1. Just Me and Buzz
It’s Sunday evening with a yellow sky and me and Buzz are standing underneath this concrete roof. It’s got no walls. So you’re asking how does it stay up? That’s just what I said to Buzz: it’s so freekin’ crazy.
We seriously need some protection as the rain is hurting. It hits the floor then bounces on to our legs. Man that hurts.
I’ve just had one of those days that comes without warning, the type where for the shortest of short times, you don’t feel down or depressed or nothing like that. I’m like that roof being held up by something I can’t see; again, freekin' crazy.
I love those days but they never make an appointment, so usually I ain’t ready for them; which is a pity, ‘cause if I knew it was coming I’d be standing waiting in some real nice room.
Buzz is talking but I ain’t listening, I nod and smile but for all I know he could be telling me that my bits are on fire. I just don’t listen to anyone but I tell you this, if they don’t listen to me then I get real pissed. You’re saying ‘hey Jay boy, that ain’t fair, one rule for you and another for Buzz’. To be honest with you I can’t really argue that point, it’s like, I was made this way – real selfish like.
I can smell some kind-a meat grilling just floating in on the air and I feel the saliva in my mouth dancing the cha-cha. It’s been three days since we last ate, but we ain’t complaining, no sireee ‘cause up until then, me and Buzz have been the luckiest sonofabitches this side of heaven.
You get sweet patches, it’s in the contract when you’re sliding thru’ that hole of your mama’s. It says sometimes your life is gonna stink and sometimes your life is going smell sweet as…well you decide. I ain’t deciding what is sweet to one man’s nose as he might just say ‘Jay boy, that ain’t what gets me shaking’ and I’d have to agree with him. Ain’t no man gonna tell me what makes me shake.
But if I ran up that hill over there and looked down on my life, well I guess I’d have to say that, all in all, I have had more good times than bad – and that’s the god’s honest truth. May you strike Buzz down if I’m lying.
The other thing I’m thinking is that all you need in this life is one good friend and you don’t need no others – hell, they all end up being a poorer shade of your one friend anyhow. Buzz would die for me - now don’t get me wrong, I ain’t exactly put that to the test but I would say on balance that if it was me or him, he’d volunteer.
Which makes him kind-a stupid, and you’d be right, because when all is said and done, the best kind-a friend is a stupid one.
I’m gonna stop here but I promise to write soon. It’s just that Buzz is trying to set himself alight.
I didn’t think he’d do it, I kid you not, and hell if that ain’t ten bucks worth I owe him.
Buzz’s pappy left home only a day or two before Buzz’s fifth birthday and if I can re-call all that way back, his pappy told folks he was real ashamed that he couldn’t support his family and then disappeared to Tijuana with a flamenco dancer.
Somehow I don’t think it was his family he wanted to give his support to.
The day he left, me and Buzz were fishin’ down by Pastor’s Creek which sits next to the Big River which flows all the way to the coast. We always talked of taking a raft to the sea but like most things we talk about, it never did happen; least ways not yet.
Anyhoo I’m shootin’ off here - so on the day that his pappy left, Buzz asked me where the tide went, as it was way out on this side of the Big River.
Me being me, told Buzz that it went to the other side.
I explained to Buzz that when it was low tide on this side it was high tide on the other. He took my word without question. He just gave one of those – that seems right to me – nods and went on with his fishin’; not another care or another word - that’s why I love Buzz like a brother.
Now I ain’t stupid, not like Buzz and I knows the real god’s honest may I spit on your hand and hope to die truth - just like my grandmama told me. She said there’s a big hole under the river where the water runs through to the other side of the world – kind-a like that sand in an egg-timer – like the one our teacher with the bad teeth from England showed us once.
When all the river water goes through their holes, the world turns upside down and it becomes night for some and day for others. Then the water comes back down the holes and we turn over again. If that ain’t the simplest explanation, then I don’t know what is.
My grandmama always had a big smile on her face when she told me that one. I guess I’ll tell Buzz the truth one of these days.
Buzz’s pappy never did head back up this way, but I did hear that the flamenco dancer once drove through town in a big red Cadillac – although this town is always full of stories like that.
You just ain’t sure what to believe.
Buzz always wanted to be a movie star and so from a real young age, he got to practising. Not with anything sensible like acting, that would have been too clever, no – he got practising with signing his autograph.
“You got to start somewhere” was what he told me.
When people on Main Street saw Buzz coming their way they used to cross over just to avoid him. Buzz put it down to folks being overwhelmed with his natural good looks.
If ya didn’t avoid him, before you knew it, Buzz would be staring into your face and asking if you wanted his autograph. Everyone and I mean everyone in town, had several copies of Buzz’s signature.
I remember seeing the minister walking to church one Sunday morning with Buzz’s writing on that white bit of the collar they wear. How Buzz got it there, God only knows (and he probably does).
“I’m a good looking kid and if they don’t want me to act in their movies, then they don’t know what they’re missing.”
One Saturday Buzz decided he’d do just that – show them what they were missing, that is. That weekend the weather was real toasting and Buzz got me to borrow (borrow without askin’) my granddaddy’s movie camera.
“I kinda see myself as a cowboy, don’t ya think?” I just nodded, hell it was best to just go along with anything Buzz said.
I ain’t sure where Buzz got the gun from, but I do remember a story a while back about Buzz’s uncle Joshua who was thrown in jail for holding up a burger joint. Somehow the store owner convinced his uncle Joshua to take some French fries and a soda rather than the contents of the money drawer. Still, he went to jail all the same. I don’t remember any gun being used but I guess that’s where Buzz got it.
