Author’s Note: The American Camp Association created a video in which actors and musicians share how their lives were changed for the better “because of camp.” After watching their video, I realized that I’d had a very different summer camp experience…

Because of camp I developed my first severe case of poison oak.

Because of camp I discovered that rock climbing didn’t build confidence, just bruises.

Because of camp my very first French kiss was with a circus arts girl whose tongue moved around in my mouth like a rabid skunk on roller skates.

Because of camp I thought that all girls French kissed that way, so I began kissing the same way too.

Because of camp hardly any girl ever wanted to kiss me. Only the crazy circus arts girl.

Because of camp I developed my first severe case of pink eye.

Because of camp I learned that I could lip-synch the hell outta “Stairway to Heaven.”

Because of camp I discovered that I enjoyed lanyard making far more than instructional swimming and horseback riding combined.

Because of camp I learned that the foxy girls rarely went for the lanyard-making guys—especially the ones with pink eye, poison oak, and couldn’t kiss for shit—no matter how good they were at lip-synching “Stairway to Heaven.”

Because of camp I discovered the true beauty of bouncing breasts during a volleyball game.

Because of camp I realized that I totally hated at volleyball, but kept playing because of the breasts.

Because of camp I discovered that the girls in the dance program were far hotter, and far better kissers than the girls in the circus arts program, but that on first hook-up the circus arts girls would easily go to third base, while the dance girls would only go to first.

Because of camp I discovered that most kids, without any hesitation or sense of remorse, would gladly torture and kill any insect or woodland creature they could get their hands on.

Because of camp I learned that I sucked ass in both carpentry and martial arts.

Because of camp I never got a chance to score with any girls I found remotely interesting because they were either getting scammed on by the male counselors or the guys that excelled in carpentry and martial arts.

Because of camp I learned to see backwards and forwards at once because no one could be trusted; especially the animal killers, the male counselors, and the guys that excelled in carpentry and martial arts.

Because of camp I took numerous enrichment classes—drama, SAT prep, photography—and realized that I only excelled in one: crime science forensics.

Because of camp I learned that, yes, I could still be severely depressed, even in the great outdoors.

Because of camp I discovered that there was actually a class for learning how to make your bed, and I sucked at it.

Because of camp I discovered that when you flip over in a canoe, once you hit that cold, dick-shrinking water and your balls go up into your throat, even your closest of friends suddenly adopt the mentality: Every man for himself.

Because of camp I learned to truly despise tie-dyeing. And balloon animals. And yo-yo tricks.

Because of camp I learned that I was prone to sleepwalking and snoring, but could make one hell of a Smores.

Because of camp I discovered that both golf and ceramics were a hell of a lot more tolerable after smoking a joint.

Because of camp I learned that the whole camp experience had very little to do with my parents wanting me to have an enjoyable summer, and more to do with them just wanting to get me the hell out of their lives for a month.

Because of camp I learned in religious studies class that if my parents didn’t accept Jesus Christ as their savior they’d go to hell, but that I wouldn’t.

Because of camp I learned that that maybe wasn’t such a bad idea: having my parents in hell while I kicked back in heaven.

Because of camp I discovered that the apocalypse didn’t necessarily have to be all war, famine, and death. It could simply be having to attend golf or ceramics class without a sufficient buzz.

Because of camp I learned that the girl with Bells Palsy—which made half of her face go numb and uncontrollable—would actually turn out to be the prettiest girl there after a week’s worth of antibiotics.

Because of camp I discovered beer pong. And consequently learned that what I lacked in ping-pong skills, I sufficiently made up for in drinking and barfing abilities.

Because of camp I learned that the kids on crutches always got the most attention. So during the night, when no one was around, I’d jump off the Smokey the Bear statue, trying to break my legs by landing on my knees. But it never worked.

I always landed on my feet.



