I grabbed Carolyn’s hand as we stepped off the train. A nervous chill of anticipation skittered up my spine. People were rushing past us, anxious to get on with their morning, and we timidly tried to keep up. Someone spoke, and smiled, then spoke again and hurried off. The words meant nothing, but we smiled back just the same.
I was bristling with excitement. Gone were the miseries of the long, sleepless flight over. Gone were the first flashes of Milano, seen as a drowsy blur of television stations and newspaper reporters. Now, after a good night’s sleep on a long train ride, my senses were alive and tingling again and the whole feeling was like I had dozed off in Dallas and awakened here.
It was our first trip abroad and my first time out of the country except for three days in Nassau and a few hours in Juarez. So, maybe you can imagine. I mean, anywhere would’ve been terrific, but we weren’t just anywhere. We were in Rome!
The Eternal City. Born nine hundred years before Christ. Home of Cato, Nero, Constantine and the Caesars. A magical place where it is said, you can actually hear the breathing of the centuries; a state of mind for classical study and romantic dreams; a place that most of us only read about in books and see in movies. And here it was, coming at me as a splash of bright sunlight at the end of a crowded train terminal.
Rome. As in Italy.
We emerged into the Piazza del Cinquecento and it took our breaths away. Mouths agape, we stood for a long moment, feeling every bit like hillbillies come to town. Then suddenly my heart stopped.
There before me, across the piazza, ten thousand miles from home, forty feet wide on a huge billboard, was my small, scruffy notion of a dog conceived in the shower one morning back in Texas. Benamino! Our first movie was taking Rome by storm.
What an extraordinary feeling! The whole world seemed to grind to a stop. Everything froze in place for a moment as the realization sank in. We had been working incredibly hard, running, seemingly, at light speed for more than two years, raising money, writing script, shooting the picture, promoting, distributing. Always looking forward to the next problem, the next market, the next plateau; never really slowing down enough to look back at what had been accomplished. To fully realize, to absorb, to enjoy.
Somewhere behind us a woman shrieked. Carolyn and I spun around. A wave of humanity was surging, racing, screeching frantically toward the terminal entrance. I was certain that some terrible disaster had befallen us, until, out of the melee, I heard the jubilant yelp of a small child. “Benamino! Te amo!”
Benji and his trainer were just emerging into the piazza. I turned to Carolyn and she smiled. She must have known what I was feeling. Emotions were rushing at me like a river. I wanted to reach out and hug everybody in sight. Instead, I burst into tears. Carolyn slipped her arm around my waist and we turned back to the billboard and just stood there for a very long time.
Even today, I’m still in awe of Benji’s success. As I attempt to recapture and recount the adventure, I think I understand it, intellectually, but, emotionally, I find it all terribly hard to believe. Yet, here I am, the silly, sometimes sobbing proof that the old fashioned American dream is alive and well. The warranty that you can accomplish whatever you want to accomplish, no matter how impossible it might seem, if you want it bad enough to work hard enough to achieve it. To make the right choices and stick with them. Those choices I was taught early on, yet I’m still mystified that they work. But they do.
The trick, of course, is that it’s not always an easy road, or a short one. I thought I knew what I wanted to do with my life when I was eight years old. I was certain I knew by the time I was sixteen.
I was thirty‑four before I was doing it.
God Only Knows
by Joe Camp
“The possible’s slow fuse is lit by the imagination.”