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Martin Buber's Thing
Like all great things that change this world, this thing started simply. Martin
Buber visited his sister Mary in Upper Saddle River, New Jersey. He was gone
nearly three weeks and he got back to Freestone Corners the week before Labor
Somewhere between the time he left and the time he got back, the "thing" landed
in his back yard. It must have landed at night otherwise somebody in the
neighborhood would have noticed it. It was still in Marty's back yard when he
pulled into his driveway on Saturday night.
Marty put the car away, got out and opened the rear door on the driver's side.
He carefully picked up the peach pie that Mary baked for him and got his bag out
of the trunk. It was dark -- dark enough that he couldn't see the "thing" in his
back yard. It was late also, so he decided not to go through the bulging package
of mail in his letter box, instead, he got undressed and stretched out in his
own bed for the first time in three weeks. He loved his old bed, the mattress
had molded itself to every curve of his skinny old body. He hadn't slept in the
double bed upstairs since Martha died .... and as he drifted off to sleep he
thought it was unusually quiet for a Saturday night.
He woke early Sunday morning. He had wash to do and mail to go through. He
hadn't been home in three weeks. Suddenly he remembered his tomatoes and went to
the back window to check on them. That's when he saw the "thing." "What the hell
is that thing! Jesus, you go away for a couple of weeks and somebody takes over
your back yard!"
It wasn't much of a back yard. It wasn't even his back yard, it was his
landlord's back yard. It was thirty feet square, give or take an inch or two,
wedged between his back door, the garage and the blank wall of Abe's Cut Rate
Auto Parts. The thing sat right in the middle of that thirty foot square with no
more than a foot to give either way.
Well, he wasn't going to put up with that damn "thing" out there! That was his
back yard. He sat out there in the summer. He grew his tomatoes out there.
Narghesian would have to find some other place to put that "thing!"
"Narghesian? This is Buber over at 21 Arch Street. What the hell's the idea?"
"Oh, you're back, Buber. How's your sister?
"Never mind my sister, what's that damn "thing" doing in my back yard?"
"What damn "thing" is that, Buber?"
Marty was sure Narghesian was stalling. "You know what "thing," dammit! Looks
like a water tower without legs, 'cept it's skinnier, sort of. You know what it
looks like to me, Narghesian? Looks like a space ship! The whole back yard is in
shade now .... how're my tomatoes gonna get the sun?"
"You sure you're all right, Buber?
"Nothin' wrong with me, y'sneaky Armenian, get'cha ass on over here, y'hear me?"
Narghesian sighed deeply. God, how he hated tenants! Well, at least it would be
an excuse not to take his wife to church. He took off his spotless white shirt
and pleated slacks and hung them up carefully. He walked down to the pantry
where he kept his old jeans and his faded denim work shirt. Caspar, his fifteen
year old Airedale greeted him with lukewarm enthusiasm.
"Let's go Caspar, let's go see Marty Buber."
Marty was standing in his driveway waiting for Narghesian when he got there.
"Took you long enough, Narghesian .... have to get'cha wife's permission?"
Narghesian shook his old gray head, his sad brown eyes, under his bushy black
eyebrows revealed a lifetime of misfortune and misunderstanding. "I tell you
what, Buber -- I will sell you this place cheap, you can call yourself whenever
you have trouble."
The three of them, Marty Buber, Marcus, with Caspar Narghesian leading the way
walked up the driveway and into the back yard. Caspar, sensing an object that
must be claimed as his master's property, peed on two of its three legs, sat
down and waited for the two men to catch up.
Narghesian stood aghast. "What is this, Buber! How did this get here? Don't look
at me fishy, Buber .... I had nothing to do with it .... nothing!" They made a
slow circuit of the "thing," and Caspar took the opportunity to pee on the third
"I'm almost inclined to believe you, Narghesian. You couldn't pull this off
without the whole neighborhood seeing you."
The longer they looked at the "thing" the more they agreed that there was no way
for it to have gotten there in the first place. Incredible as it seemed, Marty's
back yard was surrounded by the back wall of the house, a line of cypresses to
the left, a two car garage to the right and Abe's Cut Rate Auto Parts at the
rear. The two men sat together on the wooden steps leading to Marty's kitchen
"There are two explanations," Marty reasoned. "One is that it was built here
.... like the boat in the basement joke. The other is that it came from above."
His voice dwindled to inaudibility as he related the latter possibility.
"I don't like either explanation, Buber. May I use your phone .... a local call,
I assure you.
"Who y'gonna call?"
"First of all my wife .... she worries. Then I'm calling the police. While I'm
doing that why don't you make us some coffee -- and is that a pie I see on the
They sat in Marty's kitchen looking out at the 'thing' nestled in the back yard.
