Case in point: each cabin at that camp had a counselor. Ours was a sullen teenager named Greg. Looking back, he was the worst counselor in the world. If i was a parent, i wouldn't entrust my kids to an unqualified caretaker like Greg. Greg was a stoner, an eighteen year old who decided to turn down college in order to work for a while as a dishwasher. The camp counselor gig was just to get him enough money to make a trip to Alaska so he could work at a cannery.
As long as us boys were quiet, Greg left us alone. He would read magazines or sleep while the cabin boys were running around the woods breaking things. I personally sprayed another camper with a fire extinguisher, and i really got in trouble from the head counselor. But Greg didn't mind - he thought it was funny seeing my friend running around the woods covered in white foam and screaming.
Of course i had a crush on Greg. How could i not? Greg was the epitome of laid-back cool. i wanted to hang around him as much as possible. i bet i was a pain. Every time he loaded up a canoe or rowboat with fishing stuff, i asked to go along.
Greg was funny, and quite smart in his way. He knew a hundred dirty songs, which he taught all the kids as long as we wouldn't sing them in front of the other counselors. It was *supposed* to be a Christian camp. But i remember the many songs to this day, including "Mary Mack", "Miss Lucy Had a Steamboat", and my personal favorite, "Last Night I Stayed Up Late to Masturbate".
Greg was tall and lanky, and looked like the redneck fisherman he was. While all the other counselors wore athletic shorts and baseball hats that made them look like hunky football coaches, Greg wore cutoff blue jeans and a cowboy hat, which was unheard of in Minnesota. In the back pocket of his jean shorts was the telltale mark of a chewing tobacco tin that had been in there long enough to wear a worn circle. Most of the time he was shirtless, though sometimes he grudgingly wore the camp t-shirt all the counselors had to wear.
He stunk, too. Greg didn't make us boys bathe the whole month we were at camp, and I bet our cabin got pretty rank. But I don't remember that part. Greg would lecture us that a man didn't have to shower as long as we swam in the lake every day. And we didn't have to use soap, neither.
One day, Greg took three of us boys to the other side of the lake. But not to see the girl's camp. Instead, there were these high cliffs on that side, and you could climb up and sit on a ledge overlooking the lake if you wanted. This was incredibly dangerous in retrospect. Greg and us three wards didn't know freeclimbing, and the jagged rocks thirty feet below would have been the end of our summer camping, and probably our lives.
I don't remember how i got up the cliff, but i imagine i just followed Greg up higher and higher like a lovestruck puppy. Eventually, we all found a beautiful wind-polished ledge. We dangled our feet over the edge and talked about life and love and the future plans and dreams of teenage boys.
But after a bit, this event happened - and this is the reason i am writing this blog entry: Greg took his can of chewing tobacco out of his back pocket and gave it a quick flip. It's a weird thing if you haven't seen it, a bizarre motion perfected by dip-spittin' hicks everywhere. You take your hand, and with a quick motion, you slam the edge of the dip against your smallest two fingers. In makes a satisfying TWACK sound, and is supposed to pack the dip down inside the container so it's easier to pinch. But i think guys just do it because it sounds really cool.
Greg loaded up his bottom lip with dip, still talking to us at the same time. He didn't even drop a syllable as he packed the smelly flaky tobacco into a "horseshoe" all along his brown lower teeth. Then he turned to me and asked nonchalantly, "You wanna try?"
Did i? How could i say no? At the age of fourteen, i was right in the middle of trying to be a grown man way ahead of the time i was ready. Plus, sitting there with my two friends, i couldn't look like a pussy. i think i nonchalantly said, "sure," like i had done it millions of times before.
Greg slid over to me so he was sitting right next to me. He said, "Open yer mouth," and took his fingers and wiped them against his shirt to clean them. He was getting ready to stick his fingers into my mouth. Considering he had probably spent the afternoon cutting bait and gutting fish, i should have probably been worried. Instead, i sat there like a baby bird, my mouth open and not quite sure what Greg was going to feed me.
He put a pinch next to my my lower left gums. In retrospect, it was probably a small pinch. But i wasn't ready for the idea that the tobacco wasn't solid, and i remember it falling apart and smearing tiny flakes of bitter tobacco all over my tongue. The sudden rush of flavor almost mad me gag, but for appearance in front of Greg and my friends, i managed not to retch.
"You gotta pack it down with yer tongue," Greg instructed. "Like this," he said, and showed me his wet brown tongue smashing his huge horseshoe of dip into place. Instead, i took my fingers, and managed to mash my smaller mound of dip into place like a little ball of mud in my mouth.
