Monday, September 19, 2011

365 Jobs: The Kid

Starting in 1963

I met The Kid in the summer of 1963.  He was a lanky 14-year-old with a friendly, unimposing, almost naive manner.  I was 15 years old.  The Kid and I bunked in the same cabin at Hawkeye Trail Camp.  We were both escaping the heat to spend a summer in the Adirondacks.  

Sharing an interest in science and a scorn for bullshit posturing, we loved canoe trips on the Saranac Lakes and hiking up some of the lesser-known mountains, especially a rugged little gem called Catamount.  We weren't close friends, but we were summer camp friends.

When that summer ended, we went our separate ways and never saw each other, never tried.  The Kid was eager to make his way in the established world pursuing his love of science; I was increasingly anti-establishment pursuing the end of war.  It was the Sixties.

When you're young, the world keeps expanding larger and larger.  As you get old, it starts shrinking.  In that smaller world I met The Kid again, in the year 2001.  The summer camp where we'd first met had died and been split into parcels.  The Kid had bought one parcel including the cabin where we had bunked together.  My friends Duncan and JK had bought another parcel including the Blue Heron, where they allowed me to stay. 

In the 38 years since I'd last seen The Kid, he'd earned a Ph.D. and pursued a career in scientific research.  Then he'd run for congress and, on his second try, won the election.  He still needed a place in the Adirondacks to escape the swelter of Washington where the heat, these days, is mostly political.

The Kid who I encountered in 2001 remained friendly and unimposing.  He actually seemed small and sort of shy for a congressman, not the backslapping power guy who walks in and dominates a room.

For ten summers now our paths have occasionally crossed as we each return to the old camp on our separate schedules.  We've shared dinners.  One year The Kid helped me take out my dock, another year I helped take out his.  I've seen him and his wife spend an entire weekend up on the roof of their funky old cabin tearing out, then re-roofing, working together.

One summer day my son and his college friends — a mix of boys and girls — were with me on the dock.  Hesitantly my son asked, "Uh, Dad, would it be okay if, like, we all went skinny-dipping in the lake?" 

Just at that moment from the neighboring parcel we heard a screen door slam and two voices laughing.  A second later The Kid and his wife, both in their sixties, went running bare-ass over their own dock and dived into the cool water of Silver Lake.

"Yeah, it's okay," I said. 

I remember one particular dinner with The Kid and his wife and some friends.  The Kid revealed that one of their grand ambitions was to climb Catamount, that rugged little gem, and spend the night.  There's nothing like the sunset vista from a mountain top, the starry night, the orange dawn.
View from Catamount
Over red wine I asked The Kid if he felt people in congress — present company excepted, of course — were as cynical and corrupt as they are often portrayed in the media. 

"No," he said.  "Of course we've got some bad apples.  But I believe the majority of congresspeople serve for altruistic and idealistic reasons.  At first.  Unfortunately I also believe that most of us, once we've become incumbents, tend to view getting reelected as an end, not a means."

"Have you?" I asked.

The Kid looked at his wife.  "Have I?" he asked.

His wife is an independent spirit.  "Not yet," she said.  "But I'm watching you."

It was a lively and thoughtful evening.  We sparred over policies, respectfully disagreeing.  The next day, the unpredictable weather of the Adirondacks turned glorious, followed by a starry night.  I wonder if The Kid and his wife achieved their Catamount dream.  I haven't seen them since that dinner.

It's good to meet politicians face to face when the cameras and microphones are off.  Amid all the hate-speech of talk radio and the internet, it's good to remember that we're all human beings, we all start out as kids.  We share the wonder of life on this earth.  Whatever your age, whatever your politics, there's nothing like the joy of jumping bare-ass into the cool water of a mountain lake.  May we never forget that.

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