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Summary

The Mole People Battle The Forces of Darkness
Airdate: August 1971


Show Description
"CAMP NOBBA-WAWA-NOCKEE. Boy, what great name!" said Schwartz as we squatted down, tying sheepshank knots at scout meeting. Troop 41 was scattered around the church basement. Camp what?" Flick asked, snapping his rope at Kissel's bottom, causing Kissel to kick him on the knee. "Nobba-WaWa-Nockee," Schwartz answered. "Didn't you see that sign on the bulletin board? Take a look. Tells you all about it." Flick, Kissel and I read the notice: CAMP NOBBA-WAWA-NOCKEE, A BOYS' CAMP IN THE SYLVAN MICHIGAN WILDERNESS. BOATING, LEATHERCRAFT AND A WELL-BALANCED, HEALTHFUL DIET. UNDER THE PERSONAL DIRECTION OF COL. D. G. BULLARD, U. S. ARMY (RET.), CAMP DIRECTOR. SPECIAL RATES. TO BOY. SCOUTS. There was a penciled note at the bottom: "See me. Mr. Gordon." Mr. Gordon was our scoutmaster, who drove a truck for the Silvercup Bread Company, the official bread of all us kids, because they sponsored The Lone Ranger. Somehow, because Mr. Gordon worked for Silvercup, he seemed to have a direct connection with the Lone Ranger and Tonto, and he never denied it. We clumped over to Mr. Gordon, who was instructing two kids in artificial respiration. One lay flat on the concrete with his tongue hanging out; pretending he was drowned, while the other kid, Scut Farkas, sat on his back - Scut's favorite position - gouging away rhythmically at his rib cage. "You count to yourself: 'One first-aid, two first-aid, three first-aid...' '' Mr. Gordon stood over them, calling strokes, while the kid underneath turning purple trying not to laugh. "Mr. Gordon, what about Camp Nobba-whatever-it-is?" Flick asked. "Oh, yes." Mr. Gordon peered at us blandly through his thick glasses. "Camp Nobba-WaWa-Nockee is a truly splendid experience. I went there as a boy. You'll gain much from Colonel Bullard. Since I am an old Chipmunk myself, they have offered to give special rates to any boys in Troop 41." I thought, What's a Chipmunk? I should have asked. It would have saved a lot of trouble later. That night half the troop went home with brochures extolling the glories of Camp Nobba-WaWa-Nockee on the shores of Lake Paddachungacong. All over the neighborhood, skirmishes broke out as members of Troop 4l hurled themselves onto the floor and threw tantrums to be sent to camp. Ours was not a summer-camp neighborhood. In fact, summer was considered a time of glorious freedom, when we eddied up and down alleys, through vacant lots and over infields with no more sense of purpose than a school of minnows. Now, in our innocence, we were clamoring to be enlisted in Colonel Bullard's legions, where we would learn indelibly that there are other kinds of summers. Camp began on the tenth of June, which was a week after school let out, and you could sign up for a four-week or an eight-week period. "You'll have to talk to your father about it." My mother sounded a bit uncertain as I tore around the house waving the brochure, already - in my mind's eye - paddling a birch-bark canoe down the rapids in classic Indian fashion. It was bowling night and there was no telling how the old man would be when he got home. It all depended on how he rolled. Some nights, when his hook wasn't breaking and he wasn't picking up any wood, he'd come home sullen and smelling ripely of beer. He'd slam his bowling ball into the closet along with his shoes and go stomping around the kitchen, muttering. On those nights, nobody said a word. My kid brother Randy, upon hearing about Camp Nobba-WaWa-Nockee, had run cheering around the dining-room table about five times, until he found out that kids under ten weren't allowed, after which he threw a fit, falling onto the floor, kicking off his shoes and crawling under the day bed, where he lay sobbing and punching the wall. While I was throwing stuff all around my room, digging in my closet among the socks and baseball cards for my boy-scout ax, there was a roar in the driveway that meant the old man was home from bowling. Our Oldsmobile made a distinctive, loose-limbed, gurgling racket that came from 120,000 hard miles and gallons of cheap oil. "YER LOOKIN' AT A GUY THAT JUST ROLLED A SIX-HUNDRED SERIES! My God, was I pickin' off them spares! You never saw nothin' like it!" He strode across the kitchen ten feet tall, smelling of Pabst Blue Ribbon and success. "You wouldn't believe it. I picked up a seven-ten split tonight that was like somethin' outa this world!" He opened the refrigerator and grabbed a couple of cans of beer. "On the second game, I had six strikes in a row before I spared. Wound up with a two forty-eight. Even Zudock had to admit I was really layin' 'em in ." "Dad," I said, "I -" "Ya know, kid, I'm gonna start givin' ya bowlin' lessons. If I'd a started at your age, lemme tell ya, I'd have a two-twenty average at least and -" "He has something he wants to ask you." My mother broke in, setting a clean glass down in front of the old man. She was always trying to break him of the habit of sucking up his beer out of the can. He opened the Pabst, took a long swig from the can and wiped his mouth. "Hey, what the hell's this?" He was looking at the Camp Nobba-WaWa-Nockee folder on the table. "That's what he was going to ask you about," said my mother nervously. I could tell she was on my side. "You see, he wants to go to camp this summer." "CAMP!" The old man set his beer down hard. "Camp" "Yes!" I leaped into the breach. "Mr. Gordon, our scoutmaster, told us all about Camp Nobba-whatever-its-name-is and Schwartz and Flick and Kissel are going and a lot of other kids from the troop and...." My father peered at the brochure intently, looking at a picture of a bunch of kids sitting around the campfire. "Camp? Well, I'll be damned. I never went to no camp when I was a kid." Then he read aloud: "'lndian-lore and leather-craft with -' Hey, ' how the hell much is this gonna cost?" I knew it was time for me to be quiet. "It's on the back." My mother sounded cheerful as she poured the rest of the beer into the glass. My father scanned the figures on the back. "Holy Christ!" "They give boy scouts a special rate," said my mother hopefully. "They'd better, at those prices." He started flipping the pages. "Hey, what's this?" He looked closer at