Grandpa Buzby

Grandpa Buzby

He was an older man with wrinkled skin, thin-rimmed glasses, and a short-brimmed hat and peacoat, explaining to the receptionist that he had to get inside.

“I have such fond memories of this place,” the old man said. “I used to work here—”

I’d been leaving after a long night at the office, and I’d just gone through the turnstile. I paused long enough to stay and listen.

“It doesn’t matter if you worked here or not, sir,” the receptionist said. “If you don’t work here, and you’re not accompanied by someone who works here, you can’t go up.”

I understood the receptionist’s situation. He was simply saying what he had to so that the old man would move along. Yet, it didn’t quite sit right with me to see the old man beaten down as he was.

“That’s tragic, really,” the old man said. “Quite tragic. You couldn’t send someone up with me, just so I could see it?”

I pondered my responsibilities to this old man, who may or may not have worked here years ago. I didn’t look forward to the cold, anyway. I didn’t mind staying a little longer.

“I’m sorry,” the receptionist said. “I don’t know what to tell you. Have a good night.”

“Wait,” I said. The old man and the receptionist turned to me. “Is that you?”

From the old man’s deep squint and the long look, he didn’t quite know what I was up to.

“Grandpa!” I smiled at the receptionist, who gave a blank look back, and I swooped in to hug my new relative. “Grandpa Buzby. You weren’t waiting too long for me, were you?”

“Erm,” Buzby started, “Not long at all.” Then he patted my shoulder and looked at the receptionist. “My grandson—took on my line of work, and I’ve been meaning to contact him and get a tour—”

“I just need his building ID,” the receptionist said, pointing to me. “But if he’s willing to escort you, then I’ll give you a pass, and you can just go up.”

The look Grandpa Buzby gave me then—wider-eyed than I even thought possible—had been much worth the overwrought fanfare. I gave the receptionist my building ID, and he printed out a temporary pass with a turnstile code.

“Just fill out your name at the top,” the receptionist said. While Buzby pulled out a pen and began writing out his name on the pass, the receptionist gave me a look he hadn’t before. Like he was secretly proud.

We went back towards the elevator bank. Buzby put his pass on the electric turnstile but failed to make the metal arms move. I took the pass and had a hard time of it myself, but we finally made it through and laughed amidst the elevators.

“Grandpa Buzby, huh?” Buzby said to me. “I do feel old. What a name.”

“I couldn’t think of anything more original—or appropriate!”

“That it is.”

I pushed one of the elevator buttons and it lit fiery orange. We heard the mechanical whirs of a descending elevator coming to snatch us up.

“What is your name?” I asked. “You shouldn’t be forced to be called something as awful as ‘Buzby’…”

As the elevator door opened, Buzby turned to me and shook his head.

“My name isn’t too important,” he said. “Buzby really is fitting. Let’s just stick with that—grandson.”

I chuckled, stepping into the elevator car. “You got it, Grandpa. Which floor?”

“If I recall correctly,” Buzby said, “it was on the sixteenth floor.”

I pressed the button, and the doors closed.

“Different elevators, in my time here,” Buzby said. “Very same company, though.”

“So you really did work here?”

Buzby looked at me with those peculiar eyes. “You thought I was just a loony from the street?”

I laughed. “I was willing to take a gamble.”

“Perhaps you shouldn’t have.”

Buzby smiled at me, and before I could say anything more, we reached the sixteenth floor.

“Much quicker nowadays, huh?” Buzby said.

I nodded. I wasn’t sure what he wanted to see or how long he’d take. Though time didn’t matter that much—I’d just go home to work out or something else—I’d hoped it would be a brief visit. Just a glance at old memories.

We stepped into the elevator bank and Buzby knowingly guided us to the left door.

“I walked through these doors my first day at the company,” Buzby said. “Young. Much like you. Couldn’t afford a coffee.” He led me down the hall, past the cubicles. “It all used to be more open. Typewriter keys clacking and all. Cigarette smoke in plumes at the ceiling…” Buzby continued to describe this previous life in complete detail, and I let him take me on the journey. I should’ve been on the train by then, but this old man had given me something new. Harboring Buzby seemed innocent enough.

Buzby pointed to a room with a copy machine and a snack machine.

