Much like deciding to work as a summer camp counselor, playing tetherball with nine-year-old boys is exhausting, pointless, and stupid.
After my easy serve, one of the bucktoothed brats miraculously hits the ball back. The ball is actually an old volleyball, hung like a church thief on a dirty rope affixed to the top of a rusty pole. I am not paying attention because I despise these children, so the leather ball smacks me in the side of the face. My sunglasses shatter.
Their braying, sputtering laughter does nothing to improve my mood, and clearly, nine year olds have an inescapable grasp of the obvious.
“The ball hit your face!”
“His face was hit by the tetherball!”
“I hit the ball and then the ball hit his face and then his sunglasses smashed and broke!”
I retrieve my damaged glasses, glaring at them malevolently.
On cue, they become even more annoying by talking in capital letters.
“BRAD, I’m HUNGRY.”
“I WANT something to EAT, BRAD.”
“BRAD. Do YOU have any CANDY?” The last boy stretches out the last syllable of “eee” until my head aches.
I wait until they quit badgering me, answering their incessant questions in short, clipped phrases.
“Too bad. Lunch in an hour. No candy.”
“I want to go HOME…” The last boy stretches out the last syllable of “ohm” until my eyes water in self-pity. Five more goddamn weeks of these kids. 24/7. No days off. They smell like feet.
These children can do nothing normal. Nothing. They cannot properly talk. Walk. Eat. Piss. Shit. Sleep. Or breathe like a regular human being. One kid hyperventilated on purpose, then had to go to the nurse because he felt dizzy. Not to be outdone, his friend decided to quit breathing until he passed out—then immediately choked on a hot dog. They stand in the communal showers, forget to use soap or shampoo, then come out smelling like wet dogs. They only eat beige food. They are constipated, yet have 90-decibel flatulence.
All of their basic physiological functioning is broken, from their scabs that never heal to their visible gingivitis to their greasy hair. We talk about the importance of flossing, and they all start to dance, singing Katy Perry's song "Swish Swish."
Under the noon sun in relentless humidity, I wonder if I can get in my car and leave—never to be seen again in this mosquito-bitten shithole. No amount of money is worth getting up a half dozen times a night to pluck flashlights out of tiny fists. Hell, I’d pay the camp my entire salary just to leave at this point.
It’s easy money, Brad, my college roommate lied to me—right through his teeth at the end of the spring term. He’d worked here before. He knew. He knew what it was like. LIAR. It’s only six weeks in the woods. The kids go to bed early, and then we all smoke weed and make a campfire and eat s’mores behind the main cabin. There are at least four female counselors for every guy, so you can have your pick of the ladies. Whaddya say?
Yeah, no. None of that is remotely true, and the reality is worse. I don’t fit in the bunk beds. The mosquitos are the state bird. The food is frozen, prepackaged, scanty, and bland. Worse? The attractive female counselors all have boyfriends, except for Lindsey in the clinic, who can’t be bothered to look at me twice.
Instead of capturing Lindsey’s affections? I have Gwyneth who follows me around like a celebrity stalker. She’s fifteen and still has braces, but Gwyneth nearly succumbs with acute lovesickness every time I have to talk to her.
“Gwyneth?” I take two steps back since she's not good with personal space.
“HI B-BRAD.” She stutters, flushing a bright red.
“Gwyneth, could you take the boys to archery?”
“OK BRAD.” Gwyneth dissolves into a river of giggles, herds the nine year olds out the door to shoot sharp arrows at things, and leaves me in the canteen with my cold hot dog.
I sit, dejectedly, and shove the oleaginous pork product into my mouth. There isn’t enough mustard in the world to disguise the poor quality meat and accompanying stale bun.
I hear sobbing.
I stand up and see spindly little legs sticking out from behind the soda machine.
The sobbing stops. The legs try to pull back from view, but they get tangled up in the electrical cords.
“Marlon, come out from behind there!” I am angry until I see his face. It looks as if the sins of the world were put upon the shoulders of a 4th grader.
Marlon hangs his head.
“What’s up, Marlon,” I ask.
“Kenny Dorsey is going to kick my ass.”
“Why is Kenny Dorsey going to kick your ass?”
“He said I took his firecrackers.”
“Firecrackers are not allowed at Camp Chipmunk.”
“I know, right?”
“Marlon, did you take Kenny Dorsey’s firecrackers?”
“Yes. But he wasn’t supposed to have them!”
“And neither are you,” I add. “Now let’s go to your dormitory and—” I stop when I notice that Marlon has curled up into the fetal position.
“Marlon, do you still have the firecrackers?”
“Where are they?”
“In the sanitation station.”
“You flushed Kenny Dorsey’s firecrackers down the toilet?”
