JC on Kuta Beach, Bali, Indonesia with his women - the way I prefer to remember him.
Received a midnight call almost two weeks ago from Ray Ray in Honolulu. Even with the time difference it seemed like an odd time to call - especially since I was lying in bed awaiting dreamland. It wasn't Rays' usual cheery voice greeting me that night, his voice was ashen. I knew exactly why he was calling. I just didn't know who.
James Cachero was an old friend. And he is dead. Evidently killed in a car crash in San Diego. Details are spotty at best. He was 41 years old and a 1983 graduate of Farrington High School in Honolulu.
I met James when I first got into cigars back in 1994-1995. He was one of the regulars at the original Don Pablo Smoke Shop in Kona Street behind Ala Moana Shopping Center. Every afternoon around 3pm (sometimes all day) a group of us would gather for a cigar (or four) welcomed by Ray Ray's warm hospitality (he was the manager at the time).
It was a good group of guys. Gary F. a sea mariner who had captained ocean-going vessels and was then preparing for a lengthy legal battle representing himself against an insurance company (he would later win), Andy A. would breeze in a few times a week in his jacked up Jeep and with his assistant Juvy in tow. There was also John S., a brilliant intellect who preferred shorts, t-shirt and slippahs and whose family had some sort of pulse on Hawaii politics. Kamu K. swept into the scene by eating a lit lighter. BobEsc had just started his humanitarian work at MAC Cosmetics. Gene P. was a social worker who spent his mornings helping local people and his afternoons puffing on extremely large cigars. Joe K. was the crazy plaza security guard who hailed from Detroit and shared funny tales about Karmann Ghias and used porcelain toilets. Dale N. was the other manager who had a funky obsession for Filipino women and was obsessed about pipes. Ben M., a Honolulu police officer as handsome as Duke Kahanamoku, drove a bad-assed custom Harley. Frank O. shot photographs in the daytime while moonlighting at Alfred Dunhill and deejay at a local strip club.
It was a motley crew of great people - many of whom I still consider friends today. Mixed in with everyone was James - a strange if not lovable sort of Filipino who had a penchant for "The Colonies" dressed in caucasian sailing attire (is there anything other than caucasian sailing attire?), a taste for blondes, shot photographs for an unspecified photo agency and regaled us with dubious tales of adventures from around the world.
One was never sure on the authenticity of these adventures, but the stories were as entertaining as they were fascinating. Many times, the rest of us would wonder whether or not they were true. But unlike most made-up stories, Cachero's stories never changed: the details remained the same. One just never knew for sure if they were absolute fact or the work of a brilliant storyteller.
There was the story of James joining a crew in San Diego then sailing to Honolulu in something as audacious as four days (when the current record was seven). Or traveling the world to photograph the Gulf War when all we ever saw were photos shot in and around Honolulu. Or the time he flew back to Honolulu from Indonesia in the time it took me to fly from Baltimore. As the years would pass, James would take flight back into the world of photojournalism and every once in a while one would receive shrouded calls from places like Russia, Indonesia, or some other Eastern Bloc country under politico-social reform. One was never sure if he really was in Belarus or hanging out at Long's Drugs.
Whatever the reality, James was always a friend. He had crazy stories but he was always a good friend. I can't say that I was always as good a friend to him as he was to me.
In the late 1990s, Roy C. decided that he would put a little journalistic focus on James' stories by compiling what they called "The X Files" - a dossier of collected stories and sightings. At first, I found it humorous and interesting that there would now be a repository for all the great adventures. In time, the focus changed, becoming aggressive and more than a bit mean-spirited. I was no longer living in Honolulu so I didn't participate in the information gathering, but I didn't do anything to discourage The X Files, which probably makes me worse. Unlike me, Ray Ray would have nothing to do with The X Files. To him, it was disrespectful and disloyal to a good friend. Personally, I used the excuse that I lived away so I couldn't do anything about it. I could have. I should have. I just didn't. Which makes me more of a sonofabitch than the rest.
