The editor’s opinion from Marketplace, Northeast Wisconsin’s business magazine. (Obligatory disclaimer: Most hyperlinks go to outside sites, and we’re not responsible for their content. And like fresh watermelon, peaches, pineapple, grapefruit, tomatoes and sweet corn, hyperlinks can go bad after a while.)

July 24, 2008

Hello muddah ... hello faddah ...*

I know you're all wondering how my Cub Scout camp experience went.

First, I did pass the 100-yard swim test, for the second consecutive year. The fact that (1) I last swam 100 yards one year ago, as opposed to 25 years ago, helped, as did the fact that the water on Cedar Lake was at least 10 degrees warmer than last year. Second: There is no graceful way to get into or out of the top bunk of a bunk bed.

Our Ripon group bunked with a hilarious group from Neenah. (Think of Saturday Night Live's Da Superfans, some of whom are readers of Marketplace.) One of them concluded that the entire camp is a subterfuge — it's not a Cub Scout camp, it's Fat Farm for Dads, with 100-yard swims, paddleboating all over Cedar Lake, the climb up from the waterfront, etc. (I spoke to one of the wives of our group; she feigned ignorance.)

Based on this past week, I predict that within the next 20 years, there will be reports of an epidemic of genetic damage caused from large-scale use of bug sprays dating back to 2008 in Wisconsin. I went through almost an entire bottle of bug spray in less than three days. (Fortunately, my hair stylist, whom I saw Thursday, found no bugs, ticks, flies or other critters that don't belong in my hair.)

There was one moment that I found more profound than the rest of this appears. In conversation with a staffer (all the Camp Rokilio staffers are high school and college students, male and female), I mentioned that I was the bugler for my Boy Scout troop. I was about to mention that I was the least popular Scout in my troop when I blew "Reveille" every morning and "Taps" every night, when he interrupted, "You played the bugle? Can you still play?" When I said I did on occasion (actually, the trumpet, not the bugle), he asked if I would play "To the Colors" at the flag raising the following morning. He then got the camp's bugle, which I believe is older than I am, and appeared to have had previous close encounters with something larger and harder than the bugle, while having had no encounters at all with any kind of anti-tarnishing substance.

Having thus put myself on the hook, I practiced a few times Wednesday morning in the woods, hoping to reach the junction between practicing enough to remember the tune but not practicing too much to destroy my nonexistent chops. I got most of the notes, and, remembering my University of Wisconsin Band mantra that if you're going to fail, fail boldly, played sufficiently loud to scatter wildlife for at least five miles in every direction. (I play trumpet something like an old-style heating system: on — that is, really loud — or off.)

Afterward, I walked back to the Train Station group of Scouts, getting ... a round of applause. (It probably was applause for the fact that they didn't have to hear any more of my playing.) I also had several fathers, and many staffers, come up and thank me for playing. I had a couple staffers ask if I'd stay for the rest of the summer to play. (Let's see about that commute: Leave Ripon in the morning, get to Rokilio by 7:45, play, go to work, return to Rokilio by 5:45 to play, go home ...)

I didn't do this, and I'm not writing about this, to cover myself in glory, since my playing would have mortified the bugler version of me 30 years ago. (Note to self: Practice before next year.) I did it out of respect — respect for my country, respect for the Boy Scouts of America, and respect for Rokilio staffers who put up with a lot in dealing with seven- through nine-year-old boys for an entire summer. Something else came to mind too — you may have read that veterans groups and the military are having problems finding buglers to play "Taps" at veterans' funerals, some going so far as to play digital or otherwise recorded versions of "Taps." That's just wrong, although understandable given that there are, by one estimate, 500 buglers in the military, and 1,800 veterans who die every day. (Fortunately, a group is recruiting volunteer bugle players.)

One should show respect when one has the opportunity.

* If you don't know what this refers to, you must broaden your cultural education. Or click here.

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