Pillows absorb sound. Maybe that's why it was so hard to identify the "plip," that interrupted my stuporous post-breakfast snooze. Name that noise. Not so easy when you're startled out of a dreamless sleep by a barely audible clue. Groggy senses placed the sound less that twelve inches from my vulnerable and unsuspecting head. My right eye scanned the landscape: rolling hills and valleys of wrinkled pillowcase, irregular stains reflecting the nocturnal saliva output of the last two weeks. My left eye, indeed, the whole left side of my head remained buried in the seductive down cushion.
If there were adequate time to think, I might have eventually guessed the source of this unwelcome alarm. As my reasoning faculties began their methodical sifting through the possibilities, however, I was greeted by a most unwelcome vision. An intoxicated hymenopteron, a wasp perhaps, or maybe some rural hybid of dragon-fly and tarantula, staggered across the creases of my headrest, wings flapping listlessly and ineffectually. It limped towards my nose, and whether it sought to encrypt itself within the mucoid depths of my then flared and quivering right nostril, or to unleash its murderous vengence with one last stinger to the schnoz, I shall never know.
The vermin's final odyssey was cut short. With uncharacteristic gymnastic finess, I sprung from my cot, grabbed the nearest shoe, and with a swiftness of purpose inspired by insane fear, swatted the moribund beast to the floor and then crushed him beyond recognition of species.
As I examined the splattered remains, a distant bell sounded; this time the cue was familiar. It meant that the campers were to interrupt the business of leisure and report to the dining hall for (a predictably disappointing) lunch. It also meant that I was late. Very late.
Mid-July in the Hudson Valley was invariably hot and humid, and this day was uncomfortably typical. Toweling the sweat from the nape of my neck as I stepped into my workboots, I grabbed a belt, and then raced out of my cabin, my destination the same as the campers'.
The noontime sun was uncompromising, it brilliance tempered only by the subdued reflection off verdant foliage of the campgrounds. I looked downward to avoid the blinding glare, guided my belt through its loops, and half-jogged my way through the main gate that separated Boiberik's guestside from the children's side, the "sleep-away" camp. Crossing the Yingste (youngster's) field, I fell into stride behind a group of Yingste-Mitele (ten year-old) girls, prepubescent toothpicks, who skipped, arm-in-arm, while chriping a mindless rhythmic ditty.
Their counselor, an hour-glass named Janice Smolowitz, and the counselor-in-training, a diminutive though buxom siren, brought up the rear, sheparding the stragglers onward and upward towards the merging streams of migrant revelers, all congregating for the mid-day feeding.
It was all so tribal, so anthropologic, that it took little imagination to the strip the young women of their T-shirts, throw grass skirts about their waists, darken their complexions, pierce their lips with labrets, photograph them, and sell it, as a feature, to National Geographic.
As I passed Janice and began to sprint the last fifty yards to the dining room, I reconsidered the transposition; perhaps a periodical should focus, instead, on the unique existence of Jewish summer camps. There was little time left for such a feature, before they all faded into oblivion, having lost their clientele to computer institutes, weight reduction vacations, tennis seminars and wilderness survival courses.
I bounded the dining hall's gray, wooden steps, by threes, and stopped on the porch.
Roger, the head waiter, lounged on a bench by the entrance door. Brad, his assistant, sat to Roger's left, bolt upright, wide-eyed, eager for the kill.
Roger was popular, good-natured, well-organized, and generally respected by the staff. These attributes were balanced by a venomous and unpredictable temper. Brad was less popular and respected; his temper, although less vituperative, was equally unpredictable. They were my friends, my colleauges, and my bosses. Roger smiled, and checked his watch; uninterpretable. Was he angered or humored?
Brad spoke first. "Very late, Bocci."
Oh Christ, I thought. I'm almost killed by an odious pterodactyl (both saved and threatened, I realized later, by the concentration of poisonous No Pest Strip vapors circulating in my cabin) and they're giving me shit about showing up late for lunch. The best strategy? Alarm clock malfunction? Laugh it off? Distract them?
"Hey," I began, "did you guys ever see they James Bond movie in which a spider-"
Roger raised an open palm, a judicial gesture; sentence must already have been decreed. "Save it Bocci. You're lucky, Phyllis set your tables. Go do the opener."
No punishment? I was relieved and surprised; it was only yesterday that Brad pulled me into a walk-in refrigerator to offer a stern warning.
"Bocci, don't ruin a good thing," he had said as we sipped chocolate milk, man to man, within the cramped confines of the Dairy Box. Lipoid droplets hung from the tips of his mustache hairs in a most uncomplimentary fashion. I wiped my own 'stache, fearing I might be similarly besmerched, thanked Brad (most insincerely) for his counsel and promptly dismissed the incident as little more that Brad's effort to reaffrim our relative positions on the waiter's hierarchy.
It was Brad who spoke next as I began to walk past Roger, and in so doing he revealed that Rogue's terse dismissal was not the extent of the penalty.
"One more thing," he intoned, forcing me to pivot about on the threshold and reface the bench. "Tea duty."
Tea duty. The bane of the dining room worker. Two hours of playing handmaden to a scornful and impatient Deena Blank, the teapouring virtuoso, who shouted "More vasa! more vasa!" out of the corner of her mouth as the two of you struggled to keep pace with the clamoring crowd, she dispensing the steaming brew while you tried to keep her supplied with refilled pitchers.
Of course, it was only like this on the busiest nights. Other times, tea duty's main drawback was the isolation. While you toiled with Deena in the canteen, your fellow waiters were unwinding directly overhead. There, in the decandent dive lovingly dubbed, "The Hole," by the senior waiters who boarded there, your co-workers smoke and drank themselves into a giddy oblivion, safe in the knowledge that State Police did not invade the camp grounds without emergency cause. (And heart attacks were rare. Maybe one per summer, tops. And one stroke, on average.)
Tea duty was something that peshkies (camp dining room busboys; pledges, really) did weekly, and waiters did only on those special nights of the season when Deena demanded the sure and steady hand of an experienced company man, a senior on the dining room staff, a veteran of the "Hot Line," a guest-side waiter.
Tea duty was Boiberik's version of a stockade. I was incensed.
"Rogue," I began to protest in earnest.
Once again, I was cut short. "I don't want to hear it, Bocci. This is the third time this week. Take your work seriously, damn it; it's a real job; it's not a fucking joke."
There I was, in the middle of Dutchess County, serving three meals a day to a variety of generally enfeebled and easily satisfied customers, responsible for little more than tallying borsht and soup orders and providing Mr. Fisher with seedless rye (he wears dentures, you see) and Mrs. Waletsky with prewarmed grapefruits (she has her own teeth, but they chill easily) and I was getting chewed out by someone barely three years my senior. One of us was out of line.
"I'm sorry Bocci," the harangue continued, "but you've got tea duty tonight."
He sure as hell didn't seem sorry. Ambivalent, maybe. But he definitely took pleasure in meting out the judgment. Oh well, power corrupts. I stormed inside, and headed for Station Two.
Chapter II: The Big Picture
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