How We Do Camping
or How One Celebrates a 33rd Birthday in France
by Lana Labermeier
1. Receive an invitation to a celebrate a friend's 33rd, or Jesus, birthday (this is a thing here?) over the course of a weekend in the south of France.
2. Not sure what a "Jesus Birthday" is, but we accept! Then realize there aren't enough bedrooms in the house and that we will have to find other sleeping options. Thankfully, "there are plenty of places to camp on the property!" Throw my boyfriend a dubious look.
3. Admit sheepishly that I'm not really into Camping. Not sure how this is going to go over; my ex-husband's family thought I was prissy for not wanting to stay in a moldy canoe for a wedding.
4. Thankfully, Fabien says he's not into sleeping outside either; he begins complaining of the resulting backaches. He starts joking about bringing the espresso machine with him, which leads me to tell him about that Parks and Rec episode when Aziz Ansari's character hauls along all of the SkyMall catalog. Fabien is French and hasn't seen it, but nods approvingly, and in his eyes I see the wheels turning. I breathe a sigh of relief, and think, we can do this. Because I've been totally consumed with the thought of camping, I've completely forgetten the "Jesus birthday" element.
5. A couple of weeks later, we arrive at the country house/campsite to find the sleeping situation much better than imagined: we will be camping about 60 ft. from the house, where there are showers and toilets (real ones, not outhouses) inside! Everyone is playing versions of French drinking games with bottles of Kronenbourg -- kind of like beer pong but less orchestrated (i.e. no table and no solo cups. You play sitting down in the grass with just the bottles and bottle caps.)
6. Before joining in on the games, we responsibly decide to set up a tent. Thankfully, Fabien did some research and purchased one that requires no poles or skills to assemble: you open it up and throw it on the ground and, shelter! We look like such pros next to the couple who arrived in a BMW, who are already snapping at each other trying to follow the directions on their massive 6-person tent. We smirk, realizing our superiority.
7. We take out the double-sized air mattress and start inflating it with a foot pump, which becomes firm and air-tight. Other campers unroll their plastic mats. We are so good at this. I go to the car and retrieve our bed linens: down comforter, down pillows, 400-thread count sheets. Much later, after a round of the drinking games and barbecue, we retire, and, under the canopy of pine branches, drift into a blissful sleep. Wake up the next morning refreshed, go into the house to make coffee and take a shower. At this point it dawns on me that I still don't really know what a "Jesus Birthday" entails. In my limited French, I inquire, and find myself more confused because of what I think is my lack of vocabulary. I make out something about a cross, maybe? and a hillside? Not quite sure, again, what I've gotten myself into.
8. Decide not to dwell on the unknown, and start the day. It's beautiful outside, so we drag the mattress and pillows and down comforter into the sun and begin reading things on our iPhones, which have been charging overnight. Everyone's jealous, watching us laze around all day in our outdoor camping bed, drinking wine and reading. When the sun gets too hot, we move our mattress into the dappled shade of the trees. Someone offers to feed us grapes.
Camping--outside the tent that is set up outside of the house--in the dappled shade of trees in the south of France.
9. Around 5 pm the birthday boy appears barefoot and naked, save for a white hospital-gownish tunic and a crown of braided twigs. Two friends drag the wooden cross they'd been working on -- it's about 7' tall, 4' wide -- and provide all of us onlookers with brush branches for swatting. A trio starts (drunkenly) singing church music, and we head up the hillside. Fabien is carrying a case of beer.
10. As the birthday boy carries the cross on his back up the hillside, we follow, slapping him with the branches. The cross must weigh about 40 lbs, and we're going straight up the hill, into the rocky garrigues. There's singing, and beer drinking, and iPhone documenting. After about half an hour, we reach the destination; you can tell because there are two weather-worn crosses already there, buried in the ground, indicating that this has been done before.
11. Birthday Boy starts digging a hole with a stick and eventually implants his own cross, making a picturesque little trio. He's stripped of his tunic and given a beer, and with his arms raised, standing in front of his cross, we serenade him with "Joyeaux Anniversaire" and stories of our love for him. Then we whack him more with the branches, eventually drawing a trickle of blood. He surveys us, the view of the countryside, and thanks everyone. We cheer.
