We Come, Ready or Not!
A Moe Minsky Tale
Written By Al Geto
The crowd of shouting boys, tanned by a summer of sun, soaped themselves
on the wide dock at the edge of the pine-embraced lake. A raft, mounted
by a silver slide, floating twenty yards out awaited their arrival.
But every one of the campers at Pineland was too vigorously engaged
competing in the weekly soap derby to think about swimming until Uncle
Maury, the bloated waterfront counselor in dark sunglasses, chose a
winner. Seated atop his lifesaver’s platform at the corner of
the dock, a whistle around his beefy neck, megaphone in hand, and looking
huge enough to displace the small lake, Uncle Maury sweated copiously
and watched as the boys soaped while the other counselors cheered them
“Two more minutes!” he warned loudly, and blasted his whistle.
Yelling for his attention and prancing up and down the some fifty kids
ranging in age from seven to fourteen kept soaping themselves and sometimes
each other, a few with oversized sponges producing mountains of blobs.
“You could win! You could win!” Derek Robbins cried as he
wielded his sponge, spewing cascades of foam. “Geez, Larry! Stand
still, will ya?” He squeezed a sparkling crown of bubbles to cover
his friend’s head, topping the creamy billows already formed on
his shoulders and the rest of his body, head to toe.
“The soap’s getting in my eyes!” Larry howled, squeezing
“Shut up! We’re gonna win!” Derek assured him.
The shrill of Uncle Maury’s whistle pierced the sunbaked air again.
“Here we come, ready or not!” Derek shouted above the din.
It was their cry of victory that summer, his and Larry’s, as tennis
doubles partners, and in the canoe regatta, and as runner-ups in the
dramatics festival. Uncle Maury blew three final blasts.
“Time’s up!” he cried through his megaphone, perched
on his pedestal. It was close to lunch hour and he was hungry enough
to eat a small boy. The cloudless blue Massachusetts sky reflected in
the unruffled lake as the campers fell into a dead silence. But Derek
“Here we come ready or not, Uncle Maury!”
“Who’s that?” Uncle Maury demanded, seeing the snowpile
of suds on a boy he couldn’t identify.
“Larry Landers!” Derek cried.
“First prize!” Uncle Maury agreed at once.
With cheers and catcalls for second and third prize, the campers ran
to the end of the dock and began diving into the water, instantly washing
away the soapsuds and heading out to the raft.
“I got you to win!” Derek yelled, pounding him with the
“Shake!” Larry grinned, wiping the soap from his pixie face.
They shook hands. “We’ll split the prize. Come on! Let’s
go out to the raft and do our double-man slide. “
“I’ll follow you,” Derek said.
Larry, still too chicken to dive, jumped in holding his nose, submerged,
popped up, and swam for the raft. Shivering a little as a breeze swept
over the lake, Derek watched him flailing his thin arms as Larry made
it all the way out, climbed aboard, mounted the slide, waved to Derek,
then zipped down into the water. Instead of following him, Derek plucked
his bathrobe and towel off the row of hooks on the dock, found his slippers
and started up the camp hillside towards the two rows of bungalows,
taking a last look back. The raft was jammed with kids and Derek felt
crowded out. He had a sense of urgency about the summer coming to an
end. He and Larry seldom had a chance to be together without a ton of
people around all the time. And they were in different bunks. At night
after lights out the kids in each bunk would lie in bed talking, or
have pillow fights. Of his three bunkmates two of them were mad for
scouting and spent hours working toward merit badges, an activity Derek
scorned. The third one occupied a bed in the infirmary half the time
with a post-nasal drip, which is what Derek always thought he was.
Although Larry wasn’t so hot at sports, Derek was worse, yet between
them they made it in tennis and won a couple of the sophomore canoe
races. Derek, however, was rather a loner and felt the need for a private
friend, which Larry had more or less become. But Derek imagined a deeper
friendship, including code words and signals and secret letter writing.
He thought about Larry a lot and dreamt of him and twice had awakened
in a panic dreaming about him. In one of those dreams Larry had turned
into a slithering eel, but very friendly.
Alone in his bunk, lying on his cot, he thought if he and Larry put
in for a boat during the after-dinner activity hour he would reveal
to him the landing about half a mile up the shore where he had found
a place to beach it behind an outcropping of tall bushes. There, a few
yards into the forest of pines, he had discovered a cave and had sat
in its giant maw like Robinson Crusoe, lost to the world. Beaching boats
any place but on the campsite was strictly forbidden. But he was sure
he could talk Larry into it. Larry was neither bold nor brave, but he
was spunky and a good wrestler. In July, on Derek’s twelfth birthday,
they had sneaked down the road to the Hayride Shop during free time
and Larry bought him a Buffalo Nut Sundae and a harmonica. If that wasn’t
a real friend, what was? He loved him for that. Neither of his divorced
parents had come up from New York to visit him that day. They had sent
him presents. His mother sent a cardigan. His father sent a fishing
rod. If there was one thing he couldn’t stand it was seeing a
fish caught on a hook, its mouth bleeding, struggling to survive and
flopping around in the boat glassy-eyed and dying.
