In the midst of our running email chain of camp reminiscence, Dan decided to loop in David (for a reason he’ll explain below) not knowing I’d already been interviewing his former cabinmate. It seemed only logical to do a post where the interviews overlapped a bit. There’s not a whole lot of back-and-forth, but man, both Dan and David go on nostalgia tears here that are downright epic!
[Part 1 of my interview with Dan can be found here. And Part 1 of my interview with David is located here.]
If memory serves, this is Cabin 15 in 1999. From left to right: Danny Aronson, Axel Owen, David Will, Glenn Latsch, Dan Gibbons and Steve Lehmann.
Let’s talk camp games (Capture The Flag, Capture The Indian Clubs). What camp game was your favorite? Why?
DAN GIBBONS: As I started to write this super long email, the fact that I just read World War z after borrowing The Zombie Survival Guide from David Will [came to mind and] I realized I had to get him in on this email. (Foreshadowing with the zombie reference)
I loved camp games!
I must say, I really enjoyed when the schedule on Saturday [lined up so] that you would get a day game and sometimes even a game at night, too. Like capture the flag in the day and then Capture The Indian Clubs at night.
I loved Capture The Three Flags. I still remember one year (maybe Bunkhouse or Cabin 15), I got two near flags that summer. I still consider that a successful camp year almost solely because of that. Getting a flag was something reserved for the Paul Hillman’s and Mac Harris’ of the world. To get a flag (even just the Near Flag) was truly awesome. You were a celebrity for the rest of the game and the following soda and swim afterwards.
Capture The Indian Clubs… what a hilarious name. Capture The Indian Clubs. It’s really funny when you think about. What is an indian club? If I didn’t know the game, I would think of like a super old ’30s cartoon with these pilgrims sneaking into an indian camp and stealing these big war clubs.
I remember being in the younger cabins, when you finally got those pins… it was so awesome. You would strut across the lawn with that prize for everyone to see—great in those stalemate games. I remember [at that age] that pin was fairly heavy and powerful when you had to carry it back!
However, while that reward was sweet, I think most everyone loved the total rampage games!And especially when it was Super C The ICs! Jails in the middle! Chain from jail to freedom! How awesome was that?!
My worst, but to this day, funniest memory of C The ICs was in a rampage game. I had just captured a pin and after I brought it back I went on guarding duty. My head’s on a swivel, looking for anyone to come my way. Then right in front of me, running full steam, I see Rich Siegler barreling down on me. I am sure “barreling” is the right term (In retrospect, I am sure Rich Siegler is not that big compared to any of us nowadays, but a slightly overweight freshmen in high school running at a fourth grader! Well, that’s scary!) I recall him running very upright with his belly out front. I recall basically bouncing off his stomach like something out of weird Japanimation cartoon. Especially with Rich Siegler’s crazy long, curly hair and me crying like a child afterward. (Maybe [his hair] was short at that time, but that’s how I remember it.) I got knocked out of the way and someone else took the pin. I was defeated and hated Rich Siegler… for the next ten minutes. Rough tactics but smart strategy by Siegler.
Dan Gibbons: 1995. An example of how tiny this kid once was. That's Lake Owen in the background. This may have been taken at the Two Lakes campground.
One thing about camp games that I think helped make me a good person is they were so reliant on honesty. Especially in a game like Capture The Flag where you play over so much land. No one would be able to verify if you were truly tagged. However, if an overwhelming amount of people didn’t play fair and honest, those games would have never worked and would have been horrible. A huge part of my camp memory would have been gone if people didn’t just understand that you had to play honest. I think part of it is the age you’re at as a kid. Games are everything and being declared a cheater is a reputation that’s bad to have.
That being said, playing pick up basketball [nowadays], it amazes how some people play. They will foul hard and then yell and complain when you call one. It’s like “Buddy, you know you hit me. How are you trying to deny it?” Maybe they are trying to play mental games, but really, I bet most of them normally just play games where there are officials and never really understood how important it is for players to be honest and aware for games to be… well, fun!
This may be a bit of an outlandish connection at this point, [but] it makes since in my mind. Sorry if it doesn’t make since in my email!
(Foreshadowing about to come into play…)
Alright. So, I just finished World War z. Awesome book. I am just so amazed by how throughly thought out it is. It’s really unbelievable for anyone to think through something so thoroughly with a “What if…” situation.
