Authors: Robert Klane
"Play ball," he said again.
Being a counselor at Camp Winituck wasn't exactly Nemiroff's idea of a fun summer. But then Nemiroff really had very little choice.
The need for Nemiroff to be working at all for the summer started at the end of his sophomore year in college. The college had pulled a very shabby trick on Nemiroff. They had forwarded his marks to his local draft board. The draft board had then pulled an even shabbier trick on Nemiroff. They sent him a letter of induction. Nemiroff didn't let it bother him. Nemiroff knew for a long time that he didn't need anyone. Especially the army. He decided that the best thing to do was to contact all of his professors and try and get them to raise his grades. Surely they would understand. Surely they didn't want to see a young boy, a nice boy, thrown into the army.
The first thing Nemiroff did was to go to the administration building and find out what courses he was enrolled in. Nemiroff checked out his schedule. It was pretty rough. Nemiroff wondered if maybe he shouldn't have at least gone to one class that semester. He checked the list again and decided to start with his English professor.
Nemiroff knocked on Professor Worth's door. "Yes?" said the voice.
Nemiroff peeked in. "I wonder if I might see you for a second, sir?"
"Who are you?" asked the professor.
"That's what I'd like to see you about, sir." Nemiroff gulped. He stepped into the room. "I'm in your English class, sir. My name is Nemiroff."
Professor Worth stared at him. "I don't remember ever seeing you."
"I sit way in the back, sir," Nemiroff lied.
"I still don't remember you."
"Way, way in the back, sir."
"Well, what can I do for you?" the professor asked.
"You could give me a passing grade, sir.
"Did I fail you?"
"Well, I must have had a good reason for failing you."
Professor Worth tried very hard to end it there. Nemiroff wouldn't let him.
Nemiroff tried a different approach. "If you don't pass me, sir, I'll kill myself."
The professor looked up at him. "Please don't do it here," he said.
"I'm serious, sir." Nemiroff stared back at him.
"Fine," said the professor.
"You don't like me, do you, sir?" Nemiroff asked. "You don't happen to be anti-Semitic, do you, sir?"
The professor seemed rattled. "I beg your pardon?"
"Well, sir, I'm the only one you failed, and I'm Jewish." Nemiroff watched him squirm. He figured maybe he had something going. "I mean I've heard of things like that, haven't you, sir?"
"What did you say your name was?"
"Nemiroff, sir." He watched as the professor checked his grade book.
"I mean I wouldn't want to have to report something like this to the B'nai B'rith."
"Never mind, Nemiroff." The professor looked at him coldly. "Would you settle for a D?"
"I thought a C would be nice, sir." Nemiroff smiled at him.
"Very well, then, a C." He made a note in his book.
"Thank you, sir. I had a feeling you weren't really anti-Semitic." Nemiroff turned to walk out. "By the way," he said over his shoulder, "if it's all right with you I'd like to sign up for your English course."
"Yes, do that," the professor said. "Do that…."
And so Nemiroff went down the list of his courses and discovered that every professor was just anti-Semitic enough to change his grade. Nemiroff was pleased with himself. The draft board could go to hell, but Nemiroff was staying in college.
It was a few days later that the second letter from the draft board came through, explaining how the college had sent on his new marks and that Nemiroff would be excused from the draft as long as he stayed in college. Unfortunately, the draft board sent a carbon copy to Nemiroff's parents, who immediately notified Nemiroff that he was receiving no more money as of right now. "Let the army have you," his mother said, "I don't want you. Maybe they can make something out of you."
It was panic time again. Nemiroff was not going into the army. It was then that he decided to make the supreme sacrifice. He would go out and get a job for the summer. Not a hard job, just a job where he could make enough money to stay in college.
And so Nemiroff wound up at Camp Winituck, the poorest excuse for a day camp ever seen. It wasn't much, but it was a job. Everything was going to be fine.
On the first day of camp, Nemiroff listened patiently as Uncle Bernie read off the names of his group. Schwartz. Rosenberg. Horowitz. Reuben . . . All Jewish. All ten of them. Nemiroff cursed each one of them silently as Uncle Bernie finished the list.
