Tag Archives: Camp

Pseudo-Dates: A Real-Life Case Study

I stuck to general abstractions on Tuesday to, you know, make the post more relatable, and not at all because I started working on it around 9 p.m. But then I ended up writing some more, and I figured, like with a bunch of trash burgers, I shouldn’t let it go to waste.

So here’s a Thursday addendum, full of specifics!

Like a fish swimming upstream through uncharted waters, I floundered through a sea of unsuccessful pseudo-dates, evenings ending with confidence-boosting phrases like “That was a lot of fun,” or “Well, see you around I guess.” And when things did work out—mostly due to a girl’s ability to overlook glaring flaws in my suavity—I would get so bamboozled that I’d forget to turn left at first base.

But last summer, that changed; I became a camp counselor. What most people don’t realize about camp is that we supposed “adults” are just as much at camp as the kids we’re taking care of. And since we’re no longer minors, anything goes.

Summer brings out the best in everyone. Sunshine, happiness, bikinis. The head counselor of the dorm next to mine was this gorgeous blonde who oozed mystery, irresistible partly because she’s undeniably beautiful (an actual, real-life model, and I was talking to her!), and partly because she scared the crap out of me. First, she was frighteningly out of my league, and second, her Facebook pictures were all intimidating modeling shots of her swinging an axe wearing nothing but a leather jacket.

But her most alluring and disturbing quality of all was that I could never get a read on her. She’d laugh at my jokes, but I couldn’t stop thinking it seemed like the way the White Witch might laugh at Edmund Pevensie. In the realm of pseudo-dating, it’s impossible to tell whether those Turkish Delights she’s offering you are merely candy or rather some obscure sexual position.

Then came the interim weekend, in which we were free of the children. We threw a huge party, and in the pinnacle of my game-spitting career, I somehow managed to woo this girl, an event which, unfortunately, I hardly remember. All I know is that we hit it off, she was way more interesting than I’d ever imagined, and we totally made out. Even the most beautiful of women suddenly seem within reach after a few beers and then some more beers.

But I couldn’t tell if it was anything more than a random whirl.

Then one day she sends me this text: “Do you want to come to yoga with me this Thursday at 8?” All I want to do is things with her, but yoga?! At eight?! In the morning? That’s the worst possible thing at the worst possible time. And it’s Bikram yoga. Is she asking me on a date, or is she just a sadist who’s excited to watch me suffer in a 110° room? Or worse, was she testing me for flexibility and estimating my sexual prowess? (An event which occurs all too often.) I can’t imagine there’s anything less attractive than sweating profusely while displaying total incompetence and inflexibility, but what other option did I have? If I didn’t go, she might never invite me to another thing, and if it truly was a date, I certainly couldn’t risk accidentally rejecting her.

On Thursday, I wake up, toss on some clothes that seem vaguely yogappropriate, and pick her up.

What proceeds is basically the worst hour of my life. I’m stretched and prodded and bent into inhumanly uncomfortable shapes Mr. Fantastic himself couldn’t achieve, all in the name of relaxation. I’m pouring sweat from places I didn’t even know I had, and since I’m terrible with heat, I have to leave the yoga studio every few minutes to cool off, weaving my way through the downward-facing obstacles all around me. Crush girl is alternatingly encouraging and mocking, but my scorched brain has the capacity to appreciate neither. Bottle after bottle of water does little to slake my unquenchable thirst for escape, and I smell like, well, someone doing Bikram yoga. In short, there was no way I was impressing anyone.

After such an abysmal, sweat-coated failure, I knew I had to delicately craft myself a second chance. At this camp, we had to sign up for the afternoon activities we wanted to lead, and after a couple weeks of meticulously trying to predict which event she’d have selected in that half-creepy, half-desperate, half-endearing way that only bad math can achieve, I finally got paired with her on a trip downtown.

Any work-mandated trip can hardly be classified as a true date, but then again, she had kissed me that one time. I was going to make this the most date-y two hours I’d ever been paid for. All in the most non-gigolo was possible, of course.

On the way downtown, we debated whether fear or love was a more useful means of control and, like a high school movie cliché, we made a sexually charged bet. I would win if all the kids came back to the bus on time thanks to nothing more than my friendly encouragement. I released the kids into the wild, promising them that I’d be their friend forever if they could avoid being late.

