Josh vs. The Hooch
When I was a freshman in college I applied for a job at a Baptist summer camp called Mount Lebanon. They were in need of a pretty big staff because summer is one of their busiest times of the year, and I was in need of some cash inflow and some experience. So in the summer of 2011, I joined 50 other college kids in Cedar Hill, Texas for one of the most memorable seasons of my life.
Part 1: The Platypus
For those of you who have never volunteered or worked at a camp before, it’s important to know that a camp job is a conglomeration of several different jobs. Over the summer a staffer could be a janitor, PE teacher, baby sitter, landscaper, lifeguard, safety specialist, counselor, belay rope master, chauffeur, hydration expert, and a medical assistant. Because a job like this takes on the identities of a wide array of responsibilities, I like to compare the camp staffer to a duck-billed platypus.
The platypus is the weird combination of several different animals. It has the body of an otter, the tail of a beaver and the bill of a duck. It’s classified as a warm-blooded mammal, but it lays eggs. It’s quite the anomaly in the animal kingdom, and I believe it is some of the strongest evidence we have to suggest that God has a sense of humor.
There’s actually a small part of me that likes to believe that God created a human right before he created Adam. His name was probably Todd, he was given the maturity of a four year old and he was tasked with helping God design all the animals. When God first asked him for a suggestion, Todd kind of panicked and blurted out a series disconnected thoughts that ultimately resulted in the creation of the platypus.
Clearly, Todd did not keep his job for very long.
Platypi have some strange surface level features, but it’s a pretty regular aquatic animal once you look past its oddities. Same thing goes with a summer staff position. Most people have a pretty general idea of what they’re getting into when they apply for a job like this. There may be a few unorthodox tasks asked of staffers, but there isn’t a whole lot that catches people off guard.
When I arrived at orientation for Mt. Leb in May, I felt like I had adequately prepared myself for everything that this job would throw at me. I had been to camp before, I had seen summer staff at work, I thought I was ready for anything.
I was wrong.
Part 2: The Call
Orientation went fairly smoothly. I made a handful of rookie mistakes, got nicknamed Aslan (Thank you Drew Lyons), bonded with some pretty swell people, and got acclimated to life in Cedar Hill. I really couldn’t complain about anything.
Heading into the last day of orientation the only thing that I was nervous about was a safety certification test. If you failed the test you were kind of out of a job, so it was important to be prepared. I don’t think anyone has ever failed it because it’s pretty simple, but I took the challenge a little too seriously and became a little stressed. So I decided to wake up early on the last day to do a little last minute cramming.
6 am rolled around and my alarm started blaring. I shut it off and laid on my back for a little bit while staring at the ceiling. I started running through little factoids that I would need to know for the test later that day and tried to remember the little acronyms that would lead me to success.
After about 5 minutes I heard some movement coming from with the cabin common room. The noise turned into whispering and hushed snickering. And then in a moment everything became silent. The birds outside stopped chirping, the air conditioning shut off, even the snores from a few neighboring staffers ceased. It was eerie, like the calm before a very powerful storm.
I wish I could go back in time and linger in that silence for a few moments longer. I would revel in the blissful ignorance of that moment and truly appreciate the silence for what it was: one last moment of happiness.
The last fleeting moment of silence was not merely broken, but utterly shattered. The sound of a drum roll came crashing through the cabin and it slowly crescendoed into the deafening roar of a heavy metal song. Sound violently reverberated through the 1970s wood paneling of the bunkhouse like a pinball and abruptly collided with the ear drums of every unfortunate young man still in their bed.
Immediately, the bunk house became flooded with the male staff members that had worked at Mt. Lebanon in previous summers. They ordered all of us sleepy and discombobulated rookies to throw some clothes on and go into the common room where we were greeted by a group of men violently moving their body to the fatal pulse of the death metal music.
“DANANANANANANANANANANANANANANANA YOU. WILL. DIE. TO. NIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIGHT” (assumed interpretation of lyrics)
I was terrified. It looked like a scene from a tribal witch dance in a third world country.
Once all of the rookie guys were assembled, the returning staff members looked at us with soulless, possessed eyes, all while swaying to the distorted beat of the noise. And then in unison, they all uttered a phrase that still haunts me to this day.
“The HOOCH is calling.”
Part 3: Poison Knives
Remember the platypus? Remember the concept of “what you see is what you get?”
Well. That’s not totally true for the male platypi.
Here’s the thing about the fellas: They have all the weird stuff that the females have but with one fun little addition…
You remember Todd, don’t you? He was person that I sacrilegiously inserted into the original creation story. Apparently one of his last ideas, right before being relieved of his duties, was putting VENOMOUS SPURS on the back legs of the male platypus.
