Thursday, 2 September 2010

The 6 minute warning

It's coming towards the end of summer camp and the excitement of being there is lessening by the day. It's around the middle of August and the weather is unbelievably hot. The kids are wearying of the camp, thus making our job harder. They have one special day when the kids parents turn up to relieve their guilt of sending their kids off to a boot camp for the whole summer. This is a spectacle to behold, with parents turning up in a whole host of flash cars, wearing very snazzy outfits and bearing tremendous gifts.

Al, the crazy chef is particularly stressed during this period, as he tries to impress the kids parents with his culinary delights. The kitchen hands are given the opportunity to show off their artistic sides in a mini competition to create the most beautiful fruit platter. Al, returns after 30 minutes of setting the task, only to find that I have balanced 2 cherries on top of 2 half melons in a breast like formation, with a triangular chunk of pineapple around 20 cm below. He looks at me, shakes his head and sends me off to the bug juice room to keep out of the way.

There have been rumours throughout the summer of a 6 minute warning. That is, if you do anything which is deemed to conflict with the camp ethos, you will get 6 minutes to vacate the premises. This is all fine and dandy, except that you will also lose your return airfare, which will be taken from the pitiful wages, which are being withheld until the end of the summer. Al, uses this 6 minute warning as a threat throughout the whole summer, to further manipulate the kitchen staff. He informs us of previous years victims of the 6 minute warning, including one year when the whole kitchen staff were apparently dismissed in one foul swoop. I have my doubts about whether the 6MW really exists or is just a tool to keep the Crane Lake staff under control (I liken this to rumours of god's existence). However, as the camp comes to the final few weeks, people begin to mysteriously disappear in a very short space of time. Like a camp counsellor who allegedly had sexual liaisons with a 13 yr old girl, who was staying on the camp.

One evening, a bunch of us decide to stride further afield to pursue our drinking exploits. For this purpose we are allowed to borrow the camp station wagon which we cram full of people. The station wagon is so full that we take a jeep as well. I elect to ride in the open back, exposed to the great outdoors and the beautiful Massachusetts night sky. I have travelled a lot in my life but I can safely say that I have never experienced night skies as beautiful as the ones that I saw during the summer of 1992. The stars were absolutely crammed into the sky, an astronomers wet dream of constellations.

I am lying in the back of the jeep on my own, completely absorbed in my thoughts and lost in the stars. Around me, the stillness of the Massachusetts night is permeated by the crazy sound of bull frogs, cicadas and other such creatures (I will elaborate on this later). It's one of those travel moments. I often do a trick where I take a conscious mental snapshot of a particular moment in time, which I can recall at any time with perfect clarity. This memory has just joined my mental slide show.

We arrive at our destination, which I think is somewhere in the Springfield region although my memory fails me on this. Anyway, our desired spot is a pub/bar on the outskirts of somewhere and it is in the rear car park of this bar that I alight the vehicle.

The evening is going good and the beer is flowing well. As per usual, I am quickly drunk and head off on one of many toilet stops. Upon my return I notice that somebody has left the storeroom door open, I enter the room and proceed to fill my pockets with bottles of beer. I sneak these back into the main bar and distribute them amongst my mates. I am to return to the storeroom for 5 sorties before I am suspected of my criminal acts and ejected from the premises.

It's around 15 minutes later and I am waiting outside the building for my friends to emerge. I hear the unmistakable sound of a fracas in the bar foyer and go to investigate. My friend Andy emerges through the front door of the bar in a very animated state. Behind him are the 2 Americans that work in the kitchen, Mike and DJ. Mike, happens to be Crazy Al's nephew and DJ is his best mate. Although the 2 boys are only 17, they are enormous and not to be messed with. DJ is actually the guy that drank the bug juice contaminated with my urine and consequently battered me with a chair. Never quite content with the punishment he administered he is looking for an excuse to have another go. In approximately 5 minutes I am going to afford him that opportunity.

Andy, is from Manchester, well Wythenshawe to be more precise. Wythenshawe, for those of you that have not heard of it's reputation, has been dubbed the largest council estate in Europe. It was originally created as a garden city in the 1930's but fast became an overspill city for the slums and squalor of Manchester. During the 1960's and 1970's, Wythenshawe developed it's reputation as as very bad place to live and a place to stay away from. So, as you can imagine, Andy is quite rough and ready and fancies himself as a bit of a hard man. Right now he is like raging bull, ripping off his shirt in a very aggressive manner and saying "Come on you American faggots, let's fucking have it Manchester style". Alarm bells are starting to ring in my head, of my own possible involvement in this dispute. As a none fighting person, I do not relish the possibilities of this challenge, even in my drunken state. As it turns out, alarm bells are not going to be the only thing that will be ringing in my head.

The argument intensifies and the 2 Americans start pushing Andy backwards towards a small playing field. As he flies backwards he notices me and shouts "Are you with me on this Andy kid"? I'm thinking "Like fuck, I'm with you on this", but what actually comes out of my mouth is "Too fucking right, lets kick some American arse".

