I thought I’d done it — avoided real, unironic, outdoor camping and the gay, kitschy, outrageous “camp.”
OK, I hadn’t completely managed to skirt the tongue-in-cheek version: Too many people have witnessed (but probably not recorded) my just plain inexplicable Karaoke take on Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin….,” premiered on Long Beach Island many years ago, and then refined taken apart and put back together many times, complete with adenoidal, Fred Schneider-esque vocals and various iterations of bargain-basement drag. We will never speak of this again.
And then, this past weekend, I found myself engaged in the no-nonsense, “put up your tent before dark or die of exposure” kind of camping. This is what having kids will do to a person whose competences, such as they are, definitely do not extend to actually doing anything useful or practical beyond driving.
Of course, we went precisely because of the kids, who began counting down to the trip during the great February blizzards. Just the idea of running around in a huge tent and getting to sleep and eat in a new place is enough for five-year-olds. And then seeing a big ol’ turtle on the path…well, that’s as good as it needs to get.
The kids also stayed warm on Saturday night, the coldest May night in recorded history. With winds howling at 30 MPH (they really do howl when you’re among trees) and temperatures dipping to 40 degrees overnight, it might have been nice to have had, say, a sleeping bag instead of the pad and two thin, hotly contested blankets we’d brought. Of course, the girls had their cartoon character bags (Dora, to whom they can no longer give the time of day) and were nicely snuggled in. What little sleep I might have gotten (oh, why did I leave my Ambien at home, defying JayZ’s sage advice?) was eliminated by a series of embarrassments so profound that even I won’t disclose them. (Keywords: power outage, locked toilet, hunt, paper, man, flashlight, escape, trip.)
Did I mention that no alcohol was allowed at this state park? (Ah, the opacity of those red plastic cups!)
Now, what? The kids loved it, and so did our friends. I even kind of liked it myself, in the limited sense of “I didn’t die, lose a limb, or end up wrapped in the tent in some cartoonish way.” So we’ll probably (sigh) go again, investing thousands in tents, sleeping bags, pills, etc.
Because there are only four of us, we only need one tent. Why does that matter? In Iowa, State Senator Merlin Bartz is irate that state regulations are being changed to allow gay families to pitch more than one tent at a site, just as straight families can. Iowa, of course, allows same-sex couples to marry, so the agency in charge of camping rules has to conform regulations to this new reality. Why Bartz is so concerned about this particular rule change, I don’t know. But here’s a guess: Bartz is an outdoorsy guy — his memberships include “North Iowa Pheasants Forever” and “Worth County Ducks Unlimited” — and doesn’t like the idea that his family might be camped next to a two-tenting, gay family. But his three kids are growing up among gay families, whether he knows, or likes, it — or not. Trying to resist changing the definition to reflect reality is ultimately a futile holding action.
Maybe we should go to Iowa and confirm his worst fears. I’ll burst from the tent next to his and launch into one last chorus of “These Boots….” If he listened for a few minutes, he might actually smile. (Now I will never speak of this again.)