure in my life.
Me: “They can’t be waiting for the same bus can they? That girl doesn’t look like she’s a problem.”
The girl was frail-looking and she had her fiery red hair in pig-tails. She had big, round, black glasses stuck to her face.
Marion: “That’s Lucinda……..oh, I can’t think of her last name.”
Me: “You know her?”
Marion: “Well, I recognize her mother and I’ve heard a few things about Lucinda.”
Me: “Like what?”
Marion: “This spring she burned down their shed.”
Me: “So she actually started a fire on purpose? Jesus, at least mine was accidental.”
Marion: “About two weeks ago her parents woke up in the middle of the night and Lucinda was outside pouring gasoline around their house. They stopped her before she could light the fire to the house. It was nothing.”
Me: “NOTHING!? You’re sending me away to camp with an arsonist?”
Just then the bus arrived and Arnold and Marion pulled me out of the car and shoved me towards the bus. Lucinda was getting on the bus in front of me and I sniffed her back to see if I could smell any odors of an incendiary nature. Just before I got to the top step I looked back and all I saw was black rubber and dark smoke coming from the pavement where Arnold and Lucinda’s mother sped off.
I swear the bus driver drove around in circles to try to confuse us. When we finally arrived and exited the bus we were met by a stiff wind and pouring rain. It was cold as Hell. I guess Hell isn’t cold. Anyway, something smelled like a nearby sewer had backed up.
They separated us into boys/girls. The boys went into one old rickety building and the girls strolled into another. I noticed there seemed to be a lot more wayward, needy boys than girls since we outnumbered them 23 to 4.
Our building consisted of a large room with twenty bunk beds and a bathroom with showers and crappers. As soon as we walked in one kid, Mick said, “It smells like shit in here!” It actually kind of did.
Suddenly–appearing seemingly out of nowhere–our Camp Counselor was there. He bobbed up and down on his toes as he talked and said, “Welcome to Camp! I’m Jack-O!” He opened up his arms like he wanted a huge Group Hug. We just stared at him. We were Malcontents, after all. Any sign of affection, especially coming from a creepy guy who I’m guessing was a Mickey Mouse Club reject, was met with horror. He was wearing a pure white t-shirt that had the word CAMP in red letters with a Smiley Face above it. Because, after all, camp is a Happy Place.
We ignored him and quickly ran to pick out our beds. The largest kid there(he was huge)shoved a little guy out of the way and said, “This is my bed, creep.” We found out later he called himself Mac, as in Mac Truck.
Jack-O was barely twenty years old and had a haircut that looked like his mother put a strainer on his head and clipped everything that was sticking out. He was very giggly and too excited to be in our building and I thought maybe he would have been more comfortable in the girls’ dormitory. I know I would have been happier there.
Jack-O started bouncing and clapping his hands. “All right boys! Get your things put away quickly! Dinner is being served soon!”
We just tossed our things on our beds and went to the door until Jack-O informed us that we had to line up and walk out single file to the “Dining Hall.”
We did as commanded, with Mick making wise cracks about Jack-O the whole way in the cold rain. Once in the comfort and luxury of the Dining Hall we discovered what the obnoxious smell had been–dinner.
Two portly women who looked as if they were forced to be there as well were plopping stuff onto our plates as each of us walked by. They were wearing hair nets, even though one of them didn’t really need one. Well, maybe for her arms. Something they called Vegetable Soup had been deposited into bowls. After placing my bowl on my tray I noticed that I could see right down to the bottom of the bowl, if I looked past the little slice of carrot bobbing up and down, trying to flee. The Entrée was a piece of succulent chicken, glazed in a Black Lard Sauce, served with a side of Rocky Mountain Mashed Potatoes and a generous slice of crumbly bread.
I sat next to Mick. I had a feeling he and I were going to get along. We watched and laughed as two girls and three boys had to run out of the Dining Hall to be sick.
Me: “Really.” Then I took a large bite and happily crunched away on my potatoes. Mick and I both knew they weren’t going to break us with these tactics. If they thought we were going to crack this early, they had a fight on their hands.
I happened to look over at the table next to us and saw Mac dump s glob of potatoes onto the same little guy’s lap.
After dinner, some old guy with a little hair on the sides of his head stood up. He was wearing a CAMP t-shirt, too, but his seemed to be a lot smaller than Jack-O’s.
