Kids from Vancouver know rain. We get it. It’s a part of us like the smell of salt and pine needles; familiar as the blanket of mountains that wraps us up on clear days.
Kids from Toronto know lightening. They know to avoid puddles, to set aside wire umbrellas. Their fear is nurtured from childhood—when the skies rumble, they run for cover.
I am 21 years old and there is a lot I don’t know. I don’t know why everyone from Toronto walks so fast. Or why boys here pop the collars on their Abercrombie shirts—or even where they find Abercrombie shirts in Canada. When the sky lights up over Lake Rosseau, I run for the dock—best seat in the house—and wonder why everyone else has disappeared indoors.
Alex shows up at Camp Windermere a week after the rest of us. He is the topic of much discussion that week: “he’ll be flying in from Los Angeles;” “an actor;” “delayed by his production schedule,” they whisper with reverence. Why he would pause a successful acting career to work at an Ontario summer camp only boosts his mystique. For six days, every female at Windermere harbours a secret crush on the absent counselor.
I’m on the dock, fitting pudgy 12-year-olds with life jackets, reminding them to “hold on to the rope this time,” when he saunters to the waterfront—mop of black waves slicked into messy pompadour, eyes concealed by oversize aviators, Goodwill leather coat sagging over his narrow shoulders. Weighing him down, I think. He’s a sad Hollywood cliché.
At dinner it circulates that his acting credentials amount to a Mentos commercial and one line in an episode of Buffy. He missed the first week of camp because he couldn’t afford the flight.
We eat in shifts: campers and counselors first, sports staff second. Coming and going—I’m lining up with my tray; he is scraping his plate. He has mornings and afternoons off, while I spend long hours driving the boat. I have evenings off, while he keeps tabs on a dozen pimply teens.
On Wednesdays the dining hall serves chicken strips for lunch. It’s a monumental day because the fries are epic and because counselors and sports staff eat together before our weekly staff meeting.
Alex is in front of me in the line. I say, “So you’re from the West Coast?” and somehow it sounds like a pickup line.
“Actually I’m from Michigan,” he replies, and somehow it sounds like rejection.
I persist because I want him to know that I’m different too. “Why did you come here?”
“Hollywood was a bad scene,” he says, and sits alone at an empty table.