My coworker couldn’t believe I was making plans for July. I can’t blame her; I barely believe it myself.
I haven’t camped since sixth grade, when my friend Doug and I took the bus route with our friend Kirk. We ventured out to the wilderness, relying on our survival skills to keep us alive. In this story, replace “wilderness” with “200 yards away from Kirk’s house” and “our survival skills” with “the dinner we had with Kirk’s family.”
The camping was easy, as we prepared well. I brought the snacks. As did Doug. As did Kirk. We were scam artists, each of us telling our mothers we were put in charge of food. Our combined haul was a nutritious mix of beef jerky, Butterfingers and Capri Sun.
That was the last time I camped. But it was far from the first:
z 4-H camp: About 120 miles from home, with teenage campers supervising pre-teen campers.
Mornings would start with raising the flag and a round of calisthenics, with a routine set to Billy Idol’s “Mony Mony.” That song, repeated over the three sessions of camp, ruined Idol’s entire discography for me, which might not be a bad thing.
Every meal would be an adventure in manners. There were rhymes for talking with your mouth full, reaching across the table without asking, and my personal favorite, elbows on the table.
“Kevin, Kevin, strong and able, get your elbows off the table,” followed by a chant of, “Stand up, stand up; we won’t shut up till you stand up.” You stand up, and the chant changes to, “Round the table you must go, you must go, you must go. Round the table you must go, you’ve got bad manners.”
A second violation in the same meal sent you around the room, a third sent you around the cabin, and a fourth sent you around the entire camp. I never got beyond the table, and only one kid ever rounded the camp.
Nights would end with lights out in the cabins, as we would all tell each other offensive jokes. This is the only camping skill I’ve improved.
z Cub Scout camp. Actually, these weren’t special at all. I had to go with a bunch of kids I didn’t like very much, many of whom would someday mature into adults I didn’t like very much.
Our troop leader was our neighbor, Gary, and he was a nice enough guy. Also, we didn’t have to wear our scouting outfits during camp, and that was nice. Other than that, I have no real memories of Cub Scout camp.
As the years have gone by, so much has changed about camping, in that it’s no longer camping to me.
I’ve been told by at least two people, “Make sure you pack a good air mattress to go with the tent.” Somewhere, our culture decided camping is a great way to get away from the comforts of home, just as long as we don’t actually get away from the comforts of home.
I’m not bringing an air mattress. Or a coffee maker. Or freeze-dried food. Or a Wifi hot spot so I can Facebook. Clothes, hot dogs, drinks and a sleeping bag should be just fine.
But I’m not going to complain if somebody else brings S’Mores supplies or a box of Capri Sun. I only ask they keep their headphones on if there’s Billy Idol on the iPod.