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Burnt Marshmallows

Zimmy Page Strikes again! Mr. Page is becoming a regular on the blog and this time around he discusses his familiarity with letting dark humour help make dark situations just a little bit more bearable… Ya gotta laugh cause if you don’ t you’ll cry.


d. – checkerhead

Her goal was to be alone. Robin had recently lost her Mother and her life was getting pretty complicated. We were all done teaching for the day, so she decided to walk the half a kilometer to the hotel and think alone in peace. Neal Rempel, the creator of this project, hears this and decides to forbid it! “A camper of mine…not happy?! She needs to be alone?! Forget it!” She’s walking on the side of the road, in deep snow and with snow falling furiously as he creeps up on her left in a van filled with circus hooligans. He is just riding the brake, inching along beside her doing about four kph as the whole CAMP staff laughs as hard as we ever have. She keeps moving forward, determined to be alone and if possible, melancholy. No way, ma nigs!

“Dad”, as he is sometimes referred to, is just so proud of himself. Phil jumps out to hand our little “Terry Fox” a bottle of Ninon’s water. ( Well, I assume it was hers.) Now Robin starts limping and the van is just rocking with howling laughter. She keeps limping along like a broken Bicycle but we absolutely refuse to give her any privacy. She finally gives it up, just a hundred yards from the hotel and dives into the passenger side window, giggling. Now why would we treat a beloved co-worker in szuch a way?  We have to–“She’s our friend!”

Hits and misses, successes and failures…we have fun and we take the piss out of each other while touring around Northern Manitoba, going to aboriginal reservations to teach circus skills. The Circus And Magic Partnership has an incredible power to it. How many weeks are there in a year? Wrong. There are only TWO! The two best weeks of the year… The things we see are harsh, the conditions of the villages we visit are miserable and the kids look hopeless when we first see them. It’s backward and brutal: it’s a lot like being on M.A.S.H. Rough conditions, best of intentions. If you make jokes about it, water it down a bit, it’s almost funny. If you take it straight you could really hurt yourself.

Her name was Crystal, this student of mine in my first year. She had gold flecks of paint in and around her nose. “What’s that all about?” I found out…Someone somewhere at sometime had taught her that you can get high if you huff spray paint, and that gold paint works the best. She learned that. That means she could learn something else. Maybe she could learn a useful skill…but only if we get to meet up with her first. I took it all wrong, feeling nothing but emptiness and despair for this little lottery loser. Then the other artist/instructors came to my rescue, making cruel and insensitive remarks about it just to dull the pain and get me back to the real mission at hand–make these kids smile. So we made a few quips about how her friend smelled from huffed gasoline, and how incredibly stupid that is–and that’s how you get around the horror…the horror.

Way up in Thompson, in one of the earliest crew line-ups, Chris the magic instructor stumbles into a room, his head three feet in front of his body as usual, where most of us are watching “Full Metal Jacket.” “I was in the bar downstairs and I was thisclose to a blowjob!” “What’s the matter? The taste turn you off?” “Fuck you, Lee!” I had to do it of course–he’s our friend! His name became “Private Pyle”, after the OTHER numbnut with the major malfunction in the film. Oh, the things we say to each other…the horrible horrible things we say to each other after school hours about the kids and all the miseries we’ve witnessed. The hardest I have EVER laughed has been with these people, year after year…but the things that we laugh at are AWFUL. Awful funny, but I mean–Ouch! There is one now-legendary joke I will not credit OR repeat because it is in fact the single WORST thing I ever heard. I also laughed way too hard at it! It can be found in a very simple code in this essay. You figure it out.

Harder jokes from our fearless leader include, “If you see a kid with a sharpie and he tells you he got it from his Dad, just take it from him and say, But you don’t HAVE a Dad!” “If a kid tries to get into the school without a CAMP shirt, don’t believe any excuse he gives you. “My shirt is inside there, orrr I need to get my hat, orrrr I’m having Decker’s baby.”  The shocked look on Decker’s little ferret face–he was the only performer/instructor that wasn’t bent over in hysterics. Is that wrong? No! We HAVE to do that. When my father died, Neal was the nicest guy in the world, called me up that next day and offered his kindest support. Three months later, I walk into a CAMP classroom and he says, “Hey! Where’d you get that sharpie? You don’t HAVE A dad!”

