8 Weeks At The World’s Wackiest Summer Camp
Camp attendance has plunged during the pandemic, but a zany memoir brings the experience to you
Remember when camp meant S’mores and “Kumbaya” instead of math, coding, or weight loss? When you went for fun instead of self-improvement? And when parents couldn’t keep checking in via texts, FaceTime, or a daily livestream of activities?
Mindy Schneider does. She was born at the shank of the baby boom, perhaps the last generation to have experienced camp as something closer to Animal House than an Advanced Placement course with sunblock.
Her memoir, Not a Happy Camper (Grove, 2018) is an offbeat elegy for that vanishing world of pranks, mosquitoes, bad food, color wars, and name tags sewn into your underwear.
Kin-A-Hurra was an ‘anti-camp’
Schneider was 13 when, in 1974, she spent eight weeks at the idiosyncratic Camp Kin-A-Hurra on Lake Wally in Maine. Kin-A-Hurra was nominally kosher. But that didn’t keep the cook from putting cheese in the beef stew and the campers from writing parodies of “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” Anyone who went there could pretty much forget about making lanyards.
As Schneider tells it, Kin-A-Hurra was an “anti-camp,” a place where the supervision was so lax that the loopy inmates often ran the asylum.
Once a bunkhouse burned down because the counselors were too distracted to notice that a group of boys had put candles under their beds to try to warm them up before they turned in. Campers took hikes from which they were lucky to emerge with only one body part in a cast and got carbon monoxide poisoning from the dilapidated green truck that served as the camp van. Girls in training bras tried desperately to find boyfriends among boys who, when they wanted to get your attention, shot a rubber band off their braces.
As bizarre as Kin-a-Hurra was, Schneider’s first camp may have been stranger.
“Every play put on at Camp Cicada was an adaptation of an extravagant Broadway musical, though they kept the costs down by doing only the first act,” she writes. “Due to this restriction, the two oldest bunks’ production of 1776 ended with Congress still in…