Biff America: A drop of madness
Special to the Daily
The first time I saw Sean Casey was in the summer of 1974. 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 noticed a new face. Standing in front of a prep table, knife in hand, was Sean.
His head was completely shaved except for a ponytail sprouting from the top. He wore a pink skirt-like sarong and a white cook’s jacket. He was cutting vegetables, singing to himself and dancing to a song only he could hear.
“What the hell is that?” I asked my chef buddy Bruce.
“That’s Sean. He’s crazy. Jake hired him when he was drunk.”
Jake Parnell was the owner of the Sea Swell. He liked to drink, fight and scream. He ran his restaurant with a military efficiency like the Marine he once was — except when he drank. Then he pretty much just scared the help and screwed things up.
I surreptitiously spied on Sean as I performed “side work” in preparation for my job serving lobsters to tourists. He was about 5 feet, 8 inches with thick arms and legs; he was built like the wrestler he used to be. 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.
Over the course of the evening I learned Sean’s story from another waiter.
Sean grew up nearby. He was, in fact, a local high school sports hero. His father was a mean drunk, and his mother left when Sean was young.
After high school he somehow got hooked up with the Krishnas. For almost two years he lived at the temple on Boylston Street 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 very sick. Since Jake’s and Sean’s dads were old drinking buddies, Sean got the job.
The night turned cold and rainy and the tourists stayed at home. Since the dinner rush was slow, I got to know Sean a little over the course of the evening.
When I introduced myself, the first thing he said was something like, “Oh, aren’t you a blue-eyed pretty boy. I bet the bug-eaters just love you.” (Bug-eaters were what locals called the tourists who ordered shellfish.) I took that as an insult, but when I looked accusingly into his eyes I saw only kindness — and perhaps a little lunacy. So I decided it was meant as a compliment.
Sean and I became friends. He cut off his ponytail and I never saw him in a dress again. He later told me he only came to work looking that way to find out which of his coworkers were open-minded.
During that time in my life I would work in Colorado for the ski season and head to either the East or the West coast for the summer. Sean did the same.
Even without the dress my friend was considered an eccentric. In his case, at that point in time, his odd behavior was appealing.
With his shaved head, almond-shaped eyes and boundless energy he would literally vibrate with enthusiasm and passion and only occasionally with anger and negativity. As he got older, it was more often the latter.
As Sean aged his peculiarities turned from charming to bizarre. What was once a hyperkinetic youthful eccentric, with wild eyes and a burning personality, became a scary middle-aged man who ranted, raved and talked to himself.
I haven’t seen Sean in the flesh for over 30 years. I know that after his wife left him he battled drugs, alcohol, depression and was occasionally incarcerated. I was told he briefly got back on his feet was a fanatical runner, even completing in a few marathons. His health obsession didn’t last long; his fit body was sabotaged by a fuming mind. The last I heard, Sean was homeless.
“We Poets in our youth begin in gladness;
But thereof come in the end despondency and madness.”
— William Wordsworth
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.
Each of us is born with a unique perspective, seeing, feeling and experiencing the same world in often drastically different ways. Sometimes the most sensitive can smell the flowers, feel the wind and drink in the magic that is life to a greater degree than those of us who muddle through in boring normalcy — not quite reveling in the highs — but far less tortured by the lows.
There are many who, through no fault other than genetics, are too smart, funny, intense or introspective to function in this world. They burn meteorically hot and leave us too soon.
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be seen on TV-8-Summit and read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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