I’m the only person I know that didn’t like sleep-away camp. My parents started shipping me off to a camp near Portland, Main when I was seven years old. All the kids in my neighborhood went to camp. Why should I be any different?
I don’t know the answer—only that I was different. I thought camp was eight weeks of purgatory. It was like being in the army. Who pays big bucks for your kid to be in the army all summer long? Lots of parents, that’s who. I don’t know if my parents wanted to get rid of me, or whether they thought it would be good for me. I don’t know to this day. And I can’t ask my parents, because they’re gone. I certainly made it known that I didn’t want to go to sleep-away camp.
A typical day started with a recorded version of reville at 7:00 AM. I dragged myself out of bed, put on my camp uniform shorts and shirt, and marched myself off to the mess hall with seven other brats and our counselor. I use the term “counselor” loosely. A typical camp counselor had no qualifications to oversee children except the absence of a criminal record.
At breakfast, I competed with seven other hungry mouths to cram down a decent breakfast. If I wanted seconds, there were no seconds. I had one shot, and I had to make it count. I learned early at camp how to eat fast. I still eat too fast today.
Next, my bratty bunk mates and I were herded back to our bunkhouse to make our beds and sweep the wooden floors. No bunkhouse I ever lived in had even floors. I had to be careful not to break an ankle just walking around. And the dust. I have no idea how so much dust accumulated overnight. We would have been buried in it if we hadn’t swept up every day.
Having cleaned up the hovel we lived in, we embarked upon our pre-planned day of sports and activities, broken up only by lunch at the mess hall and a short nap afterwards. Then it was back to our pre-planned day.
Are you getting an inkling of why I hated this? On top of the regimented routine, I missed my parents and my friends at home terribly.
By the time I was nine or ten years old, I was given the luxury of two “free-play” days during the week. I always chose to go to the rifle range to shoot at targets or go to the golf cage to hit balls with every club in my bag. Then I went to the putting green to practice putting.
I was a loner, even back then. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I hated camp. But it was much more than that. I felt that my fundamental freedoms had been stripped from me. I think deep down I always wanted to be free to shape my own life.
When I was thirteen, I could legally go to work. I chose to go to work during the summer rather than go to summer camp. I’m sure my camp-loving friends thought I was crazy. I didn’t care. I was me and they were them. We’ve grown farther apart through the years, but that’s another story.
I worked at my father’s company, a wholesale wallpaper distributor (Zins Wallpaper) located in Newark, New Jersey. I picked rolls of wallpaper from a maze of bins in the shipping department to fill orders from paint and wallpaper stores.
From time to time, I’d get lost in the bins and have a smoke. On the official morning break, I’d order a corn muffin and a vanilla malt. I didn’t have to worry about calories back then. I had a metabolism like a nuclear reactor. I also enjoyed the early ride into work with my father every morning. And I rode home with the aged gentleman my father had bought the business from. His name was Sam Zins. He was a very kind man.
Don’t get me wrong. Aside from these pleasant memories, picking wallpaper orders in the basement of Zins Wallpaper was no picnic. But it sure as hell beat the crap out of summer camp.
What was your summer camp experience? Did you go to camp or do something else during the summer? Tell me. I’d like to know.