While i was fussing, my two friends got the same treatment. They saw me go first, so they knew what to expect. Or maybe it was worse for them since they knew they had to be as brave as i was... i don't know. But after a few minutes, we were all sitting there dippin' and cussin'. Greg showed us how to spit, and we had fun for the next half an hour sitting without talking and spitting all over everything: the ground, our own feet, our shirts accidentally. It's awesome to be in the great outdoors spitting wherever you please, like a great big dumb animal pissing and shitting wherever he wants. Very masculine, very freeing.
My friend Kirk could spit through a corner of his mouth where he was missing a canine tooth. Meanwhile, i liked learning over the cliff and watching my brown spit drop from my mouth and fall thirty feet onto the rocks below. But then i leaned forward too fast one time, and i suddenly knew what an unfamiliar nicotine rush felt like on a fourteen year old boy's system. i was dizzy and lightheaded.
At that moment, Greg got up and said, "Well, I guess we gotta go back." He started to climb down the rocks backwards. My two friends followed. They were probably looking kind of green from the strange tobacco, but i don't remember. What i do recall is that i stood up and the world swooned around me. The cliff was all of a sudden extremely narrow and high up in the air. i reached a hand behind me and slid my back sideways along the cliff to the edge where my friends were already descending. i was ok, but there was no way i was going to turn my back on that immense void over the edge of the cliff.
There was also no way that i was going to be able to get down. i mean, i could barely stand. Instead, i started to cry frantically, "Um, guys? GUYS!" By then, Greg was already down at the bottom of the cliff, and called up, "What!"
"i can't get down!" i yelled back.
"Just go the way we came up!" Greg yelled unhelpfully.
"I can't stand up!" i called down. This caused a little discussion among the three that were already at the bottom.
"What did he say?" "He can't stand?" "What do you mean stand? He's go to climb DOWN."
"Fer crissakes," Greg grunted, and started climbing back up. Quick as a monkey, within two minutes, his face was peering over the ledge up at me where i had a deathgrip on the rocks around me.
i explained the effects of the dip, and what it was doing to me. Greg didn't seem mad though, more like good-humored. He told me to spit out the rest of the dip, and it was then that i realized there *was* no more dip. i must have swallowed it, either as i was spitting over the edge of the cliff of when i tried to stand up. That might have explained why my stomach was doing somersaults.
Short story long: Greg tried for a few minutes to convince me to at least TRY to climb down. i knew better, which might have been once of the smarter decisions i made during my adolescence. Instead, Greg had the smart idea of climbing up the cliff. We were mostly half-way already, and the top was actually less steep than the bottom. But the sun was going down now, and it was hard to see the handholds and footsteps i needed to climb all the way up.
i followed behind Greg, looking up at his ass in his denim cutoff jeans as we clambered up. i did everything he did, took the same path, and within ten minutes i was standing at the top of the cliff safe and sound. i remember that under the effects of the dip, the lake looked beautiful and small below me, like i was a giant or a god looking down at my friends waiting by the canoe worriedly. i was alive.
It took another fifteen minutes for Greg to find a walking path around the cliffs that wasn't steep. By the time we got back to my friends, the sun was down, and we had to row back to camp in the dark. That's all i remember. i bet Greg got in trouble because we got back after dinner. Or maybe not... that same night there was some special bonfire or sauna or something, so maybe the other counselors didn't miss us and didn't know we had gone.
That was the first time i tried chewing tobacco. i did it the year after that at camp a few times, and then dipped the whole next summer i was working on a fishing crew for a local outfitter, baiting hooks and cleaning fish for rich people who rented our boats. i still dip from time to time, particularly when i'm going to be outside for a while. i'll dip while on the computer, though it still gets me really buzzed. i chew Copenhagen straight when i can, because it has a bigger cut that it easier to pack and doesn't fall apart on my tongue like finer blends. Plus i like the name, because i'm cut but not straight.
i stay away from the flavored dips, though sometimes i like a menthol. Trust me... you don't wanna try grape. i also do some pretty kinky sex with chewing tobacco. Lets just say that sometimes, i like to put it into an orifice that the manufacturer doesn't recommend. The spit makes for pretty good lube as well, if you are so inclined. Once or twice a year i'll get REALLY piggy and shock even myself when i look at some of the photos later.
i've never found anybody to have chewing tobacco sex with. Not even at the rodeo when i ride the bulls. There is one guy in Texas i like to play with... maybe i'll email him this week and see when he's back in San Francisco. If anybody out there wants to try chewing tobacco for the first time, i'd be happy to show you how. i'll even stick my fingers into your mouth if you want.