12. We head down the hill for more barbecue, more birthday wishes, and then, late, crawl into our still perfectly-inflated mattress and fall asleep cradled by our down comforter. Later in the night I have to pee (after all the beer) and opt to squat outside instead of making my way to the toilets inside.
The Jesus birthday parade begins.
Drawing blood while singing "Joyeaux Anniversaire."
by Emily Alden Foster
When I was a teen I was really serious about baton twirling. Before you laugh, look up some youtube videos of baton twirling world championships and you will see how serious about baton twirling it is possible to be and how awesome it would be to think you might be able to be as good as those girls. I wasn't that good - although I was pretty good! - but I did go to competitions all the time and practice for hours every day and for two or three years I went to a week-long baton twirling camp to learn new things and basically practice baton twirling all day long. There were all levels of instruction at the camp. My first year I roomed with a group of five girls from Kennett, MO who had only just started learning baton so they could be their band's majorette line. I think they had been cheerleaders before and wanted to try something new. I hated cheerleaders. They were also very proud to be from Kennett because Sheryl Crow was also from there. Even though I was really into baton twirling and had brought my stuffed cat to sleep with every night, I also had serious opinions about music. One of them was that Sheryl Crow was THE WORST! Her first hit, about having fun, had just come out, and I couldn't stand it. So I probably came off as a weird snob who was way too serious about baton twirling and who didn't have time to make friends because I had to practice at all the free times and then hug my stuffed cat and collapse in exhaustion instead of staying up talking. And because I was genuinely a super pretentious teen.
So one day I came back to the dorm (it was sort of like a condo - six of us in one suite) to find the five Kennett girls who weren't even good at baton twirling running around listening to pop music and screaming and throwing things at each other. And then, on my bed, I found my beloved stuffed cat wrapped in toilet paper. I was pretty sad to see her in such a state. But I also hated all of those girls and didn't want to be friends with them anyway, so now I sort of had a reason. And then I went home and the next year I went to baton twirling nationals and got 10th place in an event that my arch-rival always beat me at in state and regional competitions. She came in 34th. And then I retired.
Marilyn Sachs • Doubleday & Company • 1965
by Shani O. Hilton
Laura's Luck is an old book about a girl who goes to summer camp with her sister because her mother is recovering from an accident. Apparently her family has enough money to pay medical bills and send the girls to sleepaway camp for three months, but not enough to spend on a dress that costs $4.98 (I don't know, '60s money was weird). It is also responsible for 75 percent of my knowledge about summer camp. The other 25 percent has been filled in by the 1961 Hayley Mills classic,The Parent Trap, its remake, and Addams Family Values.
I bought the book at a Friends of the Library book store for probably a dollar when I was 12 or 13 -- around the same age as the titular character. It is a) a first edition and b) signed by the author. Though, it is worth noting, I have never been able to decipher the name of the person to whom Sachs is offering "many good wishes." Miss Monies? Min Moris? Miss Dnonir? Someone who gave the book away because her name was spelled wrong?
Anyway, there are no people of color at Camp Tiorati. Just smart white girls, popular white girls, and white girls like Laura, who is a precocious misanthrope that probably doesn't deserve any friends. "You can always tell when adults don't like you. They act fair," she notes to herself, after realizing the camp counselor is treating her politely, but not warmly. Laura gets to know new girls, plays camp sports, engages in pranks, and does all the what-have-you that people do at camp. But by the end of story, she hasn't changed all that much, except for two things: 1) she makes a close friend, and 2) she gets poison ivy.
As a supposed former precocious misanthrope myself, the former gave me great hope.
Camping is a Death Murder Shithole
I was a dumb, mute animal on that trip. The only thoughts I can assign myself are those I affix in retrospect. The memory of another person, of a child without agency. The memory of a plant taking abuse and shelter from the elements in equal measure. I've never been camping, but I remember when I went camping.
We assembled all the ritual ingredients--the marshmallows, the hot dogs (the implication was that we would eat special food while we were camping), the sunscreen (warm buttery chemicals, I liked the smell), the other things that must have propped us up with their utility and convenience and microbubbles of home but which I can no longer remember.
