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On gilded pond.

Now, I'm not knocking summer camp--don't get me wrong. For kids, they offer a fine change of mischief. They allow the parents to go out in the evening without having to trust the contents of the fridge to a tape-wormed baby-sitter. And we mustn't forget the college students who have taken karate lessons, picked wild blackberries in the nude and practiced sleeping through rock concerts to qualify as camp counselors.

The summer camp is not, however, for everyone. And topping the list of those everyones is the husband of the camp nurse.

Lois was replacing the regular R.N. for only one week, so she had Brutus, the flea condominium we call a dog, all washed and polished to take with her. But Jim Callus, the manager of dear old Camp Sokum Wampum (not its real name, but the inference is sound), knocked that idea in the head via the telephone on the eve of their departure. No pets, he said.

"Does that include my husband?" I heard her ask. "He's housebroken, usually comes when called, and he stopped shedding ten years ago."

Jim evidently asked what service I could contribute. "Skills?" she asked. "Let me think." So she thought, while I held my breath. "I'll have to call you back," she finaly told him.

The next morning she called him back to report that she couldn't come up with anything. So he told her to bring me along anyway--we'd work something out.

"While you are blowing our vacation by patching up a woods full of poison-ivied kids, I could be on Big Bay de Noc pulling walleyes out of that cold water into a nice warm boat," I ruminated.

"You can go fishing on Big Bay de Noc any old time," she ruminated back, filing one side of my suitcase with three uniforms, two pairs of white socks and four Victoria Holt novels.

Sure I can. In our 45-odd and two fairly even years of marriage, I haven't made it yet.

"What more could you ask of a vacation?" she added for a clincher. "There's a nice little lake for swimming, you can get a tan, maybe even fish. And all the time I'll be working." Florence Nightingale up to her knees in bloody bandages couldn't have drawn a clearer picture. I managed to cram a razor, a handful of mismatched socks and my "Left to Write" mug into my bag before she slammed it shut and turned to hers.

Foot-high letters of peeled poplar across a rustic archway left no doubt that we had arrived at good old Camp Sokum Wampum. Jim came out to wave me impassively to a parking place, then helped Lois from the car. Not that I had expected to be voted Mr. Congeniality of Solim Wampum for 1984 or anythng like that. But after the two went chatting merrily on ahead, leaving me to carry the luggage up a hill that must be the identical twin to Pikes Peak, the thought crossed my mind that I might not even make the semifinals. The trail through the pines finaly opened onto a Lincoln-log cabin, above the door of which woodpeckers, presumably, had pecked NURSES'S QUARTERS.

With great presence of mind I seized the opportunity to let Jim know right off the bat that my ready wit alone was quite enough to pay for a week's room and board at dear old etc. "Did anyone get hurt when the tree house fell?" I inquired.

My dear wife rewarded this gem with a subtle kick on the ankle. That ankle still gives me trouble on rainy days. Jim showed his appreciation by letting the screen door slam before I had cleared with the luggage.

Reading from left to right, the "tree hourse" consisted of a living/medicating room, a bathroom, a bedroom and a room done in Early American collapsible cots. The bedroom furniture consisted of a genuine bed, but with a total capacity of one undernourished nurse--which my dear wife isn't.

For my comfort Jim had made a mattress by stitching two canvas sails together, with matching pillow, and filling them with sawdust. I was free to install the set, if I could lift it, on the collapsible cot of my choice. I told Jim he shouldn't have, and I meant it. Jim said it had been no trouble. I believed it.

Sleep, however, was no problem. It couldn't be done. Not because of the racket emanating from the bedroom five minutes after lights out. Time had made me immune to that. But not even stoppering my ears with the cotton from two bottles of aspirin could muffle a counselor's midnight bellow of "IF YOU THROW THAT PILLOW AT ME ONE MORE TIME, YOU'LL BE HOME BEFORE BREAKFAST BEGINS!" Or a 1:30 yammer of "WHATAYA MEAN SOMEONE MUST A GOT IN YOUR BUNK WEARING A WEST SWIMSUIT!"

Around two o'clock I drew a couple of extra cots over me for warmth and tried counting Dolly Partons taking the high hurdles in Olympic competition. No use. Finally, I creaked off my sawdust pallet and went in to ask my dear wife, in a nice way, if she would care to play gin until dawn. I still had the cotton in my ears, and she was speaking from beneath a downy quilt she had pulled over her head--so I'm not sure, but I think she said she wished she could have brought the dog. On the return trip to my own little cellulose nest, I took advantage of the dark to quicken the circulation in both big toes. One I whacked against the door casing, the other on a chair while negotiating the living/medication room.

