Klantown: Mark Bruna

10-minute

PULASKI, TENNESSEE – Building front for 10 Minute Express Lube

Since I started this series with one of my first experiences with the city of Pulaski, I felt perhaps I should jump right to the end and fill in the middle parts as we progress.  That being said, you can always wait for my next story that is in the correct chronological order.  But you’ll never know which one that will be, so I suggest you just keep reading.

From the first moments of my time in Pulaski, I encountered nothing but grief.  But after roughly seven years in Pulaski, my time came to an end due to the volatility of the most well known gay man in the town, Mark Bruna.

I was a frequent customer and visitor to the Havoline Xpress Lube that sat where 10 Minute Express Lube exists today.  Out of the blue, the proprietor of the business closed one weekend, took everything that wasn’t bolted to the ground (and even some things that were), and closed the business for good.  The owner of the building, Mark Bruna, came in and decided that in spite of now owning an empty building, he would reopen the shop just to prove that it could be a financially viable business.  Of course, it helps when you’re not paying for rent what you would charge your tenants, but to each their own.

As a result, I found myself becoming friends with Mark and his lover, Butch Thomason.  There are not a lot of gays that are out of the closet in Tennessee due to the heightened level of bigotry one faces, but these two did not care who knew as long as they spent their money at 10 Minute Express Lube.  After an initial slow start, people eventually got used to the idea that two fags ran the best mechanical shop in town and started flocking over for cheap oil changes and tires.  The business took off, and everyone was happy.

This was not Mark’s only venture.  He and Butch had rental properties throughout the lower part of the state and even in Mississippi.  He also would sell cars as an individual at high profits that he would purchase at rock bottom prices from individuals or auctions.  Occasionally, he would put them facing the road 10 Minute Express Lube is located with For Sales signs.  Believe it or not, I wound up buying a Ford Escape from him because of this method.  But competing car lots in the town became angry that he was curtailing the law by not being a licensed dealer and reported him to the state.  Much like his intentions with opening 10 Minute Express Lube, he opened a Buy Here Pay Here (or as I like to call them, Rent To Own) car lot right next door to his mechanic shop.  After much deliberation, Mark chose the name Southern Automotive Group, Inc.  Or SAGI.  Like his balls.  Like my balls, for that matter.

I spent a lot of money with Mark over the next few years.  I purchased many vehicles from him through his in house financing program.  And although some were significantly better deals than others, he always treated us fairly as long as we made every attempt to pay on time (which we mostly did) and communicated with him what our needs were.  After all, we were friends.

One day, my wife and I found ourselves being evicted from our apartment (a story for another day).  Knowing that Mark had rental properties, we inquired about any he’d be willing to rent to us and discovered that an apartment attached to his house was available and we could move in immediately.  We paid the deposit and rent required, signed the lease, and we were good to go.

Somewhere along the way, the relationship between Mark and I deteriorated.  There can be many points where one could say it started, from a panic attack I had in his parking lot that wound up being interpreted as a suicide attempt (no attempt was made, and there was no intent on my part), to a Pontiac Sunfire he sold me with an improperly installed fuel pump that spewed gas from the front passenger side whenever the gas cap was tightened.  But I believe to this day that the costs associated with his new ventures that were started on a whim were finally catching up to him.  His behavior began to change and became like a gay version of Donald Trump.

Since we both lived on the same property, Mark would occasionally ask me for a ride to the shop so he and Butch, who left a few hours earlier each day, didn’t drive two cars to the lot and take up what little parking was available.  As I was driving him to work one day, I was telling him that, for the first time, I would be about two weeks late with the rent.  My wife and I had separated again, and I was paying all my bills with Walmart paychecks and whatever my wife would give me out of her check.  He then began telling an uncomfortable story of a “big black woman” who tried to seduce him to get out of paying a car payment.  Mark is of course gay and would never have made such an arrangement with her.  However, he then said that it happens “more often than you think” and started hinting at the idea that I could potentially do that.  He never explicitly stated that was his intention, but the tone of the conversation certainly was swinging that way, and I was very glad to get him out of my car.  Perhaps if I had blown him, I wouldn’t have had the issues that came later.

