Using the premise of a man who fell to earth with no identity, no clothes and no injuries, Dan Spencer highlights the foibles of our society as the man’s story becomes well-known throughout the world. He is examined by “experts,” interrogated by the government, subjected to every medical test known to man, and everything shows he is a completely healthy, normal human male, with no brain injury to cause his amnesia, but he is finally allowed to go his own way, since no one can find any reason to hold him. Told through the initially skeptical, cynical view of a small-town reporter who befriends this strange person (who becomes known as “Buddy What” through a humorous set of misunderstandings), the story is the journey of an innocent trying to get a message across to the people of the world that life can be simpler and better than it is for most, if each person chooses to look at life as philosophers have been suggesting for untold ages: live in the now. Of course, that is an over-simplification, as Buddy What has any number of ideas on how to help people be happier and has a peculiar, almost “homespun” way of articulating his ideas. This causes no end of ludicrous groups (of the tin-foil-hat-wearing variety) to form around single, mostly misunderstood, aphorisms publicized by the relentless press presence surrounding Buddy.
Buddy What is not a preacher or a prophet; he is not trying to cash in on his notoriety or exploit his unique situation. Buddy is a man who has no idea where he came from, what his name is, how he ended up falling through the atmosphere to land in Minot, North Dakota, but he feels he has a message to share with the human race. Our intrepid reporter feels he must take Buddy under his wing to prevent the usual cast of characters from exploiting Buddy for their own personal gain — which, of course, many attempt. Buddy learns of the unique phenomenon called “a cult of personality” and assiduously tries to avoid becoming the subject of one, to no avail. He becomes an internet sensation immediately and the more he tries to get people to see him as he is, the more they see in him what they expect — expectations that are doomed to be unrealized. Typically, people hear what they want to hear, believe what they want to believe, expect miracles on demand, but Buddy refuses to be pigeon-holed. He and the reporter travel the country, meeting people in their homes who have invited Buddy to have conversations with them and their friends… as long as that is possible which, of course, is not long enough.
Even though written with a certain amount of tongue-in-cheek humor, there is a great deal of Valentine Michael Smith in Buddy and his story. “Be Now, Buddy What” is definitely worth reading since it manages to illuminate our more venal tendencies without demonizing any particular group, but also suggests we are all capable of being more than we realize if we pay attention to how we think and reflect on ourselves.