[Back to the finished essay.]
Date: Mon, 3 Oct 1999 21:57:00 +0400
To: (Recipient List Suppressed:;)
Hi, everybody. This one is long, and pretty heavy. You may want
to print it out & read it at a more convenient time.
I'm sending this out to everyone who knew Cameron R____ while
I was friends with him. I wrote about 75% of what follows in the small hours
of the morning in a hotel room in the Catskills two years ago, almost to
the hour as I type this - right after I got the call that he'd overdosed.
I wrote it because I needed to, because I wanted to say the
things that I felt like there was no one but me to say. I wasn't willing
to let him just go away, no funeral to grieve at, no eulogy, just everyone
else grimly nodding their heads as if it had been a foregone conclusion to
begin with, and me (I felt at the time) perhaps alone in wondering, how did
But, I never sent it. Instead, I added bits and pieces over
the time since then, although it is still largely what I wanted to say and
how I felt that night, and with him gone two years today - I can't believe
it - I figured, better late than never.
Some of you will disagree with bits of what follows, but I think
this is largely unimportant. This is a definite snapshot of my feelings in
that moment, intended from the start specifically for you. If there's anyone
who I left out, please don't forward it to them - let me know, and I'll send
it to them myself. This is personal, not intended for distribution.
Saturday, October 4, 1997
"On day 73 of my journey, I reached the near frontier of CamWorld. Donning
my pith helmet, I waded out into the tall grasses."
BETWEEN THE TIME I first met my friend Cameron, almost four years ago, and
the time he died, at 1 am yesterday morning, he had alienated the better
portion of the people I ever knew him to be acquainted with, as well as gotten
himself 86'ed out of almost every decent bar in the city of _________.
Cam was a larger than life character, a 6' 3" swaggering ball of destructive
energy who consistently unsettled and occasionally even scared almost anyone
who didn't know him well - especially when he'd been without sleep for about
two days and was ambulatory (if not exactly awake) only with the help of
the arbitrary combination of whatever chemicals he'd come across in his meanderings.
Such as he was at 1 am yesterday morning, when the last bartender who ever
poured him a drink led him out to the back patio of the last bar he ever
Cam was a prodigious drunk and a prodigious drug abuser. Most people
I knew saw his path through life as little more than a slow motion car crash,
and kept their distance from him, not wanting to be around when the wreckage
started flying. I was one of a few who believed there was something
more than that to Cam - I don't know, I may have been wrong. But since
the people who knew him as a friend were far fewer than those who were acquainted
with him solely as a spectacle, I wanted to talk about him here.
I remember a few months ago, I can't recall what movie it was, but a few
of us were at a midnight screening at the $2 theater - which is a big old
place downtown that shows 2nd run movies, a very cool theater. Cam had called
me earlier in the evening about getting together. Since nights with
Cameron usually involved getting blind drunk and spending too much money,
and I wasn't in that particular mood, I declined - obsequiously inviting
him along to the movie, if he cared to come, knowing inwardly that sitting
still in the dark for an hour and a half with attention focused was opposed
to everything Cam was about.
So me and five friends were sitting there in the theater, 20 or 30 minutes
into the movie, my friends (but not myself) bright eyed and giggly, having
sparked up a couple of hoovers right before the flick, when a voice rolls
through the darkness: "MICHAEL KIRBY."
Five stoned pairs of eyes snapped sideways at me, big as saucers.
"Cam!" I called out.
Five stoned pairs of eyes silently asked, "WHAT - ARE - YOU - DOING?"
And Cam appeared in the aisle, lumbered in front of, over and across five
stoned pairs of eyes, big as saucers, and myself, and then all 6'3" of him
swayed, tipped over and collapsed at once straight into the seat next to
me. The guy in the seat behind yelled, "AAOOWW!!", and jerked his foot
back from its position against the back of Cam's chair.
