Buck was my best friend at the depot.
When I’d started working there, fresh and green, he had taken me under his wing and shown me the ropes. Hell! I was only sixteen-years-old and still didn’t know shit from clay, as my new workmates used to constantly remind me. But it was all in good fun, for the men loved a laugh and I was a natural target, being so naive and inexperienced about things. How they’d pull my leg! And I was a foreigner too, a tall, gawky, long-streak-of-piss yank with a “goddamn” accent newly arrived in New Zealand and ignorant of everything, which of course added to the possibilities for hilarity at my expense.
Because I really didn’t know shit from clay.
Anyway, about Buck. We became good friends. To me he was like some wonderful, profane, kooky old uncle. He didn’t go out with the work gangs, having had an accident years before that left him somewhat crippled, but remained at the depot to make tea for smoko breaks and clean up around the place.
“The tea boy,” he called himself with a laugh.
He put on his spectacles and looked up, smiling when he saw me. Today he had his false teeth in, which gave his smile a rather ferocious look. Usually he kept his false teeth in his overalls' pocket, wrapped in a handkerchief, “So as not to wear the bastards out,” as he always said.
“G’day, mate,” he called. “I’ve got a message from Pat. He said for you to take his car and collect the grog, and I should get a lift with you up to the site. Okay?”
Pat was the head foreman, who ruled our depot like a king. The men considered him a good boss, and thought themselves lucky to work for him, for there were plenty of bosses who were worse. With Pat you felt like what you did mattered, even if it was just shoveling shit from the bottom of a wet, muddy ditch. He knew everyone by name and he didn’t muck around, which pleased the men greatly. It also pleased them greatly when every now and then he put on a piss-up at one of the worksites, if we’d had a successful month with no accidents and stayed ahead of schedule.
It was to one of these piss-ups that Buck and I, at Pat’s behest, were going.
“Any time you say, Buck,” I replied. “A beer or two would go down a treat.”
I was bragging, as Buck well knew. As a drinking man I was a rank amateur who couldn’t hold his beer worth a damn.
“I wouldn’t say no to a snort myself,” laughed Buck. “Who knows, eh lad? I might get the urge and run amuck!”
Buck running amuck! Ha! Ha! How I hoped to see that!
“Remember, lad,” he said. “When faced with a choice of two evils… pick the one you haven’t tried yet!”
At the bottle store getting the supplies, Buck watched as the booze was loaded into the Falcon. He leaned his broken body against the Falcon’s fender and had a smoke, counting the crates and bottles to make sure they got it right, until the Falcon could hold no more.
“Batten down the hatches, mates!” he called. “She’s full up! Let’s shove off.”
After getting into the car Buck put his mangled legs on one of the crates of rum stashed on the floor, and made himself comfortable. Next, he reached down and lifted a bottle from a nearby crate, unscrewed the cap and took a long drink from it.
He didn’t offer me any.
“Not while you’re driving, Rusty lad,” he explained. “Dulls the wits, you know.” He took another swallow, then said, “It doesn’t matter about me any more. I’m old and buggered and fond of beer. But you, lad,” gulp gulp gulp and down it went, “I encourage you with the utmost sincerity,” gulp gulp gulp and down went some more, “to lay off the sauce.”
Gulp, gulp. He took another swallow.
“Urp!” he belched, adding, “Beginning tomorrow.”
"Okay, Buck,” I laughed. “Beginning tomorrow.”