Who gives a Buck?

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By Tony Deyal

When my son asked me for a pair of Reebok basketball shoes costing one-hundred-and-sixty US dollars, I made it clear, “Son, you have the name wrong. At that price they are not Reebok, they are Reebucks and big bucks at that.” I added, “Your grandfather used to quarrel with me for having big feet, and needing new shoes every other week, sometimes twice a week.

In fact, he used to say that if my foot got any bigger, I would have to go to a roundabout to turn around. He even joked that pretty soon I would not be wearing shoes, I would have to wear the shoe box.” My son’s response was, “But Dad, I don’t wear Size 12, Extra, Extra, large like you.” I knew he had me there so I said: “I will think about it” and both shoed and shooed him off. When he left I started thinking about what we called “washy kongs”- Chinese-made “sneakers” or “running shoes” which ended with a quick burst of speed and tears on both sides- the costly shoes which needed to be replaced, and my father dropping a belt or two on me for “mashing up” the shoes. Worse, for those who thought “Bata” was better, it was still a case of more wasted bucks down the drain.

This led me to thinking about how wrong Harry S. Truman, the 33rd president of the United States, was when he put the sign “The Buck Stops Here” on his desk in the White House. I am not surprised that it was made in the Federal Reformatory (basically a jail for young people) in Missouri. “The buck stops here” came from the slang expression “Pass the buck” which means that almost as soon as you take on responsibility for something, or you have it thrust upon you, without a moment’s hesitation you pass it on to somebody else. Truman said several times that as President, he could not do that. He could not pass the buck.

My question is: “What buck, or bucks, was he talking to or about?” Was it Buck Rogers the science fiction adventure hero? After sleeping for 500-years, Buck woke up to discover that America had been taken over by the Mongols and was almost in ruins. Fortunately for me, that Buck did not stop with Truman and I was able to read the comic books and watch the “serials” in the cinema.

So who, or what, were the other bucks who bucked Truman? One of them could have been Archie, not the comic strip, but the Calypso “Archie Buck Them Up”. This was written by Prince Galloway. a calypsonian from the Virgin Islands who, while living in the US, wrote a tribute to Archie Thomas, a bandleader from his home country and a local dance called “buck up” which supposedly reduced the numbers of Virgins in the Virgin Islands.

While we subsequently had “wuck up”, “suck up” and other rhyming “ups”, I witnessed the only “down”. My friend Ban had a girlfriend nicknamed “Mud”. She went to a dance, paid her five bucks, and definitely took a few drinks too many. She then changed the lyrics of the song of what “Archie” did to the unknown “them” by not only turning “buck” into another word which rhymed with it, but drowning the band with her very suggestive suggestion. Unable and unwilling to stop when requested by the police, Mud was arrested and placed in a cell for “using obscene language”. It was not a huge issue for her since her name was already “Mud”. Her boy-friend, Ban, was a true-man and stood by her side through all the jokes and questions about his “Mudder”.

In a way, it is reminiscent of an old joke. Bu, Lu and Fu from China go to America, but in order to get around easier, they decide to Americanise their names. Thus, Bu becomes Buck, Lu becomes Luck, and Fu…well, he went straight back to China.

It is possible that some West Indians might believe that the buck really stopped by Truman and that was the source of his power, position and wealth. In Caribbean folklore, a buck is a short, dwarf-like creature who is kept and used by people in order to gain monetary success. “Buck” is supposedly a short version of the word “Buckoo” or “Baccoo” but it is deemed highly offensive by the original people. If Truman ever used it, Archie would have bucked him up.

One thing I know is that if Truman made a lot of money as President, a lot of bucks, big bucks really, would have come rolling his way. A ten-dollar bill is a “sawbuck”. If a horse or mule springs into the air it has “bucked”. Cowboys who herd and tend cattle on a ranch are called “buckaroos” and the females engaged in similar tasks are “buckarettes”. But a buck is also “the male of some horned animals like deer or antelopes”. However, a female buck is called a “doe” and if the male is horned, not by nature but by the female, a lot of dough might be involved. They might have been buck naked for all we know. Anyhow, it is all about getting more bangs for the buck.

There was a matter in the divorce court and the Judge, having reviewed the case, found the man wrong, and told him, “I’ve decided to give your wife $800 a week.” The man replied, “That’s very fair, your honour. And every now and then, I’ll try to send her a few bucks myself.” There was also the story of the man who sat moping in a bar, drinking, thinking and sinking into deep melancholy, telling his story to whoever would listen. He complained, “This woman stopped me at the bus station. She promised me that for twenty bucks she would do things my wife would never dream of. So, I gave her the twenty bucks and she ironed three of my shirts…”

Actually, the whole thing might just be much a-doe about nothing especially as the American coffee-house, Starbucks, which is now in the region, does not give a buck about what its opposition does. It has already bucked the system and the franchise owners will make sure that every last buck stops with them.

My concern is that when it comes to real bucks, Truman had it totally wrong. The bucks never stop with me. They fly out of my hands, pockets and bank accounts before I have seen them or get close enough to touch any. While Archie can buck up whoever he wishes, I get bucked down. Perhaps Truman was doing this deliberately. One of his famous quotes was, “If you can’t convince them, confuse them.” In this case, he bucked us up more than Archie, with or without Jughead, Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge.

*Tony Deyal was last seen asking, “Why did the chicken cross the road?” He saw a sign that said “Chicken strips for a buck.”

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