I guess God was like, “Hey, that’s actually hysterical. You’re still fired, but thanks for that idea,” and then signed off on it. Apparently this little freak show of a marsupial was too adorable and needed hidden poison knives to spice stuff up.
LOOK AT THAT FACE.
THAT’S THE KIND OF FACE THAT WILL KILL YOU AND FEEL NOTHING.
That’s right, Perry. I know your dirty little secret.
And just like the male platypus, the male staff position at Mt. Lebanon also had a hidden poisonous knife called: The Hooch Run.
The Hooch run was the process that Mt. Lebanon had for collecting all the trash bags around camp. It involved a green dumpster, a trailer, a tractor, a driver, and 2 runners. The dumpster was strapped down to the trailer which was pulled around by the tractor. The two runners had the envious task of running out in front of the tractor, collecting the full bags of trash in the trash cans, running back to the tractor, and throwing them into the mobile dumpster.
“Hey Josh, what does Hooch mean?”
I’m getting to that, please don’t interrupt.
In some instances “Hooch” might refer to alcohol, and in others it might refer to the crime-solving canine sidekick for Tom Hanks. But at Mt. Lebanon it has a completely different meaning. Hooch, or Hooch juice, refers to the liquid substance that would collect at the bottom of a trash bag. In the hot Texas summer, anything can liquefy if left in a black trash bag long enough. Dr. Pepper would usually find it’s way to the bottom of the bag first, then pizza would eventually slide down, and on a few occasions plastic would melt, slither to the end, and fuse itself into the now lethal concoction that rested at the bottom of the trash receptacle. And the best part is that the trash bags would leak this substance all over the place when they got picked up!
Staffers called it Hooch, I called it flirting with patient zero.
“Josh, why was the run so bad?”
What did I just say about interrupting?
I hate physical activity. I don’t care for it at all. I really detest running. Whenever people ask me to run their 5k, I ask if I can drive it instead. I was not trained to run, I do not run, and this particular run (close to about 2.75 miles, maybe less, I don’t really know) was no beginner course.
When the returning staff members finally snapped out of their demon possessed trances, they led us outside so that we could do a fake hooch run, which was the exact same thing as the real deal, minus the trash bags. All the rookies participated. It was awful. I was terrible and I hated it.
After that “jog” around campus I vowed to do my very best to never get chosen to be a runner for the remainder of the summer.
And for quite some time, that’s exactly what I did.
Part 4: The Real Deal
Everyday during the staff lunch, our bosses would select two unfortunate guys to go run around campus and pick up trash. During this time, I would act very nonchalantly. I wouldn’t make any noise. I wouldn’t draw attention to myself. I would just sit there and blend in with my fellow staffers. It worked brilliantly. All those years of getting picked last for dodgeball had finally paid off.
On Wednesday during the fourth week of camp I once again avoided being selected. I thought I was in the clear. I thought I was a champion.
I thought wrong.
During that lunch, my boss came up to me and two other guys and told us that one of the runners had rolled his ankle and couldn’t finish. They were only about a quarter of the way through the run and someone needed to step in and finish for him. There was silence as a very dangerous game of chicken began between my two co-workers and me. I prayed that one of them would speak up and volunteer themselves as sacrifice to the Hooch. But as I looked at the other two guys that were standing next to me, I depressingly realized that they were not going to answer my prayers. So, I manned up and told my boss that I would step in.
The Hooch was calling. And I couldn’t escape.
One last note about the Hooch: It is not held in the morning or in the evening. It’s done in the middle of the day immediately following staff lunch break. Which is great because the run is just long enough for your body to go through almost the entire digestive process.
So with the sun at it’s peak point in the sky, pizza in my belly, Target brand Sketchers with no arch support on my feet, and the fear of God in my body, I raced out to meet the monster.
I caught up with the tractor and was greeted by fellow Hooch runner, Matthew Cutchen. He’s a super encouraging individual and one of the most positive men I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. He could make you feel fantastic about anything and he lived up to that reputation all throughout our run.
For about 30 minutes the driver told us where to go and which bags to pick up. Matthew galloped like a majestic steed and I hobbled around like a wounded cow.
After what seemed like an eternity, our run finally came to an end. There were many times when I wanted to give up. At one point I even barrel rolled down the side of a hill because I misjudged how quickly I was moving, the incline of the hill, and gravity. I was dirty, dusty, cut up, a little bloody, and exhausted. I felt pretty worthless throughout the duration of this silly task. The Hooch ate me up and spat me out, but I lived to tell the tale.
