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Not a Happy Camper: A Memoir

Not a Happy Camper: A Memoir

4.1 11
by Mindy Schneider

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Remember those long sultry summer days at camp, the sun setting over the lake as you sang “Kumbaya”? Well, Mindy Schneider remembers her summer at Camp Kin-A-Hurra in 1974 just a wee bit differently. Not a Happy Camper chronicles a young girl’s adventures at a camp where the sun never shines, the breakfast cereal dates back to the summer of


Remember those long sultry summer days at camp, the sun setting over the lake as you sang “Kumbaya”? Well, Mindy Schneider remembers her summer at Camp Kin-A-Hurra in 1974 just a wee bit differently. Not a Happy Camper chronicles a young girl’s adventures at a camp where the sun never shines, the breakfast cereal dates back to the summer of 1922, and many of the counselors speak no English. For eight eye-opening and unforgettable weeks, Mindy and her eccentric band of friends--including Autumn Evening Schwartz, the daughter of hippies, who communicates with the dead, and the sleep-dancing, bibliophile Betty Gilbert--keep busy feuding in color wars, failing at sports, and uncovering the camp’s hidden past. As she focuses on landing the perfect boyfriend and longs for her first kiss, Mindy unexpectedly stumbles across something infinitely grander: herself. Hilarious, charming, and glowing with nostalgia, Mindy Schneider’s memoir is a must-read for anyone who’s ever been to summer camp, or wishes they had.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Set in what now seems an almost impossibly innocent time, the 1970s, this sweet tale takes a nostalgic look back at the experience of attending sleepaway camp through the eyes of a 13-year-old Jewish girl. Though this may not be quite the camp many baby boomers attended, Schneider succeeds in provoking gentle flashbacks to a simpler shared time of teenage angst and hormone surges, before cable television, all recalled in a humorous tone: "Least we won't have to hear about Watergate anymore.... I'm so sick of those hearings being on instead of Match Game." Schneider (Life's a Stitch) spends eight weeks in the rain-soaked Maine woods at, as she dubs it an "anti-camp," and despite the title, loves it. Unlike more structured camps for Long Island blue bloods, offering kickball, tennis, swimming and nature walks, Kin-A-Hurra operated on the haphazard wavelength of "do anything you want any time you want, unless you just want to do nothing." Activities include an overnight trip to the highest peak in Maine, provisioned with industrial-size cans of peach nectar, raw carrots and chicken parts for dinner, or shopping sprees to a local junk shop. This hands-off policy leaves plenty of time for Schneider and her bunkmates to discover boys, the outdoors and, ultimately, a little bit about themselves. (June)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
The memoir Bill Cosby might have written if he were a clever Jewish girl from suburban New Jersey sent to summer camp in the Maine woods. A brand-new teenager in 1974, humorist Schneider spent eight weeks at kosher Camp Kin-a-Hurra (a seemingly Native-American term that's actually Yiddish for "may no evil find you"). It was a dump, run by an amiable hustler who had added nothing to the ramshackle enterprise since he founded it in 1922. There the young captive Mindy mouthed age-old folk songs with campmates Dana Bleckman, Betty Gilbert, Borscha Belyavsky and Autumn Evening Schwartz. The quick-witted girls played softball indifferently, hiked ineptly, baked challa and frequently visited the boys' encampment across the filthy lake. Goofy parents showed up, much to their progeny's mortification. Mindy Plotke sprained her ankle on a mountain trail. Mindy Schneider's long-term goal was to become popular and famous. Her short-term goal: getting popular and getting a boyfriend. Would it be Kenny Uber or Phillip Selig? At summer's end, who would bestow her first kiss? The author winsomely recalls sleep-away dreams, growing into a training bra, struggling to control inconvenient rashes and awkward hormones. She punctuates her droll entertainment with references to junk food and TV staples of a generation ago, embellished with songs and snapshots from old Kin-a-Hurra. A sweetly humorous fugitive from the Young Adult category, playing dress-up for nostalgic adults. Agent: Daniel Lazar/Writers House LLC

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Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
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12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Not a Happy Camper

By Mindy Schneider

Grove Press

Copyright © 2007 Mindy Schneider
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8021-1848-6

Chapter One

I couldn't wait to go to sleepaway camp. I'd dreamed about it for years: the many wonderful friends I'd make, the one special boy I'd meet, the magical memories that would linger for a lifetime.

