Monday, May 29, 2017

Camp Indian Head

As we're easing into summer, it seems like a good time to write about summer camp. I'm partly inspired by Mr. Pudding's recent accounts of being a camp counselor in Ohio in the mid-'70s. That's about when I was attending day camp in Florida, at Camp Indian Head, just north of Tampa.

I started at Camp Indian Head in 1971, when I would have been four years old. I think my mom had to work out a special deal to get me in that early, because the camp usually took kids who were five and above. Since I have a late birthday (November) she could reasonably argue that I was due to turn five soon enough. At any rate, I was accepted as the youngest Navajo. (Kids at CIH were divided into "tribes" by age and gender. The youngest boys were Navajos; the youngest girls, I think, were Cherokees. The oldest boys were Crow, the oldest girls, Iroquois. There were five tribes for each gender.)

All these Indian references -- not to mention the camp's logo, a chief in a feathery headdress -- would probably be called "cultural appropriation" these days, but back then, nobody thought ill of it. At least not that I ever heard.

At camp, we learned to swim and ride horses and did arts & crafts and studied wild Florida nature and jumped on an in-ground trampoline that was probably not the safest thing in the world. The older kids took photography and learned to shoot BB guns and use bows and arrows. (Fewer lawyers back then, apparently!)

We ate lunch in a screened-in cafeteria that served sandwiches in white wax-paper envelopes -- sometimes peanut butter with grape jelly, sometimes egg salad, sometimes bologna with mustard. After lunch we gathered in the auditorium, a vast, 3-walled building with a stage at one end. We sang camp songs right out of the Peter, Paul and Mary songbook, like "500 Miles" and "If I Had a Hammer" and "Puff the Magic Dragon" and "I Gave My Love a Cherry." Another favorite was "One Tin Soldier," typical of the pacifist vibe of the era. After the sing-along, we sat or laid quietly on benches lining the walls for a mandatory rest time.

Every Friday was awards day, when ribbons were distributed for distinction in any given activity. And there were the silver and gold sportsmanship awards, a paramount honor that came with a little plaque.

I still have 16 of those ribbons. I attended in 1971 and 1972, and then took a five-year break. I went back in 1977, '78 and '79, when I was in middle school.

I have nothing but fond memories of the two earliest years. After all, what kid isn't happy at that age? I even won the sportsmanship award one week in 1972. I was so happy and terrified when I was called up to the stage that I cried. (That's me at the top, holding the plaque.)

Here's what the plaque looks like these days. A little weathered, but I've kept it all this time.

My later years at camp were not so carefree. Middle school is a rough age for anyone, and I got bullied a bit for being more into books and stamp collecting than sports. (In one memorable incident, my chief antagonist -- who shall remain anonymous here but whose name is still legend among my relatives -- threw my shoes out the window of the bus that took us home each evening. One of my parents had to drive back to Busch Boulevard and rescue them from passing traffic.)

Undoubtedly my gayness was a factor in the bullying, though being ten or eleven years old, I didn't understand it then. One girl -- whose name I will also never forget -- called me a "faggot," and asked me if I knew what it meant. I confessed I had no idea. I asked my mother when I got home, which of course prompted an uncomfortable conversation.

Another memory: I was friends with a boy whose mother worked with my mother, and we used to give each other back rubs during rest time. This incensed the jock counselor who oversaw team sports. One day he made us stand in the middle of the auditorium for five or ten minutes hugging each other, in front of everyone -- I suppose to embarrass us into not trading harmless shoulder massages.

Not all my memories of those later years are negative. I had a favorite horse, Smokey Joe, and I collected award ribbons in subjects like photography (above). I still remember the photo counselor, a laid-back guy who supposedly used to shoot for Led Zeppelin. I got not one but two ribbons for "patience" in swimming, which mystifies me now -- maybe I amused myself by splashing around on my own, and stayed out of the counselor's hair, and she appreciated it.

Another counselor had an exotic pet he called a "honey bear," and I've never been clear on what this animal really was -- I think it was a kinkajou. It added an interesting element to the nature outings. (Kinkajous aren't natural in Florida, but whatever.)

Anyway, all in all, Camp Indian Head was certainly a growth experience. I never stayed there overnight, though many kids did, and I never did the "survival" training, in which older kids went out into the swamps and forests at the end of the summer to fend for themselves. Too bad -- if the economy ever really goes south, those skills might come in handy!

Alas, these days, Camp Indian Head is no more. The land was sold and subdivided in the 1980s, but the road that used to lead to the camp's entrance -- and now leads to a bunch of houses -- still bears the name.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Cemetery Karaoke

We had beautiful weather yesterday. Olga and I seized the opportunity for a leisurely walk in the sunny cemetery. She's not quite used to the warmer season -- she didn't seem to want to walk too far, and she was moving a bit slowly. No squirrel-chasing! I gave her plenty of water from the taps along the cemetery pathways to help her beat the heat.

