Separated at Birth: My Friend Bennett.
(Note It took me a whole year to start this and another 7 years to finish it. Writing this is perhaps the single most important thing I have ever done. Please excuse my tardiness, as it was just too emotional to do all in one string.)
Bennett Bruce Camhi was Jewish of Syrian Jewish Parents who's Family immigrated here to America just as my Family migrated here from Italy. Bennett and his Brother Vernon and Sisters Missy and Syri were born in Brooklyn N.Y. and Moved to N.J. in grade school.
Bennett was actually Born a TWIN and his Twin Brother Died during birth. The Trauma of this mortal separation stayed with Bennett his whole Life. He had the company of his Brother for Nine Months and suddenly his Brother was no more and Bennett was deeply traumatized by it. His Family always told him, "Now-Now, Don't you fret...It is Gods will and Now all you have to do is Live life for Both of you. ...That's right Bennett, You must Live Life for Two!" He Did.
Though Bennett's older brother Vernon was as good a Brother as a man could have (and a Good friend to me as well), neither he or I were able to fill the gap created by his twin Brothers passing. Although we tried our best, neither of us could fill that void. Only for moments could we sit in his seat, but that was all.
I got to know Bennett in High School, when I noticed that he was being unfairly prejudiced against on the gymnastic team. There were some ass kissers there on the team that had their parents always knitting their nose hairs to the ass hairs of the coaches and so, they got to compete more often, (even though their athletic performance was inferior). Bennett was excellent on the parallel bars and so one day I went over and told him, " You're better than those jerk-offs. You should be the anchor man for the parallel bars.."
That Thursday in history class, he asked me, "Hay Man, were going to the VILLAGE this Friday. You wanna go with us?" Me Bennett and Joe took the Bus to Greenwich village and had a party time that was Fly as hell. Pitchers of beer at the Red Witch...Rubbing elbows with radicals at the Cafe Waa....Groovin to cutting edge Jamms at the Underground. Spying Political Celebs in Washington square park. We heard the very first "Rap" there by a Black Panther who "friend-ed us for our own protection".....LOL!
Wasted, we sang on the hour long Buss trip home....What a time we had! We did this every Friday from then on.
Bennett is the one who actually came out with the saying, "Just Do it!' This is a matter of fact! Long before it was an advertising slogan, Bennett was the one who said this and treated it like a like a holy nugget. It Was.
We went on Many adventures to many different places. Englishtown auction, where every thing was a "Dollar". Bennett bought his first German 35mm camera there for just one Dollar...Sweet. We went to Collingswood, New Egypt and other auctions but Englishtown was our standby.
Once we planned a springtime trip to Palisades park and we planned it all winter. We memorized the tune:
Palisades has the rides
palisades has the fun
Shows and dancing are free
and the parking so cheap
Palisades from coast to coast!
where a dime buys the most!
palisades amusement park
swings all day and after dark!
Ride the coaster, get cool
In the waves in the pool
You'll have Fun!
Well, we were on our way up (Skipping school) on a religious holiday (Cant remember which one but it was one of the ambiguous ones where Jewish or Catholic kids could fake an excuse) in my 403 Peugeot (With sunroof) and when the song came on the radio we sang along with it...leaning out the sunroof, waving to passing cars and hanging out the doors...then the Bomb fell, "Yes come to Palisades park on opening day, May 5th!"....We were a week early......The car slowly came to a stop on the side of the parkway. We were catatonic. Then, Bennett turned to me and said, "Well Vincent, this is your chance to learn how to drive in New York!"
We drove into the city under our own power for the first time and even made a film of it which I still have a copy of today. Its really a cool film and shows us at our very adolescent best.
Bennett and I teamed up to go to the Prom in my new Ford Fairlane Convertible and after we were to go to Palisades Park with our dates.
We got summer jobs that his MOM got for us and we worked in a Glass Bottle factory that instilled a sense of "Rhythm" in us the rest of our lives. (Actually we both went insane in that place..its true we went nuts!)
