Finally, after all that hassle, I was in the bus. The cabin was complete and utter pandemonium. Excited kids bounced off the seats, chatting incessantly about the adventure ahead. I was too exhausted to join in the revelry at the moment. They didn't know what I had to go through to get on that bus. So as we rolled off nosily out of the school parking lot, I sat and recalled the events that lead up to this defining moment in my life.
*Flashback 1 month prior to leaving for Outdoor Ed*
"Alright class, as I'm sure you already know, our trip to Walker Creek is next month. I need your permission slips SIGNED and turned in by next week!"
Next week?! That's all I could think of as I grabbed my backpack and headed off. I spent nearly all year telling my parents about Outdoor Ed. Outdoor Ed was a week long trip to camp, taken by all 5th graders. Myself, along with the rest of my friends, had been waiting for this moment since 1st grade. I mean 5 whole days away from home! Monday, Tuesday,Wednesday,Thursday,Friday. This was just so monumental for me. Up to this point in my life, I never spent a whole 24 hours away from home. Sure there was the occasional sleep over. But this was different. Independence, adventure, all for the taking. And the only thing separating me from all this was a signature. My mom's signature...
Any resemblance between my mom and Marie from Everybody loves Raymond is purely coincidental.
Well that was easier said than done. My mom was super paranoid and a little over protective during my early years. She made Ralphie's mom from A Christmas Story look reasonable. I had been telling both my parents about the trip for months now. My dad didn't mind, but my mom was the one who needed convincing. I did everything in my power to coax that signature. I contacted the school and got a promotional VHS explaining the week long foray. I explained to her that the camp itself was only 40 miles away, not that far. Initially she was unmoved by my plights. I started getting desperate, trying to persuade her by the volume of my voice, rather than the logic in my words. And now with the deadline in just a week...I needed that signature, by any means possible.
It ain't pretty, but it gets the job done.
Yep, I whined like a spoiled brat trying to get a Hotwheel while in line at the super market. I used classic lines such as:
-Awww, you never let me do anything!
-Life's not fair, I hate myself!
-Why can't I? Do you want me to end up like Uncle Fred?
Well, this had been more or less my tactic. Although I was talking about it non stop, I was also on my best behavior. I did chores, helped out with dinner, and did my homework, all voluntarily. I left no room for error. I mean, this was a once in a life time thing. People wait their entire lives for moments like these. Girls have prom, geeks have Comicon, and I had Outdoor Ed. My elementary school experience was soiled with things like this. From not being able to go to the Build-a-Bear factory because it was raining, to having to always ride with the teacher on field trips while my friends rode together. But not this time, no sir. I kept up the fine fight. Till one night as I was about to deliberately blast Will Smith's Parents just don't understand for the umpteenth time, when I saw my mom crying on the couch...
I walked over to see what was wrong. She had a box of tissues and the TV turned down low. When I asked what was wrong, she turned to me and said those magical words I had been dreaming about hearing for the last 6 months.
Your father and I have decided to let you go to camp...
Well, you'd think I must have been ecstatic right? WRONG.
What was this? Some type of reverse psychology Jedi mind trick? Were they playing out some covert plan they read in a Lipschitz book?! I had no idea.
Jor vanting to go to Outdor Ed is really a cry for more parental guidance, yah.
As it turned out, she was telling the truth. Whelp. I had finally gotten my way, and I didn't know how to handle the sudden realization. I was going. We talked it over as she laid the conditions; I was to be on my best behavior.(Define best) And I was to write a letter to her when I got there. I was thinking, it's only 5 days...by the time you get the letter in the mail, I'll already be back! But this was no time to argue over trivial matters. I agreed to all the terms she could lay out. I watched intently as she signed the permission slip, then slipped that bad boy straight into my back pack. I couldn't wait to turn it in!
I didn't sleep at all that night. Thoughts of the fun to come kept barging into my head like a pesky relative. Finally the alarm clock buzzed and I got up for the first time without having to get prodded out of bed. I got dressed, ate and was out the door in record time. As soon as I got to school, I headed for class to turn in my signed permission slip.
