FRESH YARN: The Online Salon for Personal Essays//Current Essays FRESH YARN: The Online Salon for Personal Essays//Contributors FRESH YARN: The Online Salon for Personal Essays//About FRESH YARN FRESH YARN: The Online Salon for Personal Essays//Past Essays FRESH YARN: The Online Salon for Personal Essays//Submit FRESH YARN: The Online Salon for Personal Essays//Links FRESH YARN: The Online Salon for Personal Essays//Email List FRESH YARN: The Online Salon for Personal Essays//Contact


Outdoor Education
By Alan Olifson

The only real summer job I ever had was as a camp counselor. And I'm not ashamed to say I was damn good at it. Some young men have a knack for football or fixing cars or basic hand-eye coordination. I had a gift for campfire sketches. And ghost stories. And making awkward, overweight kids in glasses feel relaxed and at home. Plus, I knew my way around the back of an archery range -- if you know what I mean. In camp I had truly found my niche.

Which is odd considering the first camp experience I ever had was a demoralizing fiasco that almost ended with my complete social exile. The Las Virgenes Unified School District simply called it "Outdoor Ed".

I had been looking forward to "Outdoor Ed" for years. It was the highlight of elementary school. In 5th grade, we were all freed from the bonds of the U.S. core curriculum and released into the wilds of Malibu for one full week of nature immersion. I couldn't wait.

But waking up in the rustic Calamigos Ranch cabin on my first morning of camp, all I could think was, "Wow, it's sure a lot more damp here than I expected." Patting down the lime green nylon exterior of my sleeping bag, I wondered if maybe the morning dew in Malibu was just especially heavy. Then I remembered Kevin -- my pre-pubescent arch nemesis sleeping two bunks over. Could he have actually thrown water on me in my sleep? I wouldn't put it past the little bowl-headed prick.

I moved my hand inside the bag.

Uh oh. Wetter inside. That's not good. That's not good at all.

I inched my hand from the edge of the bag inward, to what I hoped against hope was not the epicenter of this horrible wetness. No such luck. My crotch -- as it would turn out to be for many regrettable instances in my life -- was Ground Zero.

I had peed in my sleeping bag.

This was not a good situation.

If ever anyone was equipped to socially survive wetting his bed at camp, it was not I. Surprisingly, in 5th grade, my inability to hit a baseball and propensity to cry weren't considered assets. In fact, my entire social circle consisted of two kids, Greg and Kevin. Greg was my best friend, a chunky kid with a great sense of humor and two older brothers who made him wise beyond his years. Kevin, as I mentioned earlier, was a prick. Unfortunately he was also Greg's next-door neighbor, and for some reason, he had it out for me, never missing an opportunity to turn others against me. Once during a recess soccer game, he somehow convinced everyone I was a "spy" for the other team. The fact that spying made no strategic sense in the context of soccer was overshadowed by the fact that I cried when people called me "the spy". The name stuck.

Kevin and I spent 5th grade competing for Greg's rotating best friend slot. When I was in, life was a bacchanal orgy of Hot Wheels, dirt bikes and playing with matches. When I was out it was all spitballs to the head, laughing behind my back and poking. I was "the spy."

Given this precarious social situation, I really could have done without peeing on myself.

As the name implies, Outdoor Ed included talks from park rangers, bird watching, leaf collecting and gratuitous lanyard making. Though why Arts & Crafts is synonymous with "the outdoors" in our culture is still unclear to me. I'm pretty sure shellac is not a naturally occurring substance, and I'd say Arts & Crafts is actually a great argument in favor of "the indoors" because if your kid is watching TV or playing Dance, Dance Revolution, he is not making you a coaster out of corkboard and his own hair.

But at Outdoor Ed, as soon as the yellow buses pulled into Calamigos Ranch, we got right down to business, gluing macaroni to acorns. Then we launched into a program about identifying edible berries and animal tracks, ate grilled cheese sandwiches and headed to our cabins for bed.

Since they were, technically, my friends, I shared a cabin with Greg and Kevin, plus seven other kids who would, depending on their mood, just as easily give me a Jolly Rancher or a wedgie. Our counselor was the coolest guy at camp. Randy. Like all the counselors at Outdoor Ed, he was a senior at one of the two high schools in our district. He had slick-backed black hair, mirrored sunglasses, checkered Vans and wore a puka shell necklace. A poster boy of 1978 cool. From day one rumors swirled that he was dating Paige, whose feathered hair, blue eyes and fuzzy sweaters were responsible for at least six cases of early onset puberty.

After our first camp dinner, Randy marched us up a dirt road to our cabin, leading us in a sing-a-long of AC/DC's "We've Got Big Balls". Man, he was cool. I hopped on to my bottom bunk, zipped into my sleeping bag and proceeded to make one of the worst tactical decisions of my life.

The camp bathroom was located ¼ mile down the dirt road on which we had just spent the afternoon learning to spot coyote tracks, so when the urge to pee hit me just after lights out, I decided walking down that long road alone in the dark didn't really seem like a good idea. Instead, I decided I'd hold it until morning.

Which is why I blame the American educational system for wetting my bed. A Japanese boy in a similar situation, with his advanced test scores in math and the sciences, would have understood the impracticality of trying to control his bladder while sleeping. But I wasn't blessed with an overly ambitious K through 12 curriculum and so dozed off peacefully with a full bladder and quaint delusions of the hegemony I held over my own body.

PAGE 1 2

-friendly version for easy reading
©All material is copyrighted and cannot be reproduced without permission

home///current essays///contributors///about fresh yarn///archives///
submit///links///email list///site map///contact
© 2004-2006 FreshYarn.com