Tuesday, September 27, 2011

My Friend, The (Borderline) Sociopath

When I lived in Providence, my closest friend was something of a con man. I first met him in the boardinghouse we shared with some other folks - e.g., parolees, recovering alcoholics, former mental patients (among them a future girlfriend of mine), a young journalist who would later die of cancer at the age of 34, several starving artists from RISD (my future girlfriend was also included among this crowd, along with some dude who joked about his "one-eyed snake" in the communal restroom and declared David Smith the greatest American sculptor) and - let me not forget - one terrified old woman who was a concentration camp survivor. My friend, whom I will refer to only as Mr. P___, and I were as nutty as anyone else, but Mr. P___ was unusually charismatic. He arrived in Providence full of bluster, six-foot-five, humorously folksy and sonorously baritone, boasting to anyone who would listen that he was going to start a newspaper. Even the Providence Journal got curious, and wrote an article about him under the headline "Who Is Mr. P___?"

I was working as a PR flack for a chemical firm then, in my waywardly aspiring youth, and we got to know each other. We used to gallivant about town in his VW van, as he introduced himself to folks left and right, spreading his charm and his plans for the future. It can be great fun to attach oneself to such an extrovert. He brought me in to write a book review for an alternate weekly, which I did - but which he promptly stole, along with other editorial material, when he hauled off and started his own rag. I wrote some more book reviews for that, and did the weekly crossword. He rarely paid me. He rarely paid anyone. In fact, it took all his willpower to produce any newspaper at all. He spent most of his days driving around Southeastern Mass., drumming up advertising sales, but dragged his feet when it came to putting out the actual paper. He borrowed 500 bucks from me when things got tough, but never paid it back. The paper eventually folded. I don't know if he reneged on his advertising customers, but I do know the "partners" whom he'd convinced to buy an electronic typesetting machine eventually sued him. He convinced his girlfriend of the time to put 25 grand into yet another publication project, then piddled away his (and her) time until that folded, too. I don't know if she sued him, but she certainly wasn't his girlfriend anymore. I hired him to print my company's newsletter (for which I did the text, the photos and the layout) - at least until he started to charge more and more money while working slower and slower, and eventually even I had to cut him loose.

He was in Providence because his ex-wife (his second ex-wife of two) was raising their three kids, and he wanted to be a hands-on Dad. After his newspaper-advertising-printing business failed, he stayed in the area. He vacated his original apartment, which I took over, and moved into a dilapidated social club in a tricky part of town. He became the manager of an equipment rental shop, and often borrowed the merchandise for his own renovations. I had met my girlfriend by then, through him, because they were friends. But not lovers (although my petite little honey once confided to me that she had been afraid for a while that he would rape her). I got the girl, so to speak, but all three of us hung out. He would serve us plates of chili, and after dinner we would play hearts at his huge oak dining room table while smoking Vantages and guzzling cheap Lambrusco. The two of us got drunk on banana daiquiris one scurrilous evening, and he brought out his .22 caliber pistol, which he proceeded to point at me repeatedly. Unknown to me, he still had a copy of the key to the apartment that I took over, and one afternoon I came home to find that my week's pay - which I'd cashed the night before and had left on my coffee table - was gone. On another occasion, my girlfriend and I left him alone in her apartment to go out to dinner, and a month later several hundred dollars in long-distance calls he had made without telling her showed up on her telephone bill. I stored my furniture with him after I left the Providence job, and when I passed through on my way to a new job in New York, I made an appointment to stop by and pick it up. Was he there when I arrived? No. For all I know, he still has my furniture even now.

Mr. P___ continued to make promises to people that he never made good on. He continued to charm folks and use them until they turned their backs on him and walked away. A few years ago I googled him to see what he was up to. I found an online document from the Providence court that said he had been sentenced to five years in the Rhode Island ACI for defaulting on his child support. I could only shake my head when I saw that. Something like that was bound to happen. And his kids were the ones he loved the most.

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