Cameron's Culture

A youth sits in the passenger seat of a car, as it motors down a country road, going nowhere in particular. It’s one in the morning on a Saturday, and rain is pattering on the windshield. Its rhythm is bleeding into the car, competing against the sound system in a cacophonous symphony. As the driver drives, the youth looks out the window. Tonight, unlike other nights obscured by darkness and rain, the youth can actually see the country road passing by him – the stone walls and crooked mailboxes, the potholes like shallow ponds teaming with life and the moon’s gentle smirk. While gazing sleepy-eyed and empty, he begins to notice, quite subtly at first, that the dirt road is rapidly disappearing behind the car. He begins to half-appreciate that the unremarkable road and its hollow whimpers are receding with each turn of the tires, never to be there the same way again.

They turn right into a lot and park the car with unintended ferocity, jerking the two forward in their seats. For tonight, at least, like last night, these youths of excess and vacuity, of suffocation and alienation, fraught with contradiction and naïveté, can drive around aimlessly. For tonight, at least, like last night, with nowhere to go and nothing in store, they can search for quick thrills and small miracles at the picnic tables and checkout lines of Cameron’s Deli, the hang-out for dislocated youths like themselves.

They open the door and step out into the miasma of rain and cigarette smoke and semidarkness that lingers at the Cameron’s Deli parking lot late at night.

“Hey,” says a high school student with designer clothes and wild eyes and a cellphone at his ear.

“Hey, what’s up,” says the youth, extending his hand and grinning truthfully. With this ceremonial extension he is offering both assertion and admission; he’s affirming and conceding that, for tonight, like last night, he is his brother and that their promises of fraternity and togetherness are only as deep as the skin on their palms that they shakes with. His greetings are hybrids, like everything under the smirking moon. He is a hybrid. He is a male of suburban paradise, of picket-fences and golden retrievers, who is animated – paralyzed – by sordidness and deception. Paradoxically, like all adolescents, he is stuck at the cross-roads of juvenile sensibilities and mature responsibilities. He is not a kid, but he is not a grown-up either. And in this no-man’s-land between the innocence of childhood and the dreariness of adulthood, right off Route 35, is Cameron’s Deli, open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

He walks to the lighted windows of the deli, shining like a neon oasis in the middle of the suburban Sahara. To him and his compatriots, the Deli is a teaming forest of glitz and lights and softcore pornography in the middle of miles of nothingness. Absurd and disillusioned Arabian bandits meet to plot their next escapades. Fools and swindlers and wise men can try their hands. The youth opens the door and walks in. And Arabian thieves bustle about. They buy their specialty-sandwich rations, sharpen their scimitars and adjust their turbans. They make their emergency cellphone calls and network their necessary connections. They are brave crusaders awaiting a fight.

The youth grabs a can of Red Bull, waits on line, pays the cashier, and swaggers between the bandits with smokey-jackets and stubble beards, and opens the door. He leaves the Deli to walk into the surrounding camp of soldiers. They are perched on picnic tables and cars and fences. They are having clandestine conversations of pot-hookups and parties and beer and girls. He overheard two in front of him.

“So what are you doin’ tonight?” asked a backwards cap.

“I don’t know. I heard X is having people over,” responds the other backwards cap.

“Obscenity that. I hate that kid.”

“Yeah. Muck that” said the former, extending his hand and spitting on the grass ground in front of him. He stands up, adjusts his sagging pants, and moves on. The latter does the same.

For a moment, the youth watches the two, and cannot help but think of a ballet, only a late-night ballet; a ballet not quite of dancing, but of frantic feet shuffling. Yes, a ballet with twirls, the youth thinks, but more like spinning than twirling, spinning around and around, with a ferocious, dizzying laxity. How odd, he thinks, that we are always fetishizing on expectation, always moving, yet, night after night, we always seem to spin back to the wet picnic tables of the 24/7 Deli. Maybe it is more like a carnival ride than a ballet. Yes, he smiles to himself, one that spins you around and around until you get off and throw up into the helpless dirt. He pops the can of his Red Bull and takes a sip.

Amidst the bustle, a cop car pulls up. The policeman gets out, not with a stomp but with a click and a swoop, not with a bang but with a sigh. The whole night sighs. In a moment, there is a frantic movement of bodies and vodka-filled water bottles and car keys and swearwords. In moment, the Tunisian horsemen become drunken teenagers; the rebels become school children with SATs scores; and the crusaders who have fought valiantly against the hypocrisy of their surrounds become nothing but the scabs and skin lesions of the suburban mange they fight against.

The cop puts a chain between two posts that abut the entrance of the area where the Cameron’s Deli picnic tables sit, but the ragtag militia stays to hold the fort. Without their canteen, the drug dealers might have to find another pit stop for cheap dreams and broken promises.

“Let’s get out of here,” the youth says to his friend.

“Don’t be a coward,” his driver says. “This is all we mucking have and this obscenity cop obscenity wants to take it away.”

With no other option, the youth turns to walk home, thankful that the rain had stopped. Walking in the dark, at first, of course, he is afraid – of tripping over the pebbles beneath his feet, of agitating wild animals, of the stirring of the wind. However, as the Deli retreats from visibility step by step, the youth slowly becomes more familiar with the contours of the road he had raced vulgarly over many times in the past, and indeed just five minutes before. The parking lot becomes but a neon pinhole of the past and the natural moonlight takes its place. The youth knows eventually he will arrive home. Until then, in the darkness from dusk to dawn, with not a Cluckin’ Russian novelty sandwich in sight, he begins to listens only to the beating of his heart, the pattering of his footsteps and the quiet dance of the world around him.

As he walks away, retracing steps he had taken so carelessly in the past, he does not even have to turn around to know that Cameron’s Deli is gone for good.



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