I’ve been writing and writing and writing since August. I have fifteen different Word documents filled with random thoughts and observations from the summer. Most of it makes sense. Some of it is interesting to no one other than myself. And somewhere in the middle of all the ramblings about being a Division Head, winning my last Avoda Tournament, and getting a Color War team, there is some really good stuff. Most of it is about Color War, and let’s be real, none of my 15 readers want to read about anything else, so let’s focus on that.
Color War is hard, and no one who’s done it will tell you differently. It’s a marathon of late nights, tireless scouting, endless list-making and scenario analysis, a ridiculous amount of focus on free choice choruses and play jokes, and extreme emotional distress. There were times when I questioned my sanity for taking all this on. There were times when I hated myself, hated my lieutenants, hated administration, and generally hated the world. But not once did I ever regret it.
Being a Color War General has been my dream since 1996, when a 14 counselor who I barely knew changed the way I saw camp and the way I competed. After my first Color War, I had three goals: 1) Become a Captain, 2) Become a General, and 3) Never, ever, ever, EVER lose. I remember the feeling of unimaginable jubilation when a fixed soccer game went to penalty kicks and the counselors representing the Blue Grizzlies pulled out a nail-biter to send us swimming. (According to legend, Pink almost royally fucked up the ending. Allegedly, Barry Morgan dove the wrong way on a PK he was supposed to save, with only a stray foot barely deflecting a shot that would have sent the White Wildcats running to the lake. When I organized a volleyball game to announce the winner of the 2010 Color War, I was so panicked that something similar would happen that I was ordering the participants– Eric Edelman, Ben Kassiff, Adam Rubin, and myself — to go no more than two hits per rally. Whoever was supposed to lose the point was literally hitting the ball into the ground at the first opportunity.)
My first three Color Wars all ended unexpectedly. I won all three, but none of those teams were supposed to win. The Grizzlies (allegedly) won on the heels of a major scoring discrepancy resulting from a rain storm ruining the Head Judge’s notebook and compromising the track meet results. In ’97 and ’98, the Blue Justice and White Vipers lost on the field but won Songfest by such an insane margin that they had to change the scoring rules in later years. The Vipers, in fact, lost three of four divisions, and the only one that won (my Juniors) took it by a very slim margin. The next year, I was on the White Force. I’m convinced the only reason we don’t have the record for largest margin of victory is that our first lieutenant, Spencer Kimball, wanted the record to stay with the White Empire, the team he captained in 1992. I’m sort of joking. The Force was outrageous.
The next two years served as the most important and educational Color Wars I was ever a part of. I would eventually go on to reach the first two goals I set after ’96, but I couldn’t fulfill the third. The White Warriors lost fair and square in 2000. I don’t believe in roster stealing or judge intimidation. I believe that the Blue Dynasty were supposed to win that Color War by a lot more than they did. I believe that losing on the Warriors was better for me than winning on the Dynasty would have been. And I believe that in losing, the Warriors formed an unbreakable bond that holds to this day. Most importantly, I learned that there is dignity in losing. The Warriors were proud. We were brave. We were anti-establishment (at least the staff was). And even in losing, no one went home with their head down. After 2000, I wasn’t afraid to lose anymore.
And I took that lesson to heart the next year when I won as the captain on the White Lions despite having my most unpleasant Color War experience. Jumping out of a helicopter, winning, and getting that captain’s book was amazing, but the week itself was a bad dream. The Lions’ staff never invited me to hang out in the WFO. I wasn’t encouraged to take advantage of my status and attend other events on the sideline. My first lieutenant spent most of the week yelling at me. I didn’t get to start leading songs until Day 4, and I was so unprepared that I was screwing up my hand signals to our free choice (the innovative but ultimately cheesy “Sunshine” cover that mostly served as a way to suck up to Head Judge Spencer Kimball) up until Songfest, where I thankfully got it right. On top of that, my division got annihilated and I lost Senior Football, my last event as a camper, by getting tackled by the other Captain in the endzone on a punt attempt. We lost 2-0.
Two things about that, completely unrelated to this piece but important to me for reasons only pertaining to my own feeling of self-worth: 1) I ran for something like 150 yards in that game, but no one remembers that. We had a very sophisticated offensive gameplan with snap counts and pre-designed running plays, the most successful being a classic Madden play: offset I-formation (fullback to left), fake handoff to fullback coming right, halfback runs a counter to the right, takes the pitch with fullback leading. We ran that on the first play of the game and I broke it for a big gain that would have been a touchdown if Andy Jacobson didn’t horse-collar me from behind. No flags were thrown. You can tell I’m not still pissed about it. 2) The biggest mistake the coaches made was pulling my fullback, Joe Frank, and replacing him with Zack Abrams. I was fast and needed a fast fullback, and Oxx wasn’t quick enough to get out in front of me. He would have been much better-suited on the line because, you know, he would go on to play offensive line at Northeastern for four years. And on the safety, he let Sawyer Emmer run right past him to take me down. Joe would have knocked Sawyer for a loop if he were there, I would have gotten that punt off, and the game might have ended differently. Who’s bitter, though? Probably just me and Joe. End of rant.
