Sunday, July 20, 2008

A few hours ago I was in Barnes & Nobles with my fiancee, looking for light beach reading for our honeymoon, thinking about perhaps buying Chelsea Handler's book, maybe trying one of the old Chuck Palahniuks, or something I saw about the history and philosophy of comedy that turned out to seem more like slapdash fluff than the profoundly funny study that the New York Times Book Review made it out to be, but what else do you expect from the Times?

We were at the bookstore only because the Batman movie was sold out so we bought tickets for it for tomorrow, because I wanna try to crash Comic-Con and all the geeks will laugh at me if I haven't seen the superhero cinematic event of the summer, and I simply can't be ridiculed by grown men dressed like She-Hulk or a Tribble.

So there we were in the aisle of recently released humor section and I saw that book Camp Camp I mentioned in an earlier post and realized that it focused more on camp dwellers from the mid- to late-'80s than the timeframe of my sleepaway stint. The styles were different but the experiences were the same. At the talent shows, kids were dressing up like Michael Jackson or Run DMC -- which is embarrassing for anyone, but especially for suburban white Jewish boys. In my day, at least the kids tried to emulate musicians of the Semitic persuasion. Namely KISS.

(By the way, I don't know why I had to provide this long drawn-out intro explaining the reason I'm reminiscing about this story. The real meat of the post starts here. And like anyone gives a crap how I arrived at this memory now? Am I hoping that The Dark Knight, Chelsea Handler or Tribbles are going to be more thought- (and comment-) provoking than my upcoming camp anecdote will by itself? But there you have it. Now, back to the story...)

I hated KISS. Did then. Do now. Despite my love of hard rock, and the small pleasure out of knowing that Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley are a couple of not-so-nice Jewish boys, I think those schmendricks' music stinks like kippered herring that sat behind the deli counter too long. Even the world's first power ballad, "Beth" -- I was skeptical of that schmaltz when I was still in my short pants.

Perhaps appropriately, the camp bully loved 'em. This particular jerk had been terrorizing me all summer. I found a few old photos and can't understand now why I was scared of this guy back then. He was only slightly bigger than me. Similarly, in the girls' bunks, the campers who were mean to my sister at camp -- I look at the group portraits, knowing how superficial these girls were and wonder where all that attitude came from. I think my sister was a much cuter kid than them. Maybe I'm biased. And maybe they were bitches.

So this bully and his friends, for the camp talent show, did a lip-sync number to a KISS song. Basically, they'd get made up with the black-and-white gimmicky face paint, strum their tennis rackets, air-guitaring to some awful ditty like "Shout it Out Loud".

I reluctantly entered the talent show, too. My sister and a couple of people who knew me in my civilian life suggested I reprise my elementary school performance of "Casey at the Bat". I wasn't sure. This was camp. It was about fun, nobody wanted to hear some artsy-fartsy poem about baseball from a hundred years ago. Maybe if I did it fast -- kinda like a Sugar Hill Gang rap song, but no, they said, just do it the classic way. Tell the story, and a friend would come out and perform as "Casey".

Weird thing, when the audience and judges voted on their favorite act... it was a tie -- Casey at the Bat and KISS.

I don't know if this says something about the balance between high-brow rhymes about the the lack of joy in Mudville and the entertainment value of four schmucks imitating four other schmucks and vomiting fake blood. As we accepted our award, which I think was gift card to the canteen -- candy to Mikey in those days was like Euros to a currency trader today -- the camp bully shrugged and said my performance wasn't too bad and I did the same to him. The next day he went back to his usual routine of catching me off guard and punching me in the stomach.


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