They say ("they" being folks who enjoy torturing amphibians) that if you toss a frog into a pot of hot water, the lil' dickens will hop right out again. If, however, you drop him into a pot of tepid water and slowly bring it to a boil, kermit will sit there until he's a French entree. This is a ghoulishly apt metaphor for a childhood in which we were being boiled alive in a big pot of "crazy." And thus we embark upon yet another retarded tale from our odd childhood.
Most summer camp stories are trite as they are common; Kumbaya, panty-raids, machete-wielding spree killers, homosexual experimentation. But most summer camp stories aren't set at Camp ID-RA-HA-JE. Nestled in a valley of the Colorado Rockies, ID-RA-HA-JE had an aggressively tacky "Injun" motif; campers slept in enormous tepees, and were divided into tribes (we were, unsurprisingly, a Kickapoo). It was every bit as authentic as the late Ricardo Montalban's performance as Little Wolf in Cheyenne Autumn. But what truly set it apart was what ID-RA-HA-JE stood for. It meant, of course, "I'd Rather Have Jesus."
Even as an impressionable child of 8, we were troubled by two things: first, we strongly suspected that a genuine Kickapoo would rather have many things other than Jesus (their land, their dignity, a jug of fire water, to name a few). Second, we were never offered the alternative. I'd Rather Have Jesus than what? An evening at the Ice Capades? An impacted molar? An autographed photo of Mitzi Gaynor? What??
In the early 1970s, Christianity had become briefly hippified. This can be blamed on the one-two punch of Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar, two movies in which some filthy Woodstock refugees dressed up as happy clowns and pranced about while singing soft rock tunes and crucifying their savior to a catchy beat. A new version of the Bible, called "The Way" was all the rage. "The Way" featured on its cover a photo of a hippy couple, hand-in-hand, skipping blissfully through a field. "The Way" still instructed us to execute homos, adulterers and shrimp eaters, but we felt infinitely groovier about it.
We recall a surreal evening when our counselor (a long-haired art student/stoner-for-Jesus named Seth or Travis or something equally granola) gathered us Kickapoos together for a pow-wow about hell. He turned on a black light (remember those?) and drew a glow-in-the-dark pastel rendering of eternal damnation. It featured throngs of sinners writhing about in a lake of fire. We remember looking at it and thinking, "cool!"
We had nightly Bible-Drills, where the campers (copies of "The Way" in-hand) would assemble in the lodge. The counselors would shout out a book/chapter/verse and the first to locate it won a brightly-colored feather to add to their elastic headband. Yay! It was an exercise of dubious value; to this day we have no idea who the hell is Obediah, other than the fact that he's wedged lasciviously betwixt Amos and Jonah (lucky pervert).
Standing at the front of the hall was the dreaded zap-seat; a metal stool which was wired to a 15-volt battery pack. At the end of every Bible-Drill each featherless (read: hell-bound) camper was forced to sit on the stool, one by one, while a demented counselor pushed a button. The kid would yelp, fly off the zap-seat, and occasionally pee their pants as everyone else howled with laughter. It terrified us, and every night as we headed to the Bible-Drill a sense of dread filled our soul; it felt like shower time at Treblinka.
Decades later, when we saw that horrific image of a hooded Abu Ghraib prisoner standing on a box with his fingers attached to wires, our first thought was that he couldn't locate Ephesians 5:2.
Ask anyone who attended that charming Gitmo-of-the-Rockies in the early to mid 70s, and you'll find that the zap-stool was very real.
ID-RA-SU-TO-THI-BLO-FEE is Kickapoo for "I'd rather subscribe to this blog's feed."