This is a tale from long ago—the summer of 1977—when I was a teenager with little worries. When money earned went towards rock concerts, concert T-shirts and movies. Not mortgage payments and car payments and groceries! Oh, those were the days!
I don’t remember how it came about but I was asked to work as a lifeguard and instructor at Camp Henry near Point Pelee. I’d been a lifeguard for a while and loved to teach swimming lessons. It didn’t matter that I wouldn’t know a soul there. And, had just lifeguarded in a pool setting. It was only for two weeks of the summer. Without hesitation, I agreed to take the position. Sleeping in a tent, campfires at night and the sun shining down on me all day…how could I refuse?
Attending the two-week camp were underprivileged children and camp counsellors from a poor region of Windsor. I treasured my time with the little ones; they were ecstatic to be in a summer camp! For some of the children, it was their first time away from home. For others, it was their first time sleeping in a cabin. The children had army barrack type of accommodation while the camp counsellors and the cook and myself were in tents.
We were blessed with sunny days every single day. No rain at all.
I wore my favourite baseball cap with the WRIF logo on it. WRIF is a Detroit rock and roll radio station. I had bought the cap at a recent rock concert in Detroit. The cap shielded the sun a bit, but my nose became sunburnt, just as it did most summers.
Everything was wonderful until the night I heard yelling, obscenities shouted and terrified screams. The loud commotion came from a nearby tent. A staff member—he had an odd nickname, but let’s just call him Cheetah—was beating up his girlfriend in their shared tent. I was shocked and terrified. Afraid of him and afraid for the girlfriend. Her name escapes me, but you don’t forget a name like Cheetah.
I had never been exposed to domestic violence in my life. I’m not saying at all this was due to poverty; I’m sure it goes on behind the closed doors of the wealthy, too. It’s just it was my first time ever witnessing such a thing. But, something even more shocking took place.
While a staff member of higher standing sheltered the black and blue, sobbing girlfriend in her tent, I was equally taken back at how most of the staff members were pretty nonplussed about the whole deal. Cheetah was basically told to knock it off, go to sleep and leave his girlfriend alone.
Cheetah kept his fists to himself after that scary night. However, I couldn’t understand why his girlfriend spent the rest of the nights together with him afterwards. “Learned helplessness” was not a part of my vocabulary way back then.
Skip forward almost four decades….my youngest daughter was living in a nine-unit apartment building. It was her first time on her own and she was anxious being alone. I understood her anxiety once I visited at her apartment in the early evening. This sounds incredible but it’s completely true. Domestic violence was happening in many of the apartments.
A mother of a mentally challenged adult daughter screamed at her. This same mother, who was responsible for raising her daughter’s child, screamed even louder at the young grand-child. From another apartment there wasn’t trouble until the Dad came to visit. Then, there was hitting and screaming followed by a worrisome silence.
Arguments in the apartment one wall over were often heard. The head of that household beat their two German shepherds. My daughter called the Humane Society countless times. In the end, she was afraid her neighbours would learn who made the calls. She worried her little dog would be poisoned. The fear could easily come true. They already whipped their dogs’ poop onto the small courtyard of her ground floor bachelor apartment. Something was not right with that family.
My daughter explained the apartments were affordable for people on welfare and disability. That many times the reason people were unable to work was because of their instability in the workplace. She knew ex-cons lived in the complex, as well.
One night when I drove my daughter back to her place, there were three police cars at the neighbouring apartment building. My daughter shrugged her shoulders and said, “Well, that’s probably for Cheetah, again.” She told me a man named Cheetah was visited by the police often because of his outbursts and domestic violence. Another tenant told her Cheetah suffered a brain injury from a car accident recently, as if to explain his behaviour.
Well, I’m pretty darn sure it’s the same Cheetah. A cheetah doesn’t change its spots, after all. The age fits and really, how many people do you know named Cheetah? I told my daughter perhaps the car accident worsened his sense of what is right and what is wrong, but he had a very short fuse in the first place.
At the end of that summer camp long ago, Cheetah stole my beloved baseball cap. I knew he had it because he wore it in front of me and wouldn’t return it. He had a funny sense of propriety, you could say.
My big brother, Marty was away at university, so he couldn’t help me out. I always relied on my brother to handle situations over my head. So, when my older cousin, Bulldog, was in town, he stepped up to the plate for me.
Bulldog’s a mild-mannered person but you’d never figure that out by his nickname. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Bulldog without a smile on his face.
Well, Bulldog stood up for me, alright. He paid Cheetah a visit and retrieved it somehow. To this day, I don’t know what Bulldog did, but yup, I got my cap back, my swag from WRIF!
So, there you have it, Bulldog met Cheetah and Cheetah bowed down.
Always nice to count on family to help you out!