(It wasn't that hot -- mid-70s, maybe? She's just a drama queen.)

Otherwise, it was a low-key day. I read and transcribed some old journals and did laundry. I was thrilled that the yard-waste recycling people finally, finally collected our bags of old leaves and sticks and cuttings -- a month and a half after we paid for the service. (Apparently it took a while for the bureaucratic machinery to process our payment and deliver our bag tags, without which the bags languish uncollected.)

Thanks for all your comments on my post yesterday. Now that I read them, I don't know where I got the idea that freezing was what would happen. It sounds like surgery is the gold standard.

Someone had a cranking karaoke party last night in the building behind our flat. I woke around 2:45 a.m. and it was really blaring, a group of people singing an unidentifiable modern pop song at the top of their lungs with all the windows open. I debated calling the police, and I flashed back to a time in New York (almost ten years ago to the day) when I was faced with a similar situation. But ultimately, I never did anything. I went back to sleep. Let the kids have their fun.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Crazy Carcinoma Day

I went to the Royal Free Hospital yesterday to deal with that lingering spot on my forehead. Here's what I imagined would happen: I would walk into the clinic, be seen by a dermatologist who would quickly zap it with some liquid nitrogen, and I would leave.

That is not what happened.

Instead, I was told to get entirely undressed and put on a hospital gown. Then I was seen by a dermatologist who examined not only my forehead but everything else, too. (No other suspicious spots, thankfully.) Then the dermatologist, who agreed with my GP that I seemed to have a small basal cell carcinoma, said that I would have minor surgery, probably that same day, to remove the spot. I asked whether they could freeze it off, and she said freezing wouldn't allow them to get enough "margin" so surgery was required.

Then she said she wanted to confer with a colleague, and left the room. In came a medical photographer (!) who took photos of my spot with a variety of lenses. I signed a form saying they could use these photos not only for my records but also, I think, for instructional purposes.

The dermatologist returned with her colleague and a visiting doctor from China (!!). All three of them examined my spot. The colleague advanced the theory that it really was just a keratosis, and not a basal cell carcinoma at all. He suggested doing a "punch" biopsy, removing the lesion and testing it. If it's a keratosis, nothing more need be done. If it's a carcinoma, I'm supposed to go back for the minor surgery.

So that's what happened. Local anesthetic, and now I have two stitches and a star-shaped bandage on my forehead, and the lingering possibility that I'll have to go under the knife. I still don't really get why they couldn't freeze the thing off, because I'm pretty sure that's what happens in the states, but I'm not a dermatologist so what do I know?

Everything is complicated, right?

When I finally got to work, with a gauze pad and "plaster" (aka Band-Aid) over my star-shaped bandage and stitches, the kids were very concerned. It was nice to be asked whether I was OK. Made me feel appreciated! "Routine dermatology," I shrugged.

Here's the good news of the day -- the rescued fig tree finally, finally seems to be doing something. Tiny, tiny little nubs have appeared along the branches. I'm sure these are leaf buds. Stay tuned!

(Top photo: An ornate gate near the Royal Free Hospital.)

Friday, May 26, 2017

Nod and Smile

Well, the phone call with the bank turned out to be no big deal, once I stopped trying to complain and resist. I just agreed with everything and acted super-friendly and the whole ordeal was over in about five minutes. I suppose I should learn a lesson from this -- just roll with it!

So I have a new ATM card. Oh well.

I came home last night and found about 40 black ants, some with wings, crawling around the woodwork near the back door. I hated to do it, but I got out the vacuum cleaner and sucked them all up, and then took them outside and deposited them in the yard. I'm sure they'll die or be eaten out there, away from their nest (wherever it is), but I can't very well allow them to set up housekeeping in our baseboards, can I? I'm just wondering if they're termites. Once again, I'm glad I'm a renter.

I'm in a better mood today. For one thing, I'm finally getting that spot on my forehead taken care of -- the basal cell carcinoma my doctor diagnosed about a month ago. I have an appointment in the dermatology clinic of the Royal Free Hospital at 10 a.m. I'll be glad to get this resolved!

Olga never came to bed last night -- she stayed out in the living room. I think she was hearing foxes in the yard. (Or were they anteaters?!) I heard them yipping just before I went to bed, and when I got up this morning some objects near the back door had been shoved around, which makes me think Olga was dancing around there trying to get out. Always the hunter!

(Photo: A tiny black fly on Hampstead Heath Extension. I have no idea what kind it is.)

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Apparently I'm Cranky Again

Did anyone happen to read this article in the New York Times Magazine about Jared Kushner's real estate empire? Or, more specifically, the subdivision of his real estate empire that acts as landlord for low-income tenants in Baltimore, one of America's rougher rust-belt cities? It is a truly illuminating piece. Basically, his firm buys troubled apartment complexes and then harasses tenants who had already moved out to get them to pay for broken leases, even when they had permission from the management to leave early. It's Slum Landlord 101. I almost posted it to Facebook, with a caption saying, "Dear 46.1 percent of America: These are the people you elected because you believe they represent the interests of the working man." But then I decided that there's enough toxic arguing on Facebook and I just didn't want to add to the rancor.

