The first thing you should know about Camp Pink is that it is not a camp. The second thing you should know is that it exists. A strange place, your home town. You inhabit it for 20 so years, following the main road north to south, a byway from town to town, without ever properly considering the eastern and western borders that encompass your milieu. As if the world is flat, and venturing in either of those directions would imply some kind of rotundness. I had been considering the unexplored crossbeam roads recently as I navigated (daily) the highway to work, that geometrical Point A to B line, practically a walled city all its own, entombed by fast food establishments and filling stations, all pedestrians quadrupeds who move at the speed of impatience. The highway is like all the other roads I’ve traversed since attaining my all-American, pre-mature driver’s license — consistently narrow and goal-oriented, natural extensions of my own tunnel vision. The idea of a town being more than a porthole to yet another town was only a post-college education occurrence for me. Yet despite recent considerations, inherent laziness — the same laziness that makes bananas my fruit of choice simply for their convenience — prevented me from pursuing any kind of adventure west or east. Until an affiliated boredom inspired me to give a ride to a friend who was blowing a 2.0 on the breathalyzer at the time he dialed my cell phone Saturday night. I was already a cup of beer in, my passenger friend many cups and a few bowls — an entire kitchen set’s worth of “in.” I had just walked him back to my car, away from a deck party that consisted of shirtless college-aged men, a cheap ukulele, and pungent body odor that can only be produced by shirtless college-aged men strumming cheap ukuleles. After listing a few of the girls he had recently had sex with, drunk friend informed me of a going-away party taking place at that very moment for one of Jacksonville’s other Griffins, who would be departing for Florida next week, thus halving the Jacksonville Griffin population. The party was taking place at Camp Pink, which I assumed was a nickname for Other Griffin’s house, perhaps anointed in the glory days of his bachelorhood. Naturally, I started driving in that direction. As I drove, drunk friend dialed other sober friends, weaving the word “Griffin” in and out of conversations until given names became a triviality and I opted to refer to myself only as “I.” No one could take “I” away from me. The highway was once again my friend (me being “I”), and I allowed my automatic car to ride along its hypnosis until drunk friend grabbed my steering wheel while ordering me to turn right. Sometimes a divergence of paths requires direct force from outside entities. Right? Go right. Camp Pink is to the right.
I drove to the right in a direct manner, past the familiar bike trail, past the final familiar industrial building until the road began to curlicue into a helix of undiscovered Jacksonville genealogy, wooded embankments and sparse sulfurous street light. I continued to drive right until I turned left into Camp Pink’s gravel drive way and parked beside a half dozen other cars in an open field, almost illuminated by ballpark-style lights. To the left was a building that could most accurately be described as a shack (perhaps a shanty?), with the still legible words “Camp Pink” painted incongruously on the facade. To the right was a smaller shack, nondescript, with some plastic deck furniture and a bonfire out front, indicating “party here.” The two shacks and dividing field were timeless within the constraints of the 20th century, except for the round, modern contours of the cars that lined the grass. Drunk friend and I mingled briefly with the party guests, which consisted mainly of Other Griffin and his family, a few close friends. His mother was an elementary school teacher of mine that I hadn’t seen since the time period. I brought her up to speed on the roaring successes of my high school and college years while holding and sipping from a tallboy of Pabst. A cup containing indeterminate liquid sat on the plastic table in front of her. A rough neck friend informed her from a few feet away that her college-aged son wouldn’t stop talking about his “ding-dong.” I took a lengthy sip of beer and waited for reprimands. Nothing. She smiled and took a sip from her cup as well. Time is consistent; behavioral patterns, they are a-changin’.
Drunk friend knows something of my writerly ambitions. He made demands about a Camp Pink short story. I made something less than a promise. He then introduced me to Pink (Mr.?), the only black man on the party grounds and the presumed owner of the camp by the same name. Pink stood in the threshold of the smaller shack (his home), tall, rope-lanky, wearing a JSU T-shirt and a hairstyle that looked like a protracted conk. Drunk friend extended greetings, demands to show off Camp Pink to the newcomer (“I”). Pink amiably escorted us across the sodium-lit field to Shack #2, vaporizing in shadows as he walked. The inside of the shack — much more spacious than initial appearances — was a pool hall. Was a bar. Was a restaurant. Was a music venue. Was a set designed for a David Lynch film. Mirrors lined the walls like paintings in an art gallery. A 6-foot-tall plywood stage awaited musicians looking for a struggle. A stool-stocked bar sat liquorless in the corner. More dining tables than I could take an initial count of slow-danced on the floor. All was painted in a thick coat of dust and shadows. It was either the end or the beginning of an era. This would make an incredible nightclub, I remarked, thinking of girls in poodle skirts grinding on men in tall-tees. See? said Drunk Friend to Pink. I told you this would make a great bar! Nope, gonna turn this into a camp ground for RVs during football season, said Pink. Can’t afford the liquor license. We nodded in concession, took last looks around a bar that was haunted by our own conceptions.
I spent the remainder of the night sitting on a large thimble. Looks like it would coil string intended for play with a cat the size of Clifford The Big Red Dog, I remarked. It was used to roll steel wire, said Drunk Friend, stoned out of his face. A few more friends arrived to wish Griffin safe travels. One was a childhood friend who runs his own lawn business in adulthood. I sipped beer during his comments about latinos, homosexuals. I laughed out loud when he told me a client tried to hook him up with her 41-year-old daughter (“Around your age, isn’t she?”). I assured him that his hairline wasn’t receding like those Union bastards, and that I easily pinned him for mid-to-late 20s. He continued to confess dreams of escorting George W. Bush to the local hamburger joint for onion rings and a shake. The juxtaposition of his belly laugh-inducing personal observations and his humorless, prejudiced remarks about Others confused my brain. I sipped beer, because that’s my best conversational strategy. Especially at somewhere like Camp Pink. Across the plastic table, Other Griffin played his acoustic guitar at a skill level several miles down the road from where I currently sat.