Part 5: The Hooch Shop
The end of the run took us to a big steel storage shed where the Tractor and the dumpster were kept. I was relieved to be done running, but I was not prepared for what was ahead of me. The shed was fittingly named the Hooch shop. It was pretty filthy inside and outside. It didn’t have a whole lot of feng shui going on.
Once inside someone told me to go grab some “hooch water” from the water fountain inside the shed. I was down for water, but the machine that they directed me towards was not very encouraging. All the panels on this beaten up fountain were coated in a layer of rust. It looked like no one had bothered maintaining it since the 70s and I’m fairly certain that I saw some fungus growing along the outside. I took one look at it and suddenly I wasn’t that thirsty anymore. When my partners saw that I wasn’t down for the water they encouraged me to give it a shot and then that encouragement turned into a flat out demand. So I nervously made my way to the fountain and got myself a drink.
The water from that fountain must have had a direct line to a little pond somewhere in the Colorado Rockies because it was the most delicious water I’ve ever had in my life. I was blown away. After the first few timid sips I put my whole mouth on the spout and started taking on water like a camel. It was so refreshing.
My partners called out to me again, “Hey Josh, get back here. There’s more.”
“THERE’S MORE?” I replied emphatically. I found it quite hard to believe that there could be anything better than the water fountain I had just made out with, but I was wrong. When I came back to the front of the shop I was met by an air compressor. The hose connected to the air compressor was fitted with a very thin, very long, copper tube. And then one of the fellas said, “Take your shirt off.”
Which was weird.
“Nah man. I’m good.” I said.
“No. Josh. Just take your shirt off.” They insisted.
Removing the shirt was a fairly difficult task because it was stuck to my body due to the immense amount perspiration I had just produced. But once I peeled it off, the air compressor was turned on and I was rewarded majestically. When you’ve sweated all day long and a nice breeze sweeps over you, it feels pretty good. When that breeze is a concentrated through a copper tube and is about 20 degrees cooler, It feels like God is breathing on you.
We didn’t stay in the shed for too long because we had to get back to our jobs, but right before we left I’ll never forget Matthew coming up to me and saying, “Hey man. You did a great job today! Really proud of you dude! We did it!”
That was the first and last time I ever heard Matthew tell a lie.
I’m a terrible runner. I was terribly slow. I couldn’t keep my footing. I fell down. I really made a mess of the whole run. But you know what? That’s kind of what life is like.
Part 6: Well Done
The New Testament has several instances where life is compared to a race or a long marathon that we have to run with the purpose of winning. But often times we get tangled up and stumble. We get slowed down. We barrel role down the side of a hill. We lose focus and we lose sight of what we’re doing. We get some hooch juice spilled on us. We grow weary. We long for the chance to quit and leave it all behind.
Hebrews 12: 1 & 2 says this:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Jesus already did this little hooch run called life. He’s better at it than we are. Like WAY better. His life became infinitely harder and way more dangerous than our lives, but verse 2 tells us that he completed the race because of the joy that was set before him.
Jesus knows what’s on the other side of this race. He knows the rewards that are coming. God is going to meet us at the end and give us the most refreshing water we’ve ever had. And when we meet Him face to face, He’ll look us in the eye, and just like Matthew said to me he’ll say, “Well done.”
Well done? God, are you serious? Is that some sort of joke? Are you saying I did a good job? Or is “well done” the way you like your sinners to be served up? God I don’t know if you paid attention, but I am pretty far from well done. I fell into the same sin over and over again. I stumbled on multiple occasions. I was a terrible child, parent, teacher, worker, etc. You really need to review the tape.
But that’s the great part about Jesus running the race. He accomplished the run that we couldn’t. He stepped in for our shortcomings. He picked up the loads we couldn’t carry. He perfected the race and authored our faith. When God looks at the race we’ve run he doesn’t see someone who stumbled every step of the way to the finish line. He sees a group of people who completed a journey with his son. And that’s pretty cool.
There are some days where it’s going to feel like a trash bag exploded on our back and we’re covered in hooch juice, but some days will be a breeze. The important thing to remember is that we are never alone. We have a partner who has done this and knows the struggles we will face. He sympathizes with us and picks us up in our brokenness. He is guiding us to the finish of a long marathon. He’s preparing us for hardships (Romans 5:3-5) and when we do stumble, we are reminded that we will rise again (Micah 7:8).
When we get there, he might even let us create the next platypus. But don’t quote me on that.