I was ten years old the first time I learned what it meant to be on the outside, to not be one of the cool kids having all the fun, to be the little girl who people said – “no don’t ask her to play – she’s not one of us.” It was the summer of 1971 and after years of successfully begging my parents, I was finally off to my very first sleep away camp – Indian Head – in Honesdale, Pennsylvania.
If you were a Jew in the 70’s – camp is where you went for two months every year. This seemed outrageous to my parents – to have a child go away for that long. Outrageous was also the cost of this adventure – something my parents told me they couldn’t afford. I believe it was 975 dollars for 8 weeks. Back then – me and all of my friends and their parents hung out at the Staten Island Swim Club – where we had a cabana and went every weekend. Nobody left for the summer to go to camp. I don’t have a snapshot from that time, but it’s seared into my memory like a faded picture–swanky Jews sipping cocktails and smoking cigarettes and wearing the latest in swimwear while their kids learned to dive off the high board. In actuality, it was kind of a shit show–a broken down palace that served greasy hamburgers and warm sodas, but to me it was everything.
Eventually, my parents decided that what we needed to do every summer was go to a place called “The Hamptons” and in 1971 they bought a cottage on the bay in Shinnecock which is near South Hampton. Now back then, the Hamptons was not the playground of the rich and famous – it was just the tip of Long Island filled with farmers and fisherman. There were no Kardashians, no film festivals and miles of amazing beach. I wanted nothing to do with this hideousness. I wanted to be behind locked gates where there was a lake filled with frogs, bunk beds, moldy cubbies to put your clothes in – and hundreds of kids in captivity to play with every day. Finally, in that summer of 1971 – I was off to IHC – which would become the home of some of my greatest memories of life and shape who I am today.
Indian Head was already a long standing tradition for many kids. They went every summer and had already formed life long bonds and cliques before I ever got there. It took about 24 hours for me to realize I had made the biggest mistake of my life. I hated camp. I wanted to go home. No one liked me. I was not part of the cool crowd. A girl I had actually known from home – I’ll call her Judy because that was her name – had been there for a couple of years before me – and she convinced all the other girl campers in my bunk – I think we were called Utes because everyone had Indian names – to be mean to me. No one talked to me. No one included me in their girl talks. No one picked me to be on their team. I was ostracized. About a week in I was miserable and then came the real blow – I broke my wrist playing tetherball and was slapped with a cast. It was the cast that broke the nerdy Jewish girl’s back. I was officially a dork. I called my parents and begged them to pick me up. They did the smartest thing they’ve ever done – told me no – and told me to stick it out.
I did. I don’t remember what the turning point was – it may have been the day I realized my cast made me the most powerful tetherball player on the East Coast – by using it to smash the ball that thing went flying around a pole – but one day – I was in. And that day was the greatest day of my life. I went to Indian Head for ten years. I went on to be a counselor, A Sing Leader and the youngest Color War General they ever had. Now I know most of you have no idea what this is but it was special. We had a boys camp and a girls camp that were separated by an M.D. line. (Mason Dixon) We would go on raids at night and sneak into the boys bunk and make out with our boyfriends. Yes, I had a boyfriend at ten – his name was Peter Ezersky – and his parents owned the camp. Kaching! I knew how to pick a winner back then. There was a canteen you would go to for socials (dancing with boys) and buy candy with a coupon book. There was a lake with water skiing and boating and every kind of sport imaginable was played every day. There was a craft shack and waiters’ dorms and a nurses’ bunk and the big house where the owners slept and dined. We went on hikes and went camping and sat around the campfire telling ghost stories and eating s’mores. When you were a special camper or it was your birthday you got called up to the flagpole and everyone cheered for you. You also got a slip of paper hidden under your mystery meat that said “Happy Birthday Baby” from the cook that entitled you to something special from the kitchen. There was Bug Juice and singing and Friday night Services and Square Dancing and plays and musicals and– oh god, I still want to go there every summer and I still have magical dreams about Indian Head. There was always something wonderful to do even if you hated it. If I could, I would go there tomorrow and be a counselor for the summer.
Eventually, I went on to join the coolest clique around and we went on to bully quite a few nerdy girls when I was 11 through 13. I still feel guilty about these moments, and I still have an affinity for women who are not deemed cool as I grow older. It’s amazing how quickly you forget you were one of them when you finally make it into the clique.
This week, lots of kids on the east coast boarded buses and headed off to IHC – still running – still in the same spot it was. On the 4th of July there were always fireworks and singing around the lake. It was fucking amazing. I always loved the 4th of July because of this.
This weekend, it took me the whole day to even realize it was the 4th of July. I’m home working on a script and didn’t even think about making a plan for the day. I looked at pictures of everyone I knew doing something special and fabulous and I thought – fuck – I’m back to being one of the dorks. I didn’t get one single invitation to do one single thing on the 4th of July. I went out to dinner with my best friend, and he said he had the same kind of day. We both realized we were “on the outs” and after a lot of discussion we realized – we kind of put ourselves there – because that’s where we wanted to be on this particular day – July 4th 2014 – with each other – having a great meal – listening to the fireworks explode behind us – celebrating our Independence from being people who cared what others think. But it was because of camp all those years ago that I still long to have a giant group of friends hang out by a lake – or an ocean – or a house – or a bunk – or wherever – like I did years later in the Hamptons with summer shares and we vowed to each other to have some kind of summer house next year in Malibu or somewhere. We’re going to start our own cool kids camp. If you’re nice to me – I may let you come.