Summer Camp Made Me Awesome — The [Fairer Se]X Files
Though I grew up a New York City kid, I owe most my awesome parts to the summers I spent on Lake George, at a YMCA summer camp named Chingachgook. Camp taught me a lot of really important lessons about values and hard work and determination and blah blah blah; it also made me into a maniac. But you know, in a charming way.
I went to camp every summer from the age of 8 until they made me become a staff member when I was 15 -- were it a viable option, I would still be a camper. Sounds weird maybe, since I am a grown up who is allowed to do things like go to bars and go on trips and have sex and stuff, but camp is literally the most fun place in the entire world, and I like to imagine that adult camp would allow sex and booze.
Camp is a world staffed by a group of really funny, smart, adventurous people who are paid money to plan fun things for you to do all day long in paradise, and also make sure you don't die in the process. Do you not wish your life was like that?
Summer camp creates a different kind of person, and those people have a different kind of friendships. Camp friendships do not disintegrate with age, nor do they fizzle with distance; many of my camp friends live across the world, and I still manage to see them more than some of the ones in my city. I have close friends in Africa, Panama, Mali, London, Seattle, Texas, Chicago, upstate New York – Almost anywhere I want to go in the world, I have a couch to stay on.
This isn’t because of some warm and fuzzy mix of magical campfire smoke and s’mores, or the out of control staff parties (and they are, to this day, the best parties I have ever attended). It's because all of my camp friends live the lives of crazy, hilarious people. We develop a sharp sense of humor because it is our job to be fun and we work 24-hours a day, and we live like reckless lunatics because we found out early on that it was fun.
I’m always scared to introduce boyfriends to my camp friends, because if you know camp people, you know what it’s like to hang out with them in large numbers. It turns very quickly into an epic, story-shouting fest, and someone usually gets arrested. At the last camp wedding I attended, the night ended with a bunch of us soaking wet and naked holding stolen pumpkins in a hotel elevator after we got busted for breaking into a pool. Kumbaya.
We learned to be funny because our lives were ridiculous – we were cruise directors -- so we laughed at everything. There is a stuffed coyote that has been traveling around the country for years, being mailed to different camp people. Oh no reason, it’s just funny. One summer while thrifting on a day off, we found an old board game from the early 90s called ‘Disorderly Conduct,’ and we thought the instructions on the back were so funny that we bought it. Ten years later, it is still joke fodder, and I’m still trying to buy a used copy on Ebay. I mean, read this:
At camp you also learn that chaos is not only okay, but sometimes it is the actual goal. No one else tells you this in life, but it is true. A camp schedule may be highly-structured, but it is really just broken up into smaller time-slots of chaos. Try this: Take 250 children, set them up in wilderness paradise living in Ewok villages full of new and old friends in the woods with no parents, no school, and 17-21 year old cool kids as their guardians/cruise directors. Now try to get them to calm down. Now stop trying, because calming down is boring. That’s what camp is like – it teaches you to give in.
The constant, utopian-level of joy at camp creates too much energy for there to be anything but chaos, and so counselors just learn to sculpt it, instead. We make it into a joke, putting things like “Read-A-Book-Night” on the schedule we give campers, just to taunt them. Then they show up to read books and we put them in costumes and throw all 250 of them into the lake to hunt for soda cans on the bottom.
So why does no one die? Because camp becomes something sacred. Because traditions become indoctrination into a world that reveals that there are less rules than everyone else has told you there are. Campers respect camp, so they protect it. Camp makes kids respect their environment, themselves, and each other, while screaming at the top of their lungs covered in paint.
Of course there are accidents, like the time a friend in a Batman costume jumped off a footbridge to escape a camper during a game of all-camp tag and fell directly onto a rock. His bloody compound fracture left quite an impression on the younger campers, who needed to be reassured that Batman hadn’t died, but we handled it. Lesson? Confidence. At the end of the summer kids leave wild-eyed, with a taste for freedom, and faith that everything will be more than okay -- most times it will be awesome.
I don’t go back to camp anymore -- campers who were seven years old during my CIT year are now directors; I am officially kind of old. Camp people are a part of my life every day though, and always will be. Every time I see them, they look younger and happier than everyone else in our age bracket. For a while I chalked it up to good genes, or circumstance. Lately though, I’ve realized it’s more than that: Camp people know how to live, and we learned it together.
As I round the bend to 30, more and more of my friends are getting married, having kids, making lives for themselves. My camp friends for the most part remain adventurers – We move every year, we sell our cars and buy plane tickets and take risks and always land on our feet. We’re in no rush because we know that every day is structured chaos, and the opportunities are limitless.
Jackie Mancini is the associate editor of GuySpeed and an unabashed lover of large breasts, porno, foul mouths and loud music. Her childhood diagnosis of Oppositional Defiant Disorder is most likely responsible for her current position as the only female employee of a men’s website. Her column ‘The [Fairer Se]X Files’ appears every Wednesday. You can read more of her work here, and you can also follow her on Twitter.