A Moral Victory and An Actual Loss

Though I did not get a Spring Break, most everyone else did, including the Ozone program that Holly and I volunteer with. Ozone is the year-round ministry of Camp War Eagle – summer campers can come to a once-a-week club with all of the zany games and safety infractions they love. As it happens, our Ozone club loves me so much that they used their spring break to visit me at work.

Though there were a hundred and fifty high schoolers fist pumping the heart of camp back to life, I had to spend the sunlight hours cleaning bugs out of florescent lights and organizing limited inside jobs for service-hour hungry students. However, at night I became –

A BRO! The campers were grouped by city and age and were asked to decide on a collective name. Since my nine guys are at an age where imagination eats lunch in the bathroom, they called themselves The Bros. But we made the most of it. Fellows were bromoted, one was brotrayed (et tu, brotus?), and we sang “Bro, Bro, Bro Your Boat”. And we sang it in the bround.

There was a final competition on the last day, before boarding the homeward buses. A dodgeball tournament that paired a boy and girl group and pitted them against others via Round Robin. The Bros were matched with the Fire-Breathing Ponies, creating the Bronies and a Cinderella run.

The throwing motion is my nemesis. I cannot do it correctly. Balls most often look like asteroids that float by themselves in space, depressed and alone. As a rule I don’t put effort into dodgeball, in hopes that no one will notice that my arm looks like a crippled whale flipper.There was a short black girl on the Bronies. Journey. I knew Journey loved to sing and only held dodgeballs accidentally. I proposed that we spend the tournament dancing. She accepted. So over the next six games, Journey neither touched a ball or stopped moving. Together we did the robot, the wop, and the slide, among others. Though sometimes I stepped out to grab a ball (each time immediately getting out), Journey never gave up and never paid attention to what was going on around her.

The final game – the championship – arrived. Our team had handled most others swimmingly. During the championship, we were slaughtered. In record time. After only a few minutes, it was ten on two. Ten ball juggling high schoolers on one side, and on the other – Journey and me.I spent the next few minutes running line sprints and lobbing softballs at the huddle of opposing girls. There was a junior varsity baseball star facing me; he even had a lackey, a fifteen-year-old me, supplying him with ammunition. As we circled each other, I caught a glimpse of Journey. Still alive. Doing the moonwalk.

In the end, it amazed me still that not only did Journey survive as long as I did (eventually it was four on two) but never once considered playing dodgeball. She stuck to her strategy, which, to her credit, never gave any indication that it didn’t work. I was the one who occasionally stopped dancing, and I also occasionally got out. Even as I used my hands as crude spades to dig balls out of the nets surrounding the gym, I couldn’t bring myself to be mad. Journey was following her heart.And when she was finally hit, she struck a Michael Jackson before strutting off the court.

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Spring Break Ruined Forever

On the maintenance crew, there is no spring break. I know – no rest for the wiccan. Seriously, my coven meets twice a week now. In fact, we receive the opposite of a spring break: an influx of migrant workers. Counselors and summer staff who don’t have spring break plans can live and work at camp for a week and earn a fat check that they can use as a down payment on a small television. Plus, all the sandwich meat they can eat.

We remulch camp every year; how much changes on wear and tear. There was a lot of wearing and tearing this past year. We brought in eight truck trailers full of mulch and dumped them in twelve foot piles around camp. Watching these big rigs navigate camp foot paths was like watching Ice Truckers, but instead of slipping on ice and dying of a bad case of the crash, the camp director followed them and yelled “DON’T DRIVE ON THE GRASS, YOU FOOLS! THE GRASS!”

Since I’m one of two maintenance workers with the spring left in my step, I was put in charge of the migrant workers. I was given a list of everything that needed to be done in the week. It said, in sharpie, “MULCH.” Also, there was a pencil footnote for dinner.

And then it rained all week.

