A bit obvious I suppose.
But I guess when you’re not actually doing anything, as June comes to an end, you realize that your bound not to be doing even more as the “summer jobs” fill up and friends jet-set or couch-sur or road-trip or so on.
In a way it’s comforting: New York City is a big place and it’s nice for a summer to get to sit back and explore it, leisurely at one’s own time.
Still I think back to previous summers and what I’d usually be doing.
Camps. I’ve been to so many of them I feel like making a Holocaust joke (my right, like eating matzoh, as a Jew). Speaking of which, my camps always were full of jewish kids, which i’m sure could be some sort of interesting study, how the grandparents got out of camps, moved to America, had kids who put their kids right back in them.
Ich, off color, I know.
Still, I remember my various camps.
School camp at Poly Prep as a middle-schooler, sitting around waiting for someone to do some sort of theater game with me, or let me swim in the pool, or play soccer poorly.
Arts/Sports Camp, OMNI Camp it was called. I remember going there because my parents though Interlocken was too expensive. It was the sort of place that had everything, from Archery to Musicals. I remember sleeping in those log-cabin stink-house bunk-beds with kids who mostly made fun of me, for what I can’t even remember now. I remember a Guinean kid named Peter though, my primary tormentor, who was older (13) and respected by my the bunkheads around him. He was a bad kid, sneaking out and playing jokes. I think we looked up to him because he had a manhood-measuring British magazine insert, something called “Measure Your Wallace” which he spoke about admiringly while I tried to listen to audiobooks in horror trying to figure out what this conversation was about and if my testicles had in fact descended, as they were discussing.
I also had my first kiss that summer, my first real one anyway, which I feel like I’ve discussed here, with a girl with pretty long black hair and braces which I thought were cute. Her name was Leah and I thought she was the moon-and-the-stars when she played Fagin, “the miserly old Jew” in the camp production of “Oliver!”. I helped her cheat on her boyfriend and kissed her with tongue, a transgression I was simultaneously ashamed of (she’d asked me not to) and proud of, heart beat-beat-beating as I went back to bed that night, one of my sole sneak-outs of camp-time.
Of course I remember my time at Putney, the camp I’d later go on to teach at. The horror of friendlessness, juxtaposed with a confidence built on anger and social incompetence. The poetry I wrote to a girl who I’m still, sadly, friends with on Facebook and how she rejected me nominally for Emile Hirsch, though I found out later it was for one of those tall, skinny Jews who I’d later come to admire for their coolness, since I was getting rooted to the world of mid-build stocky ones. I never did kiss a girl at Putney, those camp days, but I did sit on a lawn while people played a guitar, on those legendarily green Vermont hills, staring out at the starlight.
Fast-forward to 20 years old and I was back there, an assistant teacher, but I’ll admit I never felt that way, like a teacher; I always felt like a camper again. As a result, I was enthusiastic, exuberant. I was focused on befriending the students, helping them, but most of all being myself and making up for lost time, being young in the way that I couldn’t be young in high school. I emulated the mannerisms of a camper, for good or ill, skipping around the greensward of the campus, trying to hit on my fellow counselors, when time allowed. The last part didn’t end up working out too well, precisely because of my mindset: my fellow counselors were either serious-minded teacher-types who wanted to go into the world of academia or hippy-New-Englanders, who seemed want to reenact the bacchanal scene of Wet Hot American Summer on a daily basis. I was explicitly not in the joke, performing my job as if it was Commedia Dell’Arte and I was Arlequino, always playing tricks and fooling even myself.
In the end, you realize both that “you can’t go home” and that Bon Jovi’s a piece-of-shit musician. While I think I did manage to make an impression on some of the students I worked with, I realized that as you get older, you’ll never be one-of-them again, a fact which in the moment seems sad, but which I was familiar with as I’d often been an outsider to my age-group.
A friend asked me if I was going back there this summer and I vacillated for a while. I waited to here whether the head teacher I’d worked with, John, was going back. In his own way, unknowingly, John had perpetuated my fantasy of reliving my camp life, since he had mentored me and taught me too and he was yet another role model for me to look up to in my life; a film nerd who had settled to a life of making art in polyglot form, teaching and living with a cute, artistic girlfriend. Like other idols of mine, he seemed to have it all. When I didn’t hear back from him as to whether he was going back this summer, I let the opportunity pass me by, which I kick myself for on ocassion, but also upon thinking of a return, reel with the thought: “What the fuck are you thinking?”
Instead, I find myself back in New York, busy, unexpectedly, seeing films at film festivals, trying to improve my Karaoke skills and going out to Brookyln-roofs and Chinatown and downscale Manhattan bars looking for a beer under 7 dollars.
When I was at my friend Frank’s house, his mother, who I always liked, a highly-overqualified neurotic-Jewish public-school teacher, made a passing comment to the lot of us who were about to head out for the evening.
“I remember after my undergraduate.” She said. “That was the hardest part. Because you’ve spent so many years with institutions and returns and friends and you realize that there’s no one to go back to. You go back to graduate school, but there’s really no going back. It’s always different and it’s never going to be that way again.”
“Well,” I said, considering. “Currently my plan is denial. That’s working out pretty well for me.”
And I laughed as I left the house in a crowd, down the same steps I’d walked on for going on 11 years.