Free Second Chapter of Jessica: Summer Camp

This is a continuation of the first chapter of Jessica:

Internet Access

Having gotten accustomed to being able to get online at a pretty regular basis, it was hard to adapt to an environment where access was extremely limited. I had dial-up access at home and in my dorm room at school, but mostly we would go down to the computer lab in Lusby when classes were not in session. Sometimes we would accidentally walk in when classes were in session and would not know it sans the dirty looks from the majority of the class. My boss at camp, Blaine, had dial-up and he said I could check my email whenever I wanted there so I jumped at the opportunity to check my Hotmail that night.

The second night I knocked on Blaine’s door, his wife obliged, but I could tell they were wondering how often I would be coming over and for how long would I be online. I took them at good faith that I could get online whenever I wanted, but already I could tell that it was not true. By the third night, I was told, “You can get online at the library I think,” which I took as, “You can’t get online here anymore.”

I began my search for internet access on Saturday. I drove out to the nearest library and saw that you could get online, for a half-hour at a time, but you must sign in.

“I’d like to use the Internet, please.” I asked the librarian on duty.

“May I see your library card, please?”

“I don’t have one,” but I was quick to add, “How can I get one?”

“You can sign up for one, but where do you live?”

“Niles.”

“I’m sorry. I can’t give you a card. That’s not our township.”

“So I can’t use the Internet, then.”

“No, you’ll have to go to the library in your township.”

“Do you know which one that is?”

“No, I don’t sir, but you can look it up on the Internet.”

“How am I supposed to do that when I can’t get online?”

“That’s not my problem, sir, now if you’ll excuse me, the people who DO live in this township need my help. Good day.”

I had to call every library in the phone book before figuring out which library I could go to. It was up north in the town Denise lived in. I would go there tomorrow.

To Build a Fire

Every night there was a fire in the camp. It was at the bottom of the hill on the south side, just north of the road, but behind some trees on one side. There were logs set up around it in a circle where the kids would sing songs and talk about God. It was called Campfire and we were in charge of setting it up.

It was the last thing we did each night before cutting out to the movies or Jessie’s lakehouse, or whatever it was we did that night. We drove up to the old white maintenance shed by the house and picked up the diesel. Then it was down the hill to the wood pile where we loaded up the cart with wood.

“I’m so freaking tired, dude.” said Jessie.

“I know. If you hadn’t broke the freaking John Deere, I wouldn’t have had to stand up day long on the freaking Toro!”

“Jeff broke it with the air compressor and his fat grandpa seized it up in the middle of the night! Just cause I was the one driving it when it failed, doesn’t mean I broke it.”

“Who doesn’t know what the temperature gauge looks like?!”

“I thought it was just telling me it was hot that day!”

“I just hope we get it back soon. My legs are killing me from all the standing and shaking. Do you think it even needs mowed as much anymore?”

“No. I’m going to talk to Jeff about it tomorrow.”

I let Jessie drive once we get enough firewood loaded. He stomps the peddle on the gas/electric hybrid utility cart. Its like a golf cart, but with a trailer built into the back. A lever between the drivers legs indicates forward, backward, or neutral. There is a gas pedal, a brake pedal, and a key. That is pretty much it. No seat belts. We arrive at the campfire just around the corner and begin to stack the wood.

“Did you grab the newspaper?”

“Yeah, I got it.”

Jessie had started stacking the wood in a square. This meant he was building the ‘Log Cabin’. We varied between building that and the ever popular ‘Tee Pee’. After careful placement of the newspaper and logs, we doused the fire with diesel and drove off. Finally we were done for the day. It was getting dark and I was getting excited. Denise was spending the night tonight.

Trash Men

The camp sat on 66 acres (corresponding with the number of books in the Bible) and contained four cabins, two tree houses, two maintenance buildings, two houses, one pool, one playground, one office and staff living quarters, and one multi-function building that housed the kitchen and a large indoor area which was used for eating and gathering for worship. There were three meals served a day in that mess hall. There were seven barrels of trash filled at every meal. This accounted for over a hundred bags of trash a week from meals alone. The trash truck came twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays. Trash trucks are very important to maintenance men. They empty the dumpster. When the dumpster is full, sometimes the bags have to be shoved up on top of other bags and on Friday night it was the worst. One Friday night sticks out more than others.

