by Sean H. Doyle
Off and on for the better part of two decades, I was casual friends with a guy named Mark. Rumor had it that he had walked in on his father right at the moment his father decided to take his own life via shotgun.
Mark was a few years older than I was, and was part of the tail end of the first wave of Phoenix punk rockers. He had been in a marginally important band that had a record out on Placebo Records, the label that was home to Jodie Foster’s Army and Sun City Girls.
The first time I remember meeting Mark was at this apartment that was shared by a group of older, more dedicated punks — some of whom were runaways and emancipated minors. I think only one or two of them had jobs, with the rest of them selling drugs and being petty criminals to pay their portion of the rent. Occasionally, they threw parties with a cover at the door to make up whatever difference was left over.
It was at one of these parties where I met Mark. I had been brought there by a friend of mine from my Jewish Youth Group, and the older punks gave me a little bit of a hard time because they didn’t know me — they’d seen me around at shows and house parties, but the question back in those days was always “are you a fuckin’ Narc?” It took ingesting a lot of illicit substances to prove otherwise. Mark was one of the first punks to proclaim that he thought I was “cool,” and he treated me pretty alright, which is why I remembered him when I ran into him years later.
When I first got out of the military and moved back to Phoenix, I lived with my father and his wife. I used to leave their apartment to go and wander around because sitting in there and watching them drink themselves to death wasn’t my idea of a good time. They lived near an open-air mall which had a small coffeehouse in it and I started spending a lot of my time there, sitting outside scratching away at my spiral notebooks, smoking and drinking coffee until they closed. It felt like an easier place to do my thing than the apartment. I was still feeling my father out to see if he and I could have a “normal” relationship.
One afternoon when I was sitting there I heard this ridiculous laugh that made the hair on my arms stand up. I was pretty sure that I knew who that laugh belonged to, and I turned and watched as Mark walked right behind the counter, picked up a mug and poured himself a cup of coffee. I realized by seeing the way he interacted with the women inside that they were his mother and sister. As he was coming out the door we made eye contact. He stood there for a second stroking his chin as he sipped the hot coffee from the mug while squinting in my direction.
“Sean? Dude, is that you? Holy shit.”
“Hey, Mark. How the hell are you?”
“Man. I heard you were over in The Gulf and shit — is that true?”
“Yeah, I was.”
“Fuckin’ heavy, Sean. That shit is hea-vy.”
A year passes by and I have a girlfriend I am living with. She works at the coffeehouse. Mark’s mother and sister treat her like family. Not because of me, but because that is just the kind of people they are and she is a hard worker. Mark and I hang out a little more than usual. Mark likes to get all weird and get up in my face and try to talk to me about this shit he is into out in “Cali” where he goes all the time to hang out with some buddies of his — Scientology. He tells me that I will never amount to anything unless I become a “clear,” and that he is going to be a rich mega-director someday.
“That’s not very punk rock, Mark.”
“Oh, fuck you Sean. You were never punk rock to begin with; you were always this weird kid with zits and a fucking Jewfro who could play guitar so people liked you. You’ll never understand ’true genius’ because you’re not a fucking genius.”
This kind of conversation happened more than I would have liked it to.
There was a period of time when Mark was so spun out of control that everyone was convinced he was using meth or something, but I knew better — this was just part of who he was, part of his natural progression. I had watched as he developed bigger and bigger OCD habits. It started with obsessive hand-washing and then moved on to him constantly huffing from a Vicks inhaler because he hated the way his voice sounded in his head when he felt stuffy. He wouldn’t drive a car unless it was a Mercedes Benz that was manufactured between 1964 and 1969. He refused to let anyone shake his hand. He would always hold his lighter to the filter end of a cigarette for a second and then tear off the very tip at the other end before lighting them. He would only take two or three drags off of it before stubbing it out.
Mark was slipping.
Another year passes by and my girlfriend has moved out. Mark tells me I am banned from going to the coffeehouse because it would make everyone uncomfortable. Mark asks me all sorts of questions about my relationship with my former girlfriend and asks me about my drug habits. Mark tells me that my girlfriend told people I had hit her, but he didn’t believe it. Mark tells me that she had been seeing someone else on the sly for the last month or two before she moved out.
“Doesn’t it bother you that some dickweed was making out with your lady, Sean?”
