Do you have what it takes to win Cabin of the Day?
There’s this thing we have at Midwest Hemophilia Association’s annual summer camp for children with bleeding disorders: campers are encouraged to collectively keep their bunks and possessions clean and well sorted in order to capture the illustrious title of “Cabin of the Day.”
Each full camp day, various members of the camp administration and the camp health center prowl the empty cabins as the campers enjoy their rotating schedule of daily activities. They meticulously judge each cabin on their look and smell in order to determine which one most closely matches their definition of clean. The winning cabin is recognized during one of the daily camp-wide pre-meal gatherings and for their efforts the campers and counselors each win a cold can of soda to wash down their food.
Now there’s one thing you must understand: as far as the campers are concerned, soda might as well be gold. In prison, they want for cigarettes. In the future Australia portrayed in the Mad Max series they fight for gasoline — but if society happened to break down around us for one reason or another during hemophilia camp, the resulting post-apocalyptic community just outside Lawson would probably run on soda, snacks and factor.
There was one camper who announced to the rest of the cabin he would pay real American dollars for a genuine can of soda, going as high as $5 even though there wasn’t anyone haggling with him. If his fellow campers had soda stashes in their suitcases they were long gone by then.
Human society runs on caffeine — most Americans deal with at least a mild caffeine addiction without even realizing it so it makes sense our children would eventually learn to function in the same way. The food, water, shelter and activities are all fine but I could really use some caffeine, you know?
And you might think these two facts would mean the campers would be very serious about attempting to win Cabin of the Day so they can acquire that sweet, sweet chemical. But you would be wrong, at least when it comes to my cabin.
I’m a counselor in Cabin 4, which is the second oldest boys’ cabin. I like to make things democratic whenever possible so at the beginning of each week of camp I ask the collected campers if they want to really try for Cabin of the Day. Most of them reply with a resounding “no!” so I don’t push it too hard. I strive for a moderate level of cleanliness, mostly so I don’t break my ankle open on a pile of shoes in the middle of the room, but I don’t shoot for Cabin of the Day cleanliness. I rolled my eyes at it when I was a camper, and many of them do too. Camp is for fun, and concerning oneself with that sort of thing is decidedly not fun.
This might have to do with the timing: at the beginning of the week, they are freshly removed from their parents and the cleanliness standards imposed by them. They might have had to clean their room before they got to camp. The last thing they want to do is approve of more regulations, even if it would result in the potential acquisition of the drink they would later loudly crave.
The want for soda is great, but apparently it is not greater than the want for convenience and relative spacial chaos. Maybe deep inside of themselves they want to be Cabin of the Day, but are unwilling to admit it. Most of them did maintain their space reasonably well — some more than others, but it wasn’t a disaster zone just because it had supposedly been removed from contention for Cabin of the Day.
So we were about halfway through camp and one of my fellow counselors decided to pull out the camp vacuum and do a quick sweep in order to make the Saturday morning camp cleaning a little less tedious. One camper offered to do it for him, insisting that he liked to vacuum. I never expected us to win Cabin of the Day for a single second. I did not suffer under the delusion it would happen. That thought was based partly on the democratic rejection of the idea, and partly on the images in my head of the other cabins. Surely, at least cabins 1-3 and the two girls’ cabins were clean and pristine, in comparison at least.
But the vacuum, which normally only sees action on Saturday and in the event of very serious messes, was our ace in the hole.
Apparently that morning during inspection the contending cabins were running neck and neck, including my cabin 4. But later in the day the inspectors caught wind we had pulled out the vacuum and that put us over the top.
We won. Not because we obsessed over it, and not because we were giving it everything we had. We won because our base level of cabin cleanliness wasn’t as bad as I thought and because we sucked up a few pieces of dirt and some candy wrappers.
I’ve been a part of a cabin, both as a counselor and a camper, where we were trying really, really hard to win cabin of the day. I’ve seen a whole week’s worth of cleaning lead to nothing; not a single soda to show for our efforts. For that reason, it was supremely satisfying to win it in such a casual fashion and without having to stress out about it.
We did it our way.
I let the campers grab their drinks first, because the title was more important than the soda. I ended up with a can of Sprite. I took the empty can home. I almost want to make a cheesy base for it with a cheesy plaque explaining exactly what it is. I didn’t really do much work to get it and I would have been fine with not winning. I never would have pulled out that vacuum early.
But I’m proud anyhow.