They're on the playing field now and the Americans are circling their prey. Andy is still intent on the fact that he is going to have them both, but as far as I can see, he is about to get a proper pummeling. Andy throws the first punch which connects with Mike's head but all this does is infuriate him and provokes the counter attack. This happens quickly, Mike returns the punch which also connects with a sickening crack. DJ then grabs Andy from behind and bear hugs him up in the air. Mike lands a few punches whilst Andy is in the air and I am thinking "they've done this before, it's almost choreographed". My thoughts are cut short, as DJ drops Andy to the ground with a knee in the back. He falls to the floor in agony and gets repeatedly kicked in the head. This is my queue, I run in with arms flailing like a windmill, with no particular, accuracy, power, speed or conviction. I am halfway between the pair of them when it hits me "Thwaacckkkk". DJ, has right hooked me right in the temple and it feels like I have just run head first into a brick wall. I thought that seeing stars was something that only happened in cartoons, but right now I am seeing large cartoon stars, as I lie on my back with my body exposed to any further attack. DJ, pounces on me whilst Mike pounces on Andy. He says, "Are you giving up, you English pussy"?, to which I reply "Yes, get off me, my heads killing". Andy meanwhile is still hurling abuse, even though he is in no position to do so. In my mind I am urging him to stop and he eventually concedes. DJ lowers down on top of me with all his weight and says, "I ought to fucking finish you off right now, for pissing in the bug juice". With those words said, they both head off towards the pub, whilst Andy and I writhe around in pain.

Andy, is up on his feet, blood pouring from his head wounds. He is fuming and goes tearing off in the direction of the pub. I am unable to move and in retrospect, concussed. Besides my injuries, I have had my t-shirt ripped off my back and a gold chain given to me as a gift from my ex, snapped from around my neck. My head is literally throbbing, ringing and full of nothing but pain. Once again I hear an altercation in the distance and I think, "hold on hear we go". I drag myself up, just in time to see Andy racing after the camp station wagon, wielding some kind of implement. The station wagon suddenly stops, allowing Andy the chance to bring his implement crashing down at least 4 times on the vehicle windows, which break with a sickening smash of glass. The station wagon then accelerates off into the distance whilst Andy hurls abuse at it's passengers.

Thirty minutes later and Andy and I are heading off into the Massachusetts countryside, our bodies battered and our minds in other places. We have no idea where we are going or how far it is to Crane Lake camp. All we know is that it was a 30 minute drive to get to the bar and it is now 1.30am. It is pretty clear that Andy is going to get the 6 minute warning but I am hoping that if I can make it back on time, I can salvage my arse. This is when it all starts to get quite humorous.

We are staggering along like 2 war victims and all we can hear are absolutely crazy sounds coming from everywhere. We can pinpoint the bull frogs "whhoooaahhhhhoooaahh", and the cicada's "shhhiiiiiiiiiiiiii" but the night is literally alive with noises and some of them are too ridiculous for words. Besides that, the night is illuminated by stars and even more peculiarly, the bushes are alight with the flashes of fire flies. If you have never seen a fire fly, you are missing a treat. These guys are amazing with their amazing lamp like qualities which they use to attract mates or prey. The first time I saw them was in Israel when one mysteriously appeared in my kibbutz room , sparking a ghost hunt. In Massachusetts the bushes are full of them and it appears as if the bush is flashing on and off, as if you have your Christmas lights set on an annoying setting.

We have walked some distance by now and despite the pain and thoughts of expulsion from the camp, Andy and I are enjoying the banter. We are in fits of laughter brought about by these ridiculous noises that surround and generally enjoying the night walk. However, I eventually decide that I can't walk much further because I am so tired and I become desperate for sleep, this is probably further exacerbated by the concussion that I have sustained. We decide that we will try and get our head down for some rest somewhere, when as if by magic we spot an erected tent in someones massive back garden.

With any stealth that is humanly possible for men in our condition, we run across the garden and unzip the tent. Once inside we make ourselves as comfortable as possible and begin to relax. By now I have fully conditioned my mind to the fact I am going to suffer the 6 minute warning and financial consequences but "fuckit", it's all part of life's rich tapestry. I'm here now and at least I will be able to rest.

Andy and I, are chatting in whispered voices when all of a sudden the tent is illuminated by a powerful flashlight and a booming voice shouts "Get the fuck out of my tent guys, I know you're fucking in there, so I'll give you a count of 10 to get out of my fucking tent before I wrestle you out of my fucking tent". Andy and I look at each other and try to stifle our nervous laughter before getting up and exiting the tent. Once outside the guy pushes us to the ground and says "what the fuck are you doing in my tent". Where do we begin such a tale?

Ten minutes later and a tale seriously biased in our favour has been told. The guy, who turns out to be a professional wrestler, has taken pity on us and is seeing to Andy's wounds in the kitchen. We are given glasses of fruit juice and even more importantly we are offered a lift back to Crane Lake Camp, which we very willingly accept. The wrestler, drives and gives us advice all the way back to camp. Apparently, we are very lucky to have got into the right tent and if we would have been Americans we would have more than likely have been driven straight to the police station. With his piece said, he deposits outside the gates of the camp and bids us farewell. It's around 4 am by now and I have to be up at 7 to serve the kids breakfast. I lie in my bed staring at Harry the Hood, my head throbbing against the pillow.

I wake up and have come face to face with my assailants. They actually seem ok with me but take great pleasure in announcing that Andy will be thrown off camp. Right on queue, we hear him shouting outside and go to investigate. Ed, the camp director and one his beef cake hench men are escorting Andy off the premises. Andy turns to us with his his rucksack on his back, a large smile, stretched across his contorted face and in his unmistakable Manchester accent says "fuck em, they pay fuck all anyway". With this he exits the gates and I don't see him again until a meeting years later at his council house in Wythenshawe.

My headache takes a week to go away, the memory of drinking my urine will remain with DJ forever.

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