Buckhammer's Last Chance

A Moe Minsky Tale
Written By Al Geto

    There are times when people will perform the craziest acts to fulfill a need. Men have been arrested for committing a public nuisance when they were unable to locate a restroom on time. Kids like Harold Plumkin couldn't resist chocolate. At a party where a bowl of kisses stood on the piano, he ate them so fast he failed to unwrap them completely and choked to death on shreds of silver foil. Gamblers are likewise obsessive. In a card game, thousands of dollars behind, Sam Helman put up his infant daughter and lost. His wife killed him. But the winning couple were able to retain the baby. Luckily, they turned out to be decent parents. So sometimes something good can come of these desperate needs.

   Garth Buckhammer had a need, too. Her name was Marie Roquefort. He began to realize after a year's pursuit of her that his chances were dwindling. Christmas was coming and Garth decided to seize the opportunity. In answer to a remark she had tossed off he determined to prove how big a guy he really was by bringing her a gift to shatter her ambivalence once and for all about marrying him. Having recently lost his job, down to his last few bucks, he couldn't raise a nickel anywhere. Even his friend Boris, owner of a hardware store who had offered him a partnership if he could find the money to buy in, was short of cash.

   A jovial man, Garth kept Marie amused with his anecdotes. He looked rather dashing in hats. He had been a Fuller Brush salesman, and most recently a telephone lineman, but was let go when he reached two hundred twenty pounds and could no longer climb the poles. He'd met Marie Roquefort before his weight had skyrocketed. Every time she turned down one of his proposals he fell into despair, overcoming it by overeating. She kept on dating him, however, though not as often as he liked, while he brooded over his empty life in his lonely room. Dancing was one of Marie's favorite pastimes, but Buckhammer, whose left and right feet seemed attached to the wrong legs, never attempted to take it on. She often went to the Roseland Ballroom accompanied by an olive-skinned, slender Spaniard she had met, a whirlwind dancer whom she used to see after work. Marie was assistant to the head of the make-up section in Brooklyn's leading department store. She deftly rouged her cheeks, knew all the techniques of mascara and eye shadow, had cushiony lips and preferred haremesque aromas. Her outspoken personality kept her single at a time when men preferred more demure women. But Buckhammer found her frolicsome nature and spitball replies irresistable.

   "Boris got nothing on you, baby," he said, referring to the hardware store owner, his wisecracking pal.

   "And you're real cute, fatty," she replied, pinching his cheek as they sat in a cuddle on the sofa in the dimly lit parlor of her parents' house. "And you're always so full of ideas. So why don't you have a job? Well, maybe some day you'll come up with something real big and show me. Right now the only thing big about you is your behind," she chuckled.

   "I love you," he told her. "With all my behind." She almost fell off the sofa laughing. The next day when he passed by the pawnshop just two doors from Boris' place and saw the fur coat hanging in the window he had the answer to her challenge to him to come up with something real big. That luxurious coat, a sheared beaver with copious arms and a collar of glamorous proportions, for only two hundred dollars, would make Marie look like a movie star. At the Roquefort's Thanksgiving dinner, to which he'd been invited, her parents restrained their negative opinions of the overweight suitor but they could not picture him as a son-in-law. The name Buckhammer, for a start, did not appeal to Marie's old man. His family had been Roquefort for centuries and nothing less than a Pate type would have satisfied him. Roquefort himself worked for the city as a specialist in underground pipes, spending most of his time in tunnels, and looked leathery and wet. Mrs. Roquefort, a plump woman, played the piano and enjoyed singing duets with Buckhammer whose pleasant baritone inevitably charmed Marie.

   Buckhammer's search for employment was ever at risk due to his bulk. He knew and bitterly resented it, as though he was something less than human. They love Santa Claus, he thought, and he's as fat a pig as I am. The idea struck him as novel and superb. All over the city Santa Clauses were beginning to appear, ringing bells and grinning while filling their kettles with loot. They couldn't have been paid all that much for hanging around in the frost day and night, certainly not enough for him to be able to buy the fur coat in a couple of weeks. He went home and brewed himself a pot of coffee.

