There is no energy like boy energy and by boy energy I mean middle school boy energy. I thought nothing could beat the entertainment, laughs, and fellowship a week at the boardwalk in Ocean City could offer surrounded by amazing friends, but my favorite moment has to go to four boys who made me laugh like my own brothers do.
Chris our youth pastor asked me to take them to the boardwalk. They called me “Captain.” I thought I had left that future behind when I said “no” to pursue a career in the military, but to hear Captain coming from an adoring fan of twelve year olds in that entertaining context, seemed fitting and comical. I happily agreed to take the boys to the boardwalk, but I forgot to ask one question…. I had no idea how long we were going to be out on the boardwalk. I left the beach leading my cohort to the boardwalk in the heat of day.
There were no plans. I was in Ocean City with a haggling, noisy flock of hilarious middle school boys with no plan. Of course the first plan became food. We stepped into a long line of tourists at Mr. Somethings Number One Fries. I can’t exactly remember the name of the vender. My young friend Isaiah told me he wanted cotton candy, and that he was also going to buy one for his friend. I thought to myself, “we could get it on the way back but maybe he just wants to munch on some now and we won’t be out that long.” The line shuffled slowly forward in the sticky heat until he got up to the counter and asked for two bags of cotton candy. The vender reached up without looking and threw at him two sad looking, pink and blue-dyed bags of sugary death. “Eight dollars,” he drawled. Isaiah started counting his cash. One. Two. Three. The wind interrupted him and tried to steal his money. He slammed a fist down on the small heap he created. The vender sighed, rolled his eyes, and asked if he could help someone else. Four. Five. Six. I become concerned because I didn’t see any more dollars in his wallet. The vender looked at me mercifully. Seven. Eight! Two dollars coins popped out from a side pocket. I took the money from Isaiah, counted it again in front of the vender, and smiling handed him the handful of crinkled dollars and dollar coins. “What’s next?” I asked.
The four of them talked about everything and absolutely nothing all at the same time. We talked about superheroes and music. They thought most of all on their next purchase. Ethan told me all about this amazing superhero mask he wanted to buy, but alas as is the problem of every impulsive youth he had spent every last dollar on consumable goods over the week, and thus did not have the required sixteen dollars. Several times during our conversation one of us would almost trip over the uneven planks of the boardwalk (most often it was me weaving in and out of my boys like a mother hen to make sure they stayed together). While I talked with Trevor, Ethan either tripped over a plank or trippped over himself so that he landed with his face several inches from a folded up clump of paper. Trembling he reached forward and snatched it up. A ten dollar bill and a bunch of ones peeked out from inside the receipt that held it all together. In one motion he splayed the papers with his fingers and started running. “I’ma gonna go buy that mask,” he yelled on the run. Like a crazed group of maniacs we all started running. Upon reaching the door of the shop he slowed, composed himself, and made his way “casually” to the back of the store. I could see it in his eyes. He made it to the counter where the superheroes resided. Ripping off the mask from the manikin he slapped it on the counter and told the young man behind the counter that he was going to buy the mask. The other boys looked enviously at his good fortune and Isaiah said, “If I had sixteen dollars I would buy this” holding up a Lego figurine. Ethan immediately put the mask on even before pocketing the change, and I laughed. The others did not. Was I the only one that thought he looked like a chicken? My boys walked in circles in the superhero section sighing over sports pictures and posters. I struck up a conversation with the man behind the counter feeling obligated to represent our group for more than a bunch of obnoxious scatterbrained tourists. I didn’t mind the noise they made but others might. They didn’t know these guys like I thought I did.
Lack of money and apparent boredom numbed their interests, and so they made their way towards the exit. I followed taking the most pleasure in their pleasures. They stopped at the loveometer. Ethan set the example popping in a quarter and placing his hand on the key pad to get his love life read. He rated average. All the boys had to try but the youngest, Isaiah, who had spent every last quarter on cotton candy. He merely watched with fascination. All the boys insisted that Isaiah have his love life read by the machine. I took the cotton candy bags from his sweaty palms and let him put his hand on the place indicated. Ethan once again took command and put in a quarter. They all watched with fascination wondering what kind of score Isaiah would get. The lights started flashing violently and the boys roared. “How can the youngest have the highest love score?” they asked amongst themselves. I looked at the sweat dripping off the cotton candy bags and knew if they wanted a high love life score they needed to go do some pushups or something…you know to get the blood flow going.
I am not sure whose brilliant idea it was to look for money, and I am not sure whose even more brilliant idea it was to go under the boardwalk to find that money but within moments I found myself crawling under the boardwalk between Isaiah and Trevor to dig amongst the refuse for loose change. They refused to accept the fact that Ethan had found so much money by coincidence. I found a penny and decided it wasn’t worth staying under there on my hands and knees. I popped out again to see Ethan eating an ice-cream cone that he had bought with his last few dollars and Andrew jealously eyeing it. We waited. By this time Ethan had long since eaten his ice-cream and Andrew had long since given up on merely watching him eat it. Andrew dove under the boardwalk in pursuit dreams of ice-cream motivating his efforts. Ethan perched at the edge holding his full belly content to watch. Ten more minutes passed, and I wondered if they had decided to walk the entire two mile boardwalk. Moments later I saw on the sandy horizon one body pop out from underneath the planks and start running towards us. A second crawled out and boyish grins smeared across their faces teased my curiosity. I asked them how much they found. “Twenty-six cents,” Trevor said. Isaiah puffing up behind yelled, “Twenty-seven!”
