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Camp? Out!

by Stephen Lautens


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 or Gittanosebleed

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 the window.

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 counsellors.

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 prisons.

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


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