I was absolutely positive the stakes of this bet were a kiss, but I was too afraid to actually say so, so I left it up in the air—we’d cross that bridge when I planted my lips all over it.

This was a horrible mistake! If I’d just brought it up, she’d have smiled slyly, said something clever, and I’d have known it was on. Instead, I was left to wonder, twisting the whole experience from sexy charm-fest to fear-filled pseudo-date.

We wander around downtown, free of the clutching needs of the high-schoolers. The afternoon wears on, the tension increases, and I’m falling into the allure of this girl. A traveling magician performs tricks for us, we chow down on some Thai food, we talk, we talk…

She’d traveled the world! She’d modeled! She loved animals! She’d been published! Where did this girl come from? It was a magical moment for me. But that’s the whole point. It was magical to me. I had no idea what she was thinking! What did she think the bet was about? Did she realize we were only downtown together thanks to some careful posturing on my part? If she did, would she be flattered or freaked?

As we’re walking back toward the busses, all I can think about is the bet. There was so much awkwardness about the stakes. Is that because she’s excited too, or is it because she knows I’m thinking “kiss” and she’d rather not revisit the events of the last weekend. We’re mere minutes from the bus, and I can barely form coherent sentences. We start to count the kids.

They’re all there!

Wait. Two are missing. They’re the two from her dorm. Where are they? I stare at my watch as the seconds tick away, hoping against hope that they’ll arrive in time for me to win the bet. This could be life-changing. This one minute, this one kiss, it could be the moment that starts everything!

But they’re one minute late.


Filed under Stories

The Pitfalls of Being a Camp Counselor: Airport Edition

Once a year, young folk are faced with the challenge of finding a summer job, and the last two loops round the sun, I’ve tackled that challenge by being a camp counselor at Stanford, where I spent six weeks nurturing and supposedly educating forty kids whose parents paid thousands of dollars for them to spend their summers sitting in stuffy lecture halls taking college-level classes because they desperately want their children to be accepted to an elite university. And let me tell you, the whole experience is…well, really fun, actually! The kids are all smarter than I am, they’re full of energy and fun to talk to, and most importantly, they’re the perfect dodgeball fodder for my three-time-intramural-champion rocket of an arm.

But it’s not all fun and games at Stanford camp. Well, it is for the counselors, but with the kids, it’s nose to the grindstone from dawn till sort of a late eveningish hour. There’s a highly varied breakfast of pre-packaged pancakes, tater tots, and surprise sausage, which comes in exciting circular and cylindrical varieties depending on the day, then three straight hours of lecture which the counselors get to sleep through. Then lunch, three hours of study session (which I ruthlessly command), and finally a bit of free time to do tomorrow’s reading before lights out, at which point the counselors absolutely do not immediately begin to booze heavily, sneak into faculty hot tubs, or play spin the bottle, because those things would be against the rules laid out in the often-read and ever-cited handbook. All told, the amount of work we put in is about half that of the students, and we’re paid to be there. Who’s the smart one now, poindexters?

But there’s one day each summer that is worse for us than it is for the kids, one day on which we earn all the minimum wage scrill they throw at us, and that’s Arrival Day. We wake up at the ungodly hour of six a.m. and drive to San Francisco International Airport, where, over the course of 8 hours and scores of flights, around seven hundred children ages eleven to seventeen spill out of every terminal all across the airport and run amok. They weave in and out of a roiling sea of adults, cackling as they sneak past us, and all we can do is stand there, ineffectively raising tiny, handheld signs welcoming them to camp, hoping against hope that our charges will notice. It’s very stressful.

To make the experience more bearable, I invent dances which I  sync up with the various announcements. I get down and dirty with the “Please do not leave your luggage unattended. Unattended baggage may be confiscated and searched.” That one’s got a lot of head tosses. If I’m in the mood for some more thrusts and shimmies, I go for the “This is a loading zone only. There is no stopping at any time. Repeat. This is a loading zone only…” It’s got such a good flow to it. I could never write that stuff.

