The kind gentleman over at Public Apology has pointed out to me this item of news, which means that a wish from February ’05 has been fulfilled. For better or for worse. One afternoon during pool hour at Camp Optimist in the late 1970s, a regiment-mate (who I may be incorrectly sensing had sandy blond hair and an inbred Dutch cockiness) announced to a small group of us that he would be reenacting the Nestea Plunge, only he would be doing so while holding a sealed carton of orange drink. And then he dared each of us to do the same. I fear scenes like this will begin happening again at day camps across our sometimes great land.
The direct result of my forced, two-week internment at Camp Optimist, sadly, was an unshakeable lifelong pessimism. When I wasn’t falling off horses or getting lost amid aspens while trying to find a rival tribe’s hidden wooden totem or being subjected to that song about squishing up baby bumblebees (“won’t my mother be so proud of me…”), I was sending my fellow campers — all of whom seemed to have it pretty well figured out at the age of eight and nine and ten — into fits and rages against me. Only one such memory remains in full. Each troop was given a hatchet, and our counselor showed us how to use it. You were warned not to bring the hatchet above your head while swinging to cut wood. The proper and safe technique, we were carefully instructed, was to take short, angled chops to make a v-shaped divot in a log. This seemed incredibly boring. A hatchet was made to swing hard and swing with abandon. When it was finally my turn near the end of our camp session, wood chips were flying. I swung from so high and I swung so hard that the hatchet would get imbedded in the wood, and this was pleasing because you could then pick up a heavy log with a smallish hatchet — a neat parlor trick in the pines. During what would have been a wood-pummelling downswing, the counselor grabbed my arm, took the hatchet and informed the whole tribe — too loudly, I felt — that hatchet privileges were now revoked for everyone. There were lots of “aw!”s and sarcastic “thanks!” and Dutch-boy snubs, and camp got so lonely that I begged my mom, to no avail, to let me go with her to the fabric store rather than attend the final-day festivities, where I was to compete as our tribe’s archer in a bull’s-eye competition. (I failed to hit the target.)
The Nestea Plunge incident happened before all that. There was a suburban legend surrounding the ad campaign, and one of the skinny, tan kids related something he’d heard. “You can die doing that!” he said. “The water’ll rush up your nose and get into your brain and you’ll drown.” But one by one, each of these kids reenacted the orgasmic tea-drinker’s back flop, with various levels of convincingness. Midway through my own attempt I panicked, thinking not of water on the brain but of the sting associated with a reverse belly flop, and I unwittingly tucked into a curl.
But that small-market physical failure doesn’t diminish my love of the ad. What could sell a cold, non-alcoholic beverage better than the suggestion that taking a sip on a sweltering day will result in the metaphoric equivalent to taking a gleeful, fully clothed splash into a refreshing pool of water? Maybe this time they’ll add a disclaimer saying “Don’t try this at home.” Or even better, “Don’t get peer-pressured into trying this in front of a bunch of kids who don’t consider you one of them, because the attempt, even if successful, isn’t going to get you anywhere.”
WHY I’M ANGRY TODAY
I saw a cap-wearing, mealy-mouthed Moby walking near Canal Street on Monday. The image is irrepressible and it haunts me.