When I'd turned eleven, my parents said I was ready. But first they had to argue about it. My mother always wanted me to go to Camp Mohaph, where she'd spent her summers in the 1940s. Mohaph (not really an Indian word but an amalgam of the owners' names: Moe, Harry, and Phil) was a ritzy place populated by the children of Revlon cosmetics and Horowitz-Margareten kosher foods. My mother wasn't from quite as affluent a background, but her family owned a dry goods store on the Lower East Side so she had more underpants than anyone else. My father's experience was modest by comparison. He went to Boy Scout camp for only a week, sleeping outdoors in a tent and swimming in an itchy wool bathing suit his mother knitted for him. After serving in the navy during World War II (and successfully defending Annapolis, Maryland), my father was hired by beautiful Camp Cicada in the Catskill Mountains, where he was voted Most Popular Counselor.

"Why can't Mindy go to Mohaph?" my mother questioned.

"Because she's going to Cicada," my father answered.

"But you promised when I was pregnant that our kids would go to my camp!"

"You were making me nuts," he reminded her. "I'd have said yes to anything."

It didn't matter to me who won. I just wanted to go to camp. In the end my father prevailed and, for my first summer away from home, I went to his alma mater, but only because Mohaph had recently gone out of business. As it turned out, I didn't enjoy my summer at Cicada.

"The girls were really mean," I told my parents.

"I'm sure they were just shy," my mother insisted.

"And they're all really rich and have nicer clothes than me and the counselors make you fold your blankets a certain way and I couldn't do it."

"I loved my summers at Cicada," my father reminisced. "I think you should give it another try."

When I disliked it even more the second year, I told my parents they were wasting their money. This did the trick, and they agreed I could pick any camp in the entire country to attend the following summer, as long as it had a kosher kitchen. I had three choices.

We met with the owners of two of the camps, also located in the Catskills, but both places looked and sounded like the rigid, snobby nightmare I'd just fled. Then there was Camp Kin-A-Hurra in Maine, the Vacationland state. Owner/director Saul Rattner scheduled an appointment at our house in Springfield, New Jersey, in the winter of 1973. Maine sounded so far away and exotic that the thought of Saul's visit filled me with nervous expectation. I waited in the den, watching a rerun of My Three Sons, wondering how so many people could live in one house and still stay calm.

My mother was in the kitchen, removing the plastic floral centerpiece from the table, when the doorbell rang. My father got up to answer, motioning for me to turn off the TV and for my brothers to go upstairs. I stood ten feet away as a pipe-smoking, mellow-voiced man in his fifties crossed our threshold, greeting my father with a hearty handshake, the kind where you use both hands. "Wonderful to meet you," he said, sounding like he genuinely meant it.

Saul spoke with the quiet authority of a rabbi, though he was dressed in khaki pants and a safari vest and he drove a jeep, as if he'd needed a machete to cut through the brush to reach our tract house in the suburbs. I couldn't tell if my parents looked comfortable or skeptical as my father led this stranger into our kitchen. When he heard my name, Saul smiled and said, "Oh yes, we've got a cartload of Mindys." I chose to interpret this as his way of calling me ordinary.

Nevertheless, I was thrilled when he took a seat at our white lacquer-look table with the turquoise vinyl chairs and backed up his sales pitch with photographs of a beautifully maintained wooded paradise blessed with endless golden sunshine.

