28 June 2005

puh-ride: a long backstory


It's true. I have no affliation whatsoever with "Scouting for All," the organization whose banner I marched behind, hollered for, and bared my silken pit hair and blue-white belly for this fine irriguous 26th of June. The banner itself, in fact, belonged to the dear friend who led our gay posse (the jolly lad with the yellow poster in the photo of the previous post). He met us at 52nd St. and 5th Avenue with a wrinkled banner and some darling glossy brochures detailing the pure, unambivalent desires and godless but infinite rights of homos and atheists to belong to and learn from the great institution of scoutery. What nobler cause, i.e., what better excuse, truly, to march four miles half-naked in front of millions, I ask you?

One factoid which you might keep in mind before you file me in your crazy file is that I was, indeed, a girl scout for a solid seven years. Brownie to Junior, kindergarten through sixth, from dear octogenarian Pied Pianist Mrs. Ulrich through closeted but female-partnered Ms. Koch (the lesbian frosting on the lesbian cake of my elementary career). I'm sure the only obstacle to my continued participation in the girl scouts (besides the insipid and redundant pleas from my comrades to sing "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands") was the fact that we Barton Bulldogs were separated for junior high; the neighborhood kids went to Lesher and the bussed-in losers (moi) went to Boltz (see incendiary mascot). GO PHOENIXES!!! Phoenixii? Man that was a tough mascot. The school burned down in 1972 shortly before it opened and after it was rebuilt they slapped a crude rendering of a flaming bird on its front. But I don't recall ever chanting for a Phoenix on the volleyball court or proudly proclaiming my own flaming potential for reincarnation. No no, that came in high school. When I was a lambkin.


There would be no more scouting for me, and once my mother married the formalwear king she decided that the Fort Fun Kuntry Klub affiliated "National Charity League" was just the ticket for my sister and me. It was a privileged coterie of ensemble-matching mothers and daughters who mostly showed up late for meetings and planned menus for pointless gatherings like the Valentine's Tea, an event at which there were neither Valentines nor tea. But we labored over countless mini flower arrangements that sweated daintily and dampened their doilies until the appointed hour at which time they were shuttled home in BMWs and Suburbans and Mercedes and posted in basement bathrooms and forgotten about for the two days it took them to wilt and begin the inevitable rottening. The doilies, like the white gloves they joked about requiring us girls to wear, never made it past our hosts' marble foyers.

But, really folks, we're talking about the girl scouts here. I'm insulted by my own tangent. Not only did I personally research and invite the cosmetologist from Merle Norman who gave our troop the makeovers that sealed the deal on our makeup badges, not only did I (four years running) sell the most cookies (sometimes ranking in the top tier of the whole goddamned Mountain Prairie Council), but I, friends, I went to girl scout camp, and it has made all the difference (to murder a serially killed line from your favorite and mine, Mr. Bobby Frost).

I went to Meadow Mountain Ranch for five years, and with each ensuing year, my reputation grew in seniority and significance, if not at all in height (and like all details in these charming and pointless narratives, my midgethood is very important to the story). I know I have already regaled a few of you with stories of the prepubescent, subconscious, fully-clothed sexual awakening which occurred in these earnest, neatly freckled years. You, I hope, will bear with me now. Perhaps I will make up new salacious details to earn your titillation. (It should be noted, before I start, that what is truly impressive about any of this is the fact that my mother could afford to send me to this camp, year after year, as a parent without reliable or fair support from her co-parent. It should also be noted that my mother regrets having been so enterprising to send me, having heard this story before.)

My fourth year of five, the most glorious of my attendance, I was enrolled in the theatuh camp. For the uninitiated, one has a myriad of choices at girl scout camp, or at least one did in the mid- to late-80s. They each had clever names like, "Horsing Around," "Hike-a-roo," "Comedy and Tragedy," and, simply, "Adventure." The first and last I did not experience for reasons of cost, though I do remember an early and pleasurable encounter with a horse called Pantyhose. They had all-around camp registration, too, but never cleverly named it. It was something utilitarian like "Session I." Anyway, this fourth year featured a group of fine and burly and sporty and hippyish 18- to 20-something counselors who had, according to custom, rechristened themselves with names like Skipper, Cricket, Gaven, Sunshine, and Bananaz*. The new names not only armored the mystery of our counselors with the metallic-edge of sex but they made it effectively impossible to locate them in order to act out our burning crushes. And it was a big deal if a counselor told you her real name. Clearly, the two names which stand out in the above list are Gaven (ambiguous in terms of meaning, unambiguously butch in connotation, and she had a mullet) and Bananaz* (pronounced Bananazzzstar, often provoking jazz hands, which I believe was the desired effect). These two also happened to be in charge of us, the thessspians.

