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Blue-Collar Fantasy Camp

Summer is a time when many children head off to camp. It is an opportunity to have new experiences, develop new skills, make new friends and socialize with people who have similar interests. We often think of summer camp as an activity solely for children, but now there are even camps for adults. These fantasy camps are places where adults can recapture the dreams of their youth: Space Camp for wannabe astronauts, race car driving camps for those with a lead foot and sports camps for those with athletic skills that just didn’t get them all the way to the pros. My husband fulfilled a lifelong dream this summer by attending a most unusual camp.

Throughout high school and college my husband worked as a life guard – technically a no collar job. When he graduated from college, he became a pension analyst and embarked on a white-collar career.  If you want to know how much money you’ll make when you retire, he can figure that out and explain it so that you’ll actually understand. The word amortization does not scare him. He has a scientific calculator and knows how to use all the buttons on it. While analytical and computational skills are his strength, he is lacking in some of the more practical skills.  He has never used a tool more complicated than a level and the only power tool he is acquainted with is a drill. For the first few years we owned our home there were extraneous holes behind nearly every picture hanging on the walls. My personal handy man referred to this dry wall Swiss cheese as trial and error holes. When we purchased a stud finder to hang a particularly heavy picture, he continually put it on his chest, made it buzz and said, “Look! It says I’m the stud.” That joke got old fast and proved why he should not be using tools.

While he earns a living using his mathematical and analytical skills, he yearns for something more, something adventurous. When the  company he is employed by asked for volunteers to work in the field, he was intrigued. When he learned that the only requirement for this field work was consistent attendance, he was ecstatic. Field work that didn’t need technical skills; it was the perfect fit for his skill set. Fearing other employees would snap up all of the available slots, he quickly filled out the application for this temporary work assignment. It was the opportunity of a lifetime, his chance to experience a blue-collar job. To him, this was Blue-Collar Fantasy Camp. Two days after he submitted his application he was surprised to receive an e-mail welcoming him to the camp’s next session beginning at 7 a.m. the following morning. A list of supplies he would need was included in the e-mail:  jeans, t-shirts and steel-toed boots. Oh, boy! Steel-toed boots! Before his laptop had even shutdown, he was out to the door on his way to the store. I have never seen him so excited to shop for shoes. Also contained in the e-mail was specific information about the camp. He would meet his counselors and other campers in Brooklyn, New York, 60 miles from our home. His camp session would be for 9 consecutive days lasting 12 hours each. You would think that with those hours and distance from home this would be a sleep-away camp, but it wasn’t. It was more like a sleep-less camp.

Wives of participants in Blue Collar Fantasy Camp were automatically enrolled in the Single Girl Fantasy Camp experience. These two camps run concurrently. Women campers have the chance to develop skills in the male dominated areas of garbage collection and removal, lawn mowing and bug squashing techniques. There are cooking and nutrition classes: “Cooking for Two, but Eating Alone “and “The Cupcake: An Alternative Dinner Solution.” There are activities in the domestic sciences to hone dishwashing, vacuuming and grocery shopping skills. However, there was a recurring question among the women about the laundry activity: if I am a single woman, why is there so much men’s underwear in my hamper?

On the first morning of Blue-Collar Fantasy Camp, my husband got up at 4:30 a.m., packed his lunch, put on his steel-toed boots and bounded out the door by 5:30 a.m. ready for a new adventure. He was excited to meet his fellow campers and learned that they had come from all over the country:  Illinois, Texas, Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. These campers were lawyers, accountants, marketing managers and IT managers all there to experience the blue-collar lifestyle. Some of them didn’t seem excited to be there and acted like they had been forced to come, but that didn’t dampen my husband’s enthusiasm.

At orientation he was partnered with a junior counselor who would show him the ropes, or in this case, the wires. He was given a hard hat and a tool belt. Dressed in full blue-collar regalia, he was ready for action.

All dressed and ready for a full day at camp.

This camp was not so different from any other. There were challenges to complete which they liked to call “jobs” to make it sound more authentic. Outdoor time at this camp was spent working in the rain or standing at the base of utility poles. There were sports like climbing stairs to a fourth floor walk-up apartment while wearing a tool belt,  running down to the van to retrieve parts and crawling in and out of  windows onto fire escapes. One of the camp’s obstacle courses consisted of walking up a narrow set of spiral stairs to reach a small ladder which had to be climbed to access a trap door that he hoisted himself through to get to the rooftop.

part of the camp's obstacle course

He visited exciting new places like a hoarder’s apartment, a building with a doorman, dark, smelly basements full of cobwebs and critters and the occasional Italian bakery. New skills were learned: navigating Brooklyn’s crowded streets while driving a large van, using tools like a combo and completing a kick test, which, oddly enough, does not fall under the category of sports since there is no actual kicking involved. There were even scavenger hunts for parking places and utility boxes. Included as part of his first-time camper experience was rudimentary pole climbing training which consisted of observations of the techniques and tools necessary for pole climbing. For safety reasons, only junior counselors are permitted to climb. Even his language changed. Instead of talking about service bridging or summary plan documents, he was using words and phrases like dispatcher, service calls and heading back to the CO (central office).

