Gabe Durham’s FUN CAMP: “Anything that doesn’t send you to the showers isn’t worth laughing at.”
Fun Camp has the skinniest low voice. Fun Camp has the most earnest eye width. Fun Camp is tall and kind and stalwart and genuinely funny, sweetly so, like the difference between a blackberry and corn syrup. If I could compare Fun Camp to a season, it would be early May, which is a problem, because most summer camps take place after that, and Gabe Durham wrote a novel about summer camp. It’s called Fun Camp.
The novel is made up of little frosted mini wheats of prose—”monologues, speeches, soliloquies, sermons, letters, cards, and lists”—thereby marking Fun Camp a deconstruction of a genre (the summer camp genre) that (let’s admit) is kind of addictive no matter how you shoot it. I mean, there are parts of this book that are literally better than Wet Hot American Summer. Yeah. For real. I’m not blowing watermelon relays up your ass. It’s not hard to read this book at all—this book is fucking entertaining. It’s sticky with zingers.
Gabe is someone you are like: how did that sweet young man just make it so funny? Because real funny is never sweet. Forget what I said earlier. It’s not even laughter we mean, exactly. Real true funny is the thin cotton sheet with the eye holes poked out that we wear over our totally freakiest cruelties.
In Fun Camp, there is free time, pig’s blood, sucky trees, Satanic goats. There is that tentative adolescent insanity we’re still getting over. Don’t take my huck for it. Get the book. $9 at PGP, early bird special. It’s the book of the summer. PeterBD, in fact, says it’s the “book of 2013.” Below the jump, I will shut up and hand over the sharing baton to some of what’s actually in this lovely young book.
You can get less than eight hours of sleep or more than eight hours of sleep or eight hours of sleep. You can die alone or die addicted or go out to the bar tonight. You can get diabetes or let fame make you boring or shoot hoops shirtless. You can smile more or smile less or appear to be self-monitoring enough already. You can tap on a wall or buy something that beeps or store your paintings on the hallway floor. You can look up words you don’t know or use context clues or you can read a book tonight. You can say a prayer or sing a prayer or eat while it’s hot. You can pay one dollar for one donut or four dollars for six donuts or you can approach the dinner table with a clean conscience. You can eat wax or be a hero or eat glue. You can use me or define me or ask me for my place of origin. You can arrive early or arrive rested or you can think of yourself more as a searcher. You can’t or you won’t, or in a more formal setting, you cannot or will not. You can put down the dog or take her for a walk or finally name her. You can replace the light bulb or live rustic or you can move away forever. You can do a dance or wait to get thrown out or you can put your pants back on. You can, shuck, husk, or befriend. You can shell, scale, or frown over. You can bore, marry, or kill. You can enjoy entertainments, enjoy a mercurial rise, or you can never stop putting bunny ears on loved ones in photos. You’re with us or you’re against us or you made other plans but wish us the best. Rap music is too something or not something enough, which is why some people feel a way about it. I laid out a tarp in the field behind my house and sat in the center, waiting for what.
You’re riding an elevator with a vacantly beautiful woman who pulls a wad of cash from her purse and says to you, “I’m going to use this to purchase a goat, which I will sacrifice to Satan.” Then she gets off the elevator and leaves the purse behind. Do you call out to her and return the purse? Do you remove the “goat money” and then return the purse? Do you keep the purse and the money, then run up her credit cards to be sure and disable her powers as a conduit of darkness? If so, would you only spend the money on donations to worthy charities or might you take a small portion of the money and buy a sandwich? And if that sandwich is a goat sandwich, are you really any better than the Satanist?
It’s a smell you’ll learn to expect. In fact, a seasoned camper can gage what day of the week it is based on how badly her eyes tear up when she’s passing Boys Cabin 4. These lads, just on the cusp of caring that they reek, will for now resist any calls to sanitation in the hope that hygiene is just another inane adult imposition like sugar limits and seatbelts. Mind you, these are the same boys who by next year will have overdone it in the opposite direction: unnecessary daily shaving and aftershaving, showering before and after anything, sniffing at each other’s deodorants in quest of the one that really gets it done, dousing cologne, checking their pits when they think no one’s looking, and balking at any activity that threatens their crisp pointy hair. A phase no less annoying than the one they’re in now, but far easier to ignore. Since it’s Wednesday, the boys still feel like their stink is some great secret they’re getting away with, but give them a couple of days. They’ll grim up and bathe once their mold colds kick in.
If you let your TV screen get dusty then make a handprint on it, every sitcom bears your mark. The more decals on the frame, the less likely it is that there’s another out there like yours. On our old remote, you could peel off the buttons to reveal uglier buttons, then put the outer buttons back on upside down or out of order, turn the remote into a rune. Dad hated it: He didn’t have the same memory for location I did, wasn’t thrilled by the challenge of the puzzle. If he wanted Channel 8, he pressed the 8 button. I get some grief around here for missing the shows I’m missing—it keeps me from surrendering myself to the fun, I’m told—but the TV is the most fun person I know. Every TV personality who gets ripped on is famous and not me and asking for it. Camp jokes are too literal, too physical, too sticky for my taste. Like anything that doesn’t send you to the showers isn’t worth laughing at. And I know what you’re about to say, so don’t bother. All anybody here tells me is that soon I won’t even miss the ole boob tube, the shocks box, the mean screen. As if that’s not the ultimate tragedy.