Then I cringed….and I laughed a little, too. Before you judge him, consider this. Neal might say something like, “This year I’m gonna call Phil “Tea Bag.” We all assumed Neal knew what it meant in nasty sexual street lingo, but he swears he didn’t. It was sooo great listening to every single kid say,”Hi Tea Bag. It’s my turn now right, Tea Bag?” The phrase “Hey Tea Bag, how much minutes ’til it’s my turn?” became staff lore. Names. CBG, aka Dave Aiken had a brief run under the nickname “Pac-Man Aiken”, because he took it upon himself to pack up the vans that year. The next year, he didn’t seem to enjoy his new nickname anywhere near as much–“Clay Aiken.” He’s probably glad it didn’t take.

That can happen–I am strictly forbidden from telling how I got the embarrassing nickname “Man Hole”, but I CAN tell you that Dean is called “Sugar”, ’cause he gives it up, so sweet!’ “Smithers” was so-named because he did all the little things that Neal/Mr. Burns found distasteful, such as pumping gas in the cold…”You do it, Smithers!” Smithers only worked that one year, so we named his replacement ‘Snowball II’, as in the Simpson’s replacement cat. We’ve had a lot of ‘Snowballs’ since then…and one Sting. Colin is “Sting” because he once said that Nirvana was overrated–then he said something nice about the Police. I won’t repeat it for fear of “Neal/Col. Kurtz’s” reaction–braking dangerously on a highway from 130 kmh to zero in something like twelve feet just to run out of the van, throw open the side doors and viciously attack “Sting.”

Before we knew it, other names were given–F’n Bob, 9-iron, Gay Little Grin, Flaaaaaaaaaaaaaan-ders…he HATES that so don’t use it…Mug O’ Meat, RobNut, Bitter Fly, L. Ron Pearson, Clumpy, Snarky Clark, “Annie”…nicknames are given, used, forgotten and resurrected and they’re usually mean. Why is that? Why do we have to be so mean? Because–you’re our friend!

He’s the funniest man known to me but like most of his staff, Neal’s a burnt marshmallow. Blackened and hard on the outside, complete goo in the middle. If you peel away the hard black part, you’re unprotected if say, Stacy Clark gets an autistic kid up on a trapeze…that kid was literally running through the air! You see something like that and you might get veklempt. You might cramp up in your throat fighting off tears…You may have to duck out like Kurtz almost did, or look away, like Man Hole did…lest anyone see the goo pouring out of you. Way to go, “Snark”!

Rapes can even be made ‘funny’ in the hands of the masters. Even death can be funny. We even managed to survive a student’s suicide one year at the camp that Sugar puts on in Calgary, but only after treating ourselves to a fresh coat of protective comedy blackness.

Her name was Linda, and she was having fun when I saw her last…That’s the objective according to the Main Man. To give each kid a moment. One moment that stands out in their memories should their lives become too dark; a single moment where they were happy that they can have, hold and relive in a crisis. “Just keep them moving in a looooove direction!” Linda was laughing and making plans for her performance as she left school that day, but that night…Oh Linda, how could you hurt yourself like that? Jebus Linda, how could I have done better for you? What did someone forget to tell you about life and pain and survival? Didn’t you even give a shred of thought to how this will hurt all of us? How dare you kill yourself…oh, man. That one really threw us. This was a spin-off of Neal’s program, he was merely consulting, so he was not present when it happened. I called “Dad” in Winnipeg, just as my other ‘brothers’ had done…he was expecting my call. “Dude…it’s no one’s fault. It has nothing to do with you or the program. We do all that we can. We just met her too late.”

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