the brochure. "What's this archery stuff?" "That's bows and arrows," I squeaked. "Bows and arrows!" The old man chortled. "Boy, you could'na paid me to shoot bows and arrows in the summertime when I was a kid." "And they have birch-bark canoes, and they have this lifesaving badge with -" The old man drained his beer. "Listen," he said, "you shoulda seen what I did on the third game. I started out with an open frame and it looked like I was gonna blow it, but then the old hook started to work and -" "Don't you think just this once we might be able -" My mother hung in there. "Camp? Sure, why the hell not? If the kid wants to mess around with bows and arrows, I guess you gotta get that kinda stuff out of your system." At this, there was a sudden hysterical bleat from under the day bed. "What the hell's eatin' him?" asked the old man. "Kids under ten can't go to camp," I stated with deep-felt satisfaction. There were more muffled sobs and thumpings as Randy kicked the wall. "KNOCK IT OFF!" the old man hollered. "You'll get your turn. You're too little to be messin' around with bows and arrows." There was another shriek from under the day bed, but you could tell' he didn't have his heart in it. I guess he knew it wouldn't do him any good to yell and holler anymore, and he might even wind up getting a swat on the behind if he kept it up. I lay in bed that night stiff with excitement, even then aware that a new era had begun. Camp Nobba-WaWa-Nockee - with its dancing waters, its zestful program of outdoor sports and recreational activities under the personal supervision of Colonel D. G. Bullard, U. S. Army (ReL) - lay just ahead, glittering in the golden sunlight like the Emerald City at the end of the Yellow Brick Road of springtime. The next night, at the kitchen table, my mother filled out the application - signing me up for a month - stuck it in an envelope, slapped a stamp on it and handed it to me. "Here, take this down to the mailbox before your father changes his mind." I tore out of the house and flew down the street to the mailbox. It clanged shut. The die was cast! Though I didn't know it at the time, I was about to enter the sacred rolls of Camp Nobba-WaWa-Nockee, my name for all time inscribed on the birch-bark scroll that was kept under glass in the Long-lodge, the camp's main wigwam. A week later, a message arrived for my mother on camp stationery, which featured a bright-yellow arrowhead and the silhouette of an Indian paddling a canoe in the moonlight. Dear Madam: We take pleasure to inform you that your son has been elected to the Chipmunk tribe of Camp Nobba- WaWa-Nockee. The Chipmunk tribe are the first-year boys, and I'm sure your son will enjoy being one. The following items must be brought to camp by your Chipmunk: 1. Single-bed-size muslin mattress cover. 2. Camping clothes, including shorts and hiking shoes. 3. Necessary accessories such as underwear, socks and toilet articles. 4. Writing equipment, as letter writing to home is mandatory. Please be sure that every item of clothing, etc.; is clearly marked with your Chipmunk's name. Your Chipmunk will appear at the downtown bus terminal in Chicago at seven A.M. June tenth to assemble with other campers, in order to be driven by the camp bus to Camp Nobba-WaWa-Nockee. Your son will be in good hands and I give you my personal assurance that we will return a more manly boy to you. Our methods have borne fruit over the years. Sincerely, Colonel D. G. Bullard, U. S. Anny (Ret.) Camp Director She read it over a couple of times and passed it to my father, who was studying the sports page-in vain -for the merest hint of good news about the White Sox. He read it and turned to me. "Well, Chipmunk, you all set for a big summer?" "Yeah." It was about all I could think of to say. For some reason, I was beginning to feel a little scared. The next couple of weeks were nothing but running around buying new shorts, T-shirts and underwear without holes. My mother toiled night after night with the name tapes, attaching them to every sock and handkerchief. My brother had become permanently sullen and spent a lot of time in the bathroom with the door locked, or under the porch. Now that we were Chipmunks, Schwartz, Flick, Kissel and I drifted off from the kids who weren't going to camp. Already we were becoming part of the special world of Camp Nobba-WaWa-Nockee. On the way to the store at night, I would practice walking like an Indian, so that I could sneak up silently in the woods when I was hunting deer. I had read about it in Uncle Dan Beard's column in Boys' Life. I began to feel lean and sinewy as I moved like a shadow past the poolroom, a lone hunter in search of game. The days crawled by with maddening slowness. The close of school, which usually ranked second only to Christmas in sheer ecstasy, passed almost without my noticing. Even bigger things were in store. Little did I suspect how big. On the night before the big day, it took forever for me to go to sleep, and it seemed like five minutes later I was awake again. It was already 4:15. The alarm was set to go off in an hour. I sat there in the dark, listening to the old man snore. Outside, the rain was pouring down in sheets. By 5:45 we were in the Olds, my huge suitcase piled in the back seat between me and my kid brother, who appeared to be glad that it was raining for my first day in camp. "Jesus," said the old man, "I haven't been up this early since the Bumpus mob's white-lightning still blew up." My mother, who was huddled in the front seat, bundled against the chill, with her hair all done up in aluminum rheostats, kept saying, "Now, you write. And you be careful, you hear? I don't want you getting drowned." Like all mothers, she had a thing about drowning. We pulled up at the bus terminal at precisely 6:50. Already a milling mob of kids, with associated parents and sisters and a raggle-taggle crowd of kid brothers, all of whom looked mad, had formed in the main lobby under a canvas banner that read CAMP NOBBA-WAWA-NOCKEE. A short, round-faced man wearing a khaki uniform with a yellow arrowhead on the sleeve stood on a folding chair amid the mob. ''I'm Captain Crabtree," he shrilled. "Now, all you campers listen carefully." The excitement was electric. I spotted Schwartz in the crowd lugging a steamer trunk. Flick and Kissel