Finding joy is in the cards for Bill Camp

December 11, 2006|By Kevin Cowherd | Kevin Cowherd,Sun Columnist

If he weren't such a nice guy, Bill Camp might be considered a weirdo with this thing he has for Christmas cards.

You know how fewer and fewer people bother sending Christmas cards because their lives are so busy, snail-mail is passe, it's easier to e-mail season's greetings into the gray-blue ether of your laptop, etc?

Apparently, Camp never got the memo about this trend.

Because he loves to send Christmas cards.

This year, in fact, Camp, a personal trainer at the Downtown Athletic Club who lives in Timonium, sent out 200 of them. He's been sending cards for 20 years, and every year his Christmas card list grows longer.

He mails all the cards - they cost about $6 a box, the postage was 78 bucks - at the same time, by the first week in December.

And he starts working on them in September, just about when the Orioles are officially eliminated from the AL East pennant race.

Why start so early?

Well, for one thing, Camp, 47, has the same obsession with Christmas cards that Mussolini had with trains: they have to get there on time.

The other thing is this: when you get a Christmas card from Bill Camp, you get more than a sappy little couplet from Hallmark and a hastily scrawled signature.

No, he always includes a personal message of two or three lines.

"No more than that," he says. "I don't want to bore anyone."

Yep, the idea of one of those long-winded family-update Christmas letters about Dad's promotion at the fence company, Mom's mysterious rash and Junior's first year in pre-kindergarten makes his eyes glaze over.

Then again, Camp is not exactly the wordy type, anyway.

This became particularly evident back in 1993, when his mother died of cancer in early December.

Naturally, all his Christmas cards were already signed, sealed and ready to be mailed. Yet he felt the need to let others know of his mom's passing.

So after some thought, he decided to scribble the news on the outside of each envelope, almost in a P.S.-guess-who's-not-with-us-anymore? way.

This would be considered an unusual method of passing on news of a death in the family only if you're anyone other than Bill Camp, who considers the timely sending of his Christmas cards more important than a lot of hooey about what's going on in his life.

In fact, Camp has more or less instructed his wife, Vicki, that if he himself were to kick the bucket before the cards were mailed, she should forget about doing something with the body until the cards are sent.

"You don't have to say `He died, he passed away, anything,'" he told Vicki. "Just put 'em in the mailbox."

As to exactly why Camp goes to all this trouble with Christmas cards year after year, that's easy.

"Friends have always meant a lot to me," he says. "And keeping friends, that's a real value to me.

"Christmas time is the perfect time to keep in touch with friends, [especially] people you haven't seen in a long time. ... One of the main reasons I do this is so I hear back from people, see how they're doing."

OK, that's another Bill Camp quirk about Christmas cards: If he sees you all the time, you don't get a card from him, period.

The staff at the DAC?

Zero chance of getting a card from the man.

In fact, the other day, when Mark Milani, one of his co-workers, ragged him about this, Camp smiled and gave him one of those hey-you-know-the-rules looks.

Whereas, if Camp doesn't run into you much, you'll get a Christmas card from him year after year.

That's why his old high school buddies, friends from his days at Washington College, former clients he helped train, even ex-girlfriends, remain on his card list forever.

"I even write to my wife's relatives," he says with a smile.

Did we mention he does this stuff with birthday cards, too?

We should probably mention that.

He showed me a weathered 1998 monthly planner, in which the birthdays of dozens of friends, relatives and longtime acquaintances are neatly noted.

He sends out about 120 birthday cards a year.

That's about 119 more than I send out.

With the 200 Christmas cards, that's a total of 320 cards Camp mailed in 2006.

"What a nut, right?" he says, laughing. "You think I have too much time on my hands."

No, I think it's great.

I think more people should do what Bill Camp does.

I wanted to ask him how he felt about Valentine cards.

But a little voice in my head said: Don't go there.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

To hear podcasts featuring Kevin Cowherd, go to baltimoresun.com/cowherd

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