Buzz wanted me to be the baddy and the plan was for me to walk down Main Street and pretend to call him out; cussing and saying he was a coward. Then Buzz would come out of the saloon (it was really Mrs Bat’s Craft Shop) and challenge me to a shoot out in the street.
I was the one that was to get shot; Buzz felt that a man about to make his mark in the movies shouldn’t take the bullet.
I guess you should really check if a gun is loaded or not.
I’m just saying, as it would have saved a lot of trouble. I’ve never seen a grown man being shot in the bee-hind before but Samuel Brooks hollered and screamed like the world was coming to an end. It was only a bullet in the butt, what was the big problem?
Mrs Brooks wanted to hang Buzz right there and then, the way they did with her Daddy years back. I guess two people don’t make a lynch mob, but it scared the hell out of me all the same.
Buzz was hauled in front of Judge Pickering and folks were telling me that Buzz would probably get the electric chair or something. At the time (I was young then) I thought giving someone an electric chair was a real strange thing to do. Where would ya keep it?
Anyway a lot of people were saying that Buzz came from a real bad family, didn’t he have an uncle who’d stolen diamonds?
Funny, how French fries get exaggerated like that.
Anyways, I had filmed the whole thing and we were allowed to show it in court. The judge said it was okay to show a movie. Some folks brought in popcorn. From the movie, you could see that as Buzz was pulling the trigger, he shut his eyes and didn’t really mean to hit anyone. At the end of the movie some of Buzz’s family started clapping – so Buzz got up and took a bow. Which I have to say was pretty cool. Buzz started waving, movie star like, to the folks upstairs in the gallery.
As I left the courthouse that day, I saw Buzz up at the bench giving Judge Pickering his autograph.
One night, me and Buzz were lying out back in his mama’s yard just hanging. We wanted to go hiking across the top of Yellow Ridge but his mama was having none of it. Since Buzz’s pappy had gone, she was feared people coming to her house and stealing things; to be honest with you, his mama had nothing worth stealing.
So there we were looking at the stars, we must have been about five years old and right there and then I convinced my friend that the fireflies were little people and the lights were their little city. I kind-a guessed back then that Buzz wasn’t gonna be no Einstein.
Now Buzz would tell you that he’s a gnat’s wing taller than me but he ain’t telling the truth. All thru’ schooling he was always the small one - I guess he thought back to the fireflies and was hoping that he wasn’t the smallest thing on this here planet.
Nope, between you and me and the kitchen stove, I was always the first between me and Buzz to feel the rain, I swear on a stack of bibles that’s true.
Then one day he grew more than me and I was kind-a suspicious until I check and see he’s been messin’ with his boots, stuffin’ them with old socks so he looks taller.
In his naked feet he still ain’t bigger than a grasshopper – I tell ya he could look one right in the eye.
I swear that boy has an inferiority complex, at least ways that’s what Stevie (the cleverest kid in school) told me. Not too sure what it means.
One day Buzz says to me ‘Jay, ain’t it time we headed over to Duchess County a spell’ and of course I asked him if that was where all the short kids went these days.
He said nothing until his fist hit my face. He was that quick that I didn’t see nothin’ till it was right there on the end of my nose - which was now as flat as Corry Mitchin’s chest.
Of course I ain’t for hittin’ my best friend, on account that he’s so stupid – no sir, so I did what anyone would do, I threw his boots into the river. Even the Sunday preacher would have said I had a right.
No man should put a fist to his best friend’s nose.
Buzz keeps saying that on account of his good looks – only his mama told him that – that maybe we should think of headin’ out west to California.
I drag him to the old barber shop to show him on the Civil War map that hangs on the wall there, how far it is.
Buzz says, ‘it can’t be more than 11 or 12 inches at most’ and that wasn’t too far - from where he was standing. Can you believe my best friend, just how stupid he is?
So the upshot is, me and Buzz are heading out west just as soon as he finds another pair of boots.
Guess he’s scared he might get beaten up by the grasshoppers on the way there.
When Buzz was about ten years old, he stole my Daddy’s car.
One minute he was askin’ me where the keys were hangin’ and the next, he’s starting the engine up. If my name ain’t Jay then call me a liar ‘cause I swear that he just started her up and took off. He didn’t look back.
I ran after him and just as he turned the corner, I jumped in the back with my legs all flappin’ in the air and my head stuck under the seat.
“You okay?” Shouts Buzz
“I think so” but I have to be honest with you, the blood was running to my head so bad, I thought my eyes were going to pop out. I really did.
Then he slammed the brakes on and I nearly went shooting out the side of the car. I ain’t lying, I mean as if I would do that.
When I sat in the front, Buzz stuck two pieces of paper up my nose to stop the bleeding and that seemed to do the trick. That was when he told me of his idea. Seems, I had been mighty hard on Buzz judging him like I did, he wasn’t stealin’ the car. No sir, what was happenin’ was that me and him were going to see some of the world. I mean, did I think he was stupid or somethin’?
“Nah, I ton’t tink you toopid.“ With the paper up my nose I was talking all funny like.
Buzz reckoned that ten years of age was just about the right time for a boy to ripen into a man and make something of himself. So Buzz just hit that gas tap and we flew outta town. Now you know what I think of Buzz, he really is as stupid as the day is long but when it comes to cars, well I guess a man has to have one thing he’s good at. Well two, if you count the fact that Buzz says he’s good at lookin’ good as well.
You know full well that Buzz is always claimin’ to be taller than me even though he ain’t.
Well, although Buzz could stop the car, or make it go quicker, he could only do one or the other on account of his legs not really reaching the pedals properly.
“You’re goin’ fatter.” I was hollering at him.
“Stop goin’ so fat.”
I will tell you here and now and I may I be turned into a toad, if I’m lying. I wasn’t scared, honest injuns, I wasn’t. I just didn’t want my Daddy’s car all crashed.
