By Michael Golub (EE72)

Chapter IV: Janice Smolowitz

The Boiberik whose dining room I worked in was not the Boiberik that Leibush Lehrer had known. Ostensibly, it remained the same campground he left behind when he died in the mid-sixties. But the spirit had eroded. Yiddishkite remained only in perfunctory vestiges such as the names of the summer festivals, the lyrics of the quasi-secular religious services, the awards and commendations given at the season's end.

The campers had become the slick young suburbanites whose very existence Leibush foresaw and tried to prevent. But Yiddishkite was no match for affluence. Nassau county had spawned a generation of adolescents for whom Boiberik's cultural milieu was an anachronism. They tolerated the emphasis on Yiddish traditions grudgingly; it was the price they paid for two months of the unique comraderie that the camp environment makes possible.

There's nothing new about these revelations. We knew, even then, as the 1970's drew to a close, that Boiberik had out-lived its usefulness, that its demise was imminent; that , even if our children did get to enjoy summer camp some day, it would not be this one. Still, matters of daily importance have a way of taking precedence over matters of impending doom, and this afternoon was no exception. There was a meal to be served.

I left Fred on the bandstand, and headed for my server, which was positioned diagonally across the guest dining room. I had not taken more than a few steps when I was summoned from behind.

"Hey, Bocci." I recognized the voice as Ricky Ritterman, one of the elste-mitele (twelve year-old) boy counselors, and a close friend since our camper days when I had stolen Robin Wolfson from him.

(Maybe "stole" is the wrong word. It is more likely that she simply abandoned Ricky for me because I had longer hair and was perceived, even then, as one who defied authority. Her political ideology was strongly influenced by her older brothers who were "conscientious objectors." Thus, the ugliness of the Viet Nam War permeated every facet of American society. Even preteen pair-bonding in Boiberik's mitele division, insulated as it was from the world's violence, was affected.)

I was able to make amends for this amorous scandal by losing twenty-five thousand dollars to Ricky via escalating bets on game of skill. The object of the game was to move a steel marble through an obstacle course of holes by manipulating the slant of the suface on which the marble rolled.

All this, the mitele love triangle and the profligate gambling, took place in 1969. I had since left campside, seduced away by the unsupervised freedom and lucrative salaries of dining room work (not to mention having been refused a counselor job because, to Rita's jaundiced eye, I was an incorrigible trouble maker). Ricky remained firmly entrenched as a paragon of campside values. Nevertheless, we remained close friends.

"Bocci," he called again as I spun around. There he was, a shock of neatly combed black hair, skin aglow with the robust tan on which so many of his sobriquets were based, the casual smile, the stocky frame. He wore a Maryland T-shirt and gym shorts, and sported a comely lass on either arm.

"You talkin' ta me?" I asked, in my best pscyhotic Travis Bickler imitation. "You gotta be talkin to me, 'cause I don't see any other 'Bocci's' around."

Ricky smiled, acknowledging the reference, but the two Elste Elste (fifteen-year-old) girls whom I was actually trying to impress, Hana Dorn and Claudia Strauss, continued poking at his ribs with tickling jabs and, ignoring the joke.

"Listen," he said, breaking from the grasp of his entourage, and walking towards me, "Are you busy tonight? Eric and Shelley and Janice and some of the other counselors are going to Michael's Diner later on and-" he interrupted himself.

"You're not going out with anyone yet, are you?' he asked cautiously.

"Nope." The camp season was wasted without romance. Three weeks into the summer I was still quite unattached.

"How're things with Marsha?" he asked.

"They're not. She sort of with Daits."

"Oh," he responded, sensing my disappointment and eager to draw an upbeat connection to his invitation, he added quickly, "Well, listen, Janice isn't going out with anyone, she has a great body, and I thought tonight would be a good chance for you two to–"

"Mr. Bomber," I began, employing a respectful variation of his first and most well-known appellation, "Did I ever tell you about my run-in with Janice...back when I was a peshkie?"

"Campy, Campy" the peurile groupies, Hana and Claudia, squeeled from the camp dining room, restrained by the invisible divider which was enforced by virtue of Rita's proximity. (Campers, you see, were not allowed to fraternize with waiters, less they become pregnant, or worse, stoned. This was Rita's policy and, I must admit, it was not unfounded.) Why they wanted him so badly, I can only surmise, and such speculation rekindled the wish that Rita had been able to overlook my previous mutinous behavior to grant me a counselor's job after all.

"Later, girls," he said, and I marveled at the way he seemed to control their youthful exuberance. With a wave of his hand they turned, dejected, and marched off towards the exit. This was no longer the crew cut Brown Bomber from whom a scrawny mitele like me was able to steal girlfriends. This was a big man on campus.

"No" he said, returning to the topic at hand, "you never told me."

We were not far from the bandstand, in front of the swinging entrance and exit doors, conduits connecting the guest dining room to the kitchen. The busboys passed through these portals as they brought last minute items to their tables. Ricky and I waltzed our conversation a step forward, then backward, then sideways, in order to allow them more direct passage.

"Well," I began, "it was when I was relief peshkie, I used to come to meals stoned sometimes, y'know."

"Yeah," he replied, shaking his head in mock disapproval, "all the peshkies did. I thought that red eyes were part of the uniform."

"So, one day," I continued, "I was serving Janice Smolowitz' table, and she asked me for more bug juice. It was almost the end of the meal, and I didn't fell like trekking all the way back into the kitchen. Besides, I knew there probably wouldn't be any left, so I grabbed a pitcher from a nearby table--bad form but not unheard of..." I stopped, momentarily reconsidering Steve Seiden's misadventure.

