portion of the artwork for Gabe Durham's stories

Fun Camp: Eight Flashes
Gabe Durham

Every Evening, Skits
Keep them clean, kids. Act well, method if you can manage it. Try to be complex and cathartic and redemptive. Gross-outs welcome. Have a spiritual message, though don’t go out and say it. There’s a nest of baby birds out the window behind the stage. This arresting scene is your competition. Are your acts more entertaining than their chirps? Appraise, then sign up or don’t. No dressing in drag because of what’s-this-I-hear calls from parents. Closed-toed shoes preclude splinters. Do that drinking the toothpaste skit. Better still, do that Japanese submarine skit with the dumb guy who, after every command, goes, “How you do that?” When they twice fire torpedoes and both times miss their target and feel shame for having dishonored their ancestors and the whole gang commits honorable hari-kari, the guy turns to the audience, bloody sword in hand, and delivers his signature line, “How you do that?” The crowd, invited to consider that the idiot’s suffocation is just as inescapable as his comrades’ suicides, just loses it. Your rivals will peep with shame.

There Are Limits
Were you there when he got out of the lake, shimmering, holding a mackerel he caught by hand? Out that dumpy muck somehow smelling better than ever, like melted butter with lemon? I am planning on waiting. He’s only looked at me four times in two years. I’m simply saying that if Tad Gunnick took me on a nature stroll and pointed out various flora in fauna and told me that, frankly, clothes have always been a pet peeve of his, I’d do what I could not to bother him. And if that felt as good as he promised and he laid out a soft velvet blanket like a gentleman and served me up a wine cooler, we would take it from there. There are limits to what a deft urbanite woman can barricade in the name of godly repute. Is my point. Boy here likes you, he throws you in a pool. Boy here really likes you, God hums your name in his ear just as his dreams start to boil, then he approaches you somber at Quiet Time with big news he implies you can’t decline. In the Girls Cabin 3 days, I got off on that just fine. But God must love a beauty in a spaghetti-string tank top ’cause my dream card filled up quick.

On Constitutionality
The handbook is sort of ambiguous about the legality of lake pirates, Darla, though it does define them. “Lake Pirates are a brigade of scrappy nautical youngsters, traditionally from Boys Cabin 3, who scourge Lake Pawachee in their mighty canoe, tipping the boats of unsuspecting girls.” And see here’s an ink drawing—the caption reads, “Boys being boys.” So it’s tricky. It’s sort of an institutional Prank of the Century. I can tell you that the ferocity with which they tipped you was absolutely not personal, that Lake Pirates are often kind and flirtatious and even apologetic when landlocked. That when you explain the personal value of the necklace that’s now forever lost to lake floor, their faces will be contrite, their hmms thoughtful, and their nods emphatic. They may even mean it. But make no mistake—they will tip you again. If it helps, I’ll make an announcement before free time saying the you-know-whats on a certain body of water better cut it out their this-that-n-the-other, but I’m gonna be smiling while I say it. Fun Camp is pro-prank, Darla, and that’s worth more than a hundred grandma necklaces. Best thing, if you truly don’t want to get pranked, is to spend your free time under the Tree of Safety putting puzzles together with the asthmatics. But even sweeter is get some girls together and avenge that necklace.

If It Was Officious
I’d tell you how was what, but the spit of it is: You’re lathering up with the wrong Pam. The six-platter lunch about sputtery dudes like you is that the seams are sweet, so the populace turns its neck portside, takes aim at treefrog counts, buzz-to-bee ratios, and other nummy but ultimately poodling nonfactuations. In this lawnscape, budder, there are gnomes and there are flamingoes. And when something with a beak’s got a hat on, the Book of What-All is gonna have somesuch to speak around it. You samba down here in my bunker like your flesh ain’t bubble wrap and tell me where to braise my Schnauzer, you gray-ladeling son? I got half an eye to kick your arm.

Girls Stay Here, Boys Follow Me
For those who know what I’m about to be getting at, don’t say it and don’t do it. For those who don’t know, you will, and don’t do it when you do. You do’s, don’t tell the don’ts what it is, for knowledge increases temptation. Don’t tell tips or lend lotions. You don’ts, don’t ask. Don’t want to ask. Golly, this is dicey, trying to avoid inflaming the imagination. People didn’t have these problems pre-Gutenberg, but once printing got going, Olde Britain was overrun with pamphlet after pamphlet of suggestions to allegedly help a woman conceive: Don’t pull out early, now. Don’t move, after. You might not get that holy blessing you so fervently desire if you were to stand, dress, and make your way expediently to the outhouse. Now look where we’re at: hell in a ham garden. But not you boys, right? Tidy the homes of your minds. Avoid complete dictionaries. Never agree you’re eighteen. If a do starts to tell you don’ts, leave the do. I’m a do who wants to be a don’t, but once the apple’s bit, as they say. The girls? Off with Bernadette talking menstruation. They bleed out themselves. Don’t dwell on it.

