Welcome to Camp Green Lake (Part I)

by

 

The story begins with describing the surroundig. The action takes place in Mexico at Camp Green Lake. 100 years ago there was a big lake and a town of Green Lake, but nowadays its just a dry, flat wasteland. There are a lot of scorpions and rattlesnakes and very seldom places with a bit of shade. If a rattlesnake bits you, you usually won’t die. The author tells us also about a cabin and a hammock which is stretched between two trees, but the campers are forbidden to lie in the hammock, because it belongs to the warden, and he says „the Warden owns the shade“. Sometimes the campers will try to be bitten by a scorpion or a rattlesnake, to get to the hospital. They say, it is better than digging holes out on the lake. At the end of the first chapter, the narrator mentions yellow -spotted lizzards which are very dangerous animals. If they bit you, you will die a slow and painful death for sure.

Camp Green Lake is a camp for „bad boys“ and it isn’t a place for relaxing. Young offenders are given two possibilities: Going to jail, or going to Camp Green Lake. Stanley Yelnats, growing up in a poor family, is one of those young offenders and he had never been to Camp Green Lake before.

Stanley was transferred to Camp Green Lake with a bus. He was the only passenger in the bus, handcuffed and observed by a guard with a rifle. Stanley observed the countryside, but there wasn’t much to see, mostly fields of cotton and hay. He was imagining how Camp Green Lake could be and he imagines it like Camp Fun and Games – an imaginary Camp he invented as he was a little boy by playing with his stuffed animals. He hoped that he can make some friends and at least, he’d get to swim in the lake. His backpack contained not a lot, just a toothbrush, toothpaste and a box of stationary his mother gave him. He’d promiosed her to write her letters. In this chapter, we get some more informations about Stanley. He used to be an overweight boy and because of this, the kids at the middle school teased him. Even the teachers gave away some cruel comments and called his bluff. We also get to know, that Stanley wasn’t innocent of the crime for which he was convicted. „He’d just been in the wrong playce at the wrong time“. He always accused his „no-good-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather“ for all, and he smiled while he was thinking of him. This is a family joke, to blame the no-good-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather whenever something goes wrong, because one he had stolen a pig from an one-legged Gypsy and she put a cure on him and all his descendants. Stanley and his family didn’t really believe in curses, but they felt good to be able to blame someone. During the bus ride, he realized that a lot goes wrong in his life and the family always seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Then he thought about his father and his gruff voice singing to him: „If only, if only“ the woodpecker sighs, „The bark on the trees was just a little bit softer.“ While the wolf waits below, hungry and lonely. He cries to the moo-oo-oon, „If only, if only“.
His father, Stanley Yelnats III., used to sing this song to him. In this chapter, we get know Stanley’s father a bit. He was an inventor, very intelligent and perserving – but never lucky. He started a project years ago. He tried to invent a way to recycle old sneakers and we get to now, that this led to Stanley’s arrest. But up to now, he had no luck and whenever something goes wrong, he heard his father cursing his dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-grandfather. By arriving at Camp Green Lake, Stanley realized, that there isn’t any lake and hardly anything was green.