Final Note: A special thanks to the following people for sharing with me their inspirational (and traumatic) camp experiences: Jessica, Marlene, Desiree, Tony, Tammy, Meghan, Khadija, Jean, Tracy, and MJ.

And now, dear readers, if you’d like to share your own comments and/or summer camp stories, I’d love to hear them…

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RICH FERGUSON has performed nationally, and has shared the stage with Patti Smith, Wanda Coleman, Exene Cervenka, T.C. Boyle, Jerry Stahl, Bob Holman, Loudon Wainwright, Ozomatli, and many other esteemed poets and musicians. He has performed on The Tonight Show, at the Redcat Theater in Disney Hall, the New York City International Fringe Festival, the Bowery Poetry Club, South by Southwest, the Santa Cruz Poetry Festival, Stephen Elliott’s Rumpus, and with UK-based poetry collective One Taste. He is also a featured performer in the film, What About Me? (the sequel to the double Grammy-nominated film 1 Giant Leap), featuring Michael Stipe, Michael Franti, k.d. lang, Krishna Das, and others. He has been published in the LA TIMES, Opium Magazine, has been widely anthologized, spotlighted on PBS (Egg: The Art Show), and was a winner in Opium Magazine’s Literary Death Match, LA. His spoken word/music videos have been featured at poetry film festivals throughout the world. Ferguson is a Pushcart-nominated poet, and a poetry editor at The Nervous Breakdown. His poetry collection 8th & Agony has been published by L.A.’s Punk Hostage Press.

90 responses to “Because of Camp”

  1. Because of CAMP I discovered that those plants growing in the back lot behind my cabin in the Santa Cruz mountains had obviously done something illegal…

    Oh, wait. Different camp. 😉

    Great piece Rich. Loved it.

  2. Christine W. says:

    Rabid skunk on rollerskates: I envisioned it happening in your mouth…what a visual!

  3. Jude says:

    Rich: Thanks so much for my first laugh of the day! Especially loved the first kiss scenario with the circus arts girl, and the following consequences. I’m sure your technique has much improved since then…

  4. Zara Potts says:

    We don’t have summer camp here in the southern hemisphere and after reading this, I’m not sure if I’m sad or glad about it.

    I learned everything I know from Saturday afternoon’s at the roller disco. I learnt that Redhead boys who wore double denim ensembles were the best kissers and girls who wore white boot skates with satin covers were usually rich and pretty.

    I learned that you can kiss a boy for two minutes without coming up for air if you breathe through your nose in just the right way.

    Oh and I learned that it doesn’t matter if the first drag on a cigarette makes you want to vomit..nicotine is both highly enjoyable and addictive.

    Thanks Rich -what a great post!!

    • Thanks for reading, Zara. I would’ve loved to have been able to hang out with you at the roller disco. Also, I viewed some of your Leaping photos on Facebook. Dang, you got some moves, girl.

  5. Matt says:

    Because of camp I learned that I was a frighteningly good shot with a rifle and shotgun, and that I never wanted to touch a gun again.

    Because of camp I learned that high altitudes just made my chronic childhood nosebleeds that much worse.

    Because of camp I learned that girls REALLY find that kid with the chronic nosebleeds icky and don’t want anything to do with him.

    Because of camp I learned that the Boy Scouts of America is a horrifically homophobic institution, and that I would be happier, and learn more, if I quit and just started camping with my friends.

  6. TammyAllen says:

    I love it! Smokey the Bear heh.

  7. Mary says:

    Oh man
    I knew a guy that kissed just like your circus arts girl, only we said he kissed like a washing machine, like he was trying to stir something up with his tongue. Ugh. I never thought about how he learned to kiss… or how he went so long without finding a better way.

    • Hi Mary:

      Thanks for reading. And as for those misguided kissers, yeah, God bless them. Speaking of which, I loved your washing machine image. You really nailed it with that one.

