the avra valley dispatch: November 30 2003
Last week, Buster -- the dying Viet Nam vet who lives on my front lawn -- made me an offer I really couldn't refuse.
The deal was, if he could get a free turkey from the V.A., and I cooked it for him -- he has only a toaster oven that doubles as a space heater -- I could have half of it, plus whatever stuffing, sweet potatoes, and green beans he could finagle.
Sure, no problem I said, never having cooked a turkey in my life...
Before I bought The House of Squalor and Rancheria Palomita, the seller made me promise not to kick Buster off the property. Buster's a drinker and he's got AIDS, emphysema, and cancer, the seller said, but he's true to his word and pays his bills. If he doesn't, just pull the joint off its footings, drag it down to the end of the road, and kick his ass.
Even if the presence of Buster's dilapidated Rembrandt mobile home hadn't negatively affected the property's curb appeal for over a year, and didn't contribute to a thirty grand reduction in the asking price (a tidy sum in unincorporated Pima County, Arizona), and I wasn't the Canadian-born, pacifist spawn of pinko draft dodgers (and therefore, an UnPatriot), there is still no way I would evict an aging, damaged man with no family and nowhere else to go. After all, this country does take such good care of its vets.
The first week of the month, Buster (who reminds me of a skinny little Yosemite Sam, all red hair and big moustache) drinks up a storm -- he's a beer drunk and generally just gets all sappy and sentimental and Catholic -- but if he gets into the hard stuff, it's bad news. Last January, after I closed on the property, he drank himself into a coma for a month. Just before I was going to call Junque for Jesus ("Hunky for Hayzoo") to haul the trailer away, Buster woke up, pulled the tubes out of himself, said Fuck this -- I need a beer, called a cab, and came home.
This August, right after I escaped California and landed permanently at the rancheria, Buster got into drunken fisticuffs with another damaged vet (Korea) over some nonsense like who was the toughest and most intimidating manly man in the valley. When I walked up there, Buster -- a scarlet fount pulsing out of his emaciated thigh where he stabbed himself, thereby putting to rest the issue of who laid claim to superior machismo -- was pitching most of his belongings out of the trailer at his easily-twice-the-size pal who cowered behind the eucalyptus tree. Cabinets, chairs, drawers full of flatware crashing. The fire department, paramedics, and sheriff soon converged on my front lawn and it took two burly firemen in hazmat gear to strap 110-pound Buster -- kicking, hollering, squirting blood, and cursing a multi-syllabic, compound, hyphenated blue streak -- onto the stretcher to take him to the V.A. hospital in Tucson.
One of the deputies welcomed me to the neighbourhood, and assured me that Buster's not a bad guy, he's just not easy to like.
Three and half months later, I have managed to strike up a friendship of sorts with Buster. I listen to his stories and pick up groceries for him...I'll float him $20 and even buy him beer and tobacco when he's jonesing and broke: Natural Ice, in cans; Top tobacco, also in cans. He needs someone to tell his stories to before he dies, he said, and God has sent me to look out for him. Me and Michael the Archangel -- Michael's in Buster's corner, too.
So, on Thursday I cooked Buster's turkey (I just winged it and drowned it in olive oil and viognier and sage and salt and pepper and kept it covered until the last 30 minutes and boy, it was tasty -- no new homemaker disasters here) and made freebie government-issue stuffing from a box and smashed potatoes from real, red bliss ones creamed with rosemary and Neufchatel cheese, purchased with my very own hard-earned money at Trader Joe's, and pulled the feast up the lane to Buster's trailer in my Radio Flyer. He'd invited a number of people, but they didn't show, so we watched Goldeneye and ConAir on USA Channel and my boyfriend and I listened to his stories (remind me to tell you about the time he unknowingly hired an off duty cop to weld a cow milking machine into a bong for him) and kept him company.
This morning he brought the leftovers down to the house, and told me it was the best Thanksgiving he'd ever had.