Thursday, May 15, 2014

Boy Scout Camp...The Summer Edition

I joined the Webelos during my fifth grade year. During my time as a Webelos, I spent a lot of time catching up and gaining patches and eventually crossing over to the Boy Scouts once I graduated elementary school and would be starting the sixth grade in the fall. I'd been camping, maybe twenty or so times in my lifetime and for the most part, it was as enjoyable as chewing a stalk of celery. Then my first Boy Scout summer camping experience was also my last Boy Scout summer camping experience.
Up to this point, I progressed very quickly and earned a ton of patches. I carried a knife "legally" in the eyes of the Boy Scouts because I earned my Totin' Chip, the BSA certification to carry a knife. I had my Firem'n chit, which allowed me to start and extinguish campfires...It's interesting that I could set woods on fire but my campfire lighting abilities lacked to say the least.

 The campground was about an hour and fifteen minutes from Pace, in DeFuniak Springs. I vaguely believe we called it Camp Euchee or something like that. Upon our arrival, we were directed to our lot, or whatever it was called. The camp had different neighborhoods constructed like small subdivisions, each named after an Indian tribe, I believe our troop's site was Choctaw. Previous camping trips involved setting up pup tents or large dome tents, I hated pitching least not that sort of pitching of tents. I did get excited at the fact that our shelter weren't the Coleman tents we use for every camping event. The tents on the grounds were permanently constructed, made of thick waterproof canvas and raised about six inches off the ground. Each tent had a back window flap with a mesh screen and the front had two flaps that zipped together in the middle. Between each tent was a power port...maybe for electric fans but unfortunately I didn't have one...we were supposed to "rough it" as my dad said. I used the power for my Emerson Dual Cassette Boom Box.
We got NO radio reception but luckily I brought my favorite tunes by Madonna, Alabama, The Bangles, Dolly Parton, Cyndi Lauper and a few K-Tel collections. Roughing it involved repacking my boombox after my dad had checked it, otherwise I'd have no tunes or boombox. Inside, two cots with mattresses that reeked of mildew and urine. Thankfully, my dad packed a bunch of plastic garbage bags in my backpack because there was no way my pillow and sleeping bag were touching those mattresses. My mom insisted upon packing a small bottle containing Skin So Soft by Avon to keep the insects off of me...I smeared it over everything I could in my tent to mask the smell of "summer camp" funk. My tent mate, an effeminate boy named James that I knew from elementary school that one might consider "cute" if you liked young boys. There were thirteen boys in our troop and nine tents. Our scoutmaster and leader got a tent to themselves. One kid shared a tent with his dad, who happened to be one of the scout leaders.

Sounds like an awesome place to spend for the week? I'm not done. Each site also had it's own restroom complete with four toilets, outhouse style with no plumbing...fucking holes in the ground and who knows how deep they were. It was not exactly inviting. There was no door on the stalls and the stall that I felt was the most private was the farthest one in from the door...I thought it would be THE one for me until I realized there were spider webs in various depths of it. All of the toilets were as appealing as a port-a-potty. To say the least, Texaco station restrooms were luxury in comparison. Anyone that knows me, knows that I have serious bathroom issues. I can't poop away from home unless I'm locked in total secure privacy and safety, knowing no one will walk in or fearing something will bite my ass. There were also showers, very communal showers which had running water with one two unmarked valve settings. ON and OFF, you knew which was which because ON meant fire hose strong and OFF meant dripping like a garden hose. The water was a refreshing, outdoor temperature and no hotter...There was NO hot water. I had soap and shampoo, I had an equal amount when I went home...NEVER did I use those facilities. I had it in my mind that from Friday evening until Sunday afternoon I would not poop or shower and believe you me, I held it for a LONG time.

Before sundown, every camper was assembled at the every campground. So there we all were, in front of the dining hall, listening to the rules of the campground. No smoking, no hunting, no this no that and then came the warnings. Do not walk around without shoes, snake encounters were possible and there were a plethora of pygmy rattlers, copperheads and coral snakes around. Check the toilets before you sit down, spiders and scorpions share the facilities. We were also told to walk loudly in our tents to scare away anything that might be underneath as well as look down before we step out and take a big step away from the tent when we exit them. After all of this, they announced "Let's eat!" and everyone headed into the dining hall. The food was not exactly what I would have chosen to eat but it wasn't "bad" but it also wasn't school cafeteria quality either. Who am I kidding? It was terrible and always served with a cold piece of white bread toast that was between the stages of bread and toast. For beverages we were given the choice of white milk, water or "bug juice" which was essentially the same water but with a purple tinge to it. I believe it was seriously watered down and barely sweetened grape Kool-Aid. I didn't have the "bug juice" the rest of the week.

