something straight. Phil Camp had not set out to become
a fraud, or, as it turned out, to prevent himself from perpetuating the fraud that he had become. That’s just what happened.
Man writes book to pay off ex-wife. Book is supposed to be a
spoof. World takes book seriously. Man’s life changes. Man under
whose name book was written, his life changes as well. Ex-wife paid off, but pissed.
A week shy of nine years and seven months ago, on August 10,
1994, Phil was standing at the bottom of Terminal A at Newark
Airport, filling out a lost luggage form. He had been on the road
for two weeks with the Mets, then Yankees, then Mets and, at thirty-six, was pretty sure he was about to become temporarily
obsolete. After two years of inert negotiations between players
and owners, Major League Baseball was seven days from its final
drop-dead work stoppage date, with little chance of resuming play
before next season. As the shell-shocked maintenance worker who
walked around the athletic fields at Phil’s college used to say, “No
game. Go home.”
And if Phil’s financially bulimic employer, Excelsior Publica-
tions, had its way, stay home. For the last six months, Excelsior had
been circling his desk, dropping subtlety-filleted reminders that
he’d better grab the twelve-weeks-with-pay/six-months-medical-
buyout package the newspaper was offering before it was snapped
up by someone with less of a past and more of a future.
Phil made it until the Tuesday after Labor Day before he took
the buyout. But it had been the kind of coincidence-laden three
weeks that happen to other people. Two days after he got home, he
did ten minutes on some syndicated radio show called Bob and Tom
and talked about everything other than baseball, prompting the
kind of big, raucous laughs from the hosts they normally bestowed
on sycophants. The day after that, some guy who called himself a
“book packager,” Wayne Beiliner, called and said, “If you ever have
an idea for a funny book, call me.” The day after that, Continental
called and asked if he’d be interested in hearing about his baggage.
“I know all about my baggage,” said Phil, “but I’m interested in
hearing about my luggage.” Ten yellow legal pad pages after that, he
phoned Wayne Beiliner. “I think I may have something,” he said.
When Phil told Wayne Beiliner the title, Where Can I Stow My
Baggage? the book packager shrieked, “You just made five thousand
dollars, pal!” By the time Wayne Beiliner finished reading the ten
pages of notes, Phil had made another five thousand dollars.
“How long will it take you to write fifty thousand words?”
Phil’s head did the math. His one-thousand-word baseball stories took about an hour. Fifty hours. Forty-hour workweek, but no need to bust his ass. . . .
“Take two months,” said Wayne Beiliner. “I have to sell this, then
get an illustrator.”
“You think you can sell this book in two months?”
The book packager packaged a good laugh. “No, pal,” he said, “get-
ting the illustrator takes two months. I’ll have this sold by Monday.”
That Tuesday, the ten-thousand-dollar check arrived by FedEx.
It sublet Phil’s checking account for the five business days needed
for clearing. In that time, he managed two phone calls to his ex-
wife, the former Trish Lamphiere, then Trish Camp, now Trish Lam-
phiere, that were about as civil as the green room at Jerry Springer.
The transcript from the first call still survives:
PHIL: Hi, Trish. It’s Phil.
TRISH: Yeah, what?
PHIL: I got laid off at the paper.
PHIL: But I have a proposition.
TRISH: Okay, let me sit down. Now, it’s going to sound like I’m
hanging up, but I’m really just pulling up a chair. (SFX:
Click, followed by dial tone.)
The second call went to completion. He offered Trish a one-time
buyout of ten-thousand dollars rather than pay the last twelve
months of an alimony agreement. It turned out to be a savings of
two grand for him.
“Fine,” she had supposedly said, “and sorry about hanging up.”
“You’re the only one who makes me act like that.”
“Yeah,” said Phil. “I know.”
Their marriage had lasted three years, which apparently, is as
long as it takes to convince the average woman that you’re not kid-
ding when you say you don’t want kids. Phil never imagined he
would have to bother getting persuasive, because during their four-
year courtship, he and Trish had often supped on the shared belief
that families were other people’s migraine.
But somewhere in between dancing with her little cousin at
their wedding reception and unwrapping the fifth Panasonic bread
maker, all of that changed for Trish. Throughout the first two years
of the marriage, whenever the subject would come up, Phil would
say, “Please don’t ask me to have children,” as if he contained both
sets of reproductive organs. Trish laughed, and figured him to be
merely gun-shy, and mostly ironic. No otherwise kind man would
deprive his wife such joy, would he? Especially one who often told
and retold such vivid stories of his parents rearing of him and his
older brother. Painfully hilarious tales of survival of the fits and
starts, but mostly fits. And unexaggerated. The older brother, Jimmy,
would stop rolling on the couch to weepingly corroborate every ep-
isode. Jimmy, who had two girls and a boy of his own and regretted
none. So why not? If Phil could recall and regale and laugh along,
why not take a shot at a scarless version of upbringing?
He couldn’t have meant it. How can a man say something like
Please don’t ask me to have children and mean it? But he did.
In the end, Year Three, when he was exhausted by the topic, Phil
would quote lines from two then-recent movies: (1) “I don’t be-
lieve in childhood,” (Nuts, 1987), and (2) “My sister loved New
York City because it had nothing to do with her childhood,” (The
Prince of Tides, 1991), which would be followed by Trish saying, “It
takes a real deep thinker to have Barbra Streisand as the principle
architect of his philosophy,” and then SFX: Door slam.