They lined up beside Nemiroff. Ten Jews. Why did he have to get the Jews? Couldn't he have one gentile? And why Nemiroff? How did they know? He had never said anything to Uncle Bernie about being Jewish. Was it that obvious? Nemiroff made a mental note to check himself in the mirror as soon as possible. There must be something on him somewhere that just screamed he was a Jew. Nemiroff wasn't going to take this lying down. He walked over to Uncle Bernie.
"How come I have ten Jews?" Nemiroff asked.
Uncle Bernie stared at Nemiroff. "How come you what?"
"My group," Nemiroff explained, "they're all Jewish."
"So?" He stared blankly.
"Well, couldn't I have some of the others?" Nemiroff went on. "You know, kind of mix 'em up."
"I would prefer," Uncle Bernie explained patiently, "to leave things as they are. Their parents like to know they'll make the right friends."
"What about me?" Nemiroff asked.
"You don't have to be their friend. You just have to take care of them," Uncle Bernie said. "That's why they're with you. A Jewish counselor."
"Damn," Nemiroff hissed.
"What's wrong?" Uncle Bernie asked, his patience obviously tiring.
"It's just that... well, they seem so ... unathletic. How are we supposed to compete with the other groups?"
"I think it's your imagination." He pointed to them. "Look at them. Besides, it's your job to make men out of them."
Nemiroff glanced at the ten little Jewish boys. "I'll make men out of them even if I have to cut their balls off."
Nemiroff's group hated the baseball game. Ever since the first game of the summer, when they had lost to Marshall Pace's group, Marshall Pace, the good-looking gentile with the ten gentile, athletic boys, Nemiroff had sworn to himself that his group would never win a baseball game. They didn't deserve it.
Nemiroff's group knew they weren't the hottest baseball team in camp, but they also knew that they couldn't possibly be as bad as Nemiroff made them out to be. Now they had the reputation of being the absolute worst team that ever existed, and it was all Nemiroff's fault. Nemiroff was always the umpire, and he would never let his team win. Nemiroff made them lose day after humiliating day. At first it bothered them, but after losing forty-seven games in a row they gave up caring whether they won or not. Now they just wanted to get that son of a bitch behind the plate.
The first batter stepped up to the box. Nemiroff watched as the first pitch came sailing over the plate. It was a perfect strike.
"Ball one," Nemiroff shouted. The rocks came raining in. It was going to be another miserable day of baseball for Nemiroff's group.
The second pitch came to the plate and the batter swung mightily at it and missed.
"Ball two," announced Nemiroff, and then to stop any arguments, added, "He didn't break his wrists."
The next pitch came over the plate and the batter hit a soft pop fly to the third baseman. He got under it and made an easy catch.
"Doesn't count," Nemiroff said. "Today third pitches don't count."
By the time Nemiroff's group got to bat the score was twenty-six to nothing.
Mr. Robinson was the counselor of the group that was playing Nemiroff's team today. He waited until the teams were changing sides before walking over to Nemiroff.
"How come?" Mr. Robinson asked.
"Fuck off," Nemiroff said.
"They're going to get you, you know that, don't you?" Mr. Robinson went on.
"Not if I get them first"
"What are you doing it for?" Mr. Robinson ducked to get out of the way of a few rocks that were being thrown at Nemiroff. He winced as one of the larger rocks caught Nemiroff in the side of the face. Mr. Robinson didn't bother to wait for an answer. He turned and ran like hell.
"All right, who is up first?" Nobody moved from the bench. "Somebody better get up here or I'll break your heads."
One of the boys reluctantly got off the bench. He picked up one of the bats and started swinging it He walked over to the plate.
"C'mon, get up to the plate," Nemiroff ordered. The pitcher wound up and hurled the ball about ten feet over the batter's head.
"Strike one," Nemiroff said. It was raining rocks. Nemiroff signaled to the pitcher to continue.
This time the pitch was so low it didn't even reach the plate. The batter watched it roll by his feet.
"Strike two." Nemiroff didn't see the brick and it caught him on the left foot. He picked up the brick and casually heaved it in the direction of the bench. He watched as the kids fell all over each other trying to get out of its way. The brick hit one of the kids in the head and he fell off the bench. "Pick him up," Nemiroff ordered, "he's up next."
