Monday, August 01, 2005


With everything that happened at the jamboree last week, it's with bittersweet sentiments that I post my thoughts about the Boy Scouts. The BSA is a tricky thing to discuss with those who did not participate as the negativity surrounding the recent legal rulings and other unfortunate incidents has poisoned some people's views. I have friends who look at scouting in the same way others may view the Catholic Church; how could anyone let their children participate after all that's been reported? I'm not surprised to hear that the membership numbers are declining in both groups.

Even for those of us who can recite the Scout Law two decades later, we still find our time in the Scouts to be confusing in retrospect. And I don't mean in a "if you misbehave the scoutmaster makes you hold his hand" kind of confusing (although that did happen to another kid once). It was a giant social mudhole. It's a group that forces boys between the age of 12-18 - and wildly varying degrees of maturity - together into an attempt to breed trust and friendship. When successful, the experiment works wonders. But you often had situations of bullying, taunting and teasing at an age when social identities are at their most malleable. Though same thing happens in school, at least the education system splits middle and high school along the loose lines of puberty.

Also, scouting was never the "cool thing" and your involvement was never mentioned outside the troop meetings. Kids who spent rainy camping trips huddled under the same tarp laughing at boob jokes wouldn't even acknowledge each other's presence back at school. Revealing someone's membership was unforgivable, especially in front of the opposite sex. We had all the hand signs, rote memorization and male bonding of a frat without any of the Greek system's ostensible sense of pride. They could have played the Simple Minds at the end of every meeting with everyone getting a chance to tape Larry Lester's buns together.

That being said, I will defend the Boy Scouts against anyone who bad mouths it. Scouting is such a unique opportunity, especially for a white bread, cushioned, nancy-child like me. Unaware of their mission statement, it always seemed the troop was trying to build teamwork and other corporate weekend catchwords. But imagine trying to teach any sort of survival skills to 30 boys individually. It was either as a group or not at all. But looking back on their mission statement today, I realize they succeeded, at least when it came to me.

None of this is why I planning to write about the Boy Scouts, though. What I really wanted to do was to point out how dangerous it is to be teenage boy. And for me at least, the Boy Scouts offered the perfect perimeters for this destructive behavior. Scouting is an agglomerate of teenage bravado, perceived adolescent invulnerability and undiluted machismo immersed in a culture of fire, knives and axes. Perfect for a budding delinquent/fire bug like myself.


As proof, I've compiled a list of the most dangerous things I did as a child in the Boy Scouts. You get bruising on one end, several near deaths on the other.

- While trying to hang someone's sleeping bag in a tree, I grabbed a rotting branch and fell 20 feet onto an even pile of logs and sticks. That puncture would took a long time to heal.

- After missing our exit on the PA turnpike, our unheated van drove into a ditch during a snowstorm and got stuck for 3 hours. When finally reaching our cabin, A WWF-style wrestling match broke out among the scouts. One jumped off his bunk and smashed his face on a side table.

- While playing a game called torpedo, which involves a blindfolded player trying to tag another, a crawling scout was hit on the top of his head, knocked his mouth on the floor and spat out his front teeth like bloody Chiclets.

-Climbed Annapolis Rocks at night without a belay.
Somewhat related: Raccoon on acid.

-After being warned of 200lbs snapping turtles I panicked while flipping a kayak and became trapped under water for almost a minute. Again at night. And after not telling anyone I was going.

- Our camp fire grills consisted of two rebar reinforced concrete slabs topped with a grill. Like this...

- One year, a scout put an unopened can of corn in the fire. It exploded under pressure and sent shrapnel into people's shins.

- The next year someone put in a can of hairspray. Although we were smart enough to stand away from the open ends, under pressure it exploded with enough force to blow the sides off the grill, sending shrapnel, concrete and rebar into people's shins. Our scoutmaster was obviuosly furious. But he was such an passive and soft-spoken man that the worst threat he could think of was to never write any of us a job references. Not a horrible threat against a 13-year-old, bet memorable none-the-less. It's too bad, because that man is now THE VICE PESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES!*

- Someone tossed a .22 rifle round into a campfire. Lord knows where that bullet ended up.

- While collecting firewood, a fellow scout swung a long-handled axe at an upright tree like a baseball bat. He missed and the axe head circled, not only somewhere near my face which would have frightning enough, but under the space between the end my chin and throat.

Plus, when we finally got the tree down, we carried it back on our shoulders ensuring a nice face-full of poison ivy.

All this and I was in the boy scouts for just over two years.

*Not true.


The Governess said...

Seriously, when K and I talked about it on Saturday, that's the first time we realized we'd each been in Girl Scouts. We've known each other for a freaking decade, you'd think it may have come up at least once? Oh, the shame runs so deep.

((Laugh it off, buddy, but I have a COSMETOLOGY PATCH. And, horse care.))

tom said...

what troop #?

the Nabob said...


tom said...

Ah. 647 for me. And my scoutmaster, although a mild-mannered unix geek, could get really terrifying when it was deserved. Plus, I figured I would've heard any stories involving shrapnel.

I agree with you completely about feeling obligated to defend the BSA.

Dan said...

I found the Scouts, in retrospect, to be something like an ideal breeding ground for fascists. 'Lord of the Flys,' just not so exotic. But, then, I felt roughly the same way about junior high.

Still, there's nothing quite like putting a kid into a position of Leadership to really enable the cruel caprices of the pubescent will.

And the adult leaders, too, (my own father included) rarely inspired much in the way of confidence.

(All that said, the few real leaders in our ranks, though generally a huge exception, were also fairly exceptional.)

I managed to drift along, myself, before quietly slipping out the door without ever even reaching Star. Something of a loser amongst the loser brigade.

tom said...

I think you can level the fascism critique at any organization with a command structure. Fortunately the worst that happens in the scouts is kids learning how to light fires that shouldn't.

But yeah, if you've got adult leaders who are in it to get away from their wives and discreetly drink beer on the weekends, or if they're just there for their own kid's benefit, the whole thing can be pretty bad.

Fortunately I had a bunch of childless weirdos who were just really into scouting.