I’m a terrible singer. I mean just awful. Because of this, I don’t sing often. I have been known to squeak out a tune to help my children sleep, or to recite crappy 80s lyrics to my wife for comical affect, but aside from that I just don’t sing. I have come to realize my inability to sing is in itself a significant skill. Accomplished singers, such as my wife, have tried to replicate the poor timing and off-key caterwauling my attempts produce to no avail. Try as she might she just can’t sing that badly. In school I was the guy just mouthing the words during a concert while his complexion slowly reddened to the point you thought he might pass out. It was a good arrangement for me since the chorus teacher would willingly let this occur, knowing it had a significant impact on the overall quality of the performance. Alas, there were a few unavoidable solo moments that still stalk my nightmares like post apocalyptic cock-roaches that inexplicably just won’t die. This is the story of one of those times.
It was the summer of 86, and I was newly 14. For a week period during that summer I attended a leadership training camp through the boy scouts. The best part of the week turned out to be the drive up to Maine with the other attendees from my troop. We had never been to anything like this and we were bursting with excitement. Unfortunately every event after that drive went successively down hill for the entire week, culminating in one of the most embarrassing moments of my life.
The training seemed to be organized around the idea that scout masters should be lazy arrogant jerks and scouts should be forced to run around with little direction jumping from one intentionally humiliating situation to the next. I remember thinking at the time that this leadership camp could use some new leadership. I would wager third world prisons had cleaner washroom facilities than this place. One of the rituals we performed each day was a gathering of all the patrols in a large clearing. Each patrol had to sing a verse of the corny camp song as they marched in, substituting their not very cleverly designated “patrol color” in the lyrics. Thankfully several members of the green patrol had no trouble belting out our verse, so my lip syncing went unnoticed. Until the last day.
On the last day the idea that we would actually be freed from this place was taking hold in the scout’s minds. People were smiling as they packed up their gear. Kids were happily running down to the quartermasters shack with armloads of cookware in tow to return. I was doing the same for my patrol when I passed the large clearing where we met everyday. Before I could enjoy the thought that I would never have to endure that inanity again, I came to a horrible realization. A meeting was just starting. The scouts around me all scurried into their respective patrol. The green patrol was nowhere to be found. At this moment I considered flight. I scanned the inner circle of senior scout masters. Had they seen me yet? Could I just run as fast as possible away and not look back? Nope. One had seen me. And the green patrol was up next. My fate was sealed. I swallowed hard and accepted it.
I went from zero to bright red before my first footstep hit the clearing grass. My uneven warbling wafted across the field as I marched through the ranks of scout masters. The reactions ranged from that squinty face people make when they hear an unpleasant sound, to broad smiles, to pitiful glances between facepalms. I don’t know if it was the ever-growing aura of humiliation that I was emitting, or just the need to squelch the cacophony of sound coming out of my mouth, but about halfway to my destination several scout masters broke rank and started singing with me. As I finished the verse and took my place in line I could see that my fellow scouts were frozen in that place between wanting to laugh really hard, and being scared that doing so might turn the spotlight of attention in their direction. The next patrol started marching in and the tension ebbed to normal levels again.
As an adult I can look back at this event with a more objective point of view. Why should I care what a bunch of people who I will probably never see again think? But at age 14 I was ruled by emotional responses, and this was the manifestation of my worst fears. These days I try not to sweat the small stuff, and I think pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone once in a while is a great way to expand our horizons. With that said however, please don’t ask me to sing, we will all regret it.