Anywho… One game I always loved was The Blob! What a great game! Even once you got tagged it was so fun!
So, you’re asking yourself, “What’s the connection?” If there was ever one game that has to be the closest (of games) to a Walking Dead outbreak, it has got to be The Blob. Hear me out…
-Once you are tagged you become one of the infected.
-Your sole purpose is to “eat brains” or infect others.
-You might not always plan it, but once [you're] “it” your greatest asset is using your number advantage.
-As an individual you are often cornered and overwhelmed.
-As soon as you let down your guard…”brains!”
And imagine this scenario… I always thought I was pretty good at The Blob and one of the better athletes at camp in those type of games (Clearly not at things like riflery, canoeing, archery…) and that is kinda how you view yourself in a zombie apocalypse scenario. You think, “Hey, I’m going to be one of those people who survive.”
But the reality of it is, you don’t know. It’s a gamble! Maybe once you get rooted in your fortress and once you truly understand what’s taking place you can figure out a strategy and survive, but in the beginning there is a luck factor and the same is true for The Blob.
You would be dodging one blob that has been targeting you and not really paying to attention to anything else (You can’t. You gotta think about the immediate threat first.), but then all of sudden you realize there are three… no four… no five blobs closing in on you when before there were only two! As they close in you look farther out and realize over half the field is covered in BLOB. Then… from behind… bam, you’re infected!
And of course when you are first infected, you’re disappointed and don’t want to give in and attack others. But then… you turn!
Alright. Like I said, I just finished World War Z. So, in reality I look at every neighborhood, alley way and building [now] and think, “What would happen here in an all out zombie attack?”
I think it’s still a pretty good comparison.
Dan, your point on honesty learned in camp games… wow! Spot on! In basketball practices all through high school I always called myself for fouls. When I fouled a guy who was my teammate/friend, it seemed only natural I should call it. It doesn’t do me any favors by being an asshole and not calling it. That was my thought process, at least. Looking back, I think that must be due to camp. The friendship and community really made you look at the big picture and, in that picture, being an asshole and arguing “fouls” didn’t make sense. Unfortunately, this attitude was extremely rare in competitive high school sports. It still amazes me that people would argue fouls or call fouls on their friends and teammates in practice to make excuses or look good. Camp, man, it does a body good…
When I worked at a Banner Day Camp for three years after my time at Shewahmegon, I was a counselor for a group of 6-year-olds. During that time, Blob was one of my “Go To” games. It’s such a perfect variation of tag. We had about 15 kids in our group, so I just shrunk the area we used to play in with 50 people at camp. Man, good times! Those kids loved that game! It really holds up!
That said, I think it would be way more popular if it was called Zombie Tag. I totally hear where you are coming from on that one, Dan!
David, earlier you said, “I believe that Shewahmegon is largely responsible for the person I am today.” That’s a sentiment I’ve always echoed and I’ve found most Shewahmegonites feel the same. And yes, I think the close quarters of camp cabins and communal latrines prepared me very well for the dorms in college.
It’s funny that you bring up turtle hunts. Dan also brought them up. You guys shared a cabin for seven years of camp and, apparently, shared a love of turtle hunts as well!
Your guys’ cabin was always kooky (Which one wasn’t though?) and you guys had some goofy inside jokes—Yacancha the six-foot-tall rat was one of them, I believe. Tell me a little bit about that goofiness.
DAVID WILL: I think the goofiness found at camp is ultimately due to three or four major contributing factors. First and foremost, camp brings together people from all over the country and the world, with different cultures, sources of entertainment and humor. As such, there is a strange fusion of cultures that happens in the north woods, where—for example—the Tupac of one camper is mixed with the Star Wars cards of another camper and mashed together with shopping cart fetish of a third. Surprisingly, these combinations work well, as camp’s culture tended to be a pretty accepting. If you were a dweeb, or a jock, or anything in between, you could find ways to contribute to the culture. Obviously there would be those who would clash with the culture of camp, and by in large, it seems to me that those campers tended to be the ones who couldn’t embrace the accepting inclusive nature of camp. Typically, the campers would pick fights, make fun of cabin mates, etc, [they] tended to be those who only stayed on year.