  8. […] up on my reading over at The Nervous Breakdown, and I have to tell you, I love these folks. There are a lot of great pieces up lately, so go check them […]

  9. Slade Ham says:

    I only went to camp once, where I learned that the girl I had been infatuated with for almost three years didn’t even know my name.

    Fuck camp.

    A wonderful post though Rich. The kissing part in particular.

  10. Irene Zion says:

    Rich, I am trying to picture this.
    You were at a Christian cum Circus-Arts-Camp where you learned bad kissing, the love of making lanyards, the admiration for bouncing breasts in spite of clinical depression, and that you were exceptional in crime science forensics?
    I’m pretty sure that this is a totally hum-drum camp experience.
    uh huh.

    • Hi Irene:

      These camp experiences are pretty much a culmination of various camps that I went to throughout the years. Not just one. But heck, if you could find all those things in one camp, that would be pretty great…or maybe not, actually.

      • Irene Zion says:

        Well, Rich, I’m just going to go on thinking that it was one camp, because it sounds really awesome that way!

  11. Tracy says:

    Love the piece, Rich!

  12. Judy Prince says:

    Great read, Rich! I love your style; the unique way your joke-logic builds one upon the other. My complete fave, of many here, is the paragraph that ends: “Every man for himself.” Total HOOT!

  13. Jessica Blau says:

    Love this. I want to hear it “sung” by you in a video. I’m surprised those circus-arts girls weren’t worth it. When did you finally figure out the right way to kiss?

    I never went to camp, but I was a counselor at a kosher Jewish camp on Lake of the Oazarks in Missouri one summer. I learned how to sneak out of the cabin at night once my campers were sleeping so I could meet my boyfriend in the sailboats where we’d do things way better than those circus arts girls.

    • Marni Grossman says:

      Oh man, Jessica. I’ve been to Jewish camp AND I’ve been to the Lake of the Ozarks. Combining the two sounds pretty awful…

      • No, it was REALLY fun! I was only seventeen but told them I was nineteen. So I was, sort of, the age of the CITs and just faking my way as an adult. The strange thing is that my parents let me drive off from California to Missouri in a Honda with my 20 year old boyfriend. I remember coming home, walking into the house, they were having a party. My mother was surprised to see me–she’d had no idea when I’d be back.

  14. Hey Jessica!

    So nice to hear from you. And as for the circus arts girls, they were pretty darn cool. Just a little too misguided and whacked-out at times. Not that that’s totally bad, mind you. I’ve actually come to appreciate those qualities more and more through the years.

    Thanks for reading…

  15. Simon Smithson says:

    Because of Rich Ferguson, I learned I wish we had summer camp over here.

    • Simon:

      You would’ve been a total hit at summer camp. You would’ve been one of those guys that would’ve been great at carpentry, martial arts. Pretty much everything. You would’ve been scoring all the hot girls while I remained lip-locked with the crazy circus arts chick.

  16. I never went to camp, so I had to learn all this in my twenties. In retrospect, I am not sure that was a good plan, either.

    But it was worth it all for this little piece of art, right? It was all worth it, yes? Yes?!

  17. angela says:

    i only went to day camp, where i learned that girls were FUCKING MEAN. meaner even than in school. needless to say, i only went for one summer.

    i dated a guy who wouldn’t move his tongue at all when we kissed. like he’d stick his tongue in my mouth and just leave it there, like a paralyzed slug.

  18. Andrea says:

    “Because of camp my very first French kiss was with a circus arts girl whose tongue moved around in my mouth like a rabid skunk on roller skates.”

    this was my favorite part.

    love it, Rich!

  19. James D. Irwin says:

    We don’t have summer camp here.

    I’m never really sure if I’m glad or not… probably glad, because I got homesick quite easily until I was actually in my late-mid teens…

    And I didn’t really need a summer experience to learn how much I sucked at pretty much everything. I spend most of my summers watching Magnum, PI with my brother and making the biggest sandwiches possible…

    and those were awesome summers….