were over on the other side. Mrs. Kissel was sniffling. "HEY, SCHWARTZ!" I hollered. "I said LISTEN!" Captain Crabtree stared balefully through his glasses at me. I had made my first false move. "Say all of your goodbyes and make it snappy. We move out at 0700. Convey all your baggage over there to that platform. All Chipmunks raise your hands." I stuck my hand proudly in the air, along with about a third of the rest of the kids. "This is your first year, and you are not aware of the tradition of the Chipmunk cap. My assistant, Lieutenant Hubert Kneecamp, will pass them out. You will wear your Chipmunk cap at all times, so that you can be readily identified as a Chipmunk." Oh, boyl A Chipmunk cap! It has often been noted that lambs go eagerly to the slaughter. So it was with Chipmunks. Lieutenant Hubert Kneecamp, who doubled as the bus driver, stumbled out onto the platform carrying a huge cardboard box. He was tall, very thin and had a sad expression that reminded me of Pluto in the Mickey Mouse cartoons. The lieutenant opened the box and began to pass out bright-green beanies with a yellow arrowhead on the front. I pressed forward, so as not to miss my cap. Lieutenant Kneecamp shoved one into my waiting mitt. I quickly jammed it onto my head. It came down over my ears and I could barely see out from under the brim. "They're all the same size," Lieutenant Kneecamp said over and over as he passed them out. I noticed Schwartz's beanie sat on the top of his head like half of a green tennis ball. "NOW, ALL YOU CHIPMUNKS," Captain Crabtree shouted, "LINE UP ON THE PLATFORM. You will sit in a group at the rear of the bus. A Chipmunk does not speak unless spoken to." The non-Chipmunks among us were a head taller and a foot wider than any of us. They had the kind of faces that kids who smoke have. They hit each other in the ribs, laughed back and forth, and a few threw wadded-up balls of paper at us Chipmunks. They wore identical blue jackets and Captain Crabtree called them Beavers. "OK, kid. Give 'em hell and hang in there." That was all my old man had to say to me. My mother patted my hat down over my ears and whispered, "Don't forget what I said about your underwear. And you be careful! You hear me, now?" "ALL RIGHT, CHIPMUNKS, ONTO THE BUS. SINGLE FILE, THERE. MOVE OUT." The captain herded us onto the bus. We surged to the rear, battling for seats next to the windows. I squatted down in the back between Flick and Schwartz. Kissel sat a few rows up, next to a big fat Chipmunk who looked scared and was sobbing quietly. Then the Beavers whooped and trampled aboard, and Captain Crabtree stood in the aisle. "Now, I don't want any trouble on the trip, because if there is, I'm gonna start handing out demerits. Y'hear me? You play ball with me and I'll play ball with you." This was a phrase I was to hear many times in future life. The parents stood on the platform outside the bus, waving and tap ping on the windows, making signs to the various kids. Up front, Lieutenant Kneecamp started the engine with a roar. As it bellowed out, the fat Chipmunk next to Kissel wailed and began sobbing uncontrollably. Captain Crabtree stood up and glared angrily around the bus until he spotted Fatso. "I DON'T WANNA GO!! WAAAAAAA!! WAAAAAAAA!!!!" Lieutenant Kneecamp peered wearily around from the driver's seat with the expression of one who had witnessed this scene many times before. A couple of the grizzled Beavers laughed raucously and one gave a juicy Bronx cheer. "WAAAAAAAAA! I AIN'T GONNA GO! " The fat Chipmunk had hurled himself onto the floor of the bus and was crawling toward the door. Captain Crabtree, with the practiced quickness of a man who had seen it all, grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and said in a cold, level voice: "Chipmunks do not cry. We will have no crying." The fat Chipmunk instantly stopped bawling and retreated slightly, his eyes round and staring. "Put that hat back on, Chipmunk. NOW!" The fat Chipmunk quickly jammed his hat back onto his head. "Lieutenant Kneecamp, will you please proceed?" Captain Crabtree had the situation well in hand. Pale and shaken, the fat Chipmunk slumped down next to Kissel. He had a wad of gum stuck on his knee. The lieutenant threw the bus into gear and we slowly pulled out of the terminal, amid frenzied waving and cheering among the assembled parentage. We rumbled out into the gray, rainy street, and the last sight I had of my family was the familiar image of my old man holding my kid brother by one ear and swatting him on the rump. Captain Crabtree stood swaying in the aisle. "In three hours we will arrive at camp. We will make one stop, in precisely ninety minutes. If you have to go to the toilet, you will hold it until then." I had already felt faint stirrings. Now that he mentioned it, they flared up badly. I had been so excited that I'd forgotten to go after breakfast. "We will now sing the Camp Nobba-WaWa-Nockee Loyalty Song," Captain Crabtree shouted over the roar of the engine. "Here, pass these songbooks back. I have counted them. I want everyone of them returned at the conclusion of the trip." He needn't have worried. He handed out mimeographed blue pamphlets. There were mutterings here and there. The fat Chipmunk had closed his eyes and appeared to be holding his breath. I was handed a songbook. The lettering on the front read NOBBA-WAWANOCKEE TRUE-BLUE TRAIL SONGS. "All right, men. The Camp Nobba-WaWa-Nockee Loyalty Song is the first song in the book. It is sung to the tune of Old MacDonald Had a farm. You all know it. Ladadeedeedada-dum," Captain Crabtree sang tonelessly. I opened the book. Schwartz and Flick, their hats jammed clown on their heads, had their books open, too. Life at Camp Nobba-WaWa-Nockee had officially begun. The captain produced a pitch pipe that looked like a little harmonica. He blew briskly into it, producing a wavering note that was barely audible over the bellow of the worn Dodge motor. "Now, sing it out. All together. I want to hear some life in it." He blew into his pitch pipe again. Led by the Beavers, we began to sing the Loyalty Song: "Nobba Nobba WaWa Nockee ... EeeIiiiEEEEIiii OHHH. With a weenie roast here... and a snipe hunt there... EeeliiiEEEEliii OHHH. With a leathercraft here... and a volleyball there . . . EeeIiiiEEEEliii OHHH." There were 37 