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Jewish World Review May 24, 1999 /9 Sivan 5759

Bob Greene

Bob Greene
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We could all use a return to the Buddy system

(JWR) ---- (
THE WAY TO a better world?

We need a whole lot less Shawn, Tyler, Jordan and Brendan, and a lot more Buddy.

This thought has occurred as, in recent months, columns have appeared in this space about great human beings whose names happened to be Buddy. Unfortunately, all the Buddys were dead.

There was Buddy "Nature Boy" Rogers, the golden-haired, Elvis-sneered professional wrestling star who made men whimper and run away (and women whimper and run toward him) with his cocky strut and his arrogant stare.

There was Buddy Holly, the singer who could make every song a two-minute movie, with peaks of excitement, depths of despair, mountains of hope and waves of sheer and heavenly giddiness.

There was Buddy Knox, another singer much less famous and much less popular than Buddy Holly, whose one hit, "Party Doll," nonetheless remains an indelible part of millions of memories -- and, judging from the response to the column that appeared here about Mr. Knox's death, brings smiles to people's faces more than 40 years after its release on Roulette records. Who could sing about wanting a party doll, and have people not resent his open lust, but applaud it and support it? Only a guy named Buddy.

The point -- and there is one here, stick with me -- is that as the Buddys have disappeared from our society, to be replaced by men with more elegant and refined sounding names, we may have lost something. The aforementioned lads who even today are running around the nation's elementary and high schools -- all those Shawns, Tylers, Jordans, Brendans and their even less-Buddy-like brethren -- may have theater-marquee names, may have names that all but beg to star in a Fox or WB one-hour weekly drama -- but they aren't Buddys.

And America, at this particular time in our long history, would seem to need all the Buddys it can get.

A Buddy is a guy you can count on; a Buddy, even when followed by an in-quotes "Nature Boy," is salt of the earth. A Buddy not only looks you straight in the eye but gives you a friendly grin as he does it. Buddy picks you up right on time and wouldn't dream of keeping you waiting; Buddy knows your name even if you haven't seen him in a dozen years or more. When the world is at its most complicated, Buddy isn't; whatever complications a Buddy has, he does his best to keep inside. Buddy doesn't get nervous; Buddy is patient and calm. Buddy is --- Well --- a buddy.

Which is the shame about why the Buddys have become not only an endangered species, but almost extinct. When I think of the last new Buddy I met, I have to go back 30 years -- to the old pressroom in Chicago police headquarters at 11th and State. As a brand-new reporter straight out of school, I was assigned there to fill in for a police reporter who was on vacation (or "furlough," as they liked to say, using cop shorthand).

There was a Joe in the pressroom, and a Jim, and a Pat (she was actually a Patricia). This was the one place in Chicago newspapering that in 1969 still felt like 1933 -- you half-expected to pick up the phone and find Al Capone or Frank Nitti on the other end. And there, in that police-headquarters pressroom, was a Buddy -- my last Buddy.

If memory serves, he was Buddy Lewis, of the Chicago Daily News. Been around forever, seen everything, covered everything, knew what questions to ask -- and there was something sort of swell about coming to work every weekday and being able to toss off those seemingly casually uttered, yet strangely comforting, two words: "Morning, Buddy."

Everyone got to say it -- except Buddy, of course. That had to be the one and only down side to being a Buddy: When you were one, you didn't get to know one.

Except in the days before Buddys disappeared, you probably did get to know one, or more. Nature Boy Rogers, for example -- one of his main rivals was another blond wrestler by the name of Buddy Austin (there was a time when Buddy Austin was arrested in a bar and told the police that he was Buddy Rogers, and never mind). And Buddy Holly -- chances are, at some of those early rock-and-roll shows, there were nights when the stage manager would call out: "You're on, Buddy!"

And two young voices would call out from two different dressing rooms: "Holly or Knox?"

Anyway, we could use a lot more Buddys. How did we get started on this?

Oh. Right. "Party Doll."

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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