The car ride to the camp site was made of sun-dapples, tree shadows, sea salt, and for an excruciating span of time, a sheer cliff overlooking poison blue waters. I don't remember who was driving--I was in the back seat staring sick, dead-eyed at the horrifying drop. When they designed the Pacific Coast Highway of California, they neglected safety railing along some of the most treacherous, narrow, wildly thrashing ribbons of road. I was afraid of heights and afraid of drowning. I still am.
Voices echo through the redwoods and disappear into the flat blue sky. Smell of fumes from someone's RV. I take off my shoes but the ground is sharp with cutting pebbles, splintered branches, bark shards. The experience is in motion--they're raising tents, getting in circles, grinning easily, readily, crack of beer and soft drink from coolers. I open something I remember being lime-flavored and choke on the carbonation and its in my nose and eating away at my mouth.
My skin is itching from the ride, a sensitivity to sun and moisture and temperature that I would later know as eczema, currently known as not knowing any better--perceiving suffering as natural, inevitable. I need to get rid of this film of stinging salt crystal sweat so I find the camp bathrooms. They look like park bathrooms but I hear showers inside. The others were faster than I was. I wait nearby and look intently at a stump fringed with weeds, ants like busy black lava oozing from the rift in the center. I don't want them to think I need to use the bathroom. After an itching, heat-sick interim, I watch their lithe, tanned bodies file out, watch them pull on shirts and fluff their hair with beach towels. I listen at one of the windows (an airy gap like one of those arrowslits for archers) and wait for the last guttering gurgle of water to belch from the showers.
I go inside and tear off my clothes with a speed that would have scared anyone coming in and seeing a little kid moving so fast. I let the water hit me and break the sweat-shell and my skin resets and I realize I forgot a towel so I put my clothes back on and I'm wet and miserable and the breeze comes through the windows chilling me and the shower drip-drip-drips, speckling my pale feet with clear droplets.
Grovel in the dirt. Supplicate the trees. This is the precious experience. My skin itches my genitals are sticky my hair is tangled. I leave the campsite behind, sprawl of cabins and tents and camper vans soon lost to view. They're all down by the river. I was down by the river but I left, feet tracking through the dirt, grey brown dust stuck to my muddy soles like graham cracker crumbs on chocolate.
I spent hours in the river trying to stack up stones into dams. The current was strong but I found grooves near the bank where I could build little aquatic cairns of defiance. I beat back the flow in lonely vigil, traced cords of water with my hands and raised stones to resist. Suddenly I grew tired and splashed out in stomping slurshes. No one saw me go. They were all lost in the glimmering sun haze of evening, shouting to each other but I couldn't understand a word they were saying.
I stroke the furry moss head of the stag-headed moss-headed thing. Smell of musk and rubbed wood. My clothes lie scattered in their artificial bright blue and orange hues across the gentle brown-green gradient of the forest floor. My legs are wrapped around its barkhairy neck. Are we riding somewhere? No. It was just shifting, sprawling in a scraping wake of dry leaves.
The expectation is that things you meet in the forest will lead you off to their secluded wonderland, will carry you along on their broad strong back. But I could still hear cars on the highway somewhere behind the trees.
Its words press gently at my forehead and push through like fingers into my swiftly beating mind. I don't understand. I just feel intestinal, nauseous.
I'm flinging stones along the arc of the sky to break the lake open. If enough people do this, one day we can fill the whole lake in. I thought the creature was nearby, like it had an interest in me, but when I run out of stones it's gone. The woods are hushed, like everything is holding its breath as I tread through the brush, making my way back. We didn't go as far as I thought. The campsite is up ahead and the sky is darkening and I smell burnt hotdogs.
Rocky River Ranch: All girls summer camp staff, 2007
An extended caption by Stephanie Quesada Mercado Henry
Shown here is the 2007 counseling staff of Rocky River Ranch, a Wimberly, Texas all-girls summer camp. The kaleidoscope of lady-backgrounds and personalities that collided that summer created an atmosphere that can be described in terms of Wet Hot American Summer at its dullest moments. Wait, no, there were no drug binges or gratuitous sex—as far as I knew, anyway—though the explosion of estrogen at this place was notable. I had just gotten back from South America, and I was messed up in the head in more of an emo way than I'd like to admit.