verses, which made reference to pillow fights, totem poles, Indian trails and the like, with the concluding blast: "Colonel Bullard is our chief... We love him, yes we do. Nobba Nobba WaWa Nockee EeeliiiEEEEliii OHHH." Again the bus exploded in a roar of cheers and stompings, with a few hisses and a couple of raspberries from the Beaver contingent. The rain drummed on the sides of the bus as we hurtled toward our gala summer. "Boy, lookit those great jackets all the big kids have," said Schwartz enviously. "Yeah," said Flick. "And what's that yellow thing on the front?" Over each boy's heart was a golden emblem. Kissel, who overheard us, squinted closely at the Beaver sitting in front of him. "I dunno," he stage-whispered, "it looks like a picture of a rat holding an ice-cream cone." The Beaver turned savagely, baring yellow teeth, his bull-like neck bulging red with rage. "That's the Sacred Golden Tomahawk of Chief Chungacong, you stupid little freak!" he snarled. "Hey, Jakel You hear what this stupid little kid called the Sacred Beaver?" "Yeah. I heard. I think we gotta teach 'im a lesson, eh, Dan?" Dan Baxter, as we were later to find out to our sorrow, believed we should all be taught a lesson. The fat Chipmunk, without warning, again hurled himself to the floor of the bus. A skinny Chipmunk yelled out: "HEY! He's doin' it AGAIN!" Captain Crabtree rose ominously from his seat, staring back into the swaying bus. The fat Chipmunk lay sprawled in the aisle, kicking his feet like a grounded frog, his eyes clamped shut, his arms held rigidly to his sides. I had seen that move many times before. My cousin Buddy was famous for his spectacularly creative tantrums. One of his specialties was - the very same catatonic beauty that the fat Chipmunk was now performing surpassingly well. If anything, he was even better than Buddy at his peak. The bus slowed to a crawl as Captain Crabtree lurched down the aisle. "GET UP!" he barked, his voice crisp and cutting. The fat Chipmunk just lay there, quivering. One of his feet flicked upward, neatly disengaging his shoe, which bounced off the captain's chest. It was a nice touch. The entire busload of kids, all of whom from time to time had themselves practiced tantrum throwing, recognized a tour-de-force performance. "I SAID GET UP!" The fat Chipmunk quivered again, this time producing a venomous hissing sound - an interesting detail. "What was that?" The captain's voice was menacing. "What did you say?" The hissing continued, now accompanied by a curious sideways writhing of the body that produced a rhythmic thumping as his plump buttocks drubbed on the bus floor. "OK," Captain Crabtree barked. Reaching down with a quick, swooping motion, he hauled the fat Chipmunk to his feet. Instantly, Fatso's legs turned to rubber in counterattack. "I've had about enough out of YOU," the captain muttered, his glasses sliding down his nose from the exertion of holding the fat Chipmunk erect. "This guy's great!" Flick whispered, more to himself than to any of us. It was obvious that we were witnessing a confrontation that could go either way. "I'll give you one more chance to sit down and behave." Captain Crabtree steered the blubbery, quivering mass toward his seat. The fat Chipmunk seemed to swell up like a toad, his face turning beet-red. Just as the captain was about to lower him to his seat, he let fly his ultimate crusher, a master stroke of the tantrum thrower's art. "BRRAAUUUUGGHHHH, BRAAAAHHHHHKKKKK!" For a moment, none of us could comprehend what was happening. It was done so quickly, so cleanly, so deliberately. The captain staggered back, bellowing incoherently. A pungent aroma filled the rear of the bus. The captain reeled, dripping from his necktie down to his brass belt buckle. The fat Chipmunk seemed to have shrunk two sizes as he squatted on his seat, exuding malevolent satisfaction at a job well done. "STOP THE BUS!" the captain hollered brokenly. "NOW!" His crisp suntans were completely soaked by a deluge of vomit. The bus careened to a halt. The captain rushed up the aisle and out the front door. He disappeared into the weeds at the side of the road. Immediately, the crowd broke into an uproar, with a few scattered bursts of applause coming from the Beavers up front. The fat Chipmunk had won instant respect. Schwartz, his voice rising in excitement, asked, "Hey, kid, how'd ya do that?" There was no reply. Flick, who was the naturalist among us, since he raised rabbits and hamsters, put the event in perspective. "He's like a human skunk. When he's trapped, he just lets 'em have it." The fat Chipmunk had opened his right eye and fixed Flick with a piercing glare. From that instant, he was known as Skunk. It was not in any sense a term of derision. He had clearly demonstrated that he could handle himself exceedingly well and was, in fact, lethal. The captain, drenched to the skin from the driving rain, with bits of residual vomit staining his tie, but once again in charge, re-entered the bus. "All right. Let's move out," he ordered in a voice still shaking with rage. "One more incident and the colonel will get a full report." Comparative peace settled over the mob, which was now somehow changed as we rolled on through the rain. There was a brief stop at a gas station with an 'adjoining diner. We lined up outside the john. "Hey, take a look at Skunk," Flick said to me. Skunk was on a stool in the diner, taking on more ammunition in case there was further trouble. We moved out again in a haze of drowsiness. It had been a long trip. The country had turned to farms, Bull Durham signs and occasional run-down vegetable stands that all seemed to be closed. Old, gray, sagging farmhouses with hand-lettered signs reading FRESH EGGS AND HANDMADE QUILTS FOR SALE rolled past. We were in Michigan. It wouldn't be long now. Finally the bus slowed at a crossroad. A rutted gravel road wound off to the north . A swaying yellow arrowhead attached to a tree trunk read CAMP NOBBA-WAWA-NOCKEE 2 MI. The bus exploded in a tidal wave of cheers as it wheeled onto the gravel road. We were almost there. I felt a wild tightening in the pit of my stomach. In just a few minutes, I was going to be at camp. Camp! It was raining even harder now. The ditches on the side of the road were rushing torrents of muddy water. We were among heavy, dripping