Make New Friends and Keep the Old

Today was my last day on the maintenance crew of Camp War Eagle. I’m taking a mid-week weekend before reporting for a summer stint on Saturday. There’s already a small group of counselors at camp spreading mulch and 409-ing gymnastics mats. The chow hall is open. Lunch is free.

This morning there was a new face in the breakroom. My boss Rob introduced me to Ted, who would be running cabin checks during the summer. This job is done completely during the twenty-one hours between old campers leaving and new campers arriving. It’s difficult because most staff are power napping during this time. Ted, however, lives just up the road and oh no it’s no inconvenience at all.

Ted is probably in his sixties with skin like used sandpaper and big thick glasses that will survive most bar fights. He’s as tall as me, which is abnormal. After introducing us, Rob pulled me aside. “You’ll be walking Ted through our cabin check procedure this morning,” Rob said. “So stick with him through the repairs. Also,” he added, “I think that you’re a good judge of character. I want you to get a read on Ted and tell me what you think.”

The second part, while flattering, I ate with some thick cut sea salt. The only people I judge correctly are fictional villains. They telegraph badly. However, I soon realized that Rob truly did want to see Ted’s character. Rob’s solution was to pair Ted up with the most incompetent member of the maintenance crew and watch Ted squirm.

It seemed like every question Ted asked me about the cabins – how deep are these screws? what kind of current is this? is this bolted from the outside? – conjured a rambling explanation of my incredibly specialized skill set, which includes backing up trailers and watercolors. What’s worse is that when Ted began to fix things, I wasn’t able to either correctly identify the tools he requested or, in one case, actually made his job much harder by applying pressure to a hanging metal shelf in the opposite direction that he needed.

As we worked, we talked. Ted was a policeman and a parole officer for 36 years. Before that he served in the Navy as a flight technician. His last job was to oversee the close of a base in Georgia. “Everything that didn’t have a concrete foundation was loaded onto a flatbed truck,” he said. It took him six months working with only a handful of men.

Thirty years ago he came to northwest Arkansas with his wife. They liked the area and bought a tract of land. Then they went back home to Missouri. The land laid fallow for thirty years until he built the house himself last fall. Barzel Point, the area next to camp and where Ted lives, is an expatriate community of Poles and Germans. I’m not sure why they chose to settle there, but it was a caravan when it stopped. Driving back to the maintenance shop for supplies, we saw Ted’s wife of forty years. The German woman that she was walking with playfully yelled, “Git back to vurk!”

At lunch Rob asked me for a report on Ted. “I don’t know,” I stalled. “He explains what he’s doing like he’s teaching me. I think he knows that I don’t know, so he says, ‘We have to splint this hole’ or something like that. I like that.” I thought some more. “Also, he let me drive his truck -” Ted had a very nice diesel dually that he would turn on in increments, saying You have to let it warm.  “I thought he would be one of those guys who never let anyone drive their trucks. But he asked me to get him a wrench set and he gave me his keys. He’s a nice man.”

Ted only works half days. After lunch I followed him up to maintenance and showed him where we keep the time cards. We shook hands again. “I enjoyed working with you,” he said. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Me too,” I said. And I don’t know why, but I lied. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”


The Cove Monster, Part II

Last week we drained the cove to find no monster; we did find several pairs of prescription glasses and a dump truck’s worth of dead congealed leaves. Earlier this week I watched with half-interest as a outside sub-contracting crew came in to powerwash the black rubber liner. All the leaves and dried algae were pushed into a big pile at the very bottom of the Cove, thirty feet below the original water level. How will they get that out? I wondered. Little did I know.

On Thursday I was given a plastic snow shovel and told to descend into the pit. The drying pieces of the Black Lagoon needed to be pushed towards the yard-wide drain where a small firehose would wash it away. I asked why my shovel was plastic and my boss Rob told me that we couldn’t risk ripping the black rubber liner – it was worth more than my life. When I laughed, he said it was tens of thousands of dollars. I’m only worth about eight hundred. That’s what my parents told me.

Working at the bottom of the black-lined Cove felt like I was standing in the center of one of those mirror-filled solar farms that harvest the sun in Africa. As I feebly kicked and pushed my plastic shovel inches deeper into the black, bad smelling muck, I lost track of what was sweat and what was intelligent bacteria eating away at my skin. We were probably breeding super viruses down there. It was like the tar pit that ate Tyrannosaurus Rexes.

After a while my nose became numb. I was wearing slick black gloves made of decomposed autumn leaves and snake flesh. And whenever Rob appeared on the Cove docks, thirty feet above me, I’d yell, “PHARAOH – LET MY PEOPLE GO!” He didn’t, but the craft lady Karen brought me some orange juice.

It took a few hours to push that mud smoothie out of the drain. When I finished, I was covered in foul slush and I knew the perfect place to hide a body. And as I climbed the black tarp back to dry land, Rob told me he had a new job for me. Resigned, I trudged after him until we reached fast running water. “The waterslides were just waxed and painted,” Rob said. “I need someone to try them out.”

Without any forethought I happily jumped out of my shirt and threw myself down the twisted half-pipe, the first slider of the new season. When I finally crashed into the slide pond with joyful speed, I burst out of the water without any mud on my skin.

Instead, my arms and face were covered in white paint.