“That used to be the old watering hole. Folks would stop making calls to get a glass of that metallic water, smoke some more, and chat. Talk about politics, money… sexual endeavors.”

Animal talk. When he said it, my fingers tensed. I obligingly smirked as he shook his head and laughed, but I knew what was happening.

Despite the humor, Buzby kept his stony front.

“Being young in an office,” Buzby said, “meant that you could be given a certain task, as it were—one you couldn’t challenge. There was still such a thing as hierarchy in those days.”

We’d walked for at least ten minutes. Grandpa Buzby not only looked but inspected every detail along the path. He was leading me somewhere.

“I made my way up the hierarchy myself,” Buzby said, pointing to a corner office. “And I no longer had to do those tasks.” Buzby grinned. “I could assign them to others instead—and maybe even watch.”

“What kinds of tasks?” I asked. Buzby didn’t say. Instead, he stood at the threshold and laughed. The office was sleek. A thin yet massive computer monitor was the centerpiece of a large mahogany desk. I knew the manager, Mac Johnson, whose office it was now, but I saw the way Buzby gripped the siding of the doorway. It didn’t seem like just a fond memory.

“I was a Senior Vice President when I left in eight-five,” Buzby said. “That made me Leopard-status.”

I nodded.

“You’re a manager?” he asked me.

“Assistant manager.”

“Oxen-status. Alright. If you could get in here,” he said without looking at me, “I have a task for you.”

I stepped past the threshold, past Buzby, and stood at the center of the office. I was careful not to get too close to the sharp desk corner that jutted out closest to me.

“At least take off your coat, Ox,” Buzby said. And I did. I wasn’t going to ignore the order of an Animal Elder.

I lay the coat on the floor. I then looked straight at Buzby, who shook his head.

“What are you doing?” he asked. “You don’t know much about this company, do you?”

My heart fell in place. I didn’t want Buzby to think I was incompetent.

“You’re going to kneel there,” and he pointed to the floor. Buzby’s face bore no expression. His eyes were sunken behind his glasses. I got to the ground, knee caps relaxing into the office carpet.

That wasn’t enough, though. Animal Elders are expected to give aspiring Animals severe challenge.

“Rest your head,” he said, “on the corner.”

I did as he asked. The sharp end  of the desk began to dig into my scalp. I tried to raise my neck so my head wouldn’t take so much pressure—but this exercise was challenging by design. Even though this is what I wanted—what I’d been waiting for—my heart still betrayed my desires. My pulse increased. I started to worry.

It became worse when Grandpa Buzby reached into his peacoat and pulled out a hammer. As slow as he could, he pointed the hammer head to my temple. The metal was cold, stimulating. My pulse rose and my breath shortened.

Then, Grandpa Buzby began to sing:

‘Animals are animals,

And animals are good:

They seek their prey in endless night,

And hunt in boundless wood

Animals are animals, and

They do as hunters should,’ yes,

So the Elders said and understood.

When Buzby started to repeat the verse, I joined, my voice less robust than I intended. But in seconds, he and I, with the hammer to my skull, sang as we would at a Pride Rush.

After two verses, Buzby stopped singing. He pulled back the hammer, and asked:

“Should I dash out your brains?”

I looked at the hammer, quickly darting back to Buzby. There was only one acceptable answer. I’d heard about the Animals who’d given the wrong response.


Buzby swung the hammer down—but he struck the desk instead, letting the hammer fall on my back and to the ground.

“I’ll tell Mac the desk is on me,” Buzby said, adjusting his hat. Then he laughed. I laughed, too. “Come up, boy.”

I got up, and awaited orders from the Animal Elder.

“You ever felt more terrified than in that moment?” Buzby asked, revealing animations of a gentler sort. This was not the reminiscent fellow I’d met. He took me by the arm and grabbed my coat.

“No, sir,” I said.

“I’d hope!” Buzby said, and he chuckled. “I will never forget my first Animal Promotion—and neither should you. Well done.”

“Have you ever,” I stammered, and stopped short. But I think Buzby knew what I meant.

I heard sounds from down the hall.

“The others fade from memory, to be perfectly honest. Though they weren’t memorable to begin with—and it always ended the same.”

The sounds became clearer: A beating drum. Screeching. Groaning. Roaring. Coming closer towards the door.

“Welcome to your Animal Promotion,” Buzby said, opening the door.

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