Scout or Die
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For roughly ten years of my life, I was a Boy Scout.
Specifically, a Tiger Scout, a Bobcat, a Wolf, a Bear, and a Weblos Scout before crossing the ceremonial bridge to Boy Scouts.
I was promoted to a “Boy” around the age of twelve.
Sluggishly climbing the Boy Scout achieval ladder rung by rung, I became a Tenderfoot, a Scout Second Class, a Scout First Class, a Star Scout and finally a Life Scout – one Scout Step away from the grand poo-ba of all Scouting ranks:
I never became an Eagle Scout.
I would quit the Boy Scouts after spending a miserable night outside, being feasted upon by mosquitoes, attempting to earn a merit badge.
My brother Alex and I left the world of scouting after that fateful night to pursue other grand civilian organizations that grant meaningless ranks to their members.
Maybe we should have joined the Moose Club in Reed City.
Reed City being our tiny, bump-on-a-log home town located in the Center of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.
The Moose Club of Reed City would have been happy to have us, I think, as long as we’d always volunteered to be the Designated Driver.
If I’d ever expressed interest in joining the Moose Club, I always imagined that I would have been stopped at the foyer of their clubhouse by a muscular bouncer with a name tag that read T-Wrecks and asked:
“Why do you want to be a Moose, punk?”
The same question would come to mind the night during Boy Scout Camp that I spent at the mercy of the great outdoors.
“Why do you want to be and Eagle Scout, punk?”
So I turned my back on Scouting forever, the only thing standing between myself and the rank of Eagle Scout being:
The Eagle Scout Project
“The Eagle Scout Project” was supposed to be some sort of community-service oriented event that would make the elderly folks in Reed City say hello to me in our only remaining grocery store, Vics, and say to themselves, as they walked to their cars:
“That Watson boy, he’s a good kid”
Now, the infrequent times that I revisit my prodigal stomping grounds of Reed City, MI, it’s as if I never lived there, as if all the characters that I knew in that town growing up were all part of some grand performance piece and, as soon as they were sure I wasn’t coming back, quit the show and moved on to touring productions of Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
Maybe, if I’d become an Eagle Scout, less people would have moved on with their lives in Reed City after I’d left town.
There would’ve been at least one plaque in town with my name engraved into it.
A plaque nailed into the wall of The Reed City headquarters of Boy Scouts Troop # 74
Which, coincidentally, is a stones throw away from the club house of the Reed City Moose Club.
The clubhouse of Reed City’s Troop #74 is one of the strangest buildings for me to pass by, when fate and convenience brings me back to Reed City.
It’s the same building where I finally learned how to tie a fucking square knot, after hours and hours of staring at two brightly colored pieces of nylon rope, willing them through some miracle to join forces in a knot that actually looked like the fucking picture in my scouting manual.
The same building where we had a “sleepover party” when all the doors to the clubhouse were locked and scouts and scout masters alike were trapped in one giant room for a night of “scout bonding,” which amounted to all the scouts watching Friday the 13th: The Final Friday and cheering during the skinny dipping scene when there were real life, bona-fide TA-TAS on the screen.
I don’t regret my decision to quit Boy Scouts when I pass by the club house of Troop #74.
The only concrete reasons that I have ever been presented with for becoming an Eagle Scout were:
1. Earn the respect of your peers.
(Scott’s an Eagle Scout, he’ll save us from this bear!)
2. Instantly jump to Private First Class when joining the United State Army.
(Scott’s an Eagle Scout, he already knows how to kill a man and do push-ups!)
The club house of Troop #74, instead of filling me with regret, sets off several consecutive flash-bulb memories in my mind, memories that are eternally linked with my tenure in scouting college.
It is impossible for me to separate my favorite memories of scouting from their corresponding rank, so each memory is proceeded by the Cub/Boy Scout rank I had earned up to that point.
Not all the ranks are represented because, to be quite honest, I have no fucking idea what I did while I was a Bear Scout.
But I digress…
The year was 1993.
Or, is was 1994, I’m not certain.
It was the early 90’s.
The Watson family was currently living in the Southern African country of Botswana.
My Dad had assembled some of the other American children from families living abroad into a make-shift “ex-patriate” brigade of the Boy Scouts of America.
Our club house came courtesy of the Botswanan United States Embassy. It had a very unique smell, similar to the flowers that used to poke up from the long dead, scraggly tree that grew in the center of our apartment complex in Africa.
