Smitten Again By a Bug You Don’t Want

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Jambo Journal – Day #9, Monday, August 2, 2010 A Day of Rest.

Yesterday’s entry: Have Fun: Do Nothing.

I finally did it. I didn’t want to. 1067182_slice_of_pizzaI’ve been there before and I know the consequences. It took a lot of years to go through detox. I have a family now. I don’t want to go there again. But I can’t say no. I am again consumed by this awful temptress.

But, more on that story in a moment. First, I’ll give you the lowdown on the current plan for the new Jamboree site.

I went to The Summit exhibition in the morning. We (my son and another scoutmaster) walked there after waiting a half hour for a bus. It takes a half hour to walk to the National Exhibits area from our camp site. The air was cool and comfortable while we waited, but the sun came out as we walked. The heat milked the sweat right out of me.

When we got there we squeezed into a packed tent housing The Summit. It wasn’t air-conditioned, but it did have plenty of fans. The new site sits in West Virginia just north of Bechtel. It’s a former strip mine. The new footprint for the actual Jamboree camp sites will shrink from a diameter of five miles to one that is about a mile and a quarter. This will include all the subcamps and the activity centers. High venture areas will be available by bus.

It’s still a coin toss if we’ll really go there in 2013. The official word is “yes,” but rumors swirl otherwise. A spokesman at the exhibit told us the Boy Scouts expect have a soft open in 2012.

I head back to camp with my son. We pass by an ice cream stand and finally get a chance to peek inside to see what all the fussin’s about. Nothing I see impresses me. Still, the models they hired to sell the ice cream have attracted many boys and, no doubt, have led to increased sales and even a few date requests.

I spend the rest of the day at camp with most of the adult leaders and my son. It’s good to be with my son again. I’ve hardly seen him this past week, but he’s got all his rockers, his Hometown News Correspondent story filed and has pretty much completed all he has wanted to do. Today he’s decided to spend the day with dad, boring dad. Boring, but smart, dad, who stays in the shade during most of the day. The only thing that took me out of camp was a late afternoon shower. And, yes, I did wear my hat this time.

One good thing the subcamp commissioners did was to tell everyone it’s OK to take off our shirts while in the subcamp. With the heat and humidity, no doubt several thousand boys and men benefited from nature’s intended air conditioning process. This is probably more critical for the boys who are playing football, ultimate Frisbee and rugby in the huge field between the campers and the commissioners. After all, since these boys hardly know each other, how else will they be able to tell who’s on what team?

I spend the afternoon shirtless in the shade beneath the leader’s pitch tent. It’s only 10’ by 10’, and, as the sun moves across the sky, it acts like a huge sundial. The Scoutmasters are constantly rearranging their deck chairs to insure they stay properly shaded.

Shade is critical. Not only does it keep you cool, but it also helps prevent sunburn. No matter how much lotion you put on, there’s always a change you’ll miss something or the ointment will wear off. This is not the sort of venture that allows for sun burn. Ergo, better safe than sorry.

A lot of parents are coming into camp to see their sons. This presents a bit of a challenge as, as much as my body says to keep the shirt off, I don’t like entertaining guests sans shirt. So it’s a merry-go-round for my shirt going from clothesline to my back to the clothesline. In the end, though, the clothesline prevails. It’s just too hot when the sun’s out.

In the meantime, our scoutmaster has been off since the morning, first to visit his wife then, of course, to trade patches. This time, however, he’s trading patches for others. The 3rd Scoutmaster and I have requested he try to obtain Star Trek patches from the elusive Hawkeye Area Council. While out on his mission, our Scoutmaster calls us several times asking for clarification on our exact desires. We’re hopeful of good news upon his return.

And he does return with good news. I now have my “To Boldly Go” patch and the 3rd Scoutmaster gets several patches. I ask the super trader what I owe him, offering to give him the Staff patch I have. He shakes his head and points across our gateway, “I’d like a ‘Moo-Cow’ patch from the troop next door.”

