Ron the Swimming Instructor
I went to a very hippie-dippie summer camp. The camp T-shirt read, non-sexist, non-racist, non-competitive, non-homophobic, not for profit, among other things. All we did was make macramé bracelets, look at the clouds, and talk about kissing. I loved every second of it.
One summer, when I was about 12, there was an extremely hunky new swimming instructor named Ron. He was probably 20 years old, but to us he looked like a very grown-up demigod. With a smooth chest like a beautiful Ken doll (he didn’t seem to own any shirts, and why would you, if you looked like that?), a shaved head, and a wide smile, he was the dreamiest person for a hundred miles. We followed him around like groupies. On one very memorable night, we were all sitting in a big circle (maybe 60 people), and I was sitting across from Ron. He had on long shorts, and was sitting with his legs open in a V. From where I was sitting, Ron’s entire package was 100 percent visible. It was my very first penis, and it was a good one. Thanks, Ron! I still don’t like to open my eyes in a swimming pool, and my only go-to stroke is the doggy paddle; nevertheless, you were the best swim instructor I ever had. —Emma S.
The Hanson Tent
I went to an all-girls camp with big canvas tents. The tents provided zero privacy. It was like being in a 100-girl snow globe. You heard everyone’s conversations, and everyone’s music. There was this one tent that constantly played Hanson at top volume, particularly the song “If Only,” from their lesser-known album, This Time Around. The song was cool at first, but the repetition started making people deranged. For instance, one girl got insomnia because she couldn’t get the song out of her head, and another girl claimed she saw green and yellow spots whenever she heard it. Ultimately, a rule was instated that the Hanson tent could only play “If Only” once a day, which was almost worse, because you never knew when it would hit. You’d tensely wait—perhaps a breeze would rustle a tree branch, perhaps a bird somewhere would softly chirp—and then BAM:
The dreaded explosion of harmonicas would fill your ears and you’d know the time had come. “IF OOOONLY I HAD THE GUTS TO FEEEEL THIS WAY!” By the end of the summer, I no longer knew if I loved or hated this song. I still don’t know. I give the Hanson Tent three stars: One for not choosing the obvious “MMMBop” (thank you), and an additional two for HAVING THE GUTS to keep playing this song despite everyone HATING THEIR GUTS. —Maggie
At my camp, announcements came during mealtime. One day, amidst the camp directors’ news reports, counselors’ advertisements for upcoming activities, and bulletins about lost items, a boy stood up. He had curly hair and thick glasses and the kind of voice that you hear on the radio. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he intoned. “Tonight, I am going to wow you all with my fantastic abilities.” Between his thumb and pointer fingers, he held a very large dragonfly with the delicacy of a queen grasping her teacup. “I will now proceed to eat this very bug for your entertainment.” The patio roared and squeaked with disbelief. Some campers even shouted “No!” (Maybe I did, too.) Still holding the bug’s long body in one hand, he lifted a pepper shaker with his other, and dusted the creature in mid-air. Then, while I watched through my fingers, he opened his mouth wide, placed the dragonfly on his tongue, and closed his jaw, chewing with exaggerated chomps. We gasped, we hooted, we cried out in pain and pleasure. He opened his mouth again, and all that was there was his big pink tongue and his white teeth, trestled with metal braces. Applause broke out spontaneously, some stood in an ovation, and he took a low bow before returning to his seat. I’ll remember you forever, dragonfly dude. Bravo. —Rose
At my Girl Scout camp in Nowhere, Florida, incoming counselors adopted fun nicknames on the first day of camp, perhaps to add a bit of pizzazz to the drudgery that was camp counseling. As we introduced ourselves around the fire pit, a fellow counselor declared her camp name, “Stitch,” in a garbled voice akin to the extraterrestrial star of the 2002 film Lilo & Stitch. She was assigned to tend to the seven-year-old campers, whom she often entertained with an array of Disney sing-alongs. Being a member of the edgy punk-rock sub-squad of staffers, I often sneered at how passionately she sang grace at dinnertime. And I never understood why she stole away to read Nancy Drew books when the older girls convened to talk about boys and other slightly scandalous matters.
I wasn’t sure I’d survive the day that a hurricane forced my unit, the equestrian campers, to seek shelter in Stitch’s unit. By the power of a generator, Stitch hooked up the television and promptly put on High School Musical, to which she danced and sang along to for the entire duration of the movie. The kids were thrilled, and she was in the zone. As the storm raged on outside and the batteries in my Discman lost their juice, I finally put away my Sonic Youth CD and took notice of the general sense of comfort she imparted to the girls through a natural disaster. Whereas the girls had been panicked and sobbing at the onset of the hurricane, within an hour, they were laughing and singing and snuggling in harmony. I had a newfound respect for her. Even the jaded rebel inside me had to admit: We were all in this together. —Suzy X.
I spend every summer sailing at a camp 15 minutes away from my house. Given the sport, a lot of the people I sail with are either frat boys or otherwise obnoxious, except for one 10-year-old boy named Phil. He’s genuinely the MVP: He’s about 3’10”, has a squeaky voice, and looks like a human chipmunk. I can’t say anything bad about him, because the only thing I’ve ever seen him do is read the same Eyewitness book on pirate ships every day of camp. Oh, and he let me put temporary tattoos on his lips. —Lucy
In 2010, I was the token “girl” camp counselor for a group of mostly 12- to 15-year-old boys. The following summer, I returned to be a counselor for the same group, only this time, I had just come out as a trans guy. I was newly on testosterone, and worried that my campers wouldn’t accept me, would think I was weird, or would continually mess up my name and my pronouns (I was also incredibly insecure, as I had only been out as trans for a few months and everything was brand new to me). I was in for a lovely surprise when my campers turned out to be some of the most accepting and loving people I’ve ever known.
During my first month on testosterone, I was on a field trip with my campers. Five of us stopped for dinner at NBA City in Universal Studios. A 14-year-old camper of mine, Donny, got up to use the bathroom. He knew that I also had to pee, but I was extremely wary of and anxious about using the men’s bathroom. He said, “Just come with me!” I followed him to the bathroom where he proceeded to crack jokes about the state of the toilets. Chatting with him made me feel more comfortable about being there, and I was truly touched by his casual gesture of accompanying me. After we finished washing our hands, we practiced shooting paper towel balls into the hoop-shaped trash cans before going back to our group. There have been few moments in which I have felt as embraced and accepted as this one. All the stars to Donny, who helped me become more confident, and who always had my back that summer. Thank you, my friend. —Tyler