Tiny Dancers


I had poison ivy.

Tuesday, July 11, 1978, the diary reports Mom took me to the doctor for a prescription to treat welts on my hand, which later spread to my face and lips. Itching all over, I was miserable.

Topping that, I didn’t have a summer job, fired from the janitorial gig because I was slow (too busy daydreaming), lazy and—well, to tell you the truth, I stole a letter opener. Yeah, I was a petty thief. With poison ivy. And the itching just wouldn’t stop.

The daydreams were of summer camp and the girls I’d met there before: Lynn, Lisa, Jill … and others I haven’t yet mentioned. After “Happy Campers I,” I’d befriended a blonde from Wayzata with the unusual name of Vizma Sturnicks, and a girl from Forest Lake named Deann Mork. They attended Camp Shamineau when high school friend Loren played Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” on the upright piano in the dining hall basement. Deann and I made out in the chapel the previous year at camp.

Vizma and I stayed in touch. She had an unrelenting sense of humor, which I instantly glommed on to. That Tuesday in July, Mom drove me to Wayzata where I window-shopped at Bay Center mall, then walked to Burger King where Vizma worked the front line. I always considered her a new friend rather than a potential romantic interest. “Called Vizma this eve,” the diary states. “Shamineau’s got a new melodrama stage. 55 kids going this year.” Seemed like a positive sign; things were looking up.

“The Clown with the Golden Voice,” the next day’s entry begins, “His heart may break, but the show goes on. … I wanna stand around the sundial again, Mr. Storyteller. … It’s so very much summer, but I feel trapped, or even better described as ‘waiting.’”

You see, I’d formed this myth (which later took the form of a poem) about a sundial I saw at Camp Koronis. In the story, a strange old storyteller conjured his readers to appear at a certain time and place. All the loose ends of his stories would neatly tie up. I needed Mr. Storyteller again. “It looks as if there’ll be a brightening cheery revival of a summer spirit, like a wondrous old man simply sleeping somewhere in a sweet breezy field.”

My sense of intuition was at full charge, albeit veering on the side of purple prose.

On Thursday, July 13, the diary turned pensive: “Sargasso Sea. The Horse Latitudes. Where is the Shamineau oasis and the girl with the golden brunette hair? Just a vision and/or recurring fancy just created from whims and outside symbols? I don’t believe it. I won’t believe it’s because that is something stronger now than a small, objective and sterile little doubt.”

Who was this mysterious girl with the golden brunette hair? I’d been on the phone with Vizma, Deann, Kim, Lisa, even hanging out with a sophomore friend from late in my senior year, Mary Geyen, at her parents’ place. But none of these girls fit the description of HER. I had to find out who she was. Feeling friendless and alone, I later confessed to the diary: “God, I feel that girl in my head.”

Saturday night Jim Borgheiinck picked me up in his car and we hit a party at sophomore Colleen “Cubby” Dunn’s house north of town. Cubby fit the bill as a smart, lovely brunette, and she and I often flirted in high school. At the party that night she showed me her Jackson Browne albums. But something seemed off. “Cubby was standoffish last night,” I later wrote, “but uncomfortably friendly.”

Uncomfortably friendly. Even after 30 years that statement strikes me as calculatingly vague. Maybe I bristled at her standoffishness, but was not entirely convinced of the attraction, given she’d be back in high school in the fall and I’d be off to college. I’m not sure.

On Monday, July 17, there was a break in the unemployment clouds. I’d walked the railroad tracks to Tonka Toys and scored an interview appointment for the following day, to work in the assembly department. Things were looking up—potential tiny dancers and poison ivy notwithstanding.

Maybe landing the job, and making my last summer at Camp Shamineau really count, would finally scratch that itch.

~ by completelyinthedark on May 10, 2013.

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