Several hours had passed and I thanked the Lord I had put several layers of sunscreen on before leaving the tent. “What next?” I wondered yet again. I soon learned to stop asking. We stood a group of five in the middle of the boardwalk planning what to do. Several eyed the mini golf. I knew it was going to happen. I stepped up and led this one. “Alright” I said. “Who wants to play mini golf?” They all agreed. At the mini golf entrance I realized my mistake. Hastily, I asked, “Who has money to pay for mini golf?” Several nodded. Ethan scuffed his feet. “Ethan? Do you have money for mini golf?”
“No.” he responded knowing he spent it on the world’s most expensive ice-cream cone.
I looked at the lady behind the counter, “We have four people for mini golf.” The others paid and went ahead to hole number one while I exchanged my currency for a club handing it to Ethan. Ethan and I caught up to the group just in time to see Andrew catapult his golf ball across the small green. The rest followed his lead hitting balls out of turn and nearly taking other guests heads off. I acted quickly realizing I had just been promoted from captain to referee (I’ll let you think on that promotion). Under instruction, they learned quickly and yelled their scores to me. I scrambled to write them down as quickly as I could.
It became quickly apparent that some took golfing more seriously than others. Isaiah took his time while Andrew could care less about squaring up. Ethan realized half way through that he didn’t like the youngest of the group, Isaiah, scoring hole-in-ones. Summoning the powers of his superhero mask he started slowing down and attempting to aim more accurately. I continued marking scores and running ahead to keep my boys from intruding on the family ahead of us. The mother had already yelled at one of my boys once. To protect them and their innocent enjoyment I stood between them and the family and when the final hole came I breathed a sigh of relief. I directed them to put their clubs back and started tallying up the scores. Calling them back around, I made a show. “In fourth place with 68 points is Andreeeeeew!” slowing to make the name ring. “In third place with a close score of 65 is Trevooooor.” The boys tittered. “In second place with a score of 63 is…….ETHAN!” By this time they were done and ready to move on. I held them back. “I have not read off the winner’s high score and besides I have a free ice-cream ticket that one of us can have. They suddenly started listening again. “In first place with the lowest score of 43 is Isaiah!” He beamed and wanted to see the score. I showed him pointing out his points. The others looked disgusted. They seemed to say, “Who let the little guy win?” They all looked at their captain with the chicken mask on. “So” they asked, “Who gets the free ice-cream!?” I waited and let them figure it out. After ten minutes of each boy arguing why he should have the ice-cream, Ethan had a lightbulb moment. “I think Kathryn should have it.” “Yeah” they all readily agreed. How could I say no? I asked for five spoons, and I and my boys each got one bite, but it was a good one.
While my loyal gang munched on French fries Andrew had bought (back at Mr. Somethings fries), I called Isaiah aside and said, “I want you to take this home (handing him the golf score), circle your win by twenty points in red sharpie, and frame it!” I asked him at church the following Sunday if he had done as I told him. He had.
We walked the mile we had come on the boardwalk back to our tent. The hottest part of day melted away in the late afternoon sun for which my skin thanked the hour. Another hour and I would have been toasted. I was a mere spectator in my boys’ busy last day of Ocean City, but It felt good just to be with them and their carefree attitude. I may not have gotten wet in the ocean but my heart was touched by their goofiness and simple pleasures (and tasty treats). Arriving back at the tent, people were packing up. We were hailed as heroes. “Where were you?” several asked. I did not anticipate being out so long, but yet I did not anticipate when to come back. I looked at Isaiah’s hardened, round cotton candy bags before answering and said, “We were diehard boardwalkers.”
That evening Andrew asked, “Captain, are you coming with us again?” I could not refuse. The same group plus two of my friends and two other fine fellows joined our ridiculous group before loading a bus to go back home. I’ll spare you the details of the evening which reflected the afternoon but with even better energy and better snacks. I had one thing to do that evening that I had not yet done that week and I made my boys do it with me. Marching up to the ticket booth I purchased enough tickets for us all to ride the Ferris wheel. Corralling my boys I handed out tickets for the ride. “We’re doing the Ferris wheel” I said. I chose it for its height. The whole week I had spent on a ground level trying to peer beyond the waves, trying to run the length of the beach, always focusing on what lay in front of my nose; I had to see the world from up above. Looking out over it all satisfied me—the waves at night edged with white tumultuous waters, the flickering lights similar to the city of Los Angeles, and the children running from ride to ride below me. While they ran from one to another eager for a sudden rush of energy, this was what they were missing: a cool night wind, the faint sound of music, the peace and quiet, and the wind tossing the waves. “Homeward,” I murmured getting sleepily off the Ferris wheel. I let my group of boys lead me back down the street towards the tabernacle, loaded baggage, and a dark coach bus bound for home.