Monday, July 25, 2005

This one time, at band camp....

Western Adventure...

Camp Director was supposed to pick me up at 5:30 a.m. to get to the airport before 6:15, when the kids were supposed to get there. 6 a.m., I hadn't seen or heard from her, and she wasn't answering her phone. So I got Mark to bring me to the airport. At 6:45, she called me frantically. She'd set her alarm wrong. We had to be checked in by 7:30 for our 8 a.m. flight. She made it at 7:20.

Flight was okay, for a flight. It's a well-documented fact that I hate to fly.

We landed in Phoenix, and it was scorching. Went to Baja Fresh, met Mary and Tim there. Yay! Delivered, by hand, the wedding magazine female Blake works for. Saw her ring. Pretty! Went to Cracker Jax, a Celebration Station-type place. Drove go-karts and bumper boats. It was so hot that we practically dried instantly. Walked through Old Town Scottsdale. Drove down to Prescott, AZ, to Camp Charles Pearlstein, our home for two nights. Food was better than at Camp Barney Medintz, especially the cinnamon rolls. On the first night, I got stung twice by a wasp. I've never been stung before, and I was so afraid of anaphylactic shock. I convinced myself that I was going to die. My chest was hurting. My mouth went dry....apparently, I was just freaked out, because I survived.

Next day, we went to Sedona and took a Jeep Tour of the red rocks. We saw the world's only McDonald's with teal arches. Only one other Mickey D's has non-golden's in Australia, and those are white.

After that, we went to Slide Rock State Park, a natural water park. Basically, it's pretty gross. It's a bunch of slippery rocks and each step brings you closer to broken bones as you slip your way through the water. Some kids jumped off a 20-foot cliff into water. Some went to a 60-foot one. Or so they said. There was a natural slide, too. I ripped my shorts on a rock and skinned my arse in the process, but it was tons of fun. The water was icy. VERY icy. Odd, considering it was over 100 degrees. But a welcome change. I'm guessing Anne is formulating all sorts of reasons why A. that happens and B. it's a disgusting thing to do, and that she'll reply, heehee. Anyhoo...

Went back to CCP. Got up at 5:30 again to go to Las Vegas. Yes, Las Vegas with children. Stopped at the Grand Canyon. Saw the IMAX about it first. Then we moved on to the actual thing. It was very hazy, unfortunately. But cool. And way huger than I ever imagined. On the way, apparently, our bus started having technical difficulties. Our driver, Ralph, who looked like Tweedle-dee and talked like Dan Ackroyd and Louie Anderson's love child, is a psycho hose beast. I wanted to buy him a mansierre. A bro, if you will. Geez. Anyway, we had to get the bus fixed, so we randomly ended up at Bedrock Park, a replica of the town from The Flintstones, while that happened. It could not have been any lamer. We tried to make the best of it. But there's only so much fun you can have there. It would probably be fun if you were 3 years old and it was November, but for our middle-schoolers in July, not so much. I almost bought a Jackelope, but there was no guarantee that it wasn't a taxidermied bunny. I couldn't tell.

Bus fixed. So we thought. We ended up driving 20 miles an hour on the freeway to Vegas with an increasingly surly bus driver who kept yelling at the kids, even though they were better behaved than they've ever been. EVER.

We got to Vegas late. Checked into the Excalibur hotel. Cool enough. Had dinner and took a walking tour of our hotel, the Luxor, and Mandalay Bay. (They're all connected.) Went outside and did a quick tour of the strip in our immediate area. Had some pimps try to give us cards. Awesome. Gotta love legalized prostitution. Got back, showered, went to bed. Boss' daughter, who was in my room, spewed. I don't handle that. Had she had explosive diarrhea, no problem. Wet the bed? Fine. Bled everywhere? Okay. Puke? Call for backup. She may be lactose intolerant, and she'd had ice cream after dinner. Immediately after, another girl in my room had a nightmare. Not a restful night.

Next morning, both were fine. Spent the morning at the hotel pool. Went to the huge, delicious buffet in the hotel. Rode in bus with apologetic bus driver to Circus Circus to go to Adventure Dome, the indoor Amusement Park, and to watch circus acts. Started a 5 mile walk back towards our hotel. Saw the Bellagio Fountains, the gondolas at the Venetian, and everythign else along the way. Went to Gameworks, an arcade, for a "birthday party," where we had one-hour game cards, pizza, unlimited softdrinks, and cake. That was followed by a trip to M&M World. Mmmm....

