It was the summer of 1987, before the rise of the internet and 9/11, before the music of Nirvana and Dave Matthews, even before the popularity of the taco bell dog and Beverly Hills, 90210. In fact, my family had just gotten an Apple 2-C computer, on which we could play such illustrious games as Agent U.S.A., The Oregon Trail, and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? I was supposed to be selling magazines that summer, but that job was cut short when I proved to be an awful salesman. So, my mom shipped me off to Laurel Lake Camp for two weeks.
The camp itself was a marvel, on a large-sized property in mid-western Pennsylvania. It was a Christian enterprise, so the activities were geared towards not only having fun but also all about including room for Jesus to shine through. We stayed in cabins that seemed as if they had been on the property since Taft was president, the boys on one side of the property and the girls on the other. While we were all pretty young, it was still at that age when we were first beginning to notice girls as more than just bothersome.
Each cabin was instructed on the first evening at camp to come up with a name in time for the bonfire, to be shared with the rest of the camp. It would be our official cabin name for the duration of the two weeks, so they gave us half an hour to spitball and come up with pure gold. Well, we did the spitballing, but it was near impossible to agree on a name.
There were 8 guys in our cabin, and it was the second one from the end of the row, so we threw around names like 8 Dudes, Cabin 2, and No Name Cabin. Honestly, those were our choices. It didn’t help that we had just met each other that day, so no one was really willing to step out and be the leader during the process. Our counselor was probably about 8 years older than we were, but he seemed ancient to us at the time, and his name was Jay. Just before we had to leave to head to the bonfire this kid named Tony spoke up.
“Um, you guys like the Lakers?”
“Sure. Magic Johnson is amazing.”
“So, why can’t we just be Jay’s Lakers?”
“Uh, because our counselor’s name is Jay?”
So we became Jay’s Lakers, a name that I guess had a sort of ring to it, considering the camp’s name, the fact that it actually sat on land next to Laurel Lake, and that fact that our counselor’s name was Jay. Other than those three things, though, it sucked. We weren’t particularly good at basketball. In fact, the only thing we all agreed on was that Magic Johnson was amazing. But no one came up with anything else, and we were unveiled at the bonfire as Jay’s Lakers. And yes, the girls laughed at the name. I still blush when I think of it.
But yeah, we were stuck with it, and it actually did us some justice later in the first week when we beat Cabin Fever in a game of basketball for the camp title. Jay was of course no help as our coach for that game, however, because he really didn’t know much about basketball. Ironically he was a hockey guy.
Every morning at 7, and every evening at sunset, we would come together as a camp for roll call. Jay would line us up in height order (again, sticking with the basketball theme), he would announce our cabin name, and the camper of the day for the previous day. It didn’t take much to be camper of the day, actually, just an ability to make your bed pretty much guaranteed it. I think I got camper of the day six times during those two weeks. After the second time you got the point that it was pretty much a non-honor. Our cabin nicknamed the award the “Laker Faker.” Yeah, we were pretty witty.
All in all, it was a fun two weeks, despite the name, and despite the fact that I never did talk to Michelle, the girl I liked from Pink Cabin. It didn’t help that I only scored 2 points in the basketball game. Magic Johnson I was not. But we had fun in our cabin, and Jay was absolutely hilarious because he was so clueless. At least we were actually near a lake, so the name wasn’t entirely stupid, as it was for the Los Angeles (no lake anywhere nearby) Lakers.
On that last day we all thanked Jay for being such a good sport, and we made him promise to learn some basketball lingo if we happened to come back to camp the following summer. But I knew there would never be another cabin full of Jay’s Lakers. And that was okay with me.