Somehow on the blog it seems OK. By now, you all know what to expect from me, politically.

The nieces are leaving today. We said our goodbyes last night, after hearing about their trip to Paris and treating them to some authentic British television ("Gogglebox," which I've written about before, and "8 out of 10 Cats Does Countdown," a game show played by comedians who are much more focused on being funny than on actually winning). They're asleep now, but by the time we come home from work they'll be in the air on their way back to North America.

Dave has a concert tonight, so I would normally be looking forward to a quiet night at home -- except that I have a phone appointment with someone from Barclays, our bank, who's supposed to fill me in about all the percs of our new account. (The account that I didn't even want.) They called me two nights ago and asked if everything was going well, and I complained about the fact that I was told our ATM cards wouldn't change, and then we subsequently received new ATM cards in the mail. They apologized and put me on hold for ten minutes, at which point I hung up. I'm not going to mention the ATM cards tonight. I just want to get through this damn phone call, which again, I did not initiate.

I want my bank to be a silent partner in my life, you know? I want them to hold my money and otherwise keep a low profile. *Sigh*

Oh, and remember how Dave and I had our DNA analyzed? I was recently talking to a co-worker at a party and learned the same test exists for dogs! Well, not the same test, exactly -- but a breed analysis, useful for determining the canine components of a mongrel dog. Of course, we ordered one for Olga, and after taking swabs of her inner cheeks (which she loved, and yes, I'm being sarcastic) we mailed it off yesterday. Olga is definitely a mix of something -- now we'll get to find out what.

(Photo: A parked Volkswagen in Hampstead, last weekend.)

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Nieces Return

Amid all of yesterday's tragic news, I'm happy to report that the nieces successfully made it to Paris and back. I have no idea what they did there because I haven't had a chance to talk to them yet -- they got home about 11:30 last night. I got up briefly to help them get in -- they were having trouble with the door lock -- but we didn't talk at all because I knew they were probably exhausted. We'll catch up this evening!

So, yeah -- Manchester. I read the news right after posting yesterday morning, and now I see we know who committed this atrocity. Every time something like this happens I wait for the identity of the perpetrator to be revealed, along with some clues about what could possibly have been going on in his (and it's always a his) mind. And then we get the identity, but no clues at all. That mind is always left without illumination, a black hole of evil intent, impossible to understand.

I mean, ISIS sends out its claims of responsibility, its word salads of "caliphate" and "crusader" and other terms better left behind in history books about the middle ages. But they don't help us understand either. That's just some organization imposing its worldview on a barbaric act.

I always wind up concluding that in addition to fanaticism, there's a degree of mental illness at work in incidents like this. Because what else could explain them but utter madness?

As I walked home from work yesterday evening I passed the apartment building above, Elgar House. I love our human tendency to celebrate beauty and genius. Even an act as simple as naming an apartment building after a famous composer shows our ability to create, and to recognize remarkable creations. It's interesting that our human species can be both so inspired, and so deluded.

Anyway, I have no answers. I'm not sure there are any.

I'm just going to keep inhabiting my little corner of the world, and enjoying my sunny days, and watching out for my loved ones as best I can. Because that's all I can do, isn't it?

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Nieces Go to Paris

We've had quite the night around here. Dave and I went to dinner with the visiting nieces yesterday -- once again at our local pub, the Black Lion -- and they talked about their desire to go to Paris. They've been kicking this idea around for a few days, but apparently by the time they got online and tried to buy tickets on the Eurostar, the prices had become insane. They were also having difficulties getting their credit card transaction to go through. So when we got home, I tried it myself -- and indeed, I was getting $800 and $900 fares for the two of them.

I wondered what their options were for flying, so I checked Travelocity. Long story short, they departed this morning at 3:30 for a 6 a.m. EasyJet plane, and will return this evening, at a fraction of the cost of Eurostar. It seems crazy that a plane would be so much cheaper, but it was -- less than half the cost, including airport transfers -- thus making their trip feasible, if fatiguing.

So that's where they are today. I'm having creeping parental worries about whether they'll lose their passports or miss their return flights or get lost or get mugged at the Gare du Nord -- which is silly, because these women are in college and perfectly capable of taking care of themselves. Besides, getting lost is part of the fun!

I'm still doing library inventory -- DVDs, which are a nightmare to work with because the bar codes are never in the same place from one to the next. In fact they're often inside the cases, which means I have to open each DVD to scan them. I have half a mind to just not inventory them. After all, they're old technology, right? Aren't we going to get rid of them soon, in all likelihood?

(Photo: Someone's sleeping spot in Elephant & Castle.)