"Archery, arts and crafts, all the usual activities," Saul explained, waving his pipe across the glossy black and white images in the catalog. "Plus we take the campers on lots of wonderful trips. Mountain climbing, canoeing. Our campers come from all around the world and we feel it's our duty to show off the magnificence of Maine. It's quite exquisite."

"Must get pretty cold at night," my father said.

"That's why the bunks are heated," Saul replied.

"Really?" my mother asked. "Never heard of a camp having that."

"Oh, it's essential," he assured her.

"What's this?" I asked, pointing at the next page.

"That's a camper developing pictures in our photo lab," Saul explained. "Do you like photography? Do you own a camera?"

"Yeah! I do! They were giving them away for free at the Esso station when it changed over to Exxon, so we filled up both cars so we could get two cameras, even though my mother's car only needed like a dollar's worth."

"Uh, that's enough," my father cut in.

But it wasn't enough. I wanted more. I wanted to go to this camp with the kids from all over the world, go canoeing with them and learn photography and come home with snapshots like the ones in Saul's catalog. This was the place for me.

"You really don't want to go to one of these camps in New York?" my mother asked. "It's so much closer."

"I don't know," I said. "They just looked ... the same."

"And the one in Maine?"

"Looked ... different."

I was thirteen years old and I knew what I wanted. This time the choice would be mine. All my parents had to do was pay for it.

In the 1970s, an eight-week stay at a privately owned camp cost an astronomical twelve hundred dollars. Eleven-fifty if you registered early. I didn't know how my father was able to afford this. My older brother, Mark, and I have often discussed the fact that up until we graduated from college and our parents built a new house-the biggest one in town-we believed our family was extremely poor.

My father had often spent nights and weekends at his family's grocery store in Jersey City. One time, when Mark was five years old, a neighbor asked him what our father did for a living and Mark said, "My daddy's a delivery boy." I knew he was also a lawyer, but even so it seemed money was always tight. It was surprising that for a third summer in a row my parents could afford to send me to camp. It was not surprising, however, that they decided to save on airfare by driving me there.

My father loved to drive. He would take our family anywhere, so long as we could reach it by car. His family had worked seven days a week and never owned one, never traveled. Growing up, he'd been denied the opportunity to revel in motorized family togetherness.

Both of my parents enjoyed visiting Colonial restorations so we spent our vacations watching women in old-fashioned bonnets demonstrate candle dipping while our friends' families vacationed in Florida. They came back with tans. We came back with brochures. No matter how far away some historic site might be, we'd pile into the olive green and faux wood-paneled Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser and drive.

As it was, my father was the only one who loved these road trips. My middle brother, Jay, who would go on to become a renowned paleontologist and the world's foremost authority on giant mollusks, suffered terribly from motion sickness. Jay threw up everywhere. In a futile attempt to control the vomiting, Jay was always seated next to a window. As a result, our family trips became a series of backseat arguments with my older brother Mark and I fighting over who got the other window and who got smushed in the middle seat with the hump on the floor and no legroom, next to barfing Jay. It didn't help that my father would tune the radio to WVNJoy, a station that made elevator music sound hip.

That summer, in late June of 1974, I had the entire backseat to myself. My brothers stayed home with my grandmother while I rode with my parents northward to my destiny. It might have been a pleasant trip, but my father had no sense of direction and my mother had no sense of how loud her voice could get. These were my parents. They spent a day and a half screaming over the Muzak about the road signs as my mother tried to figure out the Auto Club TripTik.

"Mom, you always liked camp, right?" I asked as we made another U-turn to undo another wrong turn.

"Sure," she said. "We didn't have air-conditioning. It was much cooler than the city."

I knew she'd liked it for another reason: she'd had a boyfriend at camp. I never asked my mother about her dating history, but she'd told me anyway, at my grandmother's house in Brooklyn, when I came across an old scrapbook.

