This time of year makes me think of the woods, and of scary things as to fit the spooky vibe of Halloween. These thoughts intersect with old memories of my time in the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts of America.
Names have been changed to protect the identities of the players.
I’ll start with my first vivid understanding that I could potentially be murdered. I was 8 years old, living in a suburb of
at the time. I was maybe a Wolf and our troop went on a weekend camping trip up
in northern Pennsylvania. The
dads got their kicks from perpetuating a rumor that an escaped convict from a
nearby penitentiary was hiding out in the woods near our campground. They were
elaborate with this prank. They even recorded fake radio broadcasts and played
them back to us, and we kids weren’t smart enough to realize it was a tape
player. On the final night of the trip, as we gathered around a big bonfire,
one of the dads had snuck off and put on a Jason hockey mask. He also grabbed
himself a hatchet. Better to commit to it with a deadly prop. During a quiet
moment he came running up from a thick pocket of woods with the weapon held up
high. Everyone scattered and screamed. I remember thinking this is when we
all die. This is it. The hatchet
looked a very capable instrument. My pounding heart let me know I had blood to
spill, lots of it. I remember the panic being a quick flash that flowed into a
sort of resignation into inevitability. We’re getting murdered, oh shit. The
sense of community, of being taken down with your peers, was almost tinged with
a weird giddiness? I put a question mark there because I still don’t understand
what I was feeling there. The dad soon took off his mask and let out a big
belly laugh. It was Mr. C. Oh geeze, Mr. C, you had us going. You had us
going real good.
The rest of my time in Cub Scouts was pretty tame. I sometimes feared that I’d wet the bed on one of our trips. I did get a fishing hook stuck inside my finger tip but I don’t think that ended up too bad. I think it was a quick fix. A dad who didn’t speak much English helped pull that out. No First Aid kits were involved.
There was a father/son camping trip when I was a Webelo (final year of Cub Scouts, we were living in
at this point) and my dad was meeting me at the campground after he got out of
work. He hit some bad traffic and wound up getting there pretty late. I was
convinced at the time that he had gotten into a bad accident. I said this worry
aloud and my friend V told me I was an idiot, only stupid people got into accidents
and that my dad wasn’t stupid, so he wasn’t in an accident. That didn’t make me
feel better because it seemed my friend really didn’t understand how accidents
worked. How they could happen to anyone. My dad finally made it, but there was
some drama the next afternoon when someone’s mom tripped over a rope that ran
from our tent to the stake securing it into the ground. The mom didn’t see it
because she was busy blowing on her bowl of hot chili and so she spilled this
hot chili all over her chest. Her husband, a big shaggy, bearded man, was
outraged and started screaming at my dad that he was going to sue the shit out
of us. So I felt the fear that we were going to be ruined financially. Later
that night my dad read to me from a book about haunted Civil War battlegrounds
and I didn’t sleep much because the stories were good and got enough into my
head to keep me from wanting to step outside into the woods to pee, and I was
also really worried about us getting sued, it sounded like something that could
be pretty intense to have to go through.
Nothing came of the lawsuit. The chili burn probably wasn’t too damaging after all.
When I got into Boy Scouts I started to witness behaviors that were a little more deranged. On one camping trip we stayed in a big cabin with many different rooms and bunks. The troop leader’s son, R, pulled aside a smaller scout, O, while the rest of us were eating dinner in the mess hall, and tied him to a bed post in one of the rooms and whipped the kid with his belt. R was suspended from scouts for one week. O, understandably so, decided to leave the scouts for good. R didn’t seem to understand the terror he caused. When he was back after his week off he was yucking it up as usual. Many years later R was arrested because the person he sold his prescription pain killers to died from an overdose.
The character that gave me the biggest creeps we’ll call H. He was red headed and gangly and in his twenties. He had made it through as an Eagle Scout several years before, and really truly loved scouts, because he volunteered a lot of his time to helping out with our troop at meetings and camping trips. He loved cheesy jokes, and irritating Mr. L. One year my family took a trip back through
and we ran into H at .
He was wearing his Boy Scout shirt, which was soaked. My brother said hello to
him and H suppressed a giggle and said “now you can tell everyone I went on a
wet ride.” More giggles followed from H. Hershey Park
I didn’t last too long with Boy Scouts. I quit about a year into it. The troop leaders chose weird moments to be sticklers. Like one time we were standing at attention and a moose ran by, so the troop leaders got giddy and pointed and ran toward it, saying moose, moose! Then they chewed us out because we all got excited when they did and ran to see the moose. We were told to never, ever break rank! I got chewed out another time because one kid was filling up a cast iron frying pan with dirty dish water and dumping it on people. I caught him in the act and tipped it back on him. I was apparently the bad guy. I had to go sit on a stump by myself away from everyone for awhile. That was the last scolding I wanted to take from those fools.
When I was well into college my mom sent me a News clipping from our local paper. H had been arrested for downloading kiddie porn on his computer. His interest in spending time with the Boy Scouts now seemed to come from a much darker place.