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30 October 2014updated 27 Sep 2015 3:52am

I enjoyed working for the adult summer camp, but I drew the line at the shooting range

Suzanne Moore’s weekly column, Telling Tales. 

By Suzanne Moore

Americans like to send their children away to summer camps. They do the same to adults with learning difficulties. So it was that I found myself among a group of people with, shall we say, very mixed abilities. I had answered an ad in the Village Voice and had been asked about my experience of working with such people. I’m not sure the guys who hired me had any.

One of my favourites was Snapz, a woman from New Jersey in her fifties who spent the entire two weeks simply yawning and scratching.

“How’s it going, Snapz ?” I would regularly enquire.

“OK, honey. It’s just that I need a vacation.”

“This is your vacation,” I had to keep telling her.

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And then there was Marty, who was as jittery as hell. Now we would describe him as “on the spectrum”. Marty had a job as a messenger because he had memorised the streets of Manhattan. He paced them all, clutching  his tin. On his tin and on his lapel were handwritten labels. One said: “MUGGERS I WILL FITE U”. And another: “THIS IS ALL MY MONY NO STEELING”. His specific anxiety was that weathermen on TV did not forecast the weather but controlled it.

So, with Snapz and Marty and the gang, I embarked on some entirely unsuitable activities for heavily medicated people – wine tasting; camping, with bears breaking into our supplies – but I drew the line at shooting after a stabbing incident at a barbecue.

I loved Marty and came to rely on him. If you gave him a date from any time in the 20th century, he could tell you what day of the week it was. We used to call such people “idiot savants”. I don’t know if there is a politically correct term for it; only William Hague has the same ability with dates.

In a national park in Virginia, Marty’s anxiety got the better of him. He didn’t like the darkening skies and was rocking back and forth.

“Give me a dime. I need to call the weathermen.”

“Marty, there are no phones.”

He insisted, “I need to call the weathermen, now.”

All I could think to do was find the rangers’ office and ask if he could use the phone. Marty was sporting a special new sign: “I CAN KIL U”.

We did not go down well at the rangers’ office. He went ape-shit because of the unforecast storm and he punched through the window. Armed rangers arrived.

“It’s only a window,” I cried.

“You do realise, ma’am, that this is a national park and that is a federal offence,” one of them barked, cuffing Marty.

“I am English,” I said. “I demand to speak to the ambassador.”

One sheriff looked at another and said, “She is even crazier than him. Just get them out of here.”

When I dropped Marty off with his elderly parents, he told them the vacation had been great. Except for the weather. 

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