Spiders, Sighters and Shenanigans: Part I

Home Sweet Hut

The modern huts at Camp Perry are much nicer than the old ones. Photo by Dennis Santiago: Used with Permission

I didn’t realize it was a love shack.

The 18 by 18-foot hut held four metal bed frames complete with vinyl mattresses and the same number of matching lockers and white metal shelves. I had arrived earlier than my dad, seeking to have time alone to spend cleaning what would be my home for the foreseeable future.

Checkout is at 10 am on the day of your departure. New residents may check in no earlier than 2 pm. Absolutely nothing happens during those four hours. No cleaning staff, no sweeping, nothing. I would have thought that the pandemic might have changed this process — no such luck.

At least I didn’t stay in the old huts. I’d heard stories about them but didn’t fully believe them until I had seen them with my own eyes. No one stays in them now. A few remain for historic purposes on the other side of Camp Perry. They originally housed POW’s during World War II but over the years became temporary housing for National Match competitors. The rest were demolished and replaced with what is in comparison the height of luxury, complete with air conditioner. Those who stayed in the former accommodations smile, terrifying current competitors with tales of vermin and bugs. “We’d have to set off a bug bomb, leave for awhile, then come back and set up.”

When I took a peek in the decrepit structures before their death, I was appalled. The ceilings of some were falling in, roofing material and drywall scattered across the floor. The door didn’t quite shut entirely and cloth mattresses were spotted and stained. Spiderwebs encased the entire room and unidentifiable items in shades of black and brown decorated the interior. You couldn’t pay me to stay there, much less expect me to put money towards it, which people did. Staying on base is affordable, but not free.

On the outset, it really wasn’t bad. The mattresses were a bit sandy, likely from bare-footed kids exploring the shores of Lake Erie, but there was no trash to remove. (Not everyone brings sheets, though I can’t fathom why.) I donned a pair of disposable vinyl gloves, grabbed a container of Clorox wipes and a can of Lysol spray and got to work. My primary task was to sanitize the mattresses and the bedframes. Scrubbing the top of the mattress was difficult, granules of sand settling into the cushion’s curved edges. I did what I could, sprayed the top with Lysol, and tipped the mattress against the wall to check the bottom. When I reached the second mattress, I encountered our first denizen, a medium sized dark arachnid. I don’t mind daddy longlegs, but the others have to go. It had made its home on a corner of a frame adjacent to the mattress. I immediately decided I would use that space for storage, not for sleeping.

Making a mental note to dispatch the spider when it emerged again, I turned my attention to the third mattress. My process was the same, but when I flipped up the mattress, I was faced with small balls of spun thread. I started to wipe them away only to quickly realize that things were moving. I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me as the movement expanded to cover the entire underside of the mattress. I peered closer and realized that I had awoken a nest of just hatched baby spiders who were quickly dispersing in search of new territory. I shuddered, leaving the mattress propped up. Some of the creatures were in my gloved hands, crawling out of the Clorox wipe I had swept them into. I expertly turned the gloves inside out, trapping some of the spiders inside, and tossed it outside the door.

I don’t do spiders.

Chad Finch Competing in the National Matches

Stepping back into the sunlight, I noticed Chad Finch, a fellow competitor, walking by. Uncaring as to his evening plans, I immediately subjected him to a frantic and verbose account of the previous moment’s events.

In the high power service rifle community, Chad needs no introduction. He runs GarandThumb.com, produces stickers some might consider offensive, is skilled in meme generation and an expert at internet trolling. He’s also a friend and one of the funniest people I know. Given his background, I did not expect him to come to my rescue, returning to his hut for spray bottles of bleach and permethrin. He handed me a roll of paper towels. “I’ll spray the permethrin. You might want to have kids someday.” He told me laughingly as he soaked the offending mattress and other corners of the room. I was grateful, but also a bit concerned. Many of the infants had vanished and I know I didn’t kill them all.