Monday, July 23, 2012

I Might Die Here: An Ethnographic Study on Massachusetts

Spending the summer in Massachusetts has provided me with an interesting view into a previously unseen subculture in America. After moving here a few years back and living and attending school on the east coast, I have been slowing picking up on the unique vernacular and little differences in personalities that persist in the eastern area of the country. However, Massachusetts frankly  kind of has its own thing going on. The state is like that one friend you have who you have a lot in common with and is great, but they have certain things they do on the weekend that you don't really know a lot about or even really talk about because you think they're a little weird.
That metaphor is a little stretched, but I'm going for it.
One of the first things I learned when I was thrown into the company of many born-and-bred Massachusetts residents was the existence of the term "lax bro." A lot of people just threw around this phrase and because I had never heard it before and I couldn't quite hear what they were saying I was totally perplexed about what was happening. Eventually it was explained to me that, obviously, lax is short for lacrosse and the term refers to those guys who sport their lacrosse pennies every day, bond with other bros through man-hugs and comparing college football teams, and have muscles that, in general, take up the space of three average-sized middle school students. Upon reflection, I realized that even though this phrase was new to me, I had known many, many other "lax bros" back home when I was going through school. What's kind of interesting is that the bros I knew years ago I remember not being very pleasant people at all, whereas those I have recently met in Massachusetts are almost ridiculously nice. Now, this could be the result of a number of reasons, but this is an ethnography, not a psychological assessment. And thank goodness for that.
Now, one of my more prevalent personality flaws is my habit of giving a lot of thought to certain things that really have no reason to be thought of for any extended period of time. Because of this, I was doing a sort of personal analysis of the "lax bro" term and realized this description and idea were not exclusive to guys who play lacrosse, by any means. So I came up with my own term of "Mass bro" as a way to further categorize people I see and meet, because nothing bad has every happened from doing that. The "Mass bro" differs from any given jock or fraternity member in subtle but distinctive ways. An absolute resolution to the superiority of the sports teams of Boston is an intrinsic necessity in their personalities, along with perhaps an unknown ignorance of areas of America that did not play key roles in the Revolution.  So basically, every guy my first college roommate has dated.
I learned of the legend and reputation of the Masshole in my early days of living in the east, and spent the past three years gaining experience with them firsthand as I commuted through the area. It is a common belief that all stereotypes are based in at least a tiny amount of truth. However, this stereotype exists because it is based in what is equivalent to the Pacific Ocean of truths. Being a paranoid and defensive, yet incredibly angry driver regardless, my time behind the wheel in Massachusetts has led my to be constantly terrified for my life, and also filled with a near-omnipresent rage at everyone on the road. To make matters worse, the roads here are incredibly twisted and full of curves, and when you take overly-bold drivers into the equation, it's horrifying. For example, there is one intersection nearby where the road curves and the brush is thick so when turning left, you literally cannot see if anyone is coming on the right. You just have to place your bet, spin the wheel, and hope the ball lands on the color that doesn't end up with you dying in twisted metal and fire.
Also, drivers in Massachusetts don't believe in turn signals. I honestly think that's the first lesson they teach in the schools here: "Now kids, what did we learn today? 'Letting other people know which way you are going is quitting.'"
These quirks and various aspects to the psyche of Massachusetts are not limited to a specific gender or age demographic, either. I have seen them exhibited in young boys in elementary school to older women, spending their golden years leading ghost tours around Plymouth. And it is not something I resent or disdain in any way. In fact, I have been hearing "r"'s slowly leaving my words as I speak, and the David Tennant cut-out in my room has a Sox hat on. If anything, I am one of them.
You're welcome for FREEDOM, America.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Fact: All Camp Songs Are Embarassing