  20. Autumn says:

    I only got sent to camp once. It was less than a mile from my house, and it totally sucked. I walked home–nobody even tried to stop me. I spent the summer in fist-fights and make-out sessions with a boy named Beau.

  21. chris hill says:

    Because of camp I learned that if you coat the counselor’s door handles with Vaseline they may respond by pennying your barracks door in…

    Because of camp I got to experience firsthand the this will never happen to me again in my lifetime visual glory of a sister campful of gleeful, undressed cheerleaders streaking by…

    Because of camp I grew to appreciate just how much more I liked backpacking…

    Because of camp I realized that old grandpa Hill must have been exaggerating about the amount of Blackfoot Indian blood in the family because I really sucked ass at archery…

    good one rich thanks for the flashbacks

  22. Aja says:

    Because of camp I would never live down the title “Fastest Changer” in my family. All the other 6 year olds got sharpie marker hand written signs that read, “Best Volleyball Star,” ” Most Artistic,” “Best Swimmer,” “Most Intellectual”, “Best Hair”…etc. I got the award “Fastest Changer” because a girl with Down Syndrome in my group would always harass me when I was changing so I learned to change from my swimsuit to my regular clothing in time- warping speed. I don’t think “Fastest Changer” is a sport in the Olympics, but maybe it should be…

    Loved the piece Rich!

    • Fastest Changer, that’s hilarious, Aja. Man, I would’ve loved to have seen that one. Well, maybe not actually. Maybe that’s one of those visuals that plays out better in the imagination. Thanks so much for reading, my dear. I’m truly honored. I hope all’s going well in NYC with your stage work. You rule.

  23. Mary says:

    Great job Rich! Hilarious!

    Because of camp I was lent a pair of sweatpants from my crush after he told me I could make a jump over a creek.(I missed) I heart those sweats.

  24. Because of you I’m glad I never went to whatever camp you’re writing about but so grateful we’re in this one together.

    Thanks for your gifts, Counselor.

    As ever, JM

  25. Jovanka says:

    Because of camp I got denounced as a witch and ostracized for an entire summer. True story. Perhaps things would have gone better for me if I’d known what a lanyard was.

    I’m glad that Circus Arts girl didn’t leave any lasting damage! ; )

    Great piece as always, Rich!


  26. Jerome Dunn says:

    Because of camp I learned what it means to be so truly unpopular that even rabid skunks wouldn’t sit next to me in the mess hall.

    Because of camp i learned that Christianity and weed don’t mix, but weed’s just fine anyhow.

    And resin medallion making lit the way to glue sniffing and other harmless pursuits.

    I’m with Slade. Fuck camp!

    Nice one, Rich.

  27. dave says:

    as always,great piece Rich!…so,let’s see…one time during my boy scout era,at a usual weekend camping extravaganza,when we arrived at the site and as customary,we all ran down to the river bed(not sure why,ha) to scope out the joint…and there they were…an older guy and gal totally nude and in their last thrusts of hard outdoor nature sex! now being around 12 or 13, we were all gettin a serious “life” moment thrown at us for sure. and then… the dude finished and backed out, and the female immediately grabbed this rubber bag lokking thing,with a little hose attached. we hid behind those rocks with amazement, as she walked into the river,stuck the hose in her secret garden, and seemed to be flushing it out! right into the river!the river we were going to be drinking from,cooking from,swimming from…to this day it has destroyed my camping urges.

  28. Man, now I feel like I missed out… I’ve never been to camp. I wonder if it’s too late… Maybe there are camps for adults who spent camp-less youths.

  29. Amanda says:

    Because of camp, I learned to sign up for Session One canoeing, otherwise the cloth-and-stuffing lifejackets would be cold, sodden and smell like pee by afternoon Session Two.

    Because of camp, I learned to hold it for two adys, terrified a snake would climb up my ass while I crouched to poo in the outhouse.

