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THE OLD GREASY BAG

BEE'S KNEES ENGLISH

THE OLD GREASY BAG

This happened nearly a quarter century ago. I was working during the summer as a camp counselor at a day camp at a local theater. There were four other counselors and maybe 60 kids and they were divided among us. The only kid I can recall was a blonde-haired boy named Justin Curtis. I hated him. I couldn't stand the sight of him. I would drive to the theater hoping that he wouldn't be there that day, that he got sick, and I'd curse out loud when I saw him.

I actually tried to trade him for 3 other kids at one point. Didn't work. I came up with various ways to get rid of him. I got him to rub up against kids who were sick, kids who were coughing and who had snot slowly dripping out of their noses. But Justin wasn't going anywhere. And boy, was that kid annoying. He wouldn't stand still, wouldn't pay attention and would pinch the other kids to distract them, which I always ended up getting blamed for.

It got to the point where I couldn't take it anymore. One day when everyone else

was painting or rehearsing a play, I dragged Justin outside and had him run around the theater. I did it without explaining to him what exactly he was being punished for and strangely, he didn't ask. I made him do this two times. Then three times. Five times. Ten times. Long story short, I decided to make that kid's life a living hell. I would bring him out when it was pouring down rain and there was lightning and thunder and I made him run. And yeah, I stood under an umbrella the whole time watching him.

One time someone noticed that a McDonald's bag kept turning up day after day among the kids' lunchboxes. At first, no one did anything about it, but then one of the counselors got tired of seeing it and threw it in the trash. Justin freaked out. I'd never heard a kid scream so loud or for so long and still manage to run around a room tearing drawings off the wall, shoving kids all over the place, throwing chairs across the room. It was awesome. And the tears. Oh the tears. You'd have thought we'd killed and eaten his pet dog.

A few hours after Justin's temper tantrum I was straightening up the room, when

our supervisor came in and told me to come outside. Which is how I met Justin's grandparents, the two nicest, sweetest people I have ever met. I stuck my hand out but they brushed it aside and gave me a bear hug. They thanked me for what I was doing with Justin and how he didn't talk about anything else but me. Meanwhile I'm

THE OLD GREASY BAG

BEE'S KNEES ENGLISH

standing there all confused. I mean, is this some kind of a joke? Then Grandpa takes me aside. He has something to tell me.

Well. It turned out that Justin's parents were in the middle of a horrible divorce and were using Justin as a pawn to get back at each other. They would take Justin for the weekend and then leave him by himself the whole time. Finally the grandparents came by one day and took Justin out to McDonald's and asked some questions and it all came pouring out. The grandparents ended up telling Justin over and over again that it was okay, that they were going to make sure that never happened to him again because he was going to live with them and they'd take good care of him.

They got some extra food from the McDonald's that day in a bag and it was that greasy McDonald's bag that was Justin's lifeline for the past year. He carried it with him everywhere he went. He slept with it. He actually tried to wash it at one point, until his grandparents explained that that may not be a good idea. The bag was what kept Justin going. It was all he had. And we were going to take it away from him.

I stood there with my mouth open, trying to think of something to say. I asked if they had considered therapy and Grandpa explained that they were pretty poor, so that idea was off the table. Which made me feel even more guilty. I started crying and apologizing for all the horrible stuff I had put the kid through. Instead of yelling at me, Grandpa laughed and hugged me and patted me on the back and said, "It's okay, it's all right," in that magical way that only grandparents have.

When I was done crying, Grandpa explained that he and Grandma knew about all the running in the rain. In fact, they wanted to thank me for making Justin run around the theater. Apparently, Justin loved every minute of it. The way he saw it, he was the only kid at camp who got to do it. It made him feel like he was getting some kind of special treatment. It wasn't that he didn't like painting or drawing, but he liked this the best.

We went back and one of the counselors brought the McDonald's bag out and gave it to Justin, who hugged it and the look of relief on his face, man I wish you could have seen it. It was pure joy. I know it might sound a little creepy and gross and maybe ridiculous, but in fact it was none of those things. It was heartwarming and uplifting and it totally choked me up. I excused myself and went to the bathroom and cried my eyes out. I spent the rest of camp trying to make it all up to Justin. If there's any justice in this world, that kid never had anything bad happen to him for the rest of his life. Here's hoping that life is treating him well.