trees, and the branches intertwined over the road until we were rolling forward through a dark, green-black tunnel. Anxious and subdued, the Chipmunks peered out the windows into the passing gloom. We lurched around a bend and headed down a slope. Schwartz hit me sharply on the shoulder. "Hey! Look!" He half rose from his seat, pointing toward the front of the bus. I stared ahead. The windshield wipers slapped back and forth. Then I saw it - a gray, flat gleam through the tangled trees ahead. "What is it?" Flick asked, squinting. A tall, sandy-haired Beaver turned a scornful glance in our direction. "What does it look like, stupe?" He nudged the bullet-headed Beaver next to him and said loudly for our benefit: "Jee-zus. They're getting worse every year. Guys like that wouldna lasted five minutes when we were Chipmunks. Right, Jake?" Jake, the bulletheaded Beaver, laughed a grating cackle that boded ill for any Chipmunk who crossed his path. "It's the lake!" I shouted. "Holy smokes, it's Lake Paddaclunka-whateverthey-call-it!" An expanse of choppy water lay ahead. The short, broad Beaver turned at this remark, his red neck straining again at his T-shirt. "Hey, Jake!" he barked. "They don't even know Old Pisshole when they see it." At this, five or six Beavers began poking each other and making incomprehensible cracks. Jake turned and grinned mirthlessly in our direction. He was missing three lower teeth and one of his ears appeared to be badly chewed. "Y'mean none a'you know what Paddachungacong means?" He waited for an answer. All we could do was stare dumbly back. "Well, I'll tell ya. It means Sacred Place where Big Chief Took a Leak." Again the Beavers roared in appreciation of Jake's cutting wit. We later found out he was telling the truth. That's exactly what Paddachungacong means. By this time, the bus had rolled onto a broad clearing that sloped down to the lake. A row of stubby square log cabins with green tar-paper roofs straggled off toward the woods. The bus lurched to a halt in front of a long, flat, low building with a dark, screen-enclosed porch. "All right, men, let's move out." Captain Crabtree again stood in the aisle, directing the troops. "Watch out for the puddles. And move up onto the porch." The yelling, scrambling mass of Beavers up front charged out the door and up onto the porch, slamming the screen doors. We followed quietly, not knowing quite what to expect. The rain had let up, but the mud was two inches deep. My shoes had grown four sizes by the time I had walked a yard. "Quit splashing, Schwartz!" hollered Flick as Schwartz kicked up sheets of muddy water behind him. A chill wind blew off the lake. Just before I reached the steps, a sharp sting hit me on the back of the neck. Instinctively, I swatted at it. Already a huge welt was rising next to my left ear. I could see several other Chipmunks swatting at invisible attackers. "I see why they got screens all around that porch," muttered Flick as he scratched frantically at his ribs. Inside the building, which was a big empty hall with a lot of long wooden tables pushed together at one end and a row of naked light bulbs hanging from the ceiling, the Beavers milled around as though they owned the place, with the cool, on-top-of-it air of battle-scarred veterans. Captain Crabtree climbed up onto a chair and clapped his hands for attention. "All right, men. Let's quiet down here. Colonel Bullard will be along shortly. He wants to greet you personally and will perform the initiation rites." The rain, which had picked up again, drummed heavily on the roof. Here and there, a few puddles soaked into the wood of the floor under dripping leaks. I stared out the windows to my right. A few kids who had arrived earlier in other buses trudged back and forth wearing raincoats. Somewhere off in the distance, I heard the sound of a pingpong ball being batted back and forth. "When the colonel arrives, I want all of you to stand up straight and be quiet, y'understand?" The crowd shifted restlessly. Outside I spotted a tall figure wearing a trench coat rounding the corner of the building. There was a loud clumping on the steps, the screen door swung open and Captain Crabtree snapped to attention. " 'Ten-shun !" he shouted. "COLONEL BULLARD! " The colonel, his face deeply tanned and seamed, as though carved from rich mahogany, strode to the center of the room. "Jesus," said Flick, "he must be seven feet tall!" The colonel was wearing a peaked military cap with a large gold eagle. He wore gleaming black boots and carried a whiplike swagger stick, the first I had ever seen, which he slapped smartly against his dripping trench coat. The room fell silent, except for the steady patter of rain on the roof. He towered above Captain Crabtree, who was standing at attention a top his chair. "At ease." His voice was deep, resonant, official. "This looks like a fine body of men. We'll soon whip them into shape, eh, Crabtree?" Captain Crabtree nodded briskly four or five times and descended from his chair. Colonel Bullard cracked his face into a huge grin, his teeth gleaming brightly in the gloom. For the first time, I noticed he had a thin mustache, like Smilin' Jack. "Fellows," he boomed, "we run a tight ship here." He slapped his swagger stick hard against his whipcord puttees. "But a happy one. Right, Beavers?" It was a rhetorical question, since none of the Beavers answered. "But happiness, fellows, must be earned. A good workout in the morning, a few hours of honest labor, and then we have fun. Now, all you Chipmunks raise your right hand. So." His gloved fist shot up nearly to the ceiling. "And repeat after me the Sacred Oath of Chief Chungacong." He extended his forefinger and thumb at right angles, his forefinger pointing at the ceiling, his thumb jutting out sharply. "This is the secret sign of the Brotherhood of Nobba-WaWa-Nockee. Now," his voice grew richer and fuller, "repeat after me: 'Oh , Great Spirit of the Woods, Oh, Giver of Life...' '' Our forefingers pointed ,like a forest of toothpicks at the leaky roof. " 'We shall work hard and play hard, with clean minds and clean bodies, to thy greater glory.' " Together we shouted out the creed. The colonel paused dramatically. "And now, for the most important part of our ceremony - the Secret Wolf Call of Camp Nobba-WaWa-Nockee. Captain