You mean, you want me to trade? I say to myself. After clarification as to what a “Moo-Cow” patch really is, he escorts me to the other troop and we ask permission to enter. I whistle the Navy hail. They invite us in and we find out their trader is not present. But I do get to see the exact patch my Scoutmaster wants. The Vermont Troop tells us to come back after dinner.

After dinner, I ask our Scoutmaster, “when is the appropriate time to go.” He simply says, “Now.” I get out of my chair and, with a slight edge of anxiety, head towards the neighboring camp.

I’m not worried about flying solo. I’m not worried about messing up the trade. I’m not worried about being rejected.

No, I’m worried about the monster. I’ve seen this monster before. Heck, I’ve been this monster before!

Back in my youth, the trading bug bit me good. It started with football cards and quickly spread to baseball cards. By the time I was deep in my teenage years, several consecutive Erie County Fairs (helping with my grandparents’ pizza stand) chiseled me into an astute and avaricious trader. My grandfather constantly harped on me against doing these trades, even as he was finishing his own deals (think Claude Rains line in Casablanca, “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!” only to have a croupier hand him a pile of money and say, “You’re winnings, sir.”).

Every year my trades would get more daring. Family members would come to me for various odds and ends. I even did well for myself. Dynamo was giving away free sample bottles of their laundry detergent. For two slices of pizza and a Pepsi, I acquired an entire unopened crate of these bottles. When my grandfather found out, he hit the roof. My grandmother, on the other hand, thanked me when I gave her one of the boxes (each box contained 24 bottles). Just to be sure I had all other bases covered, I gave my mother an unopened box, too. The rest I took to Yale with me. I used most of the merchandise for collegiate trading. I saved one box for me. I still had some bottles left when I graduated. It’s not that I never did laundry – I did – it’s just that’s how much laundry detergent I got for only two slices of pizza and a Pepsi!

The trading bug only got worse. I never broke any rules or cheated anyone, but it was definitely the wrong sort of life for a nice young man to enter. After all, I wasn’t trading with Boy Scouts – it was an entirely different kind of crowd. The kind of crowd where you didn’t pledge an Oath, you swore. And heaven forbid if they smelled anything of the Law. You were either ostracized or worse. It’s not like these folks were criminals – yet – but, remember, a lot of them were carnies.

The trading bug really didn’t wear off until after I graduated from college. Incidentally, my grandfather finally gave up trying to stop me when I trading for an electronic frying pan my grandmother had for years been pestering him to get for her. It was a prize at one of the I-Got-It stands. They wanted an entire pizza pie. They got two slices and a Pepsi.

So, I went through the gateway and entered the camp of Troop 328, the Green Mountain Council – Vermont’s finest. I traded one-up – my Seneca Waterways Staff shoulder patch for one Green Mountain Council shoulder patch. The Vermonter I spoke with informed me an artist by the name of Woody Jackson designed the patch with iridescent thread announcing “100 years of scouting” written in the clouds. He was the same artist who designed the famous Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream cows. I said a polite “wow” (I had no idea what he was talking about although I did recognize the ice cream brand). We exchanged patches and shook (left) hands with the Boy Scout handshake.

I came back to camp with a beaming grin. I handed the Scoutmaster his new patch and pronounced I just had my virgin Boy Scout patch trade!

Yes, the same familiar adrenaline was flowing through the veins. Yes, the same high of self-accomplishment satisfied me. It was like seeing an old friend for the first time in, say, decades. I was back in the game.

But this time I held myself back. I wasn’t going to get caught in the same trap. Had it been 35 years earlier, I might not have cared. But, for now, well, I’m just too busy with more important things.

I’m finishing this late in the evening (around 9pm). Though dark, the camp is abuzz with the sounds of youthful activity. There’s a jazz rock band performing in the subcamp arena. The boys are playing games. There are shouts of fun and joy. It’s the middle of summer. It’s warm. The stars are coming out. It’s a perfect night.

We see a half dozen boys take chairs and blankets out of the camp with them. They’re going to set up their own trading posts.

I smile.

They’ll learn.


Stay Tuned for Tomorrow’s Exciting Journal Entry: What Do You Mean the Activity Center’s Closing Early?

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