I remember more about this counseling staff than I do about the actual campers; making friends with a 10-year old was not high on my summer goal sheet. My time that summer was fleeting and memorable, and I wouldn't have traded the experience I had for any other one, and that was because of the staff. Some are noted here:
The lone ranger at the top in red was the camp nurse. She wore her shirts tucked into belted, high-waisted shorts and her hair parted down the middle with a little flip, and she was the best nurse any camp could ask for. The other three next were the camp directors. They were nice, especially Buzz Cut in the middle. She is an eclectic from New York who worked in theater and knew how to do henna; she did all our feet one evening, the henna brewed from a recipe she knew from memory.
I don't remember anything about the second row other than the girl at the right end went to Harvard.
The third row, however, I remember, especially Skunk Head. We were free to leave on camper-free weekends if we had a car, though Skunk Head and I were the only ones who took advantage of this every time. Following one these weekends, when we were supposed to meet as a staff, she hadn't shown up yet, and we started without her. Fifteen minutes in, Skunk Head Hulked through the door—she had trouble walking through the door—and stumbled her way to the circle of chairs. She was awesomely hung over. Giggles all around.
Girl in green was the Queen-Bee domineer of the two girls to her left. I was kind of scared of her because, when she spoke to you, she got really close to your face and talked really really fast and asked you very direct questions and was controlling and was VERY high energy. She has red hair.
(I’m at the far right end). I laughed the most with Yellow Time. She was the mastermind of most of the fun. Let's face it: she was the kind of loveable, Melissa McCarthy-like comic relief that everyone asks for in a good rom-com. She was the reason that the staff danced to Billy Joel's "Only the Good Die Young" at the end-of-session talent show.
White sneakers (far left) that seems kind of out of order was the camp's very own Marguerite Moureau (Katie from WHAS). I didn't know her for very long. I only worked with her for about a week, but I am sure of this comparison.
by Carolyn Janssen
The author recreates her camp diary.
The author, camp age.
by Jennifer Mizgata
Articulating Day Camp
by Rebecca Armendariz
Today Amanda Brooks pointed out in front of everyone, including possible-love-of-my-life Lawrence Petriccione, that my legs are covered in long, fine, and very dark hairs. It’s completely out of line for her to chastise me for something I am not in control of remedying. Trust me that if shaving them fell among the pre-teen privileges allowed by my mother, I’d brandish her pink Bic at their skinny and bruised exterior in a heartbeat. Just because Amanda’s lucky enough to have a terribly behaved older brother whose manner and actions have desensitized her mother to developments like hair removal and makeup and hanging out with boys at the house doesn’t mean she gets to put me down. It’s also not my fault that it’s too hot not to wear shorts.
“What if you get felt up?” she said after I excused away the layer of fuzz on my shins. I don’t know what that means exactly, though I can guess. What I really wonder is why anyone would want to touch my limbs in the first place. I tried not to look at Lawrence after she asked that, but I have to wonder if he’s interested in this whole “feeling up” thing. What about kissing? Does feeling up come before or after kissing?
In other news, I’m getting really good at making complicated knots for friendship bracelets, though I can’t make a chevron yet. Sadly, my lanyards look like shit, and my counselor, who is a total bitch, strings together the box pattern with unmatched ease. Which kills me.
She’s a bitch because she’s forcing a dance out of us that doesn’t come naturally. We’re doing “Pretty Woman” for the talent show instead of ANYTHING else, even though most of us don’t want to have anything to do with that dumb, old song. Who cares about that song? 
