A Different Kind of Camp
Red Buttons is dead at 87. He never got a dinner.
I'm not sure if I ever got a dinner or not (and I'm hoping that I have a few years left in which to maybe get a dinner), but I know that, as a youth, I never had anywhere near the vast menu of summer camps available from which the Jawa and his peeps choose today.
This morning, I dropped him off at Destination Science Camp, where this week, from 9 am to 3:30 pm, he is learning about Battle Bots. He is also learning how to make potentially annoying items like digital recorders and boxes that light up and make lots of beeping noises.
Remember when you were a kid and used whatever recording device was available -- depending on the era, it was reel-to-reel or cassette -- to record strange noises, shouting, surreptitious recordings of your parents, and finally, full-blown radio shows? Well, the same stuff that was funny in 1973 is still funny today. Repeating inane phrases, using odd accents? Still funny. Making impossibly long flatulence sounds, then playing them back? Hilarious. Secretly recording your dad as he tells you to stop making that annoying noise? As they say at Master Card, priceless.
To give children these kinds of tools and then place them in the back seat of a moving car is to put everyone on the road at risk. Mothers Against Drunk Driving have nothing on Fathers Against Annoying Children in the Backseat. When the collective decibel level approaches that of a Blue Cheer concert, no one is safe.
Next week, he will return to Destination Science for rocketry camp. He refers to his camp counselors as "teachers," and comes home each day a little bit smarter than he was in the morning. Is it incredible, or incredibly geeky? I'm not sure.
He is not alone. Here in the overparenting center of the universe, children spend their summers learning about science, computers, Shakespeare, fencing, how to cook like Emeril. Shockingly, there is no "activist" camp, nor one that teaches you how to write pithy bumper stickers that accuse the president of all sorts of crimes. Maybe. To be honest, I haven't researched that completely.
There is no "run around and get sweaty" camp, unless you count sports camps. The Jawa will be attending basketball camp in two weeks. This will represent a complete 180 from the brainy camps of early July. I hope he can manage. One thing I know is that he will not return from any of these camps clutching a tooled leather wallet made in crafts class. Sad.
Next summer, he claims, he will join The Shaman and their friend Tony Hawk, Jr. for sleep away camp. We're already sifting through our options. We're trying to do something different than Camp Tawonga, the camp of choice for little Jewish city kids, though I have to wonder, when the time comes to commit, if the Jawa, Shaman and Hawk, Jr. will actually be able to break away from the crowd and share space with the Gentiles for an entire week. Or is that the Goyim? I'm still working on my Jewish identity.
There are already rumors about sleep away camp. A few kids from our class went this summer, so the pipeline is full of stories about the surprising ease with which said children separated from their parents. I never went to sleep away camp, unless you count baseball camp at UC Irvine, so my image of sleep away camp is locked into the cliches of the Eastern seaboard camps I never attended. In my mind it's 1970 and the kids are loading into yellow buses for the drive to the Poconos, where they will learn to sail in small skiffs.
My sister, Noodles' Mom, went to Girl scout camps on the Eastern seaboard in the early 70s, and even later became a camp counselor during her now-disowned Jackson Browne-saturated college years. I remember picking her up at one camp in 1973, driving through the Pennsylvania countryside and wondering when my turn would come.
It never did. I never wanted it to come. Like Sally Brown, I didn't want to go to camp. I wanted to go to Manhattan and see the Empire State Building. And then we moved to California, and no one ever mentioned camp again. Again, other than UCI baseball camp, which was awful in 1977 and great in 1980. Not surprising. I'm usually better at things the second time around.
So every camp has a hook. School doesn't end in June, it just changes venue.