I went to Camp Deerhorn in Rhinelander, Wis., every summer for the majority of my adolescence. It was an awesome camp. We got to fire guns. We got to shoot arrows. We got to go on horseback rides. (I’ve never shit my pants with more direct force than the first time I was on a horse and it went from trotting to cantering. Holy crap).
Summer camp is important to kids because that’s the first time you really get to venture out into the world on your own. There’s no mother around to prevent you from keeping a porn mag under your pillow. There’s no father around to yell at you if you don’t eat your dinner. It’s your first chance to interact with the world on your own terms, even though you have no clue what those terms should be. As a result, you discover all kinds of shit that your family won’t (and can’t) tell you about, shit that stays with you for a long time. Shit like:
Once every three weeks at Camp Deerhorn, they would grease up a watermelon and we’d play football with it in the lake, which isn’t latently homosexual at all. I even came THISCLOSE to hooking up with a girl from girls camp once. She was halfway to my cabin before changing her mind and deciding she didn’t want some fat booger-eater pawing at her boob all afternoon. Can’t blame her for that.
I got to smoke cigarettes for the first time. I dipped for the first time, threw up, and then was publicly mocked by one of the counselors at our Sunday night campfire for throwing up my dip. Someone showed me a vagina in a magazine for the first time at camp. It was way hairy. There was one female counselor at camp named Jenny, and every single boy at the camp wanted to have sex with her. One time, during a meeting of campers, I screamed out, “Jenny wants a blowjob!” One of the older campers turned to me and said, “You can’t give a girl a blowjob, you idiot.” He then explained to me what a blowjob was. I totally didn’t know that!
We ate every meal in a big mess hall and had to say quick prayer before eating. I remember every word of that prayer. “For these and all his mercies, God’s holy name we praise.” For half the meals, I would skip eating the entree and just tear the crusts off a piece of white bread, scrunch the bread into a ball, and then eat it. After lunch every day, we got to choose between two candy bars to buy for dessert. There was a great deal of rumormongering in the mornings as to which candy bars would be offered. “I heard it’s gonna be Skor or Charleston Chew.” We used the candy bars as camp currency. I always tried to win an extra candy bar by beating my cousin at HORSE and I routinely failed.
The camp was divided into four separate teams for the entire summer: Apache (green), Chippewa (yellow), Navajo (dark blue), and Iroquois (red). Every team had a 17-year-old leading it and the four leaders were considered GODS. They got their own cabin (called a koogee) to hang out in. There was a big board in the main hall of the camp that detailed the history of the four teams year by year, dating all the way back to the ‘50s. Every leader was noted. On the opposite wall, there was an even bigger board that listed every camper from every team. Your goal was to get stars in every activity—red, then blue, then gold. Getting a gold star was a big fucking deal. We used to stare at the board, marveling at campers who managed to get gold stars in virtually every activity. Fucking overachievers. Every star counted as points. The team with the most points won the summer. And any camper that reached a set amount of points was given WARRIOR status and got his name written on the memorial wall on the other side. You could also be a SUPER WARRIOR, which again meant you were a fucking overachiever and I hated you. I made WARRIOR once. I hope my name is still on that wall. It fucking better be. I didn’t do all that canoeing for nothing.
On Sundays, we got the day off from activities so that we could clean our koogees. We’d never clean them. We’d spend all morning listening to America’s Top 40 and talking about tits or reading Truly Tasteless Jokes instead. I listened to my Walkman for hours at a time. When we weren’t talking tits, we were trying to figure out ways to get back some remnant of civilization: candy, movies, etc. If you were old enough, you got thrown into Koogee 20, which was nestled way back in the woods, where the 15-year-olds smoked and listened to GNR all day long. When I was finally old enough to qualify for Koogee 20, I was far happier than I had any right to be. I smoked 50 Swisher Sweets that summer.
Once a session, they drove us to Eagle River to watch a movie and buy shitloads of rock candy. The movie was usually horrible (We got Harry and the Hendersons once, which sucked), but the candy ... oh man, the fucking candy. There was one kid named Matt who had rich parents and serious emotional problems and he used to buy Pixy Stix the size of a fucking flagpole. I think he was on Ritalin. Like, the first test patient for it. When we got the candy back to camp, every camper put his candy in his foot locker and locked that shit tight. Candy theft led to fucking wars.
The counselors used to go to a strip club named Weasels when we were asleep. They told us it was the worst strip club in America and I took their word for it. I still remember most of those counselors by name. When you’re that young, counselors are like a higher species. I was awed by them. I felt like they were 20 times my size. Every Sunday night, one of them would take up a guitar and sing cover songs to the entire camp. On the last day, they always played “Country Road” by John Denver, only they changed it to “Deerhorn Road,” and every goddamn bratty 12-year-old there would be a sobbing wreck by the end. To finish the campfire, we always sang this song:
In Deerhorn Hall
In Deerhorn Hall
Where every boy is king
In Deerhorn Hall
In Deerhorn Hall
We will laugh
We will play
We will sing
With the food piled on the table
We will eat while we are able
We will sing everyone
And we’ll all have fun
In old Deerhorn Hall
Now that’s corny as hell, and I’m a cynical sack of shit. But you sing that song to me today and I’ll weep for 10 straight minutes.
It wasn’t all roses at Camp Deerhorn, of course. Kids got in fights all the time. Athlete’s foot was mandatory. Whenever I pleasured myself in my bottom bunk, I had to worry that my bunkmate could hear it from the top. Every koogee reeked of cum and farts. I got chewed out by a counselor for shooting an arrow directly into the air (fair enough). And I think I got a counselor fired because I stole his handgun and pointed it at a friend. Still ... CAMP!
As this summer winds down, we’d like your summer camp stories, too. Horror stories. Hookups. Ptomaine poisoning. IT JUST DOESN’T MATTER. Whatever’s funny, throw them into the discussion below. No one comes back from camp without a good story to tell. Or a melted Snickers in the bottom of their laundry bag.