Cam turned to me calmly and said, "hey, dude" - then sat still in the dark,
with attention focused, for the remainder of the movie.
* * * * *
AFTER THE MOVIE, we walked over to the Cyclone Cafe - myself and Cam, and
my five friends, trailing at a cautious distance and with a wary eye. After
we put our name on the waiting list for a table, my friends fell into some
sort of stoned negotiations out front, and Cam suggested he and I wait in
I am at a bit of a loss to convey the character with which Cam the barfly
could conduct the ritual of ordering and drinking his liquor. "Drinking
on a professional level" was the phrase he always used. As in, "Cam, whatcha
doing tonight, man?" "Oh, not much... just drinking on a professional
At the bar, Cam cocked an eyebrow at the bartender and delivered a line:
"I'd like a Jack and Coke for myself, and a beer for my attorney here" (a
nod to Hunter S. Thompson, there; it was something we called each other constantly.)
Then, in quick succession:
1.) Bartender puts cocktail glass on bar, in front
of Cam, with ice;
2.) Bartender pours Jack Daniels into glass and
tops off with Coke;
3.) Bartender turns to get beer glass and beer from
4.) Bartender turns around again, places glass in
front of me and opens beer;
5.) Bartender pours beer to lip of my glass; and
6.) Cameron slams his empty cocktail glass on counter
and says to the bartender, "I'd like another Jack and Coke, please - and
one for my attorney here."
The second round came, Cam chugged down his second cocktail, and immediately
started eyeing mine - his silent way of saying I wasn't drinking it fast
enough - when we hadn't even been there long enough for me to get more than
three good draws off my FIRST drink. Just then, one of my friends stuck his
head in from the front and said that they had decided they didn't want to
eat there after all. I took 2 gulps from my beer, Cam knocked back the Jack
and Coke he'd ordered for me in one gulp, and we walked out. Cam eyed
me and said, "Mike - you're fired." To which I gave the stock reply - "yeah,
we'll see what happens next time you need quality legal representation."
Total time to arrive, drain three cocktails, make witty repartee, and leave:
less than two and a half minutes.
The above aside, what I really wanted to write about was what happened on
the walk home that night. It was a small incident, but for me it illustrates
who Cameron was - the sort of thing that really sums up what he was like to
Leaving the movie, Cam had told me he was cold sober. I didn't press him
for details, but if I had to guess I'd have said at that moment that "cold
sober" meant five or six beers and a tab of ecstasy. At any rate, as we walked
through Bellingham Center fairgrounds he was cogent and collected enough that
my friends, though still wary, had become at least comfortable enough to
walk side by side with us instead of keeping a safety buffer. The exit from
Bellingham Center was in sight when we passed a security guard, standing about
30 feet away.
Cam cheerfully called out, "Good evening officer! How are you tonight!" (my
friends' eyes opened wide again, fearing - rightly - that the element of
chaos was once more about to enter their lives.)
And the guard pleasantly called back: "I'm good. What are you up to?"
Cam again, as cheerfully as possible: "Oh, nothing much - we're just talking
about some cum-guzzling ho-bags."
Thirty feet away, the guard's face registered total incomprehension - not
of what the words meant, I think, so much as of the fact that they were said
at all. "WHAT??"
"Oh, I just said" - big smile here - "we're talking about some cum-guzzling
And the guard froze for a moment... then broke into a grin and chuckled.
"OK! Have a good night!" And we walked home.
A small incident, but it was vintage Cameron. Funny, chaotic, crude as hell,
a little scary, and, in a unique way, pretty charismatic. That's how I'm
always going to remember him.
* * * * *
LISTEN, I WANT TO TELL you the fundamental truth about Cam: He didn't have
a malicious bone in his body. Even those who wanted nothing to do with him
would concede that fundamentally, he was a good person. "I don't dislike
the guy, I just don't want him around" was a sentiment I heard more than
once (particularly from any friends who, say, owned or rented property.)
