Camp Serenity

September 17, 2010

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Max Monet smiled and pondered the old adage – “it’s an ill wind that blows no good.” The ill wind of this recession had certainly been profitable for Max.

The real estate market had turned sour quickly, with many properties selling for small fractions of their going rate just a year earlier. Max had quickly snapped up two adjacent properties.

Camp Serenity had once been a popular place to get away from the hustle and bustle. The numbers of visitors had fallen off dramatically when urban sprawl brought with it new corporate neighbors.

Hopkins Distributing was one of those neighbors. The warehouse once had trucks coming and going at all hours – providing a steady source of employment for the residents of the town.

When the recession hit, the corporate suits at Hopkins decided that the facility was superfluous and shut it down. It was too late for Camp Serenity – the Hopkins facility had forced it onto life support years ago.

Most observers looked at these properties and saw failure. Max Monet saw potential. He made bids on both properties, and was soon the proud owner.

A couple of months later, Max Monet hit the road on a marketing tour. The product he was selling was Camp Serenity. Camp Serenity was touted as a think tank for the new generation of humanities scholars. Get away from the rat race for a while and focus on your writing, your art, or your research. Participate in seminars in your field of study. No fees were charged for room and board.

In an economy with so many unemployed liberal arts majors, Max would have certainly signed up quite a few prospects – but Max had sweetened the deal. When Camp Serenity was marketed across the region, it had sex appeal. Max had brought his staff with him – the group of men and women who would lead the seminars and serve as resources for the other residents of the camp. They all had graduate degrees, but had been unable to land jobs in their field of study. They were also a remarkably attractive group – almost as if they had been chosen more for their looks than their academic credentials.

And indeed they had been. A large number of people who would have been on the fence about the idea of Camp Serenity under normal circumstances had been putty in the hands of the staff. Heck, they were unemployed anyway – why not escape to Camp Serenity and try to write the great American novel?

There was one small catch to the free room, board, and tuition. Each resident had to do a bit of work-study each day. The residents were served a hot breakfast before heading to the Hopkins building to begin the morning shift at 8 AM. The shift was done at 10 AM, and they were free to focus on their intellectual pursuits until lunchtime.

The afternoon shift began at 1 and finished up by 3, in time for a daily lecture. The residents could attend a lecture in their own subject area, or cross over to learn about a new topic. Not surprisingly, the most attractive staff members attracted the largest crowds. They probably could have read the phone book aloud and still have people coming back every day.

After the lectures and subsequent discussions, there was plenty of time to work on individual intellectual pursuits, small group discussions, or even a nap. By 6 PM, the group reported back to the main hall for supper.

After supper, they headed back to finish off another short shift. The two hour shift ended at 9, and everyone had free time until they decided to go to bed.

The schedule was a bit different on Sunday. No work – just lectures and time for individual study.

Max had been mildly surprised when three residents had secured book deals for novels written entirely within the confines of Camp Serenity. He supposed that it actually was a good environment for intellectual pursuits. Most importantly to Max, though, it was a way to squeeze 36 hours of labor out of people for minimum cost. The barracks cost virtually nothing to maintain, and the fare at the dining hall leaned heavily toward cheap, filling meals, with on occasional steak dinner thrown in to boost morale.

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