The first two days weren’t so bad because there were jobs left to do. I gave the workers dust masks and toilet brushes and told them to scrub the cabin fans. These fans are the only air circulation that campers receive and they haven’t been cleaned since they were manufactured. I think one of the workers got the black lung during this job.

After that it was a downward spiral. Since so much emphasis was put on the mulch, we hadn’t prepared much else. We spread mulch when we could. My definition of “not raining” changed a lot that week; it went from, “Wow, doesn’t the sun feel great,” to “Pretend it’s a heavy fog and you’re sweating like crazy.” Still, we didn’t accomplish half of what was planned.

And then came the kitchen. Scraping the bottom of the barrel of monkeys for another under-a-roof job, I went to Roberta the Lunch Lady. Roberta has worked at camp for many years and we maintain a designated smoking area just for her. She makes great desserts; last fall she pumped out this caramel and graham cracker concoction. When I asked how to make it, she said, “First, boil Eagle Bran Milk.” I asked how many cans I had to open, and she said, “No – boil the whole can and fish it out with tongs.” The metal adds to the flavor.

With the rain outside, Roberta provided us hours of interactive fun, scraping bugs out of fluorescent lights and killing 99.9% of bacteria. She even trapped me – since I was in management mode, I was traveling job site to site to check on workers. She caught me sneaking out the back door and gave me a water hose. “Spray the dish pit,” she said. All of it? Of course, all of it.

There are a surprising amount of electronics in the dish pit. Besides light sockets and breaker boxes, there are many moving parts in that dish washer. After summoning the courage to make mistakes, I pulled the trigger on my hose and led the first stream right into a light switch. It immediately started smoking. Like Roberta.

The next few minutes I proceeded to explore the switch with all five senses, trying to estimate how much of my pay would go towards fixing it. When Juan, the grizzled maintenance veteran, passed by, I called out. “Is this broken? Or just smoking?” He shrugged and reached out to touch the switch. When he flipped it, his body began seizing and shaking.

He waited until after I yelled for help to laugh at me. “Juan,” I said, “We are not good enough friends to pull pranks on each other.” And as he walked away sadly I said, “Psych! I just got you so good!”

What Could Have Been

I was asked to come back to my fraternity’s chapter meeting to speak about their spring formal. Though it was most likely because of the prospect that I would tell an embarrassing story, I seized upon the opportunity to relive my glory days. Also, they promised to pay me with fried chicken and a medium soft drink.

Formal was always my favorite fraternity event; however, most other brothers would say, “I don’t have a girl I care enough about to rent her a room” or “dress up” or “talk to her for two straight days.” That excuse seemed incorrect to me. Formal, to me, was about the guys and not a girl. It was a time to put on a suit and eat a steak dinner and celebrate a good year with best friends. I didn’t want to risk happiness with the prospect of interpreting signals. So I always took blind dates.

I did this for most functions my senior year – for the winter semi-formal, I let the pledge class submit and decide my date for me. Out of the three formals that I went to, I keep in touch with only one date. I don’t know where one girl is, and I’m not quite sure who the other was.

I told the fraternity this; I didn’t recognize two-thirds of the crowd and they had never heard my spiel. And I told the story that was expected of me: in a nutshell, my junior year I had a bro-mance with Aaron, a burly and silly pledge brother, and we decided to go to formal together.

That was my old happy face. I've had some work done since.

However, we needed dates to dance with. We met two girls from Ouachita Baptist at a party and decided that night to take them. Three weeks later we drove to Kansas City together and had a wonderful and joyous weekend. Aaron and I couldn’t have been happier. And afterwards, we never called them again.

Now, I am older and wiser and have been reprimanded several times for that. In fact, a year later she met another frat brother at a sunny beach spring break and expressed some residual resentment about what happened. Understandable. But the point that I made for the chapter was that I didn’t need to call her again – all I wanted was to party with Aaron. And the chapter clapped for me when the story finished.

