Bunger Hill Reservation, Oregon, June 19th, 2003
“So you’s boys ready for ya last year a’ summer camp?”
I’m in Mr. Citapelini’s old pickup, driving into Bunger Hill Reservation, a camp in the middle of nowhere Oregon. The air is crisp and fresh, better than any other place I’ve been.
“Oh, I guess it’s kinda sad we ain’t at our home camp for our last summer camp. But on the other hand, I don’t needta hear the all that gold rush stuff again.” I lean forward to tap Vincent, Mr. Citapelini’s son.
“How ‘bout you, Vinnie? Whattaya thinkin’?”
“I don’t know.” He mumbles.
Vincent always avoids questions, so people stopped asking him them. He’s always been a quiet kid, but once you get to know him, he can talk quite often. I’ve known him for so long, it’s just something I’ve gotten used to. He’s smart, his big round glasses show it. He has short black hair, and his head is the only place he has hair. He’s an active kid, he doesn’t seem like it at first, because of his slim build, but he’s pretty decent when a ball is thrown at him.
We’re waiting to enter camp, and we hear a guy shouting. I stick my head out the window to see a man directing cars. He points at roads leading to different campsites. His shouts are inaudible. We wait.
We eventually reach the guy and he asks us what troop we’re in.
“We’re from Troop 15.”
“Troop 15! Where the hell’re you from?”
Mr. Citapelini coughs. “Sacramento area.”
“Anyway, yer in Campsite 5, take the first left and it’s all the way down the road. You can’t miss it.”
We drive down the gravel road hitting bumps ever so often. The road is smooth otherwise. We arrive at the site along with the rest of our troop. Scoutmaster Bronson rolls in with the trailer. He backs up into our campsite. He gets out of the truck; Connor and Sean do the same. It's good seeing everybody after only seeing them once in the last 6 hours.
“Alright!” Bronson claps his hands.
“We need to unload the trailer and start setting up camp before the welcoming ceremony. I believe that starts at 7:30, right after dinner.”
I call all of the troop over. “Hey, troop! Start getting footlockers out, nothing else! We came here late ‘cause we’re so far away from this joint. Go ahead and put your footlockers in the tent you want and buddy up. People with hammocks can set up later.”
A group of yeses and okays are heard. We start to unload our trailer, taking personal gear out and putting it in a pile. Connor grabs a sleeping bag and hits Jorge in the face.
He shouts, “Hey, you joke! Watch whatcha…oh.”
His eyes look off into the distance, I turn around and my mouth drops.
A tour bus with a mural on the side drives by. A few kids stick their heads out the windows and mock us, sticking their tongues out and flipping us off. In large, bold print on the bus reads,
“Troop 457, Biggest in Oregon”
All of the troop stops what they’re doing and looks at these douchebags. None of us had ever seen a troop have a tour bus for camp, not even Jack who’s been here longer than any of us. Bronson takes off his cap and runs his hand over his buzz cut, his hand then rests on his neck. He sighs.
“Now boys, we don’t want any unnecessary conflict with any other troops, we are here to make friends, not enemies. We don’t need what they have to affect how we treat each other, alright?”
We all say “Yes sir.” and continue unpacking.
I put my footlocker in a tent and Vincent put his in the same tent. I sit on the cot, which is a lot more comfortable than I had previously anticipated. Vincent reaches into his back pocket and pulls out a photo. He sits next to me and shows me it. It’s an old photo from a few years back. It’s when we won the Gold Rush Derby back at home. It was what really brought us together.
“What? Why’re ya showin’ me that?” I look at him, confused.
“You get competitive with others who are more fortunate than you, trust me, I’ve seen it. Don’t lose your shit.”
“How’d you know what I was feeling?”
“It’s just something I do.”
He gets up and leaves our tent.
I lie down on the cot, looking up at the roof of the tent. I think if Vincent gives me advice, I should take it, he knows what he’s talking about. He always does.
Bunger Hill Dining Hall, 6:32 PM, Thursday
We all walk up the hill in which the dining hall rests. We’re all in full uniform and once we walk into the hall, a heavy smell enters our noses. We sit down at our table and talk some before we’re called, mostly about the camp being so damn clean.
