The Triple C

At Camp we keep a community chest called the CCC, which is an acronym that I have no explanation for. Campers who arrive without the necessities (all the shirts and underwear to make it through a exhausting and dirty week) can restock through the CCC. Even toiletries and bedding. Since 70% of camp kids are on scholarship, it’s not surprising how many kids need a little extra.

In the off-season, however, the CCC lies dormant. Sometimes there’s a shipment of deodorant or new socks but there’s no real need for its services. By anyone but maintenance, that is.

I never know what I’m going to be doing at camp. Many times I’ve come to work with one pair of clothes only to leave in another. Mud pit or giant petri dish, I find ways to spoil new shirts. Back in the fall I was tapped to crawl inside the blobs floating in the Cove and wipe down the old moisture with beach towels. It smelled like slow death in there. Afterwards, I visited the CCC for a change of clothes.

The Cove is totally empty now. The black rubber liner fades to a strong green color as it slopes down to the bottom. There was a small contest among the three young workers on who didn’t have to crawl down there to unhook the pumps. I won. The other two guys were wearing different shirts at lunch.

The CCC’s most frequent customer during the off-season, however, is far and away Juan. Juan gets a lot of the dirty jobs at camp. He’s always painting something or shoveling something else. Shirts are like tissues to him – they can only be used four times before they have to be thrown away.

English is Juan’s second language and he speaks it better than any second language I’ve ever studied. However, since it is his second language there are often misunderstandings. And since the CCC is often restocked with last year’s lost and found, this can lead to some funny situations.

Two weeks ago Juan was wearing a camo colored shirt with big block letters on it. “DON’T WORRY,” it screamed. I asked Juan what it meant and he said, “Relax.” Then I pointed to the sentence below the words. “There’s enough of me to go around,” it said. Juan said that he didn’t bother to read that.

Monday at lunch he came up wearing a big red tee with a giant graphic of the pokemon Charzard.

On Thursday it was like he wasn’t even trying. “LADIES MAN,” the shirt screamed in lightning script. After I pointed it out he whispered, “Don’t tell my wife.”

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The Cove Monster

As a child of sixteen, I knew there was a lake monster where my family liked to boat. I had evidence. From my nightmares. Once when my father hit a sandbar in a wide waterway of Beaver Lake, my skis sunk a foot before hitting a solid mass and I flipped out with my fingernails, trying to claw my way through a sand filled liopleurodon. I have issues about dark water and the unknown.

At Camp War Eagle there are two water activity areas – the Pools and the Cove. The Pools are two standard country club chlorine tanks with a few basketball goals and mysteriously deflating inner tubes. The Cove, though – the Cove is dark water. Everyone must wear a lifevest. It’s where we keep the blobs and water trampolines and the Cove Monster.

Counselors tell campers that the Cove Monster eats children who don’t wear lifevests. Something about a floatation allergy. Kids will try to pick apart the logic of the Monster – where is he during the day? has anyone seen him? is there a missus? – but eventually they buckle their jackets. But when I fall off the blob, I swim like an Olympian because I know that the Cove Monster doesn’t hone in on the lifejacketless – he goes for stationary targets.

(I realize this sounds like I’m exaggerating or even inventing. No one thinks there’s a monster in the Cove. However, I don’t walk around a hallway maze with the lights out and I don’t watch Paranormal Activity because, even if I know something isn’t real, that doesn’t mean it isn’t just invisible.)

My fears compounded when I became the Waterfront Director. I had to dive twenty feet to the bottom to tie loose blobs down on a metal H-frame. Usually this happened as lifeguards took their stands, preparing for an onslaught of children. I’d tread water for several minutes, breathing deeply, until someone asked if I was okay.

“If I’m not back in fifteen seconds,” I’d say, “Get the harpoon gun!” Then I’d dive, blind as the dark green water and later come up with maximum adrenaline, thrashing invisible demons.

Last week the word came down to drain the Cove. There’s a small door on the bottom that sounds like a bathtub plug. Because of the pressure exerted by a million and a half gallons of monster habitat, my boss hired divers to hook the trapdoor to a hydrolic pump. I was shoveling mulch when I saw them climb into the Cove. “NO ONE IS SAFE,” I tried to warn them. No one ever listens.