One day, I drove a Toyota Camry I was financing through Mark over a steep embankment and found myself stuck.  I was driving to work when the brakes failed and I lost control of the car.  Amazingly, there was no damage to the vehicle as a result of the accident.  But at some point I must have hit my head, because I was disoriented and have very spotty memory over the entire day.  The next day, I would have that theory confirmed by the ER in Athens, Alabama.  But I remember one interaction vividly that became the last straw for me in our relationship shortly after.

When Mark and Butch arrived with the tow truck, I had exited my vehicle and was waiting for them.  They hooked my car up and began to drag it up the hill.  However, someone forgot to close the driver side door, and as the car crept up, the door hit a telephone poll and swung open the opposite direction it was supposed to, ruining the fender and door.  The door was never able to close after that, and I had to pay cash to replace both the door and fender.  I was incredibly angry with Mark over the issue, especially since he didn’t offer to rectify the damage he created.  But I moved on and worried more about how I was going to fix the car.

Because I spent so much money fixing the body damage of the car, I was never able to fix the underlying issue that caused my car to lose control.  It turns out that the power steering pump actually exploded, throwing the fluid into the brakes and thereby causing them to be slick.  There was also a fresh dark puddle near the scene of the accident that indicated it had just happened before applying my brakes.  I could either fix the power steering, or be able to close my door, but I couldn’t have both.  It was about this time that Mark stopped allowing me to finance mechanical repairs, as well, which I found to be a slap in the face given how much I spent to fix the damage he caused.

In between this time, I was doing a lot of free work for him at his mechanic shop.  I was never an employee, but when I wasn’t at school or work, I was at the shop assisting them with oil changes or various other tasks.  I also mowed his gigantic property for free, only because I thoroughly enjoyed mowing and there was an unspoken tit-for-tat between the two of us: he didn’t have time to mow, and I helped him out.  If I needed something he could help with, he’d be there.  But it was about this time that it stopped, and I was left with a lot of unpaid work.

One day, I was sitting in the lobby of his car lot and the subject of the Camry came up.  I don’t recall the exact series of events, but what I do remember is that Mark accused me of being stoned and blamed the damage to the car as a result of that.  I told him that a doctor said I had been concussed and therefore was the reason for my disorientation, but that I remember vividly the huge fuck up on his part.  He cussed me out and told me to leave.

At that moment, I had reached my limit with Mark.  I purchased another car from a competing car lot and then drove the Camry back to Mark, threw the keys to him, and told him to keep it.  I realized that I was basically digging my own grave in regards to my living situation, as Mark’s house was literally attached to my apartment.  But that was the end.  If he couldn’t even be bothered to fix his own fuck ups, but then had the balls to say I was stoned and wrecked the car, myself, I was done with him.

Later that day, my wife and I (who were back together temporarily during this time) were harassed by Mark due to the incident.  He was yelling and cussing, saying things like he was going to get us.  The police were called several times over the next few weeks due to disturbances caused by him.  During this time, he illegally cut off essential services that were a part of the rental agreement (cops wouldn’t do anything about it, see video below), broke into our apartment after we changed the locks to keep the psycho out and assaulted my wife while she was home without me (cops wouldn’t do anything about it), and then tried to illegally evict us.  Carol and I had already decided we were leaving Pulaski, due to all of the bullshit the town had bestowed on us during our time together.  But it wasn’t easy.

As a result of this fiasco, Carol and I split up again, but we were still sued together by Mark, who in addition to trying to secure rent he would have received through the end of the lease, tried to attach a laundry list of bogus damages, including mix matched paint on the walls due to him providing me with the wrong paint to begin with.  He even hired the attorney I would ordinarily have used in such a dispute, Andrew Hoover, simply so I couldn’t use him.  We hired an attorney from Legal Aid at no cost to us, and we went to court shortly thereafter.

