The Depends Diapers incident is aforementioned, and although urine was not involved in any of the antics I witnessed afterward, there was revelry. It was calm at first, nothing more than bearded, gruff tree guys and whiskey and guitar. Sure, Billy set Ronnie on fire that one time, and sure sometimes people got loud, but for the most part it was a contained sort of fun. There was talk of banning hard liquor, but nothing really happened with that for a long while. And then all of the sudden, many things happened at the same time and the scene in the back of the field changed. For starters, it was sometime around now that Jungle Jim came; he was a former Angel Flights pilot, a couple screws to the wind, and had been living in Belize for the last five years. Great guy, definitely had a brain a little off from too many hallucinogens in his past. Anyways, Termite didn’t take too kindly to him, so he set up shop in the brush of the opposite corner of the back from where the Termites set up shop.
Simultaneous to this, the Termites started getting into it with the administration. Billy had an extreme disinclination toward Dingo and Scuba, over some argument that I can’t even remember anymore. But Billy was sure he was right, and the administration didn’t see it that way.
Third, the demographics of camp were beginning to slowly shift into what I suspected they would eventually become permanently: the college groups. Volunteer work in a camp like this after something like Katrina could only be sustained for so long by our motley group of drifters, cooks, unemployed, drunks, hippies, whatever we were, one and all. Eventually it was going to happen, and like so, the earnest privileged began flowing in slowly here and there.
All of this back story was nothing, however, compared to the backlash that occurred on the Night of the Broken Crosses. I couldn’t tell you what night it was, and I couldn’t really tell you how it started. I vaguely remember alcohol and card games in the Spin Cycle. I don’t think it was a Pub night. I do know that Dingo, Scuba, and DC weren’t around.
Benjammin’s brother Micah had come into camp to work a few weeks before that; Micah had won some international sniper competition in his past (a fact that Jammin’ let no one forget in his introductions) and had just gotten out of the military. He was a nice guy, and I enjoyed drinking with him. A few days before, Jammin’s other brother Nathan had also come into camp. Nathan was 17, but was up for the volunteer experience. I’ll be damned if I find many families and especially brothers with such affinity and solidarity as the Bates brothers had. I mean, as soon as they were there, Jammin’ would almost forget to refer to them by name and just say “my brother.” When Micah and Nathan were both around it got a bit confusing, but manageable.
Anyways, there were other characters that had arrived in this interim. Suzanne got there at some point, Suzanne from Austin. Chelsea was around too. Suzanne and Chelsea, and Mark Levy, and Sharon, and Finch, and Nate Stutz, the Bates Brothers, Kristen Burlage, JoJo, Andre 6500, Wolverine James, Gretchen, Quinnelly of course, Janos, Josh Potter, Rohde, Jane and Cora, Patrick, Liz Walsh, Scuba Jen…others I am forgetting, but the point is, we had a strong, strong contingent of fun folks in their 20s and 30s that were down to work their ass off by day, and even more down for fun by night.
So somehow early on in the night the majority of these individuals ended up pretty drunk. Mostly because at some point we tried to play flip cup in the Spin Cycle, but the table wasn’t big enough for what we needed. So Janos and I, problem solvers as we are, stole one of the long breakfast tables and set it up in the middle of the parking lot. Then more people wanted to play, and someone went on a beer run, and at some point Gretchen kissed me, which wasn’t a big deal, I think she kissed a bunch of people. So in the meantime we got a second breakfast table from inside to play flip cup. And by now it wasn’t just the 20 people playing flip cup, it was a contingent of whiskey drinking watching the flip cup. At some point someone said:
“Maybe we should move the flip cup behind the crosses.”
Sidenote: As previously mentioned in the description of the grounds, there was a prominent mound of three white crosses set off on the southeast side of the field. But behind these crosses there was enough space for a small gathering. Or a large one as it was.
We moved the tables behind the crosses and brought some hanging lanterns and flashlights. Someone had also produced a radio, and as flip cup progressed dancing produced itself both around and atop tables. All of this was a simply beautiful togetherness of people I loved and more importantly, people that knew how to have a good time. And then, over the siren song of Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl,” I heard Jammin’ scream drunkenly aloud:
“Storm the crosses!”
Without a moment’s haste, the three Bates brothers stormed up the hill and each tackled a cross. One by one, each fell forward to the ground on the other side of the hill, wrapped around a large T that very apparently was not stuck in the ground by anything other than decently packed dirt.
There were a variety of reactions from the table to this. I’m pretty sure I was in the camp of almost falling off the table I was standing on while laughing hysterically, then stumbling toward the hill going “Bates Brothers, no seriously. Seriously, we have to put those back up.” Rohde thought it was f-ing hilarious, and I’m pretty sure Cora simultaneously said to no one in particular, “O.K., that is the cue for me to go back inside.” Opposite sides of some spectrum.
And then who came walking across the field but DC himself, and all of the sudden the whole scene had the tone of being scolded by one’s father. Janos, myself, and a number of others ignored his conversation with Jammin’ and set about putting the crosses back upright. But the flip cup in the field and the music was definitely over at that point. We were told that “the party was over.”
Nothing like this, mind you, had ever happened before— an intrusion of the administration on the after hours society of the field. But we’d never knocked crosses over before. So in the end when I reflect on that night, and the outlawing of hard liquor after that, and the things that came afterward, it was inevitable. The Lord of the Flies debauchery of our reckless entertainment in a lawless land was always ephemeral in half life, and societal evolution made a punctuated jump at that single moment. The Night of the Broken Crosses, in short, ushered in the inevitable reality of rules.
Later that night, Micah Bates pissed all over a new volunteer. Dumbo himself chased him outside with a baseball bat or some stupid ridiculous thing like that, and the next morning he was kicked out. He didn’t remember a thing.