We Love Fun Camp Yes We Do
Damned if those kids don’t take some of the cock out of my walk, though. Delightful isolated moments, you bet, but after morning counselor meetings I get that pit-level dread, mouthing soundless expletives. Dread where the heart beats faster and the body deflates. Dread where they can smell that you don’t want to say hey or lead line-up cheers louder than the other cabins. They pick up on more than you think, yet never pick up on that particular thing you’re so sure they know. Once-over a she-counselor and you feel a guilt the Catholics keep trying to claim for themselves, a guilt that goes, “If my kids only knew this heart, hoo-boy.” And if they did? They’re all spies ready to sell you out for an attaboy, new zeal smoothing their faces to bland mush. By the end of the week, I can’t tell my own boys apart. I cover it, addressing each of them with a “Cabin 3, what,” which they’ve come to respond to more than their own names anyway.

The Creative Use of Meal Time
I read a gorgeous review in the Daily Camper of yesterday morning’s scramble. Not without complaints, but there’s a bit in there about consistency—poetry. These are savory times, Grogg! This summer is sure to go down in history as the one in which Grogg learned to differentiate between pepper and cumin. As you know, Dave and I don’t like to come down hard on the kids—it’s not Discipline Camp after all. We’re more into the punishment that works its way in through the skin and coats the heart anonymously. This here is a list of all campers, for you and Puddy and Marimba to share. Beside each camper’s name is a number. 100 is 100 percent, meaning they get a full portion at dinner. A few campers have earned 110’s or even 115’s, but more important are the dips: some 90’s—those who lost the tug-o-war, some 80’s—the Cabin 2 girls who’ve been whoring their lips out to lonely tots for Canteen Bucks, and even a few 75’s—the boring, the homesick. God, they irk. I’m like: It’s a week, kids. You didn’t sign a lease. Any lower than 75 and the campers would catch on. Our portion shifts are just dynamic enough that the punished will feel guilty without understanding why. We break them down only to rebuild them in our own image—hilarious, kooky, deferential.

Quick Announcement Before Lunch
A word to the cultists—yes, you in your robes, the boys who cried apocalypse: We’re pulling the plug. It’s a little solipsistic to have witnessed a few distant firebombs and assume a wrecked world, parents all dead, and that God has chosen the innocents of Fun Camp for a new Eden. All you tittering fence-sitters: Think it’s an accident this new one true faith came from Boys Cabin 1? Continuation of the species is man’s oldest pickup line. I’m sure the gophers you blood-sacrificed would be real happy to learn their deaths are wrapped up in the wet dreams of some teenage would-be Christs. Speaking of, Tyler, you’re paying for that tablecloth you’re wearing, and Jason, whose 501s did you massacre to make that Jesus sash? You look like runner-up in a West Virginia beauty pageant. Any more of you want to make a midnight raid on the iPhone closet, you’ll find I’ve moved the phones to an undisclosed site and the batteries to the vault under the snack shack. Nature-knowing is about avoidance and you’re all too wrecked to get there alone. You’ve got fifty-one weeks out of the year to check your scores and count your dead. Surrender this one to fun.

Fun Camp is a series of short monologues that take place in and around an eccentric pseudo-religious summer camp. It started as a bunch of little speeches, folks telling other folks what’s what and how it’s gonna be, until I wrote one on the rules at a summer camp and around the same time, landed on the title. The more I wrote about summer camp, the more I wanted to write about summer camp. And when I show parts of it to people, the comment I keep getting was, “More camp!” I agree. Camp is fun. Camp is camp.

Why, though? When fellow camp writer Lydia Conklin and I discussed it for the Hobart 11 Special Features page, she said, “I think it’s interesting how close to the brink of chaos camp is at any moment. Considering it’s a bunch of teenagers in charge of a bunch of children, there isn’t much stability at camp. If something were to go wrong, there aren’t really forces in place to deal with it.“ I like that answer. Mine was, “Camp appeals to me as a miniature self-contained temporary society that operates on an extremely different logical/moral system than the outside world.” Another way of putting it (having gone to my first writers conference last month): it’s just nice for the weirdos to get a little time away from the world now and then. And when we do, we make interesting specimens.

These are, by far, the largest concentration of Fun Camp pieces to appear in one journal, and I think it serves as the best introduction to the project. You can read more of them here: notnostrums, Everyday Genius, NANO Fiction, matchbook, and elsewhere.

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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 28 | Spring 2010