Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Karma is a Harsh Mistress

While technically not a Halloween story, this is a tale of monsters and spirits gone awry.

Once upon a time, I worked as a counselor at a summer day camp. For some reason, my employers decided it would be wise to put me in charge of a group of 12 six-year-old boys. Yes, I was ten years older than them, but I was just as mature as they were.

One of the keystones of being male is the utter inability to admit to fear. Fear is not an emotion we admit to. Sure, in the dark hours of the morning, after the fourth beer, we might sit and dwell upon mortality, but in front of a crowd fear is not an acceptable emotion.

I’m happy to report that one year, the kids in my group were the most utterly fearless six-year-olds to walk the Earth. No threat of violence (non-enforceable, of course), restriction of privileges or dire happenings could prod them into doing something they didn’t want to do, and God help you if they decided they wanted to keep playing on the playground – no force known to man could pry them from the sweet siren song of a sandbox.

And if they decided to run into the woods? You were in for a long period of yelling and searching, hoping they chose not to go home (many of them lived nearby).

Enter Mr. Moto. Mr. Moto was an escapee from an insane asylum. He lived in the woods, where he would tie the bad children to trees and would eventually eat them. Like the idea that I was actually in charge of these kids, Mr. Moto was pure fiction – the nuclear option we (the boy counselors) used if the kids were being especially uppity. The mere mention of Mr. Moto guaranteed instant compliance, as no child wants to be eaten while tied to a tree.

St. Louis in mid-July has all the ambiance of a steam room. Clear blue skies and the hot sun shines down as humidity blows up from the Gulf to guarantee that your clothes will stick to you by 9:00 AM, and finding a cool spot to relax is a treasure indeed. For me, excessive heat also makes me cranky. Add cranky to my general laziness, and you begin to see how chasing bratty kids around isn’t always a fun way to kill an afternoon.

One day, after a particularly long playground session, we had to move on, and the kids fought like crazy, not wanting to go. I invoked the spirit of Mr. Moto.

And was rebuked.

I tried again.

And they laughed at me.

Good Lord, I thought, we’ve gone nuclear one time too many. It no longer works. I could feel my control of these kids slipping away – soon, anarchy would reign, and my fellow counselors would shun me, because no one wanted to associate with someone who had no control over his group.

I then hit upon the solution. “If you all don’t get moving now, Moto’s coming out of the woods for you!” I said.

They laughed some more.

“Okay. Your funeral. I want no part of this.” And I ran off.

Straight into the woods I ran, around the trails lining the park. One trail let out next to the playground. As I approached the opening, I pulled my shirt over my head and ran out, screaming “YYYYYEEEEAAAAHHHHH!”

I pulled my shirt down, chuckling. And realized my kids had scattered to the four winds. Uh-oh.

Fortunately, I found them before they ran into traffic or straight home. After much whining and crying, I finally calmed them down (and promised them lots and lots of ice cream the next day).

But when I was climbing into my car to go home that night, I realized my wallet was no longer in my pocket. Egad.

I slipped back into the woods, and found it. Two hours later. With no cash in it. The next day, I loaded up on treats and ice cream and made up to the kids. Oh, and I also got my ass chewed up one side of the park and down the other by my boss.

I’m a different person than I was back then. More mature, more confident. And if I’m ever in that situation again, I would do it differently.

I’ll keep my wallet in the car before going out to work with the kids.


Michelle said...

I just stumbled across your blog and I like it. I love hearing stories about fellow St. Louisans - it just seems more real when you're aware of the locations the person is talking about, ya know?

Don't worry, I tried the same type of "Mr. Moto" head trip on my nephews, it only worked with them for a short time too. I actually did the, "if you are bad, I will call Santa, I have his phone number and he told me to call him if you're bad" thing - it worked until they realized I started this in May or June each year. Shoot, it was the only thing they were scared of - not getting any presents. Kids.

Brian said...

Thanks for the comment!

How were you able to coerce them after that?

Michelle said...

Unfortunately, for me, I haven't been able to coerce them. Although, now that I think about it, the older nephew is easily coerced by the "I'll tell your friends how you're acting" thing (he's 14). It's funny, he straightens up pretty quick.

Chilly said...

Your Delta Chi name is Mr. Moto.