During this time, we were also talking to a civil lawyer about suing Mark for damages due to the utilities being cut off.  Due to my meticulous record keeping, we found a lawyer who immediately saw a good case and wanted to do some digging on the assets of Mark to see if it would be prudent to sue.  After all, if he’s worthless, what can we really get out of him?  Turns out that thanks to some digging on my part, Mark and Butch were so far in debt, there is almost no liquidity.  And given how much Mark touts his success in the business world, this is yet another Donald Trump-esque quality that they both share: inflating their value, when in reality they own nothing.  Therefore, it would not be in anyone’s best interest to sue, as there would be little upside in successful litigation.

Carol and I showed up to court over the eviction.  We had been split for about a month and were still rather bitter at each other over the entire debacle.  But we went in and sat down at the defendants’ table with our lawyer, while Mark, Butch, and Andrew Hoover sat across the way.  Judge Damron, who is considered by most Pulaskians to be an asshole (I actually like the guy), began to assess the situation.  Andrew Hoover began stating what his clients’ demands were, whereas my lawyer followed by quoting the law on why the plaintiffs were not entitled to anything.

Although I’m not a legal scholar, I do know that if an eviction is not performed correctly, rights end up violated and the plaintiff typically loses if there is any contest on behalf of the defendants.  However, in this case, the job was so botched, Andrew Hoover was speechless.  He knew the laws and knew that his clients were indefensible.  Damron looked at my attorney and gave the greatest line I’ve ever heard in court.

“Well, I don’t think it’s fair that you’re citing all these laws that Mr. Hoover here obviously doesn’t know,” the judge chimed, the sarcasm as thick as molasses.  It was at this moment I looked across the way at Mark with a smile on my face, trying to avoid laughing.  The look Mark had on his face was one of an obviously defeated man.  Mark had spent more money on his case than what he would have received from me if he won, and he lost to the man who he hated more than life at that moment.

Needless to say, Mark withdrew the suit.

But this wasn’t the end to the story.  People in Pulaski had evidently already been screwed over by Mark over various mechanical repairs or shitty car deals he had managed to scare people into.  One part of Mark’s personality is pretending he knows a lot more than he does and expresses that by suggesting a lot of things are true that are not (again, parallels to Trump).  For those who tried to stand up to him without going to court, Mark more or less scared them into submission, explaining that he knew the laws and what he could do to whoever stood between him and the money in your wallet.  He had tried that with me, as well, but I often nodded and pretended to agree even when I knew how completely wrong he was.

All of a sudden, people start contacting me, primarily via Facebook, asking me how I beat Mark in court.  I explained that all I did was reach out to a free lawyer and they handled the rest, but to never be afraid to stand up to Mark, because he’s so completely full of shit.  Whether or not any of them had success, I have no idea.  But I did hear that his business took a hit after people started suggesting he had propositioned them for sexual favors in exchange for debt forgiveness, much like the conversation that once took place between the two of us.

I honestly feel bad for Butch.  He’s actually a really nice guy who could never stand me (according to Mark), and even during the legal battle never once said an unkind thing to me.  I hope that one day he realizes how much better he can do and moves on.  But given the lack of options available in the south for gay men, he may never.

This segment is an important one.  I discussed one individual in the town that certainly has a lot of issues.  But during the time we tangoed, I discovered that Giles County, for whatever reason, has very few rental protections that are otherwise mandated from state and federal laws due to how rural and sparsely populated the area is.  The cops refused to enforce the laws that did exist for the county.  And even on safety issues such as proper outdoor lighting, there was little recourse other than suing that we could have feasibly relied upon.  Hell, my wife was assaulted, and nothing happened.  But because of the business that Mark draws in, no one was willing to rock the boat, again.  It’s a shame, too, because he’s really not worth what he claims he is.  In short, the citizens of Pulaski can be proud of their gay Trump.

Next time on Klantown: The Harwells

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