“I tried to. He said he was going to light up our asses when we were asleep.”
I slap my forehead.
“Marlon. Why didn’t you tell me Kenny Dorsey was saying mean things to you?”
“Because he had fireworks and was going to light up our asses.”
“No one is lighting up anyone’s ass.”
“He’s going to punch me.”
“He will not punch you. I’ll have a talk with him.”
“Then I’ll be a snitch. He’s going to punch me and light up my ass.”
“Marlon, you are going to have to deal with the Kenny Dorseys of the world. There are lots of them.”
“I tried to.”
Marlon looks at me intently.
“Marlon, what’s wrong now?”
“I was in the clinic for my medication, and Lindsey said you were feeling hot. You don’t look hot. You look normal.”
“Lindsey said you were hot. Like your face. It’s red.”
Inescapable grasp of the obvious.
“Listen to me. Don’t listen to anything Kenny Dorsey says, okay?”
“So if Kenny Dorsey makes any more threats, what are you going to do?”
“Hit him—like the tetherball—right in the nuts.”
I shake my head. “Maybe not the best move. Try talking to him. Maybe he could use a friend? If he’s still being mean, you could ignore him. Try that.”
“Like you ignore Lindsey?”
“I don’t ignore her.”
“She said you ignore her.”
“I DON’T IGNORE HER,” I reply in capital letters.
“Are there any more hot dogs left?” Marlon asks.
“You can have mine,” I say, handing it over.
He demolishes it in four bites.
“You done?” I smile.
“Yeah. Can I go swimming now?”
“Sure,” I say, tussling his hair. “I’ll join you in a little bit. But first, I need to drop by the clinic for a quick checkup.”
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I've been there. The key is to find the biggest, baddest 4th-grader and see if he'll still talk back with a split lip and dodgeball prints on his face. If they won't fear God, they'll fear me.
Okay, A.G. There's more to this story... You had a tussle with a Kenny Dorsey. C'mon. Fess up.
And it is weird how some kids are called by their first and last names. Billy Putnam was THAT KID in our school. So feared that he was referred to by his whole name.
You either live and die as SpongeBob, or you live long enough to see yourself turn into Squidward. That is the thought that came into my head, reading the first few paragraphs. Kids can be quite a handful, I should know, I'm surrounded by them every day. Though, I'm a pacifist, I hope Marlon wins at tetherball, beating Kenny Dorsey. Also, the fact that the bully's name is Kenny just reminded me of a story I made: Bound to Crime. Amazing story as usual. Hope you're having a nice day/afternoon/night!
I'm kinda of a Plankton gal myself.
I am lovechild of Patrick, SpongeBob, Squidward, and Plankton. Oblivious to social cues, Fun-loving, somewhat cynical, and mischievous.
That is the perfect combination of attributes. We'd be great friends IRL.
I bet we would. It's what I like to call the Four Core Moods that make me, ME. It's like Inside Out and the Sander Sides had a baby then had this pile of mess over here.
Deidra!!!! This story was exactly what I needed to read today. I loved it! You are the master, friend!! :)
DANIEL -- !!! Thanks for the confidence boost. I'm working on a novel and throwing up some thin trash on Reedsy, but it's all good. So glad to be in Virginia -- next time you are in Charlottesville, bring the fam and come over for dinner. My husband is an excellent cook, and we'd love to have you over.
Sounds awesome, my friend, I will do!! I'm so glad that you like being in Virginia. It's so cool to know that we're really not that far from each other. I could practically call you guys neighbors, hahahaha!! I know what you mean about the stories. I'm just waiting on my hardcover proof to release my book! Then I'll start on the next one. I just posted a new story on here, and wow, it was something because I find myself so busy now. However, this is where I got my start and I love sharing my stories with the community. :)
Lots of talented folks here. Check out the James River Writers conference in Richmond in early October. Huge in person authors convention — I’m signed up. There’s another one in August in Charlottesville with Virginia Writers Club. Always good to network!
Deidra, I found the whole lighting up my ass/firecracker conversation so funny. Also, 'The mosquitos are the state bird' really cracked me up with its curtness and frankness. Nice job :)
Thanks, Jim. I've been working at a summer camp and picked up the "patois" of the single-digit souls. They like all things scatological. Cute kids, though. :)
The way I'd go about this is just turn everyone against Kenny. If you aren't strong, then just get a massive group of people that ARE strong. What I'm trying to here, Marlon, is just start a gang.
Minions. He needs minions.
Uhm... YES! Why are you so smart? Haha, minions is the only way to go from here. I used to love those movies. I still do, actually.