The land was desolate and barren. There were some rundown buildings and some tents and farther away there was a cabin beneath two tall trees. Stanley was brought into a building, where a man with sunglasses and cowboy hat sar, eating some sunflower seeds. His name was Mr. Sir and he had to be called by this name. Stanley got his new Camp Green Lake clothes – a long-sleeve orange jumpsuit, an orange t-shirt and yellow socks, white sneakers, an orange cap and a canteen. Mr. Sir is was presenting the conditions: digging each day a hole, including Saturdays and Sundays, and each hole must be five feet deep and five feet across in every direction. The shovel is the measuring stick. They get breakfast at 4:30. They need to wake up this early to avoid the hottest part of the day and if they dig anything interesting, they are to report it to him or to any other counselor. If they are finish, they get the rest of the day free. There were no guard towers and no electric fence, because there wasn’t a need for them. If somebody tries to run away, one will die of thirst or one will be buzzard food. The counselors were the only one’s who got water for a hundred miles. As Mr. Sir asked Stanley if he’s thirsty and Stanley affirmed it, he told him to get used to it because he is going to be thirsty for the next 8 months.
Stanley’s new counselor who was in authority for the tent D, in which Stanley slept, is Mr. Pendanski. He said Mr. Sir wasn’t that bad and just in a bad mood since he quit smoking, but Stanley needed to be afraid of the Warden. Mr. Pendanski seemed to be a nice man, very communicative and fair. He seemed to be understanding. He also introduced Stanley to two other boys called Rex and Alan. Alan was a white boy and he liked to be called Squid. The other boy, Rex, was a black boy and he also liked to be called X-Ray. Both boys came from work, they were very dirty and looked tired out. Stanley’s new cot was the one from Lewis, or so-called Barf Bag, a boy, who now is in hospital and it seemed he wasn’t coming back again. He got to know 3 other boys, introduced as José, Theodor and Ricky. But they called themselves Magnet, Armpit and Zigzag. The last one didn’t seem to have a real name, Mr. Pendanski and X-Ray called him zero. As Stanley called Theodor by his real name, he got aggressive, tooked Stanley by his collar and said, that his name isn’t Theodor, but Armpit.
At dinner, X-Ray asked him what crime he convicted. Stanley stole a pair of sneakers of Clyde Livingston, a famous baseball player and actually his personal hero. Clyde Livingston donated his pair of sneakers to help raising money for the homeless shelter. The worst thing for Stanley was, that his hero thoght he was a horrible person, that he would steal from homeless children and that he was „ a no-good-dirty-rotten“ thief. But the incident happend like this: Stanley walked home from school and the shoes came from above, one hit him on the head. Stanley took it as a sign, because his father’s project was to find a way to recycle old sneakers and suddenly a pair came out of nowhere, like a gift from God. He felt like holding destiny’s shoes and he ran home. But a patrol car pulled alongside him and a policeman asked him why he was running. Shortly thereafter, Stanley was arrested. Naturally, he blamed his no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather.
The first morning, Stanley needed to dig his first hole. When he looked around, the lake reminded him of pictures he had seen of the moon. In this chapter, we get to now a lot about Stanley’s great-great-grandfather called Elya Yelnats. He, this time 15years old and Igor Barkow fell in love with a girl called Myra Menke, 14 years old. Elya asked her father for her hand, just like Igor Barkow, the pig farmer who was 57 years old at this time. Igor offered Myra’s father his biggest pig while Elya just offered his heart full of love. Myra’s father decided to take the fat pig. In his desperation, he visited his old friend Madame Zeroni. She was an old Egyptian woman, with no left foot. She advised him against his idea to marry her, because she was just beautiful but she wasn’t able do to anything a woman should have to know with this age. But nevertheless, Madame Zeroni tried to help him and she gave him one of her pigs, unfortunately the smallest one. To make the pig grow, Elya needed to carry the piglet every day to the top of the mountain and let it drink from the stream, while singing a special song to him. On Myra’s 15th birthday, he should carry up the piglet the last time up the mountain and then bringing it to Myra’s father. She promised, that it would be bigger than Igor’s. Madame Zeroni’s next whish was, that Elya carries her up to mountain so that she can drink from the stream and he needed to sing the song to her. So Elya promised. But she warned him: if he doesn’t do that, he and his descendants would be doomed for all of eternity.
Now the point of view swank back to Stanley and Camp Green Lake. The red truck arrived with Mr. Sir in it. The boys lined up behind it: X-Ray in front, Zero at the rear. Stanley got behind Zero.
Now, Elyas story continues: Elya did it like Madame Zeroni said. But at Myra’s 15th birthday, he neglected to carry up the grown up pig. Instead, he took a bath because he didn’t want to smell like a pig in front of Myra. As Myra’s father weight the two pigs, he could see that they weighed exactly the same. Maybe Elya should have carried his pig up the mountain one last time. At least, the father let Myra decide, who she liked to marry because a pig is a pig to him. But she also didn’t know who to pick, so she decided to think of a number between one and ten, and whoever guessed the closest number, may marry her. Elya, very hurt, left the place and said she should marry Igor. Elya walked down to the dock and the captain signed him aboard. Their destination was America. Suddenly, Elya realized, that he promised Madame Zeroni to carry her up the mountain and he felt terrible, but he wasn’t afraid of the curse.
While Stanley was digging, he watched the boys one by one finishing their holes and spitting in at the end. Than they went back to the camp compound. Stanley felt like digging his own grave.
As Elya came to America, he learned to speak English and met a girl called Sarah Miller. He fell in love with her and spent a lot of time with her. He also remembered Madame Zeroni saying, that she has a son who lives here. So Elya started to search for him but he didn’t find him. Elya told Sarah about Madame Zeroni and the curse, and he wanted Sarah to leave him because of the curse, but she wanted to say. Above all, she wanted him to sing the pig lullaby to her and so did he. One year later their child was born and Sarah named it Stanley because she noticed that „Yelnats“ spelled backward is „Stanley“ and she changed the pig lullaby to make it rhyme in english. Every night she sang it to Stanley:
If only, if only the woodpecker sighs, „the bark on the tree was as soft as the skies.“ While the wolf waits below, hungry and lonely, crying to the moo-oo-oon, „if only, if only“.
As Stanley finished his hole as the last one, he was very proud and spat also in it.
Among other things, we get to know more about the yellow-spotted lizzards. They are 6-10 inches long, they have yellow eyes and the skin around the eyes is red, they have black teeth and a milky white tounge. The lizzards like to live in holes, which offer shade from the sun and protects from predatory birds. Up to 20 lizzards may live in one hole. They have strong powerful legs and can leap out of very deep holes to atack their prey. They eat small animals, insects, certain thorns and the shells of sunflower seeds. The author says also, if one has ever been close enough to see the yellow spots on its yellow green body, than you’re probably dead.
Stanley took his stationary box to write his mother a letter and went to the reck room. This room was very shabby and things like chairs, tables and a tv were destroyed and smashed down. He almost got into trouble with a guy called Caveman, but the boys from his tent saved him. After they joined a game of pool, he started to write his mother a letter. But he didn’t wrote the truth, he wrote that he passed a swimming test and that he’s going to learn how to waterski. As Zero began to stare at Stanley’s letter, he stopped writing because he didn’t want to know the others what he was writing. At the end of the chapter, Stanley got to know that the boy adressed him with „Caveman“. So HE was the Caveman, not the other boy.
Stanley began to dig his second hole. Everything ached, because of the digging yesterday. As he digged, he found a white rock, looking like a fish fossil. He remembered what Mr. Pedanski said: If you find something interesting the Warden could like, than you might get the rest of the day free. Than the watertruck arrived and the boys lined up, always the same, no matter who reached the truck first. First X-Ray, than Armpit, Squid, Zigzag, Magnet Zero and than Stanley. When Stanley showed Mr. Pedanski the fossil he found, he wasn’t enthusiastic and said that the Warden isn’t interested in fossils.