If I had to describe this smell it would be:
40% Wet Comic Books
Someone had left a large collection of obscure, often times crude British comics in the corner shelves of our clubhouse. A leaky roof had slowly swelled and smeared the pages of said comic books until they became our equivalent of Abstract Expressionist Paintings, such as those of Jackson Pollok.
Reading these comic books cover-to-cover was the main objective of the Botswanan Brigade of Boy Scouts.
Overlooking the capital city of Botswana, the city of Gaborone in which we resided and where our clubhouse was located, was Kgale Hill.
Kgale Hill was to me what the Empire State Building is to native New Yorkers, a beacon in the distance that is unrequitable proof that they are about to be home.
It was decided that our troop of rag-tag Americans would scale Kgale Hill, where we would surely plant some sort of flag.
Or, just chuck rocks off of.
Nothing was more fun to me at that point in my life than chucking a good rock.
Our Kgale Hill expedition was not without competition, however.
In a clear conflict of interest, the same United State Embassy that had provided us with our clubhouse was sending an expedition to the top of Kgale Hill composed of United States Marines.
Their mission: Climb Kgale Hill and kick some fucking ass!
Before we began our epic climb, my brother Alex and I, along with our fellow scouts, were forever immortalized in this picture:
It was a grueling climb at a steady 60 degree incline.
Both Alex and I broke our ornamental, carved walking sticks that we had bought for the journey. They would be poorly glued together, and then re-broken at least 10 more times before we left Botswana.
Standing at the top of Kgale Hill, we had a full panoramic view of Gaborone in the distance. Mouths filled with dust, with minor cuts and bruises, our troop looked down upon this sleeping African hamlet and felt like kings of the world.
I picked up a rock lying at my feet and chucked the hell out of it.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the hill, one of the Marines who had been attempting to climb Kgale Hill to “kick some ass” had taken a bad spill and had to be medivac’d off.
It is my sincere hope that, when this Marine was safely off the ground, he had heard something clank against his helicopter’s sliding back door and, after leaning forward in his gurney to peer out the window, saw seven Boys Scouts, none of which were older than eleven, standing on the top of the same Kgale Hill that had defeated him and the other United State Marines, chucking rocks and carving this into the dust with our sneakers:
SCOUT OR DIE.
The Pinewood Derby had arrived!
For those of you, dear readers, that were never Boy Scouts (namely, female readers) the Pinewood Derby is the ancient scouting contest where every scout “builds” a miniature soap box racer that, on Pinewood Derby Day, is lined up on a 75 degree tilted ramp and let loose.
Don Murphy, the founder of the Pinewood Derby, had this to say:
“I wanted to devise a wholesome, constructive activity that would foster a closer father-son relationship and promote craftsmanship and good sportsmanship through competition.”
Founder of the Pinewood Derby in 1953
Manhattan Beach, CA Cub Scout Pack 280C
When I say that every scout “builds” his own racer, what I mean to say is every scout’s Dad builds his racer for him in the basement, while said scout figits and squirms in an old chair in the corner and plays with scrap wood.
I wanted to win the Pinewood Derby. I wanted to blow all the other shumcks in Troop 74 away with my derby car, which would have a tiny Gatling Gun attached and bladed wheels which would send the other racers careening off the track where they would explode.
My dad, working with this concept in mind, fitted General Hawk of the GI JOES into a Pinewood Derby Jeep, complete with gun attachment so that General Hawk could both drive and shoot.
It was a masterpiece of pine blocks, lead weights, and tiny nails.
My major contrabution to my Dad and I’s Pinewood Derby Car, besides the design and theme, was to paint the jeep a goopy camouflage mix of olive and tan so that “the other cars won’t see him coming!”
So dedicated was my Pinewood Derby Car to destruction and mayhem, little thought was put into its design for speed, or basic movement whatsoever.
Pinewood Derby Day: Glory would be mine!
General Hawk was on the tracks with four other, pitiful Pinewood Derby cars, none of which had a mounted gun.
They were toast.
BAM and they’re off!
General Hawk jumped a bit in place, then sat still, his frozen plastic face wearing an expression of ill placed confidence in his Pinewood Derby Pit Crew.
The other Pinewood Derby cars streaked across the blue finish line painted at the end of the wooden track.
It was a photo finish!
General Hawk had, upon inspection, moved .000001 inches from the starting line.
