Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Life as Defined by Penguin Bars - I

Penguin bars are these amazing, individually-wrapped chocolate sandwich cookies covered in milk chocolate that I was introduced to while studying abroad in Ireland. Each wrapper has a joke on the flap, with the answer under it. The following are vignettes loosely inspired by those “funnies,” as my Irish friends referred to them. While these vignettes are based on real experience, they are not biographical.

Q. Why did the lobster blush?
A. Because the sea weed.

The transformation that takes place is amazing: preppy girls refuse to take showers for weeks on end, wear the same grey middie and soiled, green Sophie shorts, and throw off their Crocs and splash through the shallower parts of the lake, letting the gunga runga ooze through their toes. Isolated for two or more weeks from the pressures of parents, friends, and whatever else causes anxiety while living on the edge of a freshwater lake in cabins on stilts under the bare, grey face of a mountain locally referred to as Old Bald, these girls are free to really be who they are—or decide who they want to be.

This gives them a chance to mature, and learn life skills—and in the process, drive their counselors insane.

Take Lexi for example. Alexis Christian is her full name, but there’s nothing benevolent or compassionate about her. Just two scary blue eyes glaring at you from under the mess of blonde hair, which she refused after arrival at camp. Sometimes, you wonder if she’s even a girl—her favorite thing to do is act like a puppy, and sometimes, her interpretation is quite convinicing. The only way her cabin could make her act decently for “Deck the Counselor” was to stuff her into a mildewed puppy suit from the Costume Shop, and perch her on the edge of the stage to bark and make puppy faces at the rest of camp while her cabin did their dance routine to “I’m a Little Teapot” in Deb dresses and sparkly wands. The mountaineering team about died when she signed up to climb Old Bald as her Sunday afternoon activity. The only way they kept her from wandering off and falling down the mountain was to put her on a leash—a harness around her middle, tied to her cabin counselor. How Lizzy made it through those two weeks so good-naturedly with such a child under her care was beyond any of us. But there were times when Lexi would evade the counselors’ eyes. They came too late to rescue a family of frogs, living under deck to the counselor’s lounge. The frog’s soft insides oozed from their empty eye sockets, their limp bodies hanging from her arms by the time the counselors were able to jump from the porch and grab the slippery girl. I wasn’t there for this event, but one of my cabin girls witnessed it, and came crying to me afterwards.

“She’s so mean to them! I hate her! How could she do such a thing!” After a short burst of tears, Mabin felt better. “Can I go swing?” she asked.

“Go potty and brush your teeth first,” I told her. “That way, you won’t miss taps.”

I was awoken in the middle of the night by a soft thump on the floor, and a stong scent of urine. A small form in a thin nightdress shone from the middle of the room.


“I think I peed my pants,” she whispered. “I couldn’t hold it.”

I quickly checked her bed. It was dry. I helped her change from her wet nightclothes into some dry ones, and we went to the bathhouse together to make sure we had it all out, and to wash her hands. By the end of two weeks, she was able to make it to the bath house before her bladder exploded. Even Lexi had adjusted somewhat to her newfound freedom, becoming proud of her arts and crafts projects, playing the puppy dog for the show choir song, and beating her own record of how many jelly-lilies she could slap onto her face.