Ka-Ching-Ka-Ching-Ka-Ching-Ka-Ching-Ka-Ching-Ka-Ching-Ka-Ching-Ka-Ching..."Hay you guys wanna work overtime???"
Ka-Ching-Ka-Ching-Ka-Ching-Ka-Ching-Ka-Ching-Ka-Ching-Ka-Ching-Ka-Ching..."12 hours later "Hay you guys wanna work overtime?"
Ka-Ching-Ka-Ching-Ka-Ching-Ka-Ching-Ka-Ching-Ka-Ching-Ka-Ching-Ka-Ching..."and 12 hours later "Hay you guys wanna work overtime"....
We finally took a break and actually drove down to sea bright beach and passed out in the car... 7 hours later we drove back like Zombie dudes and worked 24 more hours. Now we had the money to spare for a kick-ass senior Prom!
Bennett saved some of that money (His Dad always said, "Make money and save!") and so when Woodstock came about, Bennett had some cash stashed.
Bennett had a friend named Jack who had inherited more than his share of death genes in terrible abundance and so was already very sick by senior year of high school. It was certain that Jack was going to Die soon. Bennett took him to Woodstock as a last adventure before he was too weak to go anywhere. I will never forget this act of compassion. I knew Jack and I liked him but I cant say I knew him enough to say we were friends. Bennett made sure that when Jack Died that he knew he had a real friend in this world, Bennett. Three Days of Peace and Music. One cant think of "Woodstock" without thinking of Bennett. He didnt just, "talk the talk", he "walked the walk". Bennett, and those that shared a kindred heart, were what "Woodstock" was all about.
Shortly thereafter Bennett started a Band Called, "Velvet Fog". Which was influenced by The Jimi Hendrix Experience and The Doors.
Though I wasn't in the band, I helped him Produce it. (I have been producing bands ever since.) Velvet Fog, With its Deep Drum and Bass overlapped by Searing Guitar and Ethereal Vocals was the foundation for what we now call "Alternative" music. I still have our Jamm sessions on tape and one in particular which used instruments made of common tools and waste paper baskets as percussion. To my knowledge we were the first to market a product like this. "Velvet Fog" was known in avaunt guard circles as "The Music of the Future". It was.
Keith was Bennett's lead guitarist and he would come around with his Band, "Dancer", to help Bennett with many joint efforts. They always worked well together, no matter what the project. Bennett had a way of keeping people, "in the loop", no matter how much time had passed. He often said to various people, "Hay kid, we don't have to send each other cards on holidays and whatnot....we go deeper than all that". That was part of his charm.
Unlike the Big Talkers and "I'm Gonna Do" Er's, When Bennett said he was going to do something, he did it. The Vice Principal of Raritan, A Brute named Hunchar finally got the ax for physically abusing a student. Bennett and I went to Times Square Printers and Had three papers printed up with headlines that read, "Hunchar The Bastard Leaves Raritan, 4-Q!"
During an assembly, Bennett Tacked the paper with its Huge Headline to the Bulletin Board near the Main Exit of the Auditorium. As the students left, a large Crowd gathered there and the "News" Spread like wildfire. LOL! Some poor fool was reading it aloud when a teacher came up to take it down and so the dude got pulled down to the principals office and though he had only read it, he got 2 weeks detention! Bennett and I never got caught. Ha! 4-Q!
After high school I went into Military service and Bennett entered the work force and so we saw each other infrequently for many years, always going to a flea market or Jazz club like Richards lounge, (The Hottest Jazz Club on the east coast), when I was on Leave. Bennett Bought a Costume shop and turned it into a money maker.
He Played the part of Bernardo in the play West side Story and made many connections in the theater world. I will never forget those eyes as Bernardo Died. Bennett had perfected the "thousand yard stare". I Made an 8mm Movie for him of the play and I still can see that stare. Bennett was a Great Actor, Dancer and Performer.
At work he was known as the Wheeler-Dealer and always had something interesting to sell out of his trunk. Once when it was raining, he sold Umbrellas that had no handles to his workmates for a 'Dollar' and he did this every time it rained..I think he had about 5 thousand of them that he got for a dime each. Someone remarked, "Hay Bennett, Next week, you gonna sell us the handles?.." Bennett replied, "You bet your ass!"
