The story of a pampered, snobby boy who realizes that money is no gage of character.
|Looking at Charles Van Fleet approaching the bus was a pitiful sight. So pitiful that even Joe chose not to bother him: “It won’t be fun, it’s just too easy.” The packing list for the school camping trip was very clear: “Pack lightly, only bring the necessities.” To most twelve-year-old boys, the necessities would be a few shirts, some underwear, pants and a football. Charles however, was not like most twelve-year-old boys. To him, the necessities included his pocket watch, his argyle sweater, his penny loafers, some slippers, a bathrobe, the complete works of Shakespeare and forty other things that have no business in the woods.
Charles Van Fleet was not a camper. Some would argue that he wasn’t even a kid. While his peers preferred to play sports, Charles preferred sitting in his library, reading one of his many volumes of books. While his friends slept until noon on the weekends, Charles woke up at 6:54 A.M so he could catch the morning news. Charles was accustomed to a pampered life style so the day he learned that his attending the camping trip was required, his face turned a bit pale. When his mom told him that she would not make a generous donation to the school so he wouldn’t have to go on the trip, his face turned pure white. “Charles it’s really important that you go.” said his mom. “Try, just try to make some friends. Promise me you will dear?” Charles made no such promise. He spent the remainder of that week cooped up in the library, reading everything ever written regarding camping. It was only after completing four books that he emerged through the double doors, scoffed at his mother, and marched out with his butler and credit card.
The one-week trip to Camp Blue Summit was a tradition started three years ago by the gym teacher, Mr. Eves. It was for seventh graders only and as Mr. Eves put it: “A bonding experience designed to strengthen the unity of your class.” One week in the woods, team building activities by day, campfires by night. All in preparation for the full day hike up Mount Blue Summit. At least that’s what the website said. Charles clearly didn’t read the website. A fact that was evident as he checked in by the bus. He looked like a marshmallow. A hopeless marshmallow at that with his big white puffy jacket with a fur-lined hood and orange rescue whistle, bright blue snow pants tucked into black hiking boots that traveled half way up his shins. On his back, he carried a survival pack; two times the size of him. His supplies could sufficiently sustain two stranded hikers for a month in the wilderness. “This is all unnecessary,” explained Mr. Eves; “You don’t need a tent Charles, there are cabins. Why did you bring a hunting knife and fishing pole? There is a mess hall. No Charles, leave the flair gun with your mom.” And so the bus departed, leaving behind waving parents and forty percent of Charles’s purchases from the previous day.
The four-hour bus ride to Camp Blue Summit was pretty relaxed considering it was full of seventh graders. Mr. Eves only had to intervene three times: when Joe Martin stuck his gum in Karen Vessa’s hair, when Albert Grimple got a nosebleed and when Mickey Brown farted. Other than that, it was relatively uneventful. Mr. Eves wasn’t surprised. He was pretty closed-minded and planned everything out ahead of time so there would be no disturbances. Basically the kids had no say. There was no fighting over seats because he assigned them prior to departure. This is why Charles hated Mr. Eves. He didn’t care what the students wanted. He only cared about efficiency. Last year, Charles attempted to address this matter publicly. He created a political cartoon depicting Mr. Eves golfing with Mao Zedong and Joseph Stalin. Across the top he wrote: “The best way to control a group of people is to take away their voices.” The cartoon was never published but since then, Mr. Eves never saw eye to eye with Charles.
Charles sat next to Mickey Brown. Mickey wasn’t super cool, wasn’t a nerd either. He wasn’t super smart, nor was he super dumb. He was just Mickey. Charles had nothing against Mickey mostly because he didn’t know him. Mickey left him alone. They never were in the same class and to say they were “acquainted” would be pushing it. Charles felt slightly relieved because Mickey didn’t acknowledge him on the bus and Charles enjoyed being left alone. He did not like to converse with the “common folk”. He didn’t want to get their “Welfare Germs” on him. Charles was bedridden for a week after Obama was elected. He told his mom he didn’t need to see the doctor because he knew what ailed him: “Mother (cough), I’m plagued by a new type of sickness in the brain (sniffle), one that is sustained by our income tax (sneeze), and multiplies quicker than rabbits (wheeze). I’ve caught a bad case of “The Lower-Middle Class Virus”.
It was raining when the bus stopped near Camp Blue Summit. Charles looked at his GPS just to confirm that they were in fact there. Then he looked at his solar powered watch to determine the time window he had to get to the cabin before dark because no camper wants to be stuck in the wilderness at night. “Ok, Thirteen hundred o’clock, I’ll make it”. “Alright guys,” Mr. Eves shouted, “the coach can’t make it up the hill so gather your belongings.” Groans stemming from ether fatigue, or an extreme need to urinate escaped the mouth of every kid. “C’mon Mr. Eves, it’s raining out and the walk is like a mile” Mr. Eves responded to Joe: “I’m aware but I don’t care.” This gave Charles some satisfaction. He loved it when people put Joe in his place. “Alright, hustle up!” said Mr. Eves. Charles felt a faint flutter of excitement in his belly. He noticed that he wasn’t dreading this week now. At the very least, he was almost impartial. And the more Joe complained, the more that feeling grew.
