Camp by Deborah Blumenthal
I arrive at camp seminauseous from the bus
ride and nearly starving. Almost three hours, and the “snack”
was one medium-sized banana and a bottle of water. It’s almost
lunchtime and after we’re shown to our bunks, we’ll
get to eat our first meal at Camp Calliope, which some of the kids
on the bus are already calling Camp Calipers because we know they’ll
be using those plierlike instruments that pinch your fat to measure
But first we’re shown the bunk, which
looks like a giant plywood box with exposed ceiling rafters, open
closets, an attached bathroom—thank God—and pathetic
bunk beds with the kind of thin mattresses they use in prison cells.
The upper beds are about a seven-foot climb, so I immediately throw
my backpack on a bottom bunk to claim it and then brush off a gynormous
dead wasp that I find on top of the mattress.
“God,” I mutter, swiping it with
my bag. Flash back to me settling down on my pillow-top mattress
at home with the snow-white scalloped sheets and the down pillows,
and I’m almost reduced to tears. Carla, who, it turns out,
is in my bunk, climbs up the wooden ladder that’s bolted to
the side of my bunk bed and says, “I don’t mind sleeping
on the top.” She hauls her bag up, but not before pausing
to apply more lip gloss which she has done about thirty times since
we left Manhattan. I don’t know what she’s doing in
this camp—maybe Neiman Marcus’s princess camp was filled.
It’s obvious from the sideward glances she gets, that the
other girls are wondering the same thing.
We have a counselor named Karen who seems all right—at least
not as irritatingly cheery as Charlene—and she introduces
herself to all of us. She’s tall and serious-looking with
a long brown ponytail. I imagine her shopping for “green”
paper towels and having an organic garden. I know that she plays
the flute. She’s got a small room, separate from ours, which
is good news, because it means we won’t be eyed 24/7. While
we’re hauling in our bags, Karen suggests that we take a break
and spend a few minutes introducing ourselves to each other. She
looks at me, so I start.
“Cam Phillips from Manhattan.” Momentarily I think about
following with some right-on remark about not wanting to be there
and totally selling out, but hold off. Ditto for adding “being
here truly sucks.” When it’s clear that I’m not
going to give out any more information, Karen turns to the girl
sitting on the bunk bed next to mine.
“I’m Bunny Young,” says a
very bleached blonde with a breathy baby voice, who I’ve noticed
has brought along a collection of food and dining magazines. Is
it my imagination, or does she resemble a younger Martha Stewart
minus the Birkin bag?
“I’m from Philadephia—one
of the fattest cities in the country,” she adds. Everyone
laughs or snickers, and she goes on. “And this is my first
summer at a camp like this.” She ends with a shrug. In a flash,
I envision her behind a kitchen counter baking pies, because she
looks like Miss Homemaker.
“Well, great,” Karen says, breaking in to ease our discomfort.
She points to the next girl, who’s tall, with big blue eyes
and an easy smile. She’s wearing two thick braids. I can’t
help noticing that despite the heat, she’s got on very cool
pink cowboy boots. I don’t know why, but I like that.
“Faith Masters,” she says, with a heavy Texas drawl,
“from...well, y’all can tell.” We all smile. “I’m
determined to lose at least 25 pounds this summer, and that’s
why I’m here.” It’s obvious that everybody admires
her for wasting no time owning up.
“Great,” Karen says. “And I’m going to do
whatever I can go help you get there.” She points to Carla.
“Carla Valentine,” she says in a delicate voice, and
then doesn’t say anything for a long time. We wait, curious
to see what she’s going to tell us about herself. She tosses
back her platinum hair slightly. “And I used to weigh fifty
pounds more than I do...” she blurts out. We all stare in
disbelief. She’s about 5’10”, and not more than
120 lbs. It’s close to impossible to imagine.
“So...” she says, exhaling for emphasis. “I’m
here to keep doing what I’m doing so that I can keep the weight
off, because...” she says, staring hard off into the distance.
