Sarah Van Boven

Can there be a more pastoral scene than that of 10 teen-age girls shaving their legs by bucket and flashlight in the middle of the woods? I wandered by this tableau tonight at 7:45 p.m., 15 minutes before the boys from a neighboring camp were due to arrive for a social. The two-minute shower limit is never popular, but once the senior girls stop howling on dance nights about the great injustice of water rationing, they do get resourceful.

We have dances just about every week of the summer, but you would never guess from the atmosphere in Senior Alley. All decked out in slip dresses from The Limited and liquid eyeliner from the drugstore, the oldest campers resemble the populace of the all-female planets often featured on Star Trek–the distant farming colonies where lady aliens hadn’t seen men in many millennia and were all ready to rip off William Shatner’s mustard yellow uniform. The other head counselors and I actually have to check each girl as she enters the Lodge for visible bra straps and violations of the Fingertip Test (skirt hems must extend at least a millimeter below hands hanging by a camper’s sides).

Of course, for all their tartish comportment, the campers are essentially so innocent that you want to reach out and ruffle their moussed hair. For example, one Pixie with a black belt in tae kwon do informed me last session that I had better keep a close eye on her because she danced “like a 21-year-old on The Grind on MTV”; as a matter of fact, she bobbed around like a skinny 12-year-old at a camp dance. Last night, the girls clung anxiously to each other, belting out lyrics to Backstreet Boys songs without a trace of irony (and scowling at me when I pointed out that “Ain’t nothing but a mistake/ Tell me why/ I never want to hear you say/ ‘I want it that way’ ” is utterly nonsensical). The boys cruised the Lodge like sharks in a crowded aquarium: around and around and around–inexplicably, almost always in a counterclockwise direction. During the first hour of the dance, they stopped circling only long enough to shuffle back and forth next to girls during nonthreatening crowd-pleasers by Ricky Martin or Will Smith.

During the second hour, seemingly fortified by the red dye and sugar of 15 gallons of “bug juice,” the campers actually mingled. I got to enjoy the spectacle of homophobic, oblivious teen-age boys gesticulating along with “Y.M.C.A.,” the Village People song that always furthers mixing since teen-age girls seem equally fond of this paean to anonymous gay sex. By 9:45, campers were actually requesting slow songs. The girls who were highest-pitched in their squeals of pre-dance anticipation either loitered longingly or danced in stiff-armed lockstep with boys shorter than them by at least two inches. Other than a few obvious bombshells, it was the campers I least expected to be aggressive who actually snuggled up to young men during the interminable riffs of “Stairway to Heaven” (the traditional last song for going on three decades now). One peculiar, poetry-spouting 14-year-old who had announced, “I’m going to find another outcast,” did just that, God bless her.

Cindy, the program director, and I spent the last few minutes of the dance practicing the hallowed Hand Check tradition: roaming the floor removing impudent male palms from our campers’ behinds. The boys are mortified by this particular manifestation of my fabled Meanness, but I can’t say I care. Only one girl looks anything less than relieved, and her scowl and rolled eyes produce the only episode of true cattiness I witnessed the entire evening. “She’s such a slut,” said one camper to another, just within my earshot. “I mean, she lost her cybervirginity at 13.” Right now I’d do anything to have this be the worst thing they can think of forever and ever.

Good night, girls. Sleep tight.