I always enjoy putting up 2000 against ’01 and comparing the experiences. The obvious question, of course, is whether you’d rather lose with a smile or win with a frown. I still grapple with that question today. Bottom line, after my 14 year, I didn’t care so much about the winning and losing. I wanted to enjoy camp on my own terms and not base my level of satisfaction on the outcome of a Color War. And that became a point of contention in my own subconscious when I took on my own team this year. How badly did I want to win? What was I willing to sacrifice? Who was I willing to cross? The answers: really badly, anything, and no one. I was prepared to do anything I had to do to become the second person in the history of camp to win Color War as a Captain and a General (the other? Duh, Spencer Kimball). I would lie, cheat, curse at freshmen, bully judges, and exploit the rule book (which I unequivocally knew better than anyone in camp) at any opportunity, but I never wanted to do that at the expense of my friends on staff, most importantly my opponent, Richie Katz. And naturally, that loyalty might just have put me in the loser column before a camper was scouted or a song lyric was written.
At the risk of exposing the backstage politics of Color War, I won’t completely explain how we got to staff negotiations. I’ll just say that the events leading to it made me mad at all the wrong people. On Visiting Day, only one thing was certain: Tricky was going to be a General. His opponent was still up in the air. Delaying the proceedings was Bubba, who saw how the staffs were forming and immediately put a lid on it. He wouldn’t even confirm me as the other General, which drove me mad to no end. I assumed that he didn’t want a repeat of last year, when staffs were set on Visiting Day and half the staff completely checked out. I also thought he was pushing back on me being a General and trying to shoe-horn himself into it. What he was really doing was protecting me.
Tricky had put together a solid and — more importantly — experienced team, leaving me with a slew of strong younger staff members to choose from. I assembled five 1st-year SC’s who had never been lieutenants but who I felt could hold their own. My first lieutenant was their de facto leader, Jake Dennis. J.D. had never been in the negotiation room, but I had more experience than anyone and didn’t feel it would matter. Between their youthful energy and my abundance of knowledge, I didn’t think it would be a problem. Bubba did, so he confirmed me as the other General and told Tricky and I to negotiate staffs, even though we’d already picked them under the table.
Here’s where I faltered. I didn’t want to ruffle Tricky’s feathers. He was as responsible as anyone for me getting my team. As the highest-ranking member left from last year’s winning team, he was in the driver’s seat and essentially had the final say on his opponent. He picked his team fairly, and I felt that poaching someone from his staff was unsportsmanlike. The negotiation process would allow me to take as many as two or three guys off his team, and I didn’t want to do that — even though I knew having Ben Rubin in the room with me would only help. At the same time, I didn’t want to force Zack Blackman or Eddie Bernson to come on board with me just because I picked them. They’re not pawns. They chose Tricky as much as he chose them. So Tricky and I agreed that when the time came to negotiate, we would just agree on the teams we already picked, completely side-stepping the entire process.
Other than my predilection towards keeping Tricky happy, two things drove me that week. First, I was pissed at Bubba for dragging the process out and wanted to stick it to him. By negating the entire experiment and going with who we already had, I got the tiniest sense of satisfaction. Of course, it was completely unfounded and immature and a classic case of dramatic irony. Bubba saw the big picture and I didn’t. He was trying to help and I was too proud to accept. Another kind of pride (more like hubris) was the other driving force. I honestly thought I could win with the team I had, and by engaging in real negotiations, I thought I was conceding some kind of defeat already. I didn’t want to admit to anyone that I needed help. I wanted to remain as omnipotent as I could. I was about to be the oldest General in camp history and needed to maintain a certain aura to justify my presence. I call it hubris. You’d call it ego. Either works.
So I went to war with J.D., Jason Hefter, Josh Cohen, Eric Halperin, and Josh Plotkin. Only one of them can definitely prove that I ever existed as a camper — Eric was rocking his Spanky haircut in Bunk 1 and staring down Sam Schuster at the flagpole (per my instructions) every day during the ’01 Color War. He, Brad Shalek, and I are the last remaining Lions.
Spoiler alert: We lost. By a lot. I will be happy to get into all that in the coming weeks. Hope to see you then.