We all have to wear matching outfits to look like boys, and only one of us gets to play a girl. I care zero that I’m not the girl because I don’t want to do the dance at all. The other day, Amanda and I tried to protest by sitting out, but she forced us to participate. Not like I needed to practice anyway because the moves are so basic. For the intro, we just walk onstage in a line and change which hands are on our head and hip to the beat. I’ve taken jazz dance classes, for Christ’s sake. I want to do a routine to En Vogue or SWV or lip sync to “Regulate,” which I listened to five times in the gym today while everyone else played basketball because THANK GOD someone else’s counselor brought in a boombox. I’m really close to knowing all the words.
I’ve never been the source of such hatred before; maybe it’s because I’m hanging out with Amanda, who defies authority like no other friend I’ve had. Last year, my mom found a note she wrote me during science in which she turned a little lesson we had on airplanes into something dirty by highlighting the presence of the word “cock” in “cockpit.” My mother hates her.
Later on tonight I will sit on my mom’s bed and run a nail file up and down the length of my shins, pretending it’s a razor, and then I’ll cry when she finds me torturing myself. I hope I can time it just right. This will show her how serious I am, how badly I want this. I don’t think Lawrence would notice, but they need to be smooth just in case.
by Sarah Shoemake
How not to feel like
an alienated freak
Last, the most profound thing camp taught me was simple: that I wasn’t a loser, that I could “belong” and feel happy, comfortable, and connected. The summer I was a 15-year-old CIT was one of the happiest times in my life, if not the happiest. That was, of course, one of the reasons I kept going back, and one of the reasons I stayed in close contact with my camp buddies throughout the school year: because those sleepaway summers were the only times I felt popular and part-of. My fellow camp nerds and I were like an oversized, happy, but slightly dysfunctional family that genuinely loved and respected each other. We’d take big group photos of ourselves looking vital and breezy and so young in our heinous camp-appointed green polo shirts, squashed together and hugging like we were straight out of “90210.” I remember laughing until we could hardly breathe. I wish more times in my life had given me that feeling; it’s a high I’ll probably be chasing forever, but I like knowing it happened, that I had it, and that it’s possible it will exist for me again in a different context, in a different place, far away from Friendship in the hills of Virginia.
How not to get caught
gawking at boys
My obsession with the opposite sex has probably never been as intense as it was that first summer at camp when I was 14. And I wasn’t alone. My friends and I fixated on the same guy counselors; they were only a few years older than us, yet they managed to seem so painfully cool, confident, and unattainable. We quickly learned their schedules and began, shamelessly and obviously, stalking them all over the grounds. We uncreatively nicknamed them--“CuteHair” was Dave, a tall, teddy-bear type who had longish, skater tresses. Jonas, who also had long hair (it was the ‘90s), wore pink-and-green striped swim trunks. He was pale and talked like a stoner, despite having gone to a very good DC high school. When he went down to the lake to swim, we’d hide in the trees and just... creepily watch. And laugh and sigh and freak out, of course. Someone may have even expressed a sudden urge to lick the sweat off his back. Regardless, we managed, or thought we managed, to pull off our investigative escapades without said crushes catching us, noticing us, or paying us the time of day.
What I Learned Not to Do at Summer Camp
by Laura Barcella
How not to canoe
This one is pretty simple. I got assigned to help teach a canoeing class: oddly, CITs and counselors couldn’t pick which activities they wanted to teach; we all had to instruct whatever was assigned to us, even if we were terrible at it. Because I fail at most physical activity, and especially hard back then, I couldn’t have been less interested in or prepared at pretending to teach how to make a canoe move. What I learned through my efforts: rowing is hard and exhausting. I also learned that it is very possible to be an absolutely clueless “authority figure” to children, and that being an authority figure does not entail actually knowing what the hell you’re doing or talking about. It’s also really embarrassing when the 11-year-olds in your canoe do a better job at steering the thing.
How not to kiss
I had my first real, non-Truth-or-Dare romantic kiss the summer I was a 15-year-old CIT. It was with a 17-year-old guy named Matt who I’d been eyeing for a while. He had acne-mottled skin and supernaturally huge, long-lashed blue eyes, and I noticed him maybe, just maybe? noticing me. We’d been assigned to instruct an art class together, and I distinctly remember that nervous fluttering excitement I felt when he’d brush past me, just close enough for his tie-dyed Grateful Dead t-shirt to delicately graze my arm. He smelled strongly and deliciously of soap.