Anyway, my dance moves get me a lot of weird looks from angry airport-goers, the type so fed up with the annoyances of regular travel that any modicum of joy sends them into an apoplectic rage.

I’m a lot more successful when I whip out the sexy-model turn and lock eyes with a stranger. Caught off-guard by my unexpected attention, I have them in my grasp for but a moment, during which I flash the camp sign and give them my most longing and hopeful look.

Then they either respond with an embarrassed Zoidberg scuttle in the opposite direction or say something like “Summer camps are such a delight,” or, “Isn’t that the camp where blind kids learn to read Braille?”

Rather than trying to puzzle out why we’d attempt to catch blind children’s attention with signs, I told her that yes, it was indeed that camp. She was very supportive.

Despite my heroic, deeply shaming efforts, the kids don’t pay the slightest attention. One moment I’m ready to snag a gaggle of children (snaggle!), and the next, all the passengers have disembarked and we’ve only located two of the thirty kids from that flight.

How does this happen?! We’re supposed to keep these kids safe. The moment they step off that plane, we’re their legal guardians, but before the race to prove I’m mature enough to hold down a job has even begun, I’ve dropped the fragile, child-laden baton. So now I’m sprinting up and down the baggage claim area, shouting at the top of my lungs for little kids, all the while doing my best to shrug off the looks of horror from airport patrons shocked that someone would be so brazen. After twenty minutes of extremely loud and less-than-tactful shouting, this one woman (just arrived on the scene), asks her elderly mother (who’s been watching me intently the entire time), “What is he doing?”

“Oh, don’t worry,” she says, comfortingly. “He’s just looking for little boys.”

And before I can control what’s coming out of my mouth, I say excitedly, “And girls!” No filter. Both women shake their heads in mingled shame and terror but thankfully refrain from calling airport security.

I manage to wrangle about six small children, including this one 11-year-old girl who’d been completely lost and traumatized. She’d gotten on a different flight than we were expecting and had been wandering the airport for hours, nerves fraying like the ropes of that bridge that’s always situated over an unthinkably deep chasm. And no matter how much I cajole her with my charm, balloon animals, improvised reproductions of Richard III, or unlabeled candy, she refuses to speak to me. I swear I’m being friendly, but who knows what’s going through her head.

I somehow manage to gain enough control of my six energetic devils to herd them over to the predetermined meeting place. There’s a father there with his daughter, and he strikes up a conversation with me. Turns out his daughter’s taking creative writing, and because of my special mental condition that prevents me from ever learning from past experiences, I say, “That’s great! She’ll spend her summer rooming with me then.” Maybe word spread that I’d been on the prowl for little girls, or maybe the dad just didn’t like the looks of me, but he gives me a glare that could stop a tidal wave, and as I fumble for words—“No wait. I mean, that’s not—I’m a counselor,”—he protectively places his arm around his daughter’s shoulders and walks away.

My first day interacting with the kids and already I’d made a huge blunder. If he complained to my boss, I could be in serious trouble. I needed this job. It was the first step in the grueling process of doing things I could actually put on a résumé, unlike Dungeons and Dragons club, and an English degree and, well, you remember the zombie hunter fiasco. So I’m standing there, pitying myself, when little Ms. Silence pipes up.

“Next time,” she says, speaking with the confident, innocent logic only an 11-year-old can muster, “you could probably handle that better.”


Filed under Stories

Lightning Never Strikes In The Same Pla—Ahhh! Lightning!

When I was but a wee lad, I was somehow tricked into joining the Boy Scouts.

Try to remember a happier, more innocent time. I can't either!

I think it had something to do with a free pumpkin, which is, in retrospect, well, just as compelling as it was then. I could so go for a pumpkin right now. I would carve the shit out of that thing, probably into a likeness of my favorite Game of Thrones character (may he rest in peace), and when I was done, I’d make pumpkin bread out of its sweet, sweet innards.

Oh no! Now every time I see a pumpkin I’ll think of episode nine. What have I done? Ok. Moving on. After many years of ice camping, forced marching, learning knots, forgetting knots, and sitting through brain-manglingly tedious meetings, I found myself at the National Boy Scout Jamboree. There’s a joke in there, and I’ve spent quite a while dancing around being PC in an attempt to phrase it correctly, but I’ve finally given up. Now it’s time to pawn the work off on you, with Russ’s 1st

Ludicrously Reasonable Challenge!

