Flipping through an old magazine I found an ad that had stuck in my head for years , I had torn it out when I was younger but somehow it had gotten misplaced and or lost over the years. I was ecstatic to find it because it featured one of those eye-catching unbelievably bad make-up vamps that make your eyes goggle – Purple and yellow! Yellow and purple! – could someone actually go out like that? Would anyone have the nerve? But I was stunned to discover this lite-brite vamp was not modeling make-up, au contraire , it was an ad for Vidal Sassoon! My mind instantly flooded with memories of contrary ads – mostly seventies ( didn’t they seem saturated with sex?! ) where scanty models whose youthful bodies in tousled bedroom sets almost eclipsed the jeans they were selling. Usually you could find them if you squinted , way back there , in a rumpled heap , in the far corner , or vodka was sold by what? The-9 ½-weeks inspired image of an ice cube descending daringly down a voluminous decolletage? It made me wonder if some books had that same feeling of selling you one thing and giving you another , and yes they did. Well to be honest it’s more the author stepping out, f you will, giving her characters a vacation from their usual locale and mainly for the interest of plot doing something new. I chose Camp Sunny Side Friends – Christmas Break by Marilyn Kaye as a prime example a series whose very theme hinges on locale which takes it’s characters out of their element. And for contrast – The Gymnasts #17 – Gymnast Commandos by Elizabeth Levy who , voila! , ships the characters to camp and not even a gymnastics camp at that.
I think the strangest thing about Camp Sunnyside’s Christmas Break and even their off-the-rails trio – School Daze , Unhappily ever After and Camp Spaghetti is that though their must be some element of time having passed by – three books later the characters return to homebase – camp but remain unchanged in age – they are still Cabin six girls. Perhaps the publishers have crunched some numbers and their demographics suggest nobody reads series books past a year , and that their fans keep changing – still! Anyhoo , enough complaining. Christmas Break has Katie excited about her usual trip to Holly Hills to hit the ski slopes with her fingers crossed that she can abandon Ski-wee class and hit the intermediate slopes but she’s also a little bummed about having to go alone. Her fab-dad suggests she invite a friend and out of all Katie’s friends – Erin is the only one available to join her until – last minute everyone begs to come along. The girls from Cabin six are now in their own ski cabin and divvied up like at camp , where as usual Erin gets the best bed. Speak of the imp, Erin is late as usual or at least by Katie’s standards.They all wait for Erin to decide on wearing a hot pink ski outfit or turquoise – wasn’t every winter snow-set hot pink or turquoise back in the 80’s? Maybe it’s a throwback to the fairies Flora and Merryweather vying for completion of Sleeping Beauty’s birthday gown. I remember my winter snowsuit – yes the whole pilsbury-doughboy ensemble – the bib-overall-puffy-downy leggings , and the jacket were both turquoise and hot pink! Speaking of which – Erin chose the hot pink.
As the girls hit the slopes , competitive Katie is already eager to move on to greater swooshing heights , while Megan holds herself back to stick with the sports-challenged Sara. By the way did any of you get the character of Sara? Maybe it’s just me but I never did quite understand her problem , mind you I love to read , but as a kid I loved to just dive into a game , I was never much good at sports but I loved to participate , just run around , you know. Sara seemed like she had to be dragged into everything which was rather annoying – especially considering they are after all at camp. While Erin has her heart set on attracting a high school boy at the ski lodge , Katie lets her blood boil as her older brothers tease her because they have moved on to the more difficult ski slope. Unfortunately this is where Katie’s ugly side takes over – Katie has never been one of my favorite characters mostly because I imagine she would be very difficult as a friend – though Erin is stuck up and at times aggravating , Katie has a real dangerous streak , in the past she’s been manipulative , bossy , vengeful but here in this story Katie is so consumed with attempting the Monster ski slope she tricks Erin into believing the boy she is interested in , is waiting at the bottom. She nearly gets Erin killed! And though she is totally remorseful when Erin falls and sprains her ankle you have a feeling that if the series continued on longer , Katie would once again resort to her manipulating ways. Fortunately Erin manages to punish Katie , still feeling guilty, by basically pulling a Jessica ( as in Wakefield ) and pretending to be helpless turning Katie into her lady-er-girl-in-waiting. The storyline also smacks of Little House on the Prairie as Erin confined to a wheelchair is then caught walking by her friends who fume that she was pretending to be worse off then she was and spoiling their good time. They of course plot a revenge. The revenge isn’t nearly so satisfying as pushing Nellie down the steep incline into the town’s mill only to have her flounder to the surface wearing a giant lily pad on her head. Instead they merely tell Erin that the boy she’s interested in will be waiting for her , provoking her into walking and laughing at Erin’s attempts to white wash this as a result of the power of love – inspired by Huey Lewis hmmm? As they laugh and forgive each other , Katie even ponders a return to the Monster ski slope reaffirming that snap-ola return to characters who never change – Katie hasn’t really learned her lesson.