"Oh, look, that's Boris Kazikoff," she said. "He took me to the movies, to see Bing Crosby in Going My Way, and tried to get fresh by putting his arm around me in the dark."

That was her first date. When she ditched Boris for summer camp, she met someone she liked better.

"Mohaph had weekly boy-girl dances," my mother told me. "I was afraid no one would ask me to dance because I was so skinny. Then, at the first dance, this nice, cute boy started talking to me. We danced together every week that whole summer. I can't remember his name ..."

He was her first boyfriend and she was only twelve. I was already a year behind my mother.

Somewhere around Portsmouth, New Hampshire, we got so lost that my father had to pull off the highway and ask for directions at an antiques shop. There, my mother spotted an eighteenth-century grandfather clock, exactly the kind she'd been longing for, but with me and my trunk and duffel bag there wasn't enough room for it in the car. We got our bearings, but not the clock, and continued on our way.

When we finally arrived in Canaan, Maine, and pulled into the camp, my heart sank. It looked nothing like the pictures. Saul had shown us photographs of an inviting sunny place, all chipper, bright, and freshly painted-the kind of camp Walt Disney or the residents of Oz might have sent their kids to, if they'd been Jewish. The shabby little buildings of Camp Kin-A-Hurra, with their peeling paint and sagging rooflines, made the Colonial homes my family toured-the ones held together with sticks and mud and a wing and a prayer-look like palaces. I'd built better-looking structures with my brothers' Lincoln Logs. We'd been duped. I'd been duped and I'd convinced my parents to fall for the scam. I wanted to turn around and go home, but I couldn't. I could never live this down. I wanted to say something, but I didn't dare because I knew what the response would be.

"You picked this camp," my mother would say sharply. "We drove you all the way here."

My father would add, "You could've gone back to Cicada. Now it's too late."

My parents had done this nice thing for me. I owed it to them to keep quiet and be miserable, I couldn't even look at them, which is why I only recently learned that my parents had had the same unsettling first impression. But they weren't about to lose their deposit and lug me and all of my belongings back to the Garden State. Instead, my father gave me a dollar for spending money, which, even back in the early seventies, was worth next to nothing.

On the way home, amidst what was no doubt another day and a half of screaming, they got lost in the exact same place, pulled off the highway to get directions, and bought that grandfather clock for six hundred dollars, easily loading it into the now empty back of the wagon. My mother recently had it appraised and today the clock is worth twelve thousand dollars. Over the years, my parents also acquired two banjo clocks, a Swiss cuckoo, and a mantel clock. Thus, in addition to all the yelling and screaming, every fifteen minutes the whole house chimed and bonged.

The other campers' parents had sprung for airfare and the girls hadn't yet arrived from the airport. I was the first one in Bunk Three, just me and my counselor, the very redheaded Gita Isak. I wished I had red hair. People remember you.

Before leaving, my mother had helped me pick out "a good bed," one with a newer foam mattress covered in vinyl. Unlike the old, stuffed blue-and-white ticking-stripe mattresses, the slick newer ones repelled unwanted liquids. On the downside, they also made the sheets slide off. "Still," my mother said, "it's the better choice, I think." Now I was sitting on it, wondering what to do with myself and how I could make this summer better than the last two. I felt a little bit sad but couldn't put my finger on why. Homesickness didn't seem right, especially since my parents weren't even at home. They were still on the road somewhere, probably yelling.

Whenever I couldn't understand what I was feeling, my mother would tell me I was "going through a phase." This drove me crazy, as if she perceived me as just a series of clichés and not as an actual person. I did not want to be going through this "phase" at camp, so I needed to find a distraction. I took out my clarinet and began to practice.

My father was convinced it was important for me to play a musical instrument. I'd need all the help I could get, all the extracurricular activities I could muster, to include on my college applications. The clarinet was a very practical choice. You could play it in both a concert band and a marching band. Even if you sucked, like I did. I am certain that throughout the 1970s and '80s, America's Ivy League colleges were populated with smart but wretched clarinet players.

