Death For LunchMonday, June 29, 2009
Rebecca arrived on Saturday with her new Bikini and told me, “Let’s go swimming today. I want to use my new bathing suit.” I told her that it wasn’t possible as a friend was coming in the afternoon for a chat in the garden and I had already made the commitment. Rebecca insisted, “Can’t you do it just for me?” I explained that my friend was sort of doing me a favour so I could not just think of her.
I decided to tell her some truths.
Rebecca, the man who is coming is Charles Campbell. He used to be an editor at the Georgia Straight and he gave me tons of work when he was there. He left for the Vancouver Sun and started a new Thursday magazine called Queue. With Queue he created a page called Rear Window in which he had me in mind. On that page I would use a picture that I had taken in the past that might have some relevance to the present. I wrote many Rear Windows.
One day Charles came to the house with a special request. He wanted me to take his portrait. He had learned that he had a malignant tumour in his head and that the only way they could reach it was through a dangerous operation involving either accessing it through his palate or through one of his eyes. Not only was his life in danger but should he survive it he would either lose feeling in most of his mouth and or lose one of his eyes. There was finality in the portrait I took of Charles. This one is the only one where he smiled as nicely as he could and somehow even managed to avoid his trademark crooked smile. Jokingly (perhaps to control a fear anybody in his shoes would have had) he told me, “I want you to photograph me so I can remember myself when I was handsome. Who knows what I will look like after the operation."
Rebecca instantly forgot about her swimming and wanted to immediately look at the portraits. “What does he look like now?” She also reminded me that she had met Charles and knew his wife and daughter. I had forgotten that Rebeccca had met the Campbells at a party of a mutual friend of ours.
Charles arrived just in time for a simple lunch of baked beans with melted cheese on top. We had that and my iced tea. At the table Rebecca grilled Charles. At one point Charles mentioned how an aunt of his had had a similar operation and that she had not been as lucky as he had been. She had lost an eye and wore an eye patch. At the dinner table Charles explained with glee a trick his aunt plays on friends. She removes her eye patch and inserts a finger in her mouth and then makes it stick out from her empty eye socket. At that point I think that Charles made a new friend in Rebecca.
Someday I will have to explain to Rebecca that at least half of my extensive files of celebrity portraits is due in part to the golden age of the print media in Vancouver. In that golden age actors, directors, bands and singers from abroad came to Vancouver and granted interviews to promote what they did. Charles and his Georgia Straight would dispatch me to photograph them.
This is not something that I can ever forget nor can I ever thank enough the man who escaped death. I think that my friend John Lekich may have put it best when he may have sweetly told me, “I am sure Charles will make it. After all if he dies, who is going to give us work?”
Rebecca is urging me to photograph Charles again. She wants to make sure I get that indentation near his cheek close to the place where the surgeon peeled Charles’ face back. Luckily as I think back to Saturday’s table conversation I am thankful they were only beans.