High school week was over and we were all itching to get done so we could relax on the weekend. Saturdays were really the only day we had off since campers arrived at camp Sunday nights. We send the campers home before supper on Friday night partly to save on food costs and partly to allow us, the staff and faculty, time to clean up after them. As a maintenance worker I was responsible for providing the cleaning tools to each cabin and transporting the trash placed outside into the dumpster. We were the only ones that were supposed to drive the gas-powered carts and so we were the ones doing the hauling. I say “we” because it was my partner, Jessie and I. With Jessie everything was a question of being “kosher” or not, but he wasn’t Jewish. He was hardly even Christian. When he first asked me if I smoked, I said, “No.” It turns out I answered his question correctly, but he wasn’t asking about tobacco use. Only a few trash bags remained, the ones from the female cabins at the top of the hill, nearest the pool.

“I’ll get the rest,” I said to Jessie while still sitting in the cart in between the mess hall and the dumpster, which sat just outside the forest by the lake. By lake I mean large body of water, never more than three feet deep, and covered most of the summer by lily pads and the corresponding leap frog. It was just deep enough to canoe through and some people did, but you weren’t supposed to go alone and it was really hard to find someone else with the same enthusiasm for the trip. If ever there was such interest, it was a one-time event. At least that was how it was for most people, including me.

“You sure?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said, “I’ll meet you in the mess hall to finish up.” Though the faculty were responsible for cabin clean-up, we were responsible for pretty much everything else, including the mess hall which had to be swept after every meal. It was a horrifyingly awful job to have to stop what you are doing throughout the day to come back and sweep the entire mess hall. The process involved sweeping between the rows of tables of chairs, then pulling out all the chairs and sweeping again, under the tables. It was brutal as there were often more than a hundred chairs to move back and forth. Friday’s were more extensive. We had to fold up all the chairs and tables, sweep the entire floor, and then mop. The camp manager would then come by for a final inspection before we could go off on our merry ways. I headed up the hill.

The last of the trash bags were sitting outside the cabin along with the cleaning supplies used to clean it. The cabin mom was no where to be seen as she had left as soon as possible. I went to school with most of the people who worked here. That’s how I found out about the job. I was working with Kelly in the cafeteria of Kentucky Christian College as a kitchen closer. She worked on the line serving students as they came through. We both washed dishes sometimes and sometimes we washed dishes together. There was no dishwasher at camp, which is why there was so much trash. The camp used styrofoam plates and cups, and plastic utensils. Pots and pans were washed in a large sink after every meal. I headed down the hill to the dumpster.

The dumpster was full. That was an overstatement. The last three bags could not be thrown on top or they would just roll off the mountain of white sacks. I had to shove the bags into spots on the side to get them to stay. I saved the biggest I had to use two hands to shove the last bag in. As I did I saw a small opening develop in the plastic, but I kept on shoving. I was determined to get this bag in. Before I could do anything, the small tear grew into a large rip and soon trash began caressing over my face. My hands, caught up in pushing the plastic, could not move fast enough to stop the fall. It was all over the ground around me. I bent over to pick it all up and angrily threw it into the dumpster, loose. It was disgusting. Later, people would always ask me why I didn’t go get gloves that day.

“Why didn’t you use gloves?” they’d ask. All I could say was that it was the most disgusting thing to ever happen to me. I was glad the week was over.

Downtown Dowagiac

“…in downtown Dowagiac!” blared the radio anouncer. His voice got really deep when he got to the word Dowagiac, pronounced doh-wah-jac, like the “Lets get ready to rumble!” guy. It was fun to say once you got the hang of it. The town elders must have named it after the last Indian tribe they ran out of town. It sported a drive-in movie theater, which people would drive from all around to see since there weren’t very many of them left. Ashley agreed to meet me up there one Saturday night for a movie and so I drove up there on good faith. She had given me a phone number of the house she was going to be at. I was bored so I drove up early and stopped to eat at Dowagiac’s local Pizza Hut, alone.

“How many?” the waitress asked.