The late summer sun glinted off its surface and a faint shimmer of heat radiated
from it causing the barred windows of Abe's Cut Rate Auto Parts to quiver as
though they were under water. Marty took a deep breath as he poured two cups of
coffee .... "y'know what I think?" he said.
Narghesian lowered his eyes and unbuttoned the top buttons of his shirt. "Get
away from those tomatoes, Caspar .... yes, I know what you think, Buber. It
looks like a flying saucer, right?" Neither of them cared to pursue that train
of thought. As they sipped their coffee, a black and white patrol vehicle swung
into Marty's driveway and stopped behind Narghesian's car.
Officer Glenn Peterman was the newest of the three policemen assigned to
Freestone Corners. His uniform was two sizes too small for him and he wore
mirrored sun glasses indoors and out. As he alighted from his patrol vehicle,
his cap fell off and rolled under the patrol car. Marcus Narghesian and Marty
Buber, alerted by the flashing lights, walked out and were greeted by the sight
of Officer Peterman, on his knees with his hindquarters facing them, his pants
stretched to the point of bursting as he reached under the vehicle to retrieve
his cap. He rose, red-faced with his mirrored glasses askew and slammed the door
shut catching his nightstick in the jam. The day had not begun well for Officer
"Which one of youse gentlemen is .... er, ah ...." he had forgotten his
clipboard. Again Marty and Marcus were confronted with a broad expanse of
backside as Officer Peterman reached through the open window of the patrol car
to get his clipboard.
"Marcus .... somethin' like Narglesan? S'wat's writ here anyways."
Marcus was a patient man, far more patient than Marty. His forebears had learned
patience the hard way. "That's me, Officer. I called the precinct. The house is
mine, I rent it to Mr. Buber."
"That's me," Marty explained.
Together, the three men headed for the back yard and were greeted first by
Caspar who took a dim view of any man wearing a uniform, particularly when his
eyes were hidden by mirrors.
"Nice dog, Buber .... what's his name?" Then Peterman raised his head and
noticed the thing in the back yard. "What in the hell is that?"
Officer Peterman got out his notebook and began writing as Marty and Marcus told
him all they knew. "It wasn't noticed until this morning. It could have been
there as long as three weeks. The only possible way it could have gotten there
was from the sky above. Ergo! "The Goddam "thing" is a space ship and what are
you going to do about it?!!"
It was too much for Officer Peterman to swallow all at once, he was not in the
top ten in his class at the Police Academy and as the implication of what the
"thing" might be slowly dawned on him, his brain shut down completely and
refused to accept any more information.
It is touching to see an officer of the law, a tower of strength, upon whom all
of us lean for support in time of trouble, when he reveals a lack of decision.
Peterman had many shortcomings, and when confronted with situations outside of
those he had experienced at the Police Academy, he was taught to 'call in.'
Officer Peterman left Marty, Marcus and Caspar standing under the thing and
walked back to his police car. The sun was high now and it was the only bit of
shade to be found. They were still standing there when he returned.
"It's Sunday you know. Hard to find people. Sergeant Haskill's comin' over ....
bringin' the rankin' Colonel of Nassau County National Guard. I wouldn't touch
nothin' if I wuz you."
The die had been cast. From that moment on, the "thing," as we have called it,
became the responsibility of many career driven servants of the state. The most
notable among them was Agent Lance Sober of the C.I.A.. Lance, clad in a
metallic black suit, arrived in a chauffeur driven limousine talking into two
cell phones at the same time. Although it was near nightfall, he too, wore
impenetrable sunglasses. His were jet black with jet black frames as well. A
third cell phone, a red one, protruded from the breast pocket of his black suit.
Long before the arrival of Agent Sober, however, a procession of technicians had
secured the area at the request of the ranking colonel of the National Guard.
Marty and Marcus were confined to Marty's apartment where they were questioned
with great intensity and then completely ignored. Marcus was not permitted to
speak to his wife and Marty was refused permission to speak to his sister in
Upper Saddle River. Caspar was locked in the basement, and the peach pie
mysteriously disappeared from the kitchen table.
Throughout the afternoon, white suited technicians came and went with a
bewildering array of scientific equipment. Some of it blinked, some of it ticked
ominously, and some of it didn't work at all. A gray-haired general with a
riding crop appeared late Sunday afternoon.
"If that ain't Kashwilli Dashiki, I'll eat my shirt," said Marty, "Look'a him!
He's wearin' every medal since the Battle of Bunker Hill. .... y'know somethin',
Marcus? When I wuz in the army this guy was still selling newspapers in
Yugoslavia." Hard on Dashiki's heels was an enormous flatbed trailer with a
giant crane installed just behind the cab. Searchlight trucks stood by across
It was at this moment that Agent Sober arrived and stated he was in charge.
General Dashiki seemed ready to put this to a test, but he was told to butt out
by the red telephone in Agent Sober's breast pocket. Agent Sober entered the
kitchen talking into all three telephones and singled out Marty.