Starting slowly and carefully, He developed a network of entertainers and Performers that was unmatched in the tri-state area. He called it "Mr. B's Entertainment at the Costume Shop".
His clients were from the Low to the High. Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, Heroldo Rivera to name a few. Joe Belushi just walked in one day while I was there and rented the now famous Gorilla Outfit! There were many many more famous personalities that came to Bennett when they needed something in a hurry and Bennett always treated them fairly and with professionalism. Diane and The Kids were always there to keep things moving during the crunch every Halloween and wow some of the Costume designs they made!
Bennett provided all the entertainment for all the area "Celeb" Kids parties with a Character he invented called, Bo-Bo- the bear. I helped him once and it was a real Tripp! What Fun! I stood there and pressed the Play Button on the boom box, on Que. He had everyone Laughing till their ribs broke!
Bennett used his connections and Entertainment skills to raise more money for the Biafra relief fund than anyone else. He had a Telethon for the St. Gerard Guild with non-stop entertainment for 24 hours. He raise so much money that he was awarded the Pupal Medal for Humanitarian Service by Pope John Paul II (Which any Catholic would give his Left testicle to have). Keith Showed up with his band, "Dancer" and everyone in Bennett's stable of talent came forward and put their shoulders to the wheel. What a success!!!
Bennett and I were both Scouts and became Scoutmasters together and so put back into Scouting some of what we got out of it. We went on many camping trips and leadership development courses. These trips helped us in our own lives in many ways. Always a Leader, Bennett could be counted on to always do the right thing and not just try to do it but actually do it and get everyone there in one piece. Many times we saved people's lives who had fallen into some tragedy but kept it to our selves. After doing the Impossible, He would look at me with that Cheshire cat smile and say, "lets just keep this one to ourselves"..and slap 5 and move on to the next adventure.
Bennett was a supporter of the JFPO (Jews for the preservation of Firearms Ownership). He often said, "How many Jews do you think would have been thrown in the ovens if they all had met those bastards at the door with AK-47's?!" and this, "Forget?...What do you mean Forget?...6 million times we can't forget!" He was an advocate of the Individual right to own any firearm whatsoever and that that right was a legacy which no majority has the power to take away.
He owned a military type 12 gauge pistol grip shotgun and a Sterling Double action clone of the Walther PPk in 9mm Kurtz (380). We trained together often enough so that I know for a fact, Bennett knew how to use both with deadly efficiency and believed in the axiom: "When it comes to the safety and security of my family, it's Better to be judged by 12 then carried by six...." and "Ill Kill anyone who tries to hurt my Family." I agree. Bennett was not just a Great Entertainer and Businessman but a pioneer spirited homesteader. Charlton Heston would have approved.
Bennett loved Hell's Angel Movies and I guess we seen them all. Once He went to a costume party in high school as a "Hell's Angel", complete with Swastika medals. Everyone was Blown away by that one! Yes, he was Jewish and he was faithful to Judaism but he was also an actor and entertainer and within the context of that he felt that such things were appropriate, "oh that...That's just acting", He would say and he was right. Still, he never did it again. He was also a big fan of the movie, Easy Rider", and had a poster of it on his bedroom wall.
Once we actually got one of our Friends elected to Public office. Our Friend Bobby, was the most Loved Dude in Long Branch..the people really loved him and so we got him elected. We used to go to Atlantic city on a big Bus with like 50 people and get sooo wasted and have such a time.
Too bad it turned out badly and so by and by Bobby resigned from office but the teamwork that Bennett, His Brother Vernon and I put forward was an experience of a lifetime and proved to us forever what a sham the political process is. Bobby and Vernon Both live in Florida now.
When I told Bennett about Gasparilla He was into it in a Heartbeat. He came down as "Captain Morgan" and Stole the Show from the Git-Go! Everyone from the high to the low thought the whole 50.000 plus spectator event was all about BENNETT! Thinking that Bennett was the Main Gizzaine!