   After twenty-four hours of anxiety and pangs of conscience he picked up the telephone book and searched for a certain address.

   "I dunno if we got any left your size," the emaciated, butt-smoking storeowner said, measuring him. "Lemme look." Garth gazed about the shop where lion, ape, and clown outfits hung on crowded racks. The man returned carrying a red costume. "Try this," he said, "I can always let it out. It comes with whiskers, hat, specs, a bell, everything."

   "What about a collection kettle?" Garth asked, smiling, trying on the costume.

   "Maybe I can borrow one from MacBeth for you," the man suggested, the butt hanging from the corner of his lips.

   "Oh, yeah? Who's he?"

   "You don't know MacBeth?"

   "No. I live in Sheepshead Bay," Garth informed him, gazing at himself in a long mirror. "How do I look?"

   "I wouldn't know you from Santa Claus," the man assured him, coughing.

   As Buckhammer was putting down a deposit and a week's rental in advance, the storeowner asked him, "Who you collectin' for?"

   Garth cleared his throat. "The Second Presbyterian," he said. "In Canarsie."

   The next day he stuffed the costume into a laundry bag, bought a ten cent lipstick for his nose, and took two trolleys to a busy neighborhood where no one knew him. He donned the costume in the men's room of a bar, cheerily greeted by the patrons when he emerged ringing his bell. Right then and there someone gave him a dollar.

   Keeping an eye out for cops and other Santas, he chose a corner where crowds were crossing. Everyone passing smiled at him as he rang his bell, a few pausing to speak to him. "How ya doin', Santa? How's the North Pole? Cold up there?" asked a well dressed man taking out his wallet.

   "Oh,yeah!" he responded. "Colder than a witch's ass!" And immediately realized his mistake as the man glared at him and hurried off without dropping anything into the kettle.

   "Where are Donder and Blitzen?" asked a little old lady throwing her change into the kettle.

   "Who?" he asked.

   "Why, your reindeer!" she said.

   "Oh, them? Oh, they stopped on top of the Woolworth building for hay and coffee," he replied loudly. The people waiting for the traffic light laughed and two of them turned back to throw money into the pot. He repeated that again and again all afternoon as the silver poured in.

   "Are you with the Salvation Army?" inquired a tall woman in a coat with a fur collar and a fur hat and carrying a shopping bag filled with colorfully wrapped gifts.

   "Who, me?" he cried. " Nah! I'm takin' it all back to the North Pole for me and Mrs. Claus!" The woman burst out laughing and contributed two dollars.

   But it was the kids he became most wary of. A five year old holding on to his mother with one hand tore off Buckhammer's beard with the other and shouted, "He ain't a real Santa Claus mama! Don't give him nothing!"

   An eight year old girl insisted on having him pick her up. "Like you did in the department store," she reminded him. When he asked what she wanted for Christmas she told him she wanted another father because hers had left after beating up her mother. The distracted woman tried to pull the girl from his arms but she clung till he wrestled her free as she scratched at his cheek leaving him bleeding. Towards the end of the day a small boy offered him a piece of rock candy and when Buckhammer politely refused the boy began to cry. Buckhammer finally took a bite and chipped a tooth in the process.

   Only one cop hurried by, evidently on some urgent call, waved at him and Buckhammer winked back. After spending the day on two different corners he packed it in, returned home and examined his take. A hundred and fifty one dollars and thirty five cents. It would have taken him three weeks to earn that.

   On the third day at about two forty five in the afternoon he saw a policeman rolling toward him from up the street. He stank of booze. His uniform looked disordered. His cap didn't seem to fit. But before he could say anything Buckhammer spoke in an undercover voice. "Hey, buddy," he whispered intimately, "I know I'm not supposed to be on this corner. They gave me a spot a mile from here where I couldn't collect a dime. I hardly get anything outta this anyway, y'know. I'd go home hungry in the other place. Listen, take this ten bucks and forget you ever saw me. Buy yourself a nice Christmas present." He slipped the bill into the cop's meaty palm. The cop weaved back and forth, dragged at his nose, puffed out his cheeks and walked off unsteadily, pushing the bill into his trouser pocket. But he returned the next day and took another ten. To Buckhammer's astonishment he saw the same man a few days later in a bar wearing a shaggy sweater and a stocking hat trying to steal someone's wallet.

