It's All In The Game
by A. Charles Corotis


It's All In The Game: A selected Collection of Gay Essays
on Life, Love, and the Pursuit of Mnemosyne,
Assayed from the Provocative Pages of
New Jersey's Literate Review Weekly, The Argus

By A. Charles Corotis



Maybe it's because my own active Y days are so far behind me, and coed swimming has made me slightly prudish, but the sight of the camp dock thronged with undraped male specimens of all ages—and sizes—struck me as strangish, un­accustomed as I am to Turkish baths.

Don Sherman and I were paddling our canoe from the nefher end of Quick Pond when the white mass resolved itself into an assorted collection of fleshpots—and, since this was annual reunion weekend, I do mean pots!

Truthfully, though, they weren't so bad, considering their ages. After all, these men were athletes in their salad days, and most of them have managed to keep in pretty fair shape. Nevertheless, there's a roundness and fullness about the rarely exposed regions that strikes the uninitiated eye as passing strange.

Not, you understand, that I had any qualms about join­ing the army en deshabile. Modesty never has been one of my virtues. And as a matter of bare fact, the all-or-nothing custom solved a problem for me.

I was up at the Newark Y's Kamp Kiamesha high in the hills of Sussex county for the weekend, all packed to go directly from there to the elegant Traymore in Atlantic City for the druggists' convention. The difficulty posed by wet swim trunks troubled me. The problem resolved itself. My fleshy derriere took its place unclad among the others and trunks remained dry for the sojourn to the shore.

Later, lying in my canvas bunk, I was inspired by the recollection of that motley array to write a paraphrase of Whittier's "Barefoot Boy." ". . . Blessings on thee, little man . . . ." Remind me to recite it to you one of these days.

There was another throwback to my boyhood there in the tranquil northern Blue Ridge Mountains, where the Appalachian Trail winds its aboriginal way—back to an era when government was less solicitous about the fingers and eyes of its subjects, and fireworks were not outlawed by stodgy statute. Some old grad, who lives in a backward state that places firecrackers on a lethal level somewhat below the dead­ly automobile, brought a goodly supply with him—goodly and loudly. Did I ever really enjoy having a cannon-cracker explode under my bunk just when I was dozing off? I won­dered as I scrambled about on the tent house floor on hands and knees looking for the missing parts of my skull.

But there was something nostalgic about those pyrotech­nics, for all 'a that. I floated in a pungent sea of remem­brance as Independence Days I have known drifted past. Like the time the string of torpedoes frightened Mr. Kelsey's skittish mare, overturning the sulky and breaking his old mother's hip in three places. Ah, memories!

But I digress. I am dealing with a later day, and hips of a different gender, if not much different in embonpoint. Middle-aged man and woman look nowhere so much alike as from the rear, the view unencumbered by cover.

Take my friend Toni Kieb, mine host on this adventure. Now Toni was a terrific athlete in his hey-hey day, a champion swimmer, aquatic and athletic director of camps and Y gyms, a real man's man. But Toni in a bathing suit could be my Aunt Matilda. From aft, that is. Many a man looks almost reversible in trunks, his fore protuberance approxi­mating in size and shape, and even in location, the bulge behind. Could Frank Fifty screw his head around you couldn't tell at a cursory glance— I almost said at first blush — whether he was coming or going. But there on the dock at Kiamesha I had no trouble at all.

This I know you won't believe: I wouldn't myself if each thigh didn't sigh with the aching memory; but I played not one game Saturday afternoon but two. And I lugged my pro­testing carcass around to home plate half a dozen times, and snared everything that came reasonably close to first base, including some pop flies within ambling distance.

You needn't tell me I'm too old for that sort of thing; I know it very well. I purposely avoid these trappings of youth as much as possible, because my resistance is never lower than at a camp or playground, unless it is a smorgasbord table. I am a sucker for a court, tennis or basketball. I love nothing better than to drive my aging right toe (broken three times) into a bloated pig bladder, or snatch it up and dash with verve and eclat through a bewildered field of would-be tacklers. But somehow a hurricane always seems to be blowing in my face when I punt. And how it is that Ross and his six-year-old playmates always manage to trip me up when I'm carrying the ball I can't for the life of me explain. That little Mary Jane is a deadly tackier!

But it is at the sight of a baseball diamond that I really lose all reason, throwing off the restraining hand of aged discretion, and prance into action like an ancient, spavined fire horse that hears the gong and sniffs the nostalgic acrid odor of smoke. I dearly love to take my cut at the ball, a slashing, vigorous swing that some not-too-distant-day will dislocate my sacroiliac. Disdaining caution and common sense, I run those bases like crazy—anyway, like a crazy hip­popotamus. Younger men watch me with consternation and implore me to "take it easy" while they tag me out. If I took it any easier I'd be running in reverse.

