Give the Gift of the Government Man – Part Two

In my last blog I posted another excerpt from my book, Confessions of a Government Man. It was part one about a quirky character named Calvin Coolidge Coburn. You might want to check the previous blog for a little background.

When we left CCC he was somewhat in an inebriated state and had gotten himself into still another jam while purportedly managing a construction project in Buffalo, New York.

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It was on Chippewa Street before its regentrification that Calvin found himself in tight quarters. While sitting in one of the blue-collar bars he introduced himself as The Man. He claimed to be “in charge of the construction project,” and was immediately assumed to be the general contractor. Times were tough in an industrialized Buffalo then (Remember Full Monty?) and with each free drink pushed his way Calvin promised a job to an unemployed tradesman.

I had long since departed for my room at the old Statler Hilton Hotel when Calvin instinctively found his way back to the Y (his lodging of choice to save a few bucks) without getting mugged by the downtown regulars of the era. Fortunately for him, he woke up with his head so jammed that he couldn’t arrive at the job site until mid-morning or he would have received a major tune-up from the job seekers. It was not a pretty sight having to barricade ourselves in a construction trailer while the federal police held the job seekers at bay trying to convince them that this was a terrible misunderstanding. To assure that Calvin didn’t arrive during this commotion, which then would have turned to possible homicide, we dispatched a junior member of the staff to keep him within the walls of the Y through the morning.

When Calvin finally arrived at the job site he had no remembrance of the evening before or the promises he made. He never knew how close he came to a disability retirement that day. All he did was to mutter “Don’t kill the golden goose” about a dozen times.

Eventually time and alcohol took their toll. At the restaurant where his retirement luncheon was held a group of close friends and associates dutifully bade him a fond farewell with the appropriate certificate of appreciation from the regional administrator who, of course, was unable to attend. The choice of a venue for his sendoff was problematic. In the past he had been requested not to return to a number of the popular package luncheon places because of his complaints about portion sizes and accusations that the house was watering the drinks.

With Calvin at the dais, surrounded on one side by his boss (whom he despised) and a close co-worker on the other side who always covered for him during his indiscretions, he savored the moment. While he chomped on a Cubano, the young waitress offered his customary rum straight up.

“Is that Captain Morgan Rum?”

“Why yes, sir.”

Calvin removed his seersucker jacket. “Leave the bottle.”

His boss, feigning sincerity, said a few kind words and Calvin drank.

Friends said some kind words and Calvin drank.

A few contractors, who profited by Calvin’s occasionally overlooking a less than workmanlike, but not quite fraudulent installation, spoke about what a dedicated servant of the public Calvin had been. Calvin drank.

The party ended and the folks strolled back to work, most a little groggy. Calvin and a few retired chums stayed longer. Calvin finished the original Captain Morgan fifth and then some. As I understood, he was escorted back to the office to say his final goodbyes.

I had my last glimpse of him as I left the building that evening. He was in the lobby, outside of the health unit, where he was unconscious on the gurney. The Captain Morgan had kicked in big time.

Calvin rarely mentioned his family although we knew he actually had some semblance of a traditional family relationship. His retirement was no exception. No family members were present or reachable. This left his co-workers with the dilemma of trying to get him home. The alternative was to have the health unit nurse send for EMS which would have deposited him in one of the city-operated hellhole hospitals until he regained sufficient consciousness to be sent home on his own.

Calvin had occasionally referred to a son who was “a big shot at NBC.” One of his associates made an attempt to locate the son to get Calvin home. Calls to several NBC installations, including New York and California were fruitless. Finally through the use of a new device, a telephone directory sorted by address, a Ma Bell operator was persuaded to reveal the telephone number of a neighbor.

No real help. The neighbor didn’t know the whereabouts of the wife or son and was not sufficiently endeared to Calvin or his family to offer any real assistance. What he did proffer, however, was that Calvin’s “big shot at NBC” son did not work at NBC at all but was a grease monkey at a west side garage which serviced cars for the Channel Four news team. Another success story shot to hell.

His close buddy, Larson Peabody, took on the task of getting Calvin to a resting place. Public transportation was out, considering Calvin’s prone condition. Putting him in a cab on his own was a major risk. The cab ride to Larson Peabody’s home in New Jersey was $75, a nice piece of change in the Jimmy Carter era. Larson paid the money, as if he had a choice. Calvin was led into the house where he stayed upright long enough to flop into bed in the spare bedroom.

Legend has it by Larson’s later tales that Calvin’s cobwebs started to clear somewhere before dawn. He awakened, disoriented and unaware he was a houseguest of his friend. He wandered the house, opened the nearest door where he saw the outline of two heads in a double bed and then muttered something like, “Who’s in bed with my wife?” while simultaneously taking a flying leap in the general direction of the bed but falling short and landing on the carpet with his head under the bed rail.

Still weakened by the events the day before, when Mrs. Peabody poked Calvin in the ribs with her foot he turned his head and focused on the strange surroundings. He had no recollection of how he got there. It wasn’t until close to nine-thirty the night before that Larson had telephoned Calvin’s home and finally reached his wife to tell her of his whereabouts. He was in no condition to be transported home at the time. She reclaimed him the following morning, a Saturday.

Larson never saw his close friend Calvin again. He never received a thank you for taking him home during his stupor, nor did he ever get reimbursed for the $75 cab ride. Calvin never went back to the office to claim his personal possessions nor did he return to attend subsequent retirement parties for his buddies, including Peabody.

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Alan L. Greenberg can be reached at [email protected]. Confessions of a Government Man is available at bookstores, Amazon.com and other online booksellers and through the website www.thegovernmentman.com.

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