One of my biggest frustrations growing up (besides the shortness, the tragically underweight stature, the lack of any discernible ability at any of the common playground sports beyond wall ball and the insistent brief mortality of all pets, including three rabbits and a cat) was the lack of any camping in my life. I even joined up with the Boy Scouts for a few years, starting in Cub Scouts and on until you get that weird uniform with the half tie and the badges for things like “Moonwalking” and “Keeping out the Gays.”
But we never went camping. Never even talked about it. My other friends in other troops would come back to school on Monday with tales of wildernesses conquered and marshmallows s’smored, shiny new badges bragging from their chests about new achievements in “Successful Outdoor Bowels Evacuation” and “Wiping with Leaves (special honors).”
The problem was, I fear, our scout master, who was our friend’s mom, Mrs. Perkowski. And, look, I’m not saying this to be sexist in the least bit, but it is what it is: all the other troops were led by other kids’ dads. I’m fine with a mom leading us, but our meetings tended to stick to the more homemakerish activities: sewing, crafts, cooking … some light ironing (OK, not that last one, I don’t think). Other kids were out learning how you can skin a badger with a plastic knife in a pinch and creating small subatomic explosions with chemistry sets; we were inside playing “Mother, May I?” Divergence: Holy crap, did you know there’s a merit badge for journalism? I just discovered this. Here’s one of the requirements that probably turns kids to attempt the Disabilities Awareness badge instead:
Find out about three career opportunities in journalism. Pick one and find out the education, training, and experience required for this profession. Discuss this with your counselor, and explain why this profession might interest you.
Anyway, we never got to camping, an omission of my youth that severely limits the amount and veracity of believeable first-person Jersey Devil stories I can share. My family also never seemed interested in it. In fact, I can never remember the subject ever coming up. Family vacations were, in rough dates and order that I can remember:
1988: Disney World
1989: Hershey Park, Pa.
1990: Busch Gardens/Colonial Williamsburg Va.
1991: Disney World
1994: Disney World
1995: Random time share in New Hampshire
1996: Wildwood, NJ
1998: Dominican Republic
Upon telling my friends that the family was going to New Hampshire that one year, my friends’ response was: “Oh, you’re going camping?”
Um, not exactly. We stayed at a time share I think my grandparents traded something for, went to a water park and visited the Funspot, an awesome arcade I would not understand the full importance of until watching King of Kong many, many years later. I stole a skeeball from some place nearby and gave it to a friend as a souvenir.
So camping was never in the cards, just as neither were skiing, snowboarding or European travel. And that’s fine because it wasn’t our family’s thing, and my parents did the best they could, plus we had little to complain about in the grand scheme of things. The bonus is that it now gives me all the opportunity of approaching new things with child like wonder at this late stage in life. Like, assuming I ever get to Europe before they cut off any more incoming American travel, I can go all Harry-Potter-fanboy crazy excitement overload if I get to visit a real castle. Or if I ever go skiing, the sensation of running face-first into a 100-year-old oak tree lined with porcupine spines (as is sure to happen. See aforementioned lack of athleticism) will be slightly overshadowed by the new thrill of this crazy mountain death sport.
And, when I finally got to go camping last weekend, it was pretty supertime fun jamboree. Note: I do not consider camping at music festivals as actual “camping,” because any place where the late-night sounds of Daft Punk wafting across the grounds lull you to sleep is hardly the great outdoors.
Somehow this weekend I was the only one present at first who sorta knew how to start a campfire, despite lack of previous camping experience (thank you beachfront bonfires using pieces of dune fence, multiple conflagrations at Ally’s cabin). It was hardly roughing it, and it was only for a night, but much memories were made, and only several minor injuries were tallied.
Here are some reflections:
• That pile of old newspapers dominating the backseat of nearly every reporter’s car makes great kindling.
• A competing newspaper, particularly one that is available at the camp supply store for free, also makes excellent additional kindling.
• If someone sitting near you at the campfire calls your cell phone late at night, do not answer. It is a ploy that will end in you being tackled into mud.
• My boycott of shopping at Wal-Mart continues to be vindicated.
• Roasted bananas filled with chocolate are now the official vegetarian substitute for s’mores.
• Official Park Ranger stance is you are not supposed to drink in the campground under any circumstances. But really only if he can smell it as you walk by. Unless you are 21 and have your ID on you. Even if you don’t, it’s still not allowed, I guess. Look, just pour one of your cups out and continue on your way. Thanks.
• The smell of campfire smoke does not come off for at least three days (and counting).
• I am apparently a jerk when it comes to informing people we need more wood for the fire.
• You don’t need religion (or a blanket) when you’ve got the Easy Jesus.
All of these skills will come in handly when I’m a homeless person in New York City. Do you get a merit badge for learning how to start a trash can fire? I’m all over it.