People in the inner circle of Tampa bay society invited us to posh Yacht parties and inside Hotel Buffets, after all HE was Capt Morgan! (Everyone forgot about Capt. Jose Gaspar...after all, who the hell was he?)
Bennett looked so good as Captain Morgan that the Company adopted his Design to replace their "Wharf Rat" looking Capt. Morgan of old. The Captain Morgan you see in all the Capt. Morgan Advertisements these DAY'S is Bennett! There is even a Postage stamp commemorating this! Bennett was such a sensation that he changed Gasparilla from a Tampa Tradition to an International one. Whatever the Gasparilla is now, it owes to Bennett, because until Bennett marched in that parade (And we had to crash the parade ...like Undercover agents to get in, LOL!) He brought the whole experience to a new level and set a high water mark that would be used as a new standard from which the Gasparilla has benefited from ever since!
Soon Bennett was making more and more trips to Fl to go on adventures with me. Seeing the "Real" Florida and not just the theme parks...Up river in a canoe and down river to the salt marshes, we did it all like Tarzan and the ape-shit men!
I took him to "Bubbas Shrimp and Gas" which had Karaoke on fri night....There was room for only about 5 people and it was packed with a few dozen!....The real Florida...Bennett had a real liking for anything Folkish or Backwater. Sure, he would see the tourist things...but after all was said and done, he would go off the beaten track to sample the unusual and rare....Like Bubbas Gas and Shrimp. He always said that the best food was always to be found in such places...because otherwise, the locals would not go there.
One Year when he came down to Florida he asked me to help him help his other friend take down the Christmas tree....I noticed that he was walking hunched over. HE said, "Its nothing...My hernia from High School must have opened up." I replied, "Well, you gonna wait till your guts spill out onto the floor or you gonna get it stitched back up?" He promised me that he would do it as soon as he got back. It wasn't his hernia, it was cancer.
That began a 3 year battle costing Bennett's benefactors over 3 million dollars in treatments and 2 bone marrow transplants. His Sister Missy was his courageous Donor.
We had a fund raiser in Red Bank for him on his Birthday and a ton of people showed up. It was great. What a Show! I prompted him with excuses so he wouldn't expect me to be there...so I bought a Chicano mask and Walked up to him....He stared at me and said, "Who are you?..I took off the mask and he was astonished. I won first place costume and have the trophy he gave me in a place of honor in my home. Written in the elegant Palmer method cursive script which is reminiscent if the Disney and Hanna Barberra style of writing: It says, "Most Outrageous Costume, My Best Friend."
Bennett actually won his battle against Cancer after his second Bone Marrow transplant. What Killed him was a thing that can kill any of us at any time, Pneumonia. He got it while in rehab and it Killed him with fierce velocity. I didn't have time to get there. The last message I got on my Phone from Bennett was, "Vincent, I might not make it..."
Bennett at 56 years Young passed through into the next realm on June 1, 2008. You cant say he died. People like Bennett don't die.
He had a traditional Jewish Funeral and it was the nicest funeral I have ever been to. The atrium of the Mausoleum that he was to be interred was Full of Light and portrayed the Saga of the Jewish Faith. The Rabbi was the same one He had in High School and was still as cool as he was back then. In Bennett's words after his Rabbi spoke at an assembly at Raritan High School, "I have the Coolest Rabbi there is...Listen to that ovation!!!" Bennett would have liked the service. It was all the right things at the right time in the right amount, His Forte. With his sister Missy at my side, I collapsed in front of the coffin...My Dear Friend.....
Bennett always said that you have to move on...Life is about forward motion and you cant always keep looking back. You have to Live Life and Live it to the fullest, "You eat life or Life eats you", he would say with a wry smile, while sharing a bowl of Matzo ball soup with me.
It will always suck to not have someone to call to laugh at inside jokes and innuendos or to plan great adventures Like Going to the Burning Man festival in a tricked out ambulance made into a "Water Mist Caribbean Paradise for people to chill out in" ...