Crabtree, perform the call" The captain, eyes closed, tilted his head back and from deep inside his khaki tunic came a high, rising, spine-tingling wolf call. It echoed from floor to ceiling, from jukebox to screen door. The colonel, his face solemn after the last note died, said in a low voice: "Men, once you have joined your brothers in the sacred Nobba-WaWa-Nockee wolf cry, you will be bound together forever." A hush fell over the mob. Even the grizzled Beavers were caught up in the occasion. "Together, men. Let's hear it." The colonel waved his swagger stick like a wand over the crowd. Slowly at first, but then with gathering momentum, a great collective howl rose to the rainy heavens. I found my eyeballs popping, my neck bulging as some strange primitive beast deep within me rose to greet the rolling storm clouds. Schwartz, sweat pouring down his nose, seemed to be rising from the floor. The fat Chipmunk, his glasses steamed up in excitement, yowled in the corner. It seemed to go on and on. The colonel, his face impassive, loomed like a great oak amid the banshees. Just as the wail reached its peak, he slapped his swagger stick hard against his trench coat. Instantly, as if a switch had been thrown, the howling ceased, leaving a ringing silence. The colonel stared slowly around the hall, his gaze direct and level, taking in all of us. "Men, we are now brothers." He turned and strode from the hall without as much as a backward glance. "HOORAYI YAYI YAYI HOORAY!" A ragged cheer broke out. Captain Crabtree was back on his chair. "All right, you guys. Let's get cracking. 'We've got to move into the lodges before noon chow. Let's go." Led by the Beavers, we charged out of the hall back into the rain. Lieutenant Kneecamp had unloaded all the baggage, which was piled up in five neat pyramids with signs on each one. He shouted into the hubbub: "Whatever pile your bag is in is what lodge you're assigned to. I don't want no arguments. That one over there is Eagle Lodge, that one's Grizzly Bear Lodge, that one's Hawk Lodge, that one over there is Polar Bear Lodge and that one on the end is Mole Lodge." We finally found our stuff, after a lot of rooting around, in the Mole pile. It figured. r hoisted my suitcase, which felt 20 pounds heavier, since it was now soaked with Michigan rain water. Three or four new counselors had appeared, dressed in khaki jackets with yellow arrowheads on the sleeves. "All right, you guys from Mole Lodge, follow me," one of them called out listlessly. We fell in behind him as we struggled up a slippery clay slope toward the long line of log cabins. A motley collection of kids squatted in cabin doors or lurked about in slickers and ponchos, watching the new shipment check in. A couple hollered: "You'll be sorreeeel" - an ancient cry that must have echoed around recruiting camps in the day of Attila the Hun. The counselor glared in the direction of a pimply kid who ducked behind a cabin after chucking an apple core at Schwartz. The counselor scooped up the apple core on the first bounce and winged it back at the retreating figure. It caught him neatly between the shoulder blades, splattering wetly as it hit. "That'll be three Big Ds, Klooberman." "Sir?" asked Flick as he staggered along under his huge steamer trunk. "What's a Big D?" The counselor glanced at Flick. "A Big D, kid, is a big fat de-merit. You get more'n five and they cut off your ice cream. More'n ten and forget the swimming. After fifteen , y'go on bread and water. Klooberman just went over twenty." "What's gonna happen ' to him?" Schwartz asked, looking scared. "Wait and see." That was all he said as he swung open the creaking door of our little log-cabin home, standing aside for three startled squirrels to vacate the premises before walking in. "Here it is, you guys, and you better keep' it shipshape or you're gonna answer to me, Morey Partridge, personally. Y'got it?" We got it. "And another thing," he went on. "Once you pick your bunks, I don' t want no movin' around, because of bed check. You pick yer bunks, y'stay there." We clumped into the dim little cabin. The walls were lined with bunks stacked three high, making six in all. The far wall had a tiny window that looked out into the black forest. Schwartz, Flick and I were the first in. Behind us three other Chipmunks toiled lugging their heavy baggage. The one at the end of the line was the fat Chipmunk. He dragged a monstrous steamer trunk over the threshold and without a word collapsed on the low , bunk nearest the door. I don't think he could have gotten any farther. He took off his glasses, which were round and metal-framed, with white tape holding one earpiece together. "I wanna top onel" Schwartz said excitedly as he clambered up the narrow ladder to the highest bunk, up near the eaves. I shoved my suitcase onto the middle one. Within five minutes, we all had our individual territories staked out and we were ready for business. "What's your name?" I asked the strange Chipmunk in the bunk opposite me. He was unpacking a pair of water wings from his suitcase. "Calvin Quackenbush," he said over his shoulder, somewhat defensively. The fat Chipmunk snorted nastily. Quackenbush glared at him. "What's so funny, Fatso?" Life in Mole Lodge was already hardening into the pattern it would follow in the weeks to come. From somewhere out in the rain a bell clanged-immediately followed by the thunder of hundreds of galloping hooves. "What the heck is that?" Flick hollered, rushing to the window and peering into the woods - the only point on the compass from which sound wasn't coming. The thunder grew. Schwartz threw the front door open. Kids hurtled by, kicking up muddy water, yipping and yelling as they ran , hundreds of them pouring out of the lodges, from every building, all rushing down the slippery slope that we had just struggled up. There's something about a rushing crowd of people that sort of sucks you in. In a moment, I found myself out the door and running with the crowd, sloshing through puddles, Schwartz panting beside me. Flick brought up the rear, falling down and getting up and falling down again . We must have run 100 yards amid the ravening mob when Schwartz, gasping and wheezing, shouted at a tall Beaver who was going past us like a freight train, his knees snapping high, his arms