   Six days had passed since Buckhammer had begun his perilous employment. That night he totaled up his take. He had nine hundred sixty one dollars and forty three cents. His savings account had risen to over fifteen hundred. The first thing he did was to hasten to see Boris with whom he concluded a partnership deal by putting down a thousand dollars, the balance to be paid from his job in the hardware store. Next he made out a check for a hundred to the Salvation Army and mailed it. Then he bought the sheared beaver fur coat at the pawnshop, brought it home, and sat admiring it after making his dinner of hot dogs and mashed potatoes, drinking two bottles of beer with it. Determined to make a New Year's resolution to lose weight he began at once by putting the third bottle of beer back in the icebox. He immediately felt thinner. He planned to take Marie by surprise that very evening. He would show up at the house around eight o'clock, a time he knew she would be helping her mother clear the dinner dishes before they sat down to listen to the Amateur Hour on the radio. He picked out the tie she had given him, put on a fresh white shirt to wear with his best suit, polished his shoes and brushed his hair and cleaned his fingernails. She was a fastidious girl and recoiled from sloppiness. On his way he'd picked up a bouquet of roses. In one hand he held the roses, in the other the box containing the fur coat. He rang the bell of the modest white wooden house Mr. Roquefort had re-painted all by himself last summer. Buckhammer had offered to assist but was refused, Roquefort fearing he might go through the roof. Mr. Roquefort flung open the door in a kind of rage.

   "Uh- hullo- " Buckhammer said, backing down the stoop a step.

   "Jesus Christ!" cried Mr. Roquefort.

   "No. It's only me," joked Buckhammer, feebly.

   "She ain't here!" Roquefort cried in a choked voice. "She ain't here any more!"

   "What? Marie? Where is she?"

   "She eloped! She eloped with the spic! We just found the note! That's what she done! "

   "Jesus Christ," whispered Buckhammer.

   "That's just what I said! Ya should have took up dancing, Buckhammer. Only you were too goddam fat. Now ya know! Why doncha just go on home and forget her. My kid who I loved all my life goes and elopes with a spic! How do you like them apples? Even you woulda been a better cherce. Goodnight!" He stepped back into the house and slammed the door.

   Buckhammer stood there in the dark, his mouth open, frozen for the moment in an attitude of total despair when a taxi drew up to the curb. Taxis were not known to come to that neighborhood often and Buckhammer stared at it as if it was some vehicle from outer space while the occupant inside was evidently paying the driver. The taxi door opened and Marie stepped out, flushed and trembling.

   "What the hell are you doing here?" she cried, as angry tears flooded her eyes.

   "I- I brought you a wedding present," he mumbled.

   "Who said I was getting married?" she demanded, mounting the stoop to the front door.

   "Your father- " "Bullshit!" she cried. "He has two other wives!" And she thrust her key into the lock, opened the door, and flew in.

   Buckhammer stood there contemplating his fate. "I got the hardware store, I'm gonna lose weight, I'm gonna take dancing lessons, and I'm gonna give her this coat, even if she won't marry me," he decided. He mounted the steps, took a deep breath, and rang the bell.

-Al Geto

Home    Storybook

The Philosopher of Bensonhurst | Boris Kazinsky Discovers America

At the Tombs of the Known Soliders | Relatively Speaking | Right Out Of Ripley

Buckhammer's Last Chance | Once You Know, You're Stuck With It

Here We Come, Ready or Not! | Aaron

What's In A Name | The Day I Almost Became A Vegetarian

Ah, Sweet Mystery Of Life | The Nervous Young Man

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Copyright August 3, 2000-

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