Summer is a time when a student's (i.e., my) thoughts turn lightly to gainful employment. A job in the lucrative and fast-paced world of the quick-serve restaurant industry, for example. Or as a lifeguard. Or, alternately, in a career-enhancing, job-skills-building unpaid internship. Of course, this summer the pattern was broken and I am, of course, unemployed. These days, instead of contributing my share to the good of society, I divide my summer waking hours between the gym and sitting on my couch watching "A Makeover Story" and thinking hateful thoughts about my eyebrows. But there was a time-a time before internships, before retail sales, before baby-sitting even-when summer meant only one thing: summer camps.
Now, I'm not talking about the sleep-away mosquito-fests where you learn to pitch a tent, use an outhouse, etc. No, as any suburban kid knows, I am talking about the one-to-two week day camps, usually held at the local high school and/or community college. These camps are usually designed to impart some sort of skills-karate camp, band camp, macramé camps, what have you-but you can ask anyone who went. The real value of summer day camps was being able to bond over war stories like the following...
Drama camp was probably my favorite. It was a two-week program run by the Scarborough Park District where anklebiters aged 6 to 13, under the supervision of some seriously stoned drama students, would work on all aspects of play production: acting, singing, dancing, and merciless backstage pre-pubescent sexual politics. This was the late 1980s, when "Gaylord" was a popular insult, so we spent many hours figuring out royal hierarchies of "gay" as in, "You're a gaylord!" "Yeah, well, you're the prince of gay!" "Yeah, well, you're the royal ombudsmen of gay, reporting directly to the duke of gay's special gay cultural attaché!"
But honing awkward inter-personal skills wasn't all we did. We also helped paint sets, did acting drills ("Okay, everyone pretend you're mad. Great! Okay, now, everyone pretend you're happy. Great!"), rehearsed our musical numbers and dance routines (the highlight was an all-cast rendition of "The Dinosaur"), made tie-dye t-shirts, had crushes on the art instructor, and ate sandwiches in the yard after playing capture the flag (For some reason, my drama camp had an "activity" portion. In retrospect, I think it was to tire us out so we wouldn't protest when we had to practice singing, "Don't Know Much About History" for the thirtieth time). At the end of camp, we unveiled the fruits of our labors in an evening showing of our play, a hilariously bad rewrite of "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure." I think it may have actually been called "Will and Fred's Super-Excellent Adventure," if that says anything about the scriptwriters.
In this play I portrayed Princess Diana, which meant I got to wear a satin blouse and patent-leather shoes and speak in my best British accent. In my scene Will and Fred had traveled to the hospital room where Fergie, Duchess of York, was giving birth to her youngest child, and the royal family was assembled to witness the blessed event. (This was a Canadian drama camp. Even nine-year-olds in Canada are aware of the British Commonwealth thing.) My only line was to chastise the kid playing Prince Charles for leaving the scene, and it was, "But Chaaaaaaarles. You're going to miss the biiiiiiiiirth of your niece!" Priceless.
Regular Day Care Summer Camp
This was the Sunshine day camp, where my sisters and I were consigned when there were no other good camps to go to. We went on a lot of field trips, went to the local pool, and did special activities like hold a sock hop. I learned that packing your own lunch was far better than the Hot Lunch they offered, that I could do five forward somersaults and three backwards in a row before water went up my nose, and that doing the bunny hop is a lot harder than you might think. I also learned that Head Counselor Keri had been part of the "gang" that had broken all the Plexiglas windows of the local bus shelter with sledgehammers. "It was an act of protest against the bus company," Keri solemnly explained to us. Even at nine I thought was a pretty stupid protest, since how would you know what they were protesting? It wasn't like they had left any signs saying, "This is what Marxist youth think of your rate increase!" or "All power to the people!" or anything. I didn't share those thoughts with Keri, however, in case she decided to protest my head.
I think my parents enrolled me in a girls-only science camp in the hopes that I would become empowered and take up nuclear physics and show up all the boys in my class. Sadly, I wasn't inclined that way, and don't remember much science we learned there, although I do remember we learned how to make chicken legs wave jauntily to the room while still attached to the chicken. We also took long walks observing nature in the form of the schoolyard and surrounding neighborhood, and demonstrated the principal of gravity by attaching Ziploc bag parachutes to little army men figurines and hurling them off the top of the staircase.
The only other major scientific fact I learned at camp was courtesy of Counselor Maria, who, through a touching story involving her boyfriend's brand-new Jeep and an unauthorized shopping trip, impressed on us the importance of never using diesel fuel in a regular-unleaded engine or your car would blow up. Now, I don't think this particular lesson was on the class syllabus, but nonetheless, it is an important scientific principle that has stuck with me through the years.
I think the last camp I ever attended was in junior high, when I was coerced into attending computer camp in a neighboring suburb. Computer camp can't really be called a camp I loved. It was more like a camp I loathed. Part of the problem was that I wasn't so much into "writing programs" as I was into "playing Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?" I retained absolutely nothing from this camp except a thinly-disguised hostility towards computers and an enduring love of Carmen Sandiego.
Computer camp marked the end of an era. The next summer I started work as a ticket seller at the local living history museum (that is a story in and of itself) and the carefree days when I didn't have to earn my keep passed into the haze of yesteryear. But I still have my memories, and as I believe the Cole Porter song says, "You can't take that away from me; Not without some serious shock therapy."