Then she shakes her head and adds, in a rush, “It’s
such a damn struggle.” With that, she burst into tears, and
all of us are momentarily shocked and don’t know what to do
except look everywhere but at her, and try in our pathetic ways
not make Carla feel even worse. Karen immediately goes over the
“I know how hard it must be for you, and we’re all here
to support you.” Carla takes the tissue that Karen rushes
to put in her hand and blows her nose. No one says anything, but
at that point I’m starting to like her more than I did when
I saw her jump out of her Mercedes like a carefree fashion model
who was late for a shoot. Karen keeps a supportive arm around Carla
for another minute and then points to someone with long, stringy
brown hair wearing a bloodred T-shirt and cargo shorts.
“I’m Summer,” she says, head high and acting aloof
as though she’s trying to pretend she’s some Hollywood
film star. “And when I get home from camp, no one, and I mean,
NO ONE is going to recognize me! It’s going to be one big
BEFORE,” she says, holding up two fingers on each hand and
making little quotation marks, “and AFTER.” She ends
with a smile that vanishes in a nanosecond.
“Okaaay,” Bunny says, and we all start to laugh.
Lunch is in the mess hall, a building that’s half the size
of an airplane hangar. All around the top of the walls are camp
flags that look like the campers stitched them out of swatches of
fabric. I later find out that they’re the flags made by the
winning sports teams and that the camp has been in existence for
almost forty years.
“So weight-loss camps are nothing new,” the director
says, giving us the tour. “It’s just that now with fast
food and more women working so that fewer meals are served at home,
weight issues are greater than ever and more and more people have
to relearn the way to eat to stay slim and healthy.”
No one in the group says anything; we’re just following him
around like baby chicks. What I’m wondering is whether they’ve
figured out how many calories you burn on the tour and if that’s
taken into account as part of the day’s exercise, because
I sure hope so. Right now, even with the dead wasp, the only thing
that I want to do is sleep.
“Well, I’ve talked enough,” Mel says, holding
up his hands like a traffic cop. Mel is short for Melvin, and he’s
the owner of the camp along with his wife Lillian—who looks
more like his mom, because she’s one of those holdout types
who refuses to color her gray hair or have the bags fixed under
We all head to the tables that our groups are assigned to and then
get in line with our trays to pick up our food. I think there’s
a reason that we eat cafeteria style—we’re forced to
be separated from the food by a stainless steel barrier. I push
the red plastic tray along and start loading it with an iceberg
lettuce salad and a packet of gluey-looking low-fat Italian dressing,
and then take a plate with oven-baked chicken (cornflake crust,
I think) posing as fried. To go with it there are dishes filled
with whipped potatoes, each portion about the size of an A-cup,
coleslaw made with vinegar and probably artificial sweetener—heaven
forbid mayo—and string beans. Fresh strawberries and vanilla
wafers are dessert.
After lunch, we go back to the bunk and have
a free period before heading to the dock for water safety tests
that are mandatory before they’ll let us swim or go boating.
“Well, well, look what I found,” says Summer, staring
into her backpack. “A Milky Way.” She smiles seductively.
There’s silence in the bunk as everyone instantly stops writing
letters or unpacking clothes. She looks at me with her eyebrows
I pause for a minute and then shake my head. “No. I’m
more into Nutrageous.”
She shakes her head.
Carla makes a motion that indicates that she’s throwing up.
We all laugh.
The West Texas cowgirl just studies Summer. Then slowly, she sits
up in her top bunk bed and swings her legs over to the ladder. She
climbs down and walks over to her, hands on hips.
“Show it to me,” she says, challengingly.
Summer reaches into her bag and acts like a magician, suddenly whipping
out her fist and opening it. “Fooled ya,” she says,
showing us her empty hand and smiling widely. “I was just
trying to find out who was the weak link.”
Camp by Deborah Blumenthal, NAL Signet, a member of Penguin
Group USA Inc.
Fat Camp now from Amazon.com
Fat Camp now from Barnes&Noble.com
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