i loved fat camp, even though it fucked me up but good

The signed pillowcases at the end of summer, S.W.A.K., morning lineup, shower caddies, running out of hot water, borrowing one another’s clothes, playing HA beneath a tree, tired from soccer drills.  Collecting mustard packets, dipping carrots into mustard, anything to make the calories go further.  Doing sign and backs, realizing I was near the end by the houses that punctuated the journey, looking down as I walked uphill because it made it easier.  Putting my face in the lake.  The schedules, our days planned, braiding hair and lanyards.  Secrets and mix tapes and workouts. 

Learning how to use a punching bag.  Doing a chin up.  Seeing my collarbones.  Trips to the mall!  Calling everything but camp “civilization.”  Returning home to television, your own bathroom, privacy and wall-to-wall carpeting.  Getting ready for dinner, shower hour, passed notes between activities.  Walks back to the cabin just before curfew, standing, waiting beneath the trees for him to kiss me.  Reading those same sentences over and over, carrying his note in my pocket and smiling again and again knowing it’s there.  Trying harder on the field if I thought he might be watching.  Sore muscles.  Becoming red-faced and sweaty knowing “it’s working.” 

Sunday Brunches.  Capture the flag.  Mealtimes, bitching about the hills, the heat, and the bugs.  Skin So Soft.  Field trips.  The track.  Watching the boys play hockey.  Watching them watch us.  Co-ed softball.  Color war.  Crickets, movie nights, rainy days.  Mudslides and showering in the rain. 

Creating time capsules, thinking the only thing that mattered was that summer.  Insisting you saw a bat or heard a raccoon.  Variety shows, skit nights, choreography.  Singing into brush handles, blowing cabin fuses with too many hair dryers at once.  Being a girl, growing into my own, through letters home, in a summer, becoming someone no one else knew and living up to it. 

Tether ball, N.I.C.E.T.R.Y. that’s the way we spell nice try.  Side out and rotate in volleyball.  Snacks in the shade.  Flavored lipgloss, peach oil, and anklets.  Water shoes.  Never seeing any “nature” on the nature trail.  Growing into a woman, feeling wanted, flirting, the attention.  Walking on grass, following paths, the camaraderie, the raids, feeling independent.  Freshly mowed grass.  Living sans-parents.  Wooden floors, worn by years.  Seeing how many lengths of the pool I could hold my breath.  Camp songs.  Reuniting, wondering how people think you look.  His Fahrenheit cologne.

Going with a counselor to collect the mail after lunch.  Rest hour and letter writing, living for packages and mail.  The wet grass in the morning.  Double knotted sneakers.  Running caterpillar drills. Visiting day weekend.  Homesick.  Bunk beds and raids.  Flashlights and campfires, finding a good stick for your marshmallow (your 1 goddamn marshmallow). Eating with chopsticks.  Apache relays.  Getting to know you activities, sitting in circles beneath trees.  Water balloon fights on hot days.  Matty’s Run.  Mosquitoes and windbreakers.  Gummy rain boots and ponchos.  Morning wake-up calls, always colder than you’d imagined.  Inter-camp competitions.  The black food market.  Kids sneaking smokes behind the cabin.  Learning that a counselor got fired for dating a camper. 

I loved camp, fat camp, despite all the bad habits I learned.  Despite how obsessed it might have made me, I’d go back in a second.



  1. the vast majority of these could be any camp…without the fat complex.

    FROM STEPHANIE: Exactly! You know, aside from the weigh ins, measurements, and "slimnastics" classes.

  2. You just brought such a smile to my face! Even though my camp wasn't considered a "fat camp" it sounds exactly like your experience. I forgot about the raids, swearing I saw a bat, shower caddies…uh, what wonderful memories. I swear I can even smell the pine trees…thank you for making those thoughts resurface. Camp was such a wonderful time in my life, I feel so lucky to have had it.

  3. If you have a "fat" child, will you be sending them away to "fat" camp, considering how you seem to have really enjoyed it v. how it "fucked you up but good"?? Who was ultimate decision maker as to your going away to fat camp? Your mother or your father? Did you get ANY say in the matter? Did you tell them what it was doing to you, or had you not figured that part out yet?

    I always wanted to be a camp couselor. I only got to actually attend camp a couple of times…via Girl Scouts….Camp Ita Kana. I recall only a little, but that little was fun. I loved the different activites, the feeling of being on my own, away from the drama in my young life, and really loved the feeling of family with all those strangers, esp. since my family was so fucked up. I felt "a part of something". I remember being bummed that i could never get in line soon enough to sign up for the horse riding. And as geeky as it was, i really enjoyed the leather working…hee hee.

