Along with the swimming pool, the perfunctory summer camp is another rite of passage for most children. On the surface it is a mutually beneficial arrangement. Children suffocated by the confines of the house; parents exasperated by the nagging presences of their children needing to get them out of the house. It is a proverbial win-win situation!
Many kids have a halcyon view of their camp experience. They may run the gamut from cooking s’mores by the campfire and canoe races, to hiking in the woods for their first kiss. Making friendships that may last a lifetime.
As you know, a few variations of summer camp exists, namely day camp and overnight camp. Alas, I never had my Meatballs moment with a Bill Murray-esque camp counselor and revel in the pubescent exploits of the teens in Little Darlings (yes, both movies very 80’s). No, my version of camp was a YMCA-day camp located in the woody outskirts of Houston.
In the summer of 1987, my parents matriculated me into a two-week day camp. Like many parents, they probably thought it would be good for me. A place to expand my horizons (for I was an insulated suburban boy)…a place to get some exercise and sun.
Well, this Pollyanna view of camp was not shared by me. I was skeptical that summer camp would be a good experience. After all, what in my experience so far would make me think it would be any different than any other confluence of pubescent hormonal kids away from the vigilant eyes of their non-approving parents under the auspices of indifferent camp counselors, who likely cared more about “getting action” and scoring drugs than their tween charges. I implored my parents not to put me in the overnight camp and they acquiesced. Thank god for whining!
The actual experiences of camp exceeded my foreboding expectations. I distinctly remember arriving at the camp and seeing boys walking around shirtless, either at the lake, or playing sports. This presaged my future humiliations and reminded me of my tribulations in gym class. I just wanted to get home as soon as possible to indulge in my food and my cartoons. Boy, how much did that 1-hour of GI Joe and The Transformers get me through my tweens! (“Now you know….and knowing is half the battle.” Only those who watched GI Joe cartoons in the 80’s would get that joke.)
The program sectioned off the days into various activities. Now I don’t remember the particulars of all 10 days since this gauntlet of mortification was 30 years ago, so I’ll just reflect on the four memories are seared into my consciousness.
My father was not into too many hobbies. He loved watching and playing soccer. He was not much into fishing, hunting, or even golfing so because of this I was a pretty insular kid. (Even to this day I have never played a round of golf.) As a result, I did not boast a modicum of outdoorsy-talent in my corpulent frame.
If I would have been William Tell, my son would be dead right now (but the apple surely intact). Each morning we would have archery lessons. Shooting a bow-and-arrow was difficult. Now the camp gave out free Nerf-like suction cup bow-and-arrows to the campers and so the sky was replete with plastic arrows obscuring the subtropical sun. By Apollo’s sadistic hand, a large majority of these arrows landed on my arse!
I remember in particular aiming for the target in the bow-and-arrow contests and having these plastic projectiles shot at me to distract me. They spewed, “Hey pig, let’s shoot you and roast you for dinner!” or they would hum the banjo theme from the 70’s Burt Reynold’s movie Deliverance (that one was pretty clever.) That taunting, augmented by my sheer lack of athletic prowess, made the daily archery lesson rather excruciating. These miscreants shattered my dreams of future Olympic glory as a winter bi athlete.
I had never swam in a lake before. Images of amoebas, worms, and parasites coursed through my mind. Even images from the bad 80’s movie, Piranha. My experiences at the lake mirror those of The Swimming Pool. The petrifying fear of having to doff the clothes to expose my floppy skin and boobs blinded me. The lack of entrances into the lake exacerbated my anxiety for only one ingress into the lake through the pier existed. So as we waited our turn get in and out I heard the typical obese slurs. (Don’t remember much “Hey, hey, hey…it’s Fat Albert!” because maybe the kids didn’t know my name.) At the lake, the kids gifted me with a new moniker: “Girl-Boy.” Albeit not too creative, the name stuck. “Look here comes girl-boy!” “Girl-boy is getting sad!” “What type of ‘nads’ do you have, girl-boy?” ad nauseum….I smiled and took it like a good boy.
I had never been sailing or on a boat of any sort before, but the cold placidity of water has always enticed me. The thought of canoeing excited me prior to camp and upon arrival I noticed that everyone wore their shirts. Praise Jesus! Prior to getting on the canoe, you had to put on a life vest. Unfortunately, they did not have one to fit my large girth so I was disallowed from riding. Later they came up with the idea of tying two vests together. Now my short-term delight of this invention was squashed by the taunts I received. “Girl-boy is so fat they need two vests!”
Getting into the canoe was another issue. As a child I had difficulty squatting down or sitting “Indian style.” I could fall onto by bottom, but in order to get into the canoe I had to step into it and then gingerly squat down onto the seat. I didn’t know how to do that so I fell back causing the canoe to jostle and almost overturn. The snickers inevitably followed. Canoeing was an intriguing idea, but the vest, coupled with rigor of getting into the canoe, convinced me to give up. The canoes sighed collectively with relief.
This experience reverberates in my head to this day. I had never ridden a horse, much less touched one. (See a pattern here.) I remember distinctly being in line to ride a pony. When it was my turn, the counselor instructed me to insert my left foot into the stirrup and lift myself on top of the horse. The same boy who couldn’t do one push-up or pull-up in the Fitness Test sure the hell wasn’t going to be able to hoist himself on top of a horse.
As I endeavored to heave myself over, the pony staggered back toward me unable to bear my weight (at this point I was probably around 240 lbs.). The site of seeing a horse stumble due to my weight electrified the kids into Derision 101. “Fat Ass!” “Horse-killer!” echoed in the air. “If the horse fell on him, which would be harder for the crane to pick up?” was uttered. The camp counselor even laughed with the kids (popular kid solidarity bloc). So much for the “authority figure.” So I lumbered off like the Stay Puft marshmallow men from Ghostbusters into the woods to cry. Even to this day, I have only been on a horse one time.
Despite the aforementioned and of course the persistent genital rashes that were exacerbated by wet clothes and sweat, I do count my blessings vis-à-vis camp. I cringed at the thought of what hell overnight camp would have wrought, and I count my lucky stars I had to endure the invectives for only one summer.
Read my weight loss journey here.
A. Gregory Luna, double-certified Health Consultant