Charles was the first one off the bus. He had to stand in the rain and wait for the bus driver to unlock the storage hatch witch was the only space large enough to fit his bag. He looked at the windows containing the faces of his smirking classmates. They were laughing at him but he didn’t mind. He knew that he was prepared for any obstacle he might face in the wilderness and they weren’t. Finally the bus driver, Hubert, waddled over fumbling the keys in his hands. He grunted as the rest of the class began to exit. Joe tripped on the last step and fell face first into the mud, causing Charles, as well as the whole class to erupt in laughter. Charles felt invigorated. “This trip keeps getting better by the minute!” he thought. And so, Charles, the pitiful marshmallow, marching in front of the pack with his head held high began the long trek up the path to the cabin in the rain.
The cabins weren’t much. They had wooden planked floors, a shingled roof, bunk beds, and walls that didn’t meet the ceiling. “What’s the point of that?” Charles asked himself. “All they needed to do was build them a foot higher! Did they run out off wood?” It certainly wasn’t like his room at home. He missed his king sized memory foam bed, his ornate domed ceilings, his marble tiled floor and his walls that were constructed in such a way that they connected to the ceiling. Charles regretted leaving his three-room Insta-Pitch tent behind. Mickey ran over and claimed the top within a matter of seconds. “You got the bottom. Sorry bud.” Charles was a bit taken aback. This was the first time anybody ever called him “bud”. And he never even spoke to Mickey before. “Wait are we like friends now?” thought Charles. The words of his mother rang in his ears: “Try, just try to make some friends.” He had many friends that were with him at all times named Franklin, Grant and Jackson. However his only human friend was his butler, William. And even Charles speculated if it was truly friendship of if William just wanted to meet those friends mentioned prior.
Charles unlocked, then unsnapped, then unclipped, then unbuttoned, then unzipped his state of the art survival pack and removed the contents necessary to prepare his bunk. He placed his waterproof, mold preventing memory foam sleeping pad over the blue plastic mattress he was given. Then he fluffed his pillow that keeps your ears warm but is stuffed with beans that allow for proper ventilation so one can avoid perspiring. He unrolled his mummy sleeping bag, which cocoons his whole body, leaving only an opening for his face. He hung his electric lantern from the bottom of Mickey’s bunk so he could have proper lighting when reading Shakespeare. Finally, he draped a mosquito net over his bed to prevent him from becoming the first person in the state of New York to get Malaria. When he was done he looked at Mickey’s bed. He just finished making it with a tattered plaid wool blanket and a balled up navy blue sweatshirt. Charles looked at his huge seven hundred dollar hiking bag and then looked at Mickey’s faded and torn L.L. Bean backpack, with the initials, M.W.B stitched on to it. Although he didn’t know Mickey well, Charles recognized the backpack. He saw it several times outside the principal’s office on his way to chess practice when he was in the second grade. Charles got a new backpack every semester. Mickey’s used the same backpack for five years. Charles cheeks grew warm and his stomach sank. He realized that Mickey wasn’t in the middle class. Mickey was poor. Charles felt disgusted, not at Mickey, but at himself. He found it hard to breathe, as if the hands of shame were squeezing his windpipe. He needed to lie down. Lucky for him, the rest of the day was a wash. It was now fourteen hundred forty five o’clock and the only other commitment was dinner. The “fun” activities were scheduled to start the next day. So they had down time. Most of the boy’s walked outside to play football by the lake. Charles lay in his bed and opened a volume of Shakespeare.
The alarm on his solar powered watch sounded at zero six fifty four hundred o’clock. Charles got up and rubbed his eyes and put on his wire rim glasses. The morning was brisk so he put on his blue pants and white coat with the fur-lined hood and started towards the door. He paused and looked around. “Wait!” he thought, “How can I watch the news if I don’t have a television?” Watching the morning news was a habit, a necessity and a ritual that hadn’t been broken for five years. He figured maybe, just maybe, the cafeteria would have a T.V. He walked back to his bunk to grab his headlamp and realized that Mickey’s bed was empty. “That’s strange” he whispered, “I never thought of him as an early riser.” Charles put his headlamp on, grabbed his mess kit (he didn’t trust the Tupperware that the camp supplied) and just to be safe, hid his hunting knife in his pocket just incase he met a bear on his way.
When he arrived at the mess hall he was relieved and shocked at the same time. Relieved because it had a T.V and the morning news was already on. Shocked because somebody was already watching it. “Mickey?” Charles said in a confused tone. “Yeah, what’s up?” Mickey replied very nonchalantly. Charles’s brain could not fathom what his eyes were seeing. Mickey, the lower-class boy with only one backpack who until last night, Charles believed to be lesser then him was just sitting there, doing something Charles did every morning for five years. “I see your watching the news,” said Charles. “Yeah, every morning for six years now,” replied Mickey, “If you would prefer to watch something else I’m fine with it. It really sucks that there’s only one T.V.” Charles put some eggs on his plate and asked the cook if they had any coffee. “No the news is fine” said Charles. “Hey while you’re over there, can you bring me a coffee?” asked Mickey. “Sure” said Charles. He grabbed a second cup, handed it to Mickey and sat down next to him. “Thanks bud.” Mickey said as he turned his attention back to the T.V. Charles didn’t respond. He wasn’t shocked when Mickey called him bud. Charles thought of his mother: “Try, just try to makes some friends”. He didn’t have to ask Mickey, he just knew. Charles looked at the T.V. and smiled.