On top of cultural differences, another huge contributing factor was the almost total lack of female presence at camp. Without girls around, no one was trying to impress each other or put the competition down. We could worry about important things like being a team member, working on ability, playing hard. We could build a mono-gender community in strange ways that would be impossible with both sexes. Major locations for camaraderie included group showers, the stalls of the latrines, heck, even morning dipping helped give camp a unique flavor. In fact, in the male only culture, the unexpected presence of girls throws things off. Once, I had to drop trow and adjust my boxers in public, a perfectly reasonable thing to do at camp. Unexpectedly, I came across Rick Levi’s wife and had to do immediate evasive action to preserve some semblance of modesty.
Camp’s quirkiness is also due to what is commonly known as “cabin fever.” When you are stuck in a fairly reclusive area with a small set of people for weeks at a time, you become a bit crazy. A good way to think of it is unbridled creativity meeting unopposed insanity. That craziness manifests in all sorts of ways, like developing odd imaginary creatures (like the six foot rat Yacancha), tickling people on the abdomen then smacking them on the head (“Pillsbeery… DoughBOY!”), joining imaginary and irrelevant clans like “NATO” or “OTAN,” or inventing new games such as “Pelt Axel with the Potatoes.”
Together all of this leads to the perfect storm of goofiness, and frankly, that goofiness allowed camp to be such a good place to grow. There are many examples of our combined goofiness that I could share, but we certainly don’t have the time for all of them. One such story is that of ”Pubobaby” or PB. PB was a brain child of Danny Gibbons and myself after long hours paddling on the Namekagon River. As the camper canoe, we had fallen significantly behind the other canoes and were struggling to catch up. Out of the exhaustion came the idea that our canoe was being followed by a small mustached baby in the water named PB. We inserted him into the camp songs as we sang them and told odd tales of his existence. Our midweight, Steve Lehmann, for some reason became somewhat paranoid by all this talk of PB, which further contributed to it’s hilarity. All in all, we were never attacked by PB, but his presence certainly kept our exhaustion at bay.
Another great goofy canoeing story revolves around Danny Aronson on the St. Croix River. Danny was a pretty levelheaded kid, but was prone to hilarious fits of passion. As we were canoeing down the river, he dipped his favorite baseball cap into the water to cool his head off. Either he didn’t hold on hard enough or it slipped, but either way, the cap was off and into the water, sinking under the surface. Without a moments hesitation, he was off into the flowing river, swimming up stream to collect his precious hat. Danny Gibbons and I were astounded, and being pulled down stream. We lost much distance before we were able to turn the canoe around and go back up to get the waterlogged Danny Aronson. Needless to say, we found him alright, if not soggy.
One of the quirkiest campers in our cabin of all time was Nick Walasek. I have never met someone with such a passion for flowers, PetSmarts or shopping carts. And yet, we were privileged to have Nick in our cabin. In typical Nick form, when not telling us about the types of shopping cart each large chain store had, he was designing and crafting objects for his own basement pet store. Nick made these gooey window clinging neon letters that spelled out “PetSmart.” Such devotion did he have, that he nearly had a fit when he woke one morning to find we had rearranged the letters to spell “Wet Rats.”
Nick in action.
Of course, I cannot forget my own goofiness that I brought to the cabin. My drastic fear of spiders once led me to leap out of a canoe during a cookout, because David Owen deliberately steered the canoe into overhanging bushes. Clearly it was not [either of] our best moments by any means, but since he did so, I literally held onto the stern of the canoe for another 30 to 40 minutes as they paddled all the way from Picnic Point to the Picnic Grounds. David Owen was mad because he had to drag me behind the canoe, and I was terrified of the possible spider or two. I also happened to bring the Star Wars card mini-craze to the cabin that year. It is not an exaggeration to say that many hours were spent yelling things like “No, Luke has a power 4 and an attrition rate of 3. He wins against your three stormtroopers! And with his lightsaber, I get to draw an extra card to deal specific damage!” I have no idea how Brent Parker put up with the insanity of hearing 6 or 7 boys arguing over Star Wars characters and how to play a largely impossible game.
I think you made an amazing point when you mentioned the single-sex dynamic of camp being crucial to all of the incredible, intense and—often times—uber-weird bonding that took place at camp. I mean, in what other environment could we have convinced Pressy to run around in only his smiley face boxers, performing impromptu dance sessions in the Green Cabins?!
Well, that does it for David. Thanks for your time, Mr. Will, as well as your answers and stories—just fantastic!
My interview with Dan has one more installment. Stay tuned for that.