THE MAN WITHOUT A TOWN
Buster Ackland lived in a two-story, Victorian-style house on the corner of 3rd Street and MacMillan Drive. You know the place, I'm sure. It's the house with all the junk in the front yard – pink flamingos, lavish birdbaths, lawn furniture – you name it. Buster never did have any taste.
As you know, Roxburg is a quiet, peaceful town. Just like in that old cliché, everyone here knows everyone else here. And everyone surely knows Buster Ackland. Since retiring from the bottling company six years ago, Buster has been anything but a recluse. In fact, he's been somewhat of a town nuisance.
I know you've only been in town a few weeks, but I'll bet you've already heard a story or two about old Buster's eccentricities from the local gossips. I know folks are prone to exaggeration; but there's probably a bit of truth to everything you've heard, even if does seem unbelievable.
Mr. Rice, the boarder who's spent the past six weeks living in Buster's house, was telling me just the other day about Buster's morning routine. Apparently, Buster would wake up every morning at precisely a quarter till six – no alarm clock, he'd just wake up. That wasn't too unusual, since Buster had risen at the same time every day for years when he worked at the bottling company.
But here's where it gets a little strange. See, Buster's only got the one bathroom in the house, and it was situated right across the hall from the room where Mr. Rice slept with his door open. Well, Buster would get out of bed and head straight to the bathroom and take a nice, long shower. Only thing is, he never bothered to take off his pajamas! Mr. Rice said that Buster would come out of the bathroom, still fully clothed but wrapped in a towel, dripping from head to toe.
The next time Mr. Rice would see him would be when Buster passed by, dressed in his finest three-piece suit, heading toward the door to take his morning walk.
If you happened to see Buster strolling the streets of Roxburg, he might seem to you to be a very pleasant fellow indeed. He always stopped to pat dogs and small children on the head, he never jaywalked, and he always tipped his hat to the ladies.
But beneath this carefully constructed charade of competence, Buster was a mess – and we all knew it. Everyone in town, at one time or another, has been affected by Buster's absentminded antics.
You might have heard about the fire at Mr. Dawber's hardware store last March. We all thought Mr. Dawber had set it himself. Business had been slow, and he aimed to collect on the insurance money – or so we thought. But if that were true, wouldn't Dawber have burned down more than just the storage room?
The truth is, Buster Ackland set that fire. Not intentionally, mind you, but he was nonetheless responsible. As we learned later, Buster had been sneaking in the back door at night and using Dawber's storage room as his own personal game room. Buster would bring his chess set or a board game, and always a deck of cards – and he would play by candlelight. Lord only knows why Buster's own house wasn't a good enough place to play.
Well, that night Buster fell asleep playing a game of solitaire, and when he woke up the room was ablaze. He tried to put the fire out by swatting at the flames with his Monopoly box, but that only served to ramp it up even more. He high-tailed it out of there, stopping only to call 911 anonymously from a pay phone down the street.
He later confessed what had happened to Mr. Dawber, and the "sympathetic" store owner agreed not to press charges as long as Buster provided him with a third of his social security check each month for the next six months. And Buster, that old fool, agreed to the deal.
Griffin Hennessey is still coping with the after-effects of Buster's lack of judgment. About six weeks ago, Buster came in to eat at Hennessey's Bar & Grill. When it came time to pay the check, Buster realized that he was a dollar and a half short of the total. Old Ackland begged to be allowed to charge the rest on account, and Hennessey – a good man if not a great businessman – reluctantly gave in.
Buster was so overjoyed at Hennessey's generosity that he felt compelled to tell everyone he met in town what had happened. Since then, an astonishing number of Hennessey's customers have conveniently come up "just a little short" of cash to pay for their meals, and Hennessey has felt obligated to extend the same courtesy to all his customers that he did one time for Buster. As a result, Hennessey is now losing more money than he is making.
Being new to town, I'm sure you probably got a visit from Buster Ackland the first or second day after you arrived. He always made it a point to greet newcomers with a plate of vegetables he'd collected from gardens around the neighborhood. (Well, collected is one way of saying it – stolen would probably be more accurate, though Buster would have never thought of it that way himself.)
Buster probably strolled up to your house, rapped ferociously on the door, and as soon as you opened it he greeted you with the finest buck-toothed grin he could muster up. I would even bet money he was wearing his lime green suit – he called it his "visiting duds" – with that hideous paisley tie that didn't match anything.
Then, if you were so kind as to invite him in, Buster likely stepped just inside the door, flung his hat to the floor, and shook his mop of yellow-tinged silver hair back and forth like a wet dog. You're probably still trying to get the smell of old man sweat out of your clothes and living room furniture, aren't you?
One thing's for sure – if you met Buster once, you would never forget him. In spite of the man's obvious shortcomings and his continual, bumbling antics, we all tolerated the old coot. But that was about as far as it went.
He did have his good points, I suppose. In addition to his genial personality, Buster Ackland went to church twice every Sunday and every Wednesday night – though no one dared sit next to him. He gave a portion of his monthly check not only to the church but also to other local charities.
So why did he have to cause so much trouble? Truthfully, I don't really think he could help it.
Now I am left with the dubious task of having to write Buster's obituary notice. Being editor-in-chief of the Roxburg Informer, I generally save some of the more important jobs for myself. When I heard about Buster's passing last night, I knew the task would rest on my shoulders.
What do you say about such a man? In a small town such as ours, gentle lies would only be hypocrisy. Yet the truth is harsher than any lie I could formulate. So here it is, for lack of better words, and more time to prepare:
Mitchell "Buster" Ackland, 71, of 100 MacMillan Drive, died Thursday, February 26th, in his sleep. He is survived only by the town that could not love him – his one true joy, Roxburg. Visitation is from 7:00 to 10:00 PM tonight at Matthews' Funeral Home. I'll be there – and so should you, citizens of Roxburg. All is forgiven.