He was witty, ingenuous, and, in his own way, charming. He loved music, and
though very few people knew it, he was a quite passable guitarist - his playing
was unrefined, but he seemed to have a sensitive ear, and improvised with
Now, don't get me wrong. In addition to the arguably rational fear he inspired
in people simply by being 6'3", lumbering, pale as death, swaggering drunk
and clearly wired to the gills, it is a fact that chaos did follow Cam around.
No, it didn't just follow him around - he led it, on a leash. This was the
guy who pissed off both me and a friend on whose couch I was staying by pounding
on the door at 5 am, waking me up, to offer me some crank - and then justified
it by telling me, "Hey, man, I could not think of ANY BETTER thing to do
at five in the morning than some high quality methamphetamines!" This is
the guy who once showed up at my place and without knocking walked in on
me and my girlfriend, in flagrante delicto, then stared stupidly before shutting
the door (glazed over, I later found out, from over two days without sleep)
for just long enough to make her uncomfortable, and then, once she had dressed
and left, hit me up for a $30 loan.
I remember once he got into a drunken argument with some unwitting barfly,
over a topic which I can't recall but which somehow culminated in him standing
up in his seat and bellowing, "EXCUSE ME, SIR, I USE HEROIN - BOTH IN AND
OUTSIDE OF CHURCH!", scaring the hell out of rest of the otherwise quiet
bar. Even when he wasn't doing anything quite so memorable, Cameron
the barfly knew nothing of reason or moderation. Not content with just buying
you a drink, he'd line up 6 shots of whiskey in front of you - then, when
you had finished three of them, would line up 6 more.
Suffice it to say, nothing about Cam was discreet. But for all the chaos,
the thoughtlessness, and the occasional carnage he caused, Cam never intentionally
targeted the people around him. I believe it was all almost incidental -
not destruction aimed at those around him, so much as spillover into his
surroundings of destruction aimed primarily at himself.
The magnitude of Cameron's self-destructive habits was unbelievable, staggering.
In the period of time I lived with him, in the months after we first met,
he would frequently come home from a long night, stone drunk, late in the
morning - sometimes late in the afternoon. "Dude," he would say, before collapsing,
"I'm toast." I once watched him sit for 2 hours, in the small hours of the
morning, pale and quaking with coke-induced paranoia of imagined cops lurking
behind every corner; then he hopped into a cab at 5:45 am to make opening
call at his favorite bar. One night, several months ago, I left him
nodding out on heroin on a friend's couch, then later that same night got
a voicemail message from him saying he had just been up snorting some speed,
and then, when I called the next day, was told by his girlfriend that she
last saw him at 8 o'clock that morning dropping ecstasy. All this within
the span of 12 hours! Cam seemed philosophically opposed to stopping before
the money was all spent and the drugs were all used up - which in some cases
was long after the body had fatigued and the intellect dulled.
If any demons haunted Cameron, egged him on to his stratospheric heights of
excess, I never knew about them. In four years of friendship I never heard
him express a doubt or a fear. He never exhibited sadness, alienation or
frustration - just a colossal propensity for getting very, very fucked up.
Basically, he's left us all, his friends, without ever having given a hint
as to why he was so driven to do the things that killed him.
* * * * *
Cam'S BODY WAS FOUND doubled over at the bottom of a stairwell outside his
apartment building. In the four months previous he had been to the emergency
room twice that I am aware of, both times complaining about his heart or
chest, both times after doing street drugs.
He had been drinking at a bar adjacent to his building's property when he
started complaining to the bartender that he couldn't breathe. Paramedics
were called. Cam was led to the back patio by the bar staff, who, if things
went as they usually did with Cam, were scared by his huge frame and obviously
drug-fueled shiftlessness, and wanted first and foremost to get him the hell
away from the rest of the customers. I'm told he had been up for two days
on cocaine and booze.
