Robert (gurdonark) wrote,

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Camp love

It must be late Friday, as I can't believe I'm lost in memories and posting a 3rd LJ today. I hope my friends will forgive me.

I like the Kinks' song "Waterloo Sunset", because the narrator in the song describes how he doesn't "need a friend", because "as long as I gaze on/Waterloo Sunset/I am in paradise". The narrator's view--that observation of real life from his flat window equates to really living--captures a profound sadness I think many of us recognize. Although most of us do not live in that sadness consistently, we all know its address.

I frequently find that we who utilize on-line communications often feel we are shy or somewhat ungainly (or both) in real life. We (or at least "I") sometimes enjoy the comfort of being somewhat "at remove" from what is all around us. We imagine that our own lives are somehow less accomplished or interesting than those folks around us. Our own memories are not the stuff of films, or the product suggested by scripture, or even a darn good read. We instead feel we work best in the world of words, ideas and simple good humour. We're not quite the people "too gentle to live among wolves" of the somewhat poppy poem some years ago, but we've felt a little sheepish sometimes, which almost counts.

I think we're fed images of a world that is far more socially functional than the real world most of us experience. We develop various romantic and social ideals which do not match what really happens. Last night in the bookstore, I noticed not one but three new novels by twentysomething writers about "bold new women making their way in Los Angeles". While I don't doubt that all sorts of new men and women are making all sorts of ways in all sorts of places, I'd like to celebrate the fact that most of us make our way in baby steps, and savor each little groove we paddle through.

One of the principal places in which I think reality differs from the popular conception is the area of teen dating. The reality is that most of us have experiences which do not bear much relationship to the romantic models either popular culture or outre culture provides us. I know that my own social life in high school was nothing like the movies.

I always joke that my first date was at age four, when it is true that I escorted a toddler who was competing in the "Little Miss Sunbeam" contest. These childrens' contests predated the later "child beauty pageant" era. Instead, they were built on a rather more appalling concept. They were almost always charity events based on crowning a "queen", whose championship was almost always determined by the dollar amount of donations placed into a jar with her picture on it . Yes, folks, that's bidding for toddlers! . But let's skate over this part.

My first time to ask a girl out for a date was in 7th or 9th grade. She was one of the junior high cheerleaders. I overcame my nervousness and asked her to the "St. Patrick's Day" banquet, our small town's social calendar. She initially said yes. Over time, though, I think she realized that I was one of the "brainy eccentrics" and not one of the "men one dates", and she canceled at the last moment. I was sad, but how sad can one really be a those ages? Later that same year or so, I went with a friend on a hayride, but she was really only a friend. My classmates routinely teased me about that particular date, because the woman in question, though quite nice, was a bit overweight, and that was considered a negative on the playground. For my third date, the next year's St. Patrick's Day banquet, I actually got the nerve up to call a woman in my class upon whom I had had a crush for years. My mother knew who her "people" were, so that I could ask her out. My mother gave me the name of the family of a different girl with the exact same mean feat in our town. Though she didn't know me, she nonetheless agreed to go to the banquet. She was an attractive, shy girl, and we had a nice time. Her strong religious convictions kept her from being able to dance at the after-banquet party at one of the kid's houses, though. I have seen the "right" girl a time or two since. I do not know if she realizes that's whom I meant to take to that banquet.

All this detail is set forth merely to lead us up to the summer after 10th grade. I wish I could say that I can report a summer of wild romance or unfettered abandon, just like in the movies. What I can report instead is one of those little passages that mean nothing, but are never forgotten.

Our state had a Methodist church camp which held week-long summer camp sessions. Camp Tanako was near the resort town of Hot Springs, on polluted but popular Lake Hamilton. One of the sessions was called MAD camp, for Music*Arts*Drama. Each year, MAD Camp put together a musical in a one week span, which was then performed in Little Rock to hundreds of youth conference attendees.

During this particular year, MAD Camp was staging that
well-known conversion tool, the play "Jesus Christ Superstar".
Never mind that it parodied a number of values of the church in question; graft on a resurrection scene, and it's filled with grace. I don't know why I wanted to attend this one, as my drama experience was limited to being one of mobs of children in the "King and I" in 3rd grade, and my musical experience was largely comprised of being off-key in church choir and doing songs during our town's "Junior Follies" shows.

I auditioned for a part, and "won" one of the minor "rat-voiced" priest roles. The second evening, the camp sponsored a big dance. In the course of this evening, I found myself dancing with an energetic woman named "Cynda" who must have been a year or two younger than my 15. We soon stepped out for some fresh air, where we engaged in animated discussion, as I recall, about insects. Soon we found ourselves behaving like a sort of couple--on a full 45 minutes' acquaintance--and walking, arm around arm, to the little open air chapel/auditorium overlooking the lake. This was, of course, the hands-down winner for "romantic escape", and the little open-air whatever already had a few couples sitting inside, enjoying moonlight and good company.

Suddenly, sitting in that chapel, with a cute girl resting her head on my shoulder, I was moved to great words. I quietly whispered to her things whose substance I no longer recall, other than that I was very romantic. The spell was broken somewhat, though, when Cynda began to snore. It transpired that she had been asleep during the entire chapel romantic interlude. We each made our way back to our individual cabins.

Still, we were somehow a "camp couple". We went everywhere together, we talked about everything, and I felt an infatuation which still feels ever so slightly painful even today. Our relationship weathered the odd third day of camp, when the "camp bully", who had taken a dislike to me because I had commented adversely on his fondness for mixing black-eyed peas and catsup, held a pocket knife under my throat to see if my professed pacifism was real. It was real enough, and I was certain enough of his not being serious, that the experience was more unpleasant than really frightening.

The crisis came, though, on the fourth day of camp. We were standing outdoors in the cafeteria line. I sing a lot in life, and sang even more then. I began to sing David Bowie's "Young Americans". Cynda cautioned me--this was not music she considered appropriately moral. I have to admit that my amusement got the better of me. I said "what, you mean songs like" and then began a rendition of another Bowie song (perhaps "Golden Years", though I do not know if it had been released then). It was thoughtless of me, and I learned something about life when she ran from the dinner line, disgusted.

The next day, she told me that God had given her an "early warning system", which let her know when she should break up with a boy. God had spoken. I was history.

My first "real relationship" was over in a matter of three days. We hadn't even kissed. I was depressed the entire rest of camp (i.e., all three days left). I did not get along well with the boys who shared my scene on the stage. The camp bully remained a bit pernicious in his disapproval of my personal life doctrine. It was like the end of love, at least until the end of camp.

Stories don't end with romance or its cessation. I met Cynda again years later, in college. She barely remembered me when I spoke to her. But I'd been listening to her for a year.

You see, Cynda became the host of the campus radio "Punk Rock Show". I wonder what God tells her now.

But you know, I still remember that odd little interlude in passages that seem as real as yesterday. The "problem", if you will, in the way we view ourselves offline is not with "we ourselves". The problem is with the images we try to match. If real life is more about losing girls for singing irreligious songs than about passion on the beach, then that's okay. On-line or off, we live in a world of ideas--it's just a matter of whose ideas, and love.
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