A voice blasts out of a megaphone.
We get in line, and there’s more food than I’ve ever seen. Dishes upon dishes of food. I grab a chicken breast, sliced potatoes, and those little rolls with butter. I walk back to our troop’s table. I look around the mess hall to see Troop 457, and they’re leering at anybody they can. I sit next to Vincent, who had already given half his food to Jorge Gridger.
“Hey, thanks, Vince, I've been craving chicken for about two days now.”
Vincent just nods his head, and looks out the window. Like I said, he’s quiet. He just stares out the window, biting a fry ever so often. The first years are amazed at the quality of the food, but they don’t realize that the food back home isn’t as good as it is here.
“So what do you guys think of the place?” I say.
“Well, it’s definitely better than the Gold Mine back home, who knew Oregon of all places was a camp heaven? ‘s weird, just doesn’t seem like the place for high end shit.”
Conner Schnadd says, as he gulps down an entire milk carton. “I’d like to see the aquatic center, since we’re so close to the Pacific.”
Seán McMeer says. Seán is my ASPL, and he knows almost everything. He isn’t a nerd, he just knows his stuff.
“Vincent, what about you, you like the camp?” I ask him. He shrugs and points out the window at the horizon, showing a radiant combination of orange, yellow, blue, and pink.
“That’s what I like.” He pulls out his Polaroid and takes a photo.
Vin’s always liked nature, especially the sky. On multiple occasions, he leaves the group to go watch the sunset. I’ve watched it too many times with him. It suits him to like them. They’re quiet, peaceful; He’s the same way.
The megaphone blasts again.
“All troops please report to the amphitheater! We will be having our welcoming ceremony!”
That was our cue to get going. Jorge shoves a roll into his mouth and a milk into his pocket. Connor takes a chicken breast for the road. Most of us take something with us. I slip a burger bun in my pocket. We leave the mess hall and start walking to the amphitheater, I see it across the lake. As we’re walking back down the hill, we pass a sign that says, “Bunger Lake”. It seems like they really like this Bunger guy. He must’ve donated to or founded this camp.
We sit down in the benches at the amphitheater and a man starts to speak. His gut sticks out and his rosy face light up as he sees us. There’s about forty people behind him, all wearing sea green shirts. “Gooooooood Evening, everyone!” The man shouts.
The staff behind him shout, “Goooooood Evening, Mr. Irewell!” He chuckles and continues talking.
“I’d like to welcome you all to Camp Bunger Hill!” His southern accent is heavy, his words are mellow and slow. Yet his voice is upbeat.
"Now, it is my pleasure to have all you scouts here. Now, you’ll be here for six days, not including this one, so you better be ready. Now we come to summer camp to have fun, right? For those who ain’t been here at Bunger Hill b’fore, y'all'll be getting maps of the place. Your scoutmasters’ll be handin’ ‘em out afterwards. We don’t got any special events t’night, so I don’t want to keep you any longer, but one more thing is that we will be hosting our 32nd Annual Gaga Ball Tournament. Troop 457 has yet to be beaten for three decades this year, their first win bein’ in 1973, just two years after the tournament was founded. And even I’ll be surprised if someone else can beat them; they’ve been winnin’ longer than I’ve been running this here camp. Now that’s all I have folks, you can go back to your campgrounds, and get a good night’s rest, because it's going to be a long day tomorrow.”
We all clap and start to head out.
“I have to beat them in that tournament, someone needs to put those smug-faced assholes in their place.” I say angrily.
“We got a decent amount of people, we can take them on. I mean, I haven’t played goo goo ga ga ball, or whatever it’s called but I’m confident we can do it.”
“Brian, are you serious?” Jorge says with a nervous tone in his voice.
“Now I’m a big guy, but those guys? Ehh, I ain’t up for fighting some kid who hasta win the competition to carry on his father’s legacy. I ain’t up for that or anything like it. It’s not worth it.”
The rest of the troop nods and agrees. Vincent puts his hand on my shoulder,
“Like I said earlier, if you get too into this, you’ll lose your shit.”
I sigh, and continue walking back to camp across the parade field. I look up at the sunset. It’s so sad it’ll be gone in a few hours. I hope it’s just as good tomorrow as it is tonight.