I don’t know if Buzz’s feet were stuck but that car wasn’t goin’ to halt in a month of Sundays.
“Can’t you top it?”
Seems that was an impossibility and we shot through Dead Man’s Creek in the blink of an eye. We barely made it around the bend into Schummann’s Road when Buzz kinda lost control and the car flew over the grass and into the Park where the Daughters of the Revolution were holding their weekly meet.
When those ladies saw Buzz headin’ straight for them, they all dived into bushes and two even ended up in the creek.
“Tolly” I shouted back at them but I don’t think it did any good ‘cause they were real mad.
At the far end of the Park is Sad Sadie’s Sarsaparilla Drinking Emporium. It’s real popular with the kids when they just want to hang out.
“Top. Top, you gonna hat the tore”
“Get ready Bud, I think we might just hit the store” said Buzz.
We didn’t just hit it - we went through it taking with us every flavor of ice cream that you could imagin’.
Sad Sadie dived off to the left to avoid being squashed in the crushed nuts drawer.
“Tolly.” I shouted but I don’t think she was listenin’.
Then we hit the fountain and that was when we came to a stop.
As the cops were taking Buzz away, he just hollered back at me “We’re men, Jay.”
I guess we were.
When my father came to collect us from the police station, the sarsaparilla was still runnin’ down my nose.
The first time that me and Buzz attempted to fly, Buzz broke his arm in two places: in the yard and on the driveway. Yeh, Buzz didn’t think that joke was funny either. Now you’re going back to read it again in case you missed something ‘cause you didn’t think it was so funny.
The truth of the matter is that Buzz’s arm was good and busted all because he tried to fly from the roof of my house to the roof of Mister Huckerby’s.
Mister H was the man who ate children or so the story went. We’d tried to have a look in his windows but he always kept all his curtains closed except for the attic windows and they were too high to get at, unless you got on to his roof.
“I know what I’ll do, I’ll fly” was Buzz’s suggestion, with a real proud look on his face. He had thought of it all by himself.
“You’ll fly to the top of Mister H’s house?”
“What you gonna use, a jet pack?”
“Nope, I’ve already thought of this. I’ll find a place that’s higher than the Child-eater’s and I glide over and land on his roof.”
If Buzz really thought about this all by himself then I’m sure the world is coming to an end or he ain’t tellin’ the whole truth. He’s probably seen the whole thing on Scooby Doo or something.
There never was any proof that Mister H was actually eating any kids on account that no one had disappeared or anything but that didn’t stop the stories. You know how it is? You get the rep for eating kids and it just doesn’t go away. I mean Buzz has got a rep for being really stupid but I have to tell you, he worked really hard at that rep and deserves it.
I’m making this all sound as if Buzz had come up with an idea that was as reliable as the day is long. To be honest he had had several other really bad ideas. Last Easter, he tried to climb up the pipes to Mister H’s roof but there was a bird’s nest about three quarter ways up and those little kiddy birds started peckin’ at Buzz’s face. You know Buzz hates anyone touchin’ his face so he tried to shoo them away and that’s when he let go. Luckily he fell into a bush and didn’t do any real damage although the pipe was hanging at a weird angle.
Around June time, Buzz tried to lasso a rope around one of Mister H’s chimneys. He got the rope on to one of the corner ones - the kind that crash to the ground real hard when you pull on them, especially with a boy and a rope hanging off them.
You could say Buzz escaped with his life, which is more than can be said for Mister Huckerby’s pride and joy, his car. It was all smashed up. I think he thinks that the street was hit with a tornado that day.
I guess I never really asked Buzz until just now what he was going to do when he landed on the roof. Was he gonna rescue the kids? Or what?
“I’m gonna look in that attic window.”
Buzz strapped a kite to each arm and he reckoned this was gonna let him glide from our roof and across the street.
“Even if you do make his roof Buzz, how are you gonna get down?”
Ain’t it just dandy how the world and even the laws of physics belong to the really stupid?
“Fine” I said, but by which I meant so many other things.
Buzz wanted me to stand at the front of my house when he did eventually jump. I’ve no idea what he expected me to do – catch him?
“You can help me...” he shouted.
“Navigate?” I shouted back.
“Give me directions” he shouted.
Then Buzz stood at the edge of the roof and started flappin’ his arms and I tell you, I nearly let some pee out, I laughed so hard. He just looked completely stupid. Like a bird that had its behind set alight.
He counted down and shouted that I should count with him.
“10,9,8....” He was still flappin’ and I was still keeping my legs crossed in case I pee’d again.
Then we got to zero and he jumped and what do ya know? He kinda glided, not as far as Mister H’s roof but to the tree in front of his house. That was where Buzz got stuck until we called the fire engine folks over at Toolaville. I think some of them tried to stop from laughing as well. I could see tears running down the Chief’s face.
It took us about 3 hours to free him and his wings and he was fine - surprisingly.
As for the broken arm, it was as he crossed the street and into my driveway that he stood on the skateboard and that’s when it happened. He broke his arm on the drive way, got up and then stood on the skateboard again and broke his arm again in my yard.
I swear to the almighty I had to run all the way to the toilet as I nearly pee’d myself again, what with all that laughin’.
I remember the first time that Buzz fell in love. It was with a pretty girl called Sally Watson. Buzz had just hit thirteen years of age and his hormones were fit to be tied. I mean those things were running around his body and making him feel all sorts of things – good and bad.
Sally Watson and her family had blown in from Minnesota the previous month and had caused ructions all along Main Street, one way and another.
