Kris and I could not have been more different when we first met again after high school. Of course I never finished high school, leaving after my junior year to attend RISD. And although I’d known Kris since I was two, being a couple years older than me, and being the most popular boy in school, he ignored me when our parents got together.
I was an original outsider, and although students knew who I was (because the much-loved anthropology teacher gave a lecture about me being the only unconditioned student he had ever encountered in 20 years of teaching), I was always by myself, eating my mother’s strange lunches outside behind the school—winter or summer—never in the cafeteria, or hanging out at an abandoned farm or in the extensive freight yards around Neenah, Wisconsin where the family had moved from New England in 1971. And I was working on my painting up to 14 hours a day. Painting bugged me. It challenged me. It annoyed me. I never wanted to be a painter. I had wanted to be a poet. But when I began selling work as a teenager . . . and Kris’s dad Chuck was one of the first people to buy my work. Edie called him from the Midwest where she had fallen for two of my paintings and couldn’t decide which one to purchase. Chuck’s response? “Buy ’em both.” That was another $825 in 1974, and I’d learned by 1975 not to loan my dad any more money.
Kris’s father had done very well in the car business, had a huge AMC Rambler dealership with a body shop and multiple bay repair shop called State Street Body Works. The family was wealthy by my standards, with an in-ground pool, a white living room, with white shag carpet, white brick fireplace and a grand piano (black), full five-stool bar with neon lights and pool table in the basement where I always slept, a cottage on the river, and Kris always had a free Rambler of his choosing and a gas card! This was amazing to me, who was always loaning his broke father money and who grew up in four-room ranch houses. The Marsala mansion even had a drawbridge heading to the front doors, which I can’t remember ever being used. They even had a TV room with a massive color set and wraparound sofa, where as my family never owned even a B&W.
Kris was a hugely popular guy in Watertown along with his steady, the gorgeous Lisa Beaverson, who would soon enough dump him and run off with an older balding bee keeper. I’m not sure Kris ever got over this first great disappointment in his life. He used to say, “So, you know, I asked her how it was with the bee asshole, and she looked me right in the eye and grinned, ‘It hurt! Is that what you want to hear? And I loved it!’ Jee-sus! Talk about cruel,” Kris would moan. But all said and done, Kris had an addictive cool, a tough powerful style that matched the body, was an amazingly fast runner and had a hilarious dry sense of humor. Of course, he also wanted to be an artist and a poet and a singer. He would eventually have a successful cable talk show called “The Krazy Kris Show” that even Letterman liked.
Kris also had perfect skin, which I much envied, not to mention the massive arms and chest like Marlon Brando that Kris always showed if the temperature was above freezing, Watertown having a much more severe climate than New England besides northern Maine. So there I was, extremely skinny, uneven complexion, yet I must have had something Kris wanted because he latched onto me. I guess I’ve never really known what it was.
I took driving very seriously and my father had begun to train me in racing moves on gravel (because of my begging) at about 14 years old. I practiced incessantly, as I did with anything I wanted to master, and by 16 I could double clutch, had a perfect toe-heel change, could slide cars in the wet as well as the dry, could shift without touching the clutch if needed, could spin a car using the handbrake at speed, and so forth.
I always wore Italian leather racing gloves, and each section of a road run was like a race for me. In the 356 Porsche, I was only passed three times on secondary roads over the years I had it, once by a Lotus, once by a 911 Porsche, and annoyingly once by a Chevrolet Nova hotrod that pulled beside me at over 100 mph and then simply disappeared—laughing. I was the only kid who passed the driving test on my first try. If you made even the slightest error, you flunked. I had a perfect test. This really annoyed Eric Murphy and Peter Verbrick, my two high school friends.
Leaving Rich Bruce, such a gentle quiet soul back then, we headed out through Edward Hopper territory to the tip of the Cape. When we decided at mid-afternoon to swim, I was arrested by a female cop for nudity. I always swam naked, so at first I figured it was a joke. It wasn’t, and she almost cuffed me! Being naked, I wasn’t carrying any identification, so we walked back to the 356 together, I feeling odd naked next to a female cop; I was shy then about my physicality. But on seeing the car, she offered to forgo my ticket if I gave her a ride. I agreed. “Now, how do you want me to drive? Are you going to give me a ticket for speeding or reckless driving?” She told me to go for it, and believe me, I gave her the ride of her life. When we returned to the impatient Kris she was quite flushed. “Wow, that was simply amazing.” This might be a first and last.
Gayness wasn’t the same in 1975 as it is now, in the sense that it wasn’t overt or even particularly interesting. None of the friends I knew cared if you were gay or not—it just wasn’t an issue. Fine either way was my feeling, and I was actually attacked once on a train in Europe when I was 13. Being a soccer player I destroyed the rapist’s shins. Then at 14 I was accosted in the middle of the night waiting for a bus in Portland, Maine. Later, after riding freights and hurting my head jumping off a train stupidly, I was messed with in the restroom of the Spokane, Washington bus station. Even with these occurrences, all of which I easily deflected, I’ve never had an issues with anyone’s sexuality, excepting the two fat lesbian neighbors who insisted on exhibiting their preference every Sunday morning when I walked to our barn. It wasn’t a problem besides that it was so unattractive seeing all that blubber against blubber rolling around moaning, particularly when severely hung over.
Provincetown in 1975 had a lot of homosexuals. Kris and I, always intently looking for girls, couldn’t figure out what seemed different. Kris of course immediately picked up a luscious English girl, Penelope, in a lunchroom where we had gone for a sandwich and a coffee. She explained the situation to us, and suddenly the bulb lit.
That evening, the three of us went to Penelope’s favorite tavern, and I spent the evening hustling pool. I made an inordinate amount of money, well over a hundred dollars. It was almost as if all these gay guys just wanted to give me money. They were amazingly friendly and funny, and I had a tremendously good time. After about three hours, I went to check on the love birds. Kris was apparently in the washroom, I’m sure to smoke more pot. I sat down beside Penelope and said the obvious, “You have the most beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen.” I said it because it was true. The palest blue, huge, dark prominent lashes against the whitest skin.
Kris ended up sleeping in a rubber boat on Penelope’s porch, and when it began to rain during the night, the boat quietly filled with water. Kris was the proverbial wet hen in the morning. I was crazy about Penelope. A few months later when I returned from Europe, I visited her at her college in Maryland, but she had another boyfriend by then. She was too gorgeous to leave alone for months, and I was as far from settling down as a boy could be. We sat in the manicured lawn outside her dorm room, my Porsche looking stunning in the late afternoon sunlight. I took three early autumn leaves and carefully removed the centers as we talked. When I painted Penelope that winter from a nude drawing I’d done that Provincetown morning, I painted in the three leaves.
The next summer, Penelope sent me a drawing she had done of herself naked against a flaming sunset. It was a pretty terrible watercolor, but I loved the pure gesture and sentiment of it. By then I was involved with the French one. There are so many misses in life.
Early 1980s, when I invented (kidding) the mullet, which Kris later claimed as his own. Yes, he did look much better in it, but what some smart girls noticed (I found out way too late) was the package. No idea what that means.