The Digital Journalist

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In this issue:

Camp Wonderland*

Event calendar and organization contact list, and then some, from 
Gates Service Group.

Camp Wonderland* 
- by Mark Bell

In the context of this month’s amazing issue of DJ, this may be a strange piece. So what else is new, right?

I don’t know anybody personally who has died of AIDS, although it’s seemingly all around me. There must be somebody I know, or knew. For weeks, since we were assigned to compile this issue on the 20th Anniversary of journalistic coverage of AIDS, I’ve been searching...I have to know somebody. I asked a gay friend of mine if he would like to write for this issue about the friend he had who died a few years back. I thought he had died of AIDS. “No, it was cancer,” I was told. Was I inappropriate in asking?  AIDS is more than a many it’s sadly also a statement, a fear, a social label....

I have had a close encounter with AIDS, though. It also serves to be the answer to the question of “What story have I covered which affected me the most?” as such stories have affected others.

It doesn’t take me long to remember. 

It was in upstate NY as I remember it, but only by the drive out. My memory faded quickly as the story shocked me to the point I remember few such unimportant details after.

Our assignment was to take care of a satellite uplink at a camp for kids with AIDS for CBS’s morning show. Phyllis, the Assignment Manager at CBS, may never have known how it changed my life. Y’know, once it’s over it’s over, right? 

It was called Camp Wonderland*. I called the Camp Director who gave me some information to prepare me for what we were to experience. “It’s not an easy place to be,” I remember her saying in a way where I instantly started feeling for her. 

Kids who had AIDS in any stage went to this camp to be with other kids for a week or two. Many never had the experience of being with others, as they were quite young, and disturbingly, many had never been touched in any way other than that of clinical treatment, and were always separated from others. They were of all ages, from about four years old to adolescent. Their stays were funded by donations from organizations which raised money for them to be groups, friends, neighbors... 

“You probably should be a little careful with touching, if it at all comes a little more cautious than you would be at a regular kids camp,” the Director also suggested. It seemed like common sense in a tragic way. 

We rolled in around 4am. It was quiet. We were able to set up easily. It was a very basic camp. The setup was one where everything went well. A camera crew arrived a few minutes after we were totally set. All they needed to do was plug in. Easy. The plan was the Camp Director would be on chair with a few kids on benches all around in a picnic area. It looked like a sunny morning, and quick analysis of light angle and a reflector was all which was needed. 

As time passed, kids became active, and every so often a few adults were spotted among the troops. There wasn’t any yelling for kids to get up or anything. Gentle voices did the trick. These kids wanted to be up and running around. Perhaps a half hour passed. It was just before breakfast that we were in touch with NY, and got talent and a few kids to sit as planned. It looked and smelled like camp mornings...increasing activity, musty air, the smell of bacon and pine seemingly wafting about in pleasantly differing cycles. 

The live shot was a blur, the three minutes, or whatever, just flew by. NY talked with the Director...she talked back...the kids did “cute.” It looked good, gave the viewers a look at a camp which a few minutes of TV didn’t do just respect to, and ended. The good news was that a longer special show about the camp had been shot, I think for “48 Hours,” and this feed promoted it. 

We were invited to have breakfast with the rest of the camp. 

Looking around, it was just like every camp. I’m not sure at what point it hit me, but I realized, with some answers from my gentle host, that all of these kids were most likely going to be dead within a year. It was hard to believe. Most looked so good.

“But that’s why they’re here,” she calmly said. 

“Do you cry a lot?” I asked.

“Sometimes I can’t start and sometimes I can’t stop. Happens to all of us from time to time. It’s hard for all of us. But on some days, you guys show up and we know no matter what happens, the word is getting out to the world and maybe something can be done.”

Sometimes her comments went in and didn’t register at first, but I’d see something and what she said would suddenly hit home. The intensity of her environment couldn’t be simply related in words.

