Friends invited me to join them as camp counselors the summer between my college sophomore and junior years. My friends were devoted to this camp and I had no interest in working the family feed mill ever again, so I applied and was accepted. The camp was an Easter Seals camp, Camp Daddy Allen, named for someone who'd worked valiantly for what were then known as "crippled kids."
Most Easter Seal camps at the time were day camps. I think there were maybe one or two week-long, sleep-over camps, but Camp Daddy Allen was the one kids aimed for. They needed to show some ability to look after themselves and be sort of independent and be able to sleep outside. No counselor was particularly trained in care for kids with cerebral palsy or mental retardation or anything of the sort. We had a crash course in everything during rest periods from getting the camp in shape.
It was incredibly difficult physically and emotionally. No counselor was to have more than one wheelchair kid to care for. I had three. I put two on a wagon and pulled them while I pushed a wheelchair over the dirt trails. The kids loved it, of course, and wanted to ride the wagon, which they never did at home, rather than the wheelchair, which was all they knew. I lost 30 pounds over that summer.
My friends worked at the camp for several summers and had some pull with the administration...enough to get all of us to have the same night off. There was a bar nearby that served minors. Now, this was in the mountains, the not-touristy part of the Appalachians. The five of us loved The Music Man...the play, not the movie. As far as I know, I was the only gay guy among us. I could stop them cold in their tracks with any other musical, but all of us knew The Music Man. Oddly enough, the bartender didn't seem to mind us singing. Perhaps we were too drunk, but we didn't sense hostility.
We'd somehow worked out parts for the opening patter song. I had the loudest voice, so I always got to say "But he doesn't know the territory!" As the summer progressed, another guy entered our circle (he rather quickly became my first straight guy crush), which made it possible for us to do both "Pick-a-little/Good night, ladies" and "Lida Rose/Dream of Now" rather complete. They were the school board, I was the women in the former and Marian in the latter. I was also Mama to one of the other guy's Marian in "The Piano Lesson." (I always laid it on really thick on the reply to "What stranger?" "With the SOOTcase who may be your very last chance.") It only seemed natural that I should sing them.
"Iowa Stubborn" was one of the bartender's favorites. He was good for "You can eat your fill of all the food you bring yourself" and "Provided you are contrary." I, of course, was word-perfect on "Trouble," but others felt they were, too, and I was always gracious and let them try. Invariably they'd screw it up and I'd help them out. One night, after a sufficient amount of beer and singing, they insisted I do "Trouble." Even the bartender wanted to hear me do it. (I guess we tipped well or he was gay. I could never figure out why he put up with us.) I got so into it that I got off my bar stool and did my own blocking as I preached to the townsfolk. They, then, got off their bar stools and responded. And at the end, the few patrons in the bar, who probably had no idea what the hell was going on, cheered.
The straight guy I fell ass over tea cups for is another story for some other time. The friends who got me there that summer have all done a production of The Music Man somewhere, whether a high school production or a community theater. For that matter, it was the first show I ran a soundboard for. I wonder if any of our fellow drunks remember our besotted sing-alongs.