Two days later he finds me, coiling ski ropes after dinner in the boathouse. He has left his campers to their own devices to tell me that he is a blue-collar kid from Detroit, that he got into trouble at school, and that his family sent him to live with an auntie in Escondido. At 19 he moved to LA to act. Nine months ago he was living with the daughter of an aging rock star, sustaining a cocaine habit as an extra on movie sets, and some other dimly alluded to side jobs.
I tell him I’ve just dropped out of university, and sold my bed to pay for gas to drive across the country because I wanted a change of scenery, and a summer of waterskiing sounded fun. Suddenly my act of rebellion sounds incredibly lame, and it lingers because in that moment another counselor interrupts us to say a fight broke out in Alex’s cabin and someone has a broken nose.
We see each other twice every week. On Wednesdays he finds me in the line up for chicken strips, and we talk until we reach the salad bar when I leave to sit with the ski staff, and he joins the counselors. One day he points out it’s weird how I put cottage cheese on my salad. Another week, he tells me he is so sick of chicken strips. And then another time he tells me I look pretty. I always tuck a tube of lip gloss in the pocket of my hoodie on Wednesday mornings.
And on Friday nights he has an hour between performing in the camp talent show and lights-out. We sit on a bench by the lake until the Night Patrol guys pull up on a golf cart and tell him to get to his cabin. We think they are assholes—single 40-somethings who still spend their summers at camp and delight in catching campers and staff making out after dark.
On these nights I just ask how he is and he talks and talks like he’s never had someone to listen before.
He asks big rhetorical questions about life that intimidate me, and because I don’t know the answers, I don’t offer any.
He complains that he’s feeling restless and doesn’t know what to do, or where to go after this. His whole life is in a chest of drawers he shares with two of his campers.
I can relate, but instead of saying so I try to say something wise and vaguely spiritual so that he thinks I’m deep.
He talks about his acting career, or his lack of one. And frets about the next step: New York? back to LA? to film school in Utah? to theatre school in London? And where will the money come from? Because his broke-ass parents sure can’t help him. New York sounds romantic to me—it would be my next stop if I had a passport—but I can tell he wants me to vote for film school, so that’s what I do.
He’s getting a bad name with the leadership staff, because he lets his boys stay out past curfew, because he smokes on camp property instead of sneaking into the woods like the rest of us, and because they know about his past but don’t fully trust that he’s changed since Hollywood.