Campfire Tales

The reasons I hated the Sioux-Ute dance were sevenfold:

1. The music would be deafening and of the Lil’ Wayne and Jonas Brothers variety.
2. I would spend the evening policing the furtive grindings of 14-year-olds and the night patrolling the camp grounds for secret rendezvous.

Summer Camp. A little path surrounded by trees.

3. The dance itself, and the requisite clean-up and patrolling, went until the late hours of the night, meaning that I had to stay up past my bedtime.
4. The only options for dinner were gristly hamburgers or ice cold veggie burgers eaten off flimsy paper plates weighed down by overly mayonnaised potato salad.
5. The air inside the rec hall would become cloudy with the stench of Axe and Gold Bond.
6. Invariably, a camper or a staff member would call me a bitch.
7. Ultimately, I had to spend a night that could have been happily filled with letter-writing or star-gazing fighting every other employee and every single camper in an effort to prevent a full-scale bacchanal.

I promise I am not as much of a fuddy-duddy as this list of grievances makes me seem. I often enjoy adult beverages and have known my fair share of grinding. In fact, when I made this list, I was only 20, the perfect age for indulging in bacchanals. I like to think of myself as a moderately hip young person, but something about this dance brought out the crotchety spinster in me.

In 2008, I worked as a member of the administrative staff at a residential summer camp. My official title was Ute VC, which is utter gibberish to anyone who is familiar with neither the shameful tradition of co-opting the names of indigenous tribes for use as cabin names, nor with the abbreviations that make up the bulk of camp conversations. Essentially the Utes were the 14- and 15-year-old female campers, I was their Village Chief (head counselor), and once every two-week session the Utes met up with their 14- and 15-year-old male counterparts, the Sioux, for a dance that became the bane of my existence.

I attended this camp, as both a camper and employee, every summer, from 1997 to 2008. I never quite fit in. As a camper, it was because I preferred sleeping to sneaking out and didn’t shave my legs. As a staff member, I was the only one who seemed to know that there was another meaning of VC. I also thought the most important part of my job was making a great experience for campers, even if it meant that my social life would be lacking. As opposed to many of my co-workers, I only engaged in debauchery on the weekends in between sessions when no campers would be around to see the after affects of one mixed drink.

You might think that my limiting of my underage drinking is nothing to boast of, or that I am exaggerating the antics of my fellow staff members. While you may be correct in the former, sadly, on the latter claim, you would be wrong. The summer before I was the Ute VC, a staff member was fired for giving campers at the Sioux-Ute dance alcohol. At least 5 staff members were fired each summer for alcohol related offenses: drinking on camp grounds, providing alcohol to under-aged staff members, driving camp vehicles while intoxicated, or coming back from nights off too drunk to remember where their cabins were. One or two would be fired for behavioral offenses (swearing at campers, buying cigarettes for C.I.T.s) and then once in a while there would be a staff member fired for something so completely insane that it would immediately be folded into camp lore. My favorite was when a staff member was arrested on check-out day for selling weed. Parents were picking up their wee ones while drug-sniffing dogs roamed the grounds. I wasn’t the best at my job, but at least I never became the stuff of legend.

If a bookie were taking bets on which night in any given session someone would be fired, the odds on favorite would be the night of the Sioux-Ute. Too many staff members believed that they should be able to enjoy the dance in the same way they enjoyed parties at college; with lots of booze. Some staff members would “pregame” the dance, while others who worked with the younger age groups that had already had dances would go off campus to the local bar and come back smelling of cheap beer and cigarettes. Because of the glut of intoxicated staff members, we eventually had to make a rule barring all non-Sioux-Ute staff from the dance. The enforcement of this rule meant that staff members were the ones who called me a bitch at the 2nd and 4th dances. Somehow, that feels marginally more appropriate then a 15-year-old calling me one because I won’t let him and his new lady friend do things that I didn’t even know about when I was 15. It’s important to take comfort in the small things.

In spite of my hatred for the event, most campers and staff loved it. Even the girls I would have hung out with, the ones who arrived with their suitcases half filled with books, looked forward to the dance. In fact, in my summers as a camper, I spent nights planning my outfits and wondering which boy would ask me to dance (surprisingly, none of them). On the night of the dance, after we had been shepherded away from the ramshackle rec hall, we would stay up late, eating gummy peaches and miniature bags of chips, and gleefully gossip about who had hooked up with whom (although, as a camper, I thought that hooked up meant kissing … I realize now that my peers and I might have been talking about wholly different activities). Was my adult frustration with the dance a manifestation of my lack of romantic success as a camper? Many of my staff thought so. That explanation certainly fits a narrative: the young outcast grows into a bitter old biddy. It’s a trope seen often in fiction; Miss Havisham and Severus Snape being two such examples.

But what if I had taken part in the debauchery of the Sioux-Ute as a camper? Would I really have wanted my first kiss to be to the gentle strains of “Rock wit U” or “Cry Me a River”? If I had, would I still be as miserable supervising it as I was? I like to think that my dislike of the event would remain through all possible permutations of my youth. It was loud, and it did smell bad, and no matter how permissive you are, hands should be kept outside of clothes. If that makes me a crone, well, there are some kids on my lawn I have to yell at.

2 replies on “Campfire Tales”

My life as a girl scout would have been SO much easier if we had known each other. I feel like there’s always one of “our type” but we never cross paths. Doomed to be grumpy crones forever.

I still pack a backpack full of books wherever I go. I still hate the dance, and don’t really want to drink with my peers. I know I’ll never really fit in with the people around me. But I’ll be damned if I don’t find some like minded grumps online. ^_^ Power to us.

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