I am a Working Fool

As I did last year, today’s post is a story about past jobs in honor of Labor Day.

2002 was the summer of three jobs. Upon arriving at the camp in Montana (and promptly breaking camp property), I learned one of the great truths about working in the camping industry. The perks have nothing to do with finances. Sure, camps are great at covering things like room and board, but if you want money to pay for gas or Lego sets, you better find a way to supplement your income.

So supplement I did. The camp director had recently been approached by an mentor-ship organization in town. He didn’t have the time to do it, but suggested that they give me a shot. The organization was something like a state-run Big Brothers, Big Sisters program, except mentors got paid for spending time with children whose parents were in jail. And so, after a quick interview and credential check, I was hired.

Of course, spending a few hours a week playing billiards with a nine-year-old at the local college only brings in so much money. Don’t get me wrong. It was a great job, but it wasn’t going to bring in the money I needed.

thAnd so I got another job. This time, at a diner a half hour away from the camp and in the opposite direction from my mentor-ship job. I was a short-order cook at Jan’s Cafe, the finest little diner in Lima, MT. Again, it was my connection to the camp director that got me the job. I had limited experience (working for a few months in my uncle’s eatery in high school, most of which was as a waiter/host), but I was available for evening shifts for most of the summer, so I got the job. My specialty was “chicken-fried steak”, which was a dish that people said was wonderful but one which I had never personally eaten.

Between the two paying jobs and free room and board at the camp, I was able to save up enough gas money to get me from Southwestern Montana to Central Iowa, but not all the way home to Michigan. The rest of the way was paid with by my parents’ kindness and understanding (which is great currency that renews regularly if not overused).

I probably would have made it all the way home if I hadn’t been pulling an early 60’s camper trailer behind an underpowered Chevy Blazer through the mountains, where even semis were annoyed at my slow up-the-mountain speeds. But that is a story for another time. Suffice to say, I have neither held three simultaneous jobs nor pulled a camper cross-country since.

I am popular.

It happened the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of high school.

Freshman year found me floundering between social groups. The shift from junior high to high school forced people into more stringently defined cliques, but there were a few of us who were not so easily accepted into one of the established groups (the stoners, the jocks, the honor students, etc.)

But when I walked through the front doors as a tenth-grader, I was firmly planted in the popular crowd. My friends were the kids that other kids wanted to be. The girls of the group were the pretty, smart girls that boys desired. The boys of the group were the sporty (soccer) ones who ranked consistently at the top of the class in grades and future earning potential. And though my grades were not so good, nor my physique so muscular, nor my face so beautiful, I was accepted as one of their own.

I felt a bit like Jane Goodall, only the apes were the cool kids, and I was the older white lady that they accepted into their midst.

So what happened?

Montana happened.

ccbc_logo_highlightI mean, it didn’t come into existence and suddenly cause me to be popular. Rather, I went to Montana on a mission trip with my church and came back with close relationships to the crowd that would become my crowd for the rest of my high school experience.

It was the type of trip that was custom designed to either force people to be close or drive people to cannibalism. We drove in a small church bus from Grand Rapids, Michigan to the southwestern tip of Montana, visiting some National Parks along the way. I remember the trip being hot and the bus quickly smelling of sweat, angst, and hormones.

I was one of the four guys on the trip (there were two Joshes and two Steves) among the twelve or so girls on the trip. Naturally, each guy came home with three girlfriends apiece. Okay, no, but I’m sure none of the guys would have minded.

Anyway, our crew bonded well on the road. In the absence of our normal cliques, we were allowed to show our true personalities. Senses of humor emerged. People spoke to each other who would never have spoken previously. And all it took was a bit of heat and a few days of close quarters without access to regular showers.

When we got back home, miraculously, the relationships stuck, and I was invited to join the group of cool kids at school. There was no formal ceremony or anything, and probably most of it was in my head, but I felt accepted for who I was by people who had seen me at my smelliest. That was a good feeling.

Thinking back now, I am inclined to think that the difference between my social scene from freshman year to sophomore year had only a bit to do with other kids accepting me and everything to do with me accepting that I could be liked for who I am. And so, popularity is not something that is dependent on others, but a mindset that make it possible for you to accept yourself.

I am a terrible cowboy.

One of the first things that I did when I got to Clark Canyon Bible Camp in the summer of 2002 was help a local rancher brand cattle. The director of the camp told me how important it is to be a good neighbor when you are the face for any organization.

“You’re going as a representative of Clark Canyon Bible Camp,” he told me. “So do what they ask you, work hard, and have fun.”

“Aren’t you coming too?” I asked.

“I’ve got a few things to take care of in town,” he explained. “My part of being a good neighbor was bringing you to help in my place.”

There were three of us volunteering at the camp that summer who got drafted to help out with the branding. For the first ranch we helped out, my job was to run the hot brands from the iron stove to the real cowboys who were doing the branding. It was a good job. Simple.

