Thursday, September 18, 2003

In-tents Experience

You needn't have been raised on an ashram - or in Sausalito, for that matter - to know that no one, and I do mean no one, can make you do something you don't want to do. Aside from those worst case scenarios where guns, knives or similarly intimidating third parties are present, we're all pretty immune to the sound of one hand clapping.

"Oh, so you think you'll be making me eat these peas now, do ya," the baby gurgles at his mother.

"Say whatever you want about Ike, you'll never make me like him any less," says the partisan to the proselyte.

And so on.

Yet we'll let everyone, and I do mean everyone, make us do things we'd rather not.

"Sure, I'll sign your Save the Dying Dung Beetle petition," the harried, already-late-for-mahjongg-night shopper tells the teeming throng. Never mind that, in this shopper's heart of hearts, the only good bug is a dead bug; with so many people vouching for its character, how bad could the Dung Beetle be?

Pit a pack of peers against a person, even a person that prides herself on being the sort that marches to her own drummer, and you can make her do just about any (lawful) thing.

Take, for example, me. I've been made to do a thing or two against my will on, dare I say it, more than one occasion. Why? Because, on each occasion, I felt I SHOULD do it - a feeling that's got less than nothing to do with doing something because "everyone else does it," which, to people who march to their own drummers, is just plain stupid. (Half the free world could be shooting heroin and I wouldn't think, "hey, I should be shooting heroin, too.")

Still, an involuntary act, no matter how right it is or how roundly it's applauded, is, when all is said and done, an involuntary act. The two-pack a day smoker knew he should quit; what he didn't know was that thousands of virtual strangers, acting on a timetable not his own, would make him quit. He supposed he should be grateful, but really: would a chubby person go around thanking everyone who withheld the dessert menu or denied her seconds?

Wasn't it the Apostle Paul who said, "a man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still?" (Actually, it wasn't, come to think of it. It was my father-in-law, who gave the same toast at all of his sons' prenuptial rehearsal dinners. At least that's what my husband swears. But I digress.)

No, whenever a person's made to do something, especially the same darned thing over and over again because, unlike anti-smoking campaigns or compassion for the lowly beetle, this thing has never, and I do mean never, gone out of style, she's anything but grateful. Put-upon, miserable, resentful even, but grateful? No. I'm grateful for a lot of things, like being a kid who knew I should say my prayers before I lay me down to sleep, and who did so willingly. Or always knowing I should eat my vegetables and, for the most part, never having to be convinced of any one kind's merit. (While Bush the Former's aversion to broccoli was something of a disappointment, I was nevertheless impressed by his resolve: "I know I should eat it, but neither you nor your army of farmers can make me.") I know I should love my neighbor as I - well, never mind. Suffice to say I'm grateful for liking so much of the stuff a person should like, and for wanting to do so many of the things a person should want to do. But I will never like camping, and I resent the fact that it has never suffered even a teensy dip in the popularity polls.

I was made to camp when I was a Girl Scout, and unlike all the other initially squeamish scouts, I did not grow to like it.

I was made to camp when I was first married, because everyone, including my mother, who probably dislikes camping more than I do, convinced me it was the only vacation a young married could afford and, besides, "you don't have to rough it."

I was made to camp when I became a Brownie leader, despite leading hours and hours' worth of "alternative" meetings, where I urged my charges to work on their home pedicure skills and facial care badges while ever-so-casually dropping camping horror stories into our conversations.

Alas, I was unsuccessful, but when I realized I'd have to camp, I did try to look on the bright side. I was the leader, after all: I needn't pick a primitive site for our adventure. I'd pick a place not only KOA-approved, but replete with showers and flush toilets. And I'd buy out everything Big 5 had to offer. Wouldn't my daughter and I look back on this weekend forever fondly? Visions of group sing-alongs, my precious moppet to my right, gazing at me with a reverence most people reserve for their Maker, danced in my head.

It wasn't to be. Two of the girls claimed they were allergic to the bug spray I'd dusted my gear with, whining about the fumes for the entire trip. The other girls clung to my co-leader, a woman who wasn't just born to camp, but who knew all the words to "Kumbaya" and had a tent that slept eight. Plus, she could do tricks with it, like keep it from collapsing and make it fit back inside the film canister it came in. To my eternal shame, I hated her.

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