If I'd been the least bit talented, breaking out my instrument on my first day in Bunk Three would still have been bizarre behavior. It certainly caught Gita Isak's attention that day.


I put down the clarinet. "Uh-huh."

"Why don't you hold off unpacking your trunk ..."

"And just keep playing?"

"Maybe hold off on that, too."

Then she left the bunk. Not a music lover, I surmised. Gita returned a few minutes later with another counselor, the Twiggy-thin Madeline Rattner, who was the camp owner's fourth cousin twice removed, and the three of us had a little talk.

"You know, you're ... very mature," Gita pointed out.

I liked where this appeared to be going.

"So we're thinking you might be happier next door in Bunk Two," Maddy said. "My bunk. The girls are a little more mature."

I took this comment as a compliment, believing perhaps "maturity" referred to my fine appreciation of music and general grownupness and that this was good. Mature girls got boyfriends.

My new bunkmates arrived from the Bangor Airport a couple of hours later. There were four of them, two old-timers and two newcomers like me. I tried to size them all up, see if any were as mature as I. That first evening, as we finished shoving our clothes into the splintery cubbyholes along the back wall and scratching the first of many mosquito bites to come, I asked about the paneled, heated accommodations Saul had described when he sat in my kitchen.

"He told you about those, too?" newcomer Betty Gilbert asked. Betty had filled an entire cubbyhole with books. I figured she either read a lot or had flunked a class in school and had to make it up over the summer.

Dana Bleckman, back for her fifth season, filled us in on the camp's owner. "Okay, there's one thing you need to know about Saul," she said, laughing. "He's a big fat liar. Everything he says is a lie. There's no paneled, heated bunks, no fruit cart that comes around before bedtime, no private camp-owned hydroplane. And just ask Max Peretz-who showed up for his first summer with a brand-new set of clubs-no Camp Kin-A-Hurra nine-hole golf course."

"What about Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan?" I asked.

"Sorry," Dana said. "They were never counselors here."

"That's a new one," piped in the other returning camper, the hip, hot pants-wearing Autumn Evening Schwartz.

"No, he tried that one on me, too," Dana continued. "Said Golda Meir ran Girls' Side and Moshe Dayan taught archery. Like anyone would buy that."

Actually, I had. It explained Mr. Dayan's eye and all. I glanced over at the third new girl in my bunk, Hallie Susser, and the look on her face told me she'd believed it, too.

The conversation shifted when Dana did something I could only dream of doing; she pulled out a guitar and started to play. Dana was one of those people a summer camp can't exist without. A singer and a composer, she had even performed on TV, although it was only UHF. Dana strummed a few chords and hummed softly while the rest of us pulled everything back out of our cubbyholes, looking for pajamas. Talented and beautiful, Dana was pretty much what I wished I was and feared-okay, knew-I wasn't. One of those girls who always got a boyfriend.


Excerpted from Not a Happy Camper by Mindy Schneider Copyright © 2007 by Mindy Schneider. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Mindy Schneider is a television writer with 25 produced scripts, including episodes of Dream On, Step By Step, and Growing Pains and several shows for Nickelodeon. Her writing was also included in Life’s a Stitch, an anthology of contemporary humor by women.

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Not a Happy Camper 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Black_Violets More than 1 year ago
Not a happy camper was one of those books that if the things you read haven't happened to you yet you know at least one of them will. It was funny in some parts, well written, and the characters were interesting. Being that a lot of the stories were real made the book hard to put down. I recamend this to anyone who wants a good read they won't forget.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hey. Im really craving some hard s.e.x. ill f.u.q you so hard
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I cant fo anything for u, only God can. Find a Bible beleiving church, get a king james Bible, and read Proverbs 31. I know this is over due. Please still be out there.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
She unpacks her bag and changes into a black mini skirt and goes to the fith result
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Im curtiss sis