This One Time at Band Camp

by D.W. Martin

THIS IS THE STORY OF TWO SAVVY THIRTEEN-YEAR-OLDS AND HOW they almost masterminded the cover-up of the century. Or at the very least, the cover-up of spring 1991.

As a freshman in high school, I was quite dorky. I was short, fat, and wore glasses. My best friend, Leonard, was shorter, squiggly thin, and wore braces. I don't mean to shock you, but we were in the band. I played the French horn and Leonard played the clarinet. Pretty sweet.

As dorks, Leonard and I were responsible, reliable, and easily prone to adult intimidation. Teachers trusted us. We simply didn't have the courage to do anything bad. And that's why, as mere freshman, on our spring band trip to Myrtle Beach, our band director bestowed upon us an awesome responsibility: She appointed us the Key Masters of our suite in the hotel—one of those garish pink stucco jobs that attract short-tempered fathers, their screaming children, and high-school bands. Each suite housed six guys or girls, two of whom were in charge of the room keys. The Key Masters were also responsible for making sure the suite didn't get trashed.

This really shouldn't have been too difficult, but there was a malcontent in our suite. His name was Bill, he was a junior, and he was not happy that two freshmen were the Key Masters. Bill played in the percussion section, which surprised no one seeing as how he loved to bang things that were not drum-related (such as people's heads). When we got off the bus in Myrtle Beach, he ordered us to give him a key or he'd "open a can of whup-ass" on us.

Bill was the lost member of the Manson family. He was a cross between a rabid ferret and a sociopath. His eyes were pitch black, the same color as his teeth. He didn't so much speak as spit. He wore camouflage mesh baseball caps and hunting T-shirts and it seemed as if he had a lump of chewing tobacco, or "chaw," as he put it, surgically attached to his jaw. Leonard and I were like two floppy-eared bunnies in the den of a wolverine.

Obviously we planned to stay far away from Bill and allow him to do whatever he wanted so long as it did not involve violating us. This worked for about the first thirty minutes, until we heard the door to our suite bust open, followed by an "Oh, crap." It turned out that Bill and our suitemate Noah (a spastic freshman) had been involved in a Super-Soaker skirmish. (Remember Super-Soakers? They were oversize water guns, and really cool if you were a nerdy, undersexed teenage boy.) Anyway, at some point during the fighting, Noah locked Bill out of the suite by sliding the metal safety latch at the top of the door into the locked position. Bill did the only sensible thing: He kicked the door in. Fog of war, you know?

Somehow, though, the door seemed to be okay. It still opened and shut, but the latch and the wood paneling on the door-jamb (where the latch locked into place) had been knocked off. It was a distressing sight. The pieces, which were still latched together, lay on the floor like an amputated limb, and the door-jamb now sported a hideous bald spot of nonlacquered wood where the paneling had been. The only damage to the door proper was a missing sliver of wood where the latch had been glued on (instead of, say, screwed on—safety first at this Myrtle Beach hotel).

The first thing Bill said after viewing the scene was "If anyone tells anybody what happened here, I will kill them. And their families. Is this understood?"

Leonard and I were reluctant to quibble with Bill on this point, but we did think that, perhaps, in this very unusual case, it would be best to tell the truth. How do you overlook a busted door? we argued. Plus, we were the Key Masters. The room was our responsibility. And we weren't about to let the adults down. Bill's rebuttal, however, involved flecks of tobacco raining down on my face and a suggestion that my body might be better served with two assholes. Tough to argue with that.

The four of us stood in the hall of the suite looking at the debris on the ground. How, exactly, were we going to cover this up? Bill thought we could try to glue the pieces back into place. Or maybe we could say it was like that when we got there, and that we somehow overlooked it when we first inspected the room. Another idea was to throw away the broken bits and paint the doorjamb a matching color. (Not that we had access to glue or paint or any tools whatsoever, but Bill liked to think big.) It was becoming apparent that he needed our help. And if we were going to go to the trouble of covering this up, what was the point of embarrassing ourselves? Time for the two smartest guys in the room to devise a foolproof plan.

Our solution was quite simple. We would fit the broken pieces back into their original places, like a jigsaw puzzle, then lock the latch. This actually worked well. When we pounded the pieces back into place, we were surprised by how firmly they took hold. Not quite good as new, but close. We knew, of course, that the fix wouldn't hold up under scrutiny, and our plan accounted for this. Later, shortly before the chaperones began making their rounds, we would secure the latch, but position the door so that it was ever-so-slightly cracked open. Then, when the chaperone knocked, one of us would casually say, "Come in! It's open!" And when he opened the door, "breaking" the latch, the broken pieces would come off (again). We would all have a good chuckle, shake our heads at the South's shoddy carpentry skills, and get back to free HBO.

We rehearsed the plan, tested it out, and deemed it flawless. Who knew Leonard and I could be this devious? Who knew how thin the line was between dorky and diabolical? I even thought I detected a glimmer of respect, or at least an absence of murderous rage, in Bill's eye.

Soon it was 8:30 p.m. Chaperone time. Go time. Leonard and I sat on the couch, watching Nick at Nite. Bill, with all the care of an artisan putting the finishing touches on a Faberge egg, placed the hardware and wood slivers back into place and gently slid the latch into the locked position. Then he ran into the TV room where we all sat, breathless. Our hearts pounded in unison. The adrenaline flowed. So this was living! This was a life of intrigue and danger!

"You guys awake?" It was the voice of Mr. Fouts, our balding, good-hearted, slightly chubby chaperone.

"Yup, come on in," I said. "We're just watching TV."

We heard the door moan.

"Seems to be locked," said Mr. Fouts.

"No, must be stuck. Just give it a little push."

Those pieces held their ground. He grunted. The door grunted back. And then the crash of wood and metal as the pieces clattered across the floor.

"Oh no," Mr. Fouts said. "I seem to have broken the door."

We leapt off the couch and into the hallway, each of us trying his best to act stunned.

"What did you do Mr. Fouts?" "How did that happen?" "Jeez, you've got quite a grip there. I better be careful shaking your hand."

I made that last comment. Honest. And the great thing is, he bought the flattery. He really reveled in the idea that maybe hidden inside his middle-aged potbelly was a Hulk Hogan just bustin' to come out. I remember him saying, "I guess I don't know my own strength. Wow, I just knocked down the door."

We told him that we had latched the door during the Super-Soaker battle and had forgotten that it was still fastened. He seemed a little skeptical—I need to give him that—but he was also more than happy to just chalk this one up to "another crazy thing that happens in Myrtle Beach." We were in the clear.

Until Mrs. Morrison showed up. She was the other chaper-one. And the instant she saw the door carnage, she knew something was amiss. We tried to explain that Mr. Fouts was just really strong. Mr. Fouts nodded in agreement. He was super strong. But Mrs. Morrison was a hardass and didn't take shit from anyone. (When her daughter graduated from high school, the poor girl received an award from the school superintendent for never having missed a day of school from first to twelfth grade.) Mrs. Morrison informed us that she would "get to the bottom of this by tomorrow." Which she did. Under intense interrogation, Bill folded. Perhaps he wasn't that tough after all. He ended up paying eighty-five dollars to repair the door (a huge sum when you're a teenager, the rough equivalent of $750 in adult money) and got two weeks of detention.

Beautifully enough, though, no one believed that Leonard and I—the good kids—could have been behind the plot to fool the chaperones. We paid five dollars in damages and apologized. And learned to never use our immense powers for evil again.

P.W. Martin is the author of Officespeak, a comedic look at, you guessed it, the language of the office. He lives in Queens, the most magical place on earth.

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