Everyone else was working harder than me. The work went like this: Cowboys on horses would rope a calf around its rear legs. They would then drag the calf to the branding station which was basically a tire inner tube that was tied to a stake in the ground. As the calf would be dragged by, a cowboy would toss the inner tube over the calf’s head in such a way that it was secured but not choked at all. The cowboy would ease his horse forward until the calf was stretched out. This is where I come in. While another cowboy was making eunuchs of the calves, I would bring over a hot iron, hand it to the cowboy who would brand the animal and then I would take it back to the guy stoking the iron.

Every now and then, the cowboy responsible for removing the “rocky mountain oysters” would throw a couple on the branding iron stove to cook them. He would then offer them around, asking us if we wanted to have a ball. I declined.

By the end of the day, I was familiar with the smell of burnt hair, the sound of calf’s screaming, and the feeling that I was desperately out-of-place among real men.

But that was only the first ranch. We three camp volunteers were asked to help out at another ranch a couple of weeks later. Word had got around that we were hard workers (and free labor).

At the second ranch, I was given the job of nasal injections once the cattle were stretched out. This was difficult because calves tend to snort a lot when they are under stress (such as when people are poking them with burning bits of metal).
This ranch didn’t just brand the cattle to mark them. They also gave them ear marks. Now some ranch ear marks look like triangles, some like circles, but this one just lopped the whole tip of the ear off.

When it was all over, the ground was littered with clipped ears. Hairy little triangles about three or four inches to a side. In fact, they looked a lot like hairy tortilla chips. That gave me an idea.

I still had my brown paper sack from lunch, so I started grabbing clipped ears by the fistful. My idea was to dry them, then when I return to Michigan, put them into a bowl next to some salsa and invite friends over to see what they would do.

It was a great idea. There were only two problems: I didn’t have time to dry them over the summer, so I just stuck them in the freezer with the intention of doing it later; and when the end of the summer came around, I underestimated the ability of my cooler to keep frozen things frozen for the three-day drive that happens between Montana and Michigan.

There are few things that smell worse than burning hair, but I know that one of them is rotting cow ears that have been baking in cooler on the cross-country voyage.

I learned a lesson that day. Sometimes the joke isn’t worth the effort. Or maybe the lesson was to finish something immediately if there is a chance that it could rot and stink up most of your belongings. Anyway, it was one of those.

Also, I wasn’t asked to help with another cattle branding all summer. This might be related or not.

I am a renegade.

So for the summer of 2002, I was the assistant director of a youth camp in Dillon, Montana. It wasn’t a paid position, but I did get free room and board. In fact, the only paid position in the camp was the director’s, and only then because he was a missionary who had raised the support he needed for his family to live and eat and such.

So how does a camp get by without paying anyone to work there? Well, all of the positions were staffed by volunteers. Usually, a church would contact the camp and ask the director if he needed anything. The answer would always be yes, and the church would set up a mission trip during the summer to fill the specified need. The camp liked adult mission trips for building projects, college mission trips for senior high camp week, and high school mission trips for kids’ camp week. It was always a win-win situation.

My job that summer was to work with each of the incoming groups, divide up their teams into specific jobs (kitchen, activities, counselors, etc.), and make sure that everyone followed the camp rules.

The groups that came out for the work projects were wonderful. The college group that staffed senior high week was from Michigan near where I grew up and was attending college, and it was through them that I ended up meeting my wife. The high school group that staffed the kids’ camp week was fun, but they needed more discipline than the kids did. This is a story about them.

Like I said, one of my jobs was to make sure that everyone followed the camp rules. One of the main rules was that everyone stayed in their dorms (think “large cabins”) after lights-out. I would sit in the shadows near the chapel and keep and eye on the each of the dorms to make sure that no one was sneaking out. Usually, I sat there until around 1am, watching for movement, looking at the stars, petting the camp’s cat that had many more toes than normal cats should have.

But one night, I didn’t stay out late enough. The girls in the high school group decided to go “penny tapping” around 1:30am. For those unfamiliar with the practice, the goal is to annoy sleeping people by tapping on their windows with pennies. The target of the group was that week’s camp speaker.

The morning after this, the speaker talked to me about what the girls did. I talked to the girls about what they did. They told me it was great fun, that I was a cool guy, and wouldn’t I like to join them tonight when they did it again? I told them that it was my job to make sure that everyone followed the camp rules and that they were out past lights-out. They said that I wasn’t being much fun.

So I made a deal with them.

I said that they shouldn’t be out after lights-out, but if they could be back in their dorm by 12:30am, that I wouldn’t do anything. I explained that I didn’t want to stay up later than that, that I had to get up early in the morning still, and that I liked what little sleep I got. They asked me what I thought about them going out just after midnight. I told them that it was still after lights-out and that it was still against the rules but if they could be back in their dorms by 12:30am, I wouldn’t do anything. Also, I believe I winked.

