I loved summer camp. Really. While in Durham I was one of, say, 100 boys within a two-year cohort, at Camp Mi-Te-Na I was one of 50 boys in my “village.” For gifted athletes, these odds wouldn’t change their lives much. After all, the cream always rises to the top. For me, barely whole milk and more often 2%, being at camp meant I was considered a catch for any sport—after all, at least some of those 50 other athletes were anti-athletic, injured or simply incapable of hand-eye coordination. In baseball, for instance, the sport I loved most and was best at, I was a catcher. In Durham, just in my grade I was the second-best at this position—and no matter how hard I tried I was never going to be better than Gordon Beatty. At Mi-Te-Na I was able every year, from age 10 to 14, to walk onto the ball field, declare myself the catcher and be seen as good. It was an amazing feeling, not having to prove myself with every inning, and each year I’d return from camp encouraging my parents to move to a town half Durham’s size, so I could be THE catcher, instead of a catcher.
Even in basketball, a game I never understood although I was good at running up and down the court and raising my hands scarily when on defense, at Mi-Te-Na I was good enough to play, simply by being willing to be on the team. Granted, we only played one basketball and one baseball game during each two-week session, typically against our rival, Camp Fatima, a Catholic camp. Still, I was one of the guys playing basketball, a first for me.
Mi-Te-Na also introduced me to sailing and canoeing, archery and riflery, and the pleasures of gathering around a campfire to hear ghost stories and sing the camp song, with its oath to be true to the camp even after death, a ghoulish proposition given the terrifying tales we’d just heard.
Much as I loved being seen as a for-real hotshot athlete, it was the camp dances with our sister camp, Camp Foss, that most transformed my image of myself. Girls in my upper elementary and junior high school knew me for what I was—a pompous clown who disrupted class and talked weird. I think it’s fair to say no girl in Durham, NH, from 1969-1973, looked at me as a potential boyfriend, and I don’t blame them.
At camp, though, things were different. With so few athletes, I was an athlete. With so few suave guys, I was a suave guy. With so little competition, I was a competitor. Walking onto the dance floor—the dining hall with a portable stereo set up in the corner—I wasn’t a geeky freak with a penchant for disruption, I was one of the guys. Given that the girls from Camp Foss were bused in, given Cheetos and Bug Juice, and expected to mingle and dance, their expectations must have been fairly low. Bored, lonely girls with low expectations were my target demographic, and that boredom led to a “what the hell” attitude about intimacy that Durham never provided. My first kiss, etc., came at those dances, and I don’t know that I’ll ever feel as justifiably attractive again. Even when I’m Mi-Te-Na dead.