The smooth waters parted in gentle ripples as the rowboat, painted blue
and orange, the camp colors, silently skimmed the lake. The two oarsmen
sat side by side each pulling a long wooden blade in unison under a
sky streaked with gold.
“They’ll see us from camp if we try to land,” Larry
“They won’t, I swear,” Derek pledged. “There’s
one counselor on duty at the dock and he’s probably trying to
hold hands with the nurse, that Miss Bigass.” Larry fumbled his
“Miss Bogart hasn’t got such a big ass,” he said.
“She has so. And big other things, too. Girls are overloaded.
Hey! Watch it! We’re here. Just the other side of those bushes.
Pull on your oar and it’ll swing us toward shore. Now easy, easy.
Great. Now pull hard to get us up on
the sand. Great!”
The boat ground on to the beach. Derek hopped out. Larry stood up in
the boat observing how well protected they were by the bushes, then
followed him as Derek led the way into the trees. The cave, a massive
collection of thousand ton boulders loomed, a rugged, monumental natural
architecture, its mouth formidable, open as if roaring, its interior
a multitude of dark and threatening passages.
“Wow!” Larry said. “This must have been an Indian
camp. I bet the Pawnees were around here!”
“I think it was the Iroquois. You remember that Indian arrow head
I gave you? I found it here.” He kicked the soil. “You want
to look for some?”
“Yeah! Let’s go in.” Larry moved toward the interior,
“I wouldn’t go down any of those,” Derek said. “Not
without a flash.”
“Just a little way. To see where it goes,” Larry said. He
continued to explore, picking up a short, thick, bleached branch. Derek
followed cautiously. They were into one of the more gaping passages
when Derek grabbed his arm.
“No! Wait!” he whispered. “Did you hear that?”
“I didn’t hear anything,” Larry whispered back.
They listened. A hollow, soughing sound like a haunting sigh, barely
audible, came whistling softly from the passage.
“Let’s go!” Derek shouted, dragging Larry after him,
the cave. Larry shook him loose as they came out, panting.
“It was nothing, only the wind!”
“We can come back in the daytime,” Derek said. “Besides,
I want to show you something.”
“I left it in the boat.” Larry followed him through the
trees when emerging on the shoreline Derek called in alarm. “Holy
cow! The boat!” It had drifted out into the lake.
“I’ll get it,” Larry volunteered kicking off his sneakers
and removing his sox. He waded into the water almost up to his shorts.
“Watch out!” Derek warned. “There could be snakes.”
“What’d ya have to say that for?” Larry said, inching
forward. At the next step the beach dropped away and he plunged in over
“Hey!” cried Derek. But the soap derby winner popped up,
a surprised look on his face. He grabbed the boat and pushed it back
“You’re soaked!” Derek exclaimed, beaching the boat
more firmly. “You better take off your stuff.” Larry had
already begun to remove his camp T shirt with its pine tree emblem.
“Your other stuff, too,” Derek advised. “It’s
chilly. You could get pneumonia.”
Larry removed his shorts and began wringing them out. “I can row
back in my underwear,” he said.
“What for? I’ll give you my shorts,” Derek volunteered.
He started taking them off.
“Yeah, okay, thanks,” Larry said. He removed his briefs
then tossed them into the boat with the rest. When he turned back, Derek,
crouching and hopping around, his hands flung out, naked, howled, “Here
I come, ready or not!”
“What are ya doin’?” Larry said, laughing at Derek’s
“Let’s wrestle the way the Indians do!” Derek challenged,
excited. “They always wrestled naked.”
“You nuts? Come on. I’m freezing. Where’s your shorts?”
Derek tackled him. Unprepared, Larry tumbled to the sand, Derek on top
of him. Responding to the assault Larry fought back, laughing. But in
the ensuing battle he realized immediately that far from fighting with
him Derek was caressing him. He tried to disengage but Derek desperately
clung. Striking out hard with a fierce breakway movement Larry untangled
himself and leaped to his feet. Derek dropped to the sand, blood trickling
from his lips.
“Holymoly, I’m sorry!” Larry cried, bending over him.
“Geez, I didn’t mean to do that. Hey, Derek. You okay?”
Derek crawled away, swayed to his feet, stumbled to the lake, walked
in up to his knees and splashed water on his mouth. In silence, Larry
donned the trunks, slipped into the boat and took his place at the oars.
Crying softly, Derek climbed into the front of the boat, sat on the
boat bottom against the prow, leaning over it, staring ahead at the
lake, Larry’s back to him. Larry hesitated, shivering, then shoved
off with one of the oars and began rowing towards the camp.
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Copyright © August 3, 2000-