So I played both ends of a double-header there at Kiamesha, with lads who for the most part are camp counsellors, natural athletes, in training, some still in school. Having sur­vived that, did I rest on my laurels, quit while I was ahead? No. When an old non-combatant forsakes the lethargic and sedentary life, he goes all out until he drops from exhaus­tion or coronary thrombosis. From a sluggish, almost station­ary symbol of idleness, he transforms himself into a veritable whirling dervish, arousing muscles and organs from their long hibernation, to their bumpy amazement and, judging from their counter-attacking reaction, their displeasure.

Two ball games? Merely a warmup for this young-in-heart. I swam the eternal triangle, qualification for aquatic laurels, without going over on my back to float my breath back more than twenty or thirty times.

I paddled my borrowed canoe— one of those floating sardine cans of lightweight metal, happily— from one end of Quick Pond to another (the ends are not very far apart; it's a rather small lake).

The volleyball court, though, was my undoing. It was there that I covered myself with something less than glory- I, who had one of the most bruising overhead clenched-fist serves in the salad-and-fish course of my youth; who could set with feathery touch and net-grazing accuracy; who could spike with fearsome force.

How was I to know they use higher nets and smaller courts these days? Every year, new rules! Even the gremlins conspired against me. One alternately hoisted up the net and moved in the backline when I served; another stiffened my fingers when they should have been curved and supple and pliable; another weighted my feet with anchors when I strove to spring into the air to spike a smash down through the numbed hands of the opposing front lines. Mean, nasty old gnomes.

Well, that did it. I didn't mind spots before my eyes, but when the sweat pouring down my face sprouted great red flames out of which emerged twenty horned disciples of Sa­tan beating upon my bald pate with iron mallets, I knew my excursion into exercisia was over.

I thought about it next day, trying to rest on the train to the Traymore. It kept me busy putting my legs back on at each jar and jostle of the roadbed from Newark to Atlantic City.

Adding to my discomfort was delayed penance for my unusual and unseemly exposure. I shouldn't have lolled in the sun so long, baring to Sol's fierce frown certain tender parts that had no previous coating of tan. Public beaches in this country draw two lines, below and above which, respec­tively, neither Apollo's rays nor mankind's gaze may venture with propriety and the law's immunity. True the area be­tween those extremities is slight latitudinally, (let us not discuss longitude, diameter or, above all, circumference), but what is contained therein is highly sensitive to such in­fluences as fiery Phoebus exerts.

Well, I took mental solace if not physical relief in the thought that every steaming mile was taking me closer to my pharmaceutical friends who would have balm and un­guents for my salvation.

It wasn't only a retreat from the conventional, that sunny June weekend— it was a memorable, youth-reviving experience.

Kiamesha means "placid waters" in Indian dialect, and Quick Pond, named for the famed trapper and Indian fighter, Tom Quick, sits serenely in the lap of majestic mountains that encircle the lake like an emerald pendant around a sparkling sapphire.

Newark Y sends over a thousand youngsters up to this healthful haven for varying periods during the summer sea­son. It exemplifies the grand contributions made by this organization to the well-being of the community. Boldly displayed in the dining hall is the camp motto: "God First, Other Fellow Second, I'm Third," a provocative lesson in sacrificing humility.

That spirit of unselfishness characterizes everything about Kiamesha: the loyalty and enthusiasm of adult volunteers who work to improve it constantly; the affection and respect that campers and camp leaders alike show the veteran director, Moose Wands; the lessons of sportsmanship and honesty given youngsters by example. It was a refreshing experience to play baseball and volleyball with men who are so honorable they seem more intent on calling fouls on themselves than in winning!

It was a heartwarming spectacle, too, this get-together of men who had played together years before. Reunion is really something to see— something touching and fine—the feeling and warmth of these old friends greeting one another, the respect and manly affection they hold for one another. Men like Tubby Barr, Lancaster Y executive and Franklin & Marshall College leader; like Jim Fithian, who wrote a dozen memorable musical productions for the camp down through the years, and played the melodies while Al Pearsall led a gripping group songfest. Toni Kieb, back from a transcon­tinental speaking tour as president of the National Institute of Real Estate Management, brought back greetings of old camp men he saw in Denver, Oakland and other distant points. Truly it's a sight to warm a sentimental old heart. I wouldn't have missed it for the world, aching bones notwith­standing.