Breakfast was in the cafeteria area. There I spotted a really cute little girl. Boy, was this kid cute. She had to be about 4 years old, perhaps 4 feet tall, a little “peanut” some may label her. Among the other kids in line to get food she was just that. As they reached for cereal, bowls, milk and the rest, she had to reach higher, being so small and all that. The height of the furniture didn’t help much. 

But she was persistent. She would position herself in places where she could squeeze in and reach between people and pull out, all without touching anyone while grabbing her food and utensils. It was like watching a very experienced and choreographed act. 

“Many of these kids are not allowed to touch anyone or anything in their homes,” I was told. “This week at camp was a chance for them to do everything without fear of reprisal for either.”

From her comment was a picture in my mind of kids being hit or pushed away, parents or guardians rushing to disinfect the surface just touched, or the area just vacated by the sick kids. It must have been visible in my expression. She added: “There’s a lot of that.”

I watched this cute little girl fight for her breakfast, a layer of air surrounding her every move. In every second I seemed to absorb more and more of her. I said hello to her in what I felt was a warm way. She brushed past me with little regard for me or my greeting. I was hurt. I’m used to kids having regard and respect for adults. These kids had little reason to have either.

“They don’t acknowledge love, caring or even tenderness from most adults,” I remember being told. “They are their family’s pariahs. They’ve learned all their lives that people don’t want them. Many times what they touch or play with is disposed of.”

As I felt for the little girl I became terrified of my sadness for her, and enraged at the reason for it. I soon started looking around, and in what was physically a camp full of the robust energy of summer kids at summer camp having breakfast, I started seeing death such as one would see in the faces of those in Dachau, Auschwitz, and other places that death was always in sight. My God, all these kids are going to die, I thought. 

“Most likely all, not just some of them,” was another thing I was told, which all of a sudden matched the scene in front of me. 

I watched the little girl as she threaded through the bigger kids and took a place at a table with others, not acknowledging any of them. Her mission was the meal, survival, serious business, like a starved person, hungry and thirsty getting down to the business of nourishment. 

As I walked to leave the cafeteria, and the camp, I noticed other kids going about their meals and next activities in that fashion. They were aggressive in having fun, being together, just to have the fun and be together. It was a liberation of sorts, and for many, a first. It was summer camp, and they were going to absorb every first and last bit of it. It was beautiful, except when the knot in my stomach and lump in my throat would hit every time I thought their freedom and glee was temporary. I stole one last glance at the little girl. 

“I need to drive,” I told Brian.

“You all right?” 

“No, but I got to do something or I’m going to fall apart.” 

Brian allowed me to drive through my tears. They were the type of tears which don’t make one sob, but oozed as if sweat from the soul, for hours, days, years. Thank God Brian was there, and understood. Brian knew I had kids and wanted one more that day, and was wrestling with the thoughts of wanting to steal her from the realities of her life and bring her into mine. Inside I knew that I couldn’t take her. Heck, she probably wouldn’t even let me approach, ever, right up to her death. It was a long ride home which never ended. I never left her, nor she, me. 

“There’s always one,” the Director had told me. 

I tried to call the Director a few months later, but couldn’t reach her. That’s scary. At the camp the next year there was nothing. I was told that funding was always an issue, and I guess it was again. So much has disappeared. 

Perhaps it’s selfish to write about my experience while people agonize over their friends, relatives and, maybe themselves dying. I don’t know what else to do though. I don’t have the magic wand to fund the camps, and don’t have any friends or relatives to hold. In a spiritual way, maybe that’s the reason I met this little girl, whose life and probable death shot an arrow through my heart. Maybe writing about the little girl is what I have to do, over and over again. AIDS has made the planet a Wonderland* for me as well.

    *As stated above, much about the logistics of my location were secondary to my heart-absorbed emotion. A wonderful reader wrote in to tell me about a camp of which she was dearly aware in Minnesota called Camp Heartland. It was after reading her comments I realized I did not remember the Camp's name any better than some other details. Heartland was its name, and was perhaps the same organization of people, but located in Upstate NY. 
     From her contact I may find out more about those who I had not been in contact with, and like the writer, I'm sure I will be informed about those I remember who didn't make it to the 20th Anniversary of the discovery of AIDS.

