July 21, 2000
On my drive to work the other day I passed
a bus taking a bunch of kids to camp. I don't remember which
one. They all have fake Indian names like Wannagetitchi
Most of the kids on the bus were smiling and
fighting and generally having a good time being away from home
for a couple of weeks. But there was one sad face looking out
I know that face. Thirty years ago, that face
belonged to me.
For some reason I was never a camp kid. It's
not that I was nerdy. At least I wasn't so far out on the nerd
scale that I got beaten up. I knew how to canoe and build a fire
and could tell you the names of bugs and trees.
I was okay on the woodland stuff, but camp
is also about sports - icy swimming pools, savage lacrosse matches
and early morning 60 mile cross-country runs. I've never liked
being cold, wet or tackled. So it's no surprise I've always thought
of summer camp as a version of Cool Hand Luke run by teenaged
Unfortunately, as a child I was plagued by
a mother who loved camp. She loved being away from home, eating
camp food and singing camp songs. She has always been a jock
and has a shelf of trophies to show for it. She made (and still
makes) friends at the drop of a hat and is always game for a
field trip to parts unknown.
In short, Mom was perfect camp material. So
she naturally wanted to hand that experience down to her children.
Me? To start with, I've always been particular
about what I put in my mouth. I personally don't think that's
such a bad way to be, although it gets you a reputation as a
picky eater. Camp, you quickly learn, is not the place to be
if you have what I like to think of as a refined palate.
And perhaps I never gave camp songs a fair
chance. But when you grow up with a mother who constantly sang
songs about dogs named Bingo, and the ever diminishing number
of bottles of beer on the wall, you have trouble appreciating
them later in life.
Camp life is also pretty organized. After
all you can't have a bunch of kids just hanging around. That's
why you get them out of the unhealthy city. Besides, birch bark
wallets don't just make themselves.
I've always resisted anyone's attempt to organize
me, whether as a kid or adult. A vacation at a holiday resort
with a full day of planned activities is my idea of hell. You
know the kind. It has a desperately cheerful activities director
determined to get you out to the dance lessons, Spanish lessons,
limbo contest and water polo game. I have a name for them: pleasure
So when my day came, all I remember is trudging
up the camp bus steps with grim resignation, considering it one
of those lemons life throws you without any hope of it ever becoming
lemonade. And being determined to not have a good time, guess
what? I didn't.
At least I had brought a knapsack full of
books to read at camp.
Come to think of it, it was a miracle I didn't
get beaten up