It was the day before the night of the first camp dance, and I was petrified. I’d planned to ask Rhonda Klein, but Joel Rose had gotten there first, and even though I was plenty annoyed , and Ellen Brenner had intimated to me that Rhonda preferred me to Joel, he was my best friend, and my partner in stickball, and we shared a salamander collection, and I just kind of felt there were some things you didn’t do to another guy, especially over something as silly as a girl. Amazing to me now, that at 9 years old I’d developed a sense of chivalry and fair play.
As the day wore on the prospect of being the only kid from the junior boys group to go to the dance stag had become an encroaching and discomforting reality. During ice-cream break I retreated to the back of the camphouse to plot my strategy. I could fake a stomachache and plead too ill to attend. But then I’d miss out on the barn fire afterwards, replete with hot dogs, marshmallows, and Uncle Hal, the camp director, enacting his rendition of the “Best of Cropsey” around the campfire. I could ask Carla Stevens, but she had buck teeth, and was pigeon toed, and looked a lot like her brother, Matt, who wasn’t a bad kid, and who did a pretty neat trick with turning his eyelid inside out that always managed to get me queasy. But I’d look at her and think of him, and is that kind of too close to being a “homo”?
Then, after camp, and after the after camp swim, and after I’d showered in the old stall shower of our bungalow, the one with the metal walls and the heavy plastic curtain, and as my mom was laying out a starched white short sleeve shirt and my good pants and shoes, not sneakers, but shoes, there was a knock at the bungalow door. It was Marcia Krauss. My heart jumped. Marcia Krauss! She had hair like soft down and skin like cream and freckles across the bridge of her nose, and a smile that made me feel tingly and weird at the same time, and I’d never managed to say more than three words in succession to her, but yet she was there, on our porch, and through the bungalow, muffled, yet distinct, I could swear she asked my mom if she thought it was too forward for a girl to ask a boy to a dance.
My mom, politically correct before it became fashionable, negotiated the question without a hitch, and an hour later Marcia and I walked off towards the casino, where Uncle Hal would play records, and we’d clumsily dance, and drink orange soda, and then sit together by the fire, swatting away lightning bugs and gnats under the Catskill sky, and listening to the legacy of Cropsey, and even, and I remember it so vividly, holding hands.
And I still think of that day and that night, sometimes, my first camp dance, when my old buddy Joel Rose stole my date, and Marcia Krauss stole my heart.
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