    Because of camp, I learned about penises, which lolled out of tiny boy-campers’s shorts while they slept, snoring, on their backs.

    Because of camp, I learned that no matter how much it looks like spaghetti, paint-soaked string glued to a paper plate and attached with string to make a mask that includes a “lion’s mane” will never EVER taste like spaghetti.

    • Yeah, Amanda. You gotta watch out for that paint-soaked string. And the dried beans as well. Once you stuck those puppies up your nose, they’re hell to get out.

      • Amanda says:

        Ahhhh but that’s the beauty of camp, those beans…because, camp taught me that no matter what you shove up your nose, eventually someone will invent a competitive game (perhaps a dangerous variation on “tag”) that knocks you in the back of the head hard enough to dislodge whatever was crammed up your nostril(s).

        : )

  30. Ducky Wilson says:

    Because of camp, I learned that a scorpion is not bigger than Jason or any of his Argonauts, not even the really short ones.

    Because of camp, I learned that a scorpion can’t kill you, but a rattlesnake can.

  31. This line terrified me: “Because of camp my very first French kiss was with a circus arts girl whose tongue moved around in my mouth like a rabid skunk on roller skates.”

    I will have nightmares.

    The rest was great! bahhahahaha!

  32. D. B. Ruderman says:

    Very cool Rich. Have you seen Adams Family Values? Kids like us get their revenge!!!!

    • Hah. Haven’t seen that movie yet, David. But I’ll have to check it out some day. I did, however, see this wonderful documentary last night about a Seattle band from the 90s called The Gits. It was truly very cool. And the lead singer, Mia (R.I.P.), man she sure could sing.

  33. Nice post!

    Because of camp, I learned that I actually was interesting and fun and likable – something that definitely did not seem to be true at school! Wish you’d come to my camp, Rich. But hey, life’s not over yet! Being an adult is actually better than being a kid =)

    • Hey Rebecca:

      I tend to agree with you. Adult camp rocks. Plus, if we go to adult camp together, I’ll get a chance to see you do your trapeze act. And I bet you’re a hella cooler circus arts gurrrrrrl than the one I knew as a teenager.

  34. Joe Daly says:

    Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.

    “Because of camp I learned that the foxy girls rarely went for the lanyard-making guys—especially the ones with pink eye, poison oak, and couldn’t kiss for shit—no matter how good they were at lip-synching “Stairway to Heaven.”

    It takes some people a whole lifetime to get this one. You’re lucky to have learned it so early!

  35. Lenore says:

    this was so awesome to see you perform. you’re my fav.

  36. Erika Rae says:

    Hahaha – this was an awesome thrill ride through your mind, Rich. The funny thing is I had the exact same idea for a post, but yours is so INSANELY better that I’m now just embarrassed beyond measure to think of my own camp experience. I loved so many lines, but the one that made me laugh out loud was that you thought it wouldn’t be so bad if your parents went to hell.

    I miss you, Rich! How the hell are you?

  37. Lorna says:

    You discovered beer pong at camp? Wow.

    My only experience with camp was a 4 day weekend church camp. I was too young to remember much more than we slept in tents and went to service two times a day. Oh, and the older girls were not very Christian-like.

  38. Hi Lorna:

    Thanks for reading. And as for the older girls at your camp, God bless the unChristian-like ones. They rule.

  39. Tracey Zee says:

    Rich I only went to church camp, but everything you said pretty much fits. I remember Tears for Fears, “Everybody wants to Rule the World” blasting on the boom-boxes. I would have given anything to be a crazy circus girl. I only managed to pull of the crazy part. Ah well. But thanks to camp, I found God while making my mom a ceramic ashtray.

  40. Marni Grossman says:

    Because of camp, I learned that, for Jews, mandatory sports was optional.

    Because of camp, I discovered that a parent-free zone was something less than a dream-come-true. I discovered that, in fact, I missed them.