Her father had come to our little part of the world to ‘help his career’ - apparently he was a banker or something. Sally’s mother was the kind of woman who’d step on you to get somewhere else – I don’t mean to talk unkindly of the woman but she was real mean and ambitious. So Buzz hanging about their door wasn’t the kind of thing they were looking for. I reckon if Mister Watson had got it into his head to buy a gun then Buzz would be picking the pellets out of his bee-hind. I kid you not.
“I have just seen the most beautiful girl in the world,” was what he said that Wednesday.
“She’s a vision,” said Buzz. Let me tell you with a hand on my heart that Buzz never, ever said things like that before the hormones went crazy like.
Buzz shrugged his shoulders, ate a couple of my mom’s cookies and then remembered he was in love and a gave out a huge sigh.
“I am in love,” he said after lying down on my sofa.
“I hope it ain’t catchin’,” I said, not wanting to have to lie on people’s sofas or anythin’.
“She’s an angel.”
“Who?” I said again, remembering that he hadn’t told me nothin’.
“That new girl, the one whose family have moved into number seventeen, the house at the top of the hill, the one nearest Heaven,” he said. I kid you not, that’s what he said. Buzz, newly turned thirteen and he’s talking like....well a crazy kid.
I asked him if he had swallowed somethin’ real bad and Buzz said that it was just the breath of love. My stomach nearly dumped my breakfast on the sofa beside Buzz ‘cause that kind of talk makes a man feel kinda sick. I kid you not.
I left Buzz on the sofa to get better and went and played Cowboys and Injuns with the Hardy Twins who were only twelve and immune from love.
The next day I was walking to the Harper's place, up on Indian Ridge and I spots Buzz sitting outside the Watson's house, doing nothing else but looking at their windows with his hands under his chin and sighing. No idea why he kept sighing but he seemed to like it.
“You okay?” I asked.
He just nodded his head and wouldn’t turn to look at me, he just kept on looking at the house.
“She’s in there. My angel,” said Buzz.
It was then that Mister Watson stormed out the house and came up to me, real angry like.
“Are you related to this lunatic?” Mister Watson screamed, putting his face so close to mine that I could see the hairs up his nose.
“No sir, he’s my best friend in the whole world.”
“Do you know that friend of yours has been sitting outside our house all night,” said Mister Watson.
“I did not sir, but surely he ain’t causing trouble?” I said.
“You’d think? At least not until your lunatic friend started singing at 3 in the morning, at the top of his voice. What have you got to say to that?” Man was he angry.
I said that I didn’t know that Buzz could sing and that was when Mister Watson started chasin’ me down the hill. That man could run fast when he was angry.
The following morning I just happen to be looking out of my bedroom window getting ready for church when I saw Buzz getting chased up Main Street by Mister Watson in his Sunday best. Mister Watson that is, Buzz didn’t have a Sunday best.
I reckon the path of true love ain’t that easy as that English guy said, or maybe it was the Bible, I ain’t too sure.
I didn’t really see Buzz over the next two weeks, except when he was being chased by Mister Watson. I hung out with the rest of the town’s kids who were all safe from this love thing.
I remember that warm Saturday evening down by the stream, I saw Buzz sitting under the large Southern Magnolia. I thought he was laughin’ but he wasn’t, as I got closer I sees that he was cryin’ real hard.
“She loves another.”
“Sally Watson. She says she loves Jesus and she ain’t got time for me,” said Buzz, who was real heartbroken.
“What you gonna do?” I asked.
And he told me that he hadn’t a darned clue what he was going to do as there was no way he could compete with Jesus.
I guess he got that one right. The next day he came around to my place to eat all our food- like he usually did but he looked a darned sight happier.
I asked him if he had decided what to do about Sally Watson and he said:
When me and Buzz were about 15 years old, Buzz turned to me one day and told me, straight in the eye like, that he had ‘an itchen’ for a hitchen’.
“Let’s hitch right across the country to... well, the end,” said Buzz not sure where the end of the country was.
“Then what?” I asked just to see what he’d say. “Why then we’ll come back again, groovy boy.”
The problem was that Buzz had started reading books, comics mostly, but there was one book in particular that he’d taken to - a book about being out on the road and discovering the real old tracks of this great country and it kind-a hit a nerve with old Buzz.
He started wearing a beret and calling everything and everyone ‘groovy’, something Mrs Mitchell, our teacher, didn’t take too kindly.
“Shakespeare isn’t groovy, Buzz. Now sit down and take that stupid hat off.”
No one could tell Buzz that Shakespeare wasn’t one of the grooviest beat-nicks to come out of England.
Buzz reckoned if we got to hitchhike at least 20 miles a day, then by the end of the year we’d be.......well, pretty far away from town. He got that right.
Buzz started to grow his hair real long and Pastor Simmons used to mention in his Sunday sermon about boys who looked like girls ‘cause of their hair and everyone in the congregation turned and looked at Buzz, who was sleeping with his beret over his eyes.
One morning at Sunday school, the teacher asked what word could describe Jesus and Buzz stuck his hand up right away. I was wishing that he wouldn’t say what he was going to say but he did.
He had to stand in front of the whole congregation the following Sunday and apologise to God for calling his son groovy.
By the time the summer came, Me and Buzz were ready for the hitchen. Buzz couldn’t make up his mind which direction we should start to hitch. So one Thursday, he said we could decide by following the way the wind blew; however that day would have meant us hitchen right through Tasker’s slaughterhouse, into the Hotel La Boomba and finishing up at the school hall before we even got outta town.
Each day would come and each day Buzz couldn’t or wouldn’t decide which was the best direction outta town. It got so bad that it made me say somethin’ I didn’t wanna, but it had to be said.
“Are you sure you wanna go hitchen, Buzz?” There I said it right in his face.
