I never stopped to think if it was wrong or right
when they came to take poor Reggie for a ride
And… they did come for him. At least once every time troupe #91 went camping, if Reggie was there, the older boys would always come for him.
I know this because (like it says in the song)
on every single campout I shared Reggie’s tent
So… I was right there every time. But just as my rebelliousness regarding the acquisition of merit badges had no depth of motive, neither did my response to what I saw happen to Reggie. I’m not going to pretend to have a clear sense of my inner workings as a twelve-year-old. I know there was a lot of turmoil in there from my own tormenters at home, but I don’t think that had anything to do with this. At least not directly. I doubt it was that complex. Most likely, I was simply glad it wasn’t happening to me. This time.
Among the boys, I did nothing that would mark me as his friend (and thus another target) but otherwise I was relatively nice to Reggie. There was a reason the adults asked me to be his tent partner every single time.
But… I would also never have been suspected of participating in what can only be described as… torture.
And… I did participate. I must own that now. Not only did I do nothing to stop what went on those nights they came for him, but I also actually recall thinking… (as again it says in the song)
We all knew that he deserved every beating that he got.
And… he did get beat. Badly. Not at night though. Most of the beatings happened in broad daylight, in front of everyone. Even the adults. I don’t know how much of this kind of thing goes on in todays world of helicopter parents, sensitivity training and the great self-esteem movement. But in 1971, in small-town midwestern America, boys that gathered together and beat each other up, were not seen as the thugs-in-training that they actually were. They were simply boys… being boys.
Yup, I thought he deserved it. I mean… Reggie was such a little shit! And he knew it too!
Actually, if I’d had the kind of nuanced rebelliousness I developed later as a college student, I might have admired Reggie. The kid had guts. The reason he got beat so much was because he was always doing things to the thugs to taunt them, annoy them and get them to chase him. And he was good at it. I didn’t see half the stuff Reggie did to those guys to piss em off, but everyone saw him running from them. I think that was what he really wanted. To run from them, in public.
And oh, Reggie could run. He ran circles around those guys, but I also think Reggie was not really very bright. The boys always caught him eventually, and then he’d scream and it would all come to an end. But not before they got in more than a few choice licks. This happened so often that Mr. Spawn and the other adults were quite slow to respond and put a stop to it. They were annoyed by Reggie too.
I imagine that a big part of the adult’s annoyance with Reggie had to do with his father. See… Reggie’s dad had money. I think he had a successful business of some kind, and Reggie was always showing off the latest cool thing his Dad had bought him. I’m sure Mr. Spawn and the other adults thought of him as a spoiled brat. He sure fit the stereotype. And Reggie’s dad was… a lot like Reggie in many ways. Like when everyone had to sell things (candy, pizzas, cookies etc.…) to raise money for the troupe, his dad would always make sure Reggie won the prize for selling the most. He took Reggie all over the up-scale part of town in his nice car and helped him sell the stuff. He even told his employees to buy from Reggie and if that wasn’t enough for Reggie to win, he’d just buy it all himself.
During campouts, Reggie often did all kinds of really annoying things that were selfish, embarrassing or just plain stupid. One time, he was doing his poisonous plants merit badge so he collected bunches of poison oak, poison ivy and nettles and laid them all on the picnic table we would be eating on later that evening. He then went and proudly showed Mr. Spawn his accomplishment. Reggie showed how he had used his brand new wool socks over his hands to collect the plants instead of just taking someone on a hike to point them out like he was supposed to do. Mr. Spawn made Reggie burn the socks and scrub the table before dinner. Another time, when it was his turn to help with cooking dinner, Reggie ignored the directions on a package of instant mashed potatoes and simply dumped the entire contents into the pot. We ended up with so much there was no place to put it all.
One of the worst of these (for Mr. Spawn at least) was the time when Reggie discovered that spraying Off (mosquito repellent) all over the inside of the brand new (and quite expensive) canvas Voyager tents we were all using that year (at least the one he and I were sleeping in) created a really cool and colorful effect inside, from the moonlight. Unfortunately, it also caused the tent to no longer be waterproof. Permanently. Of course Reggie’s dad just paid for it and that was that.
