"These kids are going to be the fucking death of me," Al said, just moments after Donny left his office, "Not even a full day and I already have one of these brats getting sent to me. I told you we should have stopped taking these juvie kids. Nothing but problems."
"Yeah well those juvie kids are the only reason we're actually able to stay afloat. Those government checks are about the only thing that keeps this place going, what with your oh-so-wonderful prices," said Marion. She sat across from him at the desk, helping him sort through the chaos, as she always did.
"We raise the prices anymore and we have about half the kids, which means even less money," Al said matter-of-factly. What didn't kids these days understand about economics? The solution couldn't always just be raising the price, that’s why this great country of ours is where it's at in life.
"Yeah, I'm well aware. I just think you need to remind yourself of that when you threaten to pull the only funding we get." This was the third summer they'd had this conversation. At this point, it was just another item to mark off on the conversation checklist.
"Oh come on, Marion, you know I'm just frustrated. That little shit wouldn't even look me in the eye. Kids today just have no fucking respect," said Al, for what felt like the millionth time in his life.
"So what do you want to do with him?" asked Marion.
"What do you mean? He's with Carol, she'll whip him into shape eventually."
"Or he'll attempt to set her cabin on fire AKA my cabin," Marion said, speaking from experience.
"Just keep an eye on him. If he becomes too much of a problem, we'll send him packing . . . after two weeks of course," said Al, always budget conscious. The courts weren't able to retract their funding if the juvenile was there for half the time. As ignorant as Al was when it came to most financial aspects of the business, that was one part he was always on point with.
"Eventually they're going to start noticing that you send home half of them at the two week mark and then we're going to lose them all," Marion said, trying to be the voice of reason. Al knew she was right, but if there was one thing he hated, it was disrespectful campers, which meant most of the juveniles.
"Fine, if he has any more issues, he's your problem," Al said, looking down on the mounds of paperwork on his desk. It was his usual routine of freaking out about the many campers -- a number that kept lowering with every passing year. Yet this was still his routine, and without it, he wasn't sure if he was even able to run the camp the rest of the summer. He was a man of routine.
"How is it that this gets more and more complicated every year? Isn't it supposed to be easier the more years under the belt?"
"That's the theory but who's to say life ever gets easier," she said, writing furiously into the ledger.
"You fucking said it," said Al, moving over to the other side of the office. He opened up one of the filing cabinets, sticking some more papers into the mass of previous documents. “God dammit. I think I need to get another filing cabinet. Think we have it in the budget?" A seemingly ridiculous question, given the small price of cabinets but . . .
"No. Not in the slightest. I can't believe you'd even ask that after the hell I just went through will Carl. I've stretched this budget as far it as it'll go. I'm not adding one more expense; I don't care if it's paperclips," Marion stressed.
"Tell me again why the boss has to ask his head counselor for permission to do things in his own camp?"
"Because without his head counselor, the boss wouldn't have the reliable counselors he has now, not to mention the countless number of hours I've spent on the phone with parents, asking for more money. Not an easy task," Marion said, too busy to look up from her paperwork.
"Good point. I think you may be the closest thing I've had to a wife. I also think I get why I've never been married," Al joked. Looking at the office space around him, he should have known they didn't have the money for it. The wooden walls were just days away from rotting. Every window had at least a tiny crack in it, with some being full on shattered and replaced with wood planks.
"Why don't you just get rid of the older papers? All they do is take up space," Marion pointed out, her head buried in the accounting books, trying to figure out the billing for all the campers.
"I can't do that. What if they come back? How else am I going to remember them? The ol' memory ain't what it used to be." Al knew it was sad that he even thought like that but it was a hard one to let go.
Back when his father ran the camp, people returned all the time. Watanka was the place to be during summers in the whole tri-state area. Past campers would even bring their kids, wanting them to embark on the same great experience that they had as youths. Nowadays, he was lucky enough to have three regulars, a far cry from his father's 75% return rate. It seemed like his father did just about everything right when it came to the camp while Al felt his head was barely above water most of the time.
Al desperately wanted to return the camp to its former glory but he just didn't have the money to do so. Watanka already had a reputation that was hard to outgrow. The camp was falling apart -- even the sign out front had trouble staying on its hinges. Two of the cabins had succumbed to termites, although given the lack of campers it may have been a blessing. The greatest problem of all seemed to be that kids just weren't going to camp like they used to; something the bank was sure to point out when declining his request for another loan. Whenever Al tried to turn the camp around, the world always had different plans.
"You know that's not gonna happen," she said, unenthusiastic at the prospect of returning campers. Marion was always the voice of reason, even when Al didn't want her to be. She would tell him what he needed to hear and not what he wanted to hear, a rarity in his life.
"A man can dream."
Al's mind wandered off, heading into the glory days of the camp. He could remember so vividly the remodeled cabins, hundreds upon hundreds of kids and the man at the center of it all, his father Abe. The kids loved him, the counselors respected him, and the parents envied him. There was nothing that brought a smile to his father's face more than the operating hours of the camp. He even refused hiring a maintenance man, deciding he would fix any problem himself. The camp was like his child, and he treated it with the utmost care.
