A friend of mine is a park ranger. That’s easily one of the Top 5 Coolest Jobs I Can Think Of, and I’m not even an outdoorsy person. The middle of the country isn’t good for much besides Republicanism and tired fashion trends these days, but back in the day it was kind of awesome. Presidents and other important people loved it here. Because of this, there are plenty of obscure-ish historical sites, one of which is my friend’s place of employment.
She did something this weekend called Walk Into the Past, where apparently there are actors doing historical re-enactments and people get to see the site at night. It sounded sort of cool (because I am a nerd), but I had a tentative show to review so I wasn’t able to attend. My experience of it is coming from her Twitter feed, and naturally, it makes me think about camp.
I grew up in South St. Louis, which means that unless it was a weekend Scout camp thing or (because I was Catholic) a weeklong field trip to Camp Don Bosco, nobody could afford to go to real camp. And by real camp, I mean camp where you had an ongoing kickball league and went horseback riding and whatever else happened in Wet Hot American Summer. Did you know that some kids go to summer camp for like six weeks at a time? Can you even imagine? I’m sure some of the kids I grew up with would have been terrified to be away from home for that period of time, but even now that sounds like paradise to 5th Grade Me. It’s not that I yearned to make friendship bracelets and hang out with kids who were way too into drama club, I just wanted to get the hell out of the house where one summer my parents decided to rip out all of the grass to plant new seed (we looked like a family of sharecroppers) or clean the baseboards again (no good reason, nobody gives a fuck about the baseboards).
Anyway, even though only one person I knew went to actual camp (her parents were divorcing and trying to outdo one another for their children’s love), I still went to the aforementioned weekend Scout camp and the weeklong Catholic kid field trip at Camp Don Bosco. It was at Camp Don Bosco that we had a Civil War History Night, perhaps one of the most disturbing organized activities in which pre-junior high school children could possibly take part while living in a first world country.
The entire camp was split up into groups of maybe ten kids apiece. Each group was told that they had to get from one end of the camp to the other, which was difficult enough considering that none of us knew Thing 1 about the fucking wilderness, but was made even more difficult with the Civil War theme. If I remember correctly, we were supposed to pretend it was Civil War times and because this is Missouri which was a contested state, the people we encountered could be from either side and would obviously kill us if we were on the opposite one. The groups were made up of equal numbers boys and girls, but because this was supposedly Civil War times, the girls were instructed that they were not to speak to anyone unless specifically instructed by the boys. And boys got the money (allegedly for bribes and supplies), the maps, and all powers related to decision-making in this game about our survival.
It went exactly as you think it went, in that the boys in our group failed miserably. Mike Biggs was cast as the husband/father of our group (I was cast as his wife, a position I still find hilarious), and not only could he not read the map or correctly determine whether the money we’d been given was Union or Confederate, but he totally froze when asked any questions by the counselors, who, cast as random Civil War-era citizens and soldiers, were acting like motherfucking psychopaths in the middle of the motherfucking woods. My own group’s regular counselor, Andy, opened a trapdoor on the side of a cabin and screamed at us to get through the hole or he’d kill us. I mean, obviously he wasn’t going to kill us in real life, but that trapdoor opened onto a porch roughly the size of a postage stamp that stood about seven feet off the ground. Considering the excitable nature of most 6th graders, I’m honestly surprised that no one catapulted themselves completely over the porch and down into a broken ankle. By the time I got sick of the game and started making decisions in the place of my dumbass “husband,” we were already being pretend-murdered by a bunch of Confederate spies. Looking back, I realize that this game was stupid and crazy and no one should have trusted a bunch of 6th grade boys to accomplish anything on their own. I also realize that our counselors were maybe 21 years old and, like I said, fucking psychotic.
I wonder about the kind of people who take a job as weeklong camp counselors when everyone else they know is busy going out to bars and getting drunk. With the exception of maybe one counselor (Rapey Eyed Ray, who talked like a hillbilly and had awful teeth), I don’t think any of them might have been sex offenders. They didn’t seem to be completely socially-crippled, either. And even though this was a Catholic camp, I don’t think any of them were divinity students. But there they were, wearing crappy period costumes and screaming murder threats at us in pitch-black woods, probably getting paid shit while doing so and still expected to wake up at 6am the next day to herd us all over to the mess hall.
But maybe I’m only thinking about this because I just got back from the farm, where I spent seven hours watching the boys shoot guns at assorted Mormon-themed books and one castoff keg that was sitting in Graham’s house when he moved in two years ago. I wouldn’t say that I’m sunstroked (um, have you seen my skin, I rock the SPF 80 like a boss), but the abundance of fresh air and walking through fields near cows does something to my head, and I wonder how on earth anyone survives being out in the middle of nowhere for any reason or length of time, whether or not they’re being screamed at by vocationally-confused 21-year-olds in funny clothes.