crazy annie

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Last week I went up to visit my friend Emily on her family farm. Ryder Farm is a 126-acre spread in Brewster, New York, and I think the whole place has been bathed in that perfect golden light that doesn’t usually show up until sunset. It’s a beautiful farm near a lake. There are wild turkeys and stacks of hay. The main farmhouse made me think of all the Little House on the Prairie Books I read as a child, and I found myself yearning for a bonnet and wondering if Papa had smoked the hog yet.

Emily’s farm reminded me of camp. I spent ten summers at a sleepaway camp in Sussex County, New Jersey, and I can’t go to any woodsy area without thinking of Fairview Lake YMCA. It’s the way gravel sounds underfoot, how a dock bobs on the lake, how morning smells when you’re out of the city. Emily gave me a tour of the grounds and we passed a shed with “Keep Out” etched into its door. It made me think of horror movies and ghost stories. I asked Emily if Ryder Farm had a scary monster who lurched around at night, ready to eat babies and children. Sadly there are no tales of death and mayhem at Ryder Farm, but that warning to keep out made me think of Crazy Annie, and I’m 33 and pretty far from both my youth and my camp, but don’t you know my skin started to tingle and my chest got a little tight and I smiled at Emily but it was a forced, pressed kind of grimace, and I hope my hand wasn’t shaking as I suggested we keep moving and see the rest of the site.

I think most summer camps have a ghost story. If these camps are anything like Fairview, there will be an end of summer campfire around which the tale is spun. An older counselor or perhaps the camp director will relay, in bowel-loosening detail, the story of an old ghoul who haunts the grounds and kills the kids. For us, the resident psycho wildling was Crazy Annie– a jilted lover, a scorned kitchen cook who catches her sister kissing the man she loves, and while in a rage, while she’s reaching for a butcher knife to gut the treacherous pair, she bumps into a meat grinder, grinds up one of her hands (I think it’s the right one, but my lingering fear has made many specifics hazy), and runs off screaming into the woods, sans one hand, leaving a trail of blood and heartache behind her. And so the story goes: Annie’s sister and former lover are ripped up by a howling Annie, who now has a hook instead of a hand. And then dismembered campers start turning up in the bug juice, and counselors go missing, and limbs are hacked off, and if you hear a scratching on your cabin window screen at night, that’s probably Annie out there letting you know your ticket’s about to be called, and if you find bloody daisies on your pillow, that’s definitely it for you, the jig is up, start your goodbyes now.

The story is beautiful and ludicrous at the same time, and you could drive a Toyota Corolla through some of its holes (“How,” I would counter, “could Annie run into the woods and put a hook on her hand and not bleed to death or get an infection?”). But any attempt to graft meaning or logic onto the story was, in my mind, purely a defense mechanism; a way for my terrified, young imagination to protect me against the thought that someone out there would chop me up, would slit my belly and laugh as I held my intestines in my hands, somebody would do me harm for no reason other than my sheer existence, my vitality made me a target, and that scared me to death. I heard the Crazy Annie story my first summer, as a camper at ten years old. By the time I reached my last summer at camp, as a counselor at twenty years old, I still couldn’t walk around Fairview at night by myself. If a branch creaked, if a rock tumbled, I knew it was that crazy, murdering bitch coming for me, and I just didn’t have the stamina to face her on my own. Even now, even now– thirteen years since I’ve been at Fairview Lake, twenty-three years since I first heard the story– if I’m in the woods at night and some unexplained noise creeps out from the trees, my insides start roiling and my throat is in a knot. And it’s not because I think it’s a bear or an actual psychopath who might want to do me harm. It’s because I know that it’s my biggest fear from my youngest days coming to finish a job she tried to start long ago.

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gulp

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Oh drats. I read this Wait But Why article reposted on Huffington Post and the checklist began.

  • Do I belong to Gen Y yuppie culture? Check!
  • Do I feel unhappy and constantly plagued by a vague feeling of sorrow and loss? Check!
  • Do I believe that I’m special and unique and the only reason for aforementioned unhappiness is that the rest of the world has yet to catch on? Check!
  • Do I have expectations that don’t correlate with reality, ones that make me feel chronically dissatisfied? Check!
  • Do I look at other people’s lives (on Facebook, Instagram, in the check out line at Trader Joe’s) and think they’re better off and prettier and smarter  and richer and having better sex and are all around better people than I am? Check!
  • Will coming face to face with said arrogance, entitlement, “special” thinking make me feel lousy and even more understood and cause me to find solace in True Blood reruns, further perpetuating my feelings of being cheated out of what’s owed me? Check!

how to have fun

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  • Quit the job you hate. You’ll be worried about money, but quit anyway. You’ll spend so much money and time on your misery that even though quitting makes you panicked, it might make more fiscal sense in the long run.
  • Say yes to cat sitting for your friends in their lovely new Park Slope apartment, wait, no, it’s really more like a house. It has a back patio, ceiling fans in every room, a washer and dryer, an ice machine in the fridge, and a lower level that has that wonderful smell of “house” as opposed to “apartment.”
  • Meet your friends for a drink at a new bar in Gowanus and get relieved when they tell you that they are planning to stay in New York. They aren’t like so many other folks (you included) who fear that the hamster wheel of big city living will make it too hard to raise kids and not go bonzo coco loco.
  • Take advantage of your free phone upgrade. Stop using your 4 year old phone that takes fuzzy pictures and get that new one with emoticons and a better lens. Get excited for the texts full of little drumsticks and smiley faces that you will send. Don’t transfer over any contacts or pictures, because then it will feel like your old phone. Add a few of the important numbers and then play a little guessing game with yourself and friends when you see numbers you don’t recognize on the screen.
  • Crack open a blood orange Mike’s Hard Lemonade right before bed. Drink while finishing your book and leave the empty bottle on the kitchen counter to remind you how good life can get in those in between moments.
  • Listen to the “Girl from the Ipanema” Pandora station. Enjoy how its easy listening vibe makes you feel like you’re sitting in an airport lounge.
  • Don’t feel like a mooch when your friends and family offer to treat you to things. Generosity is the name of this game, and everyone in your life has opened up their hearts, homes, and wallets to you since being back. Say yes and don’t ever forget the trip to Montauk, brunch at Northeast Kingdom, lunch at Cafe Henri, Sleep No More, frozen cosmos and Schiavone at the U.S.Open, late lunch at the Olive Garden, mojitos at Native, and lobsters in New Jersey.
  • Take an impromptu trip to the beach with your cousin and aunts. Snap pictures like the one above. Eat fried clams and look at Instagram all day and laugh at your belly pooching over your bikini bottom. Have chowder for dinner and then spend the night at your cousin’s. Laze on the sofa, get cozy in her air conditioned bed, rub your feet together under the sheets. As you fall asleep, try to remember your favorite parts of the day, the week, the month, this year, this lucky life you have, these people you love and need, these little pockets of home and fun you’ve created. Get ready to do it all again in the morning.