flailing. "HEY! WHAT'S GOIN' ON?" Without looking aside, the Beaver tossed back, "It's Hamburger Day!" We had arrived at Nobba-WaWa-Nockee a few minutes before the absolute pinnacle of the week: Saturday lunch. From all directions, streaming hordes of kids surged toward the mess hall. Some raced up from the lake, carrying paddles; others dropped tools and Indian beads as they ran, fresh from leather-craft. I saw a counselor, attempting to slow the mad dash, engulfed and overrun by the mob. Up the steps we ran, spraying mud and gravel. Inside the mess hall, most of the tables were already filled with hardened campers who knew the ropes. The meal, served by fat ladies in white uniforms, turned out to be light-gray hamburgers, soggy French fries, Cole slaw and pitchers of cherry Kool-Aid-a true kid meal. The uproar was deafening as pieces of bun flew through the air and counselors battled the barbarian hordes, attempting to maintain some semblance of civilization. "NOW, SIDDOWN! YOU CAME IN HERE TO EAT, NOT THROW POTATOES AROUND!" Captain Crabtree, in a momentarily clean uniform, shoved at writhing bodies amid the turmoil. It was all over in a couple of minutes. Stuffed with hamburgers and soggy with Kool-Aid, we followed the crowd back out into the rain. "Hey, you guys!" It was Morey Partridge. "You better not be late for forestcraft. Down at the rec hall in ten minutes. Y'get two Big Ds for every minute you're late, so get your rumps in gear." He scurried off into the drizzle to break up a wrestling match that had broken out in the mud. Out of breath, faces Ted, clothes clammy, we squeezed into the crowded rec hall, which was already filled with Beavers and fellow Chipmunks. Another counselor stood on a platform next to a blackboard, peering at his wrist watch. At the stroke of one, the lecture began: "Forestcraft consists of learning to live off the land in the wilderness. The Indians..." Behind us the screen door slammed noisily and three Chipmunks attempted to skulk in unnoticed. The lieutenant at the board rapped his pointer sharply on the floor. "Sergeant, get those men's names and lodges. We'll deal with them later." A chunky counselor wearing a Nobba-WaWa-Nockee T-shirt and a businesslike crewcut closed in on the cowering malefactors. There was a brief session of muttering in the corner and the lecture continued. It was all about how you could tell which direction north was by looking at the moss on trees and how, if you knew where north was, everything was OK. The moist atmosphere of the rec hall slowly approached that of the Amazon jungles as 100 tightly packed bodies exuded noxious gases and the flat, voice of the lecturer twanged on. Schwartz dozed off and suddenly slumped sideways against the leg of the pool table. Immediately, the sergeant rapped him sharply across the neck with a rolled-up copy of Field & Stream. Schwartz started violently, his eyeballs round and glassy. "It's got my foot!" he blurted incoherently. Apparently he'd been trapped in the middle of a nightmare. Chipmunks snickered for yards around. "What's your name, Chipmunk?" The sergeant peered into Schwartz's face. "Uh ... Schwartz." "What lodge are you in?" "Mole." Schwartz had yet to learn that no enlisted man ever gives his right name or serial number to an MP. "That'll be two big ones for interrupting the lecture." The sergeant scribbled something in a notebook. "The direction that vines and creepers grow on the trunks of trees is important. When lost, a woodsman..." After what seemed like several days, the lecture was over. The wilted mob surged out with relief into the driving rain. "Boy, this is fun," Flick said earnestly to no one in particular. "If we ever get lost, now we can find where north is." "Yeah." It was all I could come up with, since I was too busy keeping an eye out for the sergeant, who was picking kids out of the line ahead of us. He got the three of us with a single scoop of his hand. "You guys are on cleanup detail. Let's move." We joined a clump of Chipmunks who were cowering next to a battered pickup truck. For the next couple of hours, we hopped in and out of the truck, picking up candy wrappers and stray twigs around the grounds. Between the trees, I could occasionally glimpse groups of campers in ragged formation, on mysterious missions. And from somewhere in the distance, the sound of a ping-pong ball continued, as it would day and night for the weeks to come. Though expeditions were formed to find the table and those who were playing on it, no one ever did. "Get that cigarette butt over there. By that big rock." The sergeant, whose name was Biggie Clagg, a second-year defensive guard at the University of Iowa (first string), didn't miss a thing. "If I ever catch the little crumb who was smokin' that, he'll be sorry he ever heard a cigarettes. They stunt yer growth an' they wreck yer wind. I don't wanna catch none a'you guys puffin' on a butt, y'hear?" So it went as we drove in the rattly truck back and forth through the trees and over the trails. "You guys are really lucky getting the cleanup detail today," said the sergeant from behind the steering wheel. "Now you got it over with. You won't catch it for another week." We all agreed that we were lucky indeed. If we hadn't been on this great detail, we might have been wasting our time playing ball or puffing on butts. We looked out at the other campers as they marched about, with honest sympathy for their having missed the chance to be with us. "Maybe you guys don't know what good work does for ya, but one day you'll realize it's the best thing for ya. Keeps ya sharp. Cuts the fat off ya. Good for yer wind." Biggie continually flexed his muscles as we scurried among the weeds, carrying burlap sacks and searching for bits of paper. "Hey! I found a dead turtlel" Flick hollered excitedly. "In the sack," Biggie barked. "We don't want no dead turtles clutterin' up the trails." Flick poked the turtle with a stick. It lurched forward. In a single motion, it snapped the stick cleanly in two. Flick leaped back wildly with a cry of mortal fear. The turtle, in high dudgeon, lumbered off into the undergrowth. "Boy, what a chickenshitl" sneered Schwartz, flailing a branch about and looking for another turtle. "YIKES!" he screamed a moment later, leaping upward, his feet churning to keep him off the