The next pitch was thrown and the batter connected with a real shot over the center fielder's head. The batter started to run, but not before throwing the bat at Nemiroff and hitting him squarely in the groin. Nemiroff fell to the ground biting his lips.
By the time Nemiroff stumbled up to one knee, the batter was rounding second and heading for third. Nemiroff forced himself to stand up, strange animal sounds coming from between his teeth. Nemiroff waited until the kid was halfway between third base and home plate before he lunged after him. He tackled him roughly around the knees, throwing the kid to the ground and falling on top of him.
"Hurry up with the ball," Nemiroff groaned. He pushed the kid's face into the dirt. The center fielder had retrieved the ball and was running frantically toward Nemiroff. Nemiroff took the ball and raised it over his head. With his last ounce of strength he brought the ball crashing into the kid's head. "You're out," Nemiroff shouted in his ear.
Nemiroff rolled off the kid and stared at the red welt left where the ball had smashed into his head. He pulled himself to his feet, the pain returning to his crotch as the sensation of grinding the baseball into the kid's head was leaving.
"Take him back to the locker," Nemiroff said, "the game is over for today." Nemiroff staggered off the playing field and headed in the general direction of the infirmary. The front of his T-shirt was soaked with blood, and he found it rather difficult trying to walk in a straight line with both hands cupped between his legs. Nemiroff cursed himself for letting the little bastard get a clear shot at him. What could he have been thinking about? Where could his mind have been?
Nurse Goodenow was sitting behind her desk, her legs propped up, revealing some of the ugliest meat Nemiroff had ever seen. He stared at her. Nurse Goodenow felt the eyes staring at her and peeped over the magazine she was reading. She saw Nemiroff bent over, leaning against the doorway, the blood trickling onto the floor. "Another baseball game?" she asked. Nemiroff nodded weakly and fainted on the floor.
When Nurse Goodenow finished reading the article she had been engrossed in before Nemiroff arrived, she went over to where he was lying. "Nemiroff," she whispered, "you're a stupid son of a bitch." Nurse Goodenow waved the smelling salts under Nemiroff s nose. Nemiroff weakly raised his head. She saw the cut over his eye. "Wait a minute, I'll get the salt."
Nemiroff tried to get to his feet. "Not the salt," he yelled. "Where the hell did you do your nursing?"
Nurse Goodenow paid no attention to him. She came back carrying a salt shaker. She leaned over Nemiroff to sprinkle some on his cuts.
"Get the hell away from me," he shouted.
"Shut up and pull down your pants."
"My pants?" He was sure he was dreaming.
"You came in here holding your crotch, right?"
"So what?" Nemiroff raised himself to a position that he could better defend himself from.
"I'll put some salt on it, it'll feel better right away."
She reached for his belt. "Listen, Nemiroff, nobody dares come in here except you. I've put salt on your cuts, iodine, everything I could think of. I don't like anyone busting in here on me when I'm reading. Take my advice."
Nemiroff looked up at her with pain in his eyes. "I didn't come in here for advice," he said. "Are you going to fix me or not?"
Nemiroff knew the answer to the question before he ever asked it. Nurse Goodenow never fixed anybody.
"I'm going to let you in on a little secret," she said, "only I don't want you to ever tell anybody."
Nemiroff fainted on the floor again. Nurse Goodenow put the smelling salts under his nose again. Nemiroff slowly opened his eyes.
Nurse Goodenow continued. "I'm going to tell you this for your own good, before you really hurt yourself and expect me to do something about it." She wiped some of the blood off Nemiroff's forehead. "I'm not really a nurse," she said.
Nemiroff's eyes opened wide. "You're not really a what?"
"But what about your uniform?"
"I bought it in a second-hand store."
"But your title ... it says nurse."
Nemiroff was trying to struggle to his feet. She kept knocking him down.
"I know," she said calmly, "but that's my name. Nurse."
"Your mother named you Nurse?" Nemiroff couldn't believe it
"Yes, she wanted all of her children to be professionals." She couldn't understand Nemiroff's concern. "I got a brother in Toledo, Dr. Goodenow. My mother named him Dr."
"I don't believe you," Nemiroff shouted.
"Why not?" She was hurt. "He's got a hell of a practice. Had one for the past seventeen years."
"And nobody suspects?"