Sunday, May 24, 2009


Below is a reprint of an old essay I wrote about the Wediko camp, run by Wediko Children's Services. It was originally published on The Fruitcake Outlet which I've decided to take offline.

With the possible exception of ritualistic cannibalism, I have never seen, heard, or read about cultural phenomena as bizarre as what I witnessed at Camp Wediko.

I was a camper at Wediko about 20 years ago. I was approximately 15 years old. Wediko is a summer camp for maladjusted children and teenagers. You can learn a little about it on their web page here.

There is sort of a main road in the camp where most of the campers live. This is also where the nurse's station and cafeteria/recreation hall is. Most of the action went on here. Sort of a main drag. I don't know what Wediko is like now, but 20 years ago if you walked down this main drag at any given time during the day, you were likely to see at least one incident of a camper being physically restrained by counselors. The amount of counselors needed to a restrain a camper generally depended upon the size of the camper and the amount of resistance he/she was offering. It generally ranged from 1 to 8 counselors restraining a child at a time. Usually it was 2 or 3 counselors. They restrained the camper by crisscrossing their arms around their chest. One of the fascinating aspects of this phenomenon is that there was none of this on visiting day. During visiting day my parents were roaming around Europe. When they finally came to visit me at the camp, they were rather amazed by all these kids lying on the ground being restrained by counselors. I was embarrassed for my parents. "It's nothing," I told them. Writing this now, I ask myself, if it was so weird for my parents, why the hell didn't they take me out of there?

Including myself, there were 8 fellow campers in my bunk. Unlike myself, most of the kids were underprivileged, coming from the poorer parts of Boston. One of them I believe went back home the first night. I don't know why. One was kicked out half way through the program. After the kid was kicked out I realized that a nice watch that I owned had vanished.

As I remember, the day consisted of 2 works sessions, consisting of manual labor such as washing dishes in the cafeteria. The work sessions were about 2 or 3 hours long. There were several group therapy sessions. They were long, perhaps an hour and a half. There was a little recreation, such as swimming in the lake—dubbed by my friend Chris, "Leach Loch" because of its blood-sucking inhabitants. "The leaches won't get you if you keep moving," a counselor used to tell me. There was always a bottle of salt around in case someone came out of the water with a leach attached. I never saw anyone come out with a leach but I've heard stories and I did see dead leaches that had washed ashore. It wasn't fun swimming. There was individual counseling sessions with a specific counselor that was assigned to you as a mentor. This happened maybe a few times a week. My mentor counselor was a real asshole. I will get to him later. On Saturday or Sunday—I don't remember which, they would pay us $10.00 and take us out on a field trip. I lost a lot of that money gambling.

I am a mosquito magnet. The mosquitoes sucked me dry. There were no doors to the bunk where we slept. Eventually they put a mosquitoes net up, which helped. I would bury myself deep inside my sleeping bag to evade the mosquitoes. I'll never forget the shrill whine of the masses of mosquitoes trying work their way into my sleeping bag. There seemed to be animosity in their whine. I knew that they were just dumb animals, that they couldn't have emotion, but they really seemed pissed that they weren't sinking their fangs into me. When I awoke, I would find that they always managed, somehow, to get me.

For half the summer I had a cold I couldn't shake. Between that and the mosquito bites it made life physically miserable. In all fairness, when I actually complained about my physical discomfort, they did give me antibiotics to cure my cold and made provisions to significantly reduce the amount of mosquito bites I was getting, which included giving me mosquito repellent and putting up the mosquito net. The staff at Wediko weren't inhuman; more like protohuman.

My mentor counselor had a scruffy beard. He looked like the kind of guy that lived year-round in the woods. Once he went off to take a shit in the woods. When he came back, I looked at him with adolescent awe and asked, "How do you wipe your ass if you're shitting in the woods?" And He replied, "Oh, I just used a leaf." It didn't seem like enough I thought, but I didn't press the issue. I used to poke fun of him in front of my peers, and call him Willamiah Jones because of his woodsiness. "Jeremiah," he told me, "not Willamiah. Willamiah's a women's name." I would give him shit but I never got physical with him or any of the counselors. Once when nobody was around, he physically restrained me in the standard way of crisscrossing my arms around my chest. I don't remember whether it was because I was giving him shit or because I was complaining (he hated my complaining as do most people), but I was not doing anything which was physically threatening to him. He restrained me merely to assert his power and dominance over me. He was looking for resistance and I didn't allow him any form of justification for his violence. I just did a Gandhi number and let my body go limp as melting butter. Not giving him the satisfaction he was looking for was one of the few victories I have ever had in my life. That was the only instance when I was restrained. He embarrassed me a little because some of my peers came by and looked at him restraining me, but it wasn't a big deal as all except for one had been restrained themselves, on at least one occasion. As the summer progressed, one peer after another would flip out, be restrained, and carried off. We were 15 years old, the big kids, and when we lost it, we usually required a lot of manpower to restrain us. The bizarre thing was that in most cases my peers would flip out over completely ridiculous things. One kid had to be dragged out of a group therapy session when he flipped out because the counselors were given two days off a week, and the campers only one day off. Someone who was not there might argue that the campers were flipping out because they were mentally unbalanced. This however was not the case. It was as though campers felt obligated to flip out, and counselors felt obligated to create an environment where flipping out was not only acceptable, but expected.

