Yep, they’re all here: The Kid Who Likes to Belch. The Kid Who Thinks Camp Food Is Gross. And that all important cameo from The Kid Who Gets a Rash.
Some things never do change, do they?
Midweek at Camp Round Meadow and The Kid Who Wants to Go Home Now, a.k.a. Brett from Echo Park, is talking quality of camp life issues with his gang, including The Kid Whose Parents Couldn’t Wait to Get Rid of Him, Sean from Los Angeles.
Brett, 11, the food critic, says take the macaroni and cheese, puhhleeeze. “It had no taste,” he says. “None. Zip. Nada.”
In the interest of full disclosure, we should tell you Brett says he often dines on sushi at home and is just back from tennis camp, where the cuisine, he suggests, is a tad more civilized.
“Well, in ours there’s dead wasps,” says Sean, 9, who actually thinks dead wasps in showers are kind of cool. Not as cool as Lucy in Cabin 10, Sean confesses, but cool just the same.
Speaking of deceased wasps and the opposite sex, how ‘bout those two 9-year-old girls standing by The Peppermints’ cabin. Their Topic A: tonight’s big dance.
Girl No. 1: “So, can a girl ask a boy to dance?”
Girl No. 2: “Of course, this is the ‘90s.”
Yes, camp crushes, culinary carping, they still do summer camp like they did in the old days.
Sort of, anyway.
They still serve camp punch, but it’s sugar-free. The milk is low-fat. Of course. The beef is turkey. And for the really discriminating tensomethings, there are Bigelow herb teas, and those Kosher and vegetarian options.
While they still get to camp by bus, it’s air-conditioned and commode-equipped. And, sure, they still have teen-aged counselors, but they sport tattoos.
Now, if today’s campers seem a little wiser, more worldly and with-it (admittedly, maybe too much so at times), keep these three words in mind: The Hokey Pokey (yes, children of the ‘90s still trill this soupy tune, but more about that later).
Maybe not a moment too soon, there is finally something campers of the Atomic Age and the Sexual Revolution can agree on: In a world where change is about the only constant, there’s something reassuring about something mostly unchanged.
“Camp’s camp,” said YMCA summer camp maven Keith Molle, a camper himself in the 1970s. “Things haven’t changed much in 50 years.
“Eight year-old boys still can’t handle being around 8-year-old girls.
“The boys still don’t do so well at rest time.
“And there’s always one kid who thinks everybody else hates him.”
As American a tradition as there is anymore, summer camp has long been the stuff of film and song, the most famous tune being Allan Sherman’s 32-year-old blockbuster, “Hello, Muddah! Hello, Fadduh!,” a youngster’s impish dirge about his first day at summer camp to the beat of the classical “Dance of the Hours” by Ponchielli.
“The movie ‘Meatballs’ is actually a quality camp movie; in fact, we use it for staff training,” says Molle.
Gee, Mr. Molle, isn’t there a scene in ‘Meatballs’ where the counselors go skinny-dipping?
“Well, no, we don’t have that,” Molle is quick to add.
If Camp Round Meadow in the San Bernardino Mountains is any indication, summer camp remains as boffo as ever, maybe more so. During a recent week, 145 kids from the Hollywood-Wilshire YMCA, ages 9 to 15, stayed at (invaded? plundered?) the camp. Five years ago, only 60 kids from that YMCA came to camp. By the end of summer, Camp Round Meadow--just one nine-acre camp--will see 4,000 kids. That translates into 10,000 pancakes, 6,000 hot dogs and who knows how many paper towels.
What you still see at summer camp that you saw 20, 30, 40 years ago:
Evening mail call.
The Kid Who Gets Rushed to the Hospital ‘Cuz He Thinks He Broke His Leg.
What you still hear that you heard in the old days:
The Kid Who Talks in Her Sleep.
Innocent pranks. When counselor Steve forgets to use a napkin at dinner, the 145 kids chant in unison: STEVE-STEVE-YOU’RE-A-SAP! PUT-A-NAPKIN-IN-YOUR-LAP!
Things you see that reflect changes that probably aren’t so good:
Counselors who must be fingerprinted and have their backgrounds checked by the state Department of Justice.
Too many kids from broken homes.
Campfire chats about gangs. “Evening discussions 20 years ago were about how to pick up your room,” Molle says. “Now it’s sometimes about how to survive grade school.”
Things that have changed, probably for the better:
“101 Ways to Praise A Child” poster pasted on mess hall wall.
The School of Logical Consequences, which calls for kids to fashion their own punishment for misdeeds.
Kids from seemingly all cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds.
“You used to see nothing but white, middle- and upper-class kids up here,” Molle says. “Now, we don’t turn anyone away.