Take the following elements and form them into a light-hearted and negativity-free joke!

  1. The Boy Scouts of America are known for being homophobic.
  2. At the Jamboree, over 40,000 young boys spend 10 days together in cramped quarters.
  3. Jamboree is defined as “noisy merrymaking.”

Anyway, I’m in this giant camp that spans miles and miles, and supposedly we’re there to learn things, so, in the name of pretending to gain knowledge, my friend Nick and I sign up for what we’ve heard is the easiest activity: Electricity Merit Badge. We hike an hour out to this little hut that’s divided into 10 stations where some bored adults usher us in and make a halfhearted attempt to teach us something about stuff. The first and most valuable station taught us the art of positioning light switches in the most logical part of a room whilst taking into account maximum reachability and minimal effort, an important skill by anyone’s standards.

As we powered our way through the next five stations, the wind began to surge around us. The air switched speeds, whipping through the tent, tearing the canvas from the poles, and generally sparking fear in everyone. Confusingly, the rain, just a sprinkle moments before, was currently a shockingly fierce torrent pummeling the ground, and suddenly the adults in charge are generating a panic by cutting class short and conducting everyone outside. Positive that we should bolt, Nick and I impulsively decide to grab the bulb by the horns and head for home.

We start sprinting back to camp, but we’ve got a long way to go. I guess we were the last ones to get nature’s memo, because the camp is completely deserted, and by this point, every minute or two lightning strikes so close that it’s literally right there on the path with you like that annoying girl who has a crush on you who you can never quite seem to shake. You get the feeling that she’s hiding in the bushes just to watch you go by, but you can’t say anything because she kicks ass at trivia night and your team has an image to uphold at the local pub, damn it.

We finally pass a troop leader who asks us what the hell we’re doing still outside when there’s a tornado brewing and we’re this close to being blown half a drug trip from Kansas, but thankfully he’s on a mission and doesn’t have time to deal with us. Fueled by the invincibility of youth and a healthy portion of hunger, we veer out of our way to see if the snack shack is open, and hot dog, it is! Soon enough, we’re twiddling our idiot fingers underneath the overhang, waiting for burgers while a light show of death plays all around us.

We eventually get our food and resume our run, but another adult grabs us by our neckerchiefs and drags us into this little tent. It was like something out of a sci-fi apocalypse movie where the resistance sees you on the street and pulls you into a safe house then tries to recruit you. There’s hundreds of people huddled into this tiny tent which is somehow blisteringly hot, and we’re so squished that we can’t get the burgers to our mouths—a serious problem. The leader of the resistance stands up on a stool and starts this epic speech about how dangerous the world is out there, but that we’ll be safe as long as we stick together and don’t leave the tent (it’s got a lightning rod!), and the whole time I’m just looking down at my burger with salivatory sorrow as I watch it growing cold.

Nick looks at me, and  the mutual understanding of childhood friends passes between us. We nod and both make a break for it, dodging a guard and slipping out the back of the tent to freedom. Now all we have to do is run across a wide open field that’s about a quarter mile long and we’ll be back to the safety of our own camp where we’ll have both friends and playing cards, two things obviously worth risking your life for.

I remember pausing at the edge of the field, finishing the last bite of my rain-soaked burger, and wondering, for the first time, whether this idea was any sort of good, but hey, it was too late to turn back now, so Nick and I just set off into the open. As I’m running, I turn to see him panting away and realize that he’s a good six or seven inches taller than me, so if lightning’s going to hit anything, it’ll be him. I breathe a sigh of relief, which is immediately cut short by lightning striking a tree at the edge of the field.

We made it back to camp to cheers and hugs, and proceeded to play cards long into the night.

The next day, we found out that four scouts had been hit by lightning.

Don’t worry. They were all fine, but only because everyone around them knew a crapload of first aid.

Oh yeah, and remember Station 7, the one we didn’t quite make it to because of that giant lightning storm? The one that we were literally 5 minutes from completing? That’s right–it was Lightning Safety.


Filed under Stories