“Are you crazeee?” He hollered but I knew Buzz and he said ‘crazeee’ a little too crazy like - which made me think he was hiding something.
“I ain’t crazy, Buzz, I don’t think you want to go a-hitchen.”
Then he came out with the truth - right there and then - and said he’d read a book called War of The Worlds and that he was thinking that maybe we could go to Mars instead.
I slapped my old pal on the back and said that sounded like a real good plan and as I looked back at his house I saw his maw in the back yard wearing Buzz’s old beret.
One night over by Cripple Creek when Buzz was working as a Bus Boy in Mama Leone’s Fish Factory, I went by to see how things were doing.
That place was dead, I mean real dead, I mean as dead as Jimmy Manson wanting to play quarterback after that photo of him dressed as Shirley Temple went around the team; that dead.
“S’up?” I said to old Buzz.
Buzz just looked real bored, he’d heard the door open thought it was a customer and then he had to find out it was only me. Okay, he was happy to see me an’ all but I sure wasn’t going to tip him, not like a real boney fidey customer would.
“I need money,” says Buzz to me as if that was news to anyone. “I mean real money, I wanna start a musical band with geetars and stuff.”
Well that was the first I’d heard of Buzz and the geetar thing. Sometimes it is hard just to keep up with his ideas, he has so many, then he gets tired from having all these thoughts and he just goes to sleep. That’s the way it was back then, Buzz sleeping even in the middle of the day.
“You’ll be in the band too,” he says to me as if I could play something. But let’s just say it out here and now, Buzz didn’t know the first thing about any musical instrument – so who was going to play what in the band - was just a moot point.
“Buzz, we can’t play anything,” I says to him stating the obvious.
“Didn’t stop the big New York bands,” he says right back at me.
“I think, you’ll find it did, Buzz,” I says to him.
Just then the Mayor and his latest lil’ girlfriend sashayed in to try some of Mama Leone’s fish and that was the end of our talk, especially since the Mayor was well known as a BT in eating circles (a big tipper).
Buzz never mentioned nothin’ about the band again – least ways not for a while until the night we were sharing a soda at the railway tunnel and he says ‘I’ve bought a geetar.”
Well you could have run me over with the next cargo train bound for the coast, I was that shocked.
“You what?” I had to be sure I had heard what I had heard.
So he said he’d not really bought a guitar but found it in a dump truck right behind the old jazz club on Washington Avenue.
“Musta cost a pretty penny, that’s for sure, Hawkeye,” said Buzz. I asked him who Hawkeye was and he said:
“Why that’s your new name in the band,” he says to me without even a hint of joking in his voice.
“Yup and mine is Running Wolf,” he said with a, ‘I thought all this up myself’, smile on his face.
“You say some stooped things, Buzz but that has got to be the stoopidist in the history of stooopid things and that saying somethin’.”
Buzz told me if I didn’t like it that I could ‘skedaddle’ as there were plenty more fish in the sea (I guess he had been working at Mama Leone’s a little too long) and that I had never shown any signs of being a geetar player anyhoo.
So we parted pretty badly that night with me shouting “Run away, Running Wolf” and thinking it was clever at the time when it was just plain embarrassing.
The next time I saw Buzz was a couple of weeks later when he was playing his geetar on the corner of Vine and Stanford. There was one string on the geetar and he was pluckin’ it within an inch of its life. He was singing real loud to make up for the lack of music. When I say singing.....well I reckon you can work that out for yourselves.
I looked in the hat he’d placed on the sidewalk and it had a 5 bits already in it.
“Buzz,” I said.
“What?” he said.
“Who gave you the 5 bits?” I asked.
Then he looked real red in the face and I knew he’d put it there himself and it was most likely a tip from the Mayor or his latest lil’ girlfriend.
“How’s things?” I asked.
“Not good, not good at all,” he said with a real sad face. “People just keep walking by.”
So right there and then I decided to help my bestest pal in the whole world and did a lil’ monkey dance to accompany the song. Before you knows it, all the folks in town were throwing money in the hat and shouting ‘dance monkey boy, dance.”
By sundown we’d made nearly a dollar, a whole dollar just for dancin’ and singing.
As we walked up towards Cripple Creek I asked Buzz what we should do with the money and he said: “it’s going in my fund to help when I run for President of these, here United States.”
I reckon he probably will and all.
10. The Roadsmen
Buzz kind-a discovered money late in life and I don’t mean as some type of granddaddy who found a box of cash in the back yard.
I mean that as a kid he’d never really had the need for money, ‘cause - as he was always tellin’ people - Buzz lived off his God-given personality and his killer good looks.
As far as I can remember, Buzz’s first real job was running errands for Mrs Trudy Spencer who ran a little haven from life’s troubles. It was called The House and it sat comfortably at the bottom of Ferdinand Street.
Everyone called it The House but the whole town knew what went on there. If you needed it, Mrs Trudy Spencer would sell it to you.
Buzz was probably about fourteen years old at the time but he looked way older. No one would ask him how old he was, as it was always assumed he was eighteen. Under the cover of darkness Buzz would carry packages to and from The House.
I remember the first time Buzz took me along on a trip. He got to the kitchen door at the back of The House, then knocked in a series of complicated codes. No one knocked back but as I found out later, that was because Buzz had made the knocking codes up himself and of course inside they knew it was him and didn’t bother answering the door.
I asked Buzz what was in the packages and you know what he told me? He said it was ‘hooch’.
“Good old hooch made up on the hills by the Roadsmen,” Buzz told me.
No one ever really knew or met the Roadsmen. They were those people who did all the things that other people should have got blamed for. Even the bad weather was blamed on them.
“That rain was caused by the Roadsmen and their fires,” my uncle once told me when it ruined his daughter’s wedding.