ground." HELP! A SNAKE!!" The entire detail of Chipmunks scrambled onto the truck in about two tenths of a second. A tiny green garter snake slithered away unconcernedly. A garter snake's life in a boys' camp is a hectic one. We drove on. "I don't know what you guys would do if ya ever saw a rattler," Biggie rumbled in his raspy voice. "What a buncha pantywaists." The rain had petered out. From time to time, the sun broke through the overcast. Out on the lake, a fleet of green canoes milled about on the choppy waters. "Look at those guys out in those rowboats," said a Chipmunk near the front of the truck. "You'll get your turn tomorrow," Biggie answered. "And they're not rowboats, stupid. Those are canoes." They were the first canoes any of us had ever seen in the flesh. They looked great. Occasionally, from the lake, we could hear muffled shouting followed by wild splashing, but we were too busy picking up candy wrappers to watch. Our first day in camp ended with supper in the mess hall-corned-beef hash, canned peas, dill pickles and grape Kool-Aid, followed by watery Jell-O and Nabisco wafers. My mother would have had a conniption fit at our diet, but we thought it was great. As we were finishing, Morey Partridge came over to our table to announce: "Since this is the first day in camp for you Chipmunks, there won't be a singsong tonight, so's you can get settled in your cabins. You get the night off." We wandered out of the mess hall into the twilight. The second shift of mosquitoes had come on duty. A great swirling cloud drifted over us from the lake. 'We swatted and scratched. "Boy, do I have to go to the toilet!" said Flick uneasily, shifting from foot to foot as he slapped. I was with him on that. We hadn't gone since the diner back on the road. The time had come. "I think it's over there." Schwartz pointed up a path that wound behind the rec hall. We joined a long caravan of fellow campers winding up the dim trail. A wooden shed with a swinging door lit by a yellow light bulb stood at the head of the line. From time to time, a kid would come out, ashen-faced, with an apologetic air. As each appeared, a cheer went up. The line inched forward painfully. It was getting more serious moment by moment. "Jeez, I'm goin' in the bushes," Flick finally said after a quarter of an hour. "Y'better not," said Schwartz between clenched teeth. He already had two demerits. "If Biggie found that on a cleanup detail, he'd really get sore." After an eternity, and just in the nick of time, Flick and I finally got inside the shed. It was lit brilliantly. There were four holes cut in an elevated wooden platform. Two other Chipmunks were hard at work. Furtively, we got down to business. The four of us squatted in embarrassed silence. Three frantic-looking Chipmunks who stood in the doorway formed an impatient and ribald audience. Somehow I had never thought of this side of camp life. It was my first experience with mass facilities, and it had a curiously inhibiting effect. I found that I didn't have to go as much as I thought I had. As a matter of fact, nothing happened at all. "Come on, you guys! Yer just sittin' there!" One of the audience banged his fist on the wall in desperation. Still nothing happened. The kid on the end hole stood up, buckled his belt and scurried out with the air of a man who had done nothing but had taken a long time doing it. "Oh, wow!" The loud Chipmunk beat another kid to the hole, ripped his pants down and squatted with obvious relief. Three other Chipmunks entered and began pacing and observing. The new kid on the end hole, who'd been so anxious, fell silent. He, too, was having problems. "I guess I didn't have to go," Flick whispered and left with his face to the floor. I followed shortly. It was the beginning, although we did not yet know it, of a mysterious ailment known as the Nobba-WaWa-Nockee Block, or Campers' Cramp. Many a kid went for two weeks or more before finally giving in. Back at Mole Lodge, we prepared to spend our first night in the woods. You've never seen a dark night till you've spent a night in the Michigan woods. We were glad to be indoors. There were great shadows on the walls as I climbed up into my bunk. The fat Chipmunk already lay in his bunk, reading a thick paperback, holding it close to his nose in order to make out the print. A face appeared in the screened doorway: "Lights out in half an hour, at nine-thirty." It disappeared. Schwartz's head peeked over the edge of his bunk. "Ain't this great, you guys?" From somewhere in the gloom, Flick answered, "Yeah. Sure is." I lay dead tired from the long day, the bus ride, the lecture, Captain Crabtree, the rain, the cleanup detail, Biggie; all of it was like some endless dream. I had been away from home only since morning, and already I could hardly remember my kid brother, my mother and the old man. The lights went out. After a brisk flurry of whispering, silence. I shifted restlessly on my muslin mattress cover. The mattress seemed to be filled with fingernail parings. Constellations of prickly things jabbed me everywhere. Finally, I slipped off into a troubled sleep. "'What's that?" It seemed like I wasn't asleep for five minutes when Flick's voice, trembling with fear, made me start straight up. I hit my head a reeling crack against the bunk above and fell back stunned. "There's something out therel" Flick's voice ended with a slight sob. Mole Lodge was in a turmoil. From the window, the dim-gray light of early dawn fell on the board floor. I heard Schwartz mutter, "Look out and see what it is!" There was a pause. Another voice answered, "Oh, yeah? Do it yourself. It ain't gonna get me!" It was the dreaded Thing in the woods syndrome that afflicts all denizens of every kid camp everywhere. We lay petrified until the sun came up and reveille was blown. Only the fat Chipmunk slept through it all. He was the first person I ever saw who slept with his glasses on. It was a sharp, brisk, sunny day. Camp Nobba-WaWa-Nockee swung into action. After breakfast - oatmeal, milk, raspberry jam, burnt toast - Morey Partridge announced: "Wolves, Eagles, Polar Bears, Jaguars and, oh, yeah, Moles - it's time for leathercraft. Let's go. On the double."
Notes
This story was reprinted in the book "A Fistful of Fig Newtons"
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