Got up at 5:30 again to drive to California. Got a new bus, but not a new driver. New bus: broken VCR and NO BATHROOM, same surly driver. But we could do the speed limit!

Arrived in California. Went to the Farmer's Market for lunch. Saw Donald Faison of Clueless and, apparently, Scrubs fame. Shopped in the Grove. Drove through little Israel. Went to Grauman's Chinese Theatre and the Walk of Fame. Went to the Hollywood Wax Museum, then drove through Beverly Hills and Rodeo Drive. Had dinner at In N Out Burger...mmmm...followed that with dessert at Diddy Riese. They make cookies and ice cream. For one dollar, you can get a sandwich made with 2 cookies of your choice and the ice cream of your choice. So I got chocolate chip cookies and mint chocolate chip ice cream. And....I fell in love with it.

Then we drove out to Malibu, to Camp JCA Shalom, our home for the next two nights. Only...

We were driving along Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), and we were driving for a very long time. It was beautiful, as we watched the sun set. I used that time to make my nightly call to Mark. After an hour or so of driving, friggin' Ralph announces that he has no idea where we'e going. So Pam convinces him to pull in at a gas station, but no one can tell us how to get to Mulholland HWY, as all of the people are tourists. So, we look at a map, think we figure out how to get there, and backtrack about half an hour. We go up Topanga Canyon, which is a long, steep, winding 2-lane mountain road with no shoulder. We finally hear back from the JCA people, who tell us we're waaaayyy off in the wrong direction. At this point, Ralph decides to try to turn around.

Bear in mind that this is a two-lane, long, winding, steep mountain road with no shoulder and that it is midnight. And that he decides to turn around right by a curve in the road.

And so, as we're yelling at him to keep going to find a better place, a car whips around the corner and slams on its brakes. It stops about a foot from the car. Pam and I screamed our heads off as impending doom and bright headlights approach, bringing certain death with them. Then as we're breathing again, a second car whips around the corner and almost slams into the first. They manage to move on. We breathe again. Then car number three whips around at a slower speed than the first two and the cycle repeats. I have never been so close to or so afraid of death in my life. We drove forward after that, and we found an intersection. So we backed into it and turned around safely. JCA Shalom staff came in three cars to meet us at the bottom of the mountain. We waited a while for them, since they were almost 45 minutes away, and we peed outside of the bus under blankets. Such bonding. The staff picked us up and brought us up another loooooong and winding rooooooaaad. We were all so bus sick from the roads. No one vomited, but we were all very ill. It was so late, we were trying to decide whether or not to bathe. They brought us to our tent. As we're putting our stuff (the girls, that is) away, one of the girls says, "Oh, look...a bird came in here!" I looked and saw something frantically flying around the top of the tent. "Wait...that's not a bird, is it?" I asked the staff person helping us.

Her eyes got wide, and we all crouched to the floor in unison. Apparently, the camp had never had a bat before. GREAT! So they moved us to the small side of the conference center. Showering was no longer an option. Then, I lost a contact. We passed out almost immediately.

The next day, we took a scary bus ride back down the mountain, and we went to Universal Studios. We did a few rides, then began our oh-so-scary trip back up the mountain to camp. We made it back before Sundown. We had a Shabbat dinner of chicken, chicken soup, potatoes, salad with Italian dressing, chocolate cake-like brownies, and something else, but I can't remember what. Then we all moved to the big side of the conference center. It had a big garage door, which we left up. We slept with it open. But before that, we all showered, then got together for a Texas Hold 'Em tournament with Wallace's new poker chips from Vegas. We took a night hike, then snacked on Snickers bars and Coke. While Pam was off somewhere doing something, Wallace wandered into the conference center kitchen. Empty, of course. Empty, except for one thing.