To this day, I feel that the race was rigged.
Races should not be about speed, they should be about who has the coolest car with a gun mount.
I won the”Best Looking Pinewood Derby Car” that year, which is still resting next to General Hawk and his Jeep of Justice on my “shelf of achievement” in Reed City.
General Hawk, if interviewed about his one ill fated shot at Pinewood Derby glory, would point his tiny gun at the hapless journalist and say:
SCOUT OR DIE.
I graduated to Boy Scouts a few years later, crossing a ceremonial wooden bridge into “boyhood.”
There was much rejoicing.
FASTEN YOUR SEAT-BELTS, LADIES AND GENTS, WE’RE FLASHING FORWARD!
BOY SCOUT RANK: TENDERFOOT
The year was now 1997.
Alex and I were trapped on a bus full of Boy Scouts, hurtling towards Mackinac Island.
Mackinac Island is located between Michigan’s Lower and Upper Peninsulas.
Almost all motorized vehicles are banned on Mackinac island, and the fat tourists that frequent this lump of rock get around either by bicycle or horse.
Mackinac Island is home to:
Fort Mackinac– Built by the British to control the strait of Mackinac and the fur trade, this fort was the site of two major battles during The War of 1812.
The Grand Hotel – A Victorian style hotel, built in 1887, at which the 1980 film Somewhere in Time starring Christopher Reeve was shot.
Fudge – There is a fudge shop next to a fudge shop across from a fudge shop on Mackinac Island. Because of this, all of the tourists who are lured to Michigan by the “exciting” prospect of a colonial island adventure have been coined fudgies by native Michiganders.
(We hate fudgies. How dare they visit our state in blatant acts of tourism?)
Horse Shit – Say what you will about the dangers of car emissions, Mackinac Island must produce enough horse shit every year to rebuild the Tower of Babylon.
Frusterated Boy Scouts – Next to Fort Mackinac is a Boy Scout “barracks” where, every summer, a rotating schedule of pimply, hormonally charged boys are shipped in from random locations around the state to learn something about themselves.
Alex and I weren’t particularly excited to learn about ourselves.
Especially not during our precious summer time, which was to be spent systematically beating Final Fantasy games via emulators on our ancient Macintosh computer and becoming excited by various fan-boy book series.
I was staring glumly out the window of the school bus when I overheard two scout’s from Paw Paw talking about Reed City. I craned my neck to eavesdrop.
They were talking about Vinnie Garofalo.
Of course they were talking about Vinnie Garofalo.
Vinnie Garofalo was two years ahead of me in middle school.
One day, during sixth grade, I arrived late to school.
I thought my ass was grass, so to speak.
Instead, no-one seemed to notice. Everyone was wandering about with a dazed expression, or huddled into small groups excitedly whispering among themselves.
Me, being deep into my Reading Star Wars Fan Fiction Instead of Talking to People phase, was left completely in the dark until 1st period.
Something had happened to Vinnie Garofalo.
Specifically, Vinnie had smuggled a 22 Rifle to school in a guitar case and, having silenced the weapon by jamming a potato onto the muzzle, shot himself in the face while standing in front of his locker in the 8th grade hallway.
Later that day, Vinnie died in the hospital.
The Administration of Reed City Middle School, in their infinite wisdom, decided to cover up the blood stain in the 8th grade hallway with a carpet and finish the school day.
Meanwhile, on the Boy Scout Bus:
The two dumb-fuck Boy Scouts from Paw Paw were discussing Vinnie Garofalo’s suicide.
“He shot himself with a 22! Stupid fucker, should have used a shotgun, that would’ve finished him off quicker!”
“What kind of loser kills himself with a gun? I would have jumped off a bridge or something.”
I didn’t know Vinnie very well before he committed suicide, and I can’t say in retrospect that the way he chose to die wasn’t reckless and selfish.
However, now that I’ve reached the age of twenty three, and Vinnie is trapped forever in memories at the precocious age of fourteen, all that I can say is that death probably isn’t what Vinnie wanted.
All he wanted was to escape and, in Reed City, for many of my peers when I was growing up, death seemed like the quickest way to get the fuck out of dodge.
The last thing Vinnie would have wanted was to have his legacy be an hour of jeering between two troglodytes from Paw-Paw.
I was pissed.
And then I got to Mackinac Island.