The hydrolic hose broke. Instead, we built a small floating island from spare dock parts and bolted two 8 h.p. pumps to the decking. Connecting it to land with a twenty foot ladder, we ran the discharge hoses off into the woods and push/pulled the dock into position with old ropes. It was very much likeThe Sandlot’s erector-set ball throwing robot. Except the Monster didn’t show.

Today was the third day that the pumps were churning. I can see the rusted H-frames that hold the blobs down as well as concrete filled tires that keep the trampolines in place. Nasty green algae coats a fifteen foot wide ring on the black rubber lining of our man-made pond. However – no monster. Last night I told Holly that I think the monster is laying flat on the Cove floor, stone still and holding his breath until we go away. She told me that she married a child.

As I prepared to leave camp today, I drove past the Cove a final time and saw a white swan treading water. I yelled at it to get out while it still could. But now that I remember the bird, pecking at the water plants and putzing around the shrinking pond, I believe I just got Keyser Soze’d.

Happy Egg Games

Two weeks ago my mother read The Hunger Games. She called me afterward, deriding the story for it’s lack of resolution and overall happy ending. “Why didn’t they end up together?” she asked of the two protagonists. “If you ever write a story about children killing each other, make it happy.” She then asserted that she would surely forget the book ever existed.

But a few days before Easter I received this:

Holly asked, “What are the Egg Games?” Embarrassed, I lied: “I have no idea.”

Two years ago, my immediate family ate Easter lunch on the new concrete foundation of our house-in-progress. Later, my mom organized a two person Easter Egg Hunt. My brother Harlin and I begrudgingly stooped to pick up eggs, spying on one another to make sure the game was still in progress.

Until we began to compete. A few elbows later, we were wrestling in the grass over a purple plastic egg.

This year my mother decided to expand the field to all cousins. Her picture message was accompanied with the exclamation, FULL CONTACT EGG HUNT, which really raised Holly’s blood pressure. “People are going to watch this?” she asked. “Even you don’t know all your relatives. Strangers will see!”

When we got to my parents house that Sunday, dutifully wearing skirts and ties, there was already a full speed tennis matching blooming. My family breeds athletic fury like stagnant water begets insects – there’s a lot of it. My cousins had on their sleeveless shirts and basketball shorts. They came ready to hunt.

(A small reassurance was my brother Harlin, who wore a pair of Ralph Lauren slacks the color of an old avocado. They were bought off a clearance rack in an outlet mall, and he refused to change for the Egg Games. Ultimately, they were his downfall.)

After a long lunch, we were herded into the front yard where there waited eight black felt circles. We each stood on our own circle, including Harlin’s girlfriend, who was meeting the extended family for the first time. “What’s going on?” she whispered as my mom began to shout.

“WELCOME TO THE FIRST ANNUAL EGG GAMES!” she said unto the heavens. My father silently stood by, holding the original Egg Games sign on a stake. “There are two rules,” she continued. “First: everyone wins!” Holly and I nodded, encouraged. “Second: you cannot kill anyone!”

“I thought that would come first,” Holly said.

The baskets, plastic Wal-Mart sacks, were in a pile at the Cornucopia, as termed in the books. My cousins, all tall former basketball players in or out of college, leaned into a starting crouch. But as my mom yelled GO, it was Holly who made it first to the bags. And was promptly dog piled.

The next minutes are blurred. Holly later told me that her original plan was to run off with all the bags and gain an advantage. She ended up with only three, and when she saw Harlin’s shell-shocked girlfriend wandering aimlessly without a bag, she gave up her evil plan. We later teamed up to steal all of Harlin’s eggs. He wasn’t hard to find – just follow the pants.

The violence escalated when one of my cousins found a twenty dollar gas card in a big yellow egg. It was like finding out that two tributes could survive. As Holly and I raced through the playing field, pick pocketing my in-fighting cousins, I saw Harlin cradling his few eggs like a broken puppy, backpedaling in bright green dress slacks with paranoid defense. His girlfriend finally had a bag, but it looked empty.

After the final whistle and count, Holly and I made off with thirty dollars to Chick-fil-a and a Starbucks card worth a few coffees. Sadly, Harlin and his green pants sat defeated in a deck chair on the patio, with only some Reese’s candies and a few Disney bandaids, which for some reason my mother used to stuff several eggs. We gave him a Chili’s gift card with some advice – those pants were your downfall, bro.

