Every family has friends that are so close that they’re almost more than family. The Browns were such friends to my family.
In the burgeoning metropolis that was Viroqua, Wisconsin, Buddy owned a kitchen boutique, peddling higher-end cookware to an unknowing populace. Viroqua at the time had about 3,400 people which included many of the farms surrounding the small town in western Wisconsin. When we moved to Viroqua, we were one of four Jewish families there. Buddy, Pat and Sherry were the #2 Jews in-town. Of the other two families, one owned a pretty crappy clothing store, and the other one had a daughter my age — and we pretty much hated each other from jump.
So Buddy, Pat and Sherry became our closest friends in the three years we lived full-time in Viroqua and they made our life there pretty good. They hailed from Chicago, too — so they could commiserate with us about missing the tastes of the city.
Look, if you haven’t figured it out yet — it’s very true: Jews loves us some food. In fact, I’m pretty sure I can speak for just about anyone in my family that given the choice of a favorite movie, favorite TV or a good Corned Beef and Pastrami on an Onion Roll… we’re going to pick the sandwich. I digress.
There is an amazing story of how Buddy and Pat met, fell in love, moved to Viroqua and had Sherry. I don’t know it. But I’m pretty sure it’s amazing, and here’s how I imagine it goes.
See, before the Korean Conflict, Buddy was a professional hustler. Like the Paul Newman kind. Buddy would work straight jobs for two or three years — cleaning, driving, selling aluminum siding — saving up enough money to supplement his gambling and smuggling affairs in Mexico, the Caribbean and South America. Buddy was running covert operations in the early 1950s for the CIA. Helping install dictators, running weapons and rum from one junta to another. Buddy had a natural way with people, mastering several native dialects, Spanish and Portuguese (and German for the guys hiding out in Belize after World War II).
About a year before the Korean Conflict erupted, Buddy was assigned to North Korea to befriend a young Kim Jong Il and maintain a dialogue with him should the pre-emptive diplomacy go sour. Buddy was dispatched to Pyongyang and was widely known as (what sounds like) Keburka Burka Paching Pachang Chang Hua (translation: White Devil that tells good stories). Buddy would smuggle in movie reels for young Kim Jong Il. In return, Buddy had safe passage guaranteed by Il’s Crimson Guard to Seoul.
When Buddy wasn’t acting as a courier, he helped coordinate the subversive propoganda airdrops over North Korea. These messages would consist of stuff like, “Put down your weapons and surrender. We have steak for you if you give up.” Buddy masterminded about 800 propaganda drops over North Korea.
In 1951, when President Truman threatened to use the Atomic Bomb against the CCF, the official relationship between Buddy and the Kim Jong Il took an icy turn, and Buddy was pulled out by the US 17th Regiment in Yalu. Kim Jong Il wept knowing he would probably never hang out with his close American confidant. The CIA, wanting to protect its best asset in Korea, wisely allowed Buddy to hide in plain sight and Buddy moved back to Chicago. Communist agents and Russian spies, however had different plans for Buddy, and after several attempts at “normal” cover jobs in the city, he wisely decided to settle down with a young hairdresser and Wu-Tang assassin, Patricia McGanaughy in 1961.
They left Chicago long before the turbulent 60s and settled in the wilderness of Western Wisconsin, all the while maintaining correspondence with Kim Jong Il on behalf of the United States via the notes written on the back of packing slips and invoices on… you guessed it… the kitchen items sold in Buddy’s culinary shop which were made in Korea.
Buddy was a master of disguise, ambiguity and stealth. He also taught me by example how to appreciate people for their gifts in and of themselves, how not to settle — and how to lie extravagantly.
I will miss him very, very much.