Well… not exactly. His dad paid for the stupid things Reggie did that cost money, and the beatings were how the boys made him pay for all the stupid and annoying stuff he did but it was at night, when they came for him, that Reggie was held to account, for being Reggie.
Simply being Reggie was his crime
It always started the same. I’d lay there, waiting. Listening for Reggie’s loud snore. It was never long after that (the boys were listening outside) and I’d hear someone tap on the inner flap fastener. I had to open it.
“Shut up von Ahsen” I’d hear some fifteen-year-old say threateningly. As if I’d ever try and stop them or call out in warning.
Our tent would then be quickly but quietly filled by at least four (but often six) boys. I had to get myself out of the way fast. They would surround Reggie’s cot and carefully lift him in his sleeping bag off the cot and out of the tent. Maybe half of the time, Reggie woke up. He would start screaming and the boys would drop him and punch him a few times before high-tailing it back to their own tents. Getting caught in the act doing this was a much greater offense than simply beating Reggie during the day and I’m sure some of these boys were risking their higher level merit badges by doing so. Remember, Boy Scouts are supposed to be proving themselves, moving into manhood…
But half the time, Reggie did not wake up in time to save himself from whatever humiliation and/or abuse these boys had cooked up. Many, I didn’t see happen. I either didn’t feel like following that night, or I was told to “Get the fuck back in your tent von Ahsen!”. I would then only hear Reggie’s inevitable scream and know that they were either successful or he woke up before they could complete their plan. Either way I never found out what happened those times.
Of the one’s I did see, I remember three that stand out. First there was the time when they took him to the latrine. I saw Reggie being shoved head-first into the shit hole but they were having trouble getting him all the way in as I’m sure they had planned. Then Reggie awoke and all hell broke lose. I didn’t see much after that because I ran back to our tent as fast as I could.
Perhaps the most successful of them (as if one can say anything good about this kind of activity) was the time when, after listening to Reggie go on and on for two days about how great his new air mattress that his dad had bought him was. And how much more comfortable he was sleeping than anyone else… the boys were able to float him out onto the lake without him waking. The image of Reggie, floating there, silhouetted against the moonlit woods on the far end of the lake, was so serene. The boys were quiet for a time, giggling a bit at the sound of Reggie’s snoring echoing across the lake. Then someone started throwing rocks at him. He turned slightly to one side and one hand slipped into the water. Reggie then awoke suddenly and his whole body flipped in. It was beautiful. I’m sorry but…
I’m not sorry.
The most awful plan the boys had come up with was, fortunately only half successful. The camp was one of the largest in the state and this was a state-wide scouting event so there were lots of boys from all over. It was a big deal and Reggie had gone all out with his top-of-the-line gear. He was so excited. Until he saw The Reggie Pit. It was at least fifty feet long, thirty across and about ten feet deep. The bottom was a sloppy, slimy mud with about three inches of smelly water on top. As I approached, I could smell the foulness of the thing and there were several boys adding their own pee to the mix. I have no idea what this had once been but very soon every boy in camp knew of it’s new name and for what purpose it would eventually be used.
This was a two-week boy scout camp extravaganza and the grand finale (despite whatever the adults had planned) would be for Reggie to be thrown in on the last night of camp. The boys from our troupe made it clear that we all were obliged to contribute to the pit whenever and however we could. The nastier, the better. And when the boys of the other troupes were told, they gladly chipped in.
Reggie was uncharacteristically demure as the full weight of this scheme being concocted fell about him. The details about how it was to go down was known by everyone and they talked about it incessantly. No longer did Reggie run around taunting the boys and getting into scrapes during the day. Those first few nights were unusually quiet too. Except for groups of boys regularly walking by, chanting, whenever Reggie was in his tent.
“Re-gie, Re-gie, Re-gie… The boys chanted, hoping to add to his mental torture. They were saving all their actual Reggie torturing fun for that one big blockbuster at the end of the two weeks of sweet anticipation. They were so sure that this was going to be the best one ever and then…
And then Reggie was gone.
He had called his father who came to pick him up after the first week was over. Reggie had cheated the boys out of their fun by sacrificing his own. The whole thing was a big downer for everyone.
Except for me. I now had the tent all to myself for the last week of camp.