Only When I Laugh
by Elouise Bell

TWENTY-FIVE
Camp Getaway

[p.87]Remember when we used to ask ourselves what Americans would do with all the leisure time that technology would make available? Well, one answer seems to be that we are playing bigger and better games.

No, I’m not talking about Trivial Pursuit—I’m saving that for another day. Remember when you were a kid and you’d play make-believe fire-fighter? Or with a pilfered box of Band-aids and a bottle of colored water to represent iodine, you’d pretend to be a nurse? Now, it seems, we can go right on fantasizing clear into our Golden Years, if we want. The difference is that today there are people ready to give our make-believe a marvelous aura of reality.

Do you know, for example, that if you are a baseball buff and have daydreamed all your life about playing shortstop for the New York Yankees, you can actually do that? For a fee, of course. Each summer, the Yankees, the Cubs, and other major league teams operate a sort of Baseball Camp for wishful thinkers.

For around $2,500, any man or woman can spend six weeks at the team’s training camp, suited up in the famous pin-stripe, in the case of the Yanks, practicing the beloved sport, being [p.88]coached by the actual coaches, and then, in the dream-come-true-to-end-all-dreams, play an exhibition game against the Real Team. So what if the final score is Professionals 35, Dreamers 3? You actually wore the glove and did your best to stop a Dave Winfield Texas Leaguer. You actually have a souvenir photograph of yourself standing beside Micky Mantle! (No, of course Mantle no longer plays, but he seems to be the popular favorite among campers wanting photographs.)

Now I think Baseball Camp for adults is a great idea. What I’m waiting for is a wider application of the idea. One extension—in which I am definitely not interested, I hasten to make Clear—is already going nicely: it’s a very serious version of every little boy’s favorite, War. That’s right. For several years now, grown men have been going off to War Camp and involving themselves in complicated games of hunt and track down, search and destroy, complete with guns (shooting what? rubber bullets? caps?) and intricate rules about when you’re dead and when you’re captured, etc. Apparently it really is a kick for some and well worth the several thou’ it costs the campers. Ain’t we got fun?

Well now, look: there are lots of us dreamers out here, lots of us high interest/low talent folks who would like to play make-believe for part of a summer. For example, do the people at the Metropolitan Opera realize their potential? There’s that whole huge house not being used during the summer. I for one would delight in attending Opera Camp for a month or so—get a little much-needed voice coaching (if there’s a masochist somewhere who would do that sort of thing), dress up in Brunhilda’s costumes, strut across the stage, rehearse with James Levine, have my picture taken with (catch in the throat) Marilyn Horne.

Or let’s talk about the really serious fantasizers: all those people who fill the shopping carts with Harlequin Romances and Avon Paperbacks and Silhouette Books. Surely somewhere there’s an old Gothic mansion whose owner is having trouble paying the taxes and upkeep. What better idea than to open the mansion to a select group of Barbara Cartland addicts?  Hire the appropriate staff—some sleek young men named Lance and Geoffrey and Quinton, a few Judith Anderson types for housekeepers and wicked-stepmother-stereotypes. Rig up the mansion with fitting effects and props-simulated thunderstorms, flickering lights, muffled screams down shadowy corridors. I’d suggest [p.89] two or three basic scenarios from which romance campers could choose: the staff members could pretty much have their lines down; the campers could ad lib—with all that reading behind them, they know how things are supposed to go.

Oh, there are countless possibilities. I understand that NASA has numerous outdated space capsules lying around the back lot. Surely there would be takers for Astronaut Camp.  And speaking of back lots, Hollywood must have many sets that stand idle for weeks on end. Who hasn’t played Movie Star at one time or another? I tell you, there’s a brand-new industry out there. Now that kids are going to school year-round what could make more sense than for parents to go to the camp of their choice? Be sure to write!