I recently saw a re-run of, "SOUTH PARK's" Asperger Syndrome episode. It reminded me of the first time that my friend's dad said of him, "Dean-Michael either has Aspergers or he's a sociopath."
My friendship with Dean-Michael Hughes (I called him Dean) ranged from 1989-1995 and again when he temporarily resurfaced in 2007. When I think back, maybe his father was right and he did have Aspergers.
Our relationship started in 1989, when a nerdy ex-coworker of my wife Sue, shockingly called. She wanted Sue and I to double-date with her and new boyfriend, Dean-Michael.
This all-day escapade included us traipsing through the rural farmlands of South Jersey and ended at a seafood restaurant in Vineland. During that long afternoon, Dean was so withdrawn that I never would have imagined that a friendship would blossom. He usually responded to my questions with one word answers. Far worse, he frequently went off-topic, injected James Bond trivia or household repairs into the conversation. The only time he seemed normal was when he said he was a policeman.
During lunch, Dean was interesting (to me) when explaining his greatest piece of police work, the discovery of "Old Lady Campbell's" maggot-ridden, six-month old corpse, in her bathtub, (the visions brought to mind somehow disturbed the girls' meal). He got the stink-eye from his date and changed the subject to how dull the work was in his municipality. So on occasional days off, he had gotten into the habit of arranging squad car rides in Baltimore, the Bronx and Atlantic City. This death-wish hobby seemed crazy but I gave him the benefit of the doubt because he had also been a marine.
For several months, Sue dodged her "friend's" tries to hang out with us. So in 1990, it was a big surprise that we received a wedding invitation. Our "no" RSVP included a polite, handwritten apology. Dean's fiance called Sue. She begged us to reconsider. Sue cited an actual scheduling clash and how hard it was for both of us (in casino work), to get a Saturday off. The poor girl started crying, "I have no family! And only one girl from work and an elderly neighbor agreed to come."
You guessed it, we caved in. On their big day, we were selected to serve as witnesses at the Hughes' courthouse wedding. Later, at the tiny reception, in an unimpressive restaurant, we were introduced as if we were royalty. At the bar, a drunken cop friend of Dean cornered me. He pointed out Dean's three-times divorced father. The elder (sixty-ish) Hughes was a prominent local businessman. He had a Don Cordeleone-like aura that was enhanced by his girlfriend, an attractive woman, half his age.
The hiccuping cop singed my eyebrows with his caustic liquor breath as he identified Dean's six, half siblings. According to him, these conniving rivals tried to out-kiss their dad's ass. Even though Mr. Hughes was still paying his former wives an incredible lump of alimony, his children hoped to tear-off a bigger hunk of whatever was left of his monetary carcass.
The drunk slammed another shot of Jameson and sloppily chased it with a Guinness before laughing, "If he marries this bimbo, she already has two kids...and don't let that black, loose-fitting dress fool you, it looks like she already has another bun in the oven. So if my count is right and daddio marries her, that'll make nine nasty bastards competing with each other for the lion's share of the Hughes family fortune." I said, "Not exactly the Brady bunch..." He cut me off, "It gets worse, see that eighty-five year-old fossil, that's GMH." I said, "Heh?" "GMH, that's what Dean-Michael calls his granny, (Grand Mother Hughes). He got the idea from the TV beer commercials for MGD." Later I found out, Dean sometime refers to her as, "GDC," the Great Dame of Camden.
|THE MILLER BREWING COMPANY WAS FOUNDED IN 1855. IN 1985, THEY INTRODUCED MILLER GENUINE DRAFT (MGD) AS THE FIRST COLD FILTERED, PACKAGED DRAFT BEER...WHICH MEANT, TO HAVE IT TASTE LIKE IT CAME FROM A KEG, THE BEER WAS NOT PASTEURIZED.|
In the months that followed, we got together with the Hughes' for movies or dinners at each others home. Mostly due to Dean's earthiness and warped sense of humor, I enjoyed his company and grew to value his friendship. One time after a delicious Thanksgiving dinner, he and I cleared the dishes and set up for dessert. He was unusually anxious for me to try the beautiful, chocolate glazed cookies imported from Denmark, as he artistically arranged them on a plate.
Dean had photographed the full dinner table before the meal so I didn't suspect foul play when he focused his Nikon on me and said, "Try a cookie." The multiple camera flashes irritated my eyes as I took my first (only) bite. The cookie was nauseating and I gagged. I spit the cardboard-like remnants into an antique lace napkin and cursed like a longshoreman who hammered his thumb.
