Wednesday June 25th, 2008

I was very lucky as a boy because I got to go away to camp two summers.

We did all kind of stuff at camp. We played baseball, basketball and tennis, and shot rifles and arrows, and swam and rode horses. We did handicrafts, too. That's never been my best territory, though. I confined myself to making pot holders, of which my mother accumulated plenty during my fertile handicraft years.

We lived in cabins and used outhouses and, of course, this being camp, we camped out some in pup tents. When the girls' camp from nearby came over for a dance, we put on a water ballet exhibition, holding candles in the stream, treading water to The Tales of the Vienna Woods.

Years later, when I mentioned this to my wife, she was appalled. She said even at her girls camp, they didn't do water ballet. I asked her if her rough-tough camping female colleagues had to use privies. That shut her up good.

Back home, summers, we improvised at games. People who are either Depression Babies or War Babies always boast about how they just went out and played stuff in the summer, without any supervision. It was the Boomers who started getting all kinds of organized sports in the summer -- Little League and what-have-you. The Boomers needed parents to drive them places and coaches to coach them. Then, by the time we got to Gen X, summer play wasn't just organized. It had a specific purpose, resume-wise. You went to a baseball camp or a cheerleader camp or a body-building camp.

For the current generation of 21st Century kids, whatever they're called, the camps have become downright vocational. A boy who has parents who think he can win an athletic scholarship as a quarterback gets sent to quarterback camp. Or a pitching camp. Or a goalie camp. They probably have offensive left-tackle camps now because left-tackles make a bundle in the NFL. Summer for children now is a time of apprenticing. Nobody anymore is treading water with a candle to a Strauss waltz. There's no future in that.

Do kids even choose up sides anymore? That was a cruel part of growing up, Darwinism at the playground. It was brutal if you weren't chosen up 'til late. But it was valuable preparation for that time, a couple years later, when you had to deal with being rejected by girls.

One time Johnny and me were the captains, the choosers up. (Nobody ever said Johnny and I, you understand.) Herbie and Butch were always the last ones chosen up. Johnny, who was nicer than me, said, let's make a deal. I'll pick Herbie next to last, if then you'll pick Butch.

It was a nice gesture, but I said, no, if we did that, that would mean that Macky and Gil would be the last ones chosen up, and that would be too traumatic for them. Herbie and Butch had gotten used to being chosen up last. Johnny agreed: I had a good point. Don't upset the natural order. Kids weren't so protected from harsh reality back then.

The next summer, I could've gone back to camp and been a junior counselor. I wouldn't have had to make any more pot holders, but there was still that outhouse situation to consider.

Besides, I wanted to make some money caddying. Caddies have all but gone now, of course, which is too bad. Monday was Caddy's Day at most courses, so a lot of poor boys could learn the game that way. A lot of good golfers started out as caddies. But now, if a kid wants to learn golf, he has to go to Golf Camp. In fact, I suppose by now there are also Putting Camps and Sand Wedge Camps.

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