Having established my seniority to campers and counselors alike (mostly by bragging like an asshole, which was the rule amongst all of us), I quickly demonstrated my commitment to our production. The first time the "cast" (the other gals who could afford to be there) convened, I was clearly the bossiest and the wackiest. And I brought my Harriet the Spy secret notebook to the first meeting. Shortly thereafter, Bananaz* took me out to the woods alone and told me I'd earned the title and obligation of writer/director for the show we were to perform (I acted as well, but the role was really quite peripheral). First I kneeled in front of her and then she took me on her lap and gave me her clipboard (for keeps), whispering to me of the seriousness of this job and her love for and trust in me. Bananaz* (in my memory) was physically arresting but in private had a sly, chin-lowering charisma. She resembled Chloe Sevigny with twice the weight and half the hair, and I burned with adoration and the desire to please. The title of the play I eventually foisted on my peers was "Vanna White and the Seven Weight Watchers" (oddly prescient of my thesis debacle).

Late at night, the ladies would often smuggle me out of my "tabin" (the top of a canvas tent lashed over a wooden base) so that we could "work"; meaning, they would feed me other campers' candy from the camp ordained rubbermaids, they would take off their shirts, and I would gently walk on their naked backs. We also talked, although I can't really imagine what I could have contributed to any conversation about their lives they might have had around me. I was 11-years-old. And they were nearly, if not wholly, a decade older. What I remember is that I was very very small compared to them, and that they seemed to derive a lot of pleasure from the kneadings of my toes and the tempered weight of my heels. There were nights when they invited other counselors for my famous back walks. It was also somehow clear to me that it was because of my tiny body and my weird brain that I was chosen for these late night encounters. And this felt profoundly sexual in a way that at that point translated only as extreme nervousness. What I don't know is whether these encounters were as numerous as they've become in my mind. Maybe the counselors did this with all the campers, to make them feel special, to make them feel initiated into something mysterious and adult.

What I do know is that I left camp that year knowing Gaven's real name was Kelly Brink and Bananaz* was Evie...only Evie. Kelly lived in the Fort, my hometown, and Evie, well, she'd recently played Ronnette (one of the trio) in Little Shop of Horrors in Denver and was headed to L.A. to be an actress. I do know that shortly after I came home from camp I initiated a prank call campaign for Kelly's love ("Hello?" "...click." "Hello?" "...click." "Hello?" "...(pause)...click") but that I never heard from or saw Evie ever again, which made me doubt that the real name she told me was real at all.

I eventually found out that Kelly is the daughter of my be-loath-ed high school choir director. She showed up my senior year for our Christmas Sing, when we travel around and sing for all of the under-schools (including Boltz, but not Barton as it was closed the year after I moved on). After attempting to totally dissociate her from her numbnuts father, we went for a little walk out to the parking lot to perch on the bumper of her Geo. She'd kept the mullet after all these years, and the most urgent, honest thing I could do was immediately come out to her.

"WE ALWAYS KNEW ABOUT YOU!" she laughed and pointed.
"You did?" I was shocked by the confirmation of my gayness, something I wasn't (at that point) even all that comfortable with.
"YEAH, totally. You had this way of talking even then that was more like flirting."

And there was more to that conversation that has pretty much disappeared, although I could reconstruct it sometime if you like. I did, after all, spend three years pretending to write fiction while making up stories about my own life. But this story is what I thought about when I marched down 5th Avenue in my old lady sandals, carrying my "GO GIRL SCOUTS!" poster that our leader had lovingly painted to match my green pleated skirt. And if the crowd waved and smiled frantically enough, I'd shout, "How many of you had your first sexual experience at girl scout camp?" and I'd survey the disturbed faces, watching for any hands.

8 Comments:

Blogger GNN Staff Writer said...

You have a pretty interesting site here. Keep up the good work. Sometimes blogging is more fun than anything, and then sometimes it's a pain in the butt. Don't lose the spirit.

29 June, 2005 02:01  
Blogger Who's the dourest of them all? said...

Thanks for the encouragement, Nickie. And now that I think about it, I don't think I've ever gotten a complement from a neocon before.

29 June, 2005 11:00  
Blogger Shrew said...

My favorite crush-worthy girl scout camp counselor was Bracken, with Kitty coming in as a close second. Bracken ALMOST let me call my mom one horribly homesick night when I lost a tooth.

I'm so jealous that you had a counselor named Bananaz.

And this phrase:

"...though I do remember an early and pleasurable encounter with a horse called Pantyhose."

is getting me through this day. Thank you.

29 June, 2005 14:46  
Anonymous ladyfriend said...

campfire camp, circa 1987. my counselor had red hair. she let me move my bunk to sleep above her and she whispered me secrets a full five minutes before she told the rest of the girls. i was be-smitten. i proceeded to spend my week taking clandestine photographs of her. six months later, upon getting them developed, i could no longer recall her name. but in my head she was my own private molly ringwald.

fast forward: being a camp counselor. I've had a tuxedoed tough football playing girl punch someone for merely dancing with me. she gave me a ring and wrote me letters pock-marked with "i love yous" and "kisses". she has since disapeared into adolescence. my fondness remains.

coincidentally this week's THis American Life was alla bout the odd cult of those who attended camp. at www.thislife.org

29 June, 2005 14:50  
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