One huge difference in operations was in the 80’s they would even operate for two months, rather than the current system of just one. By the end the kids would be begging to stay, exclaiming how they couldn't wait to be back the next year. And they weren't lying either. They'd be back in spades, sometimes even bringing friends with them. Abe had to turn kids away, not having enough room to house them all, a problem Al could only dream of having.
Now the only reason they could even last one month was due to parents wanting a break from their kids. It was no longer about sending their children off to better themselves, it was just a reason to get them out of the house so they could fuck in peace. If the kids had their way, they wouldn't even be at the camp. Most hated it and just wanted to be behind their computers and video games, wasting their lives away. Al loathed the current generation. Not to mention their insistence on sex.
Outside of a few rare occurrence's, Al's father didn't really have a problem with sex at the camp. If it was happening, it was happening out of view, making sure none of the adults were aware. That was respect for their elders. Nowadays Al was lucky if he didn't have a disgusting same-sex hookup during the summer. The world was going to shit and all of the horny millennials were taking it with them.
"So do you think we're going to have any issues this year with the counselors?" Al asked, knowing Marion always had a better perspective when it came to these things.
"Al, I told you, sex is gonna happen. You just have to accept that. College kids like to fuck. It's a simple fact of life," she said, finally closing out one of the books in front of her.
"They have ten months to do that, why can't they just be respectable citizens for the short time that they're here?" Al asked, truly wondering.
"Either we have a bunch of counselors fucking or a lot of counselors masturbating. At least one’s more social."
It was true but Al didn't want to believe it. He hadn't had sex in eight years, so it had just become another thing in life that he wasn't getting. He wasn't sure if he held resentment towards it or not. Probably.
"I would just like to go a summer without walking in on two of my counselors fucking. Can't even respect me enough to hide it," Al said, shaking his head.
"Most of our lives are spent hiding sex. When we're teens it's hiding it from our parents. When we're adults it's hiding it from our kids. This is just the time in life where people can fuck without hiding it. It's the beauty of the college years."
"I just wish --"
"That it was 1982? I think you're gonna have to start giving up on that dream," Marion laughed.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah. You say what you want, but I'm convinced those fuckers do it just to spite me."
"Now you just sound like a bitter old man. No one is out to get you. They're just living their own lives. This just happens to be a pit stop during the summer." Marion sounded sincere but the words still stung.
"Is that what this place is to you? A pit stop?" Al asked, really only hoping for one specific answer.
"Absolutely. I hate this place almost as much as you do," Marion said. The exact words Al wanted to hear.
"Every year I just tell myself 'one more year. Then you'll finally be done with this place.' And yet every year, I'm back. What does that say about me?" Al asked, genuinely wanting an answer most would have just deemed rhetorical.
"It says you're in a routine. It happens to the best of us. Just look at Louie, he was supposed to be off at film school --"
"Please do not compare me to Louie. Ever." Al didn't like being compared to the idiot jester he somehow hired as a counselor. Marion claimed he was good at his job but Al saw no proof.
"Fine, then compare yourself to me. I hate this place. I tell myself every year that I'm not coming back. But I just keep coming back. Why? Because it's easy and I know what I'm doing. It can be a lot of work, but nothing I can't handle. I probably could have gotten several different jobs -- better paying ones at that -- while I'm going to school. But sometimes when you live in a crazy world, all you want is familiarity." Her words sat with Al for a moment, as he stared forward, face drooping downward.
"You're right. Maybe this is the year I do it. Hell, Carol is just chomping at the bit to take this place over. Some days I wonder if I should just do it and get it over with."
"Ha! You do that then you'll need to find yourself a new head counselor," Marion trailed off towards the end, already thinking what Al was about to say.
"Oh silly Marion. You actually think that she wouldn't just appoint herself?" Al joked.
"The thought certainly entered my head but I wanted to hold out a little hope for her own humility."
"If she weren't so damn extreme I'd happily put her in charge. No offense but she's definitely the most committed counselor I've ever had. No one loves his place more than her." Al certainly believed it but it was odd to admit out loud.
"Please don't tell her that. It'd destroy the image she has of you in her head. Not to mention the insane heartbreak that would follow."
She was right. Al put on a show for everyone except Marion, the only person he'd trusted since his dad's passing. He couldn't help putting on the façade. He wanted everyone to view him in the same light as his father. It was hard though, and each passing year was just making it more and more difficult. Especially when he used to hate the camp so much. But he had to keep putting on a show.
No one would even know this reality if it weren't for a drunken confession to Marion during her second year. He regretted it at first but grew to appreciate having a person to turn to. It made the decision to make her head counselor in her third year an easy one. Carol wasn't pleased but it was Al's decision so she respected it. He certainly knew that Carol would make a tremendous head counselor -- she was undoubtedly the best worker he had -- but he just couldn't imagine giving her that much power. It was sure to go to her head. When he finally decided he was done with the camp? When he'd move down to Florida and never think of camps or campers every again? That's when he'd let her run the madhouse.
Until then it was his playground.
END CHAPTER SIX