I love kids most of the time. They’re just so adorable and pure. The way Marlon and the narrator connected (right?) at the end right when the narrator was regretting ever taking up the job at the camp was such an adorable ending. And I love your witty writing— it always makes me laugh. Especially when you began the story by describing the narrator’s encounters with the kids. Made me want to never be in his position. Okay fine, I might not like kids all the time. Oh who am I kidding? I just blocked my 8 year old cousin after she FaceTimed me ...
The truth is we are all still horrible children: solipsistic and clueless. Regarding your cousin, I feel your pain. At this point in my life, I have exactly one minute of patience for every year someone is alive. Newborns? Zero. (And no, I don't have grandchildren yet. Apparently it makes a difference. We'll see about that.)
A fun story :) I think it could easily sport the funny tag. This line, "and clearly, nine year old's have an inescapable grasp of the obvious", and the following text is hilarious. But that should probably be "olds". "“I DON’T IGNORE HER,” I reply in capital letters." I don't know if we ever stop being 9 year olds. Maybe we just learn to hide it :) The idea of the obvious crops up in this piece a couple times. Irritating children repeat the obvious. Brad misses it with Lindsey. Is that a part of "coming of age"? Children experience a...
First of all, E.) All of the above. Secondly, add coming to terms with our own mortality part of the petty bullshit of life. I fixed the "olds" -- thanks for the good proofreading :) (And as for being 9 year olds, I don't think we even hide it anymore. The infantilization of adults is almost complete.)
Deidra, I'm doing a double-header today of your stories and I'm so excited about it. I love how you took a concept that could be cliched and added so much panache to it. The dialogue especially--that's my sweet spot as a reader--and it was excellent.
Kevin, you have far better things that reading my drivel -- but I'm grateful for it. I'm getting ready to start at yet another high school...always exciting to head back to school (and then hate it mid-October...haha) So, any plays in production this season? Are you writing any longer works?
They're doing one of my plays virtually in Florida!!! It's based on a myth I love. It's just a short play. I keep thinking about working on something longer, but my attention span isn't great for that kind of thing.
OooOoOoo...is there a link to watch it? Florida of all places. :)
I suppose by the end this camp isn't so bad anymore..! Loved how much he hated the children though, hilarious. "They smell like feet.' 🤣
Children are delightful except when they are awake. :)
Very typical clueless male, I need to know how things work out with Lindsey! I need the rest of this book! There is a whole romcom novel waiting to be written here.
Oy vey, Jaden. This is a paper-thin Cub Scout skit at best. Lindsey and the MC totally make some s'mores *wink wink*
Arent all Romcoms paper thin skits?
OMG. They ARE...
I’ve been teaching art to kids this summer so this one really hits home. “They only eat beige food” Yep that checks out. The way they all start talking at once and saying the exact same thing…yep. Also, they’re really cute and exhausting and lovable and they gave me hugs before they left today, so I’ll go back next week.😂😂
What is with the beige food?! But they are viciously cute. I do love camp :)
Ha! Great story. I love it when little kids misinterpreted things. You did a really good job on capturing the voices of the characters. Thanks for this.
Woohoo -- Thanks Tricia.
This is SO GREAT! I loved Brad's attitude and found the entire story and situation hilarious! I just kept thinking, "So glad that's not me!" ;) The end was surprising--good surprising--but the beginning? Wow. You really started the story off well! The descriptions were funny and very accurate..."They smell like feet." I was wondering if you could check out my recent story, "The Angels Kissed Her Heart"? Your thoughts would be much appreciated! :)
Aw, this was so sweet. How we revert to our inner (not so inner) child when on the spot! I recently visited my parents for the first time in three years and kept catching teenage me sneaking out As usual, your prose gallops beautifully. My favourite line: "They smell like feet." Perfect.
Totally like feet.
This had a cinematic quality that reminded me of 'Meatballs' with Bill Murray, but I couldn't picture Brad leading a camp chant declaring "It just doesn't matter." He's a jaded 15 year-old, but he cares enough to not want Marlon to get bullied by Kenny Dorsey. It's a pity Brad couldn't find a pubescent love connection at the camp, but had to settle between the "attractive female counselors'" indifference and Gwyneth's fawning. To his credit, Brad is more principled than I was as an adolescent. My 15 year-old self would have gone for Gwyn...
Gwyneth? Low hanging fruit...but yeah, it was the 1980's. :) Loved "Meatballs." Summer camp is definitely its own microcosm, but the sublime and the ridiculous.
Deidre, I posted my latest story...possibly a part of the Nino series. Mind taking a looksie?
Of course, Mike -- it would be an honor. :) I'm ready to edit Nino as you go, one chapter at a time. I find Google Docs works best -- as I can add suggestions and make comments more easily than just a Reedsy read. Soooo.... I'm working on a sequel to The Medicine Girl. If you are bored...and wanna beta edit...