Poor Summer

Take for example a poor kid. He and his family camped for a whole summer at a county campground when he was 9. It was because they had no house. They had come back from a city where things hadn’t worked out. They were now back in the general vicinity of where they’d come from, Detroit-ish, give or take 50 miles. It was 1987.

Poor kid hung out by the lake. Watched movies in the pavilion. Saw strange dogs and overheard redneck fights because tents don’t have walls. This kid learned to love Ramen noodles in a cup. He ate white bread sandwiches with Goober Grape peanut butter/jelly mix–this was peanut butter and jelly integrated in the same jar, which now seems both ingenious and repellent.

Reagan was president. Things hadn’t started trickling down.

This kid helped his parents collect returnable cans after a concert. Two trash bags worth exchanged for over $20. It was a big deal.

The kid had a tape recorder, and would hold it up to a portable radio when he heard songs he liked, like “Born to be Wild.” The sound, tin and static and treble, went through the air from one cheap electronic device into another.

One time, he got to rent a paddle boat with his sister.

He learned to make a lanyard when they held craft lessons in the pavilion. Toward the end of their stay, they upgraded from the $6/night site to the $8/night site with electricity. You could plug things in, like, theoretically, a small black and white television. Or, like the neighbors, a bug zapper.

Somehow, the parents didn’t go crazy. The kid and sister barely knew better. It was an adventure. It was sometimes uncomfortable, but it could be justified in the name of experiencing nature intimately.

One night, they showed “The Wrath of Khan” in the pavilion. There was an intermission when they changed reels.

Excursions outside of the campground in the Impala might be to a junk store or to pick up payment for the odd jobs the parents were doing. The back seat had no seat belts.

One of the cassette tapes the kid had was the soundtrack from “The Muppet Movie.” Sometimes Gonzo’s solo made the kid get all teary-eyed.

It was between the kid’s birthday and his sister’s. No one had to suffer the indignity of a birthday next to their tent home. By the time school started, they were living in a motel room. At least it had walls.

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