One night, after all the campers were asleep and the counselors and CITs were free to debauch and hump at will, Matt asked me to hang out at the darkened, deserted archery range. We sat facing each other on the wood floor, hugging our knees and talking for hours. I was ready to burst from fear and adolescent longing. Would he or wouldn’t he? Would we or wouldn’t we? When the fuck was I going to lose my kissing virginity?! I was dying, absolutely DYING, to catch up with my more, um, “experienced” friends, but I was far too awkward and shy to make the first move myself, so I waited. Waited. Waited some more. And then, finally, excruciatingly slowly, Matt began leaning toward me, so I began leaning toward him, and our lips touched, and then my mouth was full of his tongue, rolling around everywhere, drowning me in slobber. It was... nothing like what I’d expected. It was... not that fun. Still, I kissed him back—or tried to—but the slobber was overtaking me, beginning to consume my chin.
Despite my disappointment at the kiss, I wanted Matt to like me, and I wanted to catch up with my friends, so I continued regularly hooking up with him for the next week or two, before he began unceremoniously ignoring me. After camp ended, I sent him a letter brimming with feigned nonchalance, but he never wrote back.
How not to eat or drink
like a functioning human
At Camp Friendship, the dining hall was a hotbed of unhealthiness and neurosis for CITs and counselors who should have known better. But were still, above all, just kids themselves. Halfway through one summer, my friend Kathy suddenly decided to go vegan, which meant all she ever ate at the dining hall were dinner rolls. She got super-skinny and we all clucked with concern while simultaneously seething with envy and wondering whether we should take up temporary veganism, too.
My friend Jen, a fellow CIT, would regularly drink between 15 and 20 mugs of coffee per day, and she followed a self-created “recipe” for how to make the most delicious cup of coffee known to humankind: add ten creamer packets and ten sugar packets per cup.
I was a vegetarian, but I disliked and refused to eat vegetables, so my diet was already suffering before I got to camp. My parents had given up on trying to force-feed me veggies, so at home in DC, I pretty much subsisted on bagels, fake chicken nuggets, french fries, and an alarming amount of sweets (self-serve gummy-candy bulk bins were, and still are, my absolute favorite thing on earth). At camp, of course, my diet was no better, and those sugar-filled care packages our parents sent didn’t help. Groups of us would go down to the archery range at night and binge on Cocoa Puffs and Skittles. Those were the days.
How to Make a Friendship Bracelet
by Ann Friedman
1. Think of a friend. Maybe it’s the friend sitting closest to you. Maybe it’s your closest friend from college, the person with whom any conceivable social situation is more fun. Maybe it’s someone you’ve just met who you’re sort of hoping will turn into a bestie. Maybe it’s someone you met at a fiction reading who seemed so awesome you had to grab her wrist and say, “Let’s be friends!” Maybe it’s someone you used to work with, someone you’re so happy to now count as more friend than coworker. Maybe it’s your high-school bestie’s college bestie who now lives up the hill from you and has become your bestie. Maybe it’s your core stoner bro. Maybe it’s a friend from three lifetimes ago who still fits in this one, whenever she manages to make an appearance. Maybe it’s your sister from another mister.
2. Think of the colors he wears a lot. What color her comforter is. What color his walls are painted. Or, like, maybe try and read her aura or something. Those colors! Buy embroidery floss in those colors.
4. Present the bracelet to your friend. She will be thrilled. The need to signify friendship with a physical token tends to dissolve with the slow transition to adulthood, and there is something delicious about wearing a more sartorially acceptable and socially inclusive version of the broken-heart best-friends necklace.
5. Knot it on, tight. The impermanence of the friendship bracelet is what makes it so great. No, you don’t really take it off. It’s meant to get grody after surviving repeated dips in the pool and the ocean and the shower. It’s meant to loosen and fade and curl and fray and gray.
6. Revel in this shared artifact of your friendship, a marker of this moment in time, this summer. Catch a glimpse of it on your friend’s wrist. Smile. Think about that time when and that guy who and that trip where. Instagram it, if you’re so inspired. Definitely gaze at it. Hold hands, maybe! Make another.