"...So anyway, I put the pitcher down in front of her and said, 'There y'are', and walked away."

The next thing I know, I feel this vice-like grip on my arm, and it's Janice, and her face is all red, in fact, she's flushed as far down as I can see – I remember this distinctly because she was wearing a bikini top that day and I spent a lot of time during that lunch standing behind her..."

Ricky's grin of recognition revealed a healthy compliment of gleeming white dentition, all the more albescent in contrast to his swarthy visage. He was, I assumed, most likely relating to a similar vantage point he had enjoyed during some campside activity: a sing down, or a relay race, I don't know.

My story was interrupted at this juncture by Malke, the hostess, who shouted, "Dust, Dust!" with such alarm one would have thought she had just discovered botulinum toxin in the borsht.

I looked over to see her standing by table eight, part of my station, as she pulled chairs aside with a vengence, dismayed by the unswept appearance of the floor.

"Billy....Billy....Billy Daitsman!" she called, summoning my busboy. He emerged from the guest kids' dining room, laughing as always, accomodating, ingratiating, and exasperating, all at once. He gave Malke a big hug, and, in doing so, he looked up to see Ricky and I watching from afar. Billy proceeded to give her beehive hairdo a squeeze, presumably for our benefit. It was his nature to entertain.

She pushed him away.

He crooned, "Malke, baby, what's the commotion?"

"Billy Daitsman," she replied, in her best mock-up of a stern disciplinarian, "Look at this floor," and saying this, she noticed a cigarette butt, the ultimate infraction, pounced on it, and held it up under Billy's nose as proof of his guilt.

"Now Malke, wait a minute, just wait a minute, that is not my cigarette, I swear it," he insisted, but she inspected the butt and declared, "It's a Marlboro!"

I recognized the butt to be my own, but penalized as I was, I felt less than virtuous. And so I turned away, eager to finish retelling my sordid tale.

"So, um, where was I?" I asked Ricky.

"The red tits."

"Oh yeah, so, she was livid. She holds a up a glass of orange Kool-Aid, you know, the bug juice that was being served that day, and, floating on top, well, actually filling the glass, was this flocculent stuff that looked like, um, bread balls, that, I guess, someone had dropped into the pitcher.

"So, y'know, my friend, Freud said 'the unexpected is a major component of humor'."

He acknowledged my academic digression with a grunt and waved me on, eager to hear the conclusion.

"-And," I continued, "to me, well, this was very funny. Bread filled juice: totally unexpected. She asks for bug juice and I accidently give her some yeasty-mush. So I started laughing."

"Oh boy," Ricky said, a hand slapped to his forehead. He knew Janice better than I.

" 'Oh boy,' is right.

She dragged me to the corner of the alcove.

"'Listen,' she hissed, the veins on her forehead bulging. I remember this image very clearly because I always thought that Janice was kind of sexy, and at that moment fury had transformed her into a gargoyle. So she says, 'not only do you come to every meal stoned and get all our orders wrong, but do you have to be so goddamned lazy that you can't even walk into the kitchen to get something I ask for?"

"'Janice,' I whispered, stepping closer to her and, uh, intentionally violating her personal space. She was so angry that she seemed to be vibrating; I've never seen that before. I said 'I'm sorry about the juice, I didn't know it was contaminated.' Her fists were clenched, I remember fearing for my safety, but just for a moment. Still, somehow, even though she seemed like she was about to bust, I thought that she liked me and that, by striking the right flirtatious line, it would be easy to get her to forget the whole thing. Bad judgment."

"Boy," Ricky said, "you must'a been stoned."

"The last thing I said to her was, 'I think this mishap can be the beginning of something very special between us,' or something like that. Y'know, like the last line in Casablanca.

"Well, once again, the unexpected didn't make her laugh. She didn't even crack a grin. Some type of noise came out; part-groan, part-howl, like the warning noise that some animals emits before attacking; I don't know where it came from, her sinuses maybe.

"Anyway, she scared me so much with that yelp that I jumped back. I haven't gotten too close to her since."

"Jesus," Ricky said, "I had no idea."

"Tempers flare when people are thirsty, Campanella," I offered philosophically, employing the full version of another of his nicknames.

"Do you think she's gotten over it by now?" I asked. Ricky seemed to have most of the girl counselors pretty well pegged.

He thought a moment. The cacaphony of Don Rubien banging a tray to signal the beginning of the guest lunch burst through the porch windows.

"Probably," he concluded. "It couldn't hurt to come along tonight and talk to her to find out."

I agreed. "She is kind of cute-"

"Great body," he added, reverently.

"Great body," I echoed, "firm grip too, and a lot of, uh...spunk..."

Just then, Phyllis Keningsberg, the plucky gamine, zipped by, carrying four oversized water pitchers, two handles grasped in each hand. She was but a pint-sized, sassy busgirl; her stature belied her puissance and determination. These qualities enabled her to become one of the first women to break the sex barrier in the Boiberik dining room.

"Please allow me to introduce myself, I'm a man of wealth and fame," she sang, for our benefit. She broke into a Jaggeresque strut without tipping her pitchers, showing off the style that had earned her the lead in so many camp shows.

"Oh shit," I said, jarred back to reality by Phyllis' jazzy reminder of what a bad boy I had been."I have tea duty tonight."

Ricky was puzzled. "I thought the peshkies do all of the tea duties."

"Yeah, most of them. This is a penalty."

"Overslept again?"


Chapter V: Station Two
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