Sundown was when my paranoia set in, I didn't want to have to call my parents and say that I got tagged by a rattler or black widow. I was a scout and I didn't want to embarrass the troop. I had my flashlight shining on every part of the ground I stepped on. I searched under the tent, under my cot, under the pee pee mattress and between the flap of the window and mesh.

I made it to Thursday with no poop and avoiding showers. I realized that I stayed fairly clean because I spent every waking moment that I wasn't forced to attend a merit badge class hanging out in Lake Alaqua's shallow end. I found that it best to hang out at the lake because it not only made it appear that I was learning to swim, which everyone knew I was no good at but it also kept me out of the blazing hot tent that smelled like Skin So Soft and a faint musty odor from kids too scared to leave their tents in the middle of the night because of whatever was under it. My tent-mate, James, had spent the first two days hanging with me, until he met a boy from another troop. I was OK with that because I, being the loaner that I was and am, enjoy my own company. I wasn't alone for long, when that boy met me a few days later, he glommed onto me like white on rice and I had no clue why. I can't remember his name but I do remember him being tall, blonde, tan and neither fat nor skinny but not built enough to be called buff. He was cute, if you like young guys.

Thursday morning before sunrise, the bad food was taking it's toll on me, I felt like I had to poop. I thought, I might be able to use the toilet before everyone wakes up. I unzip, look out, only to find James and that other boy are already up, outside and laying in the cheap little hammock I bought from the camp trading post and had hanging from two trees using a fisherman's knot on each end. Never did it occur to me that my hammock was their little love nest until I thought back years later. I couldn't sneak out with my flashlight shining on the ground without being seen but I also couldn't run across the campsite without a light because I knew I would trample onto a snake or something. So, I zipped the tent closed and mustered up the strength and willpower and told myself "just three and a half more days and you can poop at home" and I fell back asleep feeling fuller than a tick. When I woke up, James was laying on his cot acting like he'd been there all night.

I decide to skip the lake, all the classes and wander around and look for a private place to poop. As I round the bend to an unused site, far from all the others, that kid that James was laying in my hammock with appears from nowhere. "I'm glad I found you" he said. "Why?" I asked. "I don't know, you just look like you're more fun than James and we would have more to talk about" he exclaimed. I really didn't understand what he was getting at, I was only 11 and thought that he was talking about the fact that James was in special education classes. He asked why I was where I was, I told him I needed to pee. He followed me to the "restroom" of the site I'd just wandered into all the way to the stall and as I thought I was gonna poop, he comes up behind me "I'll help" he said. Nope, I'm OK, I don't really gotta go ran through my mind and I see spiders and told him that I just walked into a spider web. We wander around the campground, I see the first aid building, I think they called it Health Lodge...It was my chance to poop...I told him "I do have to pee but there's no place around here" and he points to the Health Lodge and said "go ask them if you can use their bathroom" and led me in and he actually asked for me. After 6 days of eating bad camp food and holding my bowels, I finally pooped...A freakin' blow out!!! Luckily nothing messy though. I wash up, come out refreshed and ready to face the world without concentrating on keeping my innards at a stand still.

It's around dinner time and he (still can't remember his name) and I mix in with the other boys at the dining hall. We eat together and then head back to my campsite. He tells me, "oh, there's something I want you to see"...keep in mind, I'm about 5 months away from puberty and don't know about sex...He leads me to a tent in an empty campsite and brings me inside, closes the flaps and kisses me. I was so freaked out that I didn't know what to do, I go limp and let him do what he needed to do...which really only took about thirty seconds of him holding my hand and rubbing it up and down the front of his pants before he was done. The kissing was really weird to me, his tongue, my mouth...NOT my thing and to this day I don't like kissing.

And here you were, just reading along, thinking my next move was basket weaving or astronomy. I'm a magnet for weird. When I returned to my campsite, James asks if I've seen "whatever the guy's name was" and I told him "earlier" and left it at that. I avoided the subject and that guy for the rest of the time I was there. If I knew then what I found out months later, James and I would've had a tent mate between us. Did I know I was gay? Yes. Did this guy know I was gay...Most likely but I didn't want to get beat up. Sort of odd that I thought the guy that had his way with me, would beat me up. Like I said, if I knew then what I found out later...

