Young Whitney was a bit of a handful as a child, this I will not deny. To go as far as calling me a terror would be an exaggeration. But describing me as an occasional brat would not be off the mark. I retain vague memories of using the family car's emergency brake as a toy one day, with near-catastrophic consequences. School years were plagued with forgotten schoolbooks, undone homework and countless parent-teacher conferences. So, in retrospect, the fact that my bad little butt was shipped off to summer camp most summers, giving mom and dad a much needed reprieve, is not much of a surprise.
As a middle-class family, the choices for summertime activities were vast. Yet foregoing all the traditional and popular camps, for a week during two summers my sister and I were sent to an Amish farm. That's right, Amish. Hair-in-a-bonnet, raise-a-barn-in-a-day, visit-the-outhouse-with-a-lantern, Amish.
For a young boy whose accomplishments in life thus far in life included beating Super Mario Brothers faster than any of his friends, this was a very scarring experience. My memories of this are fragmented and stuttering, but what I do know is that I was never forced to wear suspenders or some sort of ridiculous hat, and my sister never outfitted with an ankle-length dress. If only we were so lucky. In the sweltering July heat all the "Outsiders" had to wear thick, gray sweatsuits which were only bearable in the cool dawns as everyone was roused from their communal bedrooms by the long-bearded warders. From bed, everyone marched to a large dining hall for a breakfast of peculiar granola cereal and warm goat's milk straight from the tit.
Days in Amish camp were spent doing activities supposedly typical of an Amish lifestyle. These projects were suspiciously limited to "heavy" activities. Like walking down some unpaved road picking up rocks which were then heaved into a buggy drawn behind us sweating kids, being driven by a couple of rough-looking Jebediah-types holding whips, supposedly for the horses. Or mucking out horse stalls; I shoveled a lot of shit in those days.
Nights on the farm were frightening. This was an alien environment filled with strange odors and noises. The goal was to fall asleep in those itchy wool blankets as quickly as possible so that one more day would have passed. But in the middle of one night with my bladder ready to burst, returning to slumber was an impossibility, so I resigned myself to the fact that I must abandon the relative security of my top bunk in order to relieve myself. Climbing off of my bed and creaking the heavy wooden door open, the need for a bathroom almost became a need for clean underwear as I was confronted by the massive glaring figure of Eli (OK, I made his name up), the head farmer or whatever, who had been sitting guard outside the door on a stool he'd undoubtedly constructed as a 4-year old.
"Where are you headed, boy?"
"Pot's third door down. Be quick about it."
So there were sentries posted everywhere. There was no escape from Amish camp. Had us city folk unified and been able to subdue ol' Eli, our battle would have been far from over. I'd been told that by the time an Amish boy reaches manhood he can already throw a pitchfork 100 yards with deadly accuracy. And besides that, the compound was heavily fortified. Us kids witnessed that first-hand as we dug post holes and dragged heavy cedar beams to build and repair the massive fence which contained us. Prisoners constructing their own prisons. Oh, cruel irony.
Think about it... drab uniforms; minimalist living conditions; substandard and sanitarily questionable food; guards. You can serve someone a cat-poop sandwich and call it a B.L.T. if it makes them feel better. But it's still just a few turds between two slices of bread. and just because my parents paid some ridiculous amount of money to some country swindlers doesn't make my experience one of a summer camp. I was sent to prison.
I've expressed my concern in an earlier post about becoming institutionalized (see "An Oral History of My Future"), and those fears are genuine. But what's clear to me now is that it's a moot point. Why should one worry about becoming institutionalized when one has already been so since the tender age of nine. Even now I feel it: the addict's clawing urge for rocks being gripped in my blistered fingers; for the scent of horse manure being shoveled into a rusty wheelbarrow; the repulsive textures of crunchy, semi-sweet granola mixed with unpasteurized goat's milk. Practically my whole life has been some subconscious quest to return to that electricity-deprived prison I once helped construct.
There's only one conclusion I could have possibly arrived at after this interior monologue with myself. And that is to join the hordes of my peers and even elders who are rapidly making the American pastime not hamburgers or baseball, but blaming our parents for all of our problems. Oh why, why, why did you send me off to that freaky farm? Why did you set off a domino effect of catastrophes in my life by sending me to that American Auschwitz? This is the only explanation for how my life turned out which makes any sense. How could it be otherwise?
The only other possibility would be that I'm simply a moron.