Reading impression: When I began to read this book, I felt thrown into something, just like watching a movie after it started an hour ago. After those 10 chapters, a lot of questions came up:
*What role does those mentioned animals play? Are they important for understanding the story?
*Why do they think that digging holes can improve the character of the young offenders?

*Why is Stanley convicted, when he says that he’s innocent?
*What role plays the song which Stanley’s father sings to his son?
*In which relation do the project of the father stands to Stanley’s accusation?

*Why do the boys have nicknames? And why do Armpit gets aggressive as Stanley calls him by his real name?
*In what is the Warden interested?
*Why do the boys have always the same order, no matter who reaches the watertruck first?
As the counselor said, that bunking is aimless although there aren’t any monitoring system, I felt some kind of panic. This feeling of no way out although nobody detains you is very bone-crushing. And I also felt panic, as the counselor said, that Stanley better gets used to be thirsty because the next 8 months thirst will be his permanent accompanist. How will this work, when the boys need to dig holes 5 feet deep and 5 feet long everyday and to start before the sun rises up? Even if you’re doing nothing physically exhausting, being thirsty is one of the worst feelings. I really feel sorry for Stanley that he has to work this hard under so bad conditions. Until now, I recommend this book, because it’s exciting. The reader likes to now, why Stanley is convicted but innocent and one likes to now, how the situation at Camp Green Lake is going to develop. I think, it is going to be even more exciting…

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