He came up to me with a weird look on his face, leaned over, and whispered, "We have a potential situation in the kitchen which I think we need to deal with immediately." So I followed him to the kitchen and saw...the biggest, blackest, hairiest thing I've ever seen in my life:


I fear tiny spiders. Imagine how I felt upon seeing Quentin Tarantulatino two feet away from me. We eventually found some staff, who threw him on the mountain. I took a picture. If you want to see it, or any other pictures, let me know and I'll e-mail the Kodak Gallery link to you. So during poker, a SECOND tarantula wandered into the conference center. This one, the kids saw. Much screaming ensued. From them, me, Pam, and maybe even Wallace. The assistant camp director was there, and he caught it in a cup and threw it on the hill.

Despite this, though, the camp was beautiful. And the neighborhood! We passed Cher's house on PCH. We learned that Pamela Anderson was our neighbor. We learned that Martin Sheen was also our neighbor. We learned later on that night on our night hike that he has a huge honking TV, which you can see beaming out across the mountains. We learned that the huge satellites near the camp were featured in Austin Powers 2. of all....we learned that Camp JCA Shalom's boys' side is....BAND CAMP from American Pie 2!!! How fitting is that? People used to say I look like band camp girl, and most of my stories begin with, "This one time, at camp...." and someone once said that I should say, "This one time, at Jew camp..." and it's so funny, because apparently, band camp really WAS Jew camp! Random tangent over.

On Saturday, we woke up early and packed. We went to the zip line, which was HUGE and tons of fun. The worst part was climbing the tree to get to the platform. I have no upper body strength. The guy had to help me. But I loved it all the same. We had a Shabbat lunch of sandwiches, then loaded the bus. we loaded up on fruit, granola, Snickers, and water, lathered on sunscreen, and covered our heads. Then, led by an Israeli named Maayaan who looked like Henry Rollins, we started on a 7 mile hike down the mountains to the Malibu beach. It took four hours. We lost one camper to a possible first-ever asthma attack. We sent her on the pickup truck that brought us water about a third of the way through the hike. That was the end of the most difficult part, but we didn't want to take chances with her. It was a difficult trail. I've never felt dirtier, more exhausted, more sore, or more accomplishment in my life. We got scratched up, a tick was on my shirt, but a guide caught it before it could move to my skin, Wallace had one they had to remove. But it was such a once-in-a-lifetime event. I wouldn't have passed it up for anything. To make it up the difficult, steep, hot, brambly, loose-rocked trail, to stand on a peak, to take in the surroundings, to see the Pacific Ocean finally appear, to make it to the bottom, to look stand and look at where we'd just been and marvel over making it finally, to running down to the beach in Malibu....that's just something I can never forget. I'm still in pain from it, but what are you gonna do? It reminds me that I DID IT. That I made it to tell the tale.

We played in the Ocean for a while, then rinsed off and changed on the bus in shifts. We went to Buca di Beppo's, a family-style Italian restaurant and had a mini-Havdallah at the Pope's Table. It's a huge round table with a massive lazy Susan in the middle. You order tons of food (smalls are large, larges are phenomenal) and spin it around to share. We fit all 15 of us. The food was most excellent, the company was good, and we all left happy. After that, we went to the Santa Monica Pier and rode the rides. At 12:30, when the Pier closed, we went to a HOJO in Los Angeles. We checked in, ditched Ralph in favor of the airport shuttle, and had the lights go out momentarily. At first, I was afraid it was an earthquake. I mean, how much more horrible stuff could possible happen? But it was just a quick blackout. It was fixed within a minute, and we went ot our rooms. We showered (we got a suite, while the other rooms had roll-aways and were cramped... Pam called it a thank-you-for-the-summer) and passed out.

Got up at 8:30, loaded the shuttle, went to LAX. Hung out for a while, got on the plane, and left the beautiful California weather. We hit turbulance on the approach to New Orleans, and after we landed and we were waiting for our baggage, they got on the speakers and announced that the ramps were closed due to lightning. But we were HOME. No more travelling! Well, we're going to Grand Isle this weekend, but I don't consider it travelling, per se.

One week left of camp, then a possible week off/mild labor week at the J, then I start the new job with 6 days of in-services!!!! YAHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!

Adam, Liz, and I are all leaving around the same time, so we're planning a big bash at some point to celebrate our freedom. Parrrtayyyyy...and how improper for a school-marm!

