Not Exactly "Meatballs"

Summertime, and the campin' is easy

Our daughter was supposed to go to camp for the first time last summer, but some stuff happened and no one went.

But now…

So we drove three hours up to just north of Augusta, Maine, on Friday to deposit the 11-year-old at the lovely, rustic Friends Camp. Our across-the-street neighbors have sent their daughters multiple times and raved about it, so we have high hopes1.

If our new camper was nervous about her first two weeks away from home, she hasn’t shown it. She has been packing — or at least pre-packing — for weeks: arranging, sorting, making lists, double-checking them against the lists the camp sent.

Friday morning she was still exuberant. Meanwhile, her brother, 7, intoned darkly as I came down the stairs for breakfast: “Today, we’re taking Annie to go-away camp.”

I am not overly sentimental2, but I was still nursing my wounds from the night before, when Annie had opened a first-camp/5th-grade graduation present from her Aunt M.: a sheet of stamps and some stationery for writing letters home — these I’d known she was getting, as M. had called me earlier in the day to say so, and to ask me if there was a particular book Annie had been wanting. Nothing had jumped out at me, so I looked over, curious to see what M. had chosen.

It was a journal, at which Annie squealed, and began to write in almost immediately.

Guess what the super-awesome camp-present-from-Dad I’d thought of weeks ago but hadn’t yet presented to her was?

Reader, I sulked.

I know, it’s dumb! And I’m over it (mostly)! But I will admit to a pang or two when she started writing right away. I had this “we just missed a golden opportunity for bonding!” freak out (quietly, in my head).

I still gave her my present, because the real writer-to-writer bonding is in the knowledge that you always need another notebook.

We loaded the car, and had an uneventful drive to camp, highlighted by a stop for lunch at the L.L. Bean store in Freeport, Maine, most of the “Hamilton” soundtrack, and being passed by a car with Massachusetts vanity plates that read “FAHTS.”

It was a tear-free camper deposit. And there was surprisingly little complaint from the seven-year-old, who was bribed with a bag of Nacho Cheese Doritos when we stopped for gas after dropoff.

“We both got special things,” he said. “Annie’s at camp, and I have these.”

That’s two “Did I mention I’m a Dad?” letters in a row but what can I say? It’s what’s been on my mind. I’m very excited about some of the “How Do You Finish a Book?” interviews coming up, though!

Oh, one more thing: remember the fastidious packer mentioned several paragraphs up? We had to go to the post office this morning to overnight her sneakers.

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Reading List

Pulling CountI’ve been hearing about this story in The Atlantic for more than a year. The writer Michael Holtz spent six months working the line at a Cargill meat-packing plant in Dodge City, Kansas, which is five months and 29 days longer than I’d want to do it. This isn’t The Jungle — no rats or fingers in the hamburger. But it’s a close-up description of the kind of constant physical labor I, for one, have never experienced. (Though I did develop a callus on my left hand yesterday where my wedding ring and the Subaru’s steering wheel pinched a little bit of the skin of my palm).

Holtz is closely connected to a colleague and friend of mine at Northeastern. She told us about his plan when he first applied for the job, and several of us have periodically pumped her for information about how it’s going. It’s exciting to see out in the world.

“The boy should be in a robe ringing altar bells or chasing a tattered and dust-covered ball through an equally ragged plaza or searching in a mirror for his first whisker, but somebody’s given him a uniform and a rifle and the idea he belongs here with us.”

Campfire Outside Valdorros is a captivating short-short story by Julian Zabalbeascoa that ran in Electric Literature last week. Julian’s project — a novel centered in part on the Basque experience of the Spanish Civil War — is another project I’ve heard a lot about and am eagerly anticipating. It’s great to see this excerpt (outtake?).


(NB this letter’s title: It’s hard to find fun references to summer camp-related pop culture that don’t resemble either slasher films or 80s-style sex romps. I thought about calling this one “Wet Hot American Quakers,” but decided that would require even more explanation than this footnote.


I’m a little sentimental. I said not “overly.”