For the summer between fifth and sixth grade my mother packed me off to the YMCA summer camp. As with other summertime experiences, it couldn't have been for very long, maybe three or four weeks, but it seemed then to be interminable.
I guess she was concerned that I wouldn't have enough to do. It couldn't have been so I could get out and see nature... the YMCA was literally across the street from us. I saw the building every day from the fifth-floor window of our apartment. I myself considered it a grave imposition, since like most sane children I had been looking forward to spending unfettered free time with my friends. The minds of parents are unfathomable.
The grounds of the Y were already familiar to me, as I'd been there a couple of times when my mother went on foraging expeditions for secondhand clothing. I don't know why it never occurred to me to just get up and leave, since after all I lived right across Westchester Ave. When in fourth grade I cut school several times, that had ended with a lot of bad noise, so I was trained to expect the same should I bail from the Y.
As it turned out, one of my friends from school, Joey Gillespie, was attending it too. We spent the first couple of weeks making wallets and coin purses with the other inmates, who were pretty mixed in age... there were some big kids there, like eighth-graders. They sang dirty songs which the counselors didn't do anything to stop. Mostly we sat around and talked and waited for something to happen. You can imagine how intense this got. I made friends with some other kids, but mostly stuck with Joey.
The conclusion of YMCA camp was a two-day campout at a nearby campground. To this day I have no clue about the actual location... I presume they told my mother where it was. A lot of trees and three-sided cabins and pine-needled clearings.
We were assigned a cabin. The counselors put some of the bigger and littler kids together in each. The idea was that the presence of the older, more experienced boys would keep the younger kids from being afraid of the 'wilderness.' The fact was that we weren't enthused about being alone with them... a counselor would make the rounds, occasionally dropping in, but we were largely unsupervised. The big kids were more threatening than usual, making suggestions about what would happen once we were out of our concrete playpen.
Joey and I laid out our sleeping bags, then went into the common clearing to get away from the thugs for a while. When we came back, the bigger kids started snickering as soon as they saw me. I tried to ignore it, as I always did, and went back to my area of the cabin. That's when I noticed the wet spot on my sleeping bag. It wasn't very large.
"Man," I said to Joey, "one of them poured water on my sleeping bag."
Joey lowered his head to the spot and sniffed at it. "It isn't water."
"Are you sure?" I said.
While we were away, one of the bigger kids had pissed on my sleeping bag. They were still snickering at me when I started crying, and seemed satisfied as they watched me do this for a while, until I started screaming that I was going to tell on them. They figured out they hadn't planned this prank especially well. So one of them tried to get me to shut up, telling me we'd all get in trouble if I told, while another said the sleeping bag would be okay if it was spread out to dry. I acquiesced, and the big kids largely left me alone after that because I obviously couldn't take a joke. The camping trip was otherwise uninteresting. Because it was a group of city kids, I think the simple presence of trees was supposed to impress me. So that was summer camp.
When we all went to sixth grade, our classes were split up, so Joey and I went to Mr. Gioffre's class, and Mark Lescano and Larry Forrest, the other guys in our 'gang' went to Mr. Muir's. Shortly after that, Mark and Larry decided I wasn't cool anymore, and Joey chose to take their side on this point. Joey had known them long before he knew me, or maybe he didn't want to be friends with a crybaby. I didn't understand the Julius Caesar-like plotting that takes place when you separate schoolkids for any length of time, and was pretty shocked by this, since although I was technically the new kid, I still thought of myself as 'the leader' of our group. I was not left entirely alone, however. Joey still talked to me occasionally; I would ask him to find out what I'd done, and never got a satisfactory answer. Maybe I was bossing the others around too much. I'd also brought in a new kid named Ricky Vollenweider, and we still hung out. It was a good month or so before I ruined that friendship.
Ricky played tuba in band class. One overcast Friday winter afternoon we were hanging around in front of the school after it had let out, and I thought it would be funny, while Ricky was yakking with someone else, to take his tuba and put it across the street. I wasn't trying to hide it and left it in plain sight, just several yards away... I returned to his side and waited for him to notice it had moved. He kept talking with the other kids, and it was getting late, so after a while I headed home. The tuba was right there and I knew he'd find it.
Only he didn't find it. Snow was beginning to fall when I got a call from Ricky. He was frantic and crying. His tuba was gone, he said, had I done anything with it? I told him yeah, I'd moved it across the street, but it was right there. Well, it wasn't there now, he told me. He'd looked everywhere for it. It was gone. It looked like someone else had walked off with it after I moved it.
I tried to reassure us both. Maybe whoever took it would return it, I suggested. I was crying too. I apologized profusely and begged him not to hate me. After he hang up I started praying. Please, God, I said, bring the tuba back. I'll do anything if you make it better. I was afraid and ashamed that I'd done something so stupid. I knew I was in real trouble. Not that I had any idea of how much a tuba cost... I just knew that if the instrument wasn't returned, eventually my mother would be brought in on this, and that was as dire as things could get. I prayed and sniveled when trying not to let on to my mother and grandmother that anything was wrong. The weekend had an undercurrent of dread to it.
When I saw Ricky on Monday he was as happy as shit. It turned out that somebody had brought the tuba into the school office on Friday afternoon. I was incredibly relieved, but also kind of angry. It couldn't have been ten minutes between the time I left Ricky and the moment he realized his tuba was missing, which meant it had been returned almost immediately after I moved it. If whoever had taken it into the office had left well enough alone there'd have been no problem. And God didn't fix anything... the situation had already resolved itself before I got him involved... technically he'd caused it. What a bunch of horseshit. I rescinded all my earlier promises to him.
That fall I also was forced to join and attend the Boys' Club. It was only slightly less miserable than YMCA summer camp... it had pool tables and junk at least. I was also compelled to swim when scheduled, and to change my clothes in the presence of the other boys. It was made clear to me (by my mother) that refusal was not an option, so I was resigned to getting naked in front of everyone. It wasn't a big deal once I'd done it, and I did get to see Mark Lescano in torment. He'd also been made to attend. He was mortified at having to undress in front of everyone... he had that stare like he wasn't really there. I took some satisfaction from this. I also saw his dick. It was pasty and white like the rest of him, and had an extra inch of droopy foreskin which tapered into a point... it looked weird and deformed to me, and that also amused me.
I don't know if seeing my friends during the summer would have made any difference, but none of it mattered, since in December of that year my mother decided we were moving to Florida.