To be honest I thought the package was a bit on the small side for hooch, so when Buzz went in to talk to Mrs Spencer, I had a peek into the package and it was just plain sarsaparilla for the high rollin’ customers who called The House , a home.
I wasn’t gonna tell my pal, I just let him think he was someone that the Feds would be interested in talking to.
Buzz would get paid in goods for his troubles. Tonight he had received chocolates and two pairs of nylon stockings.
“Give them to yer Ma,” Mrs Trudy Spencer had told Buzz “I hear she could do with a good man in her life.”
I can just imagine that Buzz would have looked hurt at that point as he was the man in his Ma’s life, the man of the house. I don’t think that was what Mrs Trudy Spencer was really talking about.
That night we lay on the hill overlooking town and ate the chocolates. We both wore the stockings over our faces and decided that maybe we would keep them for the day when we needed to rob a bank.
“Why would we rob a bank?” I asked Buzz.
“In case we needed the money,” he told me.
“We ain’t got money and we’re happy.”
“I know, but maybe.....” then he stopped and I could hear his brain working....”yeh but maybe...one day we’ll get money and then we’ll lose it and then we’ll want to get some more.”
Buzz lay back real pleased with himself about that explanation and then pulled his nylon stocking disguise back over his chocolate covered face. He did have a point, one day we would have money and I’m sure we’d miss it if it went away.
The rest of the summer Buzz delivered the ‘illicit goods’ to The House (by that I mean, the sarsaparilla I’ve already mentioned, empty bottles, old newspapers, table cloths – you get what I’m saying?) The cops didn’t want to talk to Buzz, no matter what he thought.
To save on time and expense, at the start of each week Buzz would pick up some of the packages and store them in a hidey-hole in his back yard. Then each night he’d take some of the stuff over to Mrs Spencer’s.
One night he comes screaming around to my place.
“They’re gone,” he shouted. “Gone!”
“The hooch,” said Buzz. “Someone’s stolen Mrs Trudy Spencer’s property.”
I rubbed my chin, as you do in these circumstances, then we both looked at each other and at the same time we said:
The Roadsmen were known to steal everything and anything, even kids. I remember my Ma saying to me that if I didn’t behave (or Beeee-have was how she said it) I would be given away to the Roadsmen.
No one really knew what the Roadsmen did with you when they got you – some kid in class said they made you dress as a midget and work in circuses. Me and Buzz didn’t think that would be such a bad way to spend your time.
“I’m going up to the top of Driftward Plains and getting my hooch back,“ shouted Buzz. Boy, was he in a grumpy mood.
I said I’d go with him, I couldn’t let my best pal face the Roadsmen on his own. And anyway I was real curious about what they looked like.
Right after Buzz made his Tuesday night delivery, we headed up to Driftward Plains on a bicycle that he borrowed from the rear of The House. I’m sure I had seen the bike before and that it belonged to the Sheriff, but I couldn’t be certain.
We pushed, or it might be more correct to say, I pushed the bicycle most of the way up Deadman’s Gully. Buzz kept reminding me that he owed it to folks to look his best and that pushing a bike really didn’t help.
“Shh,” he whispered at the lip of the hill. We both crawled to the edge and looked over.
“See the lights?” asked Buzz. “That’s them.”
“How do you know?” I said.
“’Cause who else would be up here?” asked my pal.
“Us,” I said, but I was ignored.
They were all sitting around a big roaring fire when we jumped out on them or rather Buzz did.
“Woooo!” he shouted but it just sounded real lame like.
The six of the Roadsmen that were sitting around the fire just looked up and then back at the fire. I don’t think they were too impressed.
“I want my hooch back,” Buzz shouted and then he did a funny dance. Not funny as in comic, funny as in he should get locked up.
“Sit and join us,” said one of the guys who must have been over a hundred years old, maybe two hundred.
They seemed a nice bunch of guys and long, long ago when they were our age they’d come up to meet the Roadsmen but they never had.
“We just kept missing them,” said the two hundred year old man.”Then we just kept coming up here. Now some of us are alone, some of us are in homes and some of us ain’t got long. We just drive up here is Ken’s old jalopy and watch the sun going down and up again.”
“So you didn’t take my hooch?” said Buzz.
We sat there with those guys until dawn just flappin’ our gums and talking about life. Me and Buzz decided that when we got older, we’d meet up on the top of Driftward Plains.
When Buzz got back home he found his Ma had taken his packages in to the house ‘cause next door’s dog kept trying to pee on them.
As for Buzz discovering about money, well I’m kind-a sleepy right this minute. I guess it would be all right if I tell you that story another time.
Keep a watch out for the Roadsmen, unless you like getting shot outta cannon in a circus.
11. The Alien Abduction
He got the cops to call me instead of his Ma. She had said if he was arrested one more time that he would have to sleep in the town dump ‘cause she was washing her hands of him. Buzz knew she’d never do that but still - he didn’t want to take the chance, so I get woken by a call a 3.22 in the morning. I kid you not.
The cop at the desk looks at me as if I’m just as stupid as Buzz.
“He’s in the back and I think you know where to go.”
The truth is, I did know where to go – over the years, me and Buzz both had cooling off time in the room at the back. It was never for anything serious but then that’s what happens in small towns, the cops throw you in the back room to keep you out of the road of your Ma and Pa.
Buzz’s face was deep purple, I mean deep grape purple by the time I got to the room and there was some cowboy counting: ‘1001’..‘1002’...’1003’.... I need to tell you at this point that Buzz was hand-standing against the wall and he was betting with the other kids in the jail that he could stay up the longest.
“Another ten seconds and you’re the champion of Duchess County jail,” shouted the cowboy. Who would have thought then - that that would be the exact second when Buzz passed out? I mean he just lay there all dead to the world. I looked at the cowboy who looked at the other kids in the cell he’d been betting with.
