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
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.
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
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.
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