Trevor F. X. McDaniles was a perpetually drunk thirty year old resident of the Manhattan Mens Shelter in 1982. He looked like Buckwheat from the Little Rascals kiddie reruns on Channel Eleven. Hence: the street name Buckwheat. He became a seemingly innocuous and friendly part of the cityscape. Buckwheat did not panhandle nor did he bother anyone, he just sat in Madison Square Park and enjoyed taking in the sun. Buckwheat would soulfully sing: New York City, just like I pictured it, skyscrapers, and everythang! (He loved Stevie Wonder.)
Buckwheat was cool, we looked out for him. We didn’t let anyone hurt him. If it was too cold or too late to be out, we drove him back to the shelter. If Buckwheat was hungry, we got him a hot dog, knish or whatever he wanted. Buckwheat always said he loved being in our RMP (police car) without wearing handcuffs: He would always loudly imitate the sirens Whoop, Whoop, Whoop and laugh.
The only problem was Buckwheat liked to set fire to litter baskets and drag them to the middle of East Twenty-fourth Street and Third Avenue. We would notify FDNY about the fire. Next step, take Buckwheat in our RMP to Brooklyn and dump him off on the Flatbush Avenue Extension. That little trip would halt his pyromania for a few months. Buckwheat knew the deal. The walk back to Manhattan was his punishment. Why should Buckwheat go to jail? He received more help from the shelter social workers than he would at the dangerous Rikers Island jail
The frequency of trash basket fires increased. The next time we found Buckwheat after a Buckwheat Signature fire, he was passed out on his favorite park bench.
A new policing strategy was necessary. We took him to the morgue at Bellevue, laid him out, completely covered head to toe on a slab. He finally woke up with the dead around him. That still didn’t work. Buckwheat was back at intersection trash fires within a few days.
The complaints about Buckwheat grew as the neighborhood gentrified. The neighborhood “New Yorkers,” (new arrivals from Ohio or other points west) demanded action! He had to be arrested! Manhattan South Task Force made the collar in the fall of 1983.
Buckwheat copped a plea and was sentenced to Rikers Island for one year.
Soon after Buckwheat was sent to Rikers, we ran into one of the social workers from the Mens Shelter walking through the park. As we exchanged pleasantries through the window of the RMP, she casually mentioned Buckwheat was killed by another inmate over some petty bullshit after only one month at Rikers. A toothbrush fashioned into a shive right through the heart. Buckwheat was DOA.
I sadly looked over at Buckwheat’s favorite bench, knowing he would have joyfully been basking in the glory of this luxurious sun-filled New York City afternoon. I then smiled and thought, New York City just like he pictured it, skyscrapers, and everythang!
Frankie Rembly has observed the transition of his city from its past wild days to the present sterile bubble that is now New York City. He enjoys the renaissance of creativity in writing for television. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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