Dean laughed in my face, "I got those at the dollar store, they are sugar-free AND taste-free." I thought he was going to piss himself when he added, "Wait till I get these pictures developed, your expression was to die for!"
I invited Dean to one of my Thursday night poker games. His awkwardness with strangers was obvious but once someone else farted, he took it as a cue to give his own command performance. The volume and regularity of the formerly bashful prodigy's serenade brought delighted encouragement from the masses... until somebody had had enough.. The impresario smiled at his lone detractor, "I shouldn't have had so much pizza, I'm lactose intolerant." He paused and sighed, "It's the only thing I'll ever inherit from my friggin' grandmother." He perked back up and said, "My farts don't smell. I'll show you, get me pencil and paper."
Dean amazed us with a detailed caricature of an electric fan with its breeze hitting smiling faces. Then he drew an identical fan with a smelly piece of poop between it and unhappy faces. "The first fan represents my lactose intolerant butt. The second fan, is everyone else..." We were all hysterical before he finished with, "Hence...my shit don't stink!"
|ONE OF THE GREATEST DISAPPOINTMENTS IN MY LIFE WAS NOT SAVING DEAN'S MASTERFUL SKETCHES.|
One Friday night in 1992 at midnight, the shelf my walk-in bedroom closet began to sag under the weight. When it started to rip away from the wall, I panicked and called Dean. He averted the catastrophe of a cave-in by bringing a power screw-driver and in one minute, he secured the meager builder's grade brackets. Afterwards, in a pleasant manner he said, "I realize that I once old you to call me any time. But things have changed. Your 'emergency' interrupted his rare opportunity to study. You see, I hate my work situation. It started as a hazing, but the veteran cops saw my need for acceptance as a weakness...and took advantage of me. Now they permanently mistreat me. I get all the dirty jobs within the precinct, all the bad shifts nobody wants and I've been bullied into typing one jerk's reports, for over three years." I was feeling guilty for dragging him to my house for such Mickey Mouse nonsense when he continued, "I can't complain to my lieutenant because of the 'old boy network.' So to get out before I kill one of them, I'm going to take an exam for a much better job that will qualify me to be a county investigator."
A week later, I dropped a glass spaghetti sauce jar on my kitchen floor. Some of it oozed under the refrigerator. Sue and I pulled out the Frigidaire to thoroughly clean underneath. That's when I noticed a small, brown, rubber cylinder attached to the fridge's leg. When Sue reached for it, my stupid reflex was, "Don't touch it, it's a fuse! I'll call Dean."
Dean was there in fifteen minutes. When I showed him the "problem" he calmly pulled it off and said, "That's not a fuse." I said, "Oh?" He pantomimed taking a bite out of it and said, "It's a petrified Vienna sausage... probably part of a careless construction workers lunch." When we thanked him he took me aside and sarcastically said, "Got any more search and destroy missions for me? Some militant spiders? Any trolls coming up through your toilet?" "I blushed, "No." Venomously he said, "This wasn't payback for my sugar-free cookie prank, was it?" He didn't wait for an answer and stormed out.
Two hours later, Dean's wife called us from the emergency room. She said, "Did Dean-Michael tell you that Petey, (the only sibling he communicated with) died last week from a drug overdose? I guess Dean-Michael was so frustrated about it that after he got back from your house, he punched through our bedroom door. Luckily, that old door was hollow and his knuckles are only bruised."
I was afraid to contact Dean but a few days later, he uncharacteristically called me. He said, "I'm inviting you and Sue to a business meeting on Thursday night." Other than where and when, I was uncomfortable asking many questions. But when I arrived at his dad's house, I was ready for some sort of childish retaliation...but none came.
Dean's new step-mother greeted us at the door. She carried her two-year old out of the room and was never seen again that night. Dean opened the meeting by saying, "We are considering buying the Jonathan Pitney House in Absecon. The price right now is a ridiculously low, $150,000.00. Our idea is a three-family partnership that would involve fixing the place up and running it as a Bed and Breakfast."
Dean's wife was an accountant. In her usual monotone, rigid and regimented way she said, "We can secure a low-interest loan because the property qualifies as a national monument. To save money, you (me) and Dean can do the simple repairs and grunt work." She took out a hand-made chart and recited from a prepared index card, "With no other B and B's nearby, there'll be no competition."
Dean said to me, "You know antique dealers, right? You can be in charge of the furnishings And you can also use your state gambling credentials to get our entity a New Jersey, casino service vendor's license. That way, we can deal with Atlantic City hotels, to ecourage them to send us their overflow and freebies."
