Summers are often a magical time, where you take a break from the pressures and schedules of school and just get to be lazy for a couple months. Unless of course your parents made you go to day camp, in which case you still had to catch the bus, take on a full schedule of activities and deal with the drama and struggle of fitting in, just like at school. Such was the case with my childhood summers in the Armpit of America, where I would count down the days for school to end, only to start camp soon after (and then count down the days until camp was over).
Though this may seem like a vicious cycle of misery, camp was never that bad….much like Ronnie and Sammi from “Jersey Shore” (speaking of which, I toured the infamous house, in case you missed it), I just had a complicated love/hate relationship with camp, as described below.
I went to three different day camps during my childhood, but it was only the third that had a significant impact on my life. That camp was Pine Grove Day Camp, located in Wall Township. It was run by a guy who looked like a cute old Jewish man like Mel Brooks but who managed a children’s day camp like a concentration camp. Seriously, the guy could make you wet your pants with one harsh look. But still, he knew what he was doing. Aside from sunburn and mosquito bites and all the times I wished I didn’t have to go each summer, that camp gave me a lifetime of memories from eight summers.
Pine Grove touted itself as a camp “as complete as a sleepaway camp” and pretty much lived up to that description. Sure, it had a few pools, sports facilities, arts and crafts and all that standard stuff, but what set it apart more than anything is that it served lunch. Not just peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but real food cooked in a real kitchen – fried chicken (or as the camp menu called it, “honey dip’t chicken”), meatball subs, grilled cheese, hamburgers, etc., complete with sides and dessert. In fact, the only meal that sucked where those days every two weeks where the option would be tuna and egg salad platters. But any day you didn’t like the main course being offered, there was a range of substitutes you could order – bagels, turkey sandwiches, yogurt. Hell, even if you kept kosher, they would accommodate you. Needless to say, the food was one of the best parts of Pine Grove, especially if you were a fat kid like me.