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Tennessee you later

I slept in my own bed last night!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Last weekend, we spent Friday night 'til Sunday afternoon in Grand Isle. We may or may not have gotten out of the Gulf due to a shark. It may or may not have been a dolphin or porpoise. But in light of recent attacks, we felt it better to get out of the cesspool that is the beach at Grand Isle.

Although, the infinitely wise grandmother-in-law said we wouldn't have to worry about sharks coming to Grand Isle because "we have warm water here, and sharks don't like it where it's warm. They go where it's cooler." Yeah. That explains why there are so many sharks in Antarctica instead of Florida.

Spent Monday with my parents while Mark worked. Packed. Watched "Team America." The funny thing about that movie is that it's political to you. It caters to your beliefs. To me, it blasts the war, calling it dumb, and blasts America for being so self-righteous. To Kurt, it exists totally to show movie stars how dumb they are for protesting the war. To Matt, it was a terrific send-up spoof of action films. So, bravo, you comedic geniuses. But, next time, take out the vomit and add more puppet sex. And panthers.

Sex panthers?

Anyway, moving right along...

Went to Tennessee on Tuesday. Stayed in Memphis overnight. Saw Graceland, that paeon to all that is wrong with American pop culture, and went to a mall to play blacklight mini-golf, blacklight bowling, and to get an aqua massage, which is heaven on Earth. This year, they even made the water heated. Oh yeah...pardon me while I revel in that memory for a moment...

Moved on to Nashville Wednesday. Went to the COuntry Music Hall of Fame. LAAAAAME. Went to Nashville Shores Water Park. Didn't have many slides. We got bored of it quickly. Moved on to a mall. Ate a good salad. It had eggplant and feta in it. Need I say more? Went to the Nashville JCC. We had six kids and three adults: me, new guy, and an Israeli guy who was fun. Reminded me of Alex. Just darker complected. And not a stoner. Annnnyyyyywaaaayyy...the J was HUGE. The bathroom/locker room area was divided into under 17 and over 18. We could use the adult locker rooms, but the kids couldn't. As the only female counselor, I felt like royalty, plunging into the hot tub, having total control of the room, and complete and utter privacy.

Decided that my problems with camp this year come from the two girls who were on the trip. Big surprise, it's my Ritalin kids. I'm giving them to Pam on the Western Adventure. Sorry, but I'll be with Ritalin kids all year long...I'll need a major break.

Like the other campers. Have lost all tolerance with these two girls.

And back to the stories.

New guy didn't have a chance for major eff ups this time around. Not enough kids, and too many adults. As well as not enough chances to lead a group around. Almost had fun with him.

On Thursday, we drove three hours to Whitwell, TN. It's in the Appalachains, and it's about as far-removed from society as possible. The guy we spoke with there said some people still don't have running water and use rain barrels to bathe. Some do not have electricity yet. I didn't know areas like this still existed.

So why Whitwell?

Whitwell is home to Whitwell Middle School, subject of the Miramax documentary "Paperclips." It is a town of 1,500. WMS had four black students and one hispanic. All the rest are white Protestants. Most never leave the valley. But they started a project to study the Holocaust. They wanted to collect 6 million paperclips to represent the 6 million exterminated Jews. The project started in 1998. At the end of the first year, they had not collected even 1 million. They projected that it would take 10 years to reach the goal at the current rate.

Then, two German correspondants to the White House heard about the project from a 95-year-old survivor, who found it on the Internet. They got the Washington Post involved, as well as Tom Brokaw. And suddenly, the project took off. Stephen Spielberg sent in 1 million clips. People sent them clips on pieces of paper that simply said "Paper Clip 1: So-and-so." "Paper Clip 2: Such and Such." Each stood for someone they knew or lost. They received outpourings of support from famous people, from regular people, from 6 continents, from survivors, from survivors families, from the families of the dead. They recieved hate mail, including one from a man who signed his letter, "Seig Heil, Tommy." The letter accused the school of teaching the kids propaganda about a made-up phenomenon. Attached to the letter was a straightened out paper clip, and the message was, "This is what I think of your project." Another letter had clips bent into swastikas. They also received a suitcase, which belonged to a victim and was found in a camp, from Germany. It had pieces of paper in it attached to oversized clips. Each was a letter of apology to Anne Frank from German school children.

