The most memorable element of my summer camp experience, something that I will carry with me until my dying day, is: the double-seated outhouse.
I don’t mean that it was vertically stacked, thank goodness. It was simply an outhouse with two seats, side by side, with no privacy barrier. To me, there was nothing more horrifying than a bathroom situation where at any moment somebody could just walk on in and sit down right next to you! (Also, there were spiders.)
This was Webelos camp, which is as far as you can get in the Cub Scouts before you move on to Boy Scouts. One of the very first things we did was the swimming test, where they would determine if you were a Swimmer or a Non-Swimmer. A Swimmer could do any of the water activities they wanted, while a Non-Swimmer was severely restricted. I could swim, so this was no big deal. We walked out onto the pier, jumped into the lake, and ARGH COLD COLD COLD. All you had to do to pass was swim the length of the pier and then tread water for about a minute, but it was like trying to swim after being struck by a semi, so I officially became a Non-Swimmer, which sucked. No canoeing for me.
But, oh, our madcap antics, like the time we snuck over to the girls’ camp across the lake and…no, wait, there was no nearby girls’ camp. Everybody was pretty well behaved. The worst trouble we got into was on the very first night, when my group had the first shift to clean the dining area, but we all forgot, and the head guy at the camp threw a big-time temper tantrum. I thought his skull was going to split open. I assume that, even now, he occasionally thinks, “Y’know, I shouldn’t have overreacted like that. It was kind of embarrassing for me. Oh well–at least none of those kids will ever do a guest blog and call me out.”
My favorite part was the evenings by the campfire. We did lowbrow songs and lowbrow skits, which were followed by different cheers. I won’t describe all of these cheers, since I already started this blog with an outhouse description, but one of my favorites was the Watermelon Cheer. The Watermelon Cheer involved a bunch of Cub Scouts pretending to eat a watermelon in the sloppiest, slurpiest, loudest way possible, and then spitting out a big mouthful of seeds. Everybody loved the Watermelon Cheer. After camp, we had a regular Cub Scouts meeting, and after some kids did some sort of presentation we all did the Watermelon Cheer with great enthusiasm, and an angry parent wrote a letter to the newsletter about how shameful it was to disrespect those kids after they’d worked so far. The Watermelon Cheer can be a cruel, cruel thing.
My novel I Have A Bad Feeling About This does contain a scary outhouse (though not a two-seater) but not much in the book comes from my own experience. I can relate to the main character Henry in that I could never build a decent shelter, and if there was a mock Hunger Games-style competition I would be the first one out, and if left to my own survival skills out in the woods I would be dead in half an hour, but aside from that, it’s all made up.