Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Place: The Smoky Mountains
During summer break from college, I got a job as a counselor for a YMCA camp located in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. I was assigned the ten-year-olds.
I shared a cabin with my campers. What I mainly learned about ten-year-old boys that summer was that they were really curious about girls, and though they wanted to be seen as grown up, they were still young enough to be silly kids.
Every night, after lights out, I told my campers to go to sleep. Then, I grabbed my flashlight and headed for the counselor’s cabin where Fred and Billy, two junior counselors, were waiting for me. From there, the three of us hiked down to the camp’s stagnant lake so we could smoke pot. If the head counselor knew that we got royally baked every night until late into the evening, he never let on.
As a result of my nightly herbal recreation, during the day I was always grumpy and half asleep. One evening, I finally had enough.
“I can’t make it tonight,” I told Fred and Billy. “I can barely keep my eyes open. I’m going to bed.”
As I walked back to my cabin, I could sense that something wasn’t right. First off, the lights were on. After I turned them off, the campers were not allowed to turn them back on, though honestly, I never really expected the boys to obey that rule. The thing that really tripped my inner alarm was the silence. There was no noise coming from the cabin. Normally, if a bunch of ten-year-olds break a rule like turning on lights that are supposed to be off, they can’t help but create a lot of noise doing it.
I entered the cabin and this is what I saw. One of the campers, a chubby boy with curly hair named Phillip, was facing the back wall. All he had on was a pair of tighty whities. His back was hunched and he held down the front of his underwear as if he was about to take a piss. He stood on a footlocker so that he would be the right height to insert his penis into a knothole. He didn’t seem to be violating the knothole; he only seemed to be trying it on for size. All the other campers were watching him from their bunks. At the sound of the door opening, boys turned to me. Phillip’s cheeks turned red and he scampered under the covers of his bunk.
“They all did it too,” Phillip whined.
The other campers were about to shout their own explanations for what I had just witnessed, but I held up my hand.
“Nobody say anything,” I said. “Not one word.”
I looked at the cabin full of ten-year-old boys and I could feel their fear. They had been caught doing something really naughty, perhaps even depraved. How would I, the adult, punish them?
There was only one logical thing I could do in this situation.
“I don’t know what went on here tonight,” I said, “And I don’t want to know. Just don’t ever do it again and we will pretend it never happened. Is that understood?”
“Yes, sir,” said the boys.
I turned out the lights and we all went to bed, but from then on, I could never enter the cabin without noticing that damn knothole.