The Duckhead Buddha came into existence in the Fall of 1984 in the following way: walking down the street, looking at my feet as usual so as to avoid eye contact with anyone who might pop up, I happened to catch sight of a small, bulbous, metal object in the gutter. Upon closer inspection, it proved to be the body of a lead-cast Buddha figure. The head had been severed, evidently with some violence, ripped off or cut, leaving only a jagged neck hole in its place. A brief search for the head turned up nothing.
“Still,” I said to myself. “A headless Buddha.” I paused, then added: “I have a feeling this curious item might prove to be useful in some, as yet unforeseen, way in the future.”
So I picked it up and thought no more about it, continuing on to the library where I planned to spend most of the day reading Beowulf, which is the sort of thing I spent quite a lot of time doing in the early 80s. Hwæt!
At the library, a frightened-looking bespectacled girl approached my table and stood looking at me meaningfully. She handed me a large steel ball bearing, and asked me if I’d dropped it in the elevator. Without actually lying, I managed to convey the impression that I had, even though I hadn’t, because, you know: free ball bearing.
Later that night, returning from the library, I spotted a severed duck decoy head neatly wedged between two slats of a foot bridge. Those readers who have guessed that the next steps were: (a) to remove the duck head whence it was wedged; and (b) to place the duck head on the Buddha body with the beak running down one side — well, those readers have the right idea.
The ball bearing went into the little box or basket in the Buddha’s hands. The head and body fit together perfectly, like they were always meant to be that way. I imagined I heard a little click, a kind of snick-snack, and the sound of the trumpets of angels on high. And, who knows, maybe I actually did.
Here’s the Duckhead Buddha as he appears today:
The ball bearing is still in the box thing. I don’t know when or by what means that piece of quartz or agate wound up in there as well. I just noticed it was there a few years ago and thought it best not to mess with it.
You’ll also notice some marks on the beak and face. Bite marks. They weren’t there originally. How they got there was, well, I had this heavy metal room-mate in the dorms back then. His given name was Jeff, but he was known to me and my little circle of associates as Soul Butcher because a notebook of his heavy metal lyrics, furtively perused while he was not present, contained the lyrics to a song of that title.
“I will come to you in the night, and butcher your soul,” it ran.
To which we, that is to say this guy Paul, added “hence the name, Soul Butcher.”
And we all laughed heartily.
Anyway, one morning, after a night away, I returned to the dorm room I shared with Soul Butcher to find the aftermath of what appeared to have been a big rowdy heavy metal party. Beer cans, liquor bottles, Motley Crue and Fastway records and such were strewn everywhere. The smell of cannabis hung in the air. A Quiet Riot album still spun on the turntable making that thump-thump sound.
Soul Butcher was passed out on the floor in his underwear, snoring and drooling. And the Duckhead Buddha’s head was missing. Its headless body sat on the desk in approximately its usual spot, with its ball bearing still in place.
If you’ve ever had the feeling, in the wake of a minor yet significant tragedy, that the universe has slipped ever so slightly out of joint, you can imagine, perhaps something of my emotional state.
Nonetheless there was no great mystery: the passed-out metal-head, open window, and mangled Venetian blinds were important clues. Quite obviously, I deduced, the Duckhead Buddha had played bat to some exuberant, drug-addled metalhead’s Ozzy. Or perhaps Soul Butcher himself had been the one who had bitten the head off the Duckhead Buddha and tossed it out the window with his teeth. Maybe Soul Butcher had in fact been the only person at this party. In retrospect, that seems quite likely, though he assured me afterwards that there had been a great many hot, “quality” chicks in attendance. (The culprit was never officially identified, though let’s just say it was in fact a hot, “quality” chick who bit off the Duckhead Buddha’s head so as to make the story better.)
At any rate, after a good deal of searching I found the head, bitten but unbowed despite having been chewed and spit out and having fallen seven floors, in the bushes by the Unit II pathway. I restored the head to its proper place, and resolved to keep a close eye on Soul Butcher from then on. And I made sure to lock the Duckhead Buddha in my desk drawer whenever I left the room. The Duckhead Buddha’s head and body have never been separated since. He’s watching over me now from his bookshelf perch. He’s watching over all of us.
To sum up: I was a weird guy in college, but I bet I’m even weirder now.