Six Years and Some Skiggles: My Life on Camp Staff

Now that I finally have a few minutes to sit down and type, I figured I ought to put something together about the last six years and what it has all meant to me. I spoke pretty extensively at the End of Season Banquet last night, but many important people from my time on Camp Staff weren’t at that event and so a post such as this seemed appropriate. I realize I have left out many people and even more stories. However, I felt that immediacy and emotional authenticity were more relevant than accuracy here. If you didn’t make the essay, feel free to give me crap about it at the next banquet.

Me, during my pre-Camp Staff emo phase.I made the decision to apply for Camp Friedlander Staff during the winter of 2008-2009 because I was tired of the life I was leading and wanted to get away. A group of my friends from school had turned against me and were making life pretty difficult. I was frustrated with the dissolution of another of my passions (the band I had marched with for two years) and the social circles that had been collapsing along with it. I took a job at King’s Island when I didn’t hear from camp, but quit as soon as I received an interview (on the same day they offered me a promotion).

I interviewed for Camp Staff on a rainy day in March of 2009 with Lindsey Pigg, Andrew “Jar Jar” Meijer and a third party who I don’t  remember. I was intimidated by the interview and didn’t hear back for a few weeks. When I did, my contract said “Trading Post Staff”, which was my fifth choice. Heartbroken that I didn’t get a spot at Handicraft I took the job anyway for reasons previously explained and went to the Scout Shop to buy some uniforms from a clerk I later got to know quite well and spend two summers sharing a cabin with, his name was Daniel Tracy.

At my first Staff Orientation Weekend I knew exactly no one. My manager wasn’t even there and so I was forced to stand around awkwardly when everyone else went to area time, until Reggie Ballard introduced himself to me as a fellow lonely TP Staffer. While we had our differences that summer we ended being friends, co-workers and cabin mates for most of it and I still treasure him as the first person I met on Camp Staff.

Danny and I carry TeePee PolesI felt better going into Staff Week 2009, as I had already made one friend, but I had no idea what was in store. On the first or second day, while carrying Tepee poles I struck up a conversation about the Bonaroo Music & Arts Festival with Tim Miller, who would become my first lifelong camp friend. We complained about bands we were missing at the festival and how much fun we could have been having and he told me a story I no longer remember except for its the closing sentence: “True story, except for the parts I made up.” Later that week I packed into a Youth Cabin with about 18 other guys including Ben “Keebler” Pentecost, Joel Borgemenke and (I believe) Danny Korn where, at the urging of a Staff Member I can only remember as Mercutio, we penned the infamous Camp Friedlander Man Laws.

Later that week, during “Work Projects” I was hauling firewood to Present campsite with a gangly young CIT named Bryan who was wearing a Ransburg Scout Reservation T-Shirt and whose hair was almost as bad as mine. He had just received a brand new iPod Touch and was playing “Steady As She Goes” by The Raconteurs through its tiny speaker. I said something (presumably dorky) about the song and his shirt (as I had been a Ransburg camper from 2006-2007). And from these humble beginnings came the most fruitful friendship of my life.

I returned to the “real world” in the Fall of 2009 with a stronger self image, and a bit more confidence. I had some friends away from school who I knew I could rely on when things went bad. And things were shaping back up on the home front. A pretty rough break up got me down in the dumps for a bit, but right around then I got back in touch with Bryan and had the Camp Staff Christmas Party to look forward to.

Me teaching Cinematography Merit BadgeWhen I returned in 2010 as Handicraft Staff (at long last) I was given Photography, Journalism and Cinematography Merit Badges to teach for the summer. I taught Photo and Journalism almost every hour, on the hour, every single day for that entire Summer. Thankfully I had an excellent co-worker in Tyler “Hans” Frushour who was willing to swap with me occasionally, and quite a bit of assistance from my favorite CITs Bryan and Monica who would pick up the occasional Photo class when they weren’t bickering or finding new ways to prank people. That season also saw the development of my relationship with Paul “Jedi” Mayerski, whose acidic wit and knack for reference humor even surpassed my own. And of course, it was during Staff Week 2010 that my dear friend Bryan Higgins was dubbed Horse [email protected]#$er for all eternity.

Through a strange form of back channeling I received a call from Bryan Pruden in the winter of 2011 to inform me that I would be the Handicraft Director and he would be on my staff. I ended up adding Monica Driscoll, Jesse Dziech, Dylan Frushour and Heather Roe all of whom made my first summer as a director a fantastic time. I spent nearly all of Senior Staff Week with Horse, where our relationship grew into what it is today. Without him I would never have made it through the transition to Senior Staff, and I know he feels the same way. The stories from that summer could fill a book: from breaking my clavicle, to having the art room spider webbed, and of course Bryan getting his leg humped by a little person. Perhaps some day these and more stories will be published in a book, but it will have to wait until I know the evidence won’t be too incriminating to anyone involved (so it probably won’t happen).

The day my staff strung a spiderweb through the art room.

Once at the Handicraft building together (though he doesn’t remember it) Bryan Pruden and I began playing a game in our off time in which we went back and forth telling each other random things we didn’t know about one another. We spent hours just talking and really getting to know one another that summer, and at one point spent so much time together that we had an argument which culminated in my punching him quite hard in the crotch (to be fair he had already started to grow taller than me at this point, though I still shouldn’t have done it). I stormed off to the Handicraft building without eating dinner, and he joined me in the art room where we hashed out our differences, made up, and (I like to believe) cemented our friendship for the rest of our lives (sappy right?). Somewhere in there he invited me to go to church with him sometime, which was something I hadn’t been actively interested in for years due to some extenuating circumstances.