WMS has saved everything. They have autographed photos from Jim Carrey, from The Shrub, from Henry Winkler, and from Spock. They have support letters and hate mail in binder after binder. They have artwork from visitors. They have everything saved in their tiny library, which, before the project, had one book on the Holocaust that hadn't been checked out in 30 years. Now, they have cases of videos and literature on the subject.

We spent two hours reading these letters. Or trying to, as many were in foreign languages. I had to pull the kids away from it to move on to the boxcar.

The boxcar is a railroad car that was used during WW2 to transport people to the camps. It had to be disinfected before it could be brought to America. The floors of such cars were covered in lime, and as people died or went to the bathroom, the lime was used to cover the odors. Immediately following the war, the car was used to transport grain. Then, it was retired, and was used in "Enemy at the Gates." Its sibling cars were destroyed during filming. It was also in bad shape and needed to be restored. (See above thoughts on my take on "Team America" to get an idea of how I felt upon hearing that.) It was rescued by the diplomats (the Schroeders), purceased for $6,000, and reached America September 9, 2001. It was en route to WMS on September 11, 2001. There's bitter irony in that. It made it to WMS a few days later.

The car was placed on the WMS campus. The whole town turned out in committee form to prepare the area. Tracks were laid down. The car was restored and braced to hold the weight of its new cargo. A rock garden and regular garden were set all around it. A monument containing 11 million paper clips (one for each victim, no matter what the reason of the Holocaust.) 18 butterflies, symbolizing freedom, children, new life, and, of course, chai, were painted (later mosaics, because the paint wore off) or sculpted around the car. And, another 11 million clips were placed, with the suitcase of apology letters, inside the car. In all, over 32 million clips have been collected.

To walk up to the car, to hold those letters, to sift through the paper clips, and to stand inside the car are all very sobering experiences. We signed a guestbook. We met the man behind the project. We stood in silence and reflected. We dragged the kids away. We cried during the documentary. The juxtaposition of a memorial to something so horrible in a setting so beautiful.....

We brought 9 people. Half chai. Even though the project is over, we are sending in two paper clips each. Chai. They told us that at least two boxes a week still roll in. The extras are added to the car anyway. We will each put our clips in. One for each of us for our visit, one each for a person we want to honor.

The most beautiful thing of all:

One child, and what does THIS say for Orleans Parish Public Schools, did not know what the Holocaust was. She had NEVER heard of it. We had to teach her about it. When it was time to move to the boxcar, I had to drag the kids away from the books. And the last child, the one I had to coax the most, was the one who had never heard of what she was reading about. I think our jobs were done. I almost cry just thinking about it.

We were supposed to go to the Jack Daniels Distillery, but since we were so far away, we didn't make it in time for a tour. So we went to Grand Old Golf and Games. We did two rounds of mini-golf apiece. It was hard-core. We had to jump the balls across rivers and stuff. Then we played in the arcade, where I found...get X-FILES PINBALL MACHINE! I played it. And did well. And took pictures of it. We had a pizza party, played poker (for chips and giggles only), and went to bed at 3. We got up at 5, loaded the bus, and were on the road by 6. I was asleep before 7.

Got home, showered, dressed, drove to Thibodaux. Went to a wedding. Found out someone we always thougth was gay is actually gay and has a boyfriend. Had to prevent to groom from beating him up after he gave the bride a lapdance. Mark had to escort him out early. Bride's brother threatened him. Bride and Groom got in a fight at the reception. No alcohol was served. But the groomsmen all had bottles of beer. The guests whore shorts, stretch pants, slippers, you name it. We were so overdressed. The reception was in the NSU ballroom. Bride works there and got a great deal on it. Spent the night in Mark's old apartment, now Phil's apartment. Went to La Casa for lunch with the in-laws, then to C and M Music in Houma for a sale so Phil could buy stuff. Walked out with Mark's Christmas present to me. Yup...a Guitar. It was on sale as a package deal: amp, guitar, gig bag, picks, strap,'s an off brand, but it's pretty and will be something great to learn on. Come on, December!! Hung out at the apartment like old times, went to dinner with Amanda and Mike at Ground Pat'i (damn, but Thibodaux is booming!!!!) and got a Blizzard at DQ. Drove home, unloaded car, picked up daiquiris, went to the A5 palace. Came home, slept in my own bed. Nothing sweeter than that.