In 1989, I went to Tapawingo, an all-girl sleepaway camp in upstate New York, with Shannon and a few of her church friends. And the experience was just something out of a nightmare, really. There were some highlights — no pun intended, as I’d rather not think about my disastrous hair, which certainly didn’t help the week. But really, I just don’t think I’m cut out for camp in any way. Too many rules, too many group activities. And chores! There was a lot of sweeping; I remember that. And not in a good, character-building kind of way. Just in an annoying way.
The best time of day was meal time in the cafeteria, which really says something when you consider that ’89 was the summer I learned to put potato chips on sandwich buns if when the “meat” was inedible. The food was disgusting, which I think was a big part of why we, as a cabin, collectively lost our minds.
You see, whatever cabin finished their meals first, “won.” And by “won,” I mean we got to pound our fists on the table and cheer. And whichever cabin finished last had to run around the building. Don’t ask me! It was just how it was.
Our cabin was the Cherokee tribe, the second-oldest girls in the camp. That first night, we happened to “win” the first-finished contest, and it was a bonding experience. The oldest tribe, Oneida, was pissed. Beautiful.
That first night, a silent war was declared. The Cherokee tribe ruled at finishing meals first; this we knew to be true. And now we had a title to defend.
The first day, we lay low throughout breakfast and lunch, just “happening” to finish first. Intimidation through success and all. However, as our winning streak continued, the other tribes started wanting to beat us. We were like the Yankees. No one likes a winner. And now that the other cabins were itching for victory themselves, we Cherokee had to step up our game.
Step One: We can have lots of fun! Also, we had to strengthen our weakest members. Explain to the bird-eaters of the group that they must move more quickly, and to the bigger eaters of the group that there was plenty of time to eat from the canteen after success. These girls understood that sometimes, personal comfort must take a backseat to the team, and all was well.
Step Two: There’s so much we can do! Such as blatantly strong-arming our counselor Miss Pam into going along with the plan. She was kind of whiny and not all about The Fun, but we made it pretty clear that she had no choice in the matter. Eat fast, or we’d make her week a nightmare.
Step Three: It’s just you and me! And battle songs. What you see in me now is a watered-down version of my middle school psychosis. Back then, I wrote cheers and parody songs like it was my job. Luckily, these girls did, too. You can never underestimate the power of a battle anthem.
Logical first song: “Hangin’ Tough,” customized.
Listen up everybody, both far and near
Cherokee’s back, and this you gotta hear!
We’ve been lost and forgotten for quite a long while
But now we’re back; we came back with style!
‘Cause ya know we’re Cherokee!
So on, so forth. And when I tell you there was choreography, well that would be an understatement. But we could only perform the song if we won, obviously.
That night, dinner was way intense. The Oneidas close on our heels, the weaker members trying desperately not to let down the rest of Cherokee, Miss Pam drawling, “Calllm down, we’re way ahead of ’em.” No matter, Miss Pam, eye on the prize!
Win we did. And everyone was pissed, especially when they saw how serious we were, given our victory New Kids on the Block song. What they could never have seen coming was our next ditty! After all, it’s good to have a signature song, and we would keep using the New Kids, but why not mix it up and REALLY intimidate the opposition? And what says “intimidate” better than “The Brady Bunch?”
Here’s the story
Of a cabin Cherokee
That’s all I remember, but I assure you that it was stellar. And helped lead us to victory for days. We were unstoppable.
By the last meal of the week, even the most phlegmatic of tribes and bitchy of counselors wanted to take us down. Miss Pam stopped whining, overcome with the energy of this tremendous competition, where she was the leader of undefeated winners.
But what of this final battle?
Well, it did involve tennis rackets. Obviously.
We Cherokee knew how tight a race this last meal was going to be. Insert montage here:
New victory song. Must be badass. Rolling Stones/Justine Bateman “Satisfaction,” perfect. What else? Tennis rackets, to be used as guitars. Sunglasses, for the sass factor. More choreography.
And when I tell you that we marched into the cafeteria that day, decked out and ready to fight…when I tell you that we unironically swayed back and forth, playing our “guitars” and singing:
We can’t get no-o competition
We can’t get no-o competition
Though we try We try! (Together) And we try…we can’t get no competition!!!
Well, it’s all true. Then we sat down, full of adrenaline and razz m’tazz. Would we be made to look foolish after our gutsy, impressive performance? Could we possibly live up to our own hype?
OH YES WE COULD!!! Undefeated champions, Cherokee ’89, fastest eaters in all the land! Victory never tasted so sweet; though to be fair, our tastebuds may just have been dulled from not chewing all week.
Singing songs, eating fast, and making people hate me. That was the best thing about my camp experience. How about you guys?