I still keep a list of the injuries (mental and physical) that I suffered at Moon Farm between 1979, when I first arrived as a 6-year-old camper, and 1980, when I got the hell out of there. They include, but are not limited to: a bite from a llama, a kick in the chest from a pig, a cactus spine embedded in my foot, severe sunburn, severe dehydration, severe harassment for being the only boy in the dance class, and a nail in my back, one inch to the left of my spinal column. I still bear the ugly scar from that last incident, which also ended my tenure at the most insane day camp that ever existed.
On the cusp of the ’80s, in the tiny town of Fruita, Colorado, my two working parents had very few options for keeping a despondent and too curious little kid occupied during the bone-dry summer. We inhabited a pink ranch house in a blue-collar subdivision sandwiched between the freeway and the river. If I hadn’t been shipped off to camp, I would have probably wound up drowning or getting run over. Because it cost so little, Moon Farm was an easy decision.
Moon Farm was affordable for a reason. The big farm complex was set in the midst of scraggly alfalfa fields, up a long dusty road. When I started spending my summer weekdays there, the farm had only been a day camp for three years. It was essentially a kid-sized folk art project. Mr. and Mrs. Moon ran the place with their seven adopted children. Upon adopting their children, they’d started building playhouses all over their property. The first and most notable was a massive treehouse that looked like some World War II prison guard tower.
After the treehouse, the Moons constructed a new playhouse every year. Each contained strange ephemera from their vast collection of dolls and souvenirs. When I arrived, the houses scattered across the property included the “creepy clown house” with its collection of clown dolls; the “witch’s castle” with its frightening life-sized witch mannequin; the vaguely pagoda-inspired “Far East house” with Japanese dolls, art,and memorabilia; and the mini-museum that looked like a rock shop/antique store/roadside attraction run by a madman.
They were amusing and interesting to look at the first time. But the fun quickly faded. All of the artifacts in the houses were safely tucked behind huge sheets of plexiglass. I could look but not touch. The houses were essentially tiny rooms in which you could stand and stare. Each house was incredibly stuffy and hot as they baked in the relentless Colorado summer sun. I can still smell them—redolent of dust and hot, aging plywood.
Which is not to say that Moon Farm didn’t have activities. They did. Some were typical camp-esque activities like crafts and games, announced over a loudspeaker throughout the day. Most were run by the Moon children. I don’t remember there being any paid counselors. That would mean there were seven Moon kids to a horde of elementary school aged “campers” spread, largely unsupervised, across the acres of property. It was the late ’70s. Children were still expendable.
One camp activity was a dance class run by one of the Moon’s daughters. I was a regular fixture there—the only boy in the basement studio learning routines to poppy late-’70s dance tunes. This did not make me popular with the other boys in camp who determined that I was a “fag.” But the girls gave me lots of attention. And also, I got to be the top of the pyramid in the finale to our Grease Lightning routine. So, you know, fuck those guys.
But more often than not, Moon farm would spring events on us without warning. One of these events was a reenactment of the Battle of Little Bighorn. The children were divided between Cavalry and Indians. The Cavalry kids were dressed in blue Civil War-era uniforms and trucked out to a field. The Indians were dressed in far less, but flaunted headdresses with neon feathers. They were made to march towards the battlefield where the groups would clash in a mock skirmish.
I was an Indian that day. I remember falling behind the others under a blistering sun, without water and surrounded by cactus. I was abandoned and crying as the sun crisped my skin and the cactus bit at my feet. The “battle” was over by the time I arrived and the world was blurry through my tears. Eventually, I was put in the back of a farm truck with other weeping children and carted back to the farm. It was not a massacre, but it was brutal nonetheless.
Another event was an “animal fashion show” for which I was given permission to dress a pig as a woman. For those who’ve never tried, know that putting pantyhose on a pig is an impossible task. Pantyhose were not designed for pigs and pigs are apparently not keen to wear them. I tussled with the animal with a gusto I’ve failed to summon since. I was kicked and bruised and covered in pig shit by the time I gave up. I was in tears again. The pig was dressed as a pig.
That episode was not entirely unique. The Moon Farm animals were assholes. The llama was notoriously cranky. Many a kid was spat on. Those more determined to make friends, as I was, got a bite. Worse things happened, too. One day, a camper got into the llama’s field. There was a sudden commotion as the llama approached and laid its entire body on the kid, who nearly suffocated beneath the weight and fur. It took a couple of adults to get the beast off. Someone called an ambulance.
That’s why I know they could have called an ambulance for me. They didn’t.
There was a build up to my last day at Moon Farm. A new attraction had been built. It was a classic, manually-operated bull-ride simulator. It was comprised of an oil barrel painted with glossy enamel paint to look like a Holstein cow. The barrel was suspended above the ground by four ropes stretched between four tall corner posts and the barrel. Below the barrel was a pile of hay enclosed in a wooden border, ostensibly for safety.
The fun of the thing was that a kid would mount the barrel while four friends yanked on the ropes with all their might, causing the barrel to buck. The kid would then attempt to hold on until they were thrown.
I was thrown. But I didn’t land in the hay. I landed, back first on the wooden border from which protruded a rusty nail. I can still remember the feeling of being stabbed. I lay there surprised and in pain, screaming. The Moon children were called and one attempted to lift me to my feet. Worse than the memory of the stabbing is the memory of the nail exiting my back. It felt rusty, and long. And though I know it’s impossible, I still hear the sound of the thing as my body was being pulled away. A gritty, meaty sound.
I was taken to the farmhouse and led to a bedroom where I was placed on my stomach. A wet washcloth was pressed onto my wound to stop the bleeding. My mother was called. She put me in the backseat of her car and took me to our family doctor who said I was lucky not to be paralyzed and gave me stitches and a tetanus shot.
I never went back to Moon Farm.
But here’s the thing: I came out of it relatively okay. And as far as I know, so did every kid who ever went through the Moon’s crucible. After all, the day camp stayed open until 2007. And while I do keep a list of scars and injuries from my time there, I did actually come away with something very valuable for a father of two boys: a benchmark. I figure as long as I never dissuade them from dancing, or ask them to put pantyhose on a pig, and reenact violent American history, everything should turn out just fine. As long as I manage the rusty nails.