The Gymnasts #17 – Gymnast Commando’s
– It’s Darlene’s turn at p.o.v. , she’s the hip , fashionable , black girl whose father is Big Beef ( there is something rather rude about that name even if it is just a football nickname ) ex football player longing to start a career coaching and jumps at the opportunity to haul his family to a camp for a small taste of it. Hoping to soften the idea for his daughter he suggests she invite her friends and fellow gymnasts The Pinecones to come along at a discount rate. This way they can cross train and also have some fun. All of the girls are excited despite the looming threat of Becky’s warning about a Commando raid. Sounds like Camp Rambo ( Don’t you just love some of the 80’s camp movies – Meatballs , Friday the 13th , Sleepaway Camp – yikes I better come up with something besides campers that get sliced and diced – White Water Summer , oh and the little known – Summer Camp Nightmare based on the book the Butterfly Revolution ( a little like Lord of the Flies at Sleepaway camp )- if you’ve never seen it check it out – you may want to skip the talent night with the barfy song- She just likes my beefy baloney! Beef , Beef , Beef Baloney!
And he’s not talking about Chef Boyardee! It induces a few giggles at first. But then one is rather grateful when the big-meany camp director squashes it , however the ding-a-lings on screen act like he’s halted the national or rather their national anthem. I would’ve clapped , I thought he was mean for letting it go on that long , jeepers , any more subtle a performance and they would’ve dangled sausages from their pants-zippers.
But back to the Gymnasts –
Trouble brews right before they get on the bus to go to camp as Chris A boy Darlene likes is already tug-o-warred between Becky the Pinecones arch nemesis and new vixen , the red headed gorgeous Chelsea. A new barf idiom is constructed cleverly in the chapter title – Lauren loses her muffins. After hearing about the camp’s mysterious Commando day which sounds a lot like color war only break out – or team pick is hidden inside your morning muffin. Frankly I wouldn’t want any messages in my food , it’s one thing that’s already ruined at camp much less adding insult to injury by packing it with a charming message – perhaps the news that you’ve just been put on the team opposite all your friends. And a now mangled muffin to choke this news down with , ugh! Lauren upchucks on the final step trying to get out of the bus. Humiliating. Although I can sympathize I was not one for long car trips. When I was five , I couldn’t even make a ten minute car ride without vomiting! Weird. Part of Commando day includes chucking talc bombs – paper bags filled with talc powder – sounds a little fun but I’m really reluctant to use that word. I remember what kids were like , real kids! And the idea of throwing something hidden in a bag would’ve produced all kinds of disgusting and dangerous twists. Unless the camp actually pre-made everything I could imagine lots of creeps I went to school with hunting for dog-dirt ( politest term I could think of ) , rocks , food dye , or scraps from the cafeteria garbage can. And whoa unto anyone wearing glasses!
When Chelsea and Becky tease Darlene about getting some talc powder on her while making talc bombs – the writer describes the scene as looking like something from a fiction movie called – Revenge of the Sugar Doughnuts – I like that! , Darlene tells the girls to mind their own beeswax! I almost laughed out loud – beeswax I haven’t heard that term in a long while.
Later on Chris invites Darlene to go riding with him and Becky who’s not amused , she’s also rather mean with her horse. As Becky buries her talc bombs , Darlene discovers a gooseberry bush and chows down , giving Becky enough time to untie Darlene’s horse and then blame her for not having the sense to tie him off properly. Rather than say anything Darlene keeps her cool and as if for a reward rides double with Chris. Later on Darlene’s dad stops by with new t-shirts for everyone – super cool t shirts so big and floppy the girls tie them in little knots at the side- just like on the cover – I love when the artists nails it! ( oh and a reference to knotted t-shirts! Alas it was one of those neat little fads – I’m going to have to do a separate article about them including those nifty little t-shirt holders! )
Muffin day arrives and the game starts with of course Chris and Darlene being on opposite teams with Becky glorying over the fact that Chris is on her team. The game sounds a little like capture the flag , with ‘forts’ that are areas outlined with string. The battle consists of Talc powder bombs for the Commandos – Darlene’s team and squirt guns filled with red dye for the Homeguards Becky’s team. Weeeooh – that’s a whistle noise. Squirt guns filled with red dye? Talk about the good-ole-days of un-p.c. fun. An attitude embraced even after Darlene feels safe enough to crack – ( when Michael tells everyone to camouflage themselves with mud that – ) ‘you might not have noticed but I already come camouflaged.’ Darlene flies into the game with spirit – losing sight of how to win however, by merely wanting to dump talc bombs on both Chris and Becky – sounds good to me but she doesn’t actually accomplish it. Fortunately there is always a happy ending and Darlene sacrifices herself as a distraction in order to win the game and drive Becky up the wall. And she finally tells Chris she likes him , which is what he wanted to hear in the first place. And Darlene’s dad is thinking about becoming co-owner of the camp. Alls well that ends well.
On an interesting note – Elizabeth Levy dedicates the book to Camp Killooleet – home of the original Commando game. I looked it up and it’s a real camp still operating – the new cabin names are a real hoot too – You Can’t Go Wrong with Unicorns , Five Fragrant Frogs , Totally Tubular , We 8 the Cheese , Two Inch Snails- etc.
Hope you like the pics ! I found them in an old Chatelaine magazine from the 80’s. Have you ever seen such color combinations before? Purple eyebrows and neon yellow? And silvery purple lipstick – Truly outrageous! as Jem would say – As for the rest Peach & yellow?! Pinky eye and Jaundice. Tawny cry-eye. everyone looks slightly pollenated ready for a smoldering night at a disco, throbbing with lazer lights and Don Johnson looka-likes!