Counselor boot camp


From Robert Whitcomb’s “Digital Diary,’’ in

At rather the last minute, when a promised summer job before my freshman year of college fell through, I took a job as a counselor in the summer of 1966 at a Boys and Girls Club camp in Plymouth, Mass., serving underprivileged kids. It was in a piney and swampy area best suited for cranberry cultivation, with mosquitos that seemed in my dreams bigger than helicopters. There were two counselors in each hot and musty cabin to oversee 12 kids bunking there. There were of course ceaseless rounds of activities, with the aim of limiting the mayhem by the campers, most of whom, I recall, came from Boston’s inner city.

The kids were mostly young adolescents, and more than a few were bigger than me and well acquainted with violence. So I faced a challenge keeping them in line, as I would later as, briefly, a young high-school schoolteacher in a class of 30 kids. I found that the trick was to deepen and make louder my voice, and imply to troublemakers that we’d have them shipped back pronto to the mean streets if they didn’t curb their behavior. I learned a valuable lesson in the importance of presentation (however weak my actual confidence in that situation). Sort of a variant of the old line that “if you can fake sincerity, you’ve got it made.’’