Unlike the FBI, the X Files came to light with Roy confronting James with the "evidence." I wasn't there but it couldn't have been good. Betrayed by those who he believed were his friends, James relocated to Southern California.
I didn't see James much since he moved to SoCal. Every once in a while, I would fly into L.A. and James would always make time to drive in from wherever he was and hang out - into late hours of the night. He introduced me to the crazy scene at Tommy Burger at Beverly and Rampart. We hung out in Westwood where he met my old friend Lisa G. He came down to the wilds of Inglewood to take my brother and I to Best Buy during a 12 hour stopover coming back from Manila.
As much as we may pretend that it's not true, our friends influence us. As individuals, we take what we like and incorporate that into our own profile. That was true for me with James. His profession in photography renewed my interest. His love for sailing encouraged me to explore that sport and find a love for it of my own. He helped me gain membership into the Waikiki Yacht Club (of which I am still a member today) and his taste for khakis, button downs and deck shoes fueled my own sartorial pursuits. With all my friends, there's something in them that I respect and admire, and it was true in my friendship with James.
I'd like to think that this transfer of passions worked both ways. While James had always been a staunch still photo person, I'd like to think that it was my work in the film business that helped encourage him to pursue that field. As the years would pass, James would call to tell me that he was finding more work in Hollywood, from small indie shoots to episodic television shows like Veronica Mars. The Seed worked with him on a couple indie shoots while living in L.A. and reported that James made some mistakes on the set, but as anyone who pushes their craft knows - when you're pushing your craft and learning new things, you are bound to make mistakes. Otherwise, you just never learn.
I hope he found happiness and love in his life. He only hinted that he was once married to a blonde. He never said much, but it didn't sound pleasant. In later years, he would imitate me by chasing a younger woman in Indonesia. Don't know whatever became of that but I hope he found someone because I think it's a bit sad to live a life worth living and have no one to share it with.
The last time I spoke to James was in November when he called me at work. I was working the bar at Spro Coffee and had to put him on hold a couple of times while I attended to customers. He was telling me about a recent shoot where they were forced to work 36 hours straight on 7th Heaven. It sounded crazy. It sounded dubious - especially for a union show. But it was grand and James always had a flair for the grand.
Back in 1996, James came out to Baltimore to spend Thanksgiving with the family. Back then, we had extended group gatherings of which I think James enjoyed immensely. Since it was close to Thanksgiving again, I told him that if he had the time to fly out he was always welcome to stay.
That was the last time I spoke with him. According to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin and the Honolulu Advertiser, James was killed on December 12, 2006 in San Diego, not long after we had spoken.
It's a weird thing when your friends pass before you. It's sad. You're glad it's not you. You hope that when your time comes, there will be people to remember you and allow the spirit of who you were live on. James is gone and that's a sad occasion. We'll never share a smoke together again. I'll never find out if the stories were real but he lives on and through Sybercouch where he has reposited a series of photos that quash many of the questions of The X Files.
There's always the thought that if you had the chance to see that person again, things would be different. If I had another chance to sit down with James, would anything be different? No, I don't think so. I can see it now: James, Ray Ray, John, Frank and myself sitting down with Cuban cigars at a resurrected Havana Cabana and nothing would be different. The stories would still be the same. We'd still sit around wondering how much of it was real. We'd wonder why James was so secretive about his passport.
But the truth is that no matter how many questions there may have been, we don't really want to know the truth. That's not what's important. What's important is our friendship together. Our camaraderie together. A friendship that has transcended time and distance and maintains a tight brotherhood regardless of what's happened through the years.
James' funeral services are being held right now as I finish writing this. 9:30am at St. John The Baptist Church in Kalihi and internment at Valley of the Temples. His family will be there - a family none of us has ever met, but hope to someday. All the glitz, glamour and wild storytelling has come down to these final moments - a verifiable event in a friend's life that has been anything but verifiable. I can't make it because of schedule and the cost of airfare ($1700), but the truth is: this is the one story that I don't want to believe is real.
Aloha e James.