I have now been in the States for over a month. That’s one month since I left my little English bubble and jetted off across the Atlantic for my summer-long adventure working on a camp in New York.
By the way, the only way anyone out here actually manages to work out what day it is is by working back from landmarks – what date they arrived, how many days since Shabbat, how long it’s been since . . . you know. Or, you just look at your phone.
Picture the scene; light rain – the aftermath of relentless rain storms – unmercifully drizzles down my face, nestling in the pool of water now firmly established in my lap (rain! Not *that*!) I sit on the flimsiest, most uncomfortable fold-away camping chair known to man, with god-only-knows what kind of obscure species of snake/spider/frog a matter of inches from my feet. Oh, and it’s pitch black. The only thing preventing me from whipping out my torch (or flashlight, as I’m constantly corrected to out here) and discovering precisely what type of mini-demon is camped next to my foot is that I have – somewhat irrationally – been circumstantially forced to become a firm believer in the premise that if you can’t see it, we’re best assuming it doesn’t exist. I mean, obviously it does actually exist, but my now warped sense of realism has somewhat adjusted my levels of sanity; this owes largely to the excessive amounts of candy I have been consuming, coupled with an alarming lack of sleep. Camp, eh!
You may ask how/why I have found myself in this predicament. The answer is simple: teenagers just cannot be trusted to behave once nightfall comes. Their insatiable, irrepressible desire to rebel goes into overdrive once the lights go out – they must challenge authority in any way possible. This inevitably leads to truly bizarre and ridiculous situations unfolding. Picture countless teenage boys running wild in neon tutus, raving to imaginary music . . you get the idea. “RAVE RAVE RAVE” they chant in unison, like some sort of drug-induced bunch of maniacs – “Guys, you have a bed-time of 10pm, play poker with Smarties, and trade Pop Tarts for Pretzels. Go to bed.” ……. Silence.
Sitting “on duty” while the campers go to sleep is just one of the thankless tasks I – general counsellor – undertake daily. We are effectively glorified babysitters, ensuring the rowdy teenagers don’t cause some sort of civil war over a stolen Gatorade, or fight each other to the death for the last Twizzler. Despite our required 24-hour surveillance of the campers, it is a fantastic job, don’t get me wrong. The sense of reward I got after teaching the some of the guys how to play socc.. I just can’t (!) – FOOTBALL – was unparalleled. I felt like a proud father gifting them a life skill, while simultaneously purifying their toxicated minds.
We are only halfway through the summer, but have nonetheless crammed countless activities and adventures into our time so far. This has included hikes – day-long treks to the highest echelons of Cold Spring’s outback; the more ground we cover, the sweatier we get; the more we drink, the more greenery receives an unexpected ‘watering’; the more we hike, the more ludicrous the conversation gets. Think 50-plus dehydrated, exhausted teenagers forced to converse for seven hours – there’s only so many sports to talk about before the conversation begins to derail on to more liberal topics.
Some of the things they say; some of the things they do – only kids their age (14, 15) would even think of these things. Their naivety is somewhat refreshing – they’re free, without a care in the world. Their actions come before reasoned thought, meaning everything is spontaneous and real. No subtle, loaded comments. No mind-games. No bullshit.
Of course, this uncensored freedom of speech doesn’t come without its problems. One joke too many, one innocent dig too far may just overstep the line between banter and bullying. As counsellors, we are constantly required to have our eyes peeled and ears primed so as to pounce as soon as we witness a camper overstepping the mark. This then opens up a world of possibilities – how to (appropriately – for any key staff reading!) punish the culprit? For someone who has never really held a position enabling penalties for misbehaviour, this is all a bit overwhelming. The sensational variety of options available is thrilling. The more unexpectedly creative, the better. Being that we are dealing with 15 year old rebels, their threshold is somewhat higher than their infant counterparts. Ergo, humiliation and embarrassment is the name of the game. Basically, the more red their face gets, the more effective the punishment has been. (All with key staff in mind, though. Obviously.)
Anyway, we’re off to Washington DC in the morning. Here’s to six hours on a coach with 50 overexcited campers. Great.