When I was nine years old, I had two best friends. One was Berthold. He was really short and funny looking, sort of like a slightly mutated version of Opie Griffith from the Andy Griffith Show. A bad bowl cut and an unfortunate in the context of where we lived German accent added to the mix made Berthold not the most popular cat in school.
The other best friend I had was Ian. Ian had two defining traits. One, he had an unbelievably deep voice for his age. His larynx went through the change early and subsequently he sounded like a forty-year-old trucker with a heavy smoking habit. And two, Ian was a compulsive liar. And I mean compulsive. He told lies he must have known would come across to anyone as untruths. He somehow really just couldn’t help himself.
“Yeah, sorry I didn’t come to your house last night. I was walking along and suddenly this dude jumped out of a black van. I was shovelled inside and then taken to the airport. Once I was on a private jet, a needle was put into my arm: lights out. When I woke up I was in the middle of Siberia and all I had on my back was a rocket launcher.”
Another recurring fib went:
“Due to some sort of government error, my dad just got a cheque for six hundred billion dollars from the Canadian government. And he’s figured out a way so that he doesn’t have to give it back. Just letting you guys know now that even though my family is totally loaded, it won’t affect our friendship in any way.”
I can’t remember who had the original idea for the Bait Bucket, but it had to be either Berthold or me; Ian saved all of his creativity for his elaborate fantasies. The concept was to become entrepreneurs and open a stand selling living fishing bait. There was a lot of angling that went on in the area where we lived during the ever-so-brief summer, so we figured this was a golden business opportunity that was just staring us in the face. We set about collecting as much bait as possible with, of course, Berthold and I doing most of the work. Ian would almost always come back empty handed.
“Guys, you won’t believe what happened! I had a whole bucket full of worms and then this black van showed up…”
A nearby neighbour of ours whom none of us liked named Davy Ricketts got wind of the Bait Bucket plan and in his truly inimitable style told me what he thought of it.
“That bait store idea you guys are working on sucks nuts.”
“Oh yeah, you got a better one?”
“Me and some of the guys are opening a lemonade stand.”
“Lemonade stand?” I fake laughed in an entirely unconvincing fashion. “Why don’t you grab some originality for once? I mean, a bunch of kids selling lemonade, no one ever thought of that one before!”
I said the last line so loudly I slightly scared myself. Davy Ricketts just smirked at me the whole time. Terror filled my chest, that thing you get when you start to realise that perhaps your foe knows more than you bargained for.
“Well, how about a little wager? We’ll set our lemonade stand right by your shitty bait store and let’s see who gets the most money, eh?”
“You’ve got a deal. Five bucks.”
I have no idea what led me to do suggest this amount other than outright hubris, as the Bait Bucket started to feel like more and more of a terrible idea as I stood there looking at Ricketts get more and more cocky.
“You’re on,” Davy said.
Berthold and Ian seemed really pumped about the bet once I’d told them about it; my German pal hated Davy Ricketts even more than I did, mostly because amongst his numerous other negative traits, Davy was a xenophobe and constantly made fun of Berthold’s accent. As Berthold smiled at the ceiling, I hid my apprehension about the Bait Bucket while Ian just wittered on about another obviously fictitious incident involving a black van.
We had all of the worms and maggots we could possibly sell. All we needed was a snazzy name for the place. Berthold came up with it: The B.I.N. Bait Bucket.
“But the N.I.B. Bait Bucket would make a lot more sense,” was my suggestion.
“What, “Nativity in Black”?” boomed Ian, who then suggested putting the “I” first, making it the I.B.N. Bait Bucket.
“The International Banking Number Bait Bucket? Good one,” I said. After much arguing (and crying and removing video game cartridges from each others’ houses), we settled on the B.I.N. Bait Bucket.
Opening day. There was Davy Ricketts and his crappy little lemonade stand next to our cool as shit bait store. We had a little sign made up and everything. Only problem was, as the morning came and went Davy Ricketts and his friends had managed to sell a reasonable amount of lemonade. The B.I.N. Bait Bucket meanwhile, was still awaiting its first customer.
“Don’t sweat it. People never buy bait in the morning.”
As soon as Ian said this, I knew we were fucked. It only got worse from there. It was a really hot day and as the afternoon went on people started to swarm towards Ricketts’ lemonade stand like flies around a lamp. The Bait Bucket meanwhile had, by 4 PM, its first browser, a fat middle-aged guy who picked up our products, examined them briefly and then placed them back down in semi-disgust.
“Can we help you, sir?” Berthold said, sounding as ever like a miniature Peter Lorre.
“This bait sucks.”
They were the only words he used before leaving, stopping only briefly to buy a glass of lemonade from Davy f-in’ Ricketts’ stand.
We were nine years old and our business careers appeared to be over. There was only one thing we could possibly do: sabotage Davy Ricketts’ lemonade stand by whatever means available. Ian rode his bike up to the stand and swept his hand over the table that all of the lemonade cups rested upon, pushing all of them onto the grass as yellow liquid sprayed everywhere, all over Ricketts and his table in particular. Berthold and I meanwhile turned the garden hose on Davy and his friends, soaking them further and sending them running off, bawling their eyes out the whole way.
“You’re an asshole!” Davy shrieked, stopping to turn around before he was out of earshot, dripping wet as he did so.
