October 3, 2009 8:32:00 PM
Birney Imes - [email protected]
The man for whom a cliché was invented died last week in Las Vegas. His name was Buxton Williams, and not once in his 62 years did he meet a stranger.
His sister Lillian Ann notified friends with two e-mails, one announcing the sad news and the other containing pictures from different periods of her brother''s restless life. That e-mail, fittingly titled "Buxton has left the building," begins with a Brownie snapshot of an exuberant 2-year-old in a lawn chair and ends with a cell phone picture taken earlier this year of a smiling middle-aged man posing with a Las Vegas showgirl in the lobby of a casino.
Buxton was a bit like Elvis. No last name needed.
After graduating from Lee High School in ''65, Buxton tried on college for size and found it an uncomfortable fit. After a year at Mississippi State and almost a year at Delta State, he joined the Navy. Four years later he landed in New Orleans where he impressed the owner of a French Quarter hotel. He put Buck in charge.
It was called the Place D''Armes, the Plastic Arms as its young manager called it. One of the pictures Lillian Ann sent from that period, shows Buxton at the check-in desk wearing a shirt, tie and a mischievous look. As a perk, Buxton had the use of a large, unfinished apartment overlooking Chartres Street half a block from Jackson Square. Buxton shared the apartment with any and all visiting friends from Mississippi.
During that period, I remember walking with Buxton through the French Quarter in the heat of summer. Locals treated him as though he was the mayor of the Quarter, if not all of New Orleans. Everyone knew him, and everyone was delighted to see him coming. If Buxton was in the building, you can bet people were smiling.
It''s the rare soul (and body) that can take a steady diet of the French Quarter, and after three years at the Plastic Arms, Buxton moved uptown to manage a seafood place on Magazine Street for a couple of Louisiana boys named Binky and Tyrone.
From that chapter comes the story of Big Boy, the name Buxton gave a large rat that lived in the place.
Buck had gone to a back room to check on a vat of steaming crawfish when Big Boy appeared. As he reached for the .22 pistol in the back pocket of his jeans, the gun discharged. Feeling the heat of the metal, Buck thought he had shot himself in the behind. As it turned out, the bullet went through his jeans pocket, down the leg of his pants and hit the floor. Neither Buck nor Big Boy were harmed.
Eventually New Orleans played out for Buxton. When it did, he did what he always did when he needed to catch his breath; he came home. Back in Columbus, he sold Chevrolets until Don Grizzle, a high school classmate, talked him into coming to the Gulf Coast to work as a security guard in a casino. That lasted until Katrina hit.
Buck ignored the warnings of his friend Jimmy Simmons about the approaching hurricane. Simmons and Buxton had been running buddies since high school when they sacked groceries together at Big Star. Buck told Simmons he thought he would ride out the storm. After all, he told his friend, he had two steaks and a bottle of whiskey.
The next time Simmons heard from Buxton, he was calling him to say how nice Simmons'' yard looked.
"How did you know that?" Simmons asked. "Where are you?"
"I''m at your doorstep," Buxton replied.
Simmons'' daughter, Mary Elizabeth, was teaching English in Japan and Buxton moved into her vacant bedroom. Weeks later, at the Pig Fest, Buxton turned to his friend, "I''m tired of this," he said. "I''m going to Las Vegas."
Within three days of arriving in Vegas, Buxton had a job.
Last week Buxton''s supervisor at the Flamingo Casino told Lillian Ann that floor people, bartenders and supervisors were mourning her brother''s passing. Not what you would expect in this tough town. "Unprecedented," he told her.
The hospital staff in Las Vegas were bewildered by the number nieces who came to see Buxton as he was dying. As it turns out, those "nieces" were cocktail waitresses circumventing the family-only restrictions in Intensive Care.
Jimmy Simmons said he''s already gone out to Friendship Cemetery to see where his friend will be put to rest.
"Even the guy that runs the cemetery knew Buck," Simmons said half surprised.
I don''t know why he would be.
He''s going to be buried under a magnolia tree with chair next to it," Simmons said. "I can sit in it and talk to him."
Write or phone Birney Imes at The Commercial Dispatch, 516 Main St., Columbus, MS 39701, 328-2424, or e-mail him at [email protected]
Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.