“Act of God,” called the cowboy.
“What cha sayin’?” said the skinny little kid with bad skin.
“I’m sayin’, it’s an act of God.”
“And?” asked the mean kid with the tattoos. “And I want you to think real careful before you answer.”
Then the mean kid punched his palm with his fist followed by a real evil smile. I always wondered were these kids born with evil mean smiles or did they practice hard at it?
Buzz was coming around to opening his eyes as the cowboy was handing back the green stuff to the other kids.
By the time Buzz could stand, the rest of the kids had been released. He stuck his arm around my neck and I carried him out of the cop store.
Buzz didn’t want to go home, not yet, leastways not until he got a story together that his Maw would believe. She was like the secret police or somethin’, I mean that woman could smell a lie at spittin’ distance with her eyes closed – and boy did Buzz’s Maw know how to spit. When she was younger, she’d been the Tri-county spittin’ Champion. There were cups on her smoking table and she was real proud of them.
Every birthday party whether she was asked or not, she would chew some baccy then spit the whole caboodle across the room into a vase which was always sat next to her Grandma’s urn.
The back wall had brown stains where she’d been practisin’. When she got the baccy in the vase she’d give a chuckle then spit the rest of her goo into the fire, and after it sizzled she’d declare it the best birthday party ever.
You can kinda see where Buzz got his craziness from.
But I’m floatin’ away from the story here – so where were we? Oh, yeh, so Buzz comes back to my place and I asks him:
“What was you in for this time?”
“It’s a long story,” he says to me. It always is.
So I sit down knowin’ I’m gonna regret askin’ but I can’t help myself but before I can ask him for more, he’s already started the story...
“You remember, Becky Weiss?” asks Buzz.
I think I do but I ain’t sure, so I just kinda shrug my shoulder.
“Yeh, you do. She was the red headed kid who claimed she’d been abducted by aliens.”
Then I remembered that Becky Weiss. She got pregnant at 15 and told everyone the father was a creature from Saturn who took her against her will in the middle of the night. When the kid was born it was the spittin’ image of Frank Dunbar from the farm down by the lake, I think her story kinda fell apart at that point.
“She’s got 5 kids now, claims the man from Saturn visits her every full moon and every year she gets pregnant. Well I met her tonight and guess what, she was askin’ ‘bout you.”
“Me?” Jeez until five minutes ago I could even remember who Becky Weiss was.
“Yeh, she asked what had happened to my cute bud.”
The blood shot straight through the top of my head.
“Did too. Anyhoo, that ain’t the story. When I first see her, she’s carrying some groceries and they spill over onto the sidewalk. So I stop and I help a lady in distress. Then I sees who it is, well I saw that tattoo of Jimmy Carter on the back of her neck first and I knew it was her.”
“Becky?” I said.
“Buzz? Is that really you?”
So Buzz tells me that he and Becky got quickly to talking ‘bout things and what had happened to her since her first alien abduction; nothing much, apparently, ‘cept for the other alien abductions. You gotta wonder if Becky was a prize in some lottery for aliens? I mean, these space creatures travel way across the Milky Way just to meet Becky Weiss?
Yep, it’s got me puzzlin’ as well, bro’. I ain’t questionin’ anythin’, just wonderin’ that’s all.
“So we’re talking and there’s nothin’ else you understand, just talking,” says Buzz.
“I hear ya,” I say.
“Then there’s a knocking on the window of Becky’s place.”
“So what?” I ask.
“She says that it might be the alien comin’ a callin’. Now I don’t know about you but I ain’t one to be abducted by no alien.”
“So what did you do?”
Jeez this story was starting to get excitin’, ‘though I’d never tell Buzz that.
“Well I just punched the alien straight in the face, no whys or wherefores, you understand don’t cha?”
I nodded my head that I did but I don’t think I really did.
“So....,” and I knew I was gonna regret asking, “what happened next?”
Then Buzz got real upset and said that the alien had called the cops because of the fact that the spaceman had been hit straight in his antenna.
“I didn’t know aliens could call the cops,” I said, genuinely.
And apparently neither did Buzz.
Now here’s the thing, it was only years later when I was attending the funeral of Becky Andrews (once known as Becky Weiss) that I found out that some of the boys of the town used to dress up as aliens to have their own sweet way with Becky. You hear what I’m sayin’, don’t cha?Just so’s you know, Buzz told his Ma he’d fallen asleep at my place and she seemed happy with that.
Buzz’s Ma would swear on a stack of Bibles that she knew Elvis Presley for real. Perhaps it would take a sarsaparilla or two but soon she’d been tellin’ everyone how she and Elvis were as close as anyone could be.
Sometimes during one of her stories she’d just stop, look far away as if she was remembering something, have a chuckle to herself and then continue with the story.
I’d have given a week’s wages to know what she was thinking right there and then.
If you’ve been reading these little stories about me and Buzz, well you won’t need to walk too far to get to where I’m going with this one: yep, with all the talk Buzz decided that he was the love child of Elvis and his Ma.
“It makes sense. What with my good looks and talent and all. It’s the only explanation.”
Now I ain’t gonna rain on Buzz’s story and say he ain’t Elvis’ kid because nothin’ would surprise me about Buzz and his family, all I’m sayin’ is that you gotta take things like that - real careful, otherwise you get in a whole heap of trouble.
Even when I was walking along Main Street with him, he’d just stop, sneer then give out a ‘Uh-huh’ Elvis style followed by a ‘Thank you, you’ve been a wonderful audience, you really have’, which was followed by another sneer. Then he would just continue talking as if the last two minutes hadn’t happened.