The senior Mr. Hughes said, "I have real estate connections and they tell me, there hasn't been an offer made on the place in eight months...we're in a great position to low-ball them. In a few years, with a lot of hard work by you four, I bet we can sell our successful inn for over a million."
Dean took the floor, "My dad will be a silent partner and front half the start-up capital. You and I will split the other half. Once the place is operational, the four of us will keep our jobs and devise a fair rotation of the day-to-day responsibilities."
"Before you decide," Mr. Hughes said, "meet us there tomorrow at noon and see for your self."
|THE PITNEY HOUSE WAS BUILT IN 1799 AND RENOVATED IN 1848. IN THE TEN YEARS I LIVED IN SOUTH JERSEY, ALL I SAW WAS THIS HISTORICAL CITE DECAYING.|
The next day, a realtor showed us in. During the tour, we were reminded that a lot of the wiring was not up to code. But surprisingly, the inside looked ready for business. Even better, the building's exterior and the grounds seemed to only need fresh paint and a top-notch maintenance job.
Sue and I discussed the proposal that night. I called Dean to tell him that we wanted in. Dryly he said, "My father is out." I said, "What?" He said, "The prick told me that he changed his will and to be fair, he's leaving everything to his baby. The good news is, we're replacing his interest with my friend, Mr. Lui."
Mr. Lui owned the Chinese restaurant that Dean liked. When we all got together, Lui made it clear that he wanted to put up a third and have an equal share without having anything to do with the daily operations. I was disgusted. I was relying on the stability of Mr. Hughes. I dropped out the next day, (the Pitney House remained dormant until 1997 until someone else made it into a B and B. They must have done well because a year later, it made the National Register of Historical Places).
Sue gave birth to my son Andrew in 1994. Shortly there after, Dean and his wife turned their back on us. By 1996, they divorced. I wouldn't see Dean again until we crossed paths in the supermarket in 2007. Three times, he and I hung out. The last time, he drove me out of town to Mr. Lui's new restaurant. Along the way, his cell phone rang. It was his roommate, (the drunken cop from his wedding) who was hearing strange noises in their backyard. Dean said, "It might be my ex-wife, go outside and take your gun."
At dinner, Dean reminded me how much he loved his current job with the county. Then he contradicted himself and glumly said, "But I was put on probation a year ago." Dean claimed that he told a harmless joke, at a Christmas party. "Yesterday," he continued, "I was brought back into my commander's office and told that I was being put back on probation for another year because...human resources wasn't satisfied that I exhibited enough improvement in my sensitivity, (Dean made air quotes when he said; exhibit). And in order to go forward, the bureaucratic jackass said he has no choice but to suspend me for two weeks, to help me see the gravity of my shortcomings."
If he was being truthful, the joke was indeed harmless. So, I figured he wasn't telling me the whole story. Dean sighed, "The whole department hates me. Every day I feel so much pressure, they stare, whisper and point fingers at me. I can't bear it any more, I'm going to quit and move to Iowa." "Quit? How long until you qualify for full pension?" "Fourteen months." "Screw them, you were a marine, you should be able to handle this level of bullshit for a year." He said, "Fourteen months!"
Dean-Michael Hughes quit the next day and I never saw him again.
I recently bumped into the senior Mr. Hughes at Lowe's. He shook his head, "Dean-Michael loved this place and fixing things. But he's a sick boy. I'm sure you figured it out that he's a dangerous liar but far worse, he either has Asperger Syndrome or is a sociopath. I tried to get him professional help but he always refused. I thought the Pitney House project would help him channel his anger while doing something he loved..." He groaned, "Now, he's in goddamned Idaho." I said, "He told me Iowa." "Yeah, he's living in a fantasy world, he told my wife Indiana and his ex, Illinois. He's so out there, I guess he's working his way through the alphabet, the "J" states must be next." I said, "Wow." Mr. Hughes said, "Don't look so puzzled. It wouldn't surprise me if Dean-Michael was using his survival skills, living in the woods and never left his neighborhood." In a low-tone he added, "I'm not sure what his twisted mind is capable of..."
Now, five more years later, Dean is completely off the grid. I haven't given him much thought until I saw a History Channel documentary on the "Unabomber," Ted Kaczynski.
|TED "THE UNABOMBER" KACZYNSKI DROPPED OUT OF SOCIETY AND MOVED TO A REMOTE CABIN IN MONTANA. FROM THERE, OUT OF REVENGE, OVER A TWENTY-YEAR PERIOD, HE SENT LETTER BOMBS THAT CAUSED MANY INJURIES AND RESULTED IN THREE FATALITIES.|
But I won't worry about Dean-Michael Hughes...unless his photos of me eating the sugar-free cookie suddenly surface.