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Summer Camp Chronicles: Confessions of a Tattletale

August 2, 2011

One of the best parts about being the photographer at camp is that I was able to turn camp into a spectator sport. While the counselors took care of the campers, I watched and took photos of them to look at one time before shoving the CD in their desk drawer never to be seen again. Until maybe they went away to college and decided to get rid of everything that reminded them of their awkward phase and the large bangs that came with it.

But one time I was actually forced to take part in the molding of one of the kids, though it was made even more awkward by the fact that this boy was not even a camper. Each week there was a different speaker who talked to the campers about that summer’s theme. In 2006 one of the speakers was a regular at camp and brought his whole family with him. That summer his oldest, a son we’ll call Isaac, spent the week writing lines as punishment for something he’d done before coming to camp. Isaac was 11 at the time and while his sister and two brothers ran around camp having the time of their life, Isaac spent most of the week in the office writing the same sentence over and over, in an effort to reach 1,000.

The week ends with a campfire on Friday night, where the campers can talk about what they learned that week, and the speaker for the week can wrap things up. While campers are over-sharing at the campfire, I was usually in the office finalizing the photo CD for the week. That night I kept noticing that Isaac was going back and forth to the copy machine. Now, I’m no detective, but I have read my fair share of Nancy Drew books, and watched enough detective shows to realize that something was amiss. No kid ever needs to use the copy machine multiple times in the span of 20 minutes, unless he’s up to no good. After Isaac finished his intense session of photo-copying, I went to investigate.

What I found was a pile of crumpled up photo-copies in the trash can, each one full of the lines Isaac had been working on all week.

At this point, I was faced with a crisis of conscience. Tattletale on Isaac, or keep it to myself. Because you have to hand it to the kid—it was creative, though fatally flawed. I was technically an adult by then, a recent college graduate in fact. But was I ready to cross the threshold, away from childhood and into adulthood? Every kid in the world knows that tattletaling is the ultimate betrayal, and by telling on Isaac, I would essentially be turning in my Official Childhood Badge of Awesome, and be entering into The Official World of Adulthood, where telling on kids was important so you could make sure they didn’t grow up to be bank robbers or guys who sell shoes on the side of the road.

Can’t you just see it in the Lifetime movie? Isaac’s life of counterfeiting and con-artistry is traced back to the time he got away with forging his lines at summer camp. He’d make millions from counterfeit money, but then blow it all on women, booze, and fake Armani suits.

Of course, I ended up telling on Isaac and later found out that he’d almost gotten away with it. Isaac showed his dad the lines at the campfire, where the only light came from the fire. It was dim enough that Isaac’s dad couldn’t tell half of the lines were photo-copied. To really seal the deal, later that night his dad even threw the pages into the fire as an illustration to the campers.

I’d imagine that at the moment those papers were thrown into the fire, Isaac couldn’t help but feel a thrill that he’d gotten away with it. In the Lifetime movie, he would have looked back and seen it as the moment he realized he could be a con artist.

Well, folks. The story came full circle this weekend when I visited camp five years after the photo-copying incident. It turns out that Isaac was working at camp as a counselor. I felt compelled to confess to him that I was the reason he didn’t get away with his plan. I played a part in his being grounded for six months, though I like to see it as playing a role in reforming his con artist ways.

I told him what happened and it turns out that he had always thought his mom had found the crumpled up pages in the trashcan. Later that evening he came over, nodded his head, and said “The things you find out…”

The thing I found out is that I should have just let him keep believing his mom found the papers in the trash can using her spidey-like mom sense. Or maybe let him get away with it so I could watch his Lifetime movie in a few years.

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