autobiography Blog

I Hate Camp

I really do. Camp ruins a perfectly nice day outdoors. Camp was not for me probably because I’m a cantankerous introvert who hates fun. No, seriously, I like fun just like any American. But I don’t understand the mass appeal of camp. People who liked camp, really liked camp. They talk about it for the rest of their lives. The songs they know by heart, they learned at camp. The games they play, they learned at camp. Their life is defined by this apparently transcendent experience they had in the summer months.

It was not always this way with me and camp. I don’t recall whose idea it was for me to attend, but I was happy to try it. Before I had my weeks of misery, I actually looked forward to attending. Shopping for supplies was fun. My mom and I (mostly my mom) had to stitch or glue or marker my name on every single item of clothing I owned, which was kind of fun. (I imagine it would have been embarrassing for me if, after returning from camp, my girlfriend had discovered my name on my underwear. Fortunately, I didn’t have to worry about a girlfriend for many many years.) I remember looking forward to writing letters to all my friends and family, and to getting letters (and maybe cookies!) in return.

You know, they call them POW Camps and Internment Camps for a reason.

Every hour of every day is brutally programmed. We even had scheduled “free time”, which was oxymoronic enough for nobody to notice. Was this school? No, it was worse. At least you get to leave school at 3. Camp is forever. They were always planning activities that would ostensibly bring us closer together, so that by the time the session concluded, we’d all be telepathically linked for the rest of our natural lives. This psychic bond never really happened for me. Was I resisting? Probably. You have to understand, when someone gives me a boundary, I look for ways to get around it. I hate being told what to do.

There is also something a little sinister about enforced fun. You can always see the ragged edges, the wires behind the curtains, which signify a sham. We went horseback riding. I somehow got stuck with the biggest, slowest, most indifferent horse. Keep in mind that I was a skinny little kid. The horse had no idea I was even there. When I kicked to try and catch up with the group, the horse would not respond. I could hear the counselors way ahead of me, shouting helpful bits of advice. “Kick his sides!” “Kick harder!” Eventually their voices became indistinct as they grew further away from me.

I should consider myself lucky. One kid got the easily-spooked horse. We all watched in horror as he was carried into the woods, helpless. They retrieved him eventually, but I’m sure the boy was never the same afterwards. Horses do that to you.

My experience at camp was shortened by my getting a disease. I spent a good lot of time at the camp infirmary, throwing up and watching all the Rocky films in order. They at first assumed I was just a little homesick, but a real doctor back home had a different diagnosis: acute strep. I thank my weak immune system for saving me from even more camp fun.

Even though camp was a trying time best used remembered for its humorous anecdotes (and I’ve got more!), I am glad I at least tried it. It’s one of those rites of passage for so many of us, I’d feel like an atheist at Christmas Mass if I’d never even been. I was at camp long enough to discover how wrong it was for me.

2 replies on “I Hate Camp”

Our generation came of age when, if I recall correctly, it was still novel to have “special interest” camps (which sound like they’re produced by public television, but not). I hated real camp – the kind that was designed, I think, for city kids to get the hell out of the city for the summer. But I liked music camp, and later, being a counselor at geek camp (nerd camp? pre-college camp?). Neither resembled real camp whatsoever.

Interestingly enough, I’m still susceptible to real camp nostalgia. I’m somehow able to relate deeply to movies like “Wet Hot American Summer” – sure, it’s a parody, but the movie just gets the camp experience in all of its forms. (Or is it just a really funny movie?)

I like that movie too, probably because it was such a good parody of camp movies.

I bet I would have enjoyed one of those specialty camps. I still wish I could have gone to Space Camp.

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