I was a junior at college when I discovered the genesis of co-ed summer camp. Imagine being hired as a counselor and getting paid (Freudian slip?) to work for two months in beautiful New Hampshire, with female counselors as your peers. I was in heaven, but not without romantic drama to enhance everything. And the women! These were not strays from the pound. Au contrare, monsieur. They were gorgeous, from upper-state New York, from Cornell, Syracuse, etc. whose parents obviously wanted to protect them from the perils of summer at the country club.
The schedule called for all counselors to report one week prior to the campers' arrival in order to clean and set up. That was my first look at the ladies. There was one lass who was destined to become Miss World and I was a goner at first glimpse. She was playing it very cool, realizing the pick of the litter was hers. But my sights were set. She was to be mine. My pool-room roots would be redacted from my record and classified outside the boundary of human access. How could I make her (another one) take note of my aura in the absence of phone booths wherein I could change from Clark Kent to you know who?
One of the first tasks assigned to the us was to set up the boxing ring. We were going about this task when I first noticed him. He was from The Big Apple and he was a bully. He donned boxing gloves and began challenging everyone to a fight. All demurred. Being in new surroundings, it was my wont to keep my head down and my mouth shut. As I minded my own business, I watched the jerk making his rounds, hoping he would pass me by. But he couldn't find anyone to take him on so he kept working the crowd until, at last, he approached me.
"Whadda ya say? Wanna go a round with me?"
Sh-t. I was not a fighter. Besides, this guy was bigger and stronger than me. It's not that I was afraid, it's just that I was afraid. Accordingly, I allowed emotion to triumph over reason.
"O.K.--what the hell." A schmuck for all seasons.
The head counselor fitted me with gloves and I climbed through the ropes (which I would soon stain with blood) and waited for someone to yell "bong." All the other male counselors began giving me signs of support, urging me to kill this bum before whom they had chickened out. I didn't know how to box. Oh, a few street fights now and again, but the Marquis of Queensberry rules? Forgeddaboudditt! A distant relative must have been a Kamikaze pilot.
The round began and I experienced an epiphany. Frig it. Just swing like a mother. And so I did, blindly. And so did he. Each of us, retreating not an inch, kept flaying away, hoping to land a haymaker. Surprisingly, I landed with more frequency and could see him a bit staggered. I kept this whirlwind going until I could barely lift my arms. The "bong" idiot yelled again and I opened my eyes to see the jerk with a red welt under his right eye, his arms hanging lifelessly by his side. Everyone was cheering, declaring me to be the victor. I didn't know what the hell had happened except that I was lucky to be alive. We touched gloves and his look promised that he'd leave me alone in the future. A good start for the summer.
The campers arrived that afternoon and we all congregated at the assembly area just before the evening meal. The owner of the camp would preside, welcoming all, and announce the evening's activity. The female counselors were in full attendance.
"Tonight, we have a special treat for you. Something you'll really enjoy. We're going to have an exhibition boxing match between Doug Ratnor and Gerry Alch......." He kept on talking but I had tuned him out. Whose idea was this? Who the hell was Doug Ratnor? I ran to the head counselor and demanded an explanation.
"Relax, kid. We're all still talking about how good you were this morning against that jerk---this will be just three rounds---I'll referee it and you'll show the kids a great time. You know how to handle yourself." Not with people watching, I thought. I found Ratnor, a first year counselor from Chicago and asked if he had ever done any boxing. "Only a little Golden Gloves. Nothin' heavy."
Nothin' heavy? Golden Gloves was semi-pro.
I began to sweat as I took stock of the situation. I was going to die that night. Worse, I was going to look like the wuss that was me---IN FRONT OF THE WOMEN! The humiliation would be my scarlet letter. I would pack after I was revived and slink out of camp under the cover of darkness. My Shangri-La summer would not come to pass. I would become a monk. Or, better still, a eunuch. I was so terrified that I literally became ill. I was burning up and my palms were sweaty from fright. I met with the infirmary nurse. Sure enough, my temp was 102. She forbade me from fighting that night. I told her I had to....period! I wasn't about to confess what an insecure coward I was. That would come to light after my suicide.
It was fight time. The rec hall was packed. The beauty I had branded as my own was looking at me with a curious attraction in her eyes. Oh, what I was about to forfeit. The shame of it all. I would take up new residence in Singapore, a known hideaway for yellow rats. I was a bald Sampson. The only way I could increase my self-hatred was if I were twins. I looked across the ring. There stood Jake La Motta, drooling for the taste of flesh. Someone rang a bell and the fight was on.
I tried to make believe I knew what I was doing. I assumed a pose that I remembered from the movies. We met at the center of the ring. Ratnor was bobbing and weaving while I was admiring his grace. Suddenly, his left jab connected with my nose. HARD! Didn't he know this was for show? I felt dizzy and then WHAM! Another left jab, harder than the first. I saw stars. I was on the verge of falling. Merely by instinct, with my eyes closed, I feebly swung my right hand. And then, several things happened at once. I heard a ROAR. I was still reeling from those two jabs as I opened my eyes. RATNOR WAS ON THE FLOOR! How the hell did that happen? The head counselor came running into the ring and lifted Ratnor into a sitting position. He was almost out cold. He must have taken a dive! He was taken to his stool. There were screams of "call an ambulance." The head counselor began yelling at me.
"What the hell's the matter with you? This was just an exhibition for the kids! You had nothing to prove! We all know you can fight." Ratnor was rushed to the nearest hospital. Hours later, we learned what had happened.
It was the freakest of things. My blind punch had made contact with Ratnor's left ear in just such a way so as to force compressed air into his ear canal. His eardrum had been punctured. It could have been fatal at a different angle. The guy was o.k. but no swimming for the entire summer. The poor bastard couldn't even take a shower.
The word spread like wildfire through the camp. I was looked upon as the heavyweight champion of the world. And, believe me, I played it to the hilt. I announced that I would never fight again. Hell, I could kill someone. I had been cursed with deadly fists. Of course, I was sad at the curtailment of a brilliant career in the ring, but I owed it to my fellow man to hang 'em up for good. I deserved an Academy Award.
As for my summer, I was the retired undefeated champ. I hooked up with my chosen beauty and love was in the air.
I claimed right field on the baseball diamond as our turf for making love under the stars. Every night. Even in the rain. Right field was the right field.
And if any young stud, seeking fame and glory, challenged me to a fight, I would apologize while explaining why I refused to kill him.