Things That Go Bump in the Night

April is Holly’s birthday month. Funny how I just got a national holiday (Merry Groundhog’s Day!). For one of her presents, she chose for us to spend the weekend with her grandparents in Greer’s Ferry, a tiny lakeside community in central Arkansas. They have a wonderfully comfortable living room with an old rear-projection big screen and a penchant for sixties westerns and war movies. Grandaddy and Ma have been married for sixty years, and Ma can never remember which tea pitcher has been sweetened. It’s a trial and error snack.

I should preface this story with the knowledge that I used to sleepwalk as a child. And young adult. Also last night. Forget night terrors – I am a night terror, if you’re on the top bunk. That was something I failed to mention to Holly in my marriage vows.

Holly’s cousins spent the night. One brought a boyfriend. As I fell asleep on the couch, watchingMASH, apparently I offered to give cousin Carley a back massage. They woke me up to tell me it was not kosher.

Later on, when I was deeply asleep, Holly told her cousins to quiet down as she crept around my chair, planning to give me a Wet Willie. When she stuck her finger in my ear – I punched her in the face. My unconscious defense was a swift upper cut aimed straight at the irritant. As I sat up and rubbed my eyes, my wife held her forehead and shouted, “You’re a crazy person!”

Eventually I was carried to bed.

That night I had a dream where I was trapped on the outside of a skyscraper. Since I was born with an overgrown fear of heights, my natural reaction was swift horror as I tried to claw my way back through the glass windows. They were sealed shut. Eventually, Holly appeared and encouraged me to throw myself off the ledge.

I awoke the next morning to find the window sill ripped off the underlying stone and hanging at a forty-five degree angle. I gently nudged Holly and asked, “Did anything weird happen last night?”

“ARE YOU SERIOUS?” she replied. “When I woke up at 3:30 last night, you were pulling the curtains off that window! Then when I called out your name,  you spun around and jumped on the bed like a cat man. I thought you were going to tear out my throat like a human tiger.”

I pondered this with great care before replying, “So you’d say I have the agility of a cat?”

Half Marathon, Full Accomplishment

Right after we got married, Holly decided to run a half marathon. I’m not sure how it happened, but soon enough I was following her for three miles every Saturday. Mostly on foot, a few times by car. In my life I’ve frequently topped out at five kilometers but each week I found myself agreeing to a different deal and a longer mileage. Though I remained adamant that I would never run a half marathon, after my first five miler I decided that if a Greek soldier with no prior training could do 26, I could do 13.

(Tradition tells us that the Greek soldier – running with news from the battle of Marathon back to Athens – died immediately. However, health care has come a long way since then.)

I waited until Valentine’s Day to tell Holly. By then we were running eight miles every Saturday. When I came out with it, she said, “What a perfect picture of marriage – we’ll run the race together, no matter how hard it is.”

And I said, “Oh – I just thought…exactly the same thing.”

We ran last Saturday in the Bentonville Half Marathon, which followed scenic interstates and pierced through one impressively large subdivision. The race finished with the trail that runs past Crystal Bridges, the American Art Museum funded by the Walton Family Foundation. Holly and I went there a few weeks ago. Instead of saying, “That’s the famous Van Gogh!” we said, “That was a color photo in my ninth grade history book!”

The Crystal Bridges trail is a nasty bit of incline. It resurrected warm memories of feebly crawling out of a snow ditch back to the ski trail. The trail is also of indeterminate length – at the 12 mile station we took water and voted to go one more mile only. Then, three hundred yards later we passed an encouraging bystander who yelled, “One more mile!” The fourth time this happened I started crying – but wait, that was eye sweat.

With a half mile left, about to crest the despicable Gallipoli slope, Holly threw up. It looked like lemon-lime Gatorade and she was quick to recover. “Come on,” she said as we ran past an enthusiastic mom yelling, “One more mile!” As the trail leveled and the cover rock started drifting towards us from the finish line band, I began to feel very self confident. Holly had been training five times a week. I was running just once a week. And yet she was the one who threw up. I interpreted this to mean I had won.

Physically I was a zombie. Afterwards I felt like I was wearing a fever like an expensive tuxedo. I did not want to take it off. Holly tells me that we ran into one of my fraternity brothers near the end. I can’t remember that.

We crossed the finish line together, exhausted, but I managed a smile because I had retained all my liquid. As someone began to unlace my shoe to get the race chip, another volunteer handed me a water. I ripped it open and took a big gulp –

And immediately peed in my pants.

Now, several days later, I concede that if anyone won, it was Holly.