Upcoming events and a list of important organizations 

Provided To You Courtesy of:   John Gates  -  Gates Service Group, Inc.

2001 Dates To Remember ©  r11/28/00

 Montreaux International TV Symposium [Montreaux, Switzerland]
 13-15 ICIA INFOCOMM 2001 [Sands Expo Center, Las Vegas, NV] 

18-21 15th ITS Forum  [Beverly Hilton Hotel, Beverly Hills, CA] 
 20-22 Summer NAMM  [Nashville Convention Center, Nashville, TN] 

 5-8 IES-NA [Westin Hotel, Ottawa, Canada]
 12-17 Siggraph 2001  [Los Angeles Convention Center, Los Angeles, CA] 

 12-14 RTNDA  [Opryland Hotel & Convention Center, Nashville, TN]
 13 SBE National Meeting  [Turning Stone Casino Resort, Verona, NY] 
 14-18 IBC  [RAI Center, Amsterdam]
 21-24 AES 111th  [Javits Convention Center, New York City, NY] 

  2-4 LDI 2001  [Orange County Convention Center, Orlando, FL]
November 1-6 AMIA  [Montreal, Canada] 
 4-7 SMPTE 143rd  [New York City Hilton, NY] 
 12-16 COMDEX - Fall [Las Vegas Convention Center, Las Vegas, NV]

General Information:

AES = Audio Engineering Society 
(800-541-7299 or 212-661-8528 fax 212-682-0477 :
AFCI = Association Of Film Commissions, International (323-462-6092)
AMPAS = Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences 
(310-247-3000 fax 310-859-9351 :
ASC = Amercian Society Of Cinematographers 
(800-448-0145 fax 213-876-4973 :
BDA = Broadcast Designers Association 
(212-376-6222 fax 212-376-6202 :
CES = Consumer Electronics Show (703-907-7600 :
CIE = Commision International de L’Eclairage 
(+48-22-660-56-15 fax: +48-22-660-56-16 : 
IBC = International Broadcasting Convention (:
ICIA = International Communications Industries Assoc. 
(800-222-6884 or 703-273-7200 fax 703-278-8082
IES-NA = Illuminating Engineering Society 
(North America) (212-248-5000 x117 :
ITS = International Teleproduction Society 
(888-ITS-2020 or 703-319-0800 fax: 703-319-1120 :
ITVA = International Television Association (214-869-1112 :
LDI = Lighting Dimensions International 
(800-288-8606 or 212-229-2988 fax 212-229-2084
Montreaux = (+41-21-963-3220 fax: +41-22-963-8851 :
NAB = National Association Of Broadcasters 
(800-342-2460 or 202-429-4194 fax: 202-775-2146 :
NAMM = International Music Products Association 
(800-767-6266 or 619-438-8001 fax: 619-438-7327 : 
NATPE = National Association Of Television Program Executives 
(310-453-4440 fax: 310-453-5258 : 
NCTA = National Cable Television Association (202-775-3669 :
RTNDA = Radio & Television News Directors Association 
(800-656-0484 or 202-659-6510 :
SBE = Society Of Broadcast Engineers (317-253-0122 :
SIGGRAPH =(800-342-6626 or 212-626-0050 fax 212-944-1318:
SMPTE = Society Of Motion Picture & Television Engineers 
(914-761-1100 fax: 914-761-3115 : 
USITT = United States Institute Of Theatre Technology 
(800-938-7488 fax: 315-463-6525 : 

Courtesy of
Gates Service Group, Inc.
"Lighting Design For Film & Video"
14 Edgewood Ave.  Natick, MA  01760-5424 
(voice) 508-651-7886  (fax) 508-651-7889


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