Fiction · 04/03/2013

Fun Camp

The Last Night of Camp

is the Midnight Hike, which begins promptly at 8:30 on the mess hall steps and ends on a nearby mountaintop. We’ll corral our best songs, the stars and moon, and my most affected — public — speaking voice, all for the good of the Powerful Communal Experience. Some years ago, kids got it in their heads to make the evening a date night as well, just because of all the darkness and blankets and huddling together for warmth, and for how hard it is for the staff to round up campers who feel like sneaking off to do stuff in the mountain’s many cozy alcoves. You don’t need to get a date — the week isn’t about that — but I’d be remiss not to mention it, since, historically, all the kids who’ve got it going on tend to find dates. If you want to cut your losses early though and “just have fun with your friends this year,” that’s permissible, but don’t be surprised when your hot companion drops your understanding butt the minute some Tad Gunnick type likes her jeans.   

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Armistice

What if there was just one hour of free time in the exact middle of the week when you gave us our phones back? We pop on, read our texts, take some pictures, watch a couple videos, check the weather, and see what’s up with the rest of the world. I can’t tell you how many times, today alone, I’ve felt the sweet new text buzz on my thigh and reached for my pocket, only to remember where I am, and that my every camp conversation is one of those out-loud person-to-person type deals, unrecorded and liable to be forgotten forever. That when a joke is made, there’s an expectation that I literally laugh my ass off — hard to fake, and harder still to watch as others pull off convincingly. The world’s marching on without us, Holly. Human Interest article-writers have proved Fear of Missing Out to be a real diagnosable pandemic: a big collective struggle in the long run but easily satisfied in the short.

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Oh. That?

It’s a smell you’ll learn to expect. In fact, a seasoned camper can gage what day of the week it is based on how badly her eyes tear up when she’s passing Boys Cabin 4. These lads, just on the cusp of caring that they reek, will for now resist any calls to sanitation in the hope that hygiene is just another inane adult imposition like sugar limits and seatbelts. Mind you, these are the same boys who by next year will have overdone it in the opposite direction: unnecessary daily shaving and aftershaving, showering before and after anything, sniffing at each other’s deodorants in quest of the one that really gets it done, dousing cologne, checking their pits when they think no one’s looking, and balking at any activity that threatens their crisp pointy hair. A phase no less annoying than the one they’re in now, but far easier to ignore. Since it’s Wednesday, the boys still feel like their stink is some great secret they’re getting away with, but give them a couple of days. They’ll grim up and bathe once their mold colds kick in.

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Withdrawal

If you let your TV screen get dusty then make a handprint on it, every sitcom bears your mark. The more decals on the frame, the less likely it is that there’s another out there like yours. On our old remote, you could peel off the buttons to reveal uglier buttons, then put the outer buttons back on upside down or out of order, turn the remote into a rune. Dad hated it: He didn’t have the same memory for location I did, wasn’t thrilled by the challenge of the puzzle. If he wanted Channel 8, he pressed the 8 button. I get some grief around here for missing the shows I’m missing — it keeps me from surrendering myself to the fun, I’m told — but the TV is the most fun person I know. Every TV personality who gets ripped on is famous and not me and asking for it. Camp jokes are too literal, too physical, too sticky for my taste. Like anything that doesn’t send you to the showers isn’t worth laughing at. And I know what you’re about to say, so don’t bother. All anybody here tells me is that soon I won’t even miss the ole boob tube, the shocks box, the mean screen. As if that’s not the ultimate tragedy.
                       

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Not Here to Fake Friends

This place is in serious need of some sheep-goat separation. Is it too late in the week to switch from the Put Up with Goobers model to the Reality Elimination model? Picture it: Each night at campfire, every camper writes the name of the cabinmate he hates most. (In a tiebreaker, the counselor votes too.) The kid from each cabin with the most votes is then dramatically handed a cell phone, and must, in front of everyone, call his mom to have her come pick him up. Only after he confirms that his mom is on the way does the aborted camper get the chance to make a brief speech. Some will plead their fellow campers rethink the decision, others will lash out, others still may try to hurl their rejected bodies on the pyre. Whatever the case, we survivors are then free to tolerate and empathize and even love the newly- dismissed peer in the light of their numbered-and- counting minutes with us, safe in the knowledge we’re the victors we’d always assumed we were, for once sure we’re surrounded by those who truly care for us and always will.

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Gabe Durham is the author of FUN CAMP, forthcoming from Publishing Genius. Other writings have appeared in Mid-American Review, DIAGRAM, The Rumpus, and Quarterly West. He lives in Los Angeles. Blog: gatherroundchildren.com / Twitter: @gabedurham