It wasn't from oversleeping that I missed breakfast the next morning. Nor was it from having my ears plugged with cotton.

No. The cotton isn't made that can stopper the agonizing squeals from a $3.95 bugle on which a budding Al Hirt is trying to hit reveille. And it surely wasn't lack of appetite, as anyone who has ever wrestled with a sawdust pillow all night can testify. In fact, I just happened to be standing at the mess-hall door ad studiously examining the grain of the wood when the cook came out to whang on his triangle. I'll be eternally grateful to the overturned trash can that saved me from being trampled to death.

After the dust had cleared sufficiently to allow a peek inside, it was as I feared. The Powdered Egg Dept. had not been notified that the nurse would be bringing her husband instead of the dog. All the chairs were already claimed by the 72 inmates, 12 counselors, 2 swim instructors and 6 staff members, including one well-rested nurse.

Undaunted, I backed quietly off the porch and headed for the tree house. There, I dined on a packet of Wendy's crackers, found in the nurse' purse, and the chocolate coating from a box of laxative tablets. And on the way I couldn't help noticing that, in backing quietly off the porch, I had stuck my right foot in a dish belonging to Jim's dog.

Jim stopped by later, presumably to pick his teeth, but while there suggested we discuss how I might discharge my obligation for a week's repose on his sawdust pile and the excitement of playing musical chairs in the mess hall three times a day.

Finally I broke the pall of silence by making a motion that I go to Big Bay de Noc and catch a trunk load of walleyes for the camp. There being no second, the pall became appalling. Finally, the camp nurse remembered she had once let me put a primer coat on the backside of the shed. "And the didn't do half bad," she confided to Jim. "More like 80 percent!" From across the lake the echo of her shout of merriment sent a covey of coot diving for cover.

"That's it!" cried Jim, leaping to his foot, the other one having gone to sleep, and reeling into the card table on which the nurse had dumped a jigsaw puzzle. "I've been waiting for two years for someone to stain these cabins and the mess hall. You'll find 60 gallons of dark oak stain in the utility room, and there's a six-inch brush around there somewhere."

And before some could interject that his limited wardrobe did not include staining attire, Jim was out the door. And the nurse had already turned her attention to the border pieces of her puzzle.

Thus I spent six full days of "my vacation" applying stain to eight cabins and a mess hall that could easily substitute for the Astrodome. In the meantime the one who had signed up for duty devoted her time to morning and afternoon naps, reading on the screen porch overlooking the so-called lake, knitting, solitairing and jigsaw puzzling. When rare fits of ambition overtook her, she went for a swim or strolled over to offer her input on how stain should be applied: in direct contrast, of course, to the way I was doing it. It's a credit to my gentle upbringing that I managed to resist changing her make-up from Avon to Sherwin Williams.

As for output, the nurse' week consisted of treating one hornet sting, a sprained wrist, a strained back, two fallen arches, four finger blisters and a severe case of homesickness--all mine. In that whole rabble of shrieking vine swingers, cliff climbers, roof scalers, canoe overturners and first-one-to-surface-is-a-chickeners, not one so much as barked a knee or drowned. The one kid thought to have set a camp record by staying underwater for an hour and 20 minutes was finally located in the boathouse reading an off-color comic.

On our final evening, as the nurse was draining one of my blisters, I said, "Has it occurred to you that if you don't come up with another patient, Jim may bill me for your week's pay?" I'm not sure, her head being buried in her first-aid kit, but I think she said she wished she could have brought the dog.

The next morning, while the nurse was being celebrated for her service, I celebrated by parting the sea of kids and, for the first time, dipping my ravaged body into the lake--for all of five minutes, at which time a swimming instructor whistled me to shore. Seems I was staining the water and he didn't want the kids going home with their little hides leaning more to dark oak than the natural tan their parents would be expecting.

It wasn't until we were on the way home that I thought to ask my wife if she had been paid. "All but five dollars," she said. "Jim thought that would be about right for the seven gallons of stain you stashed behind the woodpile. How could you!"

"I'll tell you how could I! Because the labels had come off. And I wasn't going to risk opening a can of prunes and having to eat the whole gallon. I must have gone a little deep on those laxative tablets as it was."

She said she wished she could have brought the dog.

Five minutes later I had come up with a snappy reply. But she was already asleep.
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Title Annotation:summer camp satire
Author:Stoddard, Maynard Good
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Jul 1, 1985
Previous Article:What a boy wants.
Next Article:The horse thieves of Ballysaggert.

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