That was the last time anyone ever spoke to Cam, so I can only guess as to
the reasons for what happened next. Perhaps it was panic. Unable to breathe,
he responded to primal fear with a primal thought - escape! - and dug at
the dirt under the back fence of the patio. Paranoia must have played a part,
some cocaine-induced fear of horrible consequences were he to remain where
he was or attempt to exit back through the bar. Either way, he burrowed under
the fence, came up into the parking lot of his building, stumbled to an exterior
stairwell, fell, doubled over, and died. I consider it a suicide.
He hasn't been gone long enough for me to miss him yet. Past experience has
taught me that that will come later, the first time something happens I know
he would appreciate, the first time I have something I want to tell him and
he won't be there to hear. Right now, I'm so fucking angry at him. I wish
he was around for one more day so I could wring his fucking neck.
Cam occasionally talked about going to maritime college in California, and
visiting me in San Francisco if I moved there. He wanted to own a bar someday.
Shortly before his death, he was offered a job at Boeing, and had landed
some high paying salvage work that earned him a couple of grand in a few
weeks. He had bought some new shoes and clothes. He was learning to make
sushi. I imagined that someday my attorney Cam and I would be 40 or 50, sitting
around somewhere laughing about the old days, amazed and jubilant at having
somehow survived them.
Ultimately, Cam completely betrayed the faith I placed in him. I defended
that son of a bitch to those who belittled him and stood by him as a friend
when I could. When he wasn't fucked up he was genial and funny, and a good
friend. When everyone else wrote him off as just a drunk drug fiend, a junkie,
and nothing more, I was there for the man buried deep underneath whom only
I believed was there - and whom I was sure with the support of a good friend
would eventually come to the surface so all could see his value as a person.
I've never been so fucking let down in my life.
I'd like to think that the drugs weren't what killed him, but were rather
a symptom of what killed him. But junkie is as junkie does - or as junkie
dies, right? I honestly don't even know. This bleak logic is an attempt to
impose sense on the senseless, and in the final analysis all that remains
is the simple fact that Cam both lived and died senselessly.
* * * * *
BACK IN THE SUMMER OF '95, Cameron invited me to spend a week with his family
at their timeshare in Port Aransas, Texas, right on the gulf of Mexico. We
spent a week sportfishing and drinking Shiner Bock beer, and I got to see
Cameron in the unusual context of his family - not Cameron the sketchy late-night
caller or Cameron the swaggering barfly, but Cameron the brother and son. A
pretty conventional bunch, Cam stuck out like a sore thumb but somehow also
fit right in.
Now, when the whole clan got together to fry up the day's catch, it was as
loud and noisy a bunch as you'd imagine family of Texans could be, largely
due for once not to Cameron but to four or five screaming kids which his older
sister had brought in tow. There were two or three of her own, plus like
one friend each, all between the ages of six and eleven, and hellbent on
disrupting whatever reserves of peace or sanity the poor woman could hope
to muster. So, you'd try to have a conversation with her, and she was like:
"Well, we - KEVIN, STOP PULLING ON THE DRAPES! - anyway, like I was saying,
we were - JANEY! DON'T JUMP ON THE COUCH! - anyway..." and so on and so forth.
So, Cameron leaves, saying he's gonna get some ice for the drinks. And he's
gone, like, 45 minutes... and we're wondering, "Where's Cam?" And I'm thinking
to myself, Oh, no, Cam, what are you doing this time?
The kids are getting hungry, and dinner's not quite ready yet, so they're
running around and yelling, there's a Jim Carrey movie on the television,
mom's getting exasperated... when back in the door comes Cameron. He's holding
a brown paper bag. And he says, over the maelstrom, "Hey, Sis," - now he's
got the attention of the whole room - "when I saw your trouble with the kids,
I knew exactly what the situation called for."
Everyone quiets down... Cam calls the kids over. Then he opens the bag, and
with a huge grin on his face, hands each of the kids a watergun.
That's my attorney. Rest in peace, counselor.