“I guess so. I’m trying not to think about it, to be honest.”
“I know who he is and where he lives. I can drive you over there so you can kick his fucking ass, if you want.”
“Thanks, Mark. I don’t think that would be a good idea.”
Mark then asks me if I want to see some of the short films he has been shooting.
The combo-platter of hanging out with Mark — who has now changed his name to “Pine America” and refuses to talk to anyone who does not address him as such — and my newest friend, a kid I met at work and nicknamed “Chongo,” is maddening. Pine America has now started to dress in nothing but white linen: dress shirts unbuttoned to below the nipples, white canvas Vans with no socks, wrinkled white linen pants with big cuffs and white sport coats. Chongo likes to egg Pine America on all the time — calling him Mark to get him riled up and then the both of them break out in their twin nasal laughs, “You‘re a motherfucker, man“ being the usual endnote.
Sitting at a table with the two of them for anything longer than half an hour causes me to break out in hives — Pine America’s constant scratching and weird rituals with his cigarettes and his never-ending rubbing together of his hands always skeeves me out. Chongo’s constant rocking back and forth in his chair like an autistic child hearing the music in his head nobody else can hear. The two of them leering at high school girls. Pine America calling girls over to the table and acting out his mega-director fantasies, asking them if they want to be in one of his movies. Chongo talking nonsense and cock-blocking just to see the frustration boiling over in Pine America‘s eyes.
“You guys do realize that the way you talk to these girls is pretty disgusting, right? Like — if you think they enjoy being leered at and all that shit, you’re totally insane.”
“You got too many engrams fucking up your blood, buddy. You know that?”
“Always with the Scientology shit — eh, Pine?”
“Fucking narc. Always such a little fucking narc.”
Chongo would always sit there, head on a constant bob, waiting to jump into the conversation with some nonsense about him having been an Aztec warrior in a past life.
This was my life. These were my friends.
Random things Pine America would say to me while sitting at a table drinking coffee:
“You gotta get a Mac, man. Nobody is going to want to watch any fucking movies made in any other fucking way, I’m telling you. You hear me? A Mac, man. A fucking Mac.”
“My sister has MS because she’s a closeted lesbian. God is punishing her for it.”
“Sometimes I look at these young girls and all I wanna do is lick their cunts while they piss all over my face. Ha! You know what I mean, man? Fucking cunts. Lap it up like a dog, dude.”
“Have you ever stood in the doorway and watched a girl take a shit, man? Fuck, I wanna do that so bad.”
“Ornette Coleman is from Mars!”
“My father killed himself because he was a pussy. I’m not a pussy. Fucking Cobain, man. He really fucked all these stupid kids up. They’re going to be a generation of pussies, mark my words dude. He was never punk rock. Right?”
“You need to be audited, dude. All you do is sit here and write in your fucking notebooks all day and pretend to know what you’re talking about when people talk to you. I see right through your ass because I’m a fucking Clear. You need to be audited. Seriously.”
“Remember that time you huffed all that ether and stole all that beer from that jock party we crashed? The rest of us kind of hoped you’d get your ass kicked. Nobody liked you.”
“If you believe the Holocaust happened, well, you’re a fucking idiot. That shit is a lie, man. A goddamn ZOG lie.”
There was a rumor going around that Pine America had made a pornographic movie that involved his girlfriend dressed up as a little girl — wearing a bonnet and a Holly Hobby-ish dress — and that he had shown it at a gallery opening with her standing next to him, beaming. In the movie he supposedly handed her one of those giant all-day lollipops and asked her to lick it while he thrust into her over and over again with a big black dildo. “Here Comes the Sun” by The Beatles played on a loop throughout the film.
The first time I heard the rumor I just laughed it off as some shit he might have planted in people’s heads to get them talking about him and his exploits, one of his random tall tales he’d tell people to keep his name ringing. When I started to hear some of the older folks in the local art scene talking about it, I realized he had lost total control over himself.
Pine America and Chongo had always talked about opening up their own art gallery, a space where people could do whatever the fuck they wanted and they were going to get the money to fund this space by just flat-out asking every single rich person they met to donate to their cause. Because Pine America had such a nasty streak and had a habit of speaking really harshly to people, the two of them started using young girls to ask people for the money.
As far as I can recall, nobody ever gave them any money.