Well, I decided to turn in my permission slip at the end of class. My teacher's desk was a mountain of papers, files and binders. I sat and waited anxiously for school to end, and to my utter amazement, it did. I walked up to her, Mrs. Stone. With all the confidence of a poker player with a royal flush, I walked up with my signed slip in hand.
-Hi, Mrs. Stone, I just wanted to turn in my Outdoor Ed permission slip.
-Alright, I'll put it in the folder, what about the check?
-The check for 200 dollars to cover expenses, you know that!
Watch that short clip. It's from an episode of The Twilight Zone; Time Enough at Last. And it's the closest thing in any medium that man has got to capturing my complete and absolute despair. Two. Hundred. Dollars. How on earth could I raise that kind of money? My folks weren't exactly the Rockafellers. Couple that with my mom's reluctance in letting me go, I was to put it delicately, Up a river without a paddle. As any C- student would do, I thought of some ways to round up 200 greenbacks. I could go to the library and take out some books on pirates and go searching for sunken treasure. I could rob my little brother, or I could sell my Nintendo 64.
I skipped the bus and decided to walk home that day, to give myself a little more time to think. As I was about to take off I went over to this kid I knew named Pablo. He sold See's candy bars for the school. And I gotta say, he sold A LOT of See's candy bars, heck every kid in the 5th grade went to him for their sugary needs. After I hawked up a dollar to get a milk chocolate with toffee nugget bar off him, I asked him why he sold them. He said it was to help him with paying the 200 dollars for the trip. Oh, I said and walked off-then immediately ran back to him; SAY WHAT?! Where can I get a box??
So here was my saving grace. Candy. Forrest was right, Life is like a box of chocolates; If you're not paying attention it will leave you fat, miserable and at risk of heart disease. But this was it, my ticket out. The box held 48 candy bars. So if I could sell 2 boxes, and use my saved up money, I'd just barely make it. No way was I even gonna ask my parents for dough. But you can sure believe I was gonna ask them to by some candy!
Don't get high off your own supply.
Truer words were never spoken. I ended up dipping in that box on several occasions. I sold my folks and all my relatives bars pretty quickly. I actually sold that box off in the first week. This was great, at this rate I wouldn't need to touch my savings! But with only 2 weeks to go before the trip, I needed to hustle. So I got another box right after and went about nagging my immediate family to buy, buy, buy. But they weren't having it. This was a serious road block in my time schedule. I NEEDED to move those bars. Then my dad made me do something that I'll never forget.He made me sell them to strangers!
This definitely questioned my resolve. I can't blame my dad for making me do this either. I nagged about the trip all year. He drove me down to the local strip mall and made me stand on the corner and sell candy. I was reluctant at first, standing there like a statue as people walked by. Then I warmed up, my sales pitch was horrible. As I sat there I was mad at myself. As much as I wanted to go, I just couldn't seem to muster up the cajones to sell candy! I was depressed after that debacle, only sold like 3 bars. When I got home I put the box in my closet and practically wrote off Outdoor Ed in my mind. I think my parents noticed the defeat in me, like a race horse with broken legs. But then, at the last minute my dad bought the entire box of candy. I took the money, along with my own savings and had my folks write me a check to give to the teacher.
It was all settled then, I packed up the night before. My folks drove me to class that morning in the longest car ride of my life. They said goodbye, and drove off. This was it!
Hey! Where's the creme filling?
The bus ride there was pretty uneventful. The driver was about 2 hours late to my school, which only added to the pent up excitement of the whole fifth grade. We had to pull over a few times for the more queasy kids. I watched poor Joey Anders up chuck about half a pack of Fruit by the Foot and Capri Sun. I spent my time playing Golf on my Gameboy and reading Game Informer.(The N64 is gonna be 3D?! No way!)My buddies were super stoked. Our teacher was incredibly nice in letting us bunk together at OutDoor Ed. Usually it was random, but we PLEADED to be in the same group, which as you'll soon find out, wasn't the best idea.