  41. Richard Cox says:

    Wow, dude. Even for all the shit you went through, I’m sort of jealous I never went to camp. I didn’t discover peer pong or volleyball bouncing breasts or getting high or any of that stuff until years later.

    I love the line about eyes in the back of your head because no one could be trusted. I often felt that way in school, too.

  42. jmblaine says:

    Circus arts and dance girls?
    Man we never had a camp like that.

    I do miss late night Capture the Flag.

    Summer camp was so wonderful and awful at the same time huh?

    • Ah, Brother Blaine. So glad you chimed in. And yes, summer camp was definitely one of those simultaneously wonderful and awful experiences. Hope all’s well in your neck of the woods.

  43. Because of camp food, I learned it really is possible to shit through a keyhole at 100 yards.

  44. Greg Olear says:

    Because of camp I took numerous enrichment classes—drama, SAT prep, photography—and realized that I only excelled in one: crime science forensics.

    I am imagining you in your Bond-girl get-up, spoken-wording your way through an episode of CSI: Los Angeles. Now that, my friend, is a show I’d watch. And DVR, so I could watch it over and over.

    • Yeah, I guess that would be kind of a funny show, huh? But you’d definitely have to be the host, Greg. And if I end up getting murdered by the end of the episode, I’d definitely want you to be the one to draw the chalk outline around my body. Cheers, my friend.

      • Greg Olear says:

        The thing is, I’m only half-joking. I had an entire flash of you doing a four-minute song about CSI, where you were walking around LA, rhyming about chalk outlines. It was very amusing. I guess I’m just a fan, is all.

  45. Liz Foster says:

    The only thing I remember from camp are the fires at night and the terrifying stories camp counselors would tell right before going to sleep. I never went to sleep thinking I was going to be eaten by a bear or something far more creepy. The only thing I excelled at was boondoggle and god’s eye crafting made with Popsicle sticks, yarn and glue. I was always one of the “cool” kids. LOL!

    Rich, love your writing, your insight and your humor. Thanks for sharing it.

  46. Chris Burdick says:

    “Because of Camp” was the sequel Anne Frank never got around to writing.

  47. D.R. Haney says:

    My own camp experiences are now a matter of very public record here at TNB, Rich. Meanwhile, I recently had the pleasure of seeing you perform this piece, so it’s nice to be able to read it to boot.

  48. I have too say, this piece makes me feel somewhat relieved and yet envious that I never attended a summer camp in m life.

    Hilarious and thoughtful you are.

  49. Oops. I meant, to with one O. I need more tea this morning.

  50. Jordan Ancel says:

    This really stirs up some tragicomic memories of my camp experience, Rich.

    When I was a kid, I went to day camp in Woodstock, where my folks had a summer home. I’d never gone to sleep-away camp, nor did I want to. I was a shy kid, and going to day camp nearby afforded me the option of leaving early on my own to go back home.

    One day during tennis class, I was matched against a really cute girl in a really cute tennis outfit. I was eight, she was ten, and I was smitten. Needless to say, she annihilated me in our match.

    Afterward, she shook my hand, and we shared a snack. I’d never seen her before, and after inquiring why, she told me that she was from another camp nearby— a sleep-away camp.

    That afternoon, I went home and demanded my parents send me to the sleep-away camp (the name of which escapes me). They were in shock, but obliged. They told me I could go for four days and, if I liked it, I could stay longer.

    My parents booked me in a week later.

    The day I showed up, I barely said ‘bye to my folks as I bounded out of the car and was met by my counselor. I rushed my counselor through showing me around and made my way to where the girls cabins were.

    After searching for my love for what seemed to be all day— the cabins, the tennis court, the pool, the drama lessons, the music lessons, the basket weaving lessons— she was nowhere to be found.

    Finally, I went to the office and asked where I could find her. I was told that she broke her leg and had gone home earlier in the week.

    I stayed all four days, lamenting my loss. I returned to day camp and worked on my tennis game just in case one day…

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