To this day, every time I clean the bathroom, I have flashbacks. Don’t be alarmed, they are not repressed traumatic Cinderella memories of scrubbing the floor. Rather, more entertaining experiences of the first summer I had to clean my cabin (with my bunk mates) at sleep away camp.
The idea of 12 year old girls actually cleaning anything is hard to imagine. No one knew the difference between bleach and windex, except for the distinct smells. When I learned the incentive for “Cleanest Cabin” award meant a pizza party (not the fake camp made kind, but the real pizza parlor in town) and Dairy Queen Blizzards (chopped up oreos and vanilla ice cream to be specific), I took charge immediately. At camp, my nutritional existence had relied upon peanut butter and jelly, and after a while that was boring.
Before I volunteered to lead “Team Clean,” I did not think to ask about what cleaning products were accessible. The child of hippies, my family frequented the health food store before Whole Foods streamlined organic to the masses. And my cartoon watching had been dominated by Captain Planet. So, naturally (no pun intended), the cleaning products at home were the ones with as little envrionmental and biological impact as possible. I assumed my hippie camp in the woods would embrace the same mantra.
Au contraire: camp was also a business catering to the masses – approximately 1,000 campers every summer. It was mystery cleaning products purchased in bulk for everyone. I scanned the ingredient list: my chemistry knowledge was not that strong yet, but judging by the fact that I could barely pronounce any of the compounds that would be killing the germs of our mass bathroom, I was not pleased. I had to think quickly. A light bulb went off when I came up with the solution.
There I was, a scrawny 12 year old with long stringy hair, not brushed since my arrival at camp the week before, standing in the bathroom in my bathing suit and flip flops. Cue imaginary superhero music playing in the background because that is what I felt like as my fellow campers cheered me on in the cleaning adventure I was about to embark upon for them. I pretended to be an elite member of Captain Planet’s summer camp dream team, but with a unique twist as I tied my hair into a bun about to perform a cleaning ballet routine. I surveyed the room, reached for my goggles which rested on my forehead, covered my eyes, and dived in for my dance.
I held my breath in fear of ingesting the horrid chemical odors as I poured chemicals every where. I ran the hot water until it was steaming, and splashed the mop on the floor and scrubbed the toilets. Every few minutes, I came up for air. I really had no clue what I was doing, but when I was finished, the bathroom sparkled. I borrowed someone’s very expensive perfume sent via care package to freshen the air. Ta da: it was like new!
We won “Cleanest Cabin” twice that summer. I felt an incredible sense of pride for pioneering the cleaning. My fellow campers applauded my efforts by generously giving me the extra Oreo Blizzard. I gulped it down after the pizza and blizzard number one. Then, suddenly, I did not feel well. I ran to the bathroom, ironically, thankful it was so clean.