I was seven years old, slight, a wisp. My parents took me to a holiday camp by the seaside. It rained for a week and the sheets were stiff. The television didn't work. It sat on a chair in the corner, how an admonished child sulks. The boredom built walls around us.
In the afternoons I was sent to a special club for kids. It lasted for three hours and was run by a lady named Aunty Teddy. I'd sit on the floor cross-legged and Aunty Teddy would teach me songs to sing. I'd wonder what my parents were doing, but I turned out to be the last of their children.
In the evenings we would go to the social club, a smoky hall where bands would cover old pop songs to the steady 4/4 beat of a lisping bass drum. The adults would drink. The mischievous would steal sips that made their whole face pucker. I tasted alcohol for the first time. The music and drinking would occasionally be broken up by the appearance of a comedian who would tell blue jokes I found impenetrable, their dirty punch lines a Martian language to my ear. The compere was Aunty Teddy. I didn't recognize her without her fluorescent dungarees, or her hat that had big, fluffy bear ears arcing from the top like twin satellite dishes.
One night the music stopped. All of the dancing parents returned to the tables that boxed off the dance floor. They lit cigarettes and ran gruff hands up soft inner thighs. Aunty Teddy announced over the microphone a game, a strong man competition. Her assistants dragged a large, heavy-looking cardboard box into the middle of the floor while Aunty Teddy chose five men from the audience, gathered them in a huddle and whispered the instructions for proceedings.
Then she introduced the first man, who approached the box flexing his woven fingers. He bent his knees, placed his arms around it and recoiled as the beer on his stale breath rebounded back toward his face like an errant solar pulse.
The box didn't move. He huffed, puffed, and shook. Everyone started to laugh. My father's knee trembled as I sat on it. So I laughed too. The silly red-faced man couldn't pick up the heavy box. And neither could the next. Or the one after that. The laughter doubled in volume each time. There wasn't a strong man amongst them.
And then Aunty Teddy approached me. She took my nervous hand, and my father removed his from my waist as though freeing an orphaned monkey back into the wild. The crowd cooed as she led me into the middle of the floor.
"What is your name?" she said. She held the microphone to my mouth.
"David" I said.
"How old are you David?"
"Are you a strong man?"
"But you'll try, won't you?" she said. She was nodding. Her hand was on my shoulder, her long fingernail scratching the top of my spine. Why was she not being Aunty Teddy?
I walked toward the box, took it in my hands like the steering wheel of a truck, stretching my span. And I bent. And I lifted. It left the floor as though the room were bereft of gravity, the unrealised expectancy of a great weight rocking me back on my heels. I hoisted it above my head. Everyone stood. They clapped and cheered. They laughed, wiped tears from their eyes with their smoke-yellowed cuffs. I was the strongest man in the room. They gave me a trophy, engraved on it the legend "Tarzan of the Week."
I was 15 years old when I found the trophy at the back of my wardrobe and realized for the first time that the box was empty. I'd been my own impenetrable punch line. I wonder how many Tarzans there were.