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The Impending Buffarona
By Dave Shulman
First published in L.A. Weekly, March 22, 2002.
One midnight bright with hope and youth but dreary with booze and Reagan, it came to pass that four of us required Tommyburgers — those goopy, chorizoid artery plugs, “world famous” for their alcohol-absorbing properties and patrons.
Unfortunately, the nearest Tommy’s was 12 miles away, and, like many among Tommy’s late-night clientele, none of us could drive. That left one option: the methadone clinic a half-mile away called Fatburger.
So we walked, fell and walked some more; we arrived, stood in line, paid, and sat chomping and snorting, stuffing our drunken mouths with whatever it was they’d placed on our trays. Washing it down with liquid sugars and caffeines marketed to children. Red-eyed and brainless, propped on chili-greased elbows, blinking to fend off seizures from the harsh fluorescent light. Live entertainment nightly.
We needed more napkins.
(They kept them beside the register.)
I went to get them.
(They were out.)
(There was a line.) (Am I supposed to stand in line? Or can I just sort of hang around next to the register?) Tried to execute some kind of gesture that would simultaneously command the attention of someone behind the counter and indicate to the customers in line that, while I respected, appreciated and subscribed to the sanctity of queues, I just need a fuggin napkin.
But the only gesture I could come up with was half-raising one greasy hand, half-opening my mouth, and looking back and forth between the people in line and the people behind the counter.
Behind the counter: One of the three men at the grill returned to the register to deal with the queue. The man was a bit older than us — probably in his mid-20s — but had an almost hairless face. Almost. The extraordinary length of the exactly five hairs that grew from his chin led me to wonder if in fact he’d never — ever, not once — shaven, for the whiskers fell almost to the surface of the counter, just above the man’s waist.
The clash of heat from the grill and gusts from the front door caused the five-haired man’s chin hairs to sway like willow branches. They rose and fell, they floated, they swayed in the greasy mists like marionette strings in search of a puppet. Once, perhaps, they’d been even longer, but had been cauterized by the grill.
As the five-haired man and queue alike ignored my half-raised hand, I was distracted by a disturbing request: Call me Buffarona, and I’ll leave you alone-a.
A young man not unlike ourselves, only more muscular and stuffed into a corsetlike white tank top and jeans, stood in the aisle, facing a table of drunken sorority girls.
“You’re Buffarona,” someone replied, and Buffarona nodded and stomped away, down the aisle, then up the next, not quite threatening but sort of hovering, and snarling a bit, strutting, flexing, inflicting disconcerting eye contact on anyone he could distract. Every few tables, the man would pause in front of a seemingly random someone and issue forth the same mandate:
“Call me Buffarona, and I’ll leave you alone-a.” The voice was tough and thick, devoted and disturbed. I pictured him in his mother’s basement somewhere, practicing the Buffarona routine with the cardboard cutouts of Rupert Pupkin.
Each random someone would reply with “Your name is Buffarona” or “B-b-b-buffarona?” or “You’re Buffarona,” and then Buffarona would back off, nod, say “Mm-hm” or “That’s right — Buffarona” and continue hovering, strutting, flexing and so on. Buffarona proved to be a man of his word: After each contestant called him Buffarona, he in fact left that person alone-a, immediately turning his attention toward someone else with whom to mitigate the future.
But still no napkins. I kept my hand half-raised and continued watching the tennis match between the patron queue and the five-haired man rushing back and forth between register and grill, waiting for just the right time to say Excuse me, . . . as Buffarona made his rounds. It occurred to me that a miniature Buffarona character, with his distinctive strutting style, might make an ideal marionette. I envisioned mini-Buffarona dangling from the five-haired man’s whiskers, strutting with impunity across the sizzling grill, a tank-topped shaman gone fire-walking among the burgers, administering everlasting alone-a. Which means I must have been stoned. Sorry.
“Napkins?” It was the five-haired man, suddenly in my face, handing me a stack without a word exchanged between us.
“Thanks. Thanks a lot.”
I returned to our table, where I mopped, mumbled and belched as K.K., Beef and Brellis — we all had nicknames as silly as Buffarona, but not on purpose — speculated on the severity of the impending Buffarona situation. Quietly.
(“I don’t know. I don’t know about this guy.”)
(“He seems reasonable enough: You say his name, and he goes away.”)
(“Just fuggin say his name. Just don’t fuck around.”)
(“What about if you’re deaf?”)
(“Maybe this is how he picks up on chicks.”)
“Call me Buffarona and I’ll leave you alone-a!” Buffarona had arrived, and we were prepared.
“You,” K.K. said evenly, “are Buffarona.”
“Mm-hm,” said Buffarona, nodding. “That’s right — I’m Buffarona.” And with that Buffarona stomped blindly out the door and into the street.