"Which one is Narghesian?"
Marcus was the only other person in the room. "I am." he stammered.
"You are what?"
"I am .... SIR," he replied.
"We're trashing your garage, Narghesian .... no other way to get the subject out
of there. You will be adequately compensated." He clicked off two of his
telephones and spoke deferentially into the red one. When he was finished, he
turned to the two men, "You didn't hear any of that conversation did you?" he
They had of course, but it consisted of nothing but a series of ("sorry to
disturb you sir"), ("I hope I'm not interrupting anything, sir") and ("I have
everything under control, sir"). The Army Engineer Corps then removed Marty's
car from the garage, and in doing so pulled off its rear bumper. Agent Sober
assured him that he would be adequately compensated. A wide bladed earth mover
then leveled the garage and pushed the rubble up against Abe's Cut Rate Auto
It was nearly eleven p.m. before a plastic camouflage net had been bundled
around the "thing" and a canvas sling secured. By this time the complement of
personnel consisted of the 18th Army Engineer Corps, a company of Regular
Marines from Fort Tilden, General Kashwilli Dashiki, Agent Lance Sober, and at
the last minute, the appearance of Millicent Starbright, the U.S. Secretary of
The street outside Marty Buber's modest home was now deserted. Residents were
requested to stay indoors and soon discovered that all their telephone and
electrical services had been disconnected. Agent Sober assured them that they
would be adequately compensated for the inconvenience.
The trip to Fort Tilden from Freestone Corners can normally be driven in ten
minutes, but the precious and mysterious "thing" cradled on the flatbed and
escorted by two companies of Motorized Artillery took seven days to get there.
It was high enough and wide enough to require street alterations along the way.
A bridge or two had to be jacked up, causing the shut down of a busy commuter
railroad. Power service lines were removed resulting in the furloughing of 2000
employees of the Geyser Beer Company, a local shopping mall and multiplex
theater. Agent Lance Sober, close-mouthed as always, accompanied the cortege
every step of the way passing out credit vouchers granting adequate compensation
to all dispossessed and disadvantaged citizens.
Eventually peace and quiet returned to Arch Street. Wild conjectures gave way to
suppositions that perhaps Marty and Marcus were guilty of bootlegging or dealing
in controlled substances. But even these suspicions petered out in time, and the
good people of Freestone Corners returned to their placid lives. All of them had
been adequately compensated -- some more adequately than others.
The construction of Marcus's brand new garage gave him the opportunity to visit
Marty while the work was going on. They would have a Geyser or two, (now that
the brewery was up and running again) and they would speculate on the "thing"
and wonder if they would ever learn what happened to it over at Fort Tilden.
In spite of the excitement of Labor Day, it came and went much the same as it
always did every year. The neighborhood kids went back to school, the baseball
season ground to a halt, and there was a hint of fall in the air.
That is where we find them this Halloween eve. Marty, Marcus -- yes, and Caspar
too, at three thirty in the afternoon of All Soul's Eve. They sit in old cane
bottom wooden rockers on Marty's front porch, each with a Geyser in his hand and
a bowl of O'Henry Bars between them. The kids have been let loose from school
and they dart from house to house dragging their shopping bags behind them.
There are Supermen and Fairies in pink tutus, witches and skeletons, cats in a
hat, and even a short little fellow wearing a rubber Bill Gates mask. They all
love O'Henry Bars and they all say "Trick or treat," and "Thank you." Marty and
Marcus are having a fine afternoon and Caspar enjoys it even more, because he
can smell a kid no matter what he's dressed up to look like.
Suddenly, Caspar growls and sits up. His hackles rise and he advances
apprehensively to the edge of the porch.
"S'matter Caspy?" Marcus, with two beers under his belt can see nothing wrong.
"He's got his eye on those kids across the street," Marty says.
On the other side of the street there are six kids, dressed like little space
men hurrying towards them. Caspar retreats and cowers behind Marcus's rocking
chair. The growl is replaced by a plaintive whine. The little space men, who
apparently have forgotten to bring shopping bags, ignore Marty and Marcus and
run up the driveway toward the back yard chattering to themselves -- much the
way kids do.
"Out here, kids .... out here. Treats are out here!" Marty shouts. "We'd better
go back and check on them, Marcus." At this point Caspar, who understands
English as well as most Armenians do, sets up a howl that can be heard half way
to Fort Tilden.
"KIDS?" Marty gives it one more try.
"You wanna go through that again, Marty? Why don't we just let them figger it
out for themselves. Maybe they'll go away?"
Marty picked up the bowl of O'Henry bars and offered a handful to Marcus, they
seemed to be the only means of defense.
"Think maybe we can hold them off with these, Marcus."
"I don't think so," Marcus said under his breath. "Why don't you run inside for
©Harry Buschman 1998
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