Afterwards, I talked to Ryan, who was a good friend when I was in college. We reminisced about a carnival BYX held in South Fayetteville – there was a competition between members for the best booth game, as voted by the children. I got second, having shown up with nothing but deftly creating a bag-o game and an wrestling announcer personality. I lost by two votes to T-Rex Karate Attack, which I think explains itself.

As we were talking, Ryan laughed and said he had to confess something. That day, he thought the name T-Rex Karate Attack was so stupidly creative that he voted for it five time, writing it in with his left hand. I forced myself to laugh, but underneath my skin my organs curled into a hundred little fists.

The prize for winning the best carnival game was no fraternity dues. A five hundred dollar value. Since I was a senior at the time, I’m sure Ryan thought it didn’t matter. But he was wrong.

The carnival took place right after spring break, a trip where I met for the first time Holly Dulin, who I married three months ago. At the time, I was obsessed with the idea of flying her from Montana to our fraternity formal in Memphis. My new blind date had already been informed that she might not get to go. I had even got a written agreement from the fraternity president that if I won the carnival, I could use the five hundred dollars to buy Holly’s plane ticket.

At chapter, I couldn’t say anything, because that story directly contradicted my passionate “bros before those who are not bros” thesis I stated in front of chapter. So instead I went to Memphis with a blind date, and a year and a half later married Holly.

Assignment: Town Run

This past week I’ve had a cornucopia of jobs. I dismantled and reassembled the fence around the pool, replacing boards and repainting posts and stretching chain link. It has a lot of spring and gusto if you pull it, though it takes a lot of force. We had to use a truck wench when my red, seizuring fingers gave out.

I also dug up a septic tank that I had planted a few weeks before. As our backhoe dug several trenches, I climbed down into the hole with rubber boots on and used my shovel to chase away the dirt around the mole mansion like an archaeologist brushing free a smelly raptor rib cage. After a few lunches full of backhoe horror stories (it can split a car in half, I once saw it take off a man’s arm, it never sleeps) I had learned to keep a wide birth around the machine monster. In the hole, however, there was nowhere to go. Whenever the bucket came down I felt like I was dodging a brontosaurus eating leaves out of my treehouse. Rob the driver must’ve noticed, because he turned off the machine to shout, “I’m not going to hurt you!”

The most coveted job, however, is the town run. Since camp is 45 minutes away from civilization as the iron horse gallops, we have no easy way to resupply. Every two weeks or so a van is sent into town for bar and chain oil, welding sticks, rare metal bolts and once a funny hat for someone’s birthday. Because of travel time, the town run usually takes several hours and camp pays for lunch. The maintenance crew is practically sponsored by King Burrito.

We’ve been taking inventory in preparation for the summer, when product consumption will go up infinity-fold. The buying is starting to take place, which results in some lop-sided town run lists. I will not deny the thrill in entering a Wal-Mart riding a cart like a chariot pulled by polar bears, announcing, “All your plungers belong to me!”, but you can only visit so many Wal-Marts before you realize that you may never accumulate forty-five plungers, double or single cup.

Days like today I return to camp with unfulfilled orders and hope that my boss is content with ten bottles of drano and the rest of the hornet and wasp spray off the shelves of Garner’s Building Supply. More plungers forthcoming. But I did get a half hour at King Burrito, along with three Dr. Pepper refills despite the entirely Spanish laminated sign that I’m pretty sure says, “No Refills.”

There’s one place I’m not allowed to go. Everett-Maxley Chevrolet. We take our trucks there for maintenance. The last time I took a truck there and described the silly noise, I stood in an office while someone took my information. A lackey came in to get my keys and he had the most interesting haircut. His head was buzzed and two inches above his forehead were shaved clean, like a medieval monk. The Gandalf I keep in my head shouted, you shall not ask!, so I said, “What’s up with your haircut?” without introduction. There was a twenty second pause where both men looked at me before the lackey said, “It’s a disease.”

I later found out that it was just a bad haircut, but I decided it was for the best for everyone if I didn’t return. Until I need an oil change, because they do it for ten dollars.