Each night he arrived home sweaty and tired with a darkening farmer’s tan. He immediately sat down at the computer to e-mail his white-collar buddies back at the office to tell them about all the exciting new people he was meeting, places he was going and the fun things he was doing. They sure were jealous of all the fun he was having as they read those e-mails in their air-conditioned cubicles. By the end of his 9 day 108 hour adventure he was exhausted, but had a new appreciation for the skill and energy involved in this type of work.  The most important lesson he took away from Blue-Collar Fantasy Camp is that he will be happy to put his shirt and tie back on and return to his desk.

About Paprika Furstenburg

I was born with an overly developed sense of humor and poor coordination. The combination of these two character traits has taught me humility and given me the perspective to find the funny in everyday experiences.

17 responses »

  1. This was sweet 🙂

    I honestly (without an inch of sarcasm here) believe, that you need to work manually at least once in a while to feel “whole”

    – and the I guess the one girl’s gardening nirvana is the next guy’s blue collar camp! 😉

    There’s something about being grubby and sweaty that makes you feel like you’ve done “real, honest work” and not just play-pretending in a power suit with matching heels 😉

    • To be clear, Oregano does not wear a power suit and matching heels regardless of the work he’s doing. He’s well matched, just not in heels. I felt I needed to clarify that point 🙂

      He really enjoyed the experience. Not so sure he would have wanted it to go on much longer, but it did give him a sense of satisfaction.

  2. Pingback: 7 X 7 Link Award « Good Humored

  3. This is really funny. Coming from a blue-collar family, with all my brothers (not my sisters, of course, we girls never learned carpentry…no, we were home baking sweet rolls) doing that sort of work, it’s interesting to me to learn that white collar working guys might jones hands on kind of work. The steal-toed boots bit is priceless. I remember how I would run out to meet my father when he returned from whatever job sit he was working on. I just loved his smells, the sweat and the concrete and the wood dust. I miss being around men like my father, all the people I know now are “white collar”.

    It makes sense to me that the men of today would wonder what life is like on the wild blue collar side. Richard Rodreguez wrote quite eloquantly (not as funny as you) about his own summer experience immersing himself in the blue collar work of his immigrant father. In the end he came to realize his experiment probably was a bit futile, as he would be returning to his Ivy League school, while those men’s lives held no such promise. It was poignant to me though how he wanted to bridge this divide, to understand his father, and in a way this made his experiment useful, as he developed a kind of compassion and appreciation for people whose life and employment options were for the most part quite limited.

    • Thanks for reading and for taking the time to leave such a thoughtful comment. I think it is important, no matter what you do, to have an opportunity to see things from a different perspective. Hope to see you again soon.

  4. My husband passed this along to me and I really enjoyed reading this. I am told that your husband and mine were partners at camp : ) I could definitely relate to the “Single Girls” camp and I may have baked/eaten a piece of Red Velvet cake for dinner one night. Unfortunately my husband was gone for 2 weeks and we live way too far away for daily commute, but it gave us both a new appreciation for the situations in our lives. Thank you for making light of all this. Definitely a pleasure reading.

  5. OMG………………only you could see things like this from a funny perspective…….I can see how humor is one of your survival skills. Loved it as usual!

  6. As one of the white-collar buddies back at the office, I have to say I was thrilled every night to read about the adventures of the brave actuary who was ensuring that the public switched network of the free world continued to run as we all expect it to. He gave us all hope that we, too, could potentially survive (and maybe even thrive!?) outside of our temperature controlled environment. Many thanks to the survivor of the Single Girl Fantasy Camp experience – it’s much easier to be a Blue-Collar Fantasy Camp hero when there’s someone special that you are doing it for.

  7. A real hoot! Could it also be a mid-life crisis camp experience?

  8. OMG!!! That was hilarious!!! I can just see this whole scene playing out!! Absolutely wonderful description of my macho son!!

  9. Glad you two survived the camp so well. Blue Collar Fantasy Camp = hilarious. This may have the makings of the next TV reality show.

    • I like to think of it as a combination of “Undercover Boss” and “Survivor” with people following us around who may or may not have had video cameras.


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