Buzz decided that he would make some money from his birthright by touring the county as ‘The Son of Elvis’ . Two things were real wrong with this – for a start, Buzz can’t sing ,note a note, not even if a Colt 45 was pointed at where his brain is supposed to live, and the other thing is, no one in the county wanted to annoy Elvis’ family (or more accurately get sued).
One day, he asked if I would be his Colonel Tom Parker and manage him.
“For pee-forming,” he said, as if it was the most natural thing in the world for him. “People need to know that there is a new, younger Elvis out there.”
Now I swear, I didn’t say I would and I didn’t say I wouldn’t - but some people take sayin’ nothin’ as if you’ve said you would. Next thing I know Buzz is tellin’ everyone in town that I’m his new hotshot manager and that I’m gonna make him a rock n’ roll star.
“Only a matter of time,” he’d say. “What with your brains and my good looks and talent, not to mention my daddy being....”
He’d learned to shut up about Elvis, just in case they took Buzz off to jail. Okay maybe it was me that said he’d go to prison if he kept claimin’ he was the son of Elvis but sometimes, I swear you gotta be cruel to be kind.
Still, it didn’t really stop Buzz. He’d sit talking to strangers and say to them that he couldn’t really tell them who his daddy was, then he’d put his fingers to his lips , say ‘shh’, sneer, and then he’d do that awful Elvis impersonation.
I ain’t too sure that folks knew it was Elvis he was trying to impersonate, ‘cause I remember a couple walking away from Buzz and under his breath the man told his wife that Buzz was claiming to be the son of Bugs Bunny. Now that might not be too far from the truth, I tell ya.
At weekends, Buzz used to work as a bag boy at Winslow’s Grocery Store, the one that stands at the bottom of Creek Lane. He didn’t bag up like any normal person, oh no, what Buzz used to do was put everything in the bag while he stood in an Elvis pose: one knee bent , foot up with his toes touching the floor, and everything was placed in the bag with a full swing of the arm.
When he’d finished, he’d say ‘I thank you, my name is Buzz Presley and I’ll be here all week’. It used to scare some folks while it made others smile. Mrs Dalton gave him ten bucks ‘cause she thought he was touched. Her generation thought that a lot of people were touched. Hey, they might be right.
To be real honest, Mr Winslow was real pleased with Buzz and his packing ‘cause of the amount of extra folks that came for their groceries to his store. They all wanted their bags packed by the ‘crazy guy’. Annie Black who had packed bags at the store since the war used to spend her time just watching everyone queue up to get Buzz to do the packing. Mr Winslow let her go the second week in February.
Just before Easter, I heard tell from the Reverend about some Elvis show that was taking place two counties over.
“You know, I don’t approve of rock and rolly music,” said the Reverend. He always called it ‘rock and rolly’. “But it would be right and good if someone from this county went over there and whipped their asses.”
I was thinking that Reverends shouldn’t really talk like that but he did have a point. I just wasn’t sure if Buzz was the man to do it – that’s all.
“Where do I sign?” Asked Buzz when I told him.
“Don’t worry Buzz, I’ll take care of that, but what are you gonna sing?” I asked.
“Why, a song that my Daddy wrote for me,” said Buzz then went into a song that may or may not have been an Elvis song (or even just a song).
I filled out the form for him on account of the fact that Buzz was in hospital with something or other when Mrs Telford was teaching us all about writing and stuff.
I tried to talk him out of it, but he wasn’t having it and anyhoo maybe they wouldn’t put two and two together and make five, like Buzz had.
“Change that, I want Buzz Aaron Presley.”
So that was what I put down on the entry form and just kept my fingers crossed that we wouldn’t get into trouble.
Me and Buzz hitched over to Ridge County with Buzz dressed as Elvis (like if Elvis had fallen out of an aeroplane). The last bus we caught from Hollington was almost full of Elvis impersonators and their carers.
Buzz loved it, he was jumping from seat to seat, talkin’ and singin’ (kinda) with other hopefuls and some had stories to tell about Elvis. One or two had seen him drive past them, others had heard him singin’ but mostly these folks on the bus were just out for a good time and they didn’t care who knew about it.
When we got into town there must have been about a couple of hundred Elvises, I kid you not: big ones, fat ones, skinny ones, girls dressed (and ladies) as the King. They way I looked at it, what harm were any of them doing?
The following day the contest started at noon and it sure was a long time of Elvis this and Elvis that - all dressed with the best of clothes. Then Buzz came up onstage, and the announcer said that this singer was all the way from Duchess County and his name was Buzz Aaron Presley.
That would have been okay if Buzz had mimed to the record, like we practiced, but he decided to do an introduction – how many times can you say to someone that there should be no introduction? – Anyway he told the crowd exactly what I knew he was gonna say.
“I am the truly begotten son of Elvis Aaron Presley.”
Yep, I kid you not, that’s the way he said it alright, ‘the truly begotten son’ – what the h..., did that mean? There was a silence in the crowd as everyone’s jaws fell. Man, you could have heard a prison break twenty miles away. Then some kid at the back of the crowd shouted ‘I’m his son, too.’
“No you ain’t,” shouts Buzz.
“Sure am,” hollers back this kid.
“My Ma was real close to Elvis,” shouts Buzz.
“Well my Ma was Elvis.”
That’s what the weird kid at the back shouted. Everyone turned to look at him, then someone shouted ‘get him’ and the folks started chasing him. I took this opportunity to grab Buzz off the stage and force him to head for the bus station.
When we got back, Buzz Ma apologised and said she’d made a mistake it wasn’t Elvis Presley that she had been close to but Bob Hope.
Right there and then I could see a little light going on in Buzz’s head.
bobby stevenson 2013