In Buffalo Nickel, novelist Floyd Salas has charted his dramatic coming of age in the conflicting shadows of two older brothers; one a drug addict and petty criminal, the other an intellectual prodigy. Through intense, passionate prose, Salas takes us through the seedy bars, boxing rings and jails of his youth as he searches for his own true identity amid the tragedies that envelope his family.
Buffalo Nickel is autobiography that reads like a well-crafted novel in its recording of the excessive human costs of drug addiction. Passionate, eloquent and gripping, this thought- provoking memoir reveals the truth behind a family’s battle with drugs, crime and suicide.
—Los Angeles Times
—Los Angeles Reader
—Western American Literature
—Arizona Daily Star
“I’ve come to see the body of my son, Randy Salas,” Al said, holding his hat in his hand. There was a long bruise, a track of junk spikes, snaking right up the main vein of his forehead and into the thinning hair of his slowly balding skull, which was wrinkled and sweating, and had the pallor of a sick man. He was forty-seven years old.
A slender, clerical type, a son of the shanty Irish, came swiftly out of the back of the office in his white shirt and tie, suitpants. He met Al’s eyes with his pale ones, near the same tone as his silvery hair, which was stark with his long, red, wino’s nose, with pores like craters in it.
“I’ll have to get it ready,” he said.
“Put your hat back on, Al,” I said, as the man walked away so Al would cover the junk track up the lifeline of his forehead. It looked like a bad bruise at a distance, but up close it was a clear trail of spikes — a lifeline he had to use if he wanted to get high, now that scar tissue from nineteen years of shooting junk had covered up all the veins of his body.
Al had a false ID for cashing fraudulent checks in his pocket and nine kids ranging in age from twenty down to ten, all raised on welfare. He was a three-time loser, had eight years of parole to do yet for Washington State, and his sweetest son was supposed to have committed suicide in a jail cell. Hung himself because he thought that his best friend died from an overdose of reds they both had taken, had staggered down the streets on, and had been arrested for being drunk on.
The man with the long, red nose came out a side door and held it open for us. Al hesitated so I went first and walked down to the end of the hall where I could just see the head of a dead man through the window of a door in an adjoining hall.
“That might be him there,” I said to Al standing behind me, and Al stood up on his toes and answered, “That’s him, alright.”
“Step in there,” the thin man said, pointing, and we stepped into the icy hall, all white tile floors and white tile walls, windows, and hard edges, cold and impersonal.
“Yes, that’s him,” my brother said, and I could see it myself, through the window, though I hadn’t seen the boy in ten years and had forced my brother to come and see the body, make sure that he hadn’t been beaten to death, then strung up, like some cops will do.
But the boy’s face was unmarked, arched eyebrows, large eyes with long curling lashes, a truly fine nose, and perfectly shaped lips. He was beautiful even with his face now a deep, browned, blood-red, almost orange complexion.
“We’d like to see the body, please,” I said to the long-nosed man standing next to us.
“You won’t like it,” he said.
“We want to see if there are any marks on him,” I said, and he swiftly stepped back into the other hall and reappeared in seconds inside the glassed room with the body of Randy, lowered the sheet and showed us his neck. A deep, dark, wine-red bruise disappeared under his chin, was caught by the chin, pressed down to his chest.
My brother shifted his weight from one foot to the other, then turned to look at me as if he wanted to go, but I said, “Let us see the whole body,” through the glass, and the man lowered the sheet down to the slim waist of the dead boy, revealing the slight but well-proportioned torso, lowered it enough for us to see the coroner’s knife cut, now crudely stitched up, that crossed his chest like an X, from just below each bare shoulder down to each hip bone, both lines meeting in the very middle of his solar plexus, the whole stitched together like soft, crude leather.
“Show us the rest of him,” I said, and the man turned to look at me, stared, but then put a towel over Randy’s genitals and pulled the sheet all the way down to his feet, showing how one hand had twisted up stiffly in front of the body. It was as if it had been up against the bars and Randy might have been trying to save himself at the last minute or was trying to push off the bars and tighten the noose and strangle himself faster.
“Are those bruises on his back?” I asked.
“No, that’s blood,” the man said.
“It’s settling on the bottom of him, then, huh?” I said, and he nodded. “Let us see the other side of him now,” I said, and the man cocked his head and glanced at me with his pale eyes, but turned the gurney around and drew the sheet all the way off the body this time.
“It’s okay, isn’t it?” my brother asked me.
But I said, “Let us see the back of his head, too,” and the man hooked his fingers in Randy’s coarse brown hair, lifted his head off the block, and turned the gurney around with his free hand so we could see the entire back of the head, which was just thick, pressed down hair.
“Thank you,” I said, and Al and I turned around and stepped back into the main hall, walked back down the icy tile walkway to the office, and started to walk out the front door when the man called out: “Say! You’ll have to sign a statement that you saw the body!”
“We had to make sure there was no foul play,” I explained to the man as my brother signed. “Our brother died under mysterious circumstances nineteen years ago, and we never found out what really happened.”
Al then put the pen down, and, looking up from under the brim of his hat, said, “Does Mister Skiles still run the office?” Skiles had been a lieutenant on the county jail farm where my brother knew him.
The man nodded, without looking up, busy with the statement.
“Mister Skiles is a really fine man. Yes, Mister Skiles is a really fine man,” my brother said, his waxy dopefiend’s skin wrinkling up with a smile.
But the man with the long nose kept writing on the statement.
“Mister Skiles is about one of the finest men I know,” my brother finally said, trying to make sure the cops wouldn’t hold this against him the next time he got busted, and the man with the long nose lifted up his face at last, smiled, murmured something.