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Trailblazers

Growing up in Bensonhurst, the closest I ever came to camping was chasing chipmunks at my grandparents’ place in New Hampshire. But then, toward the end of junior high, I got a serious hankering for the forest. So my mom called up her friend Charlie (who happened to head up a Boy Scout troop) and arranged for my friend Mike and I to go on a weekend camping trip with him. Now I wasn’t exactly what you’d call Boy Scout material, but luckily, there was another option: Charlie also organized “unofficial” camping trips for a ragtag bunch of Irish teenagers from Gerritsen Beach—a dirty dozen of ginger punks in battle fatigues who called themselves the Trailblazers.

Mike and I were psyched. Along with our standard camping gear, we packed an assortment of Led Zeppelin cassettes and knives, plus a cigarette box containing a lighter, a pack of Bambú, a small corncob pipe and two dime bags. You know what they say: Be prepared.

On a Friday evening, Charlie piled us into an old school bus and drove us out to a campground at West Point, where we would all be staying in a big, rustic cabin full of bunk beds. Mike and I were a few years younger than the rest of the gang, but I was used to hanging out with older dudes, so that didn’t really faze me. They, however, weren’t such happy campers: For the rest of that night and the following day, all we got from them were cold shoulders, dirty looks and down-talk. They’d cluster up off in the distance, whispering shit about us under their breath and frequently disappearing for half an hour at a time. Whenever we approached them, they’d quickly hush up and tell us to get lost. So Mike and I kept to ourselves—sneaking out behind the cabin to smoke a bowl whenever we got a chance, scared that someone would catch us and tell our parents.

On the second night, it was time for war games. The group broke into two teams, each heading out in the opposite direction on the main trail that looped around the lake. The object: to “kill” enemy combatants guerrilla-style by holding a knife (a real knife) up to them and declaring them dead. Our team leader, Franko, sent us ahead as “scouts” (a.k.a. bait), expecting us to be eliminated quickly. What he didn’t realize was that Mike and I had been playing war games on the streets of Brooklyn since we were 10.

We hightailed it all the way around the lake, eventually coming to a long wooden footbridge that stretched across a narrower end of the water. With no one else yet in sight, we climbed down under the bridge and waited. Before long, a pair of enemy scouts arrived: a particularly obnoxious character named Archer and one of his cronies. Cautiously, they began to cross the bridge, but stopped halfway across—right above us.

“Okay, man, all clear—bust it out,” I heard Archer say. Next came the flick of a lighter, and that familiar inward whistle that could only be the toking of a joint. Perfect. With their guard down, we silently sprang up behind them and made the kill.

“You’re dead!” I announced, pressing my Rambo survival knife to Archer’s back.

“FUCK!” he exclaimed in surprise—sending the joint tumbling from his lips and through the slats of the bridge into the lake.

“Son of a bitch!” he wailed. “That’s it—I’ve had it! I’m gonna kick your asses! I don’t care what Charlie told us—I came out here to get high, not to play baby-sitter.”

“We didn’t know you guys got high,” I said.

“Why do you think we call ourselves the Trail-blazers, Einstein?”

“Cool—we smoke too!”

“You little mama’s boys? Bullshit!”

I pulled out the cigarette pack from my pocket and showed him our stash. Suddenly, his whole demeanor changed.

“No shit!” he said in disbelief. “Check this shit out—these kids are holding!”

It seems my mom must’ve lectured Charlie about keeping an eye on us, so he’d forbidden the guys to smoke when we were around. No wonder they hated us—they were coming out here so they could get high without being hassled, and thanks to Charlie, our presence had been a giant buzzkill. But now the war was over—now they saw that we were potheads just like them; we were Trailblazers too.

When we got back to camp, we marched straight up to Charlie and came clean. He just smirked and shook his head. Turns out that in addition to being a scoutmaster, Charlie was also a dealer. We all blazed out the cabin together, and from then on we were officially part of the troop. He never told on us, and we never told on him—that is, until now.

 

Sorry, Charlie.

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