(excerpt from a family camping travelogue, September 1999)
The most peculiar feature of our friendship had always been the giggle attack. Only a couple of people had ever been able to push me into a state of genuine cackle-mania, and she was the champ. At some of the most inappropriate times imaginable, we experienced seizures of mirth that could go on and on and leave us sore and gasping.
Other people might watch in disgust as we wept and screamed and had to avoid looking at each other in feeble efforts to stop the attack. We have lost what little respect we might have had from some of our mutual friends over these outbursts.
Even so, we agreed that it’s better than most sex and possibly better than food.
Lulu would typically instigate with some sort of evil comment, but sometimes it was only a facial signal. She would keep at it until she had destroyed my composure, which usually meant I was on the ground.
That night, she found new fodder after we bedded our little gals in our assigned bunkhouse.
She described the scene I had just missed when I joined her on the porch. As she grabbed my arm intently, “You know that woman with the wacky eyes?” she began.
“No…” I said.
“You know. She looks like someone just poked her in the ass. All the time.”
“Okay, okay, What happened?” I was feeling the bubbles, the tiny bubbles behind my ears that signaled the beginning.
“She walks up while I’m standing here, and I told her that nearly all of the kids were asleep in there.” Lulu pointed at the cabin. “She goes like this,” Lulu clutched her throat as if terrified by some horrendous news, her eyes at their widest extension of alarm and whispered, “Whaddaweedoo?”
Lulu began to cackle infectiously. “WhaddaweeDOO? WhaddaweeeeDOOOOO? Oh God! Those eyes!”
We laughed all the way to the beers, and when I fell down, we stopped to admire the forest full of lightning bugs and the starry sky.
“God! Lookit that!” enthused Lulu, “The stars are so much closer!”
“They’re not closer, ya goofball, we’re just away from all the city lights now.”
“We’re higher up.” She was adamant. Even though she knew I was correct, she continued, “It makes sense to say that they’re closer because they really are so much closer here.”
“Lookit that!” She said again. “That’s the Big Dipper! Lookit that! What’s that? God, is that Mars?”
We spun around to see the North Star and strained up like drowning turkeys until we had our fill.
The “parents meeting” consisted of stopping in at the mess hall to self-serve from big ice tubs full of imported beer. We passed on the pizza and snacks and perched outside with beer and cigarettes.
Until then, I was the only smoker who was out of the closet in the daylight, but others began to appear with orange tips glowing from cigars and cigarettes. Without having to be told, we kept our stinky habits away from the people inside the mess who preferred bright lights and pizza.
Two little girls in long nightshirts appeared next to our table. Lulu took charge, “Are you girls looking for a counselor?”
They nodded in unison and interrupted each other to explain that the girls on the other side of the cabin were talking loudly and keeping them awake… and did we know where Erica was?
Erica was the sole female counselor who had provided the entertainment at the bonfire. She was perky in the way that only a recently unemployed cheerleader can be, and she had tried bravely to lead the apathetic crowd in a series of exceptionally stupid songs. All the songs had the lyrics, “Ooogy-Woooga-Ding-a-Ling-a-Bang-Bang.” I’m pretty sure. It was kind of tough to follow.
Lulu said that she hadn’t seen Erica for a while, and offered to set things straight. “We’re mommies,” she explained.
We marched behind our charming tattletales to their cabin and Lulu pointed to the right side door, “Is this the room?” The girls nodded solemnly.
Lulu opened the door gently and said that we understood that there had been complaints.
“Are you a counselor?” Asked one of the eight-year-olds.
“I want to be a counselor,” replied Lulu, “I’m just Erica’s helper, though.” She nudged me when I started to laugh.
I was being no help. “Tell ya what,” she said, “Do you think you guys could keep it down in here so that the little girls can get to sleep?”
“Excuse me,” a girl across the room in an upper bunk piped, “I don’t want to say who is making all the noise, but there’s only one person here who is making all the noise.”
“Is it you?” asked Lulu.
“No!” said the upper camper, “I’m just trying to get some sleep.”
“Is it her?” Lulu pointed to the only girl who wasn’t peering at us with wide eyes. She was under her blanket trying to make herself invisible.
They all nodded vigorously, relieved. They’d managed to make the accusation without naming names.
“Tell ya what,” Lulu began again, “If you want to tell each other stuff–”
“–just whisper,” I whispered at them.
“Yeah,” she continued, “Just whisper and use your flashlights to signal each other. You know, like, one flash could be for ‘no’ and two could be for ‘yes.’ Wouldn’t that be cool?” She chuckled and nodded conspiratorially. The girls joined her, one of the semi-toothless ones covered her mouth when she laughed.
“Okay then, Goodnight!” she said.
“Goodnight, girls! Keep it civilized,” I said.
Back with the parents, we retrieved another beer and got acquainted with some of the others. By some strange coincidence, every woman we quizzed was in social work and was particularly interested in working with women less fortunate than themselves.
The convergence of helper-types seemed a little bizarre. We talked for a long time to a woman who only smoked on the weekends and spoke passionately about helping battered women rescue themselves. “If you want to know something about how your future husband will treat you, look to the mother,” she said.
After several cigarettes’ worth of heavy conversation, I began to feel the unnamed muscle in the middle of my back sound the alarm that means bedtime.
Lulu elected to come with me, and felt the need to get silly on the way, which was understandable after all that deep talk.
I thought I had myself under control once I climbed up into my bunk, but the strain of tip-toeing in the dark among all those sleeping strangers must have primed me for what happened next.
I didn’t have to see her clearly to know exactly what she was doing. She was holding her fingers like binoculars around her eyes.
“WhaddaweeDOO?” she whispered, “WhaddaweeDOOOOO?”
I snuffled into my pillow and whimpered.
“Whadda…weeeeeeee…d-d-DOOOOOOO?” I could hear her making a sort of choking on a fur-ball noise.
Moaning into my hands, I tried deep breaths and failed to complete even one. My chest was heaving, my shoulders shook, and my nose was beginning to release honking noises. “Pleeeeeeease, Lu…”
“W-w-whaaaaDOOOOweeeeeeeeDOOOOOOO?” her throat was beginning to vibrate and resonate with a strangled clucking sound.
“I’m gonna kick your ass,” I hissed.
“What?!?” she whispered back “You’re gonna…what? You’re gonna pick my ass? Whaddid you say?”
“I’m gonna put on my p-p-pants—” I collapsed back into the pillow briefly. “I’m gonna put on my pants, and go outside and kick….your….ass!”
“Why do you want to pick on my ass? What are you saying?”
I made vague drunken mime gestures and waved her off.
Outside we ran into the middle of the field and fell down and rolled in the grass, finally able to give way to total seizure.
“What a couple o-o-of idiots!” she said, as calm started to creep back.
“I bet they’ve seen worse.”
“Ya think?” she started again. “Now…whaadaaweeeDOO??”
Tears streamed down my face and I pounded the grass until I could speak, as if my fist were a gavel. “You think they’ll let us come back?”
“God! No way! We can’t have those two here again!” she mimicked.
“Oh, no. This used to be a nice place until they got here. Everybody knows you can’t have PG County girls at a nice place like this.”
It took us an hour and a half to muster enough control to go back in the cabin.
We didn’t wake anyone the second time. I’m pretty sure.