When I was 14, I started going to sleepaway camp with a few of my closest girl friends. The place was called Camp Friendship, in the mountains of rural Virginia, a few hours away from our homes in Washington, DC. I mainly wanted an out from my parents and their everyday nags and needs.
As a teenager, I was shy, depressed, and uninterested in physical activity of almost any kind, save for the occasional swim. My primary hobbies included ruminating, reading about other depressed and/or crazy women, scribbling angry missives in my diary, and talking on the phone for ludicrous lengths of time with the same small group of friends I saw every day at school. I was pale, insecure, and a girly-girl, and I wore approximately 22 pounds of unnecessary makeup on my face at all times. Even at camp.
Despite my non-outdoorsiness, I fantasized about the freedom, the new friends, and the overwhelming bounty of cute boys that were waiting for us at Camp Friendship. As a natural-born pessimist, though, I didn’t have high hopes, so it was a surprise when I got to camp and discovered that it was pretty much my personal vision of heaven. That first summer set me up for a camp obsession that lasted through the rest of my high school years. I went to Camp Friendship first as a camper at 14, then as a counselor-in-training (CIT), then at 17 as a junior counselor. Now, at 35, many moons removed from those sweet giddy summers, I’m still grateful to camp for giving me brief, colorful respites from my perpetual teen fog of self-loathing and despair. I’m also indebted to Camp Friendship, nicknamed “Camp Friendlyfuck” for the incestuous relations among its attractive young staff, for the following adolescent life lessons it taught me, ones I carried into adulthood. And now I’ll share them with you.
Summers of Bug Juice: 1998/2008
by Kerensa Cadenas
Growing up, I was never much for the outdoors. I was too afraid to ride my bike down a big hill for fear of crashing, terrified of running around in the field because of my potential bee allergy and unable to hang out at the river since I (still) can’t swim. Summer was never my jam. I’ve always been a restless, anxious mess if I don’t have a schedule, resulting in me being that weird kid who missed the structure of a school day. It would be hot outside and I would roll around in my parents’ bed, crying until my mom yelled at me to go outside and do something with my day. It was the summer of seventh grade. Reality television wasn’t a thing yet and the Disney Channel was still a special novelty that I couldn’t believe we had. Raised on a diet of Hamburger Helper, we were never able to afford the Disney Channel until it was miraculously added to our cable package.
Bug Juice aired in 1998. It followed a group of kids at Camp Waziyatah in Maine, bringing their summer camp experiences to me. I was obsessed. I had huge crushes on Andy (the good boy) and Connor (the boy with the slightly checkered past), an unfortunate romantic dichotomy that at 27, I have yet to grow out of. Bug Juice represented everything I wanted out of summer—meeting new people outside my tiny California hometown, getting away from home, being good at the outdoors, starlit kisses and a structured day for my control freak brain. I spent that summer, glued to the television, living vicariously through their outdoor activities and romantic entanglements.
by Sarah Shoemake
Alex, Regan, Laura (author), Natalie, 1992
Years and years later, I found myself in a similar situation.
After finishing my Master’s degree, my life was completely uncertain. For the first time in my life, I would not have the reassurance of going back to school in the fall—had no idea where I would live or if I could find gainful employment. As I felt that restless, anxious girl rolling around in the sheets of her parents’ bed, creeping back in, as an adult woman I tried to keep it together. That meant going to my telefund job during the day and drinking heavily with my grad school friends at night, enjoying the brief time before we all scattered across the country at the end of the summer.
One night over beers, my close friend Doug and I discovered our shared affinity for Bug Juice, discussing our shared crushes on Andy and Connor. One drunken YouTube search later and we rediscovered every episode. Doug and I began a summer ritual, getting high and watching multiple episodes of Bug Juice every night after going to the bar or creating excuses to leave the bar early. We cringed over the awkward 14-year-old summer romances and felt pervy watching these boys who in our pubescence had held so much appeal to us. But we couldn’t stop watching.
That summer, for the second time in my life, I lived vicariously through the kids of Camp Waziyatah, while waiting for my own life to start.