You’re Ted Robertson

Every morning we start camp in a wooden amphitheater that overlooks what used to be the Canoe Pond; since the canoes were moved to the lake this year, it’s just the Stagnant Pond. Hopefully one day it will find its purpose.

All the campers sit on rising rows of pine bleachers while the announcements are read. Morning Show characters come and go with special news about their camp area. Today: Hot-shot basketball tournament at 3:30. EDGE Power Walk at 4 at the store. Drink more water.

This is my second year as the character Edge Robinson, a European basketball player with mysterious origins and hobbies and a catchphrase – “For three!” – like a basketball analyst. He runs the EDGE program, which is designed to encourage kids to be active – twenty minute swim, twenty minute run, twenty minute salsa dancing. My partner this year is Vlaad, a male Russian cheerleader in charge of tournaments.

Edge’s costume isn’t much of a disguise. It’s nothing more than Clark Kent glasses. The campers see straight through it on the second day. “I know who you are,” they’ll shout from the blob stand. “YOU’RE EDGE ROBINSON!”

No, my name is Cass. Edge is my cousin. He’s nocturnal, that’s why you never see him around.

Last year the tournament character was played by my friend Ricky, a big brown Cherokee from Gore, Oklahoma. Chief Run Amok. He spoke a deep staccato English and had a great straight face. I break character a lot. Usually, on the last day of camp, we would change costumes so that he was Edge and I was Chief. Then we’d get on stage together and I’d rip off his glasses as he ripped off my headdress.

“Ricky,” I’d shout. “You were Edge this whole time!” The counselors would moan, “I should’ve seen this coming,” while kids got aggitated, violent even, trying to point out that I was really Edge and the other one was Chief. We just ignored them.

The very last morning show of the last session of the summer, Ricky came down as Chef Roast a Duck, with a chef’s mushroom hat instead of a headdress and an apron instead of a loin cloth. He put on an Italian accent and handed tournament trophies out of a mixing bowl, grasping them with salad tongs.

I walked in as Ted Robertson, primetime news anchor and the person Camp War Eagle came to first for the truth. In my blazer and glasses, I’m not sure if anyone knew what I was doing, but I managed to make myself laugh, which is a skill I’ll need when they put me in isolation.

I was reminded of this last week when a little blonde girl from one of the youngest cabins ran up to me and said, “YOU.” What, I asked. “You’re Ted Robertson!”


Camp Scenarios

We’ve just finished orientation at Camp War Eagle, where I’ve spent my last four summers. I’ve made the transition from listening to the rules to explaining the rules and finally to inventing new rules like “You must walk like a crab as you pass through the pool showers.” It’s true what they say – three times is a charm, but five times is a charm that backfires, like a love potion that kills. What keeps it fresh is scenarios.

As a counselor I always envied Top Staff (what I am now – a counselor to counselors) as they ran through the ropes course and did illegal flips off the trapeze in an effort to test the newly minted lifeguards and ropes personnel. As the new kids spend precious seconds rubbing their temples, trying to remember which one was the square knot, the Top Staff wearing the personality of a nine-year-old is usually out of the metal gate and hooked into an electric wire that runs the street lamps around camp. Everyone laughs as they listen to the college graduates and authority figures shout “I AM NOT COMING DOWN” like one of the bad kids from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Top Staff is mostly composed of old counselors and familiar faces, but each year there’s usually a new person. This year we asked her to climb the power pole (a thirty foot tall telephone pole that kids climb with handholds and jump off, reaching for a trapeze swing before they slowly float to the ground on a belayed rope) and pee herself. She drank four liters of water before reaching the top and waiting for thirty minutes with no urges. After coming down she went to the bathroom nine times in the next two hours.

However, the next day she hydrated over a few hours then, wrapped around the pole like a barnacle with arms, she peed enough that we had to bleach the pole, all the equipment, and the surrounding mulch. I’ve never seen a camper do this, and I’m not sure how it tested the novice counselor holding her rope, but everyone clapped afterwards.

Sometimes we as Top Staff sit around and brainstorm different ways to get stuck, trapped, or frozen on the high elements of the ropes course, which is about forty yards long through a series of tall trees. But I’ve never gotten to participate. I have to watch from far away and listen to my radio as I watch lifeguards lifeguard. I run camp’s waterfront.

There’s only one scenario at the waterfront, and it’s done every year. Noetzel, a jolly guy with a big nose and huge, thick glasses, lets go of the trapeze and pencils into the dark pond-water. He then swims underneath the nearest water trampoline as the lifeguard on duty begins to hyperventilate. Where is he, they frantically begin to shout. I used to make them stop everything in the waterfront until Noetzel was found, as if they were backboarding a spinal injury and small waves from across the pond would ruin everything. This year I just gave them hints like, if you were underwater, where would you hide.

We diversified a little this year. We found someone who could hold on to the trapeze until it settled to hanging still (you’re not allowed to hold on, because you run into the trapeze stand on your way back). Top Staff climbed lifeguard stands and jumped off before the new lifeguards new what had happened. Noeztel refused to get off the Blob when we closed the waterfront. The lifeguard in charge of that station had to stay forty-five minutes after everyone left because Noeztel was laying on the red/blue/yellow striped airbag, singing James Taylor songs to himself.

Scenarios are the only time Top Staff, held as examples and authority figures, get to act as. We put on masks of eight-year-olds and break the rules we ourselves set. But the one time I got my chance – the first time, this last Wednesday – I climbed onto the ropes course, running freely and breaking rules willy nilly until I fell and actually tangled myself in a series of rope swings. The new ropes guy on duty asked me to climb out. “I’m stuck!” I yelled. He asked again, and because we’re supposed to cooperate if the newbies respond well, I tried to climb out.

I couldn’t. “I’m actually stuck! This is twenty-three-year-old Cass now, and I really need help.”