    Otherwise, every summer for too many years to count, i got shipped off from my mother on the coast to my dad (actually, his family) back to the delta for the 3 month period…."divorce camp" if you will.

    lately, i've been thinking about those days…and i'm finding, OMG, i can't recall A LOT!!! So sad….

  4. You don't need to go back — you'll experience all of these joys of summer with your own kids. It's funny: as an adult I've always been jealous that my parents never sent me to camp (nobody I knew ever went — maybe camp's a NY thing?!), but my summer memories are almost identical to yours, only with the added benefit of having my parents there to share them with. Now your kids will have the same!

  5. My camp memories are some of the best memories of my life. I've been feeling especially nostalgic lately b/c I recently bumped into someone who went to my camp, and it really took me back. There's nothing like camp friends. To TG, camp is definitely a NY thing – especially Long Island. My town is kidless during the summer. My 8 yr old is still home (she goes to day camp), but you wouldn't believe how many of her friends are going to sleepaway this summer. She's not ready to go (and I'm not ready to send her), but when she's ready, I know it will be the experience of a lifetime.

  6. Made me feel like I was there. Will you be posting any photos from this era of your life, or did you burn all your fat pics like I did mine?

  7. I hated summer camp, but for some reason I went back three times. I think my parents wanted me to go. I was in middle school (and a major dork), and it was Jewish summer camp, and I was the only small-town Jewish girl amid all the popular JCC types. I wanted to fit it, but it just wasn't happening.
    I think I'm still sort of scared of summercampesque experiences. But I do love camping.

  8. I just discovered this wonderfully funny blog so I went to B&N to buy your memoir today. They did not have it! They will get the paperback in June. I will have to order it on Amazon and wait. Can't wait to read it!

  9. I used one chopstick when the food could only be stabbed. COTTAGE CHEESE, I swear to God, I ate with chopsticks. JELLO too. PSYCHO. I was psycho.

  10. Skin So Soft.
    Loves Baby Soft.
    Sweet, life changing memories — I don't know if I would go back again, but I sure wouldn't trade it.
    Great post.

  11. Side out and rotate? Are you sure? My whole life I thought it was sign out and rotate…(clap clap) this game is really great…(clap clap) Geez, makes you wonder…what else am I saying wrong?

  12. I've already bought your new book! I can't wait the time to read it! I'm an italian girl, i live in Bologna and i'm a blogger.. came to visit me!
    good luck for evething!

  13. "Side out and rotate, our team is really great, you should appreciate, our team!"

    It's so funny that I was *just* thinking about tetherball the other day. For no reason. And it brought a smile to my face.

    It has been decades since I've been to camp but after ten glorious summers, when the weather turns warm, my thoughts turn Equinunk, PA.

    I cried the day I left for camp because I wasn't sure I wanted to go. I cried on Visiting Day when my parents left. And I cried when I came home. One summer, my mother asked if there was a day I didn't cry! Yes, everyday in between.

  14. I never got to go to camp, fat camp or band camp, so I can never say, "Once, when I was in camp."

    Your post was very vivid, like how I imagine camp to be.

  15. Did you watch Fat Camp on MTV a while ago? I have always wondered how realistic it was!

  16. Oh my god!! I went to camp in Maine and it wasnt fat camp, but my god…the same memories!! Thank you for bringing me back to the greatest 8 weeks for 8 years!!! Sooooo amazing!! I am still "BFF" with my friends from camp!!

  17. This post really brought me back to my days at Camp Colang, Lackawanna PA. I loved my days at fat camp, so much so that I begged my parents to let me stay for another 4 weeks (for 8 weeks total). I remember at the end taking my old T-shirt and a permanent marker around to my friends & everyone signing it – I think I still have that somewhere.

  18. I just went to basic summer day camp, could not hack it in a sleepaway, and I never did do fat camp. But this was a nice post that sweetly reminded me of my past.

    I wish I was 10 again. No periods, no boys yet, no problems.
    Those were the days.

  19. I'll say the same as most: your paragraph was a fantastic "collective" camp memory exercise. When you read the specificity and see yourself in someone else's memories, its an odd and amazing thing. You and the kiddies look fab – NYC misses you and the entire fam.

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