Friday was uneventful other than the fact that I found a hog nose snake eating a frog. My hammock broke, probably from the weight of James and that boy jumping on it and I saw someone projectile vomit spaghetti in the dining hall washroom, a sight you would never EVER forget. Yet another reason that I have a hard time eating spaghetti.

Saturday was family day, family members were free to come up and see us compete in water events. Biggest splash, fastest swim, blah blah know? Water sports...Well not of the golden variety. My mom was working so it was just my dad that came up. I didn't partake in the events, I was realistic then and knew I could only compete in a fastest sink to the bottom and drown event. I was uncomfortable, the food was terrible, it was hot and that boy was showing up everywhere I was and was pretty much stalking me and I was afraid to say anything to anyone. James would have had a shit fit all over me, I think he thought they were an exclusive, yet on the D/L, couple. I tried to talk my dad into taking me home that night. I really didn't want to get up Sunday morning, go to camp church and clean up all the garbage in the campsite that really wasn't there and ride in someone else's hot car for an hour and fifteen minutes to wait for my mom or dad to pick me up at the place our scout meetings are held. I wanted to grab my shit and go back home. One of the scoutmaster's friends offered me $10 to stay one more night. I'd spent the $10 my parents gave me for the week, and money talked...One more night and that $10 he gave me will buy a new tape when I get back to Pace.

Within 16 hours, we were packed up and on the way to Pace. I didn't see my stalker that night or morning, apparently James didn't either and he cried on the way back to Pace and hid the fact by acting like he was sleeping with his head on my arm...Hard to explain this but he used the inside of my elbow as his forehead cradle. My dad picked me up, took the long way home, stopped at K-Mart, I bought the new Samantha Fox album on cassette tape. He took me to Piggly Wiggly and bought doughnuts from their bakery and really took his time pumping gas at the Exxon in the parking lot of K-Mart and Piggly Wiggly. We stopped at the Nugget Store, a convenience store at the end our street, so he could get cigarettes and bought me a Coke. He then drove us the mile and three tenths to our house, which took ten minutes when it usually took two.

When I got home, my dad told me he forgot something and said he needed to go back to the store. While he was gone, the events that happened over the course of the last twenty hours leading to my arrival home became very clear to me. I left my huge backpack, coke, doughnuts and K-Mart bag on the dining room table and rushed out the back door to see my dog that I'd had since I was in the first grade, a black and white English Springer Spaniel named Pickles. My sister tried to catch me before I made it outside. By the time she realized I was outside, I found that Pickles, her food and water bowls were gone. My dad had apparently disposed of my dog after she had killed a bird that we had rescued and raised from the spring. My dad, loved the bird and thought Pickles killed the bird due to jealousy of the attention the bird received. Pickles belonged to a breed that were hunting dogs, it was in her breeding to catch feathered animals. It was my sister, that had to tell me that Pickles was taken to the pound. I have no idea if this was the real truth but it was what I was told and it is my truth. My dad, had told the scoutmaster's friend, whom he worked with, who in turn paid me $10 to stay longer to inevitably put off my discovery and ultimate grief. It took my dad two hours to bring me home from five minutes away, simply because he didn't want to be the one to break my heart and tell me about his rash decision about the family's (my) dog. The rest of the summer, was hot and uneventful. This was also the very last time I went camping and shortly after starting the sixth grade, I quit the Boy Scouts.

Yep, this was the year I went to Boy Scout Summer Camp. Seems the shit started when I decided to take a shit and it just started rolling downhill and just didn't stop, literally.

On a happier note. My dad, knowing how heartbroken I was for many months over the dog that he had brought home as a puppy from the parking lot of Roses in Mobile, AL and given me just before Christmas of my first grade year. There was nothing anyone found to fill the void in my soul once Pickles was gone. Then one cold November day, he saw a sign in the window advertising Cocker Spaniel puppies at a pet grooming shop on Highway 90 and thought he'd let me go in and see the puppies. I picked up the only black and white puppy and said "We should call her Peaches" and he knew right then as he handed the shop owner two twenty dollar bills that he just mended the pieces of both of our hearts that were broken over the summer.

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