“I know,” I replied, attempting to pull the same smirk as he had pulled on me the day before. I have no idea how close I came to achieving this, but it felt identical at the time.
After our siege, we all decided to go to Berthold’s house to towel off (we had obviously gotten a little damp ourselves in the melee). Berthold’s house was almost always sans parents and his Canadian cousin June, who I had a crush on, was usually the only “responsible” person around. She was always with her boyfriend. I remember him, Dwayne. Dwayne was American, from Flint, Michigan. I remember him because he was a bit of an asshole and talked about himself and Michigan a lot.
When we got to Berthold’s place no one was there, not even June. Once we were dry, we flicked on the TV to watch cartoons. We watched some old Warner Brothers material on NBC for a little while, until they were suddenly interrupted for some sort of press conference. As it happens, we had completely chanced upon one of the most disturbing and epic moments in US television history, the Budd Dwyer suicide. It was like turning on the TV in 1963 right at the moment Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald.
A bald, rather portly gentleman is giving a press conference to a crowd. It is difficult to say how large a crowd, as the camera never deviates from the bald man for a second, but given the sounds in the room it feels like somewhere between fifty and a hundred. A caption beneath the man reads: “BUDD DWYER, SENATOR (R) PENNSYLVANIA”. As the cameras flash and the assembled hacks mumble, Budd starts the press conference.
“I would like to thank my staff for the work they have done over the past three months trying to clear my name. For slaving so hard so that true justice can still be a possibility in the United States of America. For their work in trying to prove my innocence so that my family and their future families do not have to live with this cloud over their heads.”
At this point, Budd stops and clears his throat for what feels like twenty seconds or so. Cameras flash wildly as Budd looks forlornly around the room, silent.
“Could Jackson Manson please step forward?” he finally asks. Budd’s eyes dart round the room.
“Where’s Jackson?” Budd says. A man in a grey suit then steps forward from the crowd. The camera pans so that we can see a little more of the room the press conference is being held in. Budd hands Jackson an A4 manila envelope.
“Can Terence Magic please step forward?” Budd asks.
Another man in a grey suit steps up. Budd hands him an identical looking manila envelope. The Senator reads out a few more names, distributing identical manila envelopes to the people who correspond to the names read out. One of them, who he announces as “Miss Derkins”, is met with a cute little line from Budd as she grabs her envelope.
“That’s for being the best secretary in America.”
Some of the hacks laugh at this little comment, taking it as Dwyer’s inability to cease being a politician. Budd then very deliberately picks up the very last manila envelope on the pile. He opens it and very calmly removes from it what is obviously a .357 magnum.
What happens next is, for me, the most memorable part of the video. For about five or six seconds, no one in the press gallery says a thing. As Budd stands holding that hand canon, everyone is deathly silent. Dwyer mumbles, looking for something to say to fill the void.
“As you know, I….this is…..I want to….on record…..”
Budd then points the gun upwards, towards his mouth. Aiming the weapon suddenly breaks the spell and people start to shout at Dwyer. A cacophony breaks out, Budd holding the .357 in one hand, pointed upwards, while he holds out the other hand in front of him like someone directing traffic. Then he says:
“Don’t. This will hurt someone.”
That’s a strange thing to say while holding a gun, isn’t it? Then Budd Dwyer sticks the oversized revolver into his mouth and pulls the trigger. He crumples to the floor instantaneously. He is obviously dead.
It struck me, as I watched blood pour from Budd’s mouth (his heart kept pounding for a several seconds afterwards) that I had never actually seen a real dead person before. Not on a TV documentary, not anywhere. Budd’s eyes were so vacant, like the eyes of a doll.
After we witnessed a US Senator kill himself live on national television (the original purpose of which had been to explain that he was standing down as a Senator, having been charged with numerous counts of fraud), the three of us, Berthold, Ian and I, sat in silence for what felt like half an hour (but was more likely to have been five minutes). Then Berthold got up and with an excited gleam in his eye and asked us what we thought of what we had just witnessed. I didn’t know what to say. Ian proffered his opinion.
“That was the most fucking awesome thing I’ve ever seen.”
Berthold broke into immediate laughter. Ian seemed confused. Was this not the correct response?
“What did you think of it, Nick?”
I could only tell Berthold the truth.
“I wish I hadn’t seen it. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to stop thinking about it now.”
Then I started crying. Really hard. Ian and Berthold didn’t respond and I took the opportunity to flee the house.
I never hung out with Ian or Berthold ever again. Ian’s family moved away a few months later, after his father lost his job. Berthold and I however, just stopped being friends. Something about our divergent responses to the Dwyer death just put a fence between us. Shame. I kind of missed June.
Which sort of wraps up my story quite nicely – except that I just googled Budd Dwyer only to discover that he killed himself in the depths of a Pennsylvania winter, on January 22nd, not in the summertime. And the year was 1987, meaning I was fourteen not nine. What Freudian reasons could there be for my conflating the Bait Bucket-Davy Ricketts incident with the witnessing of a US senator blowing his head off on live television? Somehow the two still seem indelibly linked in my mind, even though I now know they could not possibly have actually co-existed. There must be a thread, but it remains invisible, much like the B.I.N. Bait Bucket’s client list.