This is the camp director.
His name is Dale.

The girls all agreed that I was still cool and that they would go out earlier than the night before and they were glad that I wouldn’t do anything about it.

And other than tell the camp director about their plans, I didn’t.

Three things happened that night.

The high school group’s leader was taken out to go night-hunting by some of our local friends. This means that he was riding around in the back of a pickup truck with a gun while someone else shined a super-powerful flashlight around in search of reflected eyes that could be shot. Good, clean Montana fun.

The camp director and his wife had recently purchased some paintball equipment for the camp and were excited to test it out.

And I just sat in my spot by the chapel, watching the stars.

Well, when the girls came out to do their prank, one of the other girls in the dorm locked the door behind them (per the director’s instructions). After a little while of penny tapping, the girls returned to their dorm and discovered the locked doors. They didn’t want to wake up all the girls inside the dorm, so they knocked softly. That was when the camp director and his wife, who had taken up positions on the soccer field, started shooting at them with paint balls. The girls started to scream. At the scream, as if on cue, the locals drove into view, their super-powerful flashlight scanning the area exactly like a police car’s might. Combined with the shooting of the paint balls and being locked out of their dorm, the girls really started to freak out.

This went on for about five minutes, and then it was 12:30am.

I walked down to the girls’ dorm where the girls were huddled outside the door and asked why they were out later than we agreed they should be. I explained calmly that they would need to be punished in the morning. I knocked on the door of the girls dorm. It opened. The girls went in. I went to bed.

The next day, the girls involved cleaned all of the paintball marks off the dorm. They cleaned the chapel, the mess hall, and the bathrooms too.

It was great.

I am a Celebrity in Southwest Montana. (2 stories)

It started in my senior year of high school. Graduation was approaching, which meant that open houses would be starting soon. I decided that as graduation gifts for my friends I would give t-shirts with a picture of my face and the words “I love Josh Mosey” proudly displayed. I wouldn’t want any of them to forget me after all.

Click for the CCBC Facebook PageWell, my friend Julie spent the summer after graduation working at Clark Canyon Bible Camp in Dillon, Montana (great camp, by the way). Since it was a great shirt for every occasion, she brought it and wore it regularly. When another camp staffer started borrowing the t-shirt, the camp nurse took note. But when my friend Kristy, who also got the t-shirt as a graduation gift, came out to visit Julie, bringing along her own t-shirt, the camp nurse thought that a trend was emerging.

One night, the camp nurse cornered Julie and expressed her frustrations with pop t-shirt trends and companies using impressionable children to express inane messages. “Like this,” she said, pointing at the t-shirt with my face on it. “This is exactly what I’m talking about. You probably don’t even know who this Josh Mosey is, much less what he stands for. That’s why I home school my kids. So they don’t have to be exposed to stuff like this.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

One year after Julie went out to Clark Canyon, I went myself. I was pursuing a degree in Recreation from Western Michigan University and I needed an internship in order to graduate. So I contacted the camp director, Dale, told him who I was (a friend of Julie’s and the guy from the t-shirt) and he invited me to come out and be the assistant director for the summer. He had never for had an assistant director and said that it sounded like fun.

Mine was no where near this cool.

I packed up my newly fixed 1980’s Chevy Blazer and drove three or four days across the country. I learned a fresh hatred for the length of Nebraska, but I got to Clark Canyon in more or less one piece a few weeks before kids would start showing up for camp.

Now, the camp provided me with free room and board, but they couldn’t pay me any money. So, I did what any sensible man might do, in addition to my full-time responsibilities at camp, I got two other jobs. Once a week, I was employed by the state of Montana in a program that helped kids who had one or more parents in jail. And a few nights a week, I was a short-order cook at the greasy dive about a half hour from the camp (a half hour drive is practically next door in Montana, where the nearest Wal-Mart was six hours away).

I was working in the restaurant the night that the carnival rolled into Dillon, but I heard all about it the next day. I had my guitar our and was fiddling with it while Dale and a fellow camp staffer told me about the rides, the rodeo, and the carnival workers.

Dale said, “We should write a song about the girls who work at the carnivals.”

“We should make it a love song,” I said.

So we took a few minutes and wrote the song, “She’s my Carny Girl,” an instant camp classic, with such lines as “She looks like a princess, but only from a distance / That’s why I try to keep her out of sight / The smell of her hair is like my underwear / After eating pork and beans all night.” You get the idea.

Now, Dale had connections. Within a few weeks of writing the song, we were strolling into the local radio station to record it in one of their sound booths. We got a couple of tapes of the song for our own amusement, but the radio station kept one for themselves.

And they played it every so often.

Now, I don’t know if they still play it (that was a decade ago), but I like to believe that they do. I like to believe that if I ever go back there, I will see people who have copied the shirt that bears my face listening to the song that I co-wrote.