This summer I am down in Massachusetts, living with my friend Emily and working at a local day camp. It seemed to be a better decision for my career when compared to simply returning to Christmas Tree Shop for another four months of grumpy foreigners on vacation and older locals stocking up on Portuguese buns (which are, for the record, delicious), sunscreen, and novelty beach home decor. And so far, I am loving my time at camp, partially because, unlike the majority of the other employees, who grew up here, I have limited experience with the whole camp atmosphere and protocol. Still, growing accostomed to working there has gotten me to thinking and reminiscing about the three camps I did attend when I was growing up, before softball became my entire existence.
1) Camp Winnahupe
This was a Girl Scout camp I attended for a week when I was very small, probably when I was around 5 to 6, so my memories of it are very  limited. Here's what I do recall:
-my group being told to bring up a bucket of water from the lake and me blatantly refusing to help
-my counselor saying we weren't leaving until every girl smiled, and when I did, she said she wanted to see me smile with my teeth showing and I said, and this is a direct quote, "I don't smile like that." I was kind of a little shit, wasn't I?
-the camp lasted a week but only one of these days included staying overnight in tents, and it was a completely awful experience. I don't remember why it was awful, it just was. I don't think our early 90's tents were super great at keeping out the bugs.
-all the campers got purple shirts and for some reason that shirt just stood out in my memory for years and years afterward. It wasn't even a particularly cool shirt. I probably just liked purple. A lot.
2) Camp Tecumseh
This was another Girl Scout camp I attended with my troop when I was maybe around 8 or 9, and I honestly have no recollection about if it was a day camp or a sleep-away camp. Here's what I do remember:
-the camp had a climbing wall I was absolutely terrified of and I can't recall if I put up enough of a fuss that they let me out of having to go up it. I was pretty steadfastly anti-fun as a child. Still am, frankly.
-the camp also had this slide that was made up of giant black tubing set up on a gently incline, and it was dubbed "The Black Hole." This was the coolest thing at camp because you couldn't see anything as you went down it and to an 8-year-old, that's as terrifying as it gets. But there was a special badge made just for kids who went down it that said, "I survived the Black Hole" on it and it looked super bomb on the back of my Brownies vest.
-as I was waiting in line for the Black Hole, I was stung by a bee for the first (and, so far, only) time in my life. It stung me on the side of my neck so when it happened I instinctively kind of squished my shoulder to my head and squished the asshole. After I had recovered from the sting, some other girls told my how lucky I was to have gotten stung where I had been, because, apparently, if it had been just a few inches to the left, and I'd been stung right on the back of my neck on my spine, I would have been paralyzed. And really, that must be true, because I heard it from the entomolgical experts of the Girl Scouts of America.
-we'd have meals in the dining hall, but we could never just eat in peace. At every meal time the whole room would be forced to participate in rousing renditions of songs about Johnny Appleseed and the founder of the Girl Scouts, Juliette Low, whose name I did not just have to Google to remember. I hated camp songs. But we'll get to that.
Right now.
3) Camp Wapo
This was a church camp I attended for a week after third grade, and it was super popular and all the cool kids at my church went to it. And I, having just moved to the area in February, desperately wanted to be cool and accepted. If only I could go back and tell myself how early that ship had already sailed. But anyway:
-being a Christian overnight camp, there was strong emphasis on singing as a form of worship for kids. Now, as self-concious and perpetually worried about everything I am these days, as a child I was exponentially worse. So every time a song started that involved dramatic and extensive gesticulations, as most did, I cringed emotionally and physically. I just kept thinking, "Can't I love God without having to sing about the Pharoh letting us go and God's different names in multiple rounds?" Which is a question I still believe is valid.
-like many other camps, businesses, and housing developments, this area was situated on a lake. As a general rule, swimming in lakes is a pretty disgusting situation to be in, but if you don't think about what is in the water surrounding you, it's fine. One day that week at camp, I was swimming with my friend, and the unpleastantness of the water became unavoidable. We were just floating there, when out of nowhere a bloody, dead fish appeared right next to us, somehow staring into our souls with its own soulless, unseeing eyes. It was gross.
-on one of the last nights, the whole camp gathered together for some kind of candlelight worship thing. For some reason that remains unclear to me, all the campers had crosses put onto our foreheads with ashes despite it being months after Ash Wednesday. Throughout the worship-service-thing, my group couldn't decide if we were supposed to keep the ashes on our heads or not, so a few of us wiped ours off because it felt weird. We soon found out we weren't supposed to do that (Sorry, God), and I felt totally embarassed as a couselor cleaned off my empty forehead as we left. In retrospect, it wasn't that big a deal but at the time I was like shitshitSHITshitshitshitSHITSHIT only not really because shockingly I didn't think or talk like that at 8.
So while it may seem like my camp experiences were all totally awful, I actually remember generally really enjoying my time at those places. After writing this, I think my camp memories more just show the roots of my personal vices or weird issues. I was a strange child, and am now a strange adult. But at least some progress has totally been made because where before when a camp song came up I cowered in a corner now I can be like SUPER LIZARD SUPER LIZARD SEE HIM SWIM SEE HIM SWIM IN AND OUT OF WATER IN AND OUT OF WATER WITH HIS FINS WITH HIS FINS. I like camp.