“We have some kids up here who show up with one pair of underwear and one pair of socks; that’s all they own. We subsidize them, and they’ll probably never come back,” Molle says.
“We have kids who don’t speak any English. When the kids from the Korean Ys come up, we serve kim chi. The East L.A. Y wants tortillas with every meal.
“But the kids who come to camp today come for the same reason kids have always come to camp for: fun and friends.”
Well, most of them do. “Actually,” says Sean, the kid whose parents allegedly couldn’t wait to see him off, “I came to camp because my mom and dad were glad to get rid of me.”
Uh, why is that, Sean?
“It’s just that I have a lot of energy,” Sean, the boy who likes dead wasps and Lucy in Cabin 10, says in a moment of self-analysis. “And I’m skinny, but don’t be deceived; I can eat a lot.”
Have you learned anything up here?
“Stay away from stinging nettle.”
Uh huh. Anything else? “How to make s’mores.”
Morning time. Near the camp entrance, counselor Daniel urges the boys on trash detail to quiet down and “listen to the birds.” One of these boys calls himself “Moose.” Moose and the rest look at each other. Birds? Yeah, right.
Farther down the dusty, iris-laden trail leading to the swimming pool, Cabin 11 looks deserted but the door is open. It’s clean. That can only mean one thing, Molle says. “This is a girls’ cabin.”
Inside Cabin 11: the latest copy of the National Enquirer and the Traveling Wheel of Fortune board game. A note to “Christy, the best counselor in the world” has been tacked onto the cabin corkboard.
The girls in Cabins 12, 13 and 14 have seen fit to name themselves: The Bad Girls, The Hippies and The Peppermints, respectively, spelled out with rocks carefully placed in front of their makeshift abodes.
Down at the Crafts Lodge, the girls from Cabin 11 cobble Gd’s eyes and dream catchers with yarn and beads.
Jenny, 11, from Beverly Hills, says she’s having a good time, but there’s a problem.
What, Jenny, is it the mosquitoes?
Well, what then?
Just after lunch, five hours before tonight’s heavily anticipated luau and dance. At the archery range, counselor Stephen, whose been dubbed Stephen “Hood,” presides.
Another counselor named Steve, blessed with a rather large proboscis, has been named “Steve-occhio.”
“Camp kept me from gangs,” says counselor Shanon Edwards, 23, who grew up in the Fairfax area. Edwards, who says his mother raised him alone and who first came to camp when he was 8, still remembers his first camp counselor. “It kept me from making bad choices,” he says. “That’s why I’m giving back now.”
Meanwhile, up at the nature cabin, there’s Jennifer, 11, from Granada Hills. She’s Egyptian. She misses her dog, Brandy. Her mom apparently misses her, because mom has written her four letters so far, almost one a day.
Nearby, the Sugar Babies are trying to figure out who among them was snoring last night. “Somebody was!” they say.
Down at the pool, the boys from Cabin 8 have announced that they shall be called “The Makdadyz.”
What does that mean exactly, guys?
“I’m not sure,” shrugs self-appointed ringleader Cameron, 11, of Hollywood. “But it sounds cool, doesn’t it?”
Quite suddenly, the topic shifts to Hollywood moguls. Brett, 11, the sushi-eater: “I live right next to Kiefer Sutherland. They just remodeled the place.”
Cameron: “My mother’s firm has done work for Steven or Robert, I forget.”
Steven or Robert?
“Steven Spielberg or Robert Zemeckis.”
Oh, sorry, not on a first-name basis.
Nicholas, 11, from Los Angeles, has listened closely to the boasts of his bunk-mates. He doesn’t want to tell tales out of school, but . . .
“You know those two dogs on the Mighty Dog food commercial?” he asks. “They live right next to me.”
Nightfall. The Makdadyz, after due consideration, would like to nominate Oscar as The Weirdest Guy in Camp.
At the dance. Tunes from “Green Day,” “The Beastie Boys” and “Fu Schnickens” blare. But so do oldies like “La Bamba” and “The Hustle.” And then--the bane of every young boy--a slow dance.
“Oh, not a slow dance,” says Chris, 10, from Los Angeles. “I wouldn’t do that for a million bucks. This is one I sit out.”
“Oooooo,” says Whitney, 9, also of Los Angeles. “That’s weird.”
Just before lights out, it’s the hokey pokey, that old favorite, musical chairs, and then shut-eye. Watching the roomful of too-hip, rowdy kids of the ‘90s playing the hokey pokey and the like, and doing so with gusto, seems oddly soothing for some reason. Molle just shrugs. “I told you: Camp’s camp.”
As the last quiet chorus of “Kumbaya” fades into the night, a soft breeze gathers.
In the rustling of the ageless Ponderosa pines, you can almost make out the voices of children past.