October 15, 2014

Seven Summers: What happens when the nerdiest kid in the cabin fights back? {Book Excerpt}

Rick Harris/Flickr

Warning: F-bombs up ahead.

Ever been to summer camp? Ever read Lord of the Flies?

Both the fiction and reality are all about kids and power struggles.

As camper in the 70s I was bullied mercilessly. Although I loved my time at Camp Log-n-Twig, I had to grow up fast to deal with my situation. As a summer camp counselor in the 90s, I watched the same things happen with the kids in my cabin.

It’s many years after the fact, but I recently mined my memory and wrote the short story Seven Summers. It’s about a kid who gets bullied mercilessly. Imagine that.

What happens when the nerdiest kid in the cabin fights back? Find out when the boy they call Teeth faces the dreaded “flying wedgie” and turns the tables on his nemesis—a ten-year-old bully and his pre-pubescent cronies.


“Hey, Teeth,” Hossman howled from across the table. “Pass the bug juice!”

The boy they called Teeth passed the artificially flavored beverage across the table. He knocked over some other kid’s styrofoam cup in the process, spilling the sugary purple drink all over my leg. It was a typical scene, circa summer 1978.

“Nice one, Shit Dick,” Hossman quipped with the storm of sarcasm. “Can’t ya pass the fucking bug juice without fucking something up?”

“Derrick,” I said as I wiped the sticky drink off my leg, “watch what you’re doing. And Hossman, we all know you have a keen mastery of the English language, so keep your comments to yourself.” Hossman shot me the evil eye.

Being a summer camp counselor majoring in psychology, I found it quite interesting to observe the progress of the ten year olds. Every summer the same things happen. First there’s the usual struggle for power and leadership. Hossman stole the honors this year. It was his third summer at Camp Wildflower and he knew the ropes. He was a year older than the rest of the kids in the cabin. He also had the fastest tongue and the biggest bicep.

Of course, with the leader comes the followers. In this case it’s a clan of eight ten year olds. Then there’s the scapegoat.

Derrick Ragglefarb was the obvious choice for this year’s honors. He was the weakest, wimpiest and by any definition, a world class chump. With overgrown curly hair and a pair of buck teeth that would put Bugs Bunny to shame, Derrick was the hands-down winner as this summer’s scapegoat. He was the shy kid. The kid who just couldn’t hit the baseball. And the kid who left skidmarks in his underwear on a daily basis.

The rest of lunch that day went fairly well. There were no physical conflicts or food fights. And to make things even better, they announced after the meal that it was our cabin’s turn to take a canoe trip down the Delaware River that afternoon. All the kids cheered except Derrick. He was afraid of the water.

After we were dismissed from the mess hall the kids made their way back to the cabin to get ready for the canoe trip. They all ran together except for Derrick, who walked alone to the lake and began skipping stones. I followed him after I finished gossiping with some other counselors.

“Hey, Derrick,” I said.

“Hey, Flounder,” he returned.

It seems like the whole camp is calling me Flounder these days. It was a nickname from that movie, Animal House. There was a guy in that movie called Flounder who was kinda fat and and clueless. I guess the nickname fit.

“Psyched for the canoe trip, old boy?” I asked, hoping for a smile out of him.

“Yeah, I guess. But I don’t want to be in the same canoe as Hossman.” He looked at me with his big brown, puppy dog eyes.

“Yeah, neither do I.” We both laughed. Derrick knew Hossman was a pain in my ass too. “Derrick, you’ve gotta learn to stand up for yourself,” I said. “Hossman’s just a nasty little butt munch and he’s gonna keep picking on you until you do something about it.”

“Why don’t you tell him to quit it?”

“I do. I’ve done everything I can. The kid’s just a bully. I’d knock him one myself except I’d get fired and sued for about a million bucks. But you can get away with it. You just gotta deck him one in front of the other guys and I bet they’ll all lay off.”

I reached for a flat stone on the shore and skimmed it perfectly across the surface of the water. Derrick counted eleven circles of shimmering ripples. “Whoa! That’s boss!” Derrick’s eyes lit up. “I didn’t know you were that good.”

“I have a lot of practice. I’ve been skipping stones on this lake for seven summers. I know what I’m doing.”

Derrick flipped another one in but it barely bounced twice. I took some time and showed him the proper grip and wrist action. After only a few tries he was skipping up to four in a row. He was pretty excited.

“Ya know,” I said, “when I was a kid here, they used to pick on me too.”

“They did?” Derrick stopped skipping stones.

“Yeah. There was this kid one summer named David Pock who was just like Hossman. That kid was a little Hitler. He used to rat-tail me on the ass when I got out of the shower and give me dead arms and all that stuff.”

Derrick looked on in disbelief. “What’d you do?” he asked with a glimmer of hope.

“Well, I cried a lot to my counselor but he couldn’t really do anything.” Derrick’s eyes fell remembering the times he came crying to me after one of Hossman’s rampages.
“He told me that no one’s ever gonna stand up for you, except for yourself,” I said. “And sometimes, although violence is almost always bad, you have to fight back to get some respect.”

I could see the wheels in Derrick’s head begin to spin. First in hope, then in doubt.

“So what’d you do?” he asked weakly.

“Uh, one day I decked David Pock and after that they all left me alone.”

I lied through my teeth. Actually, I never had the guts to stand up to that pre-teen prick. It was a miracle that I even came back to camp the next summer after so much abuse. Luckily, David Pock wasn’t there the next year. (We heard he was in a juvenile detention center for stealing a car in New York.) As it turned out, the other kids found a fatter, weaker target to pick on. I never forgot what it was like to be on that side of the fence. In some ways, I guess I’m still on that side of the fence.

Derrick looked at me steadily. I wondered if he knew I was lying.

When we got back to the cabin Derrick’s cot was missing. A quick investigation found it lodged in the rafters above the toilets. Hossman played the innocent, just kicking back on his bed with a mile wide shit-eating grin.


This story is an excerpt from Jeff Leisawitz’s book, Seven Summers





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Editor: Emily Bartran

Photo: Rick Harris/Flickr


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