Now, for a kid, anything over 15 minutes in a car is eternity. The ride seemed like we were traveling to the ends of the earth. I watched silently as we passed the last recognizable landmarks and hit the lonely stretch of 2 lane highway. I recently ran a Google Maps of the Camp to my house. 1 hour. I find that astonishing. Based on my memory of that trip, I would clock it at 3 hours. But we finally did arrive. The bus fell silent as the teacher hollered from the front "There it is everybody! Outdoor Ed!"
Not actual size
Thar she blows! The place seemed WAY BIGGER back then. But there is more to it than seen here. There was a ton more cabins located elsewhere.
The bus pulled up to the big building. We could hear the cheering and fun going on inside and were really excited. After unloading all our baggage. We took a roll call. Then, in a single file line, we entered the main auditorium...
When we entered, all that gleeful noise suddenly stopped. We were a few hours late to the orientation, and I could feel the beady eyes of 200 kids looking at us. Along with the rest of our 5th grade class, me and my friends put on a macho front, acted dis-concerned and sat down. Then as if it never happened, the orientation resumed. It was AMAZING!! They gave us a brief on what we missed, not much thankfully. Then they introduced the camp counselors. We sang songs, and I still remember my favorite; Skat makes the world go round! A song about manure. (YouTube it http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WPCy_Pf3N1A) They had a animal expert too. I remember he showed us this great big hawk, and told the audience to please refrain from taking pictures. The reasoning was that a hawk's eyes were a lot more developed than ours, and the flash would startle it. SURE ENOUGH. As soon as he brought the hawk out, a dozen strobes went off. Mine was one, my mom bought me one of those cheap disposable cameras before I left.
After all the introductions were made, and all the songs sung, the crowd fell silent. The Dean of The Walker Creek/Outdoor Ed program took the stage, and delivered the final manifesto...
OK, I may have added a few embellishments. The old memory box ain't what is used to be. But basically he wished us a great time and outlined the itinerary for the rest of the week. And with all that said and done, came the fun part. One of the counselors got me and my friends and led us to our cabin.
Cue Deliverance theme...
We lucked out BIG TIME. Me and my friends landed up in the only 2 room cabin. But that was beans compared to the other perk of having the best cabin on the ranch.This one had a bathroom.I know. The rest of the cabins were just big rooms with bunks. And if nature called, you had to walk about 5 minutes to the locker room/shower area and use the bathroom there. I was a pretty sheltered kid, so this definitely made me more comfortable being from home. But as the saying goes, Every rose has it's thorns. And the Catch 22 of this scenario was the bathroom in our cabin had no lock, oh boy. I kid you not, I held in a dump for 2 DAYS, fearing that the pranksters in my cabin would open the door on me while dropping a load and snap some Polaroids. I finally gave in, and waited till lights out one night, I then stood in a quasi squat over the bowl, with one leg supporting me and the other against the door. But I digress. While I was admiring the latrine, the counselor brought in the rest of the kids who would be bunking with us. There were 4 other schools, and each bunk would have 3 kids from each school. After the counselor left us, we all stood there. 12 kids.
I don't think the leader of The Sharks is Puerto Rican, more like a really, really tan white guy. Ya know, like all the "Indians" in 50's westerns.
Needless to say, you could cut the tension with a tennis racket. In each of the 4 corners of the cabin, stood each of the 3 groups of kids. Me and my friends went to the poorest school, so naturally we looked the toughest. I was with my buddy John and Noah. We all just sat there standing for a few minutes, sizing up the others. I sat there and wondered if all the other cabins were experiencing the same awkward moment. Finally, one of the kids, a chubby Asian boy, dropped his bag and took out his yo yo. We all just sat there and watched the yo yo dumbly. Up and down, up and down, up and down. It got so unbearable that one of the other kids mustered up and said "hi". In seconds, all 12 of us were in a rowdy greeting frenzy, the mood went from red alert to club med in no time. One of the great things about being a kid. Once all the "Wazzzz Up?!" and "YOOO!!" comments subsided, we heard 2 kids talking about wrestling, and somewhere between Ultimate Warrior and Summerslam, we started play wrestling. And that led up to (Thank goodness) the one and only heated moment of the trip.
I guess you could say Robin was the Wendy Peffercorn to my Squints.