Our job as Boy Scouts, turns out, was to wear stupid red berets in Fort Mackinac and stand at attention, for hours at a time, while low-down dirty fudgies took pictures of us and asked us inane questions, such as:
“Is this the original fort?”
“Where’s the best place to buy fudge?”
After one day of this, I revolted.
I spent the rest of my time on Mackinac island reading REDWALL books alone in my bunk.
I was reading “Pearls of Lutra” at first, and then moved onto “Outcast of Redwall.”
All of the Redwall books can be summed up in one sentence.
A group of mice eat a lot, sing countless inane songs, and fight a rat/fox/weasel/martin to the death.
My nose was fully buried into “Pearls of Lutra” when one of the Paw Paw scouts that had been discussing Vinnie on the bus began passing around a dirty picture he’d drawn of:
“A hot girl totally naked in a tub.”
All the scouts examined the picture as if it were the Ark of the Covenant, gathering around to gawk at the holy titties that had been scrawled with sharpie on a piece of notebook paper.
The erotic artist from Paw-Paw was basking in his new-found fame until he noticed me sitting alone and reading on my bunk.
I was the only Scout there who hadn’t leapt from his bunk to see some real-life fake titties.
Dirty picture in hand, he marched over to my bunk and thrust it before my eyes.
“Why don’t you read this shit, Watson? Pretty nice, huh?”
To me, the brave inhabitants of Redwall had been fighting the final battle with a twisted Otter when they were suddenly ambushed by a pair of off-centered ta-tas.
I brushed the ta-ta sheet away, and said.
“I’ve seen better on your mom.”
This shit-brick from Paw-Paw, the same shit-brick that had been talking about Vinnie on the bus, tried to say something, anything, to regain his dignity.
This is what he said:
“Nice book, fag.”
And then he stormed away, the laughing stock of the scouts to which, moments ago, he had been a hero.
I went back to my Redwall, my mouth sweetened by the duel flavors of fudge and revenge.
SCOUT OR DIE
I was at the pinnacle of my Scouting career.
I had attained the rank just below Eagle Scout.
I was at Boy Scout camp, my first and last time ever spending a week at that miserable place.
I was about to die.
As previously mentioned, I quit Boy Scouts after a miserable night spent outside.
We were trying to earn a particularly cruel merit badge, the Outdoors-Man Badge
The badge required you to spend a night in the elements, with no aid from technology, and survive.
Everything was going wrong.
The structure we’d attempted to build out of ferns and other undergrowth had instantly collapsed.
All the wood in the surrounding area had been drenched the night before with a light rain. We wouldn’t have been able to start a fire with a flamethrower, let alone by rubbing two saplings together.
All of the Mosquitoes in the forest were also having a family reunion in our campsite. I had mosquitoes taking each other to small claims court over real estate rights to every square inch of my hide.
So it was then, huddling on some dirt in the fetal position while mosquitoes bled me dry, that I decided that if I made it out of this night alive, I would quit Boy Scouts and never look back.
The sun rose the next morning on nine or so moaning humans, so covered in bumps that they would have to be identified by their dental records.
Praising the gods of nature for having spared my life, I would make good on my promise and quit the fuck out of the Boy Scouts.
SCOUT OR DIE
or in this case:
SCOUT AND DIE
During college, Joey Z, our mutual friend Bird and I decided to go on a hiking trip through the Manistee National forest.
By this time, it was 2007.
We stopped on a two track to take a breather, Bird busting out his portable camp stove and myself settling down to a fine meal courtesy of “Dinty Moore”
We heard an engine rumbling ahead and, through a nest of pine trees, could make out a brown bus turning around on the road ahead.
I recognized the bus instantly.
It was the official bus of the Reed City Boy Scout’s Troop #74.
Here I was in college, hiking and enjoying myself, while younger boys from Reed City were carrying on the noble scout profession a mere twenty feet away.
I thought for a moment about going up to the bus and introducing myself, but then thought better of it.
I had no connection to Troop #74 anymore. Not even my name on a plaque under Eagle Scout.
The organization was just another part of my life, another part of Reed City, that had simply moved on after I left.
As the bus of Troop #74 dissipated into a cloud of dust kicked up by the two-track ahead, I wished the scouts of the future all the best in their quest to get into touch with nature and themselves.
I also hoped that what I’d left scrawled in the bottom of one of the card tables bolted into the floor of the bus was still there.
This is what I’d scrawled:
SCOUT OR DIE