I moved to Athens, Ohio to start school at Ohio University that Fall and on a weekend visit home went to Crossroads with Bryan. It turned out to be a part of a six week journey called The Strong Challenge, which Bryan and I worked through together via Skype. His patience, understanding and faith during this period changed the course of my life. I cannot thank him enough for bringing me back to church and building faith back into my life during this period. There was no doubt that we would continue on through Skype and Camp Staff to build a bromance for the ages.

Camp Staff visiting Jungle Jim's in 2012I returned to Handicraft in 2012 with a mostly new and entirely male staff (except our permanent CIT Mandy of course) comprised of Jesse Dzeich, Jack VanKeuren (whom I met the previous summer when walking by his tent and snobbily dismissing his poor music taste), Matt Kowal, Nicholas Au-Yeung and Roland Zeman. These five guys (and Mandy) were an absolute blast to work with and I grew to love each one of them for their various quirks and unique personalities. I was particularly honored to get to know Roland, who I learned had taken Cinematography with Bryan the previous summer and worked on a video in which I got to slap him as hard as I could in the face. Roland, Jack, new friend Jake Taylor and I ventured into the mean streets of downtown Cincinnati that summer to see a dozen or so bands perform at the Bunbury Music Festival, which was one of the coolest Saturday nights I have on record thus far.

As I was wrestling with the possibility of re-applying to Camp Staff, and with my upcoming transition to life as an RA, Bryan and I noticed that Horse had stepped up as acting Boat Chaplain during Ken’s trip to Georgia. When I asked him about it one evening he explained that (like me) he had been a church-going person at one point in his life, but wasn’t any more and was looking for some answers. Bryan and I invited him to join us, and we became a tight-knit Small Group that still meets to talk about life, faith, Archer and Camp Staff every week either in-person or via Skype.

On my return to OU that Fall I quickly realized that being an RA was like working on Camp Staff, but with far less fun and way more drunk people vandalizing things. I struggled through the year with the help of Bryan, Horse and a few others hoping I would be able to financially afford a return to Camp Staff. On a whim I had applied for Assistant Commissioner, secretly hoping for a pay raise that would help me pay for school. One afternoon while I was sitting in a Starbucks, Terry Aufermann called and asked if I would be interested in a new Assistant Commissioner/CIT Director position. Thinking back to all of the friends I had made and grown up with who were CITs I quickly said yes. I worried about finances and prayed that I would somehow be able to afford returning to camp without returning to my dreaded RA job and at the last possible minute received a scholarship that allowed me to move off campus and return to camp without any financial pressure whatsoever.

And so, in the summer of 2013 I led 26 CITs through a crazy year full of flooding pools, smoke bombed showerhouses and a flurry of other ridiculous incidents. I got to meet and lead some excellent young people who I firmly believe embody the future of Scouting and of Camp Friedlander. When I felt like I couldn’t handle another day of waking up at dawn, listening to leaders complain and unclogging toilets these young staffers would always brighten my mood. If I ever looked bored or unamused they would run circles around me and yell “stupid things” just to get a rise out of me. They reminded me of all of the people I knew back when we were just starting out, and how exciting the world of Camp Staffing could be.

Seatbelt and IOne of them in particular jumped out at me though. He was bashful, a little awkward, but obviously excited to be at camp. He didn’t seem to know too many people when he showed up, and (I later learned) had come to Camp Staff to get away from a situation involving ex-friends at school. He knew who the Violent Femmes were, and that they carried all of their equipment on the bus. He bought a seatbelt off of another CIT during Staff Week and proudly wore it as a belt from that point forward. His name was Ben Bolton. Ben reminded me quite a bit of myself at his age, and apparently he reminded the rest of the staff of me as well. People quickly started saying we were the same person (and not in the appearance-level way they used to with Jack), but even as far as posture and sense of humor. He and I spent a number of nights chatting on the row that night all of which I remember very dearly.

 

When the applications went out for 2014 Staff I consulted with Bryan and Horse before submitting a PDF that listed Program Director as my top choice. On Thursday of AHG Week (fresh off of a trip to Columbus to see The Killers, which was dope) I was called into Jason Baldridge’s office and interviewed. On Friday afternoon I was offered the position, and that night at closing campfire I took over the circle from Chuck in a haze of hugs, tears and yelling. Thus began a year of spreadsheets, phone calls, Google Hangouts and endless Amazon searches for Human Hampster Balls. I got to hire some of the most talented people I’d had the pleasure of meeting over the course of five years to build what I firmly believe was the best Senior Staff I’d ever seen. Together 20 or so of us hired another 100 Staff Members to create the largest staff in the history of Camp Friedlander and the only one (since the camp re-opened in 2002) to not have a single employee terminated during the Summer Season.

At the end of a Summer of yelling, singing, microphone wielding, golf cart driving and wing eating I thought to myself last week that I could not have ended this period of my life on a better note. To be fair, this was not an easy summer. And it may not have even been my personal best as far as emotional health, and certainly not in terms of miles run or hours of sleep attained. However, I came to Camp Friedlander a fed up, stressed out, lonely dork and left six years later as an excited, less stressed, loved and wholly fulfilled dork.

Working on Camp Staff is not a job. It’s a lifestyle. We schedule our entire lives around two months out of the year. We build friendships with people from all over the country and all over the world. We do things other people our age can’t even dream of doing for less money and far less sleep than they’d be willing to. We work, sleep, live, eat, laugh, cry and pray together as a surrogate family that is always willing (in some capacity) to do a good turn for one of their own.

While we all have to leave at some point, I firmly believe that through our collective legacy we are never done here.

Me on the wall, during announcements

Oh, and one last time: Skiggles.