She was the loveliest thing my young eyes ever saw. She was a senior in high school and volunteered for the job. She had long golden blond hair and huge blue eyes. Her skin was like burnished copper. I was and still am, completely flabbergasted as to how they let a girl bunk with 12 boys for 5 days. But I wasn't complaining! She was really friendly and perky, a cheerleader no doubt. I remember in the mornings she would come back from her shower, and we would all pretend to be sleeping as she dried her hair, fun times. Well it was official, all the introductions were done, and it was time to have fun!
Submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society, I call this story...
The Barnyard Boogie unlike the Night Walk, came right out of left field. A FORCED dance with girls?! THE HORROR! How come we never heard about this before? Was it so traumatic that the 5th graders of yesteryear completely eradicated it from their memory on the bus ride back? One way to find out...
What unspeakable evils lie ahead?
It was Thursday night. We were leaving in the morning. This was it, The Last Hurrah. I'll admit, spending my last night at Outdoor Ed in a barn square dancing WAS NOT a very cool way to cap off such an amazing week. There was though that deeply lodged curiosity. I never danced before, let a lone with someone of the female persuasion. I dawned my lucky Chicago Bulls Jordan jersey and set out with my friends and Robin to the barn.
As usual, we were the last to get there. The place was packed! They somehow managed to fit every kid in camp inside that barn. The dance hadn't started yet so I was off in search of my friends from the other cabins. We all finally managed to meet up, but as soon as we did, a blaring screech came from the speakers and the DJ yelled in an overly dramatic voice "Are you ready to Barn Yard Boogie?!"
Yeah, this architecturally, agriculturally inspired dance was in need of some serious cardiopulmonary resuscitation. But those fiends that ran the camp had this in mind. They arranged us all in rows and lines, had us solo practice a short and sweet square dance routine. Then after that, they had the boys make up a circle, and the girls a large outer circle around the boys. And the circle's would move in opposite directions so we would have a new dancing partner at each new song. Then it started...
At first I was a mess. I kept botching my moves and stepping on my partners feet. I think it was more nerves than anything though. I looked at my friends sympathetically, they made me look like Michael Flatley. But after a few rounds I started getting the hang of it. We took a 5 minute breather and then started up again. By this time though, all my inhibitions were gone. I was starting to enjoy myself.
With my new found dancing feet I Dosey Doe'd with the best of them. Now I haven't danced in years. But there is something almost magical when you get in the groove. The music, the motion, cradling the girl in your arms. It can be addicting! Even Robin was in the lineup! And you know I was in heaven while we heel-toed the night away. The dance did end though, and you could see all the kids wanted it to go on. The nervous apprehension completely dissipated by the last song. Back in the cabin all of my friends went straight to sleep, before lights out too. I knew why. They didn't want to disturb the euphoric feeling of the dance. Girls didn't have cooties, they were amazing. It was like a light turned on in all of our brains that night. We knew then why our academic ancestors never spoke of this, they knew the younger ones just wouldn't get it.
Well, what turned out as a fantastic night inevitably turned into a melancholy morning. We all packed up our things silently. It was all over. The scheming to get permission, the harrowing ordeal of raising money, all distant memories that led up to a wonderful time. We all said our goodbyes to the new friends we made and to our counselors. I saw lovely Robin's beautiful eyes tear up as she hugged us all goodbye. We got in the bus and made that long voyage back home. With each mile trading in wilderness for concrete, memories with reality. I remember thumbing through the Game Informer magazine I looked at on the way there. It was funny because I was doing the same thing there, but now the mind set was completely different going back. I wasn't even really reading it, I just needed something to do, if you know what I mean.
The bus pulled up to my school. There was a sea of parents waiting in the parking lot. I felt like we were troops coming back from WWII Germany. When the kids filed out the bus and the parents ran up to greet them it was like a clash of emotion. Parents with happiness seeing their offspring, kids with sadness, being back home.
I saw my mom and dad waiting for me. I walked up and hugged them, then got in the car. Mom asked me, "How was your trip?" I thought about that question, replied, "It was good." Then I stared lazily out the window as we pulled out the school driveway...
This article is dedicated to my good friends Shay and Megan.