Old Bald Guy: “Hello boys and girls. Welcome to a fun week of Summer Camp!”
I get uncomfortable when they try to force you to have fun. I noticed a few other people donned in CAMP t-shirts, especially the hot babe who was sitting at the table with the girls. She was about Jack-O’s age and she looked like she stepped out of the pages of a Playboy magazine; except she was wearing clothes, unfortunately. I found out later her name was Ursula.
She had her light brown hair pulled back and she filled out her t-shirt very nicely. I think her Smiley Face was grinning more than the others. Mick and I had been drooling into our soup bowls.
Old Bald Guy Again: “And later tonight we’re going to have a campfire and sing-along!”
I looked over at Little Lucinda and she had a crazy look in her eyes. It creeped me out. I had told Mick about her and he said, “Wow, a crazy chick. Keep her away from me.” In the seven days I spent with Mick, not once was I ever jeaous of his extensive vocabulary.
After the dining experience we went back to the cell block to unpack. Jack-O had entered and read with way too much glee the week’s activities. We were to be subjected to swimming, fishing, campfire sing-alongs, and survival techniques. All of which I could have done had I remained home since we live a half mile away from Moon Lake. Jack-O also had to tell us that his name is a combination of his first name, Jack, and his last name, O’Malley. We didn’t really care.
Campfire Fun Time arrived and Mick and I were in a hurry to see Ursula. She looked radiant against the fire, seductively twirling her marshmallow covered stick over the flames. Little Lucinda kept burning her marshmallow and holding it up in the air, grinning.
We had to take turns and tell everyone our names and where we were from. I said my name was Bobby Darrin and I was from Madison and I was there because I stole a car and drove it to California and met Cary Grant.
Ursula: “Wow! He used to be president!”
Okay, so Ursula was not the brightest ember in the fire. She still had a smokin’ hot body.
Later that night I had to get up to pee and I looked out the window and saw Little Lucinda sitting by the still smoldering fire, a look of ecstasy smeared all over her face. I figured I’d better make efforts to befriend her or else I might end up a Crispy Critter. So I went out and had a very informative conversation with the petite Firebug.
Every day was the same. We started with a cold breakfast followed by jumping into old wooden boats and trying to fish. Nothing was caught since all of the fish had died and were floating along the beach. After a cheese sandwich lunch we went swimming in the green, algae-infested lake. Everybody came out of the lake covered in slime and smelling like rotten cabbage.
In the afternoons we had to sit in on lectures by Old Bald Guy about how to be better citizens and more productive individuals. Why they thought we would start becoming more productive individuals at that time was a mystery to me.
Every night Mick confided in me his plans for getting together with Ursula. I never told him, but his schemes were rather dim-witted. He fell out of a boat one time, hoping Usula would dive in after him. She just looked disgusted and avoided him since he looked and smelled like one of the dead fish. Then he pretended to twist his ankle while hiking and Jack-O quickly ran over and put his arms around Mick and escorted him back to our dorm; Mick screaming the entire way.
The only extraordinary event took place at the campfire two nights before our parole. Big Mac had continued to pick on the same little kid, Conrad. Apparently Conrad was at camp because he actually stole a car. Mac had Conrad in a headlock and was rubbing his knuckles on his head, giving him a Noogie. Jack-O jumped up, ran over to Mac, grabbed him by one arm and flung him over his hip onto the ground. Then Jack-O twisted Mac’s arm behind him and had him in an arm lock. He stood him up and marched him to our dormitory, yelling, “We can call the police, Mac! Start behaving! You get inside and stay there!” He shoved Mac, who was now crying, into the dorm and slammed the door.
Mick and I just stared at each other with our mouths open. “Holy Crap,” said the Ace Verbalist Mick.
When our bus arrived back at the A&W Root beer stand, Arnold and Marion were waiting. I can’t say they appeared anxious to see me.
On the way home, Arnold asked, “Did you learn anything?”
I thought. I actually did. From Mick I learned how to pick a lock using a couple of hair pins. From Lucinda I learned how to start a fire with two sticks. From Conrad I learned how to hotwire a car. And from Jack-O I learned that it doesn’t matter what your name is or how goofy your hair looks, if you stick up for little guys like Conrad you can earn a lot of respect. I know Jack-O earned my respect.
But in response to Arnold’s question I said, “No, not much. What’s for dinner?”