Week 5, Camp Blue, Lair of the Bear, might best be thought of as an annual summer ritual involving a week of live music, cocktail parties, forays into Sonora, Lair Dogs (you don’t want to know the ingredients) and fierce competition in games of Ping-Pong, shuffle board and Trivial Pursuit. Other weeks, other camps (Camp Gold and Oski), and other families all have other traditions, but for me, the most important day of a fun-filled week is Friday. That’s the final day for music, parties, and the chance for Kramers to win coveted cheap trophies.
Lair of the Bear is the family camp for UC Berkeley graduates. It’s located near Pinecrest Lake/Strawberry in Northern California. For the past several years, Camp Blue has been managed by Mike White (yes, THAT Mike White of Cal coaching fame), who is held in high esteem by both staff and campers.
One effect of all these Berkeley grads gathered together at a single site is that every one of our children is exceptionally bright. Also, the Trivial Pursuit marathon game is taken quite seriously. One year it continued until 2 a.m. in the Lodge and I still think my team should have won. Because we took our time to discuss possible answers – sometimes coming up with the right answer but just as often talking ourselves out of it (for example, we should have stuck with Winston Churchill but went on to consider what Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown might have declared during their terms in office) – a time limit was imposed in subsequent years. Apparently our opponents didn’t find our lively debates as interesting as we did.
Another year I achieved a Personal Best: two Bloody Marys’ and a shot, all before noon. A group of about 10 of us gathered at the Strawberry Lodge before 8 a.m. to watch a Women’s Soccer World Cup game. One by one we ordered coffee with breakfast. Finally, someone worked up the nerve to order a Bloody Mary and the rest of us changed our orders. The shots were to help us celebrate a shoot-out ending.
This year, since I’m pretty much camping out all the time, I reluctantly skipped Week 5 at The Lair. I did, however, make sure to stop by on Friday in time to watch my brother, Gary, and nephew Seth lose, back-to-back, in the final games of both adult shuffle-board doubles and adult Ping-Pong doubles. Seth also went on to lose in the adult Ping-Pong finals, but in his defense, he was playing Chick. To fully understand the significance of competing with Chick, you’d have to spend the entire Week 5 at Camp Blue watching Chick win at every sport. Suffice it to say that at this point, virtually everyone wants Chick to lose at something.
In addition to the Friday Dregs’ Party, one other party well worth mentioning is the Monday Night Pirate Party, held in a section of tents near the campfire. We go around saying, “Argh,” collect booty (bling in the form of “gold” medallions), drink some sort of exceptionally strong and tasty rum concoction, and get tattooed. The Pirates take their party quite seriously. In fact, one year a Pirate wife was informed by her husband that there wasn’t room in their car for bedding because he was transporting the fog machine. I recently became aware that although for the camp-at-large the Pirate Party is held on Monday night, it actually goes on the entire week for the Pirates themselves. No wonder the fog machine was more important than sheets and pillows.
The Dregs’ Party is coordinated by my brother, Gary, who posts notices as far and wide as the Camp Store and bathrooms, asking people to bring their left-over food and liquor to the Lodge on Friday night. We head home on Saturday morning. My brother becomes the mixologist, using whatever booze and soft-drinks are deposited before him. He’ll mix a number of the same drinks at one time, using various and sundry ingredients (but only one form of alcohol). Then he’ll go on to mix the next batch of drinks, again using whatever is available. Every drink, regardless of its contents, is called a “Week 5.” They are exceptionally good – particularly by the time you’re on your third round.
My sister-in-law, Faith, assumes responsibility for putting out the food. In addition to the usual junk food (or unusual junk food, such as oddly flavored potato chips), there may occasionally be a real treat, such as brie and salami. Put those together on a cracker and you’ve got yourself a fairly decent hors d’oeuvre. By Lair standards, anyway.
And oh, the music. The absolutely terrific music. A number of amateur musicians and at least one female singer have been coming to the Lair during Week 5 and over the years have developed a repertoire of great numbers popular with us baby-boomers. Each year for me there’s a special moment. One year it was when I requested Tracy Chapman’s “Give Me One Good Reason (to Turn Myself Around),” and danced with a cute young female staffer in shorts that showed off her great legs, as I like to remember mine as being before the varicose veins and surgery scars. It seemed to me that I was dancing with a better version of myself 40 years ago. That’s how good Week 5 drinks are.
This year’s personal special moment was when the band was wrapping up with “Hey, Jude,” their traditional finale. As we all assembled in front of the band, holding drink #2, or #3 or perhaps #4, and joined in on, “Na na-na na-na-na na-na-na Hey Jude” on and on, I was not alone in never wanting the refrain to end.