During the summer of 2000 I was a camp counselor in Florida. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing but I had to make my campers think that I did. Each week I teamed up with a different co-counselor and ruled over a new cabin full of 16 boys, ready for action and trouble. Every group of boys had a natural leader, a natural rebel, followers of both, and occasionally, what I call the Boy Wonder.
He was the most misunderstood. He had the hardest time fitting in with the rest. He was in his own world. And he really didn’t mind. Because I am convinced he didn’t realize any of this.
Of course most boys encounter these traits at some point in their boyhood; some just take longer to grow out of it, if ever.
It was camp policy that every counselor had at least one of his campers with him at all times (like Sonic the Hedgehog and his rings). The Boy Wonder of the group usually ended up being the one I spent the most time with. There was something in it for both of us: I would be his faithful friend and he would be my camper-at-all-times.
The most memorable Boy Wonder was an 8 year-old named Daniel, complete with a pasty white complexion and perfectly straight bangs running across his forehead. Everyone learned his name on the second day of camp, when he threw up his corndog and tater tots inside the cabin after lunch. As the other counselor cleaned up the mess, I watched all the boys outside.
The easier job would to have been to clean up the puke. Because outside the cabin as I tried to stabilize the situation, Daniel chased all the other boys. They were afraid to get near him because of the vomit all over his clothes and face.
But ultimately, Daniel wanted to be the comedian of the group. And in a way he was: There were times he made the other boys laugh, but they were always laughing at him, not with him. His jokes were too familiar and too predictable (knock-knock’s and chickens crossing the street). It’s like he began realizing that by the end of the week, so he decided to start making up his own jokes:
Q: “What did the anteater say to the ant?”
A: “May I eat you or may I lick you?”
I remember what happened as soon as that joke was delivered. A few seconds of silence passed as this non-logical riddle fell flat. Then, it hit us all at once. The entire cabin roared up in a session of uncontrollable laughter. The joke made no sense: Why would a talking anteater politely ask his victim if he would prefer to be eaten (and die) or licked (and survive)? And why would being licked even be an option anyway? And that’s why it was inevitably hilarious.
Somewhere out in central Florida today is a high school senior named Daniel. Maybe his jokes got better. Maybe he started fitting in with the other boys. But if I know Daniel, he still hasn’t grown out of his Boy Wonder phase.
He would be far from the first. Classically, I’m referring to Gary Busey. But more recently, any man featured on a “celebrity” reality show on VH1. And even it weren’t for the recent MTV Video Music Awards incident, I would still say it.
All pictures with the “JHP” logo were taken by Joe Hendricks Photography: