Wednesday, May 16, 2007

There's a duty to be done and I say "aye."

Subspace's recent post about Girl Scouts survival camp got me thinking about my experiences with that venerable organization. I have almost no good memories of being in Girl Scouts, you see, and yet I did it for nearly 8 years: weekly meetings, service projects, summer camps, the whole shebang. In one way it was an opportunity to learn things with my friends; in another, more accurate way, it was exactly the kind of popularity contest every kids' group endeavor turns out to be. Also, as a Girl Scout, I was kind of a sham. I used to go through the badge book to figure out whether I'd done any of the required badge activities and then just list the badges I'd "earned." I wanted a whole sash full of them. Which reminds me, I need to ask my mom if my Girl Scout sash is in the attic somewhere.

When I was 8, I went to overnight camp for the first time. The local Girl Scout camp had a bunch of special programs that you could enroll in, and I chose Waterfront Activities. Every girl in my "unit," a group of cabins, was in this same special program, and though we dined in the main lodge with everyone else, we had our own doings all week. We were forced, for example, to belong to something horrible called "Polar Bears Club." The Polar Bears Club involved wearing a little pin, singing a little song about "polar bears never die, they just swim and play" (what the...), and best of all, going down to jump into the freezing lake at dawn's hairy crack.

It was cold that whole week, but this didn't stop us from canoeing, swimming, or attempting to windsurf (my favorite: there was really no wind, so you'd wrestle a flaccid sail into position and then inevitably fall over after drifting for a few feet). We had swimming buddies and had to get together with them quickly and count off when the lifeguard shrieked "Buddy Check!" Unlike most of the girls, I hadn't signed up for camp with a friend, so I don't remember who my buddy was. I may have latched on to the two other girls in my cabin, who were already 9 years old and therefore way ahead of me. One of them already had pubic hair, about which the other girl remarked, giggling, "when I saw that I thought you had a smushed vagina."

There are two things I remember plainly about this camp experience. One is that I got into trouble. Tubby and drippy in my swimsuit and orange lifejacket, I was walking through the boathouse to hang up my canoe paddle, and I complained to my swimming buddy: "Tina is such a faggot." Tina was older, and mean. I had no idea what I was talking about, but in my neighborhood "faggot" was about the worst thing you could call someone. No one was ever clear on what it meant. N.B. that I also got into trouble for calling my little brother a faggot, probably that same summer. That would have made him 4 years old.

Puddles, the waterfront director (the counselors--and we--all had stupid pseudonyms), overheard me and demanded to know what unit I was in. I don't remember whether there was fallout, though, because most of the week was overshadowed by the terror of the night intruders. Thaaaaat's right. At some point early in the week, some drunk dudes busted into the camp and harrassed some counselors in their tent. This led to an all-camp meeting at which we were informed that if anyone should break in to the camp, we'd hear an alarm and all be required to gather in a single place in our unit until we got the all-clear. I don't remember anyone trying to reassure us about anything, or even what the actual break-in scenario was. I just know that I was in the woods with my wild imagination and my stranger-danger education.

Let me remind you also that I was 8 years old, sharing a cabin with 9 year olds and no immediate supervisor. After lights out that night, we lay in our sleeping bags completely terrified. And naturally the alarm went off and I still remember exactly how it sounded with its A-WAHHHHNK A-WAHHHHHNK A-WAHHHHNK, and how the smushed-vag girl wailed "someone's HEEEEEERE." The counselors hustled us into faggy Tina's cabin, where we huddled on one bed. It turned out to be a fisherman who got a little too close to our dock, or something, but the damage was done. Dear overnight camps for children: please find a way to inform kids about safety without terrifying them. Thanks.

I did go back to camp in subsequent years. I did an arts camp where I made a plaster cast of my face and a foam-rubber puppet. One of the girls in my tent had brought tap shoes. There were also short overnights and mini-camping trips that weren't so bad: my dad was a chaperone on one and he took us walking through the swamp and we dug up tubers that he fried and fed to us (they were delicious). Probably that was illegal, but it was actually useful. By sixth grade every girl in my troop was at least a decent singer and we'd get up and perform in three- and four-part harmony around campfires, which was fun. I saw The Jets at some sort of Girl Scout anniversary celebration. I also gave one girl's tail a significant trim during crafts: she had a very short bob with a very long tail in 1986 and she was infuriating, poor thing. And I got a totally legitimate automotive badge for helping to change oil and a flat tire but really, what good could any of that possibly do a 12 year old?

And that cookie sales thing is a total racket, by the way. You'd have visions of selling millions of boxes and getting mad props, but the girls who always did the best just sent order forms to work with their parents. At least you didn't have to carry the boxes of cookies around in order to sell them, the way you did with candy fundraisers. My total failure as a World's Best Chocolate bar salesgirl is a whole other story from junior high. It involves me eating a lot of the inventory.


  1. You painted a great picture of eight-year-old experiences.

    I was just thinking about joining an Ultimate Frisbee team and thought, "what if I'm not cool enough and play badly and the other girls make fun of me!?" Ha ha, sixth grade all over again.

    I'm very curious about those swamp tubers. Were they reed roots?

  2. Aah, tales of GS. Good times; the tales, not the actual experiences. I was kicked out of GS, but they made me act in the annual fundraising play first. Oh swell.

  3. I went to girl scout camp and came home with a raging case of ass rash. My mom still talks about it: "Remember that time all you girls came home from camp with those... bumps?" Sweet.