Lessons from Boy Scout camp: the fine line between merit and latrine

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September 18, 2007

2:11 AM

Whenever I remember Boy Scout summer camp two sensations come to mind: constipation and exhaustion. This first pain I attribute to a lifelong fear of public restrooms. Every year my dad would smile and remind me to bring toilet paper with me. To be honest I do not know why he grinned. There’s nothing enjoyable about squatting over a hole in the ground and hoping you don’t poop on your shoes. Using a latrine is an act so shameful that it can turn even the most well adjusted boy Catholic, which explains my vow to go an entire week without using a square.

p. Unfortunately this goal, like much of summer camp, always went to shit.

p. Getting past the constipation, my exhaustion stemmed from an endless barrage of merit badge classes. In this way, summer camp always reminded me of high school. I spent every hour in a class devoted to one merit badge. While many badges offered essential knowledge such as fire building, wilderness survival, and first aid, I favored that which would benefit me most. Who can say that my music appreciation class wouldn’t prove useful if I was lost in the woods? At least if I died on some endless track of wilderness I would know who Miles Davis was.

p. By my last year I was understandably jaded by the summer camp experience. The summer before I had only lasted four days before squatting, and my stomach still occasionally hurt from that struggle. I felt stuck. Nothing could top my previous summer, when three scouts from my troop got high and lit hay barrels on fire. I was ready for college and parties — instead, the only thing I had to look forward to would be the night we had ice cream. Unbeknownst to me, I was in for one behemoth surprise that year.

p. The instructor who taught my citizenship merit badge was beyond fat. I most remember his bulbous neck, which bulged out like a bowling ball under the pressure of his tight collar, and the giant pit stains shaped like gummy bears beneath his arms. “My name is Chuck Peters, and I will be your merit badge counselor.”

p. He was a writer’s dream. A rotund man with big jowls that shook from side to side as he discussed the United States Supreme Court. William Faulkner would have loved to get inside Chuck Peters’ head for one minute. Sometimes in the middle of an explanation of the separation of powers he would suddenly shift the conversation toward topics like beer steins and the Vietnam War. “Sure Congress matters, but the U.S. government would be horse shit without strong armed forces.”

p. “What would a real man say is the most important branch of the U.S. Government?” he once asked us. We did not know. “Marines you sissies!” What would he think if I told him I disdained military service? If he learned of my lifelong desire to join the Peace Corps, would I leave his presence with less than three broken bones? I was terrified of ever upsetting him, so I mostly sat in the back of the room and stared at the folds in his chest fat. I watched the layers shift like tectonic plates as he breathed.

p. During my third day at camp I learned the source of Chuck Peters’ girth. While sitting outside of the wood burning shack I overheard several boys talking. “His plane crashed in the middle of Vietcong territory, and he had to survive for weeks carrying his injured friend on his back.” Evidently the only thing he could find to eat was eating monkey brains. After making it out of the jungle, he promised never to starve again, and obviously he hadn’t stopped eating since. I was impressed by his heroism, but part of me was disgusted at how Chuck Peters let himself go. War heroes ran for president and owned banks. They did not become obese and they certainly did not teach civics at a summer camp

p. If a war hero could not do better, then where would a sissy of my caliber end up in life? I pondered this question as I sat outside the wood burning shack. The sky was tinged copper at the ends, and the sun had begun to dip behind some trees. My stomach rumbled angrily and I wondered if my body would explode from all the pressure. I still had an unused roll of toilet paper.

p. __James Damon is a Confusion Corner columnist. To this day, he still hoards toilet paper — just in case.__

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