“Just me.” It was at that moment that I realized it might be weird to dine in at Pizza Hut all by yourself, but by now it was too late. I was committed. I decided to ask God to join me. I prayed, “God, will you eat with me?” Just then a man entered the Pizza Hut, alone. “That was fast,” I thought. I asked him to join me and he did.

“How’s it going?” he asked.

“Its alright.” I hated that question, but in this case, I could be forgiving. “What did you want to order?”

“I’m just going to get a some beer. I’m waiting on my girlfriend. She doesn’t get off work for another hour.”

“Cool. I’m getting a pizza. You can have some if you want.” We order with the waitress and though I’m in a potentially awkward situation, I’m calm. It was hot outside, but cold in here and the Mountain Dew she brought me tasted delicious. The red leather seats were sticking to my legs as the sweat dried. The air conditioner in my car was all but not working now. I would have to look into that later. For now, I decided to see what God had to say about Jessica.

“I’m thinking about getting married,” I said. Jessica was one of my most favorite subjects to talk about.

“It aint nothin’ to rush.”

“What do you mean?”

“How old are you?”

“Twenty.”

“I got married to my first wife when I was your age. Had two kids, got a divorce. Got remarried, had another kid, got divorced, had my fourth kid with my current girlfriend, but decided not to marry her. It aint nothin’ to rush.”

This is definitely not God, I thought, but I continued to listen. He had ordered a pitcher all for himself. He offered me some, but I didn’t drink then. I finished eating and thanked the man for eating with me. I paid the waitress with cash. I didn’t have any credit cards then. I needed to find a pay phone so I got in the car and drove to ‘downtown Dowagiac’. The Pizza Hut was on the outskirts of town, in the sprawl. Downtown, there was a small hub of old brick buildings and streets next to the water. I saw a pay phone so I parked and got out to call Ashley. The phone rang until the answering machine picked up, “You have reached the Gellars residence. Please leave a message and we’ll get back to you.”

I didn’t know who the Gellars were, but I left a message anyway. “Hey, this is Erich, just calling to see what’s up. I’m in Dowagiac now. I guess I’ll see you at the movies. Bye.” I hate leaving answering machine messages. They always make you seem desparate and pathetic. I was determined to see the movie whether or not she showed up so I got back in the car and drove towards the drive in. “The engine temperature seems high,” I thought to myself, “I’ll check the anti-freeze level when I get there.”

I paid to get into the lot and parked the car. The engine was still running a little hot and got even hotter when I turned the car off. The analog gauges in my 1984 Caprice Classic stayed on, unlike todays digital guages. I popped open the hood and took a look. The anti-freeze was on the left side and had lines marking the level it should be when its hot and when its cold. The anti-freeze was where it should be, but I decided to add some water to it anyway. I had heard that was what you were supposed to do, but I didn’t really know. There was a bathroom behind the concession stand so I took a used bottle out of my car and filled it up. I did this several times, which aroused interest from the other cars parked near me.

“Car troubles?,” one man asked. You can’t escape nosy neighbors wherever you go. Bill Engeval would have handed this man a sign. It was one of those obvious questions, but I decided to answer him anyway.

“Yeah, it’s overheating a little bit.”

“I haven’t seen a carburetor in an engine in a while. Ever cause any trouble for you?”

“No, not really. I’ve had to replace the alternator and the radiator once, but that’s about it.” My dad helped me replace the alternator. We layed out in the driveway in the middle of the winter changing that thing. It was hell. The radiator we left to the pros down at Chumbley’s Auto.

“Well good luck to you.” I wish he could have actually helped me or given me insight into the situation. He could have saved me from a lot if only he had known. If only I had known. The sun was going down. The movie would be starting soon, but the wind was picking up and the pressure was dropping. There was a storm rolling in.

It was still hot after the sun went down. Everyone had their windows down and the speakers attached to their cars. About half way through the movie, the downpour began. I rolled up the window, but had to leave the speaker outside. It was thundering and lighting all around us and the windows were fogging up. It was hard to concentrate on the movie and I could barely hear what was going on. I don’t even remember what movie I saw there, but I remember being very scared.

Ashley never showed up and I made it back to camp alright that night.

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