Biff America: A fragile reality
“We poets in our youth begin in gladness; / But thereof come in the end despondency and madness,” Wadsworth.
The first time I saw Sean Casey was in 1976. He had a shaved head and wore a skirt.
I entered the employee entrance of the Sea Swell restaurant on Cape Cod. As I passed through the kitchen I made small talk with the cooks. In front of a prep-table, knife in hand, was Sean.
His head was completely shaved except for a pony-tail sprouting from the top. He wore a pink skirt-like sarong and a white cook’s jacket. He was cutting carrots and dancing to a song only he could hear.
“What the hell is that?” I asked my buddy, Bruce.
“That’s Sean, he’s nuts but an amazing line cook.”
I spied on Sean as I performed side-work in preparation for my job serving lobsters to tourists. He was about 5’ 8” with thick arms and legs; he was built like the wrestler he once was. His name was Irish but his eyes looked almost Asian; they were small, slanted and seemed to twinkle and burn … I wondered if he was on drugs.
When I introduced myself he said something to the affect, “Aren’t you a pretty little Dutch boy, I bet the bug eaters love you.” (‘Bug eaters’ was what the locals called the tourists who ordered lobster.) Before I could even react he added, “No offense, I’m the one wearing a skirt.”
Over the course of the evening I learned Sean’s story from another waiter.
He was in fact a local high school sports hero. After high school he somehow got hooked up with the Krishnas. For almost two years he lived at the temple in Boston where he earned his keep by cooking for the faithful.
Sean quit or got kicked out of the Krishnas and came home to take care of his father who was sick with a bad liver. The restaurant owner and Sean’s dad were old drinking buddies, so Sean got the job.
I never saw him in a dress or ponytail again. He later told me he only came to work looking that way to find out who of his co-workers were open-minded.
During that time I was working on Cape Cod or in California in the summer months, then returning to Colorado resorts for the ski season. For a couple of seasons Sean did the same.
Even without the dress, wherever he traveled, my friend was considered an eccentric. In his case, at that point in time, his odd behavior was appealing. With his shaved head, wild eyes and boundless energy, he would literally vibrate with enthusiasm and passion, and occasionally with anger and negativity. As he got older, often it was more of the latter.
As Sean aged, his peculiarities turned from charming to bizarre. What was once a hyperkinetic youthful and beautiful eccentric with crazy eyes and a burning personality became a scary middle-aged, volatile angry man. His behavior, even through the eyes of those of us who loved him, became progressively more odd.
Science’s comprehension of the human body has progressed to a point where life expectancy and quality of life have been extended and enhanced. In comparison, much of the human mind is a mystery. In part due to lack of funding.
The availability of mental health assistance in this nation is abominable. Our national, state, county and town governments throw money at many things — some more important than others — but by all reports the amount spent on helping those with psychological needs is sorely lacking.
I’ll never see the world through the eyes of someone with depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or a host of other conditions that can make life unbearable. What I do know is that they are blameless. I also know that, as abysmal as the availability of health care for the marginalized Americans is, the accessibility of mental health care is even worse.
How many mass shootings, assaults or suicides might have been prevented had the sick souls who committed them had access to behavioral health support.
It is crazy (no pun intended) that many health insurance policies won’t cover care for man’s most misunderstood organ … the brain. Personally, I believe that all health care — physical and mental — should be available to all Americans. Yes, it would be costly for our nation, but, at least I believe, the preventive returns would out weigh the expense.
As for Sean, I have no idea where my old friend is today; it has been decades. Like all those who I have loved and have lost touch with, I hope wherever he is, he is calm, loved and wearing pants…….
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Biff’s new book “Mind, Body, Soul.” is available at local shops and bookstores or http://shop.holpublications.com/products/biff-america-mind-body-soul
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