At one point, Chongo done went and lost his mind. He began painting these wild-looking pictures on his cheeks and speaking in broken and child-like rhythms, telling people the pictures on his face were “angelic freedom writing,” and that he was serving some kind of higher purpose we were not privy to. I had already sort of cut him off because of an incident where I was pretty sure he had broken into my apartment out of spite for my lack of understanding toward his cause — someone had come in through the window, which was typical Chongo behavior, eaten a bunch of food and left the kitchen a wreck and tore apart photo albums and spit water all over my television and electronics.
I ran into Pine America in Best Buy when I was shopping for a new CD player, and Pine was standing there holding the new TOOL album in his hand, shaking his head back and forth along with the hologram printed on the cover.
“Sean. Man, have you seen this fucked up thing? Fuck this band, dude. Fuck. This. Band.”
“Pine, you love TOOL. You used to pick up my guitar and immediately start playing TOOL riffs.”
“Fuck you. Hey — did Chongo really break into your apartment and trash the place?”
“I think so. It just sort of feels like one of his things, you know?”
“Damn. That fucker is fucking crazy. Have you seen the pictures he’s painting on his face? Fucker is fucked up.”
This is the first time I have ever seen Pine America look genuinely spooked, so instead of saying anything I just kind of look at him, trying to let him know that I see through him.
“Someone needs to audit that little fucker. ’Angelic freedom writing’ — what the fuck is that all about?”
The last time I saw Pine America was one night when I was homeless, back in the summer of 2002. I was walking down Glendale Avenue — toward a park over near 16th Street that I knew I could sleep in without being hassled — when I saw him drive by real slow, craning his head to look at me. He made a wide and stunted U-turn in the middle of traffic and pulled up alongside me, blocking traffic in the far right lane.
“Where you going, Sean? Need a ride?”
“I’m not going anywhere, Pine. I was headed over to the park with the ducks to sleep.”
“Are you homeless right now, bro? Someone told me you were homeless.”
“Yeah. I am.”
“Fuck that, man. Get in the fucking car.”
“I’m okay, Pine — I don’t mind walking.”
“Get in the fucking car, pussy. Let me buy you a cup of coffee?”
Cars were honking at us. People driving home from work at dusk, yelling out at us from their open widows as they crept by, pissed off about our obstruction in their routines. Pine looked determined and I knew a cup of coffee would do me right. I got in the car.
Pine and I went to an almost empty diner and sat at the counter. We got coffees and Pine asked me if I was hungry, then he ordered us burgers and fries. For a while we were just quiet and eating, with Pine looking over at me and laughing nervously every few minutes or so.
“You’re fucking homeless because of that weird girl Chongo is dating, aren’t you?”
“It isn’t all her fault. I made stupid choices, too. But yeah — that has something to do with it.”
“All I know is that she was telling people before you guys even got that place that she was going to kick you out. She was telling people that she thought you were dangerous. Chongo said he had to choose her, because she’s got his baby in her belly.”
I didn’t respond. I just nodded at the waitress to fill my mug with more coffee and pushed my plate forward because I couldn’t eat another bite. Pine reached over and took the rest of the fries off of my plate and shoved them into his mouth.
“Sean, man? I gotta jet. You need anything? You want me to ask my mom if you can crash in the spare room for a couple of nights or anything?”
“Thanks, but I’m good. I’ll find my way out of this soon. Thanks for the coffee and the burger.”
Pine just kept his gaze on my face. He took out a fistful of crumpled dollars and started ironing them with his hand on the countertop. He paid the bill and then slid the rest of the money he had on him in front of me.
“I can’t take your money, Mark.”
“I know. You can leave it there if you want, or you can wait until I leave and put it in your pocket so you have money for smokes.”
Then Mark — Pine America — did something he had never done in the entire time I had known him. He put his hands on my shoulders and then he leaned in close and hugged me. The embrace was warm but awkward, and right as we were about to break it, he muttered into my ear —
“You should’ve let me audit you, dude. None of this would’ve happened to you if you were a Clear.”
SEAN H. DOYLE lives in Brooklyn, NY. He works hard every day to be a better person and is learning how to love himself more. His book, THIS MUST BE THE PLACE was published in 2015 by Civil Coping Mechanisms. Follow him on Twitter @sean_h_doyle More information can be found at seanhdoyle.com