Sunday, August 07, 2005

The noble savage, part 1.

My childhood was filled with a ton of awesome things that were potentially dangerous and might have killed me: lawn darts, a giant red slide with no railing that was at least 20 feet to the ground with metal pinstripes on it that would burn your behind when you went down, metal toys with small parts. All of these great things were invented in a time before people thought to protect children from natural selection.

When I was 12, I was informed by my dad that there was a thing called "Indian Camp" for Boy Scouts, a group of which I was a member. It was a full week of running around, living like Indians (This was before everyone nonwhite was fortunate enough to get an obligatory -American at the end of their nationality, so I'll go with that terminology) and basically doing cool stuff like shooting guns and bows and living in a teepee. Oh, and no showers or flush toilets.

I was conflicted: On one hand, it would be awesome, because Indians are pretty fantastic. Anyone who's ever read Last of the Mohicans knows how badass Hawkeye is. He's got those cool auto-reloading muskets. Oh wait, he's not an Indian. But Chingachgook was awesome, and he was. On the other hand, I had some concerns playing Indian at a camp with adults and other kids of unknown quality. I thought about it; I even went to a meeting about it. I don't remember the meeting at all: rather, I remember my dad took me to Ben & Jerry's afterwards and got irritated with me because I got plain chocolate ice cream. Apparently, I needed to get some crazy sort of ice cream with pretzels and nougat to justify him spending an extra dollar over Baskin-Robbins.

In the end, I decided to go. After all, this was going to be the Last Indian Camp ever. I guess the Boy Scout leadership was just as wary of the publicity that such a camp would bring. I signed up, uncertain of what exactly to expect.

Driving up to the camp, it quickly became my responsibility to distract my mom from the hordes of half-naked campers and leaders that were carousing the sign-in grounds. I say half-naked because one of the fun facts I learned when I signed in was that my normal clothes would be locked up in a shed for the duration of the camp and I was issued a flimsy loincloth, belt and vest (For some reason, my black Nike sneakers were fine- I later found out that Native Americans started the first sweatshop a hundred years before the White Man came to America. So thank goodness we were historically correct). In addition to my vestments, I was also able to choose an Indian name: I want to say I chose something witty and incisive, like Dances Without Rhythm, but as I recall, it was something standard; Buffalo Breath or somesuch. I also was assigned to a society, which was just a subdivision of campers. Some of the societies sounded awesome: Wolf, Bear and Shield. Because I was a first-year camper, however, I got assigned to the Elk society. The goddamned Elk society- I might as well have been in the Vagina society.

I want to say that at this point I bravely accepted the less-than-optimal statues I had been subjected to up to this point, but inside I considered bolting towards the dwindling silhouette of my parent's car and leaping for it, John Woo style. I spite of this cowardice, I joined my Elk compatriots in our gathering area, and we made our way to our campground, where the first order of business was building our teepee.

Teepee, in English, means "Let's see how flimsy of a structure I can make with three sticks and some cloth. Someone had already secured the poles together, but whoever did that also thought that the sight of 5 scrawny 12-year old boys in loincloths attempting to construct a tripod whose height exceeded fifteen feet is the epitome of comedy. It might have taken an hour, perhaps, but finally we were successful. Except that the bottom of the teepee's wrapping had a 2 foot gap with the ground. I surmised that it was both the perfect size for snakes and insects to invade my blankets as well as for coyotes to feast on my slumbering body at night. But I didn't sign up for the world tour of luxury resorts, so it was ok. I just made sure to sleep closer to the center of the tent than the fat kid.

I honestly don't even remember what I ate the entire time I was there- probably authentic Indian foods or some crap. The whole week, though, was leading up to the feast on the last night, when the entire camp would spit a pig and roast it. So the first night, we ate whatever they gave us and after some retelling of how the elk tribe came to be, we passed an initiation in which we recited something and passed our hand through fire and went to bed, too exhausted to care that some feral animal was lurking in the bushes for an easy meal thanks to our lack of teepee architecture skills.

The next five days would be a blur, with some interesting asides. In my next blog, I will describe exactly what goes on at Indian Camp during the day, why you should always use marked paths when going on the warpath, why it's not a good idea to make any bets that involve Tabasco sauce and how the camp itself came to a final calamitous conclusion.


At 3:40 PM, Blogger sheriff of nothing said...

Hrmms memories of camp....... nope no good ones there - but an Indian camp sure does sound fun!

At 3:50 AM, Blogger chica bonita said...

i thought you would have to find your own food for survivals during camps. did u have lots of indian curries? ;-)

At 6:51 AM, Blogger Mahd said...

I thought something was wrong when we went to the ceremony for Vishnu.

Seriously, though. Native Americans weren't scavengers- God knows that we've heard the story about how the Pilgrims managed to destroy their crops and it was only the Native Americans that saved their butts. I assume that, if they could go back, they would be laughing at the settlers instead of feeding them

At 3:21 PM, Blogger Knows It All said...

Well, you were at the boy scout version of Indian camp. White folks are always thinking they know what Indians are and how they live. Kevin Costner is prime example.

Never have I come across tribes named for ELK, but that's cool. I also, am surprised to learn that Indians in the continental US ate pork, luau style. But hey, all the Indians I know eat like white folk.

Anyway, excellent story.

At 3:34 PM, Blogger Mahd said...

I definitely agree- heck, I would venture to guess that even modern Native Americans wouldn't understand people from 200 years ago. I certainly wouldn't understand Vikings or Cossacks.

Elk society, not tribe. That probably doesn't make any difference, though.

At 4:23 PM, Blogger Knows It All said...

Worlds of difference. My white grandpa belongs this day to the "Elks". THey aren't so much into nature and Indian-inspired merging with the 99 cent tacos and Happy hour from 4 -7 pm every night. He and all his fellow society men saddle up to the bar, order up cheap food and drinks and talk smack.

Not so much a tribe...but society. Absolutely. Or as an Elk may say "you betch yer ass"

At 3:15 AM, Blogger ChickyBabe said...

Camping, hey? I used to be in the scouts and that reinforced my love of luxury. But we did used to ogle the older boys, hmmm...maybe there was something in it after all.


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