Once my mentor literally dragged me out of the cafeteria, in full view of everyone because I was complaining about the shitty cereal they gave us. After he dragged me out, with a stern warning, "You stay until I come back," I escaped into the woods. Camp would be over in only a few days, and I planned on hiding out in the woods for the rest of my stay, eating blueberries for sustenance. Once it got dark though, the steady racket of wild animals compelled me to go back.

I spent the better part of the last few weeks of the summer in voluntary isolation, refusing to be a part of my bunk or engage in any camp activities. I would lie on the grass all day in front of the schoolhouse. People would come around to bring me meals. I'd sleep on the floor of the schoolhouse at night. Some, but not all of the reason why I did this was because I had gotten into a physical fight with one of my peers. He was literally twice my size and the only reason I engaged him in the fight at the time was because it was in the cafeteria where I knew there would be an ample supply of counselors to break up the fight. Still, it was crazy, and I could easily have gotten pretty messed up like the other kids who were crazy enough to tangle with him.

Was Wediko a good place? Of course not. Was it entirely evil? No. Even my mentor was not completely bad. The guy taught me how to throw a frisbee backhanded and gave me very good, obscure mosquito repellent that only a woodsy bastard like himself would know of. One of the directors of the camp was named Harry. I only remember his name because my friend Joey used to call him "Dirty Harry" and it used to piss him off. Harry was one of the nicest guys I ever met. He never talked down to me like the counselors. Never treated me like a delinquent kid, but as a person. One of the counselors was Irish. Although he played it by the book, he was a pretty sweet guy. He used to have the band U2 living upstairs from him when he lived in Ireland back when nobody knew about U2. He told us a story once about when he camping and he had one of those little one-man tents, and he stuck his head out and some big goddamn bird tried to lift his head up and carry him off. My friend Chris used to draw erotic pictures of women. The Irish counselor confiscated them. Chris explained to me that he confiscated them for fear that it might excite us. My friend Joey was from South Boston, or as it's called in Boston, "Southie." He was a year or two younger then the other kids in the bunk and didn't understand a lot about sex. He once was talking about how horses fuck each other up the ass. I don't remember what the context was. My mentor explained to him that horses didn't fuck each other up the ass, and articulated to him what they were really up to. Once Joey and I were taking a last piss before bedtime. It was dark and the bastard accidentally peed on me. He thought it was a riot. Joey was a handsome kid. There was a girl camper that obviously liked him. She approached him and tried to start up a conversation. Joey was speechless. The girl was magnificently beautiful. I have never felt lust for a girl like I have for her. I would've been as scared shitless as Joey, as I didn't know how to talk to girls either. Still don't. Joey was always talking about us being buddies and seeing each other after camp, but I never heard from him. Saw him on the trolley a few years later. The poor bastard came down with a terrible case of acne, the kind that scars your face for life. He didn't want to talk to me much me. I don't know if he was embarrassed by his physical condition or weirded out by my business suit, as I had taken a job in the mail room of a mutual funds company. A few weeks later I saw the big guy I had had the fight with. Saw him on the trolley and had on my business suit as well. I looked away, hoping he didn't recognize me. He recognized me. I'm sure. Didn't do nothing though.

I could easily write a 100 pages about the weirdness that went on at Wediko. But I'd rather not. Wediko was a very sad and agonizing chapter in my life. Before I started this web site I made the decision not to name names when bashing people or institutions unless, in some way, it served to steer others away from the same people who mistreated me. When I was a camper at Wediko, I believe it was a bad place for children. That was, however, 20 years ago, and I am no longer in a position to judge the current state of Wediko. Dr. Hugh Leichtman is currently listed on Wediko's web site as a clinical director. He was at least one of the people who headed up the organization 20 years ago, and I knew him personally, as he did an evaluation of me. I encourage you to read Dr. Leichtman's essay, "Yellow Tulips". If you are a parent considering sending your child to Wediko, I want you to seriously consider whether you want to entrust your child to someone who talks about "yellow tulip brains."