He was into the "Bruce Lee thing",
And he was into it before anyone even knew who Bruce Lee was, save for a few people in California and Hong Kong. This was another connection we had in common.
"Take what is useful and move on..if you don't Dig it, then shit-can it...but keep moving forward." and when things got tough he had this simple strength of just putting one foot in front of the other in order to "keep on truck-in".
Using this simple philosophy he Invented things and created characters and built a Business and a Family and tried to keep everyone a friend. Yes, Bennett was unique..of a Kind...and the world, my world, will be a poorer place without him.
All the Nay Sayers have had 8 years to say all they want. Now I have my say and I am telling all the wannabees that if you think for a moment that you knew Bennett???, you were wrong! Only His Family Knew him as he really was and I hope, though to a lesser degree, myself.
I can prove what I am saying with these words (Not that I feel compelled to prove anything to the crowd) but I believe it is appropriate to let Bennett's family know that I know as well as they, that there was no Greater Love In Bennett's Heart than his love for his family.
He Loved His Wife Deeply and Fully. He Loved His Children with Insane Devotion. He Loved His Brother Vernon and His Sisters Missy and Seri. He Loved His Mom and His Dad and was Loved Back like only character's in the Movies Get loved.
All his plans and all his dreams were to provide for his family. I know this because when ever we ran out of dreams, that's all we talked about. We talked about THEM and Their Future.
Ladies, Sorry to have to clue you in, but Bennett had Love in his heart for only one Girl, His Wife, Diane. All you others were just dreaming that he would someday leave her for you. No Chance! There was no way he would ever leave Diane for the likes of you. Sure, all the Ladies Loved him, but he only Loved his Wife Back.
Don't you Girls mistake "Nice" and "Understanding" or "Supportive" or "Brotherly/Sisterly Love" for True LOVE.
Sure you can try to Diss him in your coy way with that "Woman Scorned" Complex you have developed or whatever, (now that he cannot defend himself)....But as Bennett would say, "Dream on Ladies, Dream on!".
Because of Bennett's positive nature and contagious spirit, lots of Ladies would come on to him. He always stressed to me, "In this business you got to keep it professional. Be nice, supportive and help them build their ego, but when it gets to where they get the idea that its going to get to be more, you got to back off without hurting their ego...otherwise they will hate you and that can blow up in your face and ruin all that you achieved. Some of them think they are "in love" with you and dream of a future that cant be. At that point, this entertainment business can be like an emotional minefield".
He used to tell me, "Vincent, I Keep telling these people that I'll never Leave my Wife and Children and they just keep hoping that I'll go with them and have a relationship outside the business! I want to just tell them all to go screw themselves but If I do it could have serious repercussions for the Business....You know, you gotta keep smiling and be nice to people and feed their dreams and on and on with the show!....But this smile of mine sometimes makes women think I want more, but I don't. I love Diane and my Kids and that's that! The Rest can all sit on a chili if they want a cheap thrill. (Insert Cheshire cat smile here)".
So, just forget it and chalk it up to wishful thinking. Bennett was just being Nice and supportive and admittedly, to most people that is called Love, but forget it kids, "Love" to Bennett was spelled "FAMILY" and you can take that to the Bank.
Bennett was known by many names to many people:
Benny, (Sometimes followed by, "and the Jets")
and Mr. "B", to name a few....
These names were always safe in the mouths of his friends and truly, he had many, many friends.
I am proud to have been considered one of them.
Every once in a while I may say something in a crowded store like, "Well that puts the Kibosh on it!" and someone deep in the crowd cracks that same Cheshire smile of Bennett's and makes me do a double take.....
Or "What a Schmuck!", and a voice behind me will laugh that Bennett Chuckle and cause me to spin around..... And so I know in some ways he is still with me and always will be. I will always miss him. I will do my best to Honor him by living for two now, and as Bennett would have wanted, with regard to my plans, my hopes and my dreams:
To "just Do it!"
Bennett, save your buddy a seat at the Circus, will you? I'll be there with you before anyone knows I'm here......and at least a half an hour before anyone knows I've Left.........(^>)
Yours Very Truly,
Your Best friend,