Posted: September 13, 2011 in Writing
Tags: , , , ,

Buddy was the strongest man I ever met. He was also one of the dumbest, but that gave him such an open and honest view of the world you couldn’t help but like him. I don’t even remember his real name, but everyone called him Buddy. He stood about five feet, three inches tall and you got the impression he was four feet wide. His head was bald with a full beard and a twinkle in his smiling eyes. He would have made a great Gimli the Dwarf if Gimli were from the mountains of North Carolina instead of Middle Earth.He was a great friend and a terrible enemy.

Buddy always drove a Cadillac. He couldn’t afford one, but drive one, he did. The one he owned when I knew him had plastic taped in for three of the windows. I was with him the day he decided to trade it in We pulled into the Cadillac dealership and a salesman began bounding out to meet us.

Buddy grinned at me and said, “This is how folks treat you when you drive a Caddy.”

The salesman looked at Buddy through the taped up window on his side.

“Sir, would you mind getting this wreck off our lot? It doesn’t look good for business.”

His windows were missing because his wife got mad at him one weekend and smashed them out with a bat. She also tried this on her neighbor’s house and got arrested for it. Buddy was out of town, so the kids went door to door collecting money to bail her out. When they finished, they realized they had enough to go to Six Flags, so mom stayed in jail a few more days.

As I said, Buddy was from the hills of North Carolina and had lived all over the southeast. The result of this was he was known in every bar and tavern in four states. From pubs in Atlanta, to bars so far back in the hills they had a dirt floor, I never went anywhere with Buddy where he wasn’t known. Unfortunately, he was known for never backing down from a fight, or turning his back on a perceived slight, so I always kept one eye on the door and my back to the wall.

The company we worked for built many fast food restaurants in small towns so I was frequently on the road. Along with Buddy, I usually traveled with Bob. He was an old stick of a man missing most of his teeth and that smoked like a chimney, but could quote Khayyam and Nietzsche. Bob was also just about blind – a fact he didn’t share before he volunteered to drive. This would always prove entertaining when I would go to meals with him and Buddy, who couldn’t read. It took me weeks to figure out what was going on when we would all look at the menus until I ordered, and then they would always get the same thing.

I knew Buddy for several years while working for this construction company in my twenties. He was one of the first people I met. There were only about six employees at that time. His friendly and trusting nature led us to become close, even though we would have never crossed paths outside the job. By the time I left the company there were several dozen employees. Buddy wasn’t one of them. He had died of cancer a year before.

We were driving back from some small southern city where we had just finished a new McDonalds or Hardees or something similar. It was the middle of summer and the three of us were crammed into the cab of a pickup truck with no air conditioner. Bob was driving, and I was sitting between him and Buddy. Buddy complained all the way home about a sore throat. We were all miserable so no one paid much attention.

On Monday, we found out that his condition had worsened and he went to the emergency room. He was diagnosed with inoperable cancer. A few months later, he returned to work one day. His head was still bald but his beard was gone. His massive muscles had disappeared, and he appeared to have shrunk. He looked like a little boy.

He told me, “Them doctors don’t know nothing. I’m gonna beat this thing and be